Sunday 28 October 2012

Eltham Lights Up 2012

Royal Greenwich have announced this year's event:

"Eltham will be transformed on Thursday 15 November as the Royal Borough of Greenwich hosts the 13th annual Eltham Lights Up Christmas Lights switch-on.

Eltham High Street will come alive with a range of entertainment, music and sports activities from 4.30pm onwards. Come along early to have fun and get a good view!

The Christmas lights switch-on at 6pm will be followed by a spectacular illuminated parade of lanterns created by hundreds of local children and their families. The parade will also feature giant structures and live music.

Eltham High Street will be closed to traffic between 4pm and 8pm.

The Eltham Centre will join in the celebrations with an official switch-on of its Christmas tree lights at 5pm and performances from Eltham Hill School Steel Band from 4.30 and Eltham Choral Society at 7.15pm. OJ's café will also be offering special discounts.

To add to the festive theme, there will be a Christmas market stall in Passey Place from 9am to 7.30pm, and Eltham Fire station will have an open event from 4pm to 7pm."

Read more here.

My write-up of previous years' events:
Eltham Lights Up 2011
Eltham Lights Up 2010
Eltham Lights up 2009

Saturday 13 October 2012

Local sport and National Apple Day tomorrow

News of two local nearby events tomorrow:

"The Plumstead Make Merry Association in conjunction with the Greenwich Rugby Club, will be holding a sporting spectacular on the afternoon of Sunday 14th October, from 12 noon to 3pm on Plumstead Common (London, SE18). Primarily this will consist of a Tug-of-War contest and a Three-Sided Football tournament, but we are also hoping to have some entertainment, and be serving food, the Rugby Club Pavilion will also be open for anyone requiring liquid refreshments......" more on the Plumstead Make Merry website..


National Apple Day at Woodlands Farm
on Sunday 14 October 2012, at  11:00am - 4:00pm
Woodlands Farm, 331 Shooters Hill, DA16 3RP

Free, but donations are welcome – all money raised helps to care for the animals. A great day out for all the family, including stalls, crafts, activities and more.All are welcome at the Woodlands Farm Trust Apple Day. Come and celebrate National Apple Day with a variety of activities including crafts, a treasure hunt and apple pressing to make delicious juice.There will be stalls selling local produce including honey, home-made jams and cakes. Live music will be provided by Skinners Rats.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Which secondary schools should Greenwich parents choose?

Every parent of a Year 6 child in the Borough of Royal Greenwich has one thing on their mind at the moment. 31 October is the deadline for submitting the CAF (Common application form) to our local council listing up to six secondary schools where we'd wish our child to be offered a place. Greenwich Admission booklet here, and the CAF here.

For the past year or so a feverish round of conversations, visits and soul-searching has been taking place. All culminating in the golden choice - 'the one' that you must get your child to attend, by any means necessary (believe me, this feels like it has all the intensity of Malcolm X...)

So what's the choice of secondary schools in Greenwich? Until very recently, most Greenwich parents muttered darkly about the dire performance of Greenwich secondary schools. Performance? Mostly this refers to the magic percentage of pupils which achieve 5 or more GCSEs including English and Maths. Most Greenwich secondary schools performed below the national average. However, worry not, we are told, since this appears to be changing.

The round of open days and evenings typically takes place in September and October each year. We visited a number of the schools a year early, in autumn 2011, and are now in the middle of revisiting them this autumn. Most secondary schools in Greenwich are on the cusp of 'great change' involving fantastic new buildings and/or new governance arrangements. Their GCSE results are creeping up, and to just above the national average in some cases. Here's a list of the main state secondary Greenwich schools with links to the Council summary:
The big elephant in the room, or this post, so far is the matter of grammar schools. There are none, of course, in the borough of Greenwich which is why ambitious Greenwich parents try in their droves to secure grammar school places in the neighbouring boroughs of Bexley and Bromley and also in Kent. The percentage has been pretty high (I've seen it somewhere, can't find it now, double figure percentage).

To be eligible to apply for a Bexley Grammar school, children need to be deemed 'selective'. They achieve this by passing the 'eleven-plus' exam. On 18 and 19 October this year, thousands of children sat this Bexley test comprising of a 50 minute Maths paper and then a 50 minute 'Verbal reasoning' paper - results will be posted on 10 October.  It goes without saying that many children are heavily tutored to pass the 11+, not something which all parents can afford nor have the wherewith all to arrange so far in advance. I know that the majority of children in my daughter's class who sat the 11+ were all tutored. We decided at the last moment to enter our daughter for the 11+ and see what happens. In the three weeks before the test, after returning from languishing in France, we did some revision and some past papers (there's a whole industry in those out there...).

