About Me

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

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Chase: Clapham's street of no shame

Each day I come home across the northern corner of Clapham Common, then turn right into my street.

Over the road are the beautiful walled gardens of Trinity Hospice, wonderful at any time of year, but especially so in spring, with its abundant wisteria and blossoming trees. This hospice - rightly venerated across the city - still operates according to the policies of its founders, that is - offering a place to anyone i need within its catchment area, regardless of anything else, wealth included.

If only the rest of this street, my street, where I have lived since 1985, could adhere to such policies.

Up on the wall to your left as you turn the corner from Northside into The Chase are two plaques.  Not genuine blue plaques denoting former residents of historical significance. No, these are a less impressive blue, one mid-blue, one dark, but they are not the real thing, not real London Blue Plaques.

Instead,  they are privatised plaques, essentially boasts, commemorating two street parties held in this road, one for the queen's 60th anniversary of accession to the throne,  possibly, and the other for the royal family wedding, a year or so later.

I can't remember the exact dates but I do remember the rather off-putting invitations, stuffed through our front doors back then. They invited us all to join in honouring said royals at "street parties".

 The Chase would be closed to traffic and the residents were invited to buy tickets for a feast in honour of, well I suppose the Queen herself, and ... I can''t remember who the others were - possibly Charles' son's wedding to Ms K. Middleton?

I have no interest in  England's royal family. They seem in some cases to be rather silly, annoying people, I am never sure why they are given the opportunity to comment so often. I do not generally believe them when they speak, it seems like they are actors, voicing someone else's lines.

 I'm sure they'd have similar or even stronger feelings about me. You can't really hate them, they are too bland.  The ones I loathe are the media arse-lickers who seem to think we all want them to plaster photos of these dreary folk all over the front pages of newspapers, and all over every TV news bulletin.

So, I have to admit, it rather annoys me every day, seeing these plaques commemorating these events which gave a few well-heeled households in this street the chance to advertise their patriotism and their connections and their good taste in catering to each other. It is still, in this country, a matter of who you know, or worse still, where you went to school or university.

But why did they have to stick these plates on the wall? It is the equivalent of me putting huge photos of Castro or Che Guevara or even poor old Ken Livingstone over my windows.

I wish I had a similar wall onto which I could screw plaques reflecting my own political views. Living on the top floor of a decaying chunk of jerry-built housing - one the luftwaffe should have put out of its misery, but narrowly missed - I do not.

I wish I had had the nerve to organise a street party  to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of this street's one truly great recent resident, Angela Carter. That might be something good: but I'm sure her many friends and fans and family me members will do something good, in 2017, for this great author.

It happens that there is a genuine Blue Plaque on a house in this street, directly opposite where I live. It marks the spot where the Japanese novelist, Natsume Soseki, spent a couple of extremely unhappy and uncomfortable years in London in a miserable Clapham boarding house. That house is now worth approximately £2.5 million. Or perhaps much more...

I doubt if many people will visit this part of Clapham to see where some wealthy residents glugged a lot of champagne in honour of the royals on those days. By contrast, almost every day through the summer, taxis and minibuses stop outside 80 The Chase to disgorge Japansese tourists, young and old, here to pay tribute to Japan's answer to Dickens or Henry James, and to visit the small museum in the flat at no 80b.

Maybe a Japanese themed street party would tick all our boxes?

Meanwhile, another "only in The Chase" sighting today - one of those home-made posters asking people to pick up their dog's shit. Only in this case, it came with a bag of Bob Marten's poo-bags, just in case the shames owners had forgotten to bring their own.


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Eras ain't what they used to be (RIP Marco Polo House)

Well, it wasn't much of grand era for the country I suppose - that rather shoddy two decades from 1984
Former HQ of both eh Observer and British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) is being demolished to make way for new luxury apartments
to the great slump of 2008. But to see the demolition balls cracking into that weird white building on the south side of Chelsea Bridge was to feel once again the end of a part of my own life.

When I first moved to south west London in 1985, my mother would often come and stay. As her train approached Victoria she would see this almost cathedral-like shiny white block just across the rails from the grand old Battersea power station. Being a fan of all things new and shiny, she rather liked it - but not as much as she liked watching Concordes roaring overhead  from my balcony.

As I was soon to discover, this building was to be the headquarters of the Observer newspaper, then owned by a businessman called "Tiny" Rowland. The Observer hacks didn't seem too keen on being transplanted south of the River, and the newspaper itself went downhill. Eventually Rowland sold it to  the Guardian and  Marco Polo House fell empty.

As luck would have it,  the first official satellite broadcaster in the latter days of Mrs Thatcher's reign, BSB, was due to launch soon and needed a suitably impressive HQ building.

BSB was a blatant attempt by the broadcasting establishment to neutralise the upstart Sky TV, which had taken advantage of this age of white-hot de-regulation to start beaming about 6 channels into the UK - and charging for some of them. The ex-BBC and ex-ITV people running BSB were spending vast sums of money in all directions (anyone remember the "Squarial?") - and this flamboyant building in its off-beat location seemed to chime nicely with their aspirations.

I got to see inside Marco Polo house quite often, as from 1990 to 1996 I was working for business magazines Satellite Trader and Cable & Satellite Europe, covering the emergent new media industry of the 1980s. It all seemed very modern and flash and lovely - how could a broadcaster based in such super hi-tech surroundings possibly fail?

Oddly enough, it did fail, about a year later, and Murdoch's Sky very generously allowed itself to merge with the hopelessly fat and now deflated BSB to form BSkyB.

Marco Polo House immediately lost its first tenant and any BSB staff kept on had to work in the much less glamorous HQ of Sky TV on an industrial estate near Heathrow airport. For a while it housed the shopping channel, QVC, but it was clearly falling into disrepair.

Now it stands on the western edge of the biggest re-development zone in London (see Nine Elms disease articles) and is being swept away to make room for what seem like equally flashy blocks of flats.

From the shoulder-padded early 1980s to the skinny-jeaned 20-teens, a pretty dismal era really. Bad taste in the mouth, bad taste all round.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Nine Elms disease part XX: Skyline campaign brings good taste to the debate

At last, someone comes to the debate over London's resurgent skyscraper plague with matters other than money and politics in mind.

Writing in the Architect's Journal, former City of London planner  Peter Rees poured scorn on the quality of the new residential towers going up across London - but especially those in the Vauxhall/NineElms/Battersea developments.

He rather weakens his case by contrasting these "dumbed down" "investment towers" with some of the new buildings in the City that he was involved with - the Gherkin and the Cheesegrater, sure, but what about the repulsive "Walkie-Talkie"? Did the plans for that one not pass under his highly sensitive nose?

That apart, you just have to applaud the campaign's aims, but it looks like it's just too late. Certainly for those of us watching our lovely views across London being daily narrowed down by the shiny boxes of various shapes rising out of the old Battersea marshes.

In a separate article in the same magazine, Robert Bevan  singles out the hideous St George's Tower at Vauxhall, which is best known as the location of a helicopter crash last year. Great the way an architectural expert can really lay in to a nasty building - he attacks its joylessness, and the "cheap grey glass and steel" finish, at odds with the "cheap green glass" of the equally hideous winged towers next door/beneath.

Oddly, another recent and quite loud bit of architectural statement at Vauxhall is the subject of a preservation campaign. That's the shiny "ski jump" shelter at the massive bus station, all of which is now to be swept away under Lambeth's plans. Good luck, Kate Hoey MP et al!