Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Big Red pizzas

Last weekend, after what seemed like an interminable wait, the Big Red bus next to the Birds Nest pub opened for business selling pizzas and beer. Pizzas and beer, who needs anything else in life? Well some people need coffee, mojitos or a bit of salad on the side, and luckily the Big Red sells all of these!

I wasn't able to make it the first weekend, and to be honest it was a bit cold and wet anyway, but yesterday as the sun started to blaze down in a truly summery way, the geezer and I gave it a thorough checking out.

From the outside, it's a big red bus designed to look like it's busting through the fence at the side of the Birds Nest in true cartoon style.

From the inside it's still a bus, although the seating is slightly rearranged to offer something a bit more sociable than you'd get on the 36; there are tables with little spotlights and red lights that are intended to light up when your pizza's ready so you can go down and collect it.

Outside is a jumble of different types of seating; from a row of little jasmine-strewn arbours catching the full rays of the afternoon sun to big comfy outdoor sofas that you can lounge on, and more formal tables for groups ranging from two to a dozen or more. To be honest the staff are so obliging that if you turned up with twenty they would probably regard it as no trouble at all to set you out a large table, or perhaps give you the whole of the upper deck. Some of the outside area is shaded, the rest is open - a bit hot in today's temperatures but probably a good sheltered spot to catch a bit of warmth on a cooler day.

The menu is short but offers an interesting choice of pizzas, including margarita, 'mare' (prawns, capers, sundried tomatoes), pepperoni, roast vegetables and the 'flamenco' which has already become my personal fave. You can tell they are still finding their feet as far as the menu is concerned and getting the hang of the various pizza toppings because the flamenco I had on Saturday was rather different to the one I saw being served on Sunday - however the two central ingredients were the same. They are chunks of spicey, succulent chorizo and lumps of morcilla, Spain's answer to black pudding. Whether teamed with ham and a handful of pesto-dressed rocket or with green olives, they provide a very tasty alternative to pepperoni for the meat eaters.

The pizza crust was thin and crunchy, slightly burned in places which I prefer to Pizza Express's frequently anaemic version, and the topping quantities very well balanced. They are very happy to accommodate any requests such as no cheese, which I know will go down particularly well with at least one friend of mine, and the staff were overwhelmingly friendly and helpful.

Prices range from a fiver for the margarita to £7.50 for the flamenco and the pepperoni - they are very generously sized pizzas and you can also order side salads if you feel you need some greens.

Bottled beers including Peroni, and Meantime's IPA and London Lager are available, as well as mojitos and soft drinks/coffee too.

At the moment the Big Red is only open Friday (5-11) Saturday (12-11) and Sunday (12-5) but from 6 July they plan to open five days a week (closed on Monday & Tuesday).

UPDATE Dec 2011: The Big Red is open throughout the winter from 6pm and they have a cocktail 'happy hour' Tuesday to Friday from 6pm till 9pm. The hardy/smokers can still sit outside as there is a wood fire and fleece blankets to keep you warm, along with hot soup and mulled wine/hot toddies on the menu.

For a decent pizza in the evening we'd taken to walking to the New Cross House, which serves pretty reliable offerings from its pizza oven. I'm delighted we've now got a local alternative which, on initial experience, has better pizzas at a very reasonable price.

Definitely worth a visit; see you there!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

My Fish

One of the arguments often used by betting shops to justify their proliferation in areas such as Deptford is that having a betting shop is better than having an empty shop unit. Whether this is true in any circumstances is arguable, depending on your opinion of what benefit betting shops offer to the community.

However long-term empty units is not a problem that Deptford High Street is prone to. In fact at the moment I think the only unit that has been empty for a long time is the former Halifax, for which Betfred is waiting to hear the results of its appeal.

The latest unit to be filled was open for business yesterday; My Fish. It's a cavernous shop and has been lovingly (and rather slowly it's true) fitted out with shiny stainless steel and jazzy lighting that would seem more at home in an bar than a fish shop.

