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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Monday, 31 March 2014

Catch it while you can: compared with what's coming, the 1960s Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre is a thing of beauty

Elephant & CAstle, SOuthwark, SOuth London,

It might be a shock to the system to say it, but now I can and I will and I say it loud: I love the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre!

Well of  course you do because it's now under threat from gentrification and you always jump on these bandwagons etc - down with the wicked property developers all over again etc!

Yeah well it's not just that. I mean I had my first real job across the road in Alexander Fleming House, when it was still the DHSS, back in the early 1970s. Did all my shopping in the centre for a while, but by then it already seemed a bit down-at-heel.

There was that 80s  revival with pink paint; but much more recently the centre seems to have re-invented itself as a new multi-ethnic version of the 1900s covered market, a bit like a 1960s version of the big Brixton markets a couple of miles down the A23. And we all know how everyone just luuurves Brixton Market these days.

Approaching the magic roundabout from the south on the 176 bus in glorious spring sunshine, the first thing you have to notice is the absurdity of that new tower block with its Batmobile finials and the three  wind turbines still stubbornly refusal to budge an inch, evening the briskest of south-west winds.

If I'd shelled out over half a mill for a two-bed in that silly building I'd at least want to insist on getting some cheap wind power back.

That building is just so tacky and horrible that we will all soon come to revere it, for sure. It even has an appropriately wanky name: Strata.

Back to the case in point however.

The knee-jerk opinion of the place is "yuk" - and yet, each time I visit I like it more. (Of course it has many other fans - see this piece on the London SE1 site for more Elephantophiliac views). I always liked the sort of mossy undergrowth of open-air market all round the edge, or under-lip of the building. Three pairs of acrylic trainer socks in Rasta colours for £2.99 anyone?

Inside it has a surprisingly civilised air.  Just its age has given it a bit of dignity: climbing the steel and pink composite stairways you think, they don't make things like this anymore. The whole interiors has been given a rather good paint job in those bold reds, yellows and greens that give it a definite LAtino feel, while the  rubbish has been stripped off many shop front to reveal a nice Mondrian-esque grid pattern of girders which have also been  panted. Good God it is almost tasteful!
More stylish than Westfield - the cool spacious shopping
 floors of the Elephant and Castle's 1965 shopping centre,
soon to be demolished

The civilisation is real there though, just look at the fabulous Colombian bar-café La Bodeguita slap bang in the middle of things. Then there are the African textiles and foods, the useful Clarks Shoes factory shop, plenty of Asian places to fix your phone, etc, etc - it is usually busy and clearly really popular with a many different nationalities for family shopping andy socialising.

 What with everybody now scrambling over each other to get a piece of the London property pie before it collapses into a column of foul-smelling steam - the old Shopping Centre will go. It's clear the centre's days are already numbered - no point in crying over it now, just read this bit from the Standard a few months back and kick yourself for being so slow.

So the country's first "Mall" or covered shopping precinct, as we knew it then - will be replaced, presumably by more stubby glass towers of  "affordable" £200k+ flats and some "social amenities" - a swimming pool perhaps, or a library. At least we're not getting a Westfield here.

But how can they replace somewhere so good? Can't imagine there'll be much demand for the cheap underwear from the new residents. Once again it seems developers are being allowed to steal something which has much more value than the pounds-per-square-foot costings of the land.

You can find out more about these plans on Southwark council's site, and  from the developers who know own the Centre, Delancey. Click there and feel your heart sink as you see dozens more of those architect's cgi images of shiny plazas and piazzas.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Charity shop pecking order for the hopeless bibliomane

If you love books, have a certain amount of spare time, live in or near a major city or conurbation, or anywhere else in the uk if you're sufficiently mobile - there's plenty of fun to be had setting off on charity shop book-hunts.

I don't have to go far to indulge this slightly greedy hobby. I have nine charity shops within a 15 minute walk from where I live, and roughly five times that number within a 15 minute cycle ride.

And every one of these shops has, on at least one occasion, thrown up a treasure.

But, after many years of raiding these treasure troves, I have now, by a sort of alluvial process, come to this   totally arbitrary "pecking order" of the shops I am most likely to visit if time is scarce, or if my mood is low and I need my spirits lifted.

So here we go - my 2014 (Spring) top dozen or so charity shops in South/South West London…
My Number 1 charity shop of 2014 - Save the Children on Clapham High Street, London SW4

Coming in at number one, week after week, is the wonderful Save the Children Shop on Clapham High Street, near the overgorund rail station. A good selection of books, well priced (typically £1.50 for good paperbacks); similar CDs, records and clothes. It's a large, airy, sunny shop – and what really makes it a winner  for me is the in-store music - it's often reggae or ska, it is always loud and upbeat. You just want to dance and dance and buy  and then buy some more.

