About Me

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

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Peter bows out: a bit of Clapham High Street that should forever be Greece has gone. Almost...

Peter the Greek's final, final closing down sale last week: another bit of old, untidy Clapham is about to disappear
to meet the tidy, buttoned up and thoroughly steel-gated demands of London's property vultures.
2015 will be remembered for plenty of bad reasons. For some of us, amongst much else, it will probably go down as the year in which two of the pillars of Clapham's small but tenacious Greek Cypriot community finally chucked it all in, and called it a day.

If you've been listening to ace SW8 podcaster Daniel Ruiz Tizon's marvellous interviews with Andy, the Greek Cypriot barber of Landor Road, (Part 1 here and Part 2 here)  (and if not why not?) you will know that he is now really on the verge of retirement, after half a century of expertly wielding the clippers and the cut-throat razor to the astonishing parade of characters who have navigated this important furrow between SWs 2, 9 and eventually 4.

So, if you believe him, Andy will be back on the isle of his birth, tending his vines and the olive trees, in January 2016. Meanwhile, it seems that Peter,  the Greek second-hand-goods dealer of Clapham High Street, has also finally had to shut up shop. His lock-up on Prescott Place will soon disappear and be turned into yet more expensive residential property.

His final day was officially  Monday 23 November - as the often repainted "Closing down sale" banner made clear. But by the end of that day the bailiffs had not turned up, so Peter kept on trading a little longer….and then, a few more days…but one day soon, he will be gone.

The vine begins in the soil of a tiny garden
outside  St Peter's Catholic Church...
You wander down Prescott Street today and the shop is shut-up. But even when the single storey lock-up is demolished, there's going to be a durable reminder of his two or three decade presence here. It's a grape-vine, which was planted back in about 2009 in the tiny bit of garden by the side of the catholic church, which by happy coincidence is dedicated to St Peter.

Amazingly the vine has thrived, twisted itself round the corner, and started out on a long journey towards the joys of Clapham High Street. If you look at it even now there are clusters of this autumn's black grapes still hanging down.

According to Peter, once it was established the vine needed very little maintenance, "Just a little cutting back in the spring".

Will he be there to do it next spring? "Who knows."

It has now advanced about two-thirds of the way along the wall of the Two Brewers bar and nightclub on its way to the main road. Peter's hoping he'll live to see it make  the full distance. He;s got another growing along the alley-way behind his flat. It seems vines like Clapham soil, and like Andy, Peter clearly knows how to cultivate.

Unlike Andy, Peter's not planning to return to his birthplace. He likes Clapham and wants to stay here. It seems though he still has further battles, to do with where he's living, to get through.

And it continues along the wall of the Two Brewers, one of Clapham's most
famous gay bars, on its way to the wide-open spaces of the High Street
But, as for the shop, from what he told me, he did not intend to oppose the closure, as he's ready to give it all up. The shop had been quite busy recently, and whenever I visited there were plenty of people trawling through the boxes of books, records, glass, china, and the rails of clothing.

For Peter himself, maybe not such a bad outcome - but for this curious bit of Clapham, which had hung onto its 1980s feel far longer than you'd expect in an area now swamped by a second or even third generations of blond and blazered and chubby-cheeked ex public schoolboys and their well-groomed gals - it's a serious loss. One more of a very small and fast dwindling number of independent, totally  ungentrifiable business ventures, makes its exit, stage left.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Anyone want to run a café in Clapham Library?

Some caffeine with your Kafka madame?
Looking forward to this bookish café, but hoping it'll
spill out onto the pavement otherwise there won't be
anywhere for anyone to sit - students, readers, coffee
sippers will all be competing for already limited
seating and desk-space!
Interesting fact: Lambeth is inviting bids from anyone interested in opening a coffee shop on the ground
floor of Clapham Public Library.

The flyer put out by Lambeth's agent, Lambert Smith Hampton, says the café would be given 60 square metres of space on the ground floor, and that customers "will be able to acesss…additional seating at mezzanine level".

A café has always been part of the plans for the library and in theory it's a nice idea. A good book or magazine and a decent mug of frothed milk instant: what could be better?

In reality, of course, it's a different matter. On a Monday afternoon, that 60sq m at the front of the building was filled with young students working at tables. The mezzanine area was also full. Most of the private study spaces on the way up that spiral ramp were occupied.

Things get even busier when exam season approaches - and these days exam season is most of the school year. The trouble with this building, which looks awfully good in the brochures, is that it makes very poor use of the space it encloses. There's a great big void in the middle that's pleasing enough but not really very useful for people wanting somewhere to sit and read. The little benches on the spiral ramp are too narrow for anyone over the age of about 7 to sit comfortably on.

Add to this the fact that Lambeth says that Clapham, as one of the "safe" town centre libraries, will take in exiled users of the libraries it is planning to close or convert into gyms, and you see the potential for severe overcrowding. That's if people can face or afford the bus or tube journey to Clapham High Street from Kennington or South Lambeth.

With these considerations, and with the proposed rent "in the region of £25,000pa" you wonder if the site is going to be very attractive to bidders. You have to hope there'll be restrictions on the type of food they can offer, or the whole book stock will soon be smelling of stale fried onion. 

It seems OK that parts of the library are reserved for "teens" or mothers and babies. There's quite often a seat free down in the kids' area, which is also a performance area - but you'd need a stronger sense of entitlement than I have to face off the glares of the SW4 mumsnet contingent.

Maybe they should have a designated dossers' zone for old lags, layabouts and buffers like me. We are on the increase, you know.

But I don't want to carp: I use this library all the time and overall it has to be one of the better examples of public-private joint development. The staff are great and it has a good and imaginative stock of books, etc…I just wonder how, if it's got a hope of being commercially viable, a café is going to be squeezed in there and what will be lost as a result.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Breathless in Nine Elms, more shocked than awed

One Nine Elms development at Nine Elms, Vauxhall, London - a 56 storey tower will be "breath-taking"
Have to agree, it is truly breath-taking. I want my breath back, please!
I am guilty of under-selling the creative skills of  the One Nine Elms developers'  marketing people.