The front part of the shop has a huge counter of wet fish and live crustaceans, many of which were unfamiliar to me, stretching about half the way down the shop along one wall. Down the opposite wall are huge racks holding packets of dried and smoked fish and shrimps of various types as well as African foods such as egusi seeds.

The back of the shop has several rows of freezers stocked full with whole frozen fish of many different varieties, large catering packs of clams in their shells, squid in rings or whole, boxes of octopus and all manner of other fish and shellfish.

A hard sell was going on yesterday when I drifted past; half a dozen staff tasked with getting the punters in and then getting them to purchase - the huge spread of wet fish was certainly getting a lot of interest, particularly from Deptford's African and Vietnamese shoppers.

As a rather unadventurous fish eater myself, it's unlikely I'm going to desert Codfather's for My Fish, particularly since the kind of purchases I usually make - smoked haddock, skate wings, smoked salmon etc - aren't sold by My Fish. Some of the shellfish look interesting though and might tempt me in now and then.

Or if anyone has any recommendations or recipes I could try for something a bit more adventurous, please feel free to leave them in the comments!

Meanwhile I see local artist Sarah McIntyre was also down there taking a few photos; see her take on My Fish here.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Utrophia goodbye and hello

Sad news that Utrophia is moving out of the old Ice Cream factory on Tanners Hill...this Friday 24 June they are hosting a farewell party That's It?

'Art, music, film, homemade food, performance and more' as we have come to expect.

But as Sue reports on Crosswhatfields, they are not going far - in fact they are coming closer to a lot of people!

Art-Eat 1-Hundred/ APT open studios

Hand Made Food from Blackheath is hosting a 'pop-up dinner' (I confess I find that concept rather disturbing) on 3 July at the APT Gallery.

The dinner is taking place the same weekend as APT's open studios, which will be on 2 and 3 July (Saturday 12-6pm and Sunday 12-7pm)

A very seasonal menu will be served as follows:


Urban Orchard – Lemon verbena gin, elderflower, apple rosemary and grapefruit bitters
Raspberry and Vanilla Martini

Hors d’oeuvres
Rabbit rillette on toast
Bloody Mary consommé with horseradish

Marinated Mackerel
Tomato summer pudding (v)

Organic Essex Lamb stuffed with pink peppercorns and preserved lemons
Runner bean Thoran with homemade Paneer and Daal (v)

Cous cous broad beans with yoghurt & mint
Smoked aubergine and walnut
Artichokes, peas and new potatoes
Sourdough flatbreads with zaatar & sumac olive oil.

Foraged fruit surprise!

My mouth is watering already at the prospect of the lamb, although the veggie options also sound very tasty. Tickets must be bought in advance, they are £40 per head and available here.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Thames Tunnel consultation; possible impact on Deptford

Thames Water's plans for construction of the new Thames Tunnel, which have been under development for some years now, are set to affect Deptford in some way or other, like it or not.

Next Friday and Saturday (24 and 25 June) Thames Water is holding drop-in sessions at the Creekside Centre to consult with local residents and businesses about its 'phase two' plans. I strongly recommend attendance to comment on proposals; please read on to find out why.

Three routes are being considered for the main tunnel - the preferred route more or less follows the River Thames from Hammersmith down to Abbey Mills - but whichever is chosen, a few smaller connection tunnels must be built to carry waste from the combined sewer overflows into the main tunnel. Local combined sewer overflows for Greenwich Pumping Station (located at the foreshore just west of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel) and Deptford (right in front of the Ahoy Centre) must be linked into the main tunnel at Rotherhithe, with the main work site originally intended to be Kings Stairs Gardens. During the phase one consultation, locals mounted an impressive campaign to save their local green space from being used as a construction site. As a result, Thames Water is trying to find an alternative and has even bought up brownfield land nearby as a possible option.