However, passing the 11+ is not the end of the matter. Demand for grammar schools by far outstrips the supply. And this is the rub. Out of the thousands taking the test only the' top 180' in the Bexley test are 'guaranteed' a grammar school place. I saw a figure for a very recent year: out of the 4,500 children who sat the Bexley test, 1294 were deemed selective. So being in the top 180 is no mean feat! You really have to be the cream. The remaining grammar places are allocated according to the school's policies which mainly comes down to catchment area.

All this causes some occasional angst amongst Bexley parents who resent the high numbers of 'out of borough' (the 'oobs') children with whom they have to compete to secure a school place, grammar or otherwise, in their own borough, resulting in petitions and representations to Bexley Council. Whilst I get the feeling that Bexley Council are sympathetic, they are hampered due to the 1989 'Greenwich ruling' which established that maintained schools may not give priority to children for the sole reason that they live within the LEA's administrative boundaries.
Many of the Bexley state schools and grammars are fairly close to the boroughs of Greenwich and Bromley and so children get in from there rather than particularly the north of Bexley Borough which is further away. I've seen a claim that the Harris Academy in Falconwood, Bexley, that has a 1.7mile catchment has 70% of its pupils from Greenwich, not sure how true that is.

Back to the Greenwich state secondary schools. Those we've visited include:

Crown Woods College - a school which, to be honest, in past decades has had a poor reputation. Now it has completely rebuilt, reorganised and rebranded itself. It is divided into three 'schools' on the same site of 90 pupils each, one of these schools being for the 'gifted and able'. We've visited a few times. It has a good vibe and the Headteacher gives a good talk. It's GCSE results are creeping up to. The gifted school is a curious piece of selectivity - "we're not allowed to call it a grammar school but..." we were told. Many Greenwich parents seem to be choosing the Delamere 'mini-school' as an alternative to going for Bexley grammars.

Thomas Tallis - again, a school which has a brand new spanking building. It has always had better results than most of the state non-religious Greenwich secondaries. It specialises in creativity and each time we've visited it's been fizzing with warmth and activity. The headteacher and senior team give a cracking, inspirational talk which is hard to resist, even with your best cynical hat on.

Harris Academy Falconwood - resurrected from a previously dire school and there's no doubting the massive uplift in performance. But, but...I have to say I failed to connect, so far, with it in any way.

We'll also be visiting the new Greenwich Free School out of curiosity, though it is probably the closest school to us - interesting piece on the 853 blog about that school.

One problem for parents this year is timing. Only 2011 school results are available officially. The 2012 results can only be gleaned from the individual schools themselves. They will not be published by the Department For Education until January 2013. I noticed the Greenwich Conservatives having been pushing the Council to publish these results. The Council have issued this information. If I had more time, I'd collate them here myself, but I haven't for now...

So good luck to every parent and child going through this stressful time at the moment.  Tell me which schools you are liking.

Saturday 11 August 2012

Another Day Out at London South Bank

Some photos of a lovely day spent on London's South Bank last week:

The children enjoyed the new playground in the redeveloped Jubilee Gardens, in the shadows of the London Eye and the old County Hall building. The swings and trim trail are gone, replaced mostly with wooden climby things.
The once-completely lawned Jubilee gardens is now cut by a windy path with planted beds which look very nice. I can't help feeling nostalgic walking here as it always takes me back to the late-eighties when I worked at the then GLC/ILEA-controlled County Hall and would spend lunchtimes on the lawn (when not in the RFH bar or in the Archduke wine bar, the new kid on the block then, nice to see it still there under the arches).
Sadly there was no 'shower room' installation like last year for the kids to enjoy playing in the water. Instead the same spot, on the upper terrace of the RFH, is occupied by a project to build the world in a million Lego pieces. The kids got issued their boards and followed the printed grid - my two got blocks of blue which were obviously going to end up being part of a sea or ocean. We were pleased that when completed they were guided by the organisers to place their boards as part of the Indian Ocean.