Couple of weeks back, posted a joke item on the slogans on the big fences surrounding the site.

Item showed the words: ONE NINE ELMS: JAW DROPPING

So yesterday I walked past the site again and realised they'd come up with a whole family of two-word adjectival phrases, for example: ONE NINE ELMS: BREATH TAKING



Breath-taking? Yes, they're right. The massive amount of pollution caused by the tens of thousands of truck-miles the must've been clocked up as bits of these monster buildings are brought to the site is quite enough to take our breath away, thanks.

All through the summer the air was full of dust and grit. It was truly breath-taking, lung-irritating stuff.

As for awe-inspiring, well the architect's impressions of the finished development rather suggest not. Shocking, maybe, but not much awe.

It looks like a great deal more of  the same old staggered filing-cabinet style apartment towers, rising up to 56 storeys - a bit higher  than the existing St George's Wharf tower. I mean, how could that inspire "awe"? It would need to reach up at least twice that height, up into the clouds, to make anyone used to craning their poor old necks towards the Shard to feel anything other than bored.

I like tall buildings, I just hate bland architecture and towers full of bland "luxury" flats that are designed specifically to inoffensive to any potential buyers, who nearly always are not going to live there but sell them on.

One Nine Elms says it will be offering "Luxurious riverside living". There will also be a "luxury 5-star hotel" to service the apartments (whatever that means). The promotional video is a slick bit of computer animation with the statutory tall blonde lady gliding around an apartment admiring the views…which include the not-too-distant prospect of the Canary Wharf towers, where maybe she works.

Anyway, as those Nine Elms people are so keen on phrases to describe their work, here are a couple more possibles to write in big script up on the fence: daylight-thieving, view-ruining, wind-tunnel-effect-creating, yawn-inducing, stomach-churning…oh, there's plenty more.

But don't get the impression Microgroove33 just loves to snipe and groan: where there's good news, we are ready to blast it out, full volume. And so today it's great to report they have provided a cycle-path of sorts on the otherwise closed northbound side of Wandsworth Road. It's a bit of an obstacle course,  with plenty of cheery blokes in orange waving you through. But it beats trying to dodge the oncoming trucks on the other side.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Old Town old school big night out: Maroon Town bring classic ska back to Clapham Manor Street

Maroon Town at Bread and Roses, Clapham, 20 Novermber 2015. Come
back soon, please!
Everyone knows Bread and Roses in Clapham Manor Street is a great pub, perhaps the only pub left in SW4 you feel good going into.

Apart from being the only trade union-owned pub I know of (anywhere), this pub has always been a delight to visit, if only because of just how unlikely it even exists any more, least of all in banker-rich SW4.

But here it still is, the beer prices are still a bit less than your average Clapham boozer, and they still put on great nights of music, comedy, poetry, theatre, the lot.

Last night was a case in point. The normal irresistible urge, to head uptown on a Friday or Saturday night, was easy to resist as temperatures plunged to zero.  Somewhere I'd read that a well-known ska band was playing at Bread & Roses this weekend.

I had seen the band - Maroon Town - ages ago, maybe late 80s, and always wanted to see them again. Last night in Clapham Manor Street I realised why.

Even tuning up the band were capable of sending the electric charge down your spine, when suddenly a rocksteady guitar chop meets a bass-line on the way down, and a drum kicks in at exactly the right wrong moment.

For a while there were more musicians on stage (nine) than audience, or so it seemed - but  there was a good last-minute influx, looked like some good old original skins were there, pork-pie hat identified, buzz cut boys now in the mid to late, but still swearing well.

Clear as hell this band are going to demand a party, and there's no way they'll be playing much if people don't move. People moved all right, alright, they need not have worried.

People were there to dance. There were the loyal fans, the friends and family, all dancing beautifully. And lots of young Europeans, all dancing lustily.

Can't remember much - the music was like the blood in your veins, pulsing very healthily. There was a ska version of the Herbie Hancock standard Chameleon which had tears streaming down my face (why? cos this was the tune my daughter chose for her GCSE dance piece).

Though, to be honest, it takes very little to get my tear ducts over-producing these days.

That and four pints of London pride.

I loved their opening number, Boom! Ska! and I loved their Afro-Cuban-Latino stuff as well. And then they did one of their classics, I think it's Average Man - anyway, by then all inhibition had flown, and ill-advised feet were lifting far off the floor, knees angling away, head down, fingers pointing down, oh gawd.

Sorry, anyone I bumped into, anyone whose enjoyment of this evening was lessened by the spectacle of an aged string-driven animated skanking scarecrow.

Thanks, anyway, to Bread and Roses and the whole Maroon Town community.

And if you'd like to check out some of their music, here's a good place to start: Average Man.

And here's another one.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A half-century of cutting hair in SW9 – Andy, the barber of Landor Road, tells his story

After a couple of weeks of increasingly depressing news about the future of Lambeth's most valuable branch libraries, what a massive relief it is to listen to sanity - the voice of the best mens' hairdresser in all the important SW postcodes.

After 50 years of cutting the hair of just about every bloke in the Clapham
North and Stockwell (west) areas, as well as Ferndale Road, west Brixton
 and much further afield, Andy the barber  of Landor Road is retiring.  Now,
thanks to a great local broadcaster, we can listen to Andy in perpetuity.
Yep, I'm off: this is about one of my favourite subjects. Andy, the legendary Greek Cypriot barber of Landor Road, who is on the verge of retiring, has been interviewed by another legend - the SW8 broadcaster, Daniel Ruiz Tison, famous for his ResonanceFM show amongst much else.

The first part of this free-ranging conversation with Andy and many of his customers, is available now.

It's an audio treat for anyone with any interest whatsoever in this area, or in the social history of London, or in the business of cutting hair, or in being human…

Listening to this just now, it was almost as if I was in the chair, I could almost hear the buzzing of the clippers. I could almost feel that sense of relief I always get as the grizzly overgrown bits of my wayward barnet are expertly harvested. The movements so swift and precise, you hardly realise it's happening.