But one of Thames Water's proposed changes to reduce the impact on Rotherhithe is to reverse the direction of tunnelling for the connection tunnel. Originally the tunnel boring machine was to start at Kings Stairs Gardens and head towards Greenwich; the spoil was to be taken up to ground level through a large shaft in KSG and removed by barges. While construction sites were needed in Greenwich and Deptford, they would be smaller and less disruptive, without the need to remove lorry loads of spoil and deliver materials for the tunnel construction works.

With suggestions that the direction of tunnelling be reversed, this could have quite a dramatic impact on the preferred construction site just over the boundary in Greenwich, and associated impacts on local roads.

Greenwich Pumping Station, which is just across the Creek in Norman Road, is owned by Thames Water and as such is an obvious choice as a worksite for one of the local interceptor tunnels. But changing the direction of tunnelling will mean spoil has to be removed at the site and taken away by road, and additional deliveries will be needed, as well as the fact that a larger construction site will have to be used.

Here's a rendering of how it is proposed the site will look when the work is finished.

A second, potentially more disruptive issue for Deptford town centre has emerged as part of this second round of consultation.

A construction site is also needed to build the interceptor tunnel for the Deptford combined sewer overflow which discharges down by the Ahoy Centre. Again, in the initial consultation, Thames Water proposed a site at Borthwick Wharf as its preferred option, but there was opposition from local residents in Millennium Quay who would be directly affected by the construction work. The work was also proposed to leave permanent structures at the site to enable operation of the tunnel.

As a result, Thames Water wants to know what local people think about losing the use of the little triangle of land enclosed by Deptford Church Street, Coffey Street and Crossfield Street for several years. This would be turned into a construction site from which the interceptor tunnel for the Deptford overflow would be built.

In the open letter that has been sent to local residents by Thames Water, there's not much information about what work would need to be carried out from this site, or how long it would be needed for, but I guess that's what staff at the 'drop-in' sessions at the Creekside Centre next week will be able to confirm.

I am not particularly keen on the prospect of more heavy construction work in the centre of Deptford - Thames Water is intending to start work in 2013 with completion of the whole system in 2020 so it seems we may have a lull of a year or so after the town centre/Tidemill/railway station/etc completion before chaos descends again. I am also very fond of that little green lung, it enhances the setting of St Paul's Church and provides a buffer against the noise and pollution from Deptford Church Street. Its trees and grassed areas provide valuable wildlife habitat in an increasingly built-up urban environment. The fenced-in area next to the road is also used by dog-owners to let their pets run off the lead, and additionally, the proposed site is right in front of a primary school.

If you want to find out more, and have your concerns noted, please try and get to the drop-in sessions at the Creekside Discovery Centre, 14 Creekside.

Friday 24 June 10am-7pm
Saturday 25 June 12-5pm

There's a huge amount of information on the project and the consultation process at Thames Water's dedicated Thames Tunnel page here, with most of the consultation information about various sites on this page. The second phase of public consultation is not due to start until September of this year, so if you are concerned about the impact this work could have on Deptford and its surroundings, now is probably a good time to read up on it and have your objections ready.

Friday, 17 June 2011

New mural for Douglas Way Square

Buried at the bottom of the applications page of the Deptford X website I found an invitation for artists to submit proposals for a new mural in Douglas Way Square to replace the existing mural, which has definitely seen better days (click on the words 'Douglas Way Square' to download the document).

I seem to have missed the general announcement of this, but artists need to be quick - the deadline for proposals is 4 July.

'The London Borough of Lewisham is looking to replace the current mural on Douglas Square, titled “Deptford Railway Yard”, produced by Christopher Ryland and Paul Prestidge in 1980.
Over time the mural has suffered significant wear and tear and the council has now decided to replace the mural with a new piece of artwork.
Douglas Way Square is under going extensive refurbishment and this new design will be an important addition to the look and feel of the square.
We are looking for to contract an artist to produce a new piece of artwork on the wall, which can be maintained and developed over a three year period. We are flexible as to the nature of the proposal and are interested in receiving proposals that, for example, apply a range of techniques or develop the creative practice of an artist or maker interested in working to a large scale.'