Later on after lunch the children spent ages (and ages!) at the 'Rainbow Park' a long strip of multi-coloured sand along the railings in between the Royal Festival Hall and National Theatre:
Having finished reading my New Statesman I watched some of the skateboarders and BMXers doing their thing under the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It was here that I spotted some fresh and very topical graffiti art going up, capturing the mood perfectly of passers by - Jess Ennis and Mo Farrah in stencilled spray paint:
It was hard work dragging the children away from the Rainbow Park for a quick look at the free South African dance performance happening in the nearby Queen Elizabeth Hall lobby. But it was worth it. The performance by 'Dance Africa Dance' and small exhibition were part of 'Ekhaya', a cultural base which the South Africans had set up for during the Olympics:
It was here that we were surprised and a bit bemused to find ourselves part of the enthusiastic audience to a surprise visit by a South African dignitary (?the Deputy High Commissioner?), closely followed by the gold-medal winning South African Olympic team! This included their well-known medal-winning swimmer Chad Le Clos, on the right:
Well, it was the closest I've probably been to so many medal-winners! After listening to some of the interviews and politely clapping their Olympic team, we beat a retreat. 

We pootled around enjoying the mime artists, ice-creams, and the carousel. My husband joined us and we decided to take a boat back to Greenwich. Shame that the RFH pier closes at 5.30pm, so we had to cross over the Thames to the embankment pier. During the boat trip I managed to capture the huge riverside royal portrait I'd read so much about:
And of course the Olympic rings under Tower Bridge:
Click here for my blog post on last year's visit to the South Bank.

Saturday 4 August 2012

Back from Camp Bestival 2012

Well, we just got back from our first festival camping experience and are still buzzing from it. We had an amazing time at Camp Bestival, the brainchild of Rob da Bank and friends, running for its fifth year. It was the perfect location, around Lulworth Castle, near Wareham, on the Dorset Jurassic coast.

There was a never-ending array of music, theatre, dance, comedy, interviews and lots of other wacky, surreal goings-on, all contained in a thick programme. No doubt it is a festival aimed at families. Whilst the multi-acre site was full of little people, whether dressed-up and face-painted or being pulled along in fairy-lit covered, ‘pimped-up’ trolleys, I reckon it’s still possible to enjoy it as adults - there are late night music and comedy gigs, along with the literary tent. But from the point of view of our family of four (including kids aged 10 and 8) it was fantastically arranged event - the space, the security, the atmosphere, the variety and importantly, the shower and loo facilities. Admittedly, it was a bit of a ‘Boden-mummy’ fest but it was fine. At £185 an adult ticket (under 10s free), plus the rest of the spending on car parks, trolleys, booked pitch, etc it is not a cheap option. I have to say though, it was well worth it - you get an awful lot of entertainment and fun.

I’m fascinated by the concept of camping while at the same time being unsure about it, especially when there's providing for kids involved - it’s one spot on the continuum of self-survival. The type of camping we do of course has more to do with buying the best gadgets, than surviving with minimal resources. Even the festival, a retreat from the ‘real world’ can only take place with reference to that ‘real world’. Anyway, that’s a whole different topic...

So, for posterity here’s our Camp Bestival weekend rundown - and we only scratched the surface of what was available:

Thursday 26 July
We drove down and arrived about 5pm, parking in the ‘Green 2’ car park. Then began the hard work (the only hard bit of the weekend) of getting our stuff into a trolley, pulled up and down hills and to our pitch in the ‘Camping Plus’ area. The sun was shining bright. The tent was up in no time (a six-person Coleman, since you ask). After a quick bit of picnic food, we met our neighbours - really nice people. The family next door turned out to be from Lee SE12!

We popped over into the venue area, a 5 minute walk, to have a nose around. Only a taster was open as we had ‘early bird’ tickets and it really all got going on Friday.

Friday 27 July
So here’s what we did on our first full day:
⚫ Freesports park - watching skateboards and bikers do their thing to live DJ-ed music
⚫ Mr Balloonie at the Little Big Top - always wanted to make a balloon dog...
⚫ the end of Silly Science at The Bandstand - resolved to go back the next day
⚫ Ian Stone at the Big Top - bit risky for kids but I’m sure the circumcision jokes went over their heads (we hope...)
Stooshe at the Castle Stage - our daughter flagging from the hot sun by now...
⚫ kids enjoyed getting soaked under the twisted metal ‘water tree’ art installation:
⚫ watched some ‘spin art’ at a stall near the Dingly Dell
⚫ followed the Dingly Dell Trail
⚫ listened to performance poet Alison Brumfitt at the Dingly Dell Stage:
⚫ played piano in the middle of the Dingly Dell woods!
⚫ attended a mock wedding at the Big Love Inflatable Church 
⚫ did a ‘Disco workshop’ in the Pig’s Big Ballroom with the wonderful Claude:

⚫ caught Pearl and the Beard at the Big Top
back to the tent for chicken fajitas:
⚫ watched the ‘Wall of Death’ - where some crazies ride motorbikes up and down a wall!
⚫ the end of the Cuban Brothers at the Castle Stage - the part where he shimmies in only his underpants, eeww...