And Andy holding forth, on whatever topic took his fancy. Not just football and Chelsea's latest disasters. Not just the cost of keeping an old Mercedes on the road. Not just the joys and pains of gardening and keeping an allotment, not just the craziness of local government bureaucracy.

 Last time, it was the good sense the ancient Greeks had to have a dozen gods (one for everything that mattered, and one left over for anything else).

Soon, this brilliant bit of online radio, or podcasting, or whatever you call it - will be all we have left to remind us of the hours we spent at Andy's barbershop on Landor Road.

Because, as is by now known across the nation, Andy is really and truly about to retire, and go back to live in his native Cyprus. This is what he has told me for years, and this time I know it is really happening.

Catch the programme now, and if you live within a day or two's travelling distance of Landor Road (Clapham North or Brixton or Stockwell tube stations, 322 bus) and need a haircut, well, Andy is your man.

Council unmoved by 10,000 signature library petitions: welcome to local democracy, Lambeth style

All in vain? Two weeks of protests, petitioning, marches and meetings
and have failed to sway Lambeth councillors, who last night voted
through proposals to convert "at least two" libraries into bookish gyms
So, it was to be a climax. A full meeting of the council of the London Borough of Lambeth, with its plans for the future of the borough's library service on the agenda.

The opponents of the proposals were there to submit petitions with 10,000 plus signatures from Lambeth residents, none of whom want their local libraries to be closed or turned into gyms. How could this not make a seismic impact on the assembled councillors who witnessed it?

Well, as we all very rapidly learned, it was actually very easy for the councillors to take no notice of the public (oh, the ones who pay tax and vote) and to carry on just as if they were in some private club, with a few oiks pressing their noses up against the windows.

In fact we were in Elmgreen School in Tulse hill. A smart new building, very light and spacious, with a hall big enough, it seems for 1,000 school kids. But tonight it is arranged so that the public gallery is squeezed up against one wall. The Mayor of Lambeth and the officers are up on the stage, the councillors arranged in some sort of occult crop circles below, with the golden mace as a focal point.

All this ceremony and symbolism does have a good purpose - it's to remind the elect that they are no longer just themselves, but representatives of their electorate. They have been granted power, but it is entirely dependent on the trust of th epeople who voted for them.

Sorry. You can tell it is many decades since I last attended a full council meeting…and it is with renewed respect for local news reporters that I continue this personal account of my disappointment as a witness of Lambeth Council on the 18th November, 2015.

A good local reporter has to deal with this quasi-masonic ritualistic stuff all the time. They know how to decode some of the more runic exchanges, and how and when to challenge when something needs challenging. And, talking of good local reporters - read the Crystal Palace News service account of last night's proceedings.

As for the rest of us - well, there's heckling, and silent protest.

First up, however, was a "debate" on the refugee crisis, with input from invited experts - the  South London Refugee Association and the Calais Action group.  Lip service was paid, of course it was, to their excellent work, and to Lambeth's pledge to house 10 refugee families. A powerful address came from Unjum Mirza, a Brixton-based tube driver, a child of refugee parents, who invited councillors to join him on his next trip to experience the reality of the Calais refugee camps.

Other deputations made their cases, and were politely ushered away with soft reassurances that their  concerns had been noted.

Then came the Save Lambeth Libraries deputation. Its chair, Laura Swaffield, presented the case against the proposed changes with such eloquence and controlled passion that you felt certain that heads, and hearts and minds of the assembled council would surely be turned.

How could they not see that everything that is so good about public libraries in Lambeth has been built up over decades by professional and dedicated library staff working within their communities, and that  at least half of this is about to be swept away?

Sadly, the answer was: very easily. Because here we are in a separate bubble world, a council chamber, even though a temporary one - it's not the real world.

And so, for all the passion and the truths, the heckling and the placards and the signatures, the councillors were unmoved.

Yes, welcome to local democracy, London style, 2015 style. This was Alice in Wonderland meets Oliver Twist. We in the public gallery were Oliver, being told very clearly by the Red or Blue or even Orange Queen that we must not on any account ask for "More!" Or even,  for what we had already.

We did our bit of chanting and holding up of placards; it was a bit like being at a pantomime. And the mayor smiled for a while and then hh-hmmd a bit and things went back to normal.

In the background, Mad Hatters, Tweedles Dum and Dee and other upside-down characters, nodded away. It was clear that really we did not count for very much at all.

Given the effort involved in collecting those 10,000 plus signatures so deftly brushed aside by the architect of the  Culture 2020 libraries plan, Cllr Jane Edbrooke, it's surprising anger wasn't even more strongly expressed.

But this evening, red and blue were inverted. The Labour council made a good shot at putting forward a version of John Major-era Tory ideas about libraries being marvellous things, but just not possible any more. The Tory opposition were for a while sounding like Atlee-era socialists: libraries are a vital part of democracy. That £4million  is "a drop in the ocean!" Of course we can afford them, especially as our economy is doing so splendidly and we have a such a marvellously generous government!

Yes, you can see why there was a certain discomfort on the public benches. It got to the point where we were applauding the tall tory and booing Labour councillors. This cannot be right!

It was not right. And it got more and more wrong. Shouts of "Shame on you" greeted the rushed voting, which saw the anti-library cuts motion brushed into the waste bin.

Should we have been reassured that at least this council is not going to let Boris Johnson and his pals push on with the expensive and annoying Garden Bridge project, because a least Lambeth has the unique power to stop it, at least from the south bank perspective?

Well, I'd love to know. Because Lambeth leader Lib Peck's response was so fast and so opaque…that I have not the faintest idea whether her answer was yes, no or something much ruder.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Listen up! This is why libraries are so important in Lambeth...

The ongoing campaign to save all ten public libraries in the Borough of Lambeth, against the schemes of an aloof and unresponsive council has prompted a great deal of debate around here.

Some people wonder why we get so passionate about these places. They ask, with local authorities facing truly savage budget cuts, isn't it more important for the "core" services of housing and public health, social services and education to be safeguarded?