In second place - after a few recent fruitful visits - is the Oxfam Shop in Gloucester Road. I am almost surprised to say this as I had almost gone off Oxfam. For a long time it seemed to have a policy of pricing all books at £2.99, CDs likewise, and the stories were become too uniform. The specialist bookshops were never as good as they should have been - even the one in Portobello Road has gone downhill (but be aware that things change very fast in this world). The Balham one's a bit barren and the Herne Hill one is fine but pricey and the staff a wee bit snooty. I also felt they were just too much like unfair competition to bona-fide secondhand bookshops.

But this Oxfam in this very posh street is a gem, quite different in feel from most others, with a good balance between clothes, books, music and bric-a-brac. The prices are a bit looser, as well.

Best recent buy: catalogue for the Monet in 20th Century Exhibition, perfect condition, £4
One I wish I had bought and didn't: Brand new Banana Republic cord jacket for £22.

Sharing 3rd place (sorry) - I have to declare an interest here - my alma mater, the Trinity Hospice chain. Visit any of their 20 or so shops as often as you can - bargains can usually be found, though you do have to make repeat visits as they often hold sales and turnover is high. Lovely staff in some of the shops. Best of the bunch: the Bute Street shop, SW7 - of course! Even if I didn't have personal connections there, I would love this shop for its eclecticism, intimacy and its distinct Gallic flavour. Great for cheap French novels. As with Oxfam, Trinity's specialist book and media shop in Kensington
The Trinity Hospice shop in bite Street, SOuth Kensington, London SW7, in 2013.
Church Street is not as good as it used to be; books more expensive here than in the general shops.

At number 4 are the FARA shops in Northcote Road,  Pimlico and Gloucester Road. Stuff in these shops is always so well displayed, and until recently you could be sure of an interesting and fast-changing stock of books, though sadly there has been a bit of a downturn very recently. The Northcote Road branch , in particular, has lost some its charm - the staff no longer seem so friendly either.  But the Gloucester Road  shop is  great fun, I love the basement of books, magazines, records , menswear and curios. A similar retro feel exists in FARA's Pimlico SHop.

Number 5 and 6 - the Oxfam Shops in  the Kings Road, Chelsea, and Warwick Way,  Pimlico. The former was my number one charity shop for many years, from way back in 1990 when I worked nearby. Bang next to Vivienne Westwood's original shop, it was the place to find great clothes at crazy prices. It is still good, always has plenty of great books, but the prices are a bit above the average.

Number 7  - A wild card here - the MIND Shop in Wandsworth Road, SW8, near the overground station. A real old-school charity shop, cheap clothes, and a hugely eclectic range of books, CDs, DVDs, vinyl etc. Old school charity shop, and all the better for it.

Number 8 - the Cancer Research Shop, World's End end of the King's Road. Always nice staff here, and it used to be great for old LPs. Books are cheap, and clothes can be real bargains as well - better now than its neighbouring Oxfam and Trinity shops.

Number 9 Huge and cluttered, the Wandsworth OASIS (HIV charity) shops in Battersea PArk Road have massive selection of everything, books, CDs, DVDs, furniture, the lot. A bit murky, a bit dowdy, rather dim on the lighting front but always good for a long browse, with genuine bargains still very much available to those who persevere. Nice staff too.

Number 10 but sure to rise, I feel  - the big Barnado's Shop in Brixton. Cheap and cheerful which often gets interesting vinyl (see the fast changing display in one of its windows.)

You might notice I have not mentioned  British Heart Foundation shops, even though I have bought plenty of stuff in many of their outlets - Balham, Clapham Junction, etc. But I get annoyed with their highly standardised and over-cluttered shop layouts, their pricing (£2.50 for most paperback novels, too much!) and their policy of having in-store cash collectors.

Likewise Scope, Help the Aged and Octavia Hill shops - they are all OK but just not too good for books, generally. Although, as with any charity shop, you can always get lucky - so take note, and do not heed this advice! As soon a people follow a guide, the quality drops and the prices rise. So it will soon be time for us all to rove farther afield. I'm aware of and slightly daunted by all those cavernous charity shops in South East and North West London. Fresh fields.

SO what are your favourite charity shops? Not just in London, anywhere? Tell me, I want to visit them!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Oh, look - Nine Elms disease at last reported by Evening Standard

Nine Elms - for now, it is just the cranes and the core lifts hafts. But soon it will be nothing but shiny glass blocks - and our lovely view over the cities of London, ruined for ever. Bastards!!!
I was wondering when London's main media outlets would start to look harder at the miracle of redevelopment that is happening very fast along the southern bank of the river Thames, between Vauxhall Bridge and Chelsea Bridge.