⚫ danced to fabulous jazz-swingers, the Shirt Tail Stompers in the Pig’s Big Ballroom - where my son’s discovered a new love for swing jazz and lindy-hopping...

Saturday 28 July
⚫ Dick & Dom at the Castle Stage
⚫ The Gruffalo at the Castle Stage - though these two were very packed and kids got bored at the back behind standing-up adults...
⚫ Giant Helta Skelta (£2 though) in the Kids Lower Garden - always cheers them up
Insect Circus in the Lower Kids’ Garden - a surreal circus with performers dressed as insects: 
⚫ Rodri Marsden on ‘crap dates’ at the East Lulworth Literary Institute tent
⚫ Fancy Dress Parade across the site: 
⚫ Jimmy Cliff at the Castle Stage - moving to see this veteran of the reggae world and the poignant ‘Many rivers to cross’ performed by him
back to tent for lunch - homemade chili con carne, couscous, cheese
⚫ rushed back to the Castle Stage for Rizzle Kicks - the ones the kids had been waiting for (whatever ‘Mama do the hump’ means...)
⚫ Kids at the Netflix tent - yes, we gave in...for a bit
⚫ I saw end of Nile Rodgers, of Chic, doing a ‘meet and greet’
⚫ watched some fab random singer-guitarist busking at the Upper Kids Garden:
⚫ Circus Skills at the upper kids garden
⚫ Strange bike riding at the upper kids garden
Chapati man wraps
⚫ Chic featuring Nile Rodgers (we weren't up to staying for Kool & the Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire)
⚫ Back to tent and game of Upwords

Sunday 29 July
⚫ Silly Science at The Bandstand - including the spectacular exploding cola bottles! 
⚫ ‘How to Dick and Dom around’ in the East Lulworth Literary Institute tent - thanks to the man who passed my son to the front of the crowd...
⚫ listened to the wonderful Camila Batmanghelidjh in the East Lulworth Literary Institute tent
⚫ Kids amused themselves in the Fidget Project
⚫ Medieval Jousting - with horses and everything, Wales won...: 
⚫ husband and son went on the Ferris wheel with its fab views 
 ⚫ Rolf Harris at the Castle Stage - surely my husband’s own personal favourite...

⚫ Moonflowers in the Big Top
⚫ daughter got a ‘free hug’ from one of the roving fairies
⚫ Tea and brandy coffee in the ‘Soul park’ while kids watched the ‘Freesports’
⚫  back to tent for Pot Noodles, soup, biscuits - I stayed in with son who fell asleep exhausted
⚫ Gideon Reeling: The No.1 Seed at the Dingly Dell
⚫ Happy Mondays at the Castle Stage - Bez was apparently on form
⚫ Grand Fireworks and animations finale around Lulworth Castle - on YouTube here - this is fantastic, really worth watching, never seen anything like it.

Monday 30 July
After breakfast at the Kitchen Stall, we packed up the tent, did some kite-flying and trolleyed our stuff over hill and dale back to the car,. I think we set off back about 12.30pm in the end and arrived home several hours later, exhausted but exhilarated and tanned!

Thursday 26 July 2012

Off to Camp Bestival

Have a great Coca-lympics London.
We are off for five days to Camp Bestival, in the shadows of Lulworth Castle, on the Dorset coast. Mr Tumble and Dick and Dom are on the menu. Us grown ups might get to see the Happy Mondays and Hot Chip. We've only been safe scout camping before so festival camping will be a new experience for us.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Olympic torch in Eltham

So the Olympic torch came to town yesterday. There was much local hoo-ha - ranging from the agnostic ('reluctantly won over cynics') to the fundamentalists ('barely able to contain their excitement'), and all those in between.