Thing is, for many of us, libraries are – and always have been – core services. We've depended on them for access to information, for advice, for education. For books, magazines, and archives.  Now the roles of libraries are much wider - almost by default they have become a vital part of the social fabric of communities, especially communities like Lambeth's.

If you need to be convinced, listen to the latest episode of the brilliant ResonanceFM radio show, Daniel Ruiz Tizon is Available. In his latest show, he explains how the threatened libraries of Lambeth are right at the heart of his community in Stockwell. He makes the point much better than I ever could: you can also listen to it via iTunes,  here.

Daniel's bit about libraries comes towards the end of the 30 minute show, which as usual is a delightful, hilarious and occasionally surreal auditory excursion through the streets of SW8 and beyond. This week touching on the joys and horrors of municipal swimming pools in winter, the perennial problems of men's winter outerwear, Close Encounters on Stockwell Road, the Nine Elms development, cafe life, and Vauxhall's place in TV drama. Oh and much more. Just be careful you don't become an addict like I have.

Anyway, back to the matter of the moment (especially as Brixton Buzz reports that all libraries have closed today due to staff staging a protest walkout, all strength to them!)

Yeah, just to say, public libraries have always been about more than books, and in the past decades, library staff have worked wonders to transform their old buildings into real playgrounds of the imagination for children, into learning zones for people with disabilities and access problems of various types; places where adult literacy classes can be held, and where less formal learning of IT and language skills is happening all the time.

Check the noticeboards of any Lambeth library to see the amazing range of activities and meetings and entertainments that are held every single day.

But now, with the decline of the old-style (i.e. cheap and cheerful) local pubs and the replacement of cheap cafes with expensive  coffee houses, libraries are one of the last refuges for the lonely, the unemployed, the homeless, the skint, the wanderer, young or old, looking for a bit a warmth and someone to return a smile.

This is why they must not close branch libraries: the bigger town centre libraries they say are safe are already over-subscribed. I use the new Clapham Library on the High Street. It's an interesting place which I've described elsewhere. It's doing well providing space for children's activities, and study space used mainly by school and college students doing coursework or revising for exams.  But it's often hard to find a seat.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Lambeth's library-loving residents get angry at extraordinary Carnegie Library meeting

Herne Hill's Carnegie Library packed with angry residents for a meeting to
discuss ways of resisting Lambeth's weird 'bookish gym' scheme
A meeting at Herne Hill's threatened Carnegie Library on Monday (November 17) evening sent out a loud, clear message to the council which is planning to close or re-purpose half of the borough's ten public libraries. The message was simply: "no!"

The library was packed. It was standing room only. The Lambeth library-using demographic was thoroughly represented, and the crowd, cheerful to begin with, grew increasingly angry as the absurdities of the council scheme, and the real danger of the loss of at least three treasured libraries - were examined in forensic detail by members of the Friends of Carnegie Library, by a Lambeth Unison rep, and by many, many speakers from the floor.

What became clear was that the Lambeth plan to hand three libraries - Carnegie, Tate South Lambeth and the Minet - over to GLL - were not merely unpopular and almost universally derided as "bonkers".

They were also strangely thin on detail - fuelling suspicion that there's a hidden agenda here, and that a real long-term aim could be to flog off some of the buildings (but not until the next local elections are safely in the past, that is post-May 2018).

Such speculation was based on some good digging-up of intelligence:  a land registry map of the Minet Library, for example, showed how it was not yet ripe for the property-development plucking, as there are two adjacent residential properties with windows overlooking the site.

Then there was the matter of the formation of a "shadow trust" to run the new "Healthy Living Centres".  As the same names of the same councillors cropped up time again, it seemed this was again just a hastily-formulated attempt to formalise the scheme. "Anyone can set up a trust. You just download a form from the Charities Commission, and fill it in."

A degree of scepticism was also noted regarding Lambeth's rejection of the librarians' own proposals to save all ten libraries. Their neat plan to save the requisite cash was rejected for lack of "a proper business plan".

We were then shown the business plan submitted by GLL: looked like one and half sheets of hasty Microsoft Word processing. No detailed financial breakdown.  The vagueness of it all - for example, the estimated cost of £1 million per library for conversion into a gym - was perplexing. Normally these planning and property developer deals are very efficiently cloaked in acres of luxuriant verbiage, charts, diagrams, spreadsheets, computer animations, and what have you.

One thing that is clear is that running gyms and leisure centres seems to be a damn good way of minting money. Apparently GLL, the Greenwich Leisure group that has been picked for this plum job, has been embarrassed by the money it has made from running Lambeth's recreation centres, and has generously decided to reinvest a million or so into these new bookish gyms.

Other speakers noted the importance of Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey's  referral of the Lambeth library scheme for judicial review. This, as one expert member of the audience pointed out, could be the real scheme-breaker, as Lambeth would have to prove they were not failing in their public duty to provide library services, and to give detailed reasons why they appointed GLL, and whether all due legal processes had been adhered to in deciding to hand public buildings over to a private concern.

The Friends of Carnegie Library were themselves consulting lawyers on the legality of the proposals.

As for the morality of the proposals - well, you don't need a Pope or Archbishop to tell you that the idea of an elected council deciding to dispose of properties that were donated to their local communities by individuals (Carnegie, Tate, William Minet) on strict conditions they should remain as community assets - is not merely wrong.

It is actually - if you'll excuse an outbreak of upper-case - BORDERLINE FREAKING CRIMINAL!

This meeting began at 7pm: by 8pm, when it should have ended, it was just hotting up.

People were volunteering, lists were being drawn up of skills, contacts. A local resident who'd run public consultations on a new park in New York offered to help with drawing up a business plan. A man from Wandsworth Libraries gave an account of their similar struggle two years ago, and how they'd emerged with some success - but only by keeping totally united.

By 8.30, people were arguing the merits of  a sleep-in at the Carnegie, should our worst fears be realised,  on April 1 2016.

The spirit of 68, or was it  76, or 81, or 89 (do I mean 1989 or 1789? I mean both!) was in the air. It was a brilliant meeting.