Of course it was all Olympic excitement when the plans were announced, way back in 2012 - a new life for the old iconic Power Station, vibrant new communities where in the past all we had had were council estates, markets and cats-and-dogs homes.

And a rather grim recycling centre, and an awful lot of gravel/infill/chippings/cement or whatever it is that Hanson et al pour into the back of those high-velocity cement mixer trucks that go up and down Queenstown Road at all hours of the day, spraying it with cyclist-toxic pebbledash.

Now, thanks to the Evening Standard's op-ed heavyweight Simon Jenkins, we can be sure that this indeed is part of the big problem.

In today's (25.03.14) issue Jenkins waxes very shirty about the empty-property problem that is now bedevilling his own manor - Kensington & Chelsea, of course. Then he fires a salvo aimed at the massed forces of those who are juicing this city dry with their  rapid-build, off-the-plan schemes:

"The south bank of the Thames is becoming Europe's version of Dubai's Palm Island, the winnings of an evil world stashed in Boris's behemoths littering the London skyline".

He adds that  the rich developers will continue to choose nice old houses in Knightsbridge and Kensington for themselves - and that their weird high-rise investments in Bermondsey and Blackfriars and Vauxhall  are likey to remain empty, an "insult to London".

Well, I can't help but sympathise. Chiefly, I must admit, because those new high rises along the Nine Elms strip are going to totally obliterate what had once been a rather charming, back-end of view of Westminster.

A pox on you all, whoreson pimps, you fat-pursed invaders of Vauxhall. A curse on you, all of you!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Anti-nuclear message on the buses

Anti-nuclear campaigners take to London's bus network with this very professional ad on a 45 - so much better than being told to buy aftershave or burgers.
Spotted this morning on a the side of bus in Brixton - a rather good anti-nuclear weapons ad from CND.

That's the first time in a while  I've seen such an ad, and it was a surprise. They must have cost a bit.
Seems a good thing - just for once we were not being told to buy something (apart, of course, from the anti-nuclear bomb message).

Is it the new climate of fear that's causing the revival of this group, which so often gets associated with the early '60s, Aldermaston marches, duffle coats, etc? The Scottish independence referendum, which will affect where Trident is based?

Well, it turns out  the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is running these ads just for Budget week, and has been raising funds for them via its website.

Putin and Kim Jong-un do seem to have upped the ante to the point where it's now not madness to start having those mushroom-cloud panic dreams.

What with Israel, Pakistan, and god know who else also in the club, you begin to convince yourself that it is not if but when.

So - all strength to the people behind that poster on the 45 bus!

Friday, 14 March 2014

A senior moment in Fopp

Browsing idly in Fopp the other day I had one of those moments.

You know Fopp - the OAP-magnet of a shop on Shaftesbury Avenue in the west end of London,  that sells lovely brand new CDs and DVDs at prices that even undercut Oxfam.
No wonder Fopp is a magnet for males of late middle age of a Tuesday afternoon, although I think the vinyl is being bought by the gen Y set.

I say OAP because it often seems to be packed with grey hairs of my own vintage hoovering up all the Dylan and Stones and Clash and Jean Luc Godard they can afford with their redundancy money/pensions. Maybe there are Saga coach trips to Fopp?

Turning from the books (two for £5, including  plenty of JG Ballards and W Brroughs and J Kerouacs) and the £3 CDs of 60s classics, I come face to face with a rack of what I still call LPs.

Of course, it is now really called vinyl but here in a rack was a set of a about a dozen records, all but two of which I had bought between 25 and 35 years ago and still have piled up under the bookshelves.

It just seemed odd that, in a few minutes in Fopp I could have bought all the records I bought over a year or two in the late 1970s. How I used to anguish over which to buy - because in those days, even with a job, it was a real treat to buy an LP. Often we would each buy different LPs and share them around for home taping.

No idea who is still buying Ry Cooder on vinyl, but it's always good to see it still has a market. Oddly, the vinyl versions are always two to three or even four times as expensive as the CDs.

Oh, and the most expensive of all here - Rumours at £30 - is one I do not own, and have often seen in charity shops for £1.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

(Almost) mown down on Landor Road

Cycling home from a strange round trip involving the Barnardo's charity shop in Brixton, the Phtotogrpahers' Gallery off Oxford Street, and then the 99p Shop in brixton - I took the shortcut around the back of the JobCentre, onto Stockwell Road, past the skatepark and the bike shop, then swerve left into what must once have been Stockwell's village green and into Landor Road.

Then a sort of whirlwind hit me, almost sending me over the handlebars. It was followed by a high-pitched howl and the sight of a large black car vitally flying up the street, crashing on brakes, then accelerating away again like a formula 1 racer.