Yesterday morning we watched a cheerful track-suited man run with the torch near the point where Westmount Road meets Well Hall Road (photo left). I'm not sure who he was - there's a list here on the Greenwich site of the torch bearers - so this might be Austin Reynolds?

He was preceded five minutes before by various promotional floats and trucks of attractive youths, waving flags, dancing around and trying to gee us all up. It worked with my children - they even got given some blow-up Samsung batons (now lying pierced and forlorn on the floor). The policemen in attendance caught the jolly atmosphere and were cracking jokes with the crowd. The torch had started in Greenwich that morning and after Eltham was wending its way on to Woolwich. This was the morning's route in the area local to me:

There had been more of a fanfare for the torch on Eltham High Street where there was an official platform party and entertainments - @the286 band (reportedly) and the Greenwich Youth Band (which included my daughter's clarinet tutor!) playing at Passey Place. Here's a photo from outside St John the Baptist Church on the high street crossroads, courtesy of ‏ - more pics from him here of the event.

Friday 1 June 2012

Flotilla of one on the Norfolk Broads

If you wanted to escape Jubilee fever, going to the Norfolk is probably not the best of plans. It is not known as a hotbed of republican sentiment. Far from it I imagine. However, that is where we are going to be for the next week. We shall be in our own flotilla of one on the very day the Queen sails down the Thames in her royal pageant. No gilded royal barge for us, but a modest motor cruiser on the Norfolk Broads with all that's needed for a family of four to explore this beautiful part of the country.

We'll be picking up our vessel at the boating town of Potter Heigham. The boat looks something like this (details here):

We had a week on the Norfolk Broads last year too. Picking up our boat at Stalham, we stuck to the north Boards. This time we'll probably be going south, towards Norwich and Great Yarmouth.

People have asked about our trip last year, what's possible in a week, where we went, the routes we took, so here for posterity is a post which I started about that trip (but which I haven't finished yet...)
Our 6-day route on the Norfolk Boards in May 2011
For those who don't know this place, first the basics. The Norfolk Boards are a series of waterways, rivers and lakes, close to the east coast of England, UK - the nearest big city is Norwich. This patchwork is not apparently a natural landscape but a result of intensive digging of peat in the Middle Ages to provide fuel. The empty pits were soon filled by rising water levels and now form a network of over 125 miles of navigable waterways, mostly now for leisure. Along the way there are marshes, reeds, woodlands, many of the UK's oldest churches and lots of windmills. There is abundant wildlife including many rare butterflies and dragonflies, and lots of activities including boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing, walking, fishing and cycling.

My husband was to be Captain for the week - he has been coming to the Broads since he was a child, at first with his family, then his friends, and then with me. In fact, hubby's parents had so fallen in love with the Broads and boating that they had bought their own boat, much beloved, which they had for a number of years before selling it on. And now we wanted to introduce the children (gulp!) to the joys of the Broads. In many ways the whole trip was a walk (or cruise) through hubby's childhood memories, an old pub here, a new cafe there, and familiar sets of moorings.

[1]  The four of us started off one afternoon at Stalham Staithe, where we picked up the Apollo (I know, they all have names like that!), our Richardson's boat. It's handy now that there's a new Tesco in Stalham where you can stock up, rather than having to stop off earlier at the ubiquitous Roys of Wroxham. After the quick obligatory induction, we sent off southwards down the River Ant, and through Barton Board, where Horatio Nelson apparently learnt to sail.

[2] At around 6.30pm, we decided to moor up at Ludham Bridge. A quick walk up the new gravelly pathway and over the bridge, and about a 10 minute walk to the Dog Inn (yes, I, it didn't have a big car park) for dinner. This place was far more salubrious than it at first sounded. To the front there was a small children's wooden play area - oh joy! We sat outside viewing the distant countryside, listening to the evening crowing, and gazing at the chocolate-box cottages across the road. Inside later, the homemade food (red pepper soup and steak & ale pie) and atmosphere were great, with coral fish tanks and guitars dotted around the place. The kids 'played' pool for a bit in the games room which my husband remembered from years ago.

Back to the boat at dusk (about 8.45pm), and 20 minutes of pixelly BBC news on the dilapidated TV. Unfortunately there was a 40th birthday party boat moored nearby which meant being woken by people frequently walking and talking up that gravelly path, only a few feet from your head!