The next one is Wednesday 18th, at 6.30 at the Elmgreen School in Tulse Hill.

This is a full council meeting: The Friends of Carnegie and the Save Lambeth Libraries campaign will be handing in their petitions, all of which will have sufficient signatories to ensure the campaigns have the right to send deputations to the meeting. So it will be a crucial one.

PS: People wondering why the council is holding its big meetings in schools were reminded that the main council chamber in Brixton is currently closed. The old Town Hall on the corner of Acre Lane is being redeveloped, and the council is building a new town hall further up Brixton Hill. At some expense. A bit more than the cost of keeping these libraries going….? No, surely not.

Monday, 16 November 2015

A lovely new library with lots of books and no PE equipment has opened…in Camberwell

 So new they haven't finished the paving yet: Camberwell Library is in the London Borough of Southwark, but only about 100 yards from the border with Lambeth, where libraries face closure or conversion into gyms
So new they haven't finished the paving yet: Camberwell Library is in the London Borough of Southwark, but only
about 100 yards from the border with Lambeth, where libraries face closure or conversion into gyms

Talk about greener grass and fences and so on, but while Lambeth's library-loving residents are battling a council plan to turn three of their libraries into gyms, so a brand new library with some 27,000 real books and other media is opened just a few yards from the borough's border, in lovely Camberwell.

The new Camberwell library was opened on November 4, treating residents to an elegant, light-filled, dedicated  building on the east side of Camberwell Green. There are no expensive flats above, no mini-supermarket embedded within the building.

It's not a showy statement building like Peckham library just down the road - an award-winning design by architect Will Alsop, built in 1999 – but it doesn't need to be. It's a pleasing, warm, functional space filled with books on shelves, computers on desks, and people using them.

Cross the road, walk up Denmark Hill, and you'll soon get to Herne Hill's Carnegie Library which is one of the three earmarked for changing into  "Healthy Living Centres". But the Carnegie is in Lambeth. Camberwell, like Peckham, is in the borough of Southwark.

A week ago, 600 of Lambeth residents marched from Brixton to the Tate South Lambeth library to express their dislike of these plans. Especially to the councillor behind the scheme, one Jane Eddington, who was inside the TSL Library at the time the demo arrived. But she was not willing to meet them, nor to discuss things further - as has been pretty much the case throughout. Lambeth seems determined to press on with these salt-rubbing-into-wound style cuts regardless of what its council-tax-paying, vote-casting, library-loving residents think.

So what is Southwark doing that Lambeth isn't? How can it build new libraries while Lambeth wants to close beautiful and much loved gems of the public library movement?

 Is Southwark taxing its residents more? Is it cutting other services more deeply? Is it running up a huge debt? It's not actually doing any of these things to any significant extent. Both boroughs are under heavy  central government pressure to reduce spending.

The former Camberwell Library occupied two old shops, where it had been
since a much grander old building was destroyed by bombs during
the London blitz.
And yet, Southwark currently has 12 public libraries compared to Lambeth's 10, five of which are likely to close or be turned into gyms. Both boroughs have more than the the average social deprivation. But Southwark has a slightly smaller population than Lambeth (288,000 against 303,000) and is also slightly poorer.

Both boroughs are Labour controlled, though both have had Lib Dem coalitions in the past.  Southwark has more surviving council housing (in fact it has the highest amount of all London boroughs) but both boroughs have been criticised for selling off prime sites to private developers.

They both have similar annual budgets of around £320million. They even look like mirror images of each other on a map.

But in terms of priorities, it seems they are as different as possible. Or am I missing something?

Next step: There's a public meeting on the Carnegie Library's future at 7pm tonight, 16th November, details here.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Clapham: it looks so much nicer when you can't see it properly….

Tired of words for the moment. Last week there were two or three foggy mornings. I got my arse in gear and took some misty autumnal shots of my regular routes (yes I am like a rat, I have runs, well-worn paths through the undergrowth….)

Here's what I saw (and better still, what I didn't see…)

foggy morning runners on clapham common north side, london sw4

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Another cyclist hospitalised: the inevitable cost of 21st century construction techniques in a 19th century city

Cycling down the Wandsworth Road this morning, the sound of helicopter blades close overhead, then the sight of the red air-ambulance setting down in Larkhall Park, and then all the blue lights flashing further down the road.

Take a detour, across to Stockwell, dreading to read the online headlines.

Reading the online headlines an hour later at work: on the Evening Standard site, Wandsworth Road crash: cyclist trapped under cement truck.

It happened at 8.30am, and one of the witnesses said precisely what I was feeling: "When I saw the aftermath, I thought 'oh no, not again'".

As pointed out elsewhere on this blog, Wandsworth Road beyond this junction has in effect become part of the Nine Elms building site. One lane is closed, and huge trucks line up to have their cargo hauled off by cranes and bolted to the new skyscrapers which are rapidly blocking out daylight from this part of the world.

Traffic coming west along the Wandsworth road includes empty cement trucks, rushing back to Battersea for a refill at the Lafarge depot in Silverthorne Road. At the Lansdowne Road junction they meet diverted eastbound traffic, which is nearly always snarled up. Cyclists try to dodge round. The lights have not caught up with the roadworks. Horns blare.

Cars, buses and vans trying to get to Vauxhall are infesting the backstreets around Lansdowne and Clapham Roads, mixing with the existing school run traffic, cyclists, pedestrians…it is just another south London transport nightmare. But a particularly dangerous one, as today's accident makes all too clear.

This disruption, this violence, and all the attendant pollution, should come at a very high cost indeed to the developers who will be the main ones to profit from the Nine Elms development.

Maybe they could be forced to become the new reluctant  Carnegies, and pay to maintain Lambeth's ten libraries.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Black pudding, the after-life and the best barber in south-west London: Daniel Ruiz Tison is still available, thanks be

Dear reader (s) (in the hope that there's more than one of you),

Please let me draw your attention to the latest episode of a south London radio series which is a bitter-sweet classic of an as yet not fully-defined genre.