A black kid on one of those little bmx-style bikes almost got hit by this vehicle, but he swerved in time and carried on regardless. I was shaking.

You wonder what. There must have been three to four hundred horsepower under the bonnet of that bastard car.

Where were they going, where had they been? Was it a getaway car from a murder scene? Or just some   blunt-nosed podgy yuppie trying to impress someone?

Most days I see these scenes, and these days the image that often floats to the surface is that of Putin, the barrel-chested bully-boy on his hunting steed.

And then the arseholes of the BNP who can still wield enough threat and fear to force Legoland - of all people - to cancel a private event for a Muslim group.

What the hell is going on, in 2014, 100 years after nationalism's worst hour?

Amnd how do I link a souped-up Merc in Brixton with  right-wing thugs in England and the president of the Russian Federation?

Dunno. It all seems to have a lot to do with machismo, male swaggering. What a dear friend once called "big swinging dick" syndrome.

Perhaps alongside the 5-a-day campaign, the NHS should introduce a new "dick reduction" programme to temper this rampant and unpleasant outbreak of testosterone-stenching masculinity.

Anyway, to cut to a happy ending, after an unhappy middle-phase looking at macho photos by WIlliam S Burroughs etc,  I found a copy of John Peel's  Olivetti Chronicles at the Barnados Shop for £2. Now, there was a real man….

Monday, 3 March 2014

Bad timing for sixth Maslenitsa

Three years back, remember how great it seemed to stumble onto that big Russian spring festival in Trafalgar Square? Last Sunday was the sixth year of this "Maslenitsa" festival welcoming the spring - but alas, the actual and political climates ruined the day for many.

London's Maslenitsa festival seemed a great way for London's estimated 150,000 Russian residents to show the city a bit of their culture. The whole idea of a spring festival is a delight, slotting in neatly just before pancakes, Lent and Easter.

From the start it was state-sponsored - both by the Russian ministry of culture and our own  minister of any London event, the omnipresent Boris Johnson. It was not some spontaneous bit of creativity from London based Russian, but a well stage-managed bit of state propaganda (odd how that seems to have chnacged very little since soviet days) along with some great PR for some huge Russian  corporations and  of course for  Boris himself.

Back in 2010, this all seemed ok-ish, there was even some sun in London, and the Russian cultural display appeared fresh and strange, almost innocent, compared with the slick X-factor nonsense you get at British versions of such events.

Rain and politics did not keep the crowds of Russian away from Trafalgar Square for Sunday's sixth Maslenitsa festivalAbove all, the crowd was huge and happy and at least half-Russian (you could tell: the good-looking ones and those wearing real furs were the  Russians, says the ethnic stereotyper in me ).

It was an unexpected and hugely enjoyable event.

So we went back on Sunday, cautiously, knowing that everything had changed. Since them we've had Putin's men beating up Pussy Riot members, we've had Russia blocking any attempts to do much about Syria, the strained goodwill of the Sochi Olympics, and this week, with devilishly bad timing, we have Russia apparently poised to crush the revived democratic movement in Ukraine.

For the past three days, we have seemed to be teetering on the t brink war, thought there days seem to be a merciful cooling-off of the rhetoric this morning.

So we had the organisers speaking of the value of cultural exchange and mutual benefits, when everyone there knew what was going on in Crimea. Only the most oblique references were made, however, and all the dignitaries who spoke - English and Russian - were cheerful and upbeat.

People were handing out little Russian Federation flags energetically, as they did three years ago - but this time, you couldn't help thinking that the resultant flag-waving images from Trafalgar Square might have some symbolic use in the next few weeks.

Sad, too, for the performers, many of them young dance troupes, whose beautiful displays were clearly the fruit of months of painful rehearsal, should have this moment of triumph tarnished by both politics and the stinking British weather.

The acts we saw did not seem too bothered, and the best, the insanely energetic Cossack dance troup[e, Samoc (?), were exchanging jokes in Russian and demanding bigger and better applause from the audience.

 By 5pm, when the rain got harder and the wind colder, and the more casual visitors were leaving fast, the hard-core were beginning to dancing and stamping and swaying and shouting all the more. The crowd were just as cheerful as three years ago - but  this time perhaps it was
more defiantly cheerful.

Oddly, there was no large-scale Ukrainian protest - just a handful of people with placards across the road. There was also, for a while, a silent protest by Turks against al-Qaeda-backed extremists which seemed unconnected.

A shame that this day was marred - and in fact it was part of a week of Russian culture in London, and with equally bad timing it would seem 2014 has been declared a Year of Russian culture  in the UK.