In the morning we popped into the little shop by the Bridge to stock up on breakfast things (there's also a loo nearby FYI - important boating information!). We set off south under Ludham Bridge at about 9.40am. A grey, cold, steely day which you often get on the Broads, perhaps accentuated by the flatness of the landscape. The kids enjoyed feeding the ducks and swans with their duck food purchased in the shop.

[3] We moored up just north of South Walsham Board, and had our English fried breakfast. After a quick explore around the Board, we moored up at Fleet Dyke and decided to go for a walk, despite the ominous weather. Through winding pathways, full waving fields and a country lane, we arrived about 20-25 minutes later at Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden. This is a 131 acre woodland site with its own private mooring, but we weren't sure if we could have moored there and had a much shorter walk. We decided just to have a quick hot chocolate and cake in the very nice tearooms, rather than purchase tickets and headed back. Rainmacs are always a good idea on the Broads - it just started the spit rain as we got back to the boat, quite a long walk for the kids. A bit of pixelly Carry on Cowboy to try to entertain the weary kids (and adults!) during the ham roll lunch and encourage a siesta - didn't work!

[4] Later we set off eastwards down the River Bure, and then turned left into the Thurne, pulling up into Womack Waters at about 5.45pm, with stern-on mooring at this beautiful and popular mooring spot, just south of Ludham village, with its few small shops and a nice pub. This is a cul-de-sac staithe which makes it especially tranquil, surrounded by tall, billowing trees on one side and a large grassed lawn alongside the mooring (and, yes, public toilets also), though there is a handy small shop off the lawn.  Dinner was in the nearby Kings Arms, a few minutes walk away into Ludham, where you can eat in the pub itself or the adjoining restaurant. Parent info alert: the pub has a small garden with some play things for kids, though much reduced from the huge garden I remember from years ago. That night's Manchester vs. Barcelona football game made the pub a lively place that evening. Luckily we left before Manchester lost. Later back on the boat, we suddenly noticed that the wind, our constant companion for the last two days, had dropped and it was brightening up. It was lovely sitting on the front of the boat with hubby and daughter, son crashed in bed, and a glass of wine in hand, nodding at our boating neighbours, watching the wildlife dart about. Bliss.

[5] On the Sunday morning we filled up with water and cruised out of Womack staithe at Ludham at about 9.30am. The weather was trying to brighten up, as we motored eastwards and then north up the Thurne, passing some lovely waterside houses. The general 4mph speed limit, to protect further bank erosion, means you can have a good nose, though you try not to peer and invade too much. We reached Potter Heigham before lunch. It's a busy Broads town which meant it was very busy for mooring. We eventually moored up in between the famous Thurne river bungalows. Here you can visit the well-known Lathams store which sells just about everything - we got a 12v phone charger and two pirate hats (for the children, obviously)!

After Womack, next stop Ranworth...will the weather ever warm up? Will we ever get a chance to sketch or read a little? Will either of the kids fall in the water?  You'll have to wait for the next instalment...

Sunday 13 May 2012

Day out on the Greenwich Peninsula

Panoramic shot of south side of Thames River at the Greenwich Peninsula
The shot above is of a stretch of the river running from the O2 arena ('the Dome' for oldies) on the right, to the edge of the Greenwich Yacht Club on the left. It was taken standing outside of the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Centre.

Here's a map of the local area, with the photo span marked in red.

We ended up unexpectedly at this spot having had a lovely lunch at the Pilot Inn, a pub dating back to 1801, a lone clump of small buildings clinging on in a no-man's land, despite the building of the O2 arena and the 'Millennium Village' around it. Despite this, it is a pub with a lovely feel, including an outside garden. My Greenwich-born and bred husband remembers uncles coming to drink here at 'their local' when it was still set in a light industrial area.
We sauntered from the pub through the 'Greenwich Millennium Village', brightly coloured newish flats, with mecano balconies built as part of the regeneration of this area at the turn of the millennium. Some of the balconies overlooked waterways, giving a holiday feel to the place (well it was sunny!). At times we walked along boarded walkways through the reeds and nesting birds. This is where the village butts on to the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park.

Then our view expanded and we came out to a stretch of river, with the O2 to the right, with the new cable car ('Emirates Air Line') testing going on, and the Greenwich Yacht Club to the right. (You can read more about the fascinating cable car project here.) Ducking under the fencing, we got onto 'the beach'. It seemed amazing to find such a relatively unspoilt part of the river where you could get up and close. Little boats bobbed, and the water lapped up on the sand, pebbles and debris. The children became engrossed in beachcombing - lots of pottery, though more C20th than Roman. A word of warning though - we could see from the dampness underfoot that the water comes right up to the top when the tide is in. You should never stray far from being able to get back up onto the walkway.