It's Daniel Ruiz Tison Is Available, Episode One Hundred and Two, first broadcast on ResonanceFM on Monday 10 November 2015, but now available in perpetuity (until hell freezeth over) as a podcast from iTunes via Daniel's own website.

Unforgivably I was not aware of his series until he stumbled across a piece I'd written about the the best men's haircutter in all of the south-west London postcodes, Andy's of Landor Road. He has now interviewed Andy – who sadly for us, is on the verge of retirement – for a special podcast which is expected go live very soon.

Meanwhile I am struggling to find time to catch up with his back-catalgoue, as well as keeping up with the weekly broadcasts.

Last night's was another classic, and it had me doing that thing which I don't really do anymore: laughing out loud in private.

I was laughing inwardly, with only my cheap Phillips headphones for company, most of the time.  About the hipster coffee shop somewhere in north-east London. About Solo Electric in Clapham High Street in the 1980s, and everyone else, failing to get Daniel's name right.  About the English and languages.  About the wearing of winter coats. Gingevitis.

About what we're going to find in heaven when we die, assuming we get there. Free music lessons, apparently, on a synthesiser. So not as good as Lambeth back in 1983 then, when you could get free lessons on a range of musical instruments, if you were unemployed.

Honestly, I don't laugh easily, but as soon as the show starts, I am primed. Like all great commentators on our times, he has his obsessions. He has certain phrases which, in his voice, open up great chasms of absurdity. As soon as 'Attempts on the gate' are mentioned, I get this surreal image in my head, and…I laugh inwardly.

It was when he got the bit where he overhears a Portuguese trucker speaking Spanish in a South Lambeth Road Portuguese cafe that triggered the explosion of hysteria.

Daniel repeated some of overheard Spanish dialogue, which was all about the full English breakfast they had just been served. Seems they were wondering why it included hash browns but not black pudding.

He then translated the punchline: "Black pudding is nice. Anything with blood is nice."

Reader, believe me, I woke the sleeping bankers up and down this wide and tree-lined Clapham street.

But like I said it's bitter-sweet. You must also listen to this to get the latest news on Stockwell - on Brenda's fruit and veg stall,  or to be reminded of Jack Cornelius, the wrestler of Stockwell who ran a cafe which is now the Sainsburys local. Or the graffiti about Jazzman of Battersea.  I remember that graffiti, I also remember thinking it must have been about George Shearing…but somehow Shearing and graffiti don't seem to mix.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Lambeth Libraries demo: true grassroots protest flourishes in the rain

Speakers at Brixton Library at 11am promised us there'd be sunshine when we got to the Tate South Lambeth Library in that bit of the borough known as Little Portugual.

The 600-strong march stretched half-way down Stockwell
Road,  en route for South Lambeth
Their words fired people up wonderfully, making the mile or two's march seem like nothing.  The guy who spoke about the importance of libraries for disabled people was especially good, as was the Green Party councillor for Streatham St Leonards, Scott Ainslie, who said he wouldn't've been here today but for the Edinburgh public libraries that opened his eyes to education and history and politics, back in his youth.

So many of us could have told similar stories. I was bowled over by the warmth of this crowd, and have to thank the lovely team from Upper Norwood Library for the loan of their orange "I love libraries" umbrella. (I will get it back to you soon, promise!)

 They also had a banner, "A library saved my life" which I would happily have carried, but it was definitely a two-person affair.

Among plenty of imaginative banners and placards, the prize must go to the polystyrene tombstone proclaiming, RIP Carnegie Library, 1906 - 2016". It was even entwined with ivy.

This guy led some great chants, wish I could remember all
the words...
Great also that library staff from Barnet (where a strike is planned) and Wandsworth joined the demo.

The organisers reckoned about 600 people marched, and that seems a fair estimate. The police are saying about 100. Judging from photos, it was certainly more than that.

Whatever the true figure, it was more than enough to make an impact, stretching half-way down Stockwell Road. There was plenty of encouragement from the pavements and from passing cars and vans. Even a cabbie tooted his approval.

The crowd was cheerful and the chanting - while not the angriest I've heard - occasionally had some bite. I mean, we're library lovers, much more used to keeping quiet…instead of yelling in unison (and with Unsion at times), the following:

"No ifs,  no buts, no more Lambeth Library Cuts!"

"What do we want?"


"When do we want them?"


And many other much better ones whose words I have already lost….

In fact it was raining even harder in SW8 than it had been in SW2. But it didn't matter a jot. This was a real grassroots protest and as everyone knows, grass thrives on rain.

Almost the end of the road: after a warm welcome from Tate South Lambeth Library staff,  three young marchers went inside to hand a petition over to councillors, who were holding their surgeries.

So, the Lambeth councillors inside failed to come out into the rain to meet us (see more on this in the comments section of Brixton Buzz story).  Sad but not surprising. The time will come, maybe next Tuesday...

The next step: on Tuesday 10 November, there's a public meeting 6.30 pm at the Lilian Bayliss School, 323 Kennington Lane. It's a chance to question elected representatives on the library policy, so should not be missed!

Friday, 6 November 2015

Not the place for physical jerks: Lambeth's plans for libraries would get Carnegie spinning in his steely grave

Here's a community hub if you want one - the Carnegie Library on Herne Hill Road. Can you seriously imagine this being turned into a gym?
There's little doubt that the library-building philanthropist Andrew Carnegie will be spinning in his grave over Lambeth Council's policy on public libraries - which basically involves turning the magnificent library he part-funded on Herne Hill Road into a gym with a few books and PCs in the lobby.

Lots of angry words have already been written about this policy, which was sprung on Lambeth residents  in October and now has council approval. Read the response of the Friends of Carnegie Library for a fair summing up of the dissenting view. The scheme, as it stands, would bring in the sporty social entrepreneurs, GLL (Greenwich Leisure Ltd) to run these new "healthy living centres". Fine, if you agree this building should be turned into a gym. But it is a library, always has been, always should be. It was given to the residents of Herne Hill on the condition that it should always be a library.

Tomorrow (Saturday 7 November) there's to be a protest march and demonstration starting at Brixton Library in Windrush Square at 10.30am, and ending at the Tate South Lambeth Library where the councillor who cooked up the scheme, Jane Edbrooke, will be holding a surgery.

The Minet Library in Knatchbull Road, by Myatt's Fields park, would also be turned into what the Brixton Buzz is calling a "bookish gym" under the scheme. In all cases, the  "health and fitness services" will be offered by that same GLL. As for the library bit - well, that would be a sideline, a few  books for your kids to flick through while you pump iron. Worse still, this bit would be run by volunteers. Professional librarians? No, they're just so out of fashion, dear. We want personal trainers, not librarians!

So - not only do they plan to reduce community resources, they're also cutting jobs. Referring to Lambeth's own  Q & A on its so-called  Culture 2020 library plans, we find this: "...it is reasonable to assume that given the level of cuts in revenue this will lead to a reduction of approximately 25 per cent of the current workforce. That would include vacancies remaining unfilled and other staff losses. However the redesigned library services would potentially also be likely to create new job opportunities…"

Apart from being a redundant idea – how many privately-run gyms do we already have in Lambeth? – it's also an outrage from a borough which has always professed to be passionate about education and community. It might have started as a way to raise new funds in the face of savage cuts from central government - but now it seems like an absurd squandering of resources, designed chiefly to alienate library users of each and every ward.
"Anyone who loves and values and uses libraries, or who
has children who use them, should go on this demo. 

Libraries uniquely provide an oasis of quiet and calm for anyone who needs it - whether they be school kids revising for GCSEs or OAPs seeking a little warmth and company. Go to most Lambeth libraries at any time of day, and you'll find most of the desk and table space is taken up - certainly during term-time.

Anyone who loves and values and uses libraries, or who has children who use them, should go on this demo.  In fact everyone should go, because Lambeth's  remaining libraries provide an amazing service which goes way beyond maintaining collections of books, multimedia and periodicals.

On the way to Herne Hill's Carnegie Library
On the way to the library,  a reminder of the affection
this place inspires in the leafy suburb of Herne Hill
But let's get back to the Carnegie Library in  Herne Hill. It's an ornate, Grade 2 listed building, in that 1900s red-brick, municipal arts and crafts style.  Even before you get there you can tell how much this place means to the local community.

It features on the decorative banners strung up (presumably paid for by the council?) on lampposts by hernehill.org, just to remind you where you are.

There's even a sign pointing to the library in the front window of a house round the corner - presumably to help lost Carnegie tourists.

Go inside it's just what you hope your local library will be: a beautiful space, huge windows, a lovely worn-down parquet floor. And books, books, books, books.

Yes, but they also have an exhibition room and they hold all manner of community events and classes - including yoga, pilates and other health-related sessions. At very low prices. Did Lambeth put all this into its pipe and smoke it, before coming up with this frankly crackpot scheme?

Now for Andrew Carnegie himself, the steel magnate, union basher and robber baron. OK, he was a monster capitalist, but later on he did his best to make amends in his philanthropy.

Yoga classes, pilates classes, etc…seems the Herne Hill library already
does plenty for health and fitness in the community...
Herne Hill is one of over 2,000 libraries round the world he wholly or partially funded.  In this case, he gave the council £12,500 in 1902 for building the library, midway between Herne Hill and Denmark Hill stations.

Carnegie was eager that his libraries should remain free to use in perpetuity, and should also adhere to certain standards. His libraries had strict rules, some of which still apply at the biggest of these institutions, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (the city was the centre of his steel business).

There, they warn against any "Disorderly, disruptive or boisterous conduct" and insist that "Customers are expected to maintain an acceptable standard of personal hygiene".

So, perhaps they are being a little exclusive? They are not keen on an influx of sweaty, boisterous types, and they also make it clear that "Shirts and shoes must be worn at all times".


Again, for the full story of Mr Carnegie's deal with Lambeth back in 1902, go the Friends' website - where you'll see he was also concerned that they should guarantee their ability to maintain this building as a public library, out of public funds, for as long as it bears his name.

Meanwhile, visit these libraries if you can, as often as you can, and come on the demo. But try not to break into too much of a sweat….

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Clapham's North Street Mews community under threat from property developers

The unassuming entrance to the North Street Mews in Clapham - a hive of businesses, artist studios and workshops
that is now facing  redevelopment, rent hikes, and thus in reality, destruction.
Dreamily rhapsodizing about art spaces over in SE16, I turn back to email to see that one of the last communities of small businesses, artists' studios and workshop spaces in SW4 is threatened by the malaise that has become the main theme of this blog - "gentrification",  or "social cleansing".

We're talking about North Street Mews - a hidden hive of useful creative activities right by the Wandsworth Road - North Street crossroads (that's the junction that's being chewed up by gigantic cement mixer trucks, all day long).

The 21 tenants have been told property developer HighLaw Ltd intends to "upgrade" this valuable slice of property, so close to the charms of Clapham Old Town (please please don't use that v-word here) and the even greater future charms of the glorious, jaw-dropping Nine Elms development!

You can read the North Street Mews tenants' concerns here, and sign the petition if you feel the same way I did.

The North Street Mews people say that  "All 21 units have been fully occupied for the last 20 years, allowing careers to be made, families to be supported and a strong community to be built."

They add that the developers, HighLaw Ltd,  claim the space is "underused", "isolated" and in need of "enhancing" with expensive townhouses and 'hot-desk' commercial office space. 

And that the existing tenants have not received  any "offers or assurances...to be included in the future development or to be supported in relocation".

They developers also " refuse to acknowledge that they will in fact be kicking out 21 small businesses and their staff, leading to numerous potential job losses and adverse affects on their families", they add.