The Greenwich Yacht Club founded in 1908 by "Thames waterman and river workers. It was been through various reincarnations, and in its current new clubhouse since 2000. It apparently has over 400 members. There's something about this building that it magical - the way it stands on its stalks, the way it is thrust out into the middle of the river, I don't know. Maybe it is just the envious sight of people lazing on the top balcony with a drink, overlooking the river.

Then, just by the Yacht Club we spotted this impromptu 'beach sculpture' which someone had assembled in the shape of an ornate bench, presumably from beach debris. I wonder who was responsible for this bit of creativity?

It was a good afternoon spent discovering this bit of riverside, linking in with our visit last weekend to the 'Royal Rivers' exhibition at Greenwich's National Maritime Museum, though quite different to some of those opulent scenes.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Rivers and boats: messing around in Greenwich

We spent the afternoon in nearby Greenwich last Sunday. We had decided to sign up for membership of 'Royal Greenwich Museums' - at £75 for annual family membership, it would be rude not too! This includes free entry for 2 adults and 2 children to the fee-charging bits of the National Maritime Museum (NMM), the new Cutty Sark atop the conservatory, the now-gated and ticketed Royal Observatory and the Planetarium (we love the shows here), as well as a few other bits and bobs.

Before that, as we entered the park-side entrance to the NMM, I saw for the first time Turner prize winner Yinka Shonibare's 'Nelson's Ship in a Bottle' (2010) which had previously been displayed on the 'fourth plinth' at Trafalgar Square. I hadn't realised what a large piece it was. It was a shame it sat on so a high plinth as I could see the work, and those textile sails, closely enough. It's a very fitting piece though for the maritime content of its new setting, but also bringing modernity and complexity with its questions about empire and multiculturalism.

We had a quick sail around the new exhibition, opened by the Queen last month, 'Royal River - Power, Pageantry and the Thames' (until 9 Sept 2012). Yes, it's the exhibition curated by the controversial David Starkey. Anyone taking young children around museums and galleries will know that you can only ever have a cursory glance around, leaving half-read labels and tantalisingly barely scrutinised pieces in your wake. Sure, it all starts off well, 'children's activity trail' in hand, but descends soon enough into 'I'm tired/want the loo/hungry/bored'. We didn't do too badly though. The children were familiar with some of the monarchs and scenes depicted because, contrary to popular belief, primary schools (well, theirs at any rate) do cover 'kings and queens'.

I'd heard some criticisms that the exhibition is a bit of a 'rag bag', lacking cohesion, with some unexplained departures from the river theme (e.g. Anne Boylen's music book?). A critic suggested on Late Night Review that it would have been more apt to have a 'people's river' exhibition. Maybe so, but there was enough to keep this amateur amused, and even enough to make me want to go back and go round properly plus the audio guide and minus the children!

Then it was off to hunt food for a late lunch. Everywhere was packed, with waiting time for tables, on this Bank holiday weekend. So I admit that, after a short wait, we ended up at one of the much-criticised new food outlets on the new Greenwich pier. There are 3-4 of them, the usual chains, all looking identical (photo left). Where did all these people eat before these outlets were here?

It was too cold (in May!) to sit out on the first-floor terrace, with what must be wonderful views, but from the stairwell of the restaurant I managed to get this vantage point photo of the new Cutty Sark, on top of its new glass sea-wave. The newly-refurbed Cutty Sark was opened by the Queen on 25 April, a horribly rainy and windy day. We're saving the pleasure of visiting inside for when we can do it justice - it's now £12 a ticket, though of course free to members.

After lunch we ambled along the river and saw HMS Ocean which had recently docked at Greenwich. The 'Royal Greenwich' website gives this info about the ship:

"HMS Ocean will be moored on the Thames at Greenwich during the Games and will act as a helicopter landing platform and logistics hub in support of maritime and air security operations.
In addition, HMS Ocean will provide accommodation for 400 Royal Marines and Sailors who will be part of the Venue Security Force for nearby Greenwich Park.
In support of the national defence exercise, HMS Ocean will be moored off Greenwich from 4 to 15 May."

The day after we visited, an Open Day was held for Greenwich residents, with boats transfers. That would have been very exciting, especially for my son, who was recently enthralled by cruising past the HMS Belfast.