"The mews is an asset to the local community which will be lost in the prospect of a redevelopment that will serve the interests of profit, those wealthy enough to buy luxury houses, and large companies who can afford commercial desk space."
They say that the development "is not a done deal - yet!" –  but it's clear a planning application will be made shortly.
So -  urgent action is going to be needed. So many good places around here have already fallen victim to this same trend.  The North Street Mews are not far from the old "Tearooms des Artistes" on the Wandsworth Road, which closed a few years back and is now waiting for new owners. 
Maybe that place was no longer a viable business, but North Street Mews clearly is - and it needs to be allowed to flourish. They're picking these places off, one by one, but only because the rest of us let them get away with it.
Check out the North Street Mews Facebook page at: facebook.com/wearenorthstreetmews
There's also an Open Studios Day on 5/6th December from 12 - 6pm. 

Surrey Quays, Southwark Park, Dilston Grove and a reverse Sinclair Overgorund

Southwark Park in late autumn 2015: ain't it pretty?
Hell! I wanted to visit Maryon Park and re-trace Antonioni's progress across south London in 1966, when he made Blow Up. Instead I get side-tracked at Surrey Quays and end-up peering at strangely powerful pieces of conceptual sculpture in Southwark Park's two-for-the-price-of-one art spaces.

Background (skip this to read about James Capper)

Part of the motivation for this abortive journey across south east London was reading a few more chapters of  Iain Sinclair's London Overgound, to the point where he reaches Clapham Junction and Falcon Road.

The chapter about Angela Carter is a warm tribute to a writer he clearly loved. Then he goes back to his usual North Londoner's cavalier treatment of the area I have been tramping for three decades, and all's once again fair game. He misses no opportunity to do down most of south west London, and - picking the easiest of all targets - Clapham itself.

Trouble is I agree with much of it. Excpet that now I no longer wish I had stayed in Dalson. To be surrounded by all that hipsterish nonsense would be unbearable. How much better it is to reside in a reviled district!

Sinclair dislikes Clapham, just like all right-minded Londoners of this era do. But he likes the railway bit of Clapham Junction. He is right - the meeting of these great rivers of steel and wood still has the power to stir imaginations, and the view form the absurdly long footbridge is still astonishing.

He also finds something to praise just next to this - the motorcycle spare parts shop, which I too have adored ever since I realised it was there in about 1981. Getting excited about this place he mentions Antonioni and even mentions the red terraces of Stockwell in Blow Up.

But he doesn't tell us exactly what these red houses were. I knew them only too well, as a motorcycle-obsessed 15 year old. At any opportunity I would cycle or take the 109 bus up to Brixton from Croydon, to press my face against the windows of Pride & Clark showrooms, which seemed to stretch all along the north side of Stockwell Road, roughly where the skatepark is now.

The Gallery by the Pool, with a Blue Plaque for local cricketing hero,
Bobby "The Guv'nor" Abel, 1857 - 1936
This gave me the urge to attempt a long overdue visit to Maryon Park, scene of the supposed killing in the film.  Instead I find myself shuffling around the Surrey Quays shopping centre, and very nearly missing the still quite stirring vista of the old Surrey and Greenland Docks, stretching away on the other side of the road, now a paradise for runners and water-sports enthusiasts (of the healthy type) as well as property speculators.

And then a quick circuit of Southwark Park itself. Of course Sinclair  is right, this park is now thoroughly part of the Overground-land, but it is also yet another of those big, proud, inner-city suburb parks, lust like Battersea, Dulwich and Victoria and Clissold and….on and on.

It has its grand avenues of plane trees, its boating lake and bowling green and children's areas and rose gardens and tea rooms.

Then, outdoing most of the other parks (apart from Kensington Gdns) it has not one but two inter-connected art spaces.

James Capper and a vision of JCB hell

The first is a purpose built white concrete block, with one large gallery, a big shop and a garden that was out of bounds.  It also had a spacey reception area with very friendly, ready-to-help staff, always a great plus point in any art space.

Their current expo was of a local artist called James Capper, who seemed to have become completely obsessed with JCB-style heavy construction engineering kit, diggers, scrapers, earth-movers.

One of James Capper's earth-gouging machines
But he took their kit  and turned it into an even more aggressive set of frightening machines - machines like huge steel spiders with ripping talons, serrated-edge knife-blade claws, massively-powerful hardened steel jaws, ready to gouge and crunch an crush up anything they happened to come across.

He sketched these nightmarish yet all too familiar machines, made models, drew up blueprints, and then made the real thing….several of which were crouching menacingly in this gallery.

The young man at reception urged me to visit part two of this show, which was in the second art space across the park.

Here, his hydraulically-animated, pneumatically driven mad Max style power tools had been let loose in what seemed to be a decommissioned church, now empty but with the vaulted wood roof and tall thin windows  of a 1920s standard issue Anglican barn-church.

Some of them appeared to have already  had a go at what looked like holy-water stoops…there were serious gouges into great chunks of poured concrete, which looked like they might once have been part of a church altarpiece.

Sure enough, the two (also very helpful and friendly) young women at the door told me the artist himself comes in to give regular demos of his works in action. They can maybe only be fully appreciated once the hydraulic fluid is flowing through their rubbery arteries.

I'm still not sure what the final piece will be : the mechanically sculpted lump go concrete, or the machines that are doing it: or the entire spectacle. All, surely.

Nightmare in Dilston Grove: one of James Capper's sinisterly
anthropomorphicmachines gets to work inside the old church
It's a puzzling, single-minded, disturbing, and crazily ambitious show that only really began to win me round in this second space…so atmospheric, and yet also clearly the demented cousins of similar machinery I had seen from the windows of various buses on my way across the SW-SE postcodes, busting up old buildings, preparing the ground for new blocks of much more expensive dwellings.

But why not set these machines to work, late at night, and get them to start dismantling some of the horrible erections along the south bank of the Thames, between Vauxhall Bridge and BAttersea Power station? Dream away...

So, there's the link again…

James Capper // Prototypes
The Gallery by the Pool and Dilston Grove,
Southwark Park
1 Park Approach
London SE16 2UA

14 October - 6 December 2015
See: www.cgplondon.org

PS: The shop in the main gallery has three shelves of art books. At least one shelf is devoted to the works of Iain Sinclair and his Overground accomplice, Andrew Kötting.