It was time to race back to the car park before our four-hour ticket ran out, especially as we had parked in the place behind the Ibis Hotel, where it was an eye-watering £2.50 an hour!

It was a lovely day - despite visiting frequently, there always seems something new to do at Greenwich - we're lucky to live so nearby.

Monday 7 May 2012

Asia House Festival of Asian Literature 15-31 May 2012

This looks very interesting...
The Asia House Festival of Asian Literature 15-31 May, 2012 The first and only festival in the UK dedicated to writing about Asia and Asians.

Some highlights which caught my eye are:

Wednesday, 16 May, 19.30
Ghosts of Empire
Kwasi Kwarteng (Cons. MP for Spelthorne, Surrey)
in conversation with Hugo Rifkind

Tuesday, 22 May, 18.45 
Women, Power and Politics
with Peter Popham (of 'The Lady and the Peacock')
Rani Singh (of 'Sonia Gandhi')
Mukulika Banerjee and Jane Macartney

Wednesday, 30 May, 18.45
London’s Radical South Asian Writers – Retro Style
with Kamila Shamsie, Daljit Nagra, Shyama Perera, Susheila Nasta

Download the 2012 Festival of Asian Literature Programme 
Events at Asia House, 63 New Cavendish Street, London W1G 7LP (map and contact details)

Sunday 6 May 2012

Greenwich and Lewisham keep Duvall and London re-elects its Mayor

So, Boris has beaten Ken by that painfully narrow margin of 3% but Labour's Len Duvall is re-elected with almost 50% of the vote as Assembly Member for Greenwich and Lewisham.  You've read it all elsewhere by now, but here goes for posterity:

1. Mayoral votes 2012
Despite a result promised early in the evening, especially given the low turnout, we were kept on tenterhooks until almost midnight. During this time, the result kept being expected 'in about half an hour' but was constantly pushed back, with tales of 'lost and found' ballot boxes and the electronic counting machine failing. Then finally they assembled and the nerve-wrackingly close result announced. Boris stepped up with a shambolic speech, sounding like he had forgotten he was not still on a campaign trail, trotting out transport developments in a "neo-victorian surge". He later remembered to thank a few people, including inviting Ken for a "non-taxpayer-funded libation". Then the tragic figure of Ken - I felt very sorry for him. I read somewhere he looked like a 'sad ET'. He has London in his blood and London was his end game, not a stepping-stone to a post elsewhere. (He was also my indirect boss for a few years in the mid-eighties when I worked at County Hall for the ILEA - I occasionally passed him on the stairs on the hallowed, wood-panelled 'member's floor' - he always had a cheerful hello even for us juniors).

2. Greenwich and Lewisham constituency member votes 2012

For my local constituency, Greenwich and Lewisham, notably - Duvall actually increased his vote share from 36.2% in 2008 (table below) to 49.6% yesterday (above). The Tories down from 25.2% in 2008 to 20.7%. The Lib Dems took a drubbing dropping to 4th position this time behind the Greens, reflecting the Mayoral table.  UKIP increased its share from 2.7% to 3.8%. The BNP did not stand in 2008 but the National Front did then get a whopping 5.8%. This time though both parties fielded candidates in the same constituency (!) (as they did in some others - must check those) but even then got a combined 4.3%. As others have commented, the collapse of the openly far-right has been a real success story in these elections, given the mood across the water in France with their Front Nationale getting almost 20%. On the other-hand, the UKIP vote (some call it the BNP for the polite) increased in Greenwich & Lewisham.

3. Greenwich and Lewisham constituency member votes 2008

In Greenwich & Lewisham, here's how we voted this time for the Mayor:
4. Mayoral voting in Greenwich & Lewisham
Despite backing a Conservative London Mayor, voters increased the Labour share of the London Assembly. The London Assembly has 25 seats - each of the 14 constituencies elects one assembly member using the first past the post system. The remaining 11 seats are for London-wide members, who represent the whole of the city.
5. London Assembly results 2012

 So the 2012 London constituency map now looks like this (compared to the one in 2008):
6. London Assembly Constituency map 2012

While voters were attracted to the celebrity of Boris for Mayor (despite being reminded that they were not voting for a game show host), elsewhere Labour made gains, in London and in Council elections which were held. Much more to add, but that's it for now, look forward to other local analysis - we're off out!