There's a lengthy selection process; from the submissions, three designs will be selected and the artists will each be given £250 to develop an installation method statement & risk assessment, a maintenance plan and detailed design sketches.

Phase three will involve the three designs being exhibited at a venue in Deptford where the public will be able to attend and make comment. The selected artists will have to attend a community event to talk to the members of the local community about their proposals. In stage four the artists will be interviewed by the selection panel (representatives of Lewisham Council, Design for London, Deptford X and local businesses) before a final choice is made.

The competition is open to all artists living or working in the UK, and the budget for the mural is £6k.

However the winner should not expect their work to be there in perpetuity; the brief only requires it to last 'at least a year'. The mural will be commissioned until August 2013 and then 'may be removed or re-commissioned'.

I'd love to see something bold, colourful and perhaps thought-provoking on that wall - the fact that I rarely notice the existing mural underlines the fact that it is faded and past its prime. Time for fresh influences.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Deptford memories

My recent post about Wellbeloved's Deptford High Street premises prompted some interesting correspondence with former Deptford resident Ronald King, who sent me some fascinating memories from his formative years in the 'ford.

Ron, who is now 81 and lives in northern England, sent this wonderful picture of his school class at Stanley Street school in 1937. The writing on the blackboard reads: "We have just put up the decorations for the Coronation"

His memories paint a colourful and revealing picture of the excitement of Deptford High Street from a child's eye view, during the 1930s, and the devastation that the war wreaked on families and day to day life in the area.

Ron writes: I can only offer an old man’s disjointed ramblings but do so with the hope that they may trigger recollections in those with more intimate knowledge.

I come from an old Deptford family, poor but honest: the area around Grove Street was for many years infested by 'my sisters and my cousins and my aunts' ... well actually not my sisters.
My memories of the High Street date from about 1935. I lived – aged 5 - at No 8 Amersham Vale, a short walk away via Douglas St.

I remember...the barrows at the Douglas St/High St junction where you could buy almost anything at bargain prices...Woolworths, who really did sell things for 3d. and 6d….including TOYS!...the large 'barrel' suspended over the pavement near the station. I was convinced that it would come crashing down on somebody one day - I gave it a wide berth.

The bracket that held the 'barrel' is still there over; Ron identified it  as the one above the Monis clothes shop.

I remember...the shops decorated for the Coronation, large golden crowns made of cardboard which disintegrated when it rained and of course, flags...the market with two entrances from the High St where stalls sold cotton and buttons - and my special interest - books of all kinds, and pencils...the darkness of the streets after leaving the bright lights.

In 1937, the landlord 'encouraged' us to move to Windmill Lane, No 61, still within walking distance, even if you are 7. We continued to shop there regularly.

I remember...THAT BARREL...(I still do not know what it was for)...again Woolworths, this time batteries and torches and watches and gramophone records, Decca and Rex...and German tinplate toys. Toys were becoming more war-like; I remember being given a model lorry, fitted with a searchlight and a morse key together with a copy of the Morse Code. That's where I learned it and have never forgotten it...the 'Showground' on the same side as Woolworths, with lots of coloured lights and fairground games...Marks & Spencers, at that time a Woolworth clone with similar island counters and selling similar stock...the night-life - not clubs and bars, but shops. They used to stay open late in those days, and being brightly lit would be a magnet for people who worked during daylight hours.

Roadside barrows would have Naptha flares which gave a brilliant light and a loud hissing sound. One of the butchers shops would close and re-open later to sell saveloys and pease pudding to waiting customers..pavement artists, many ex-WW1 some without limbs...a man with no arms, drawing pictures with his feet...two buskers playing phono-fiddles outside the first sight of a coal-effect electric fire in a shop window..magic..we had no electricity though...all this at the 'top' of the street the Broadway end (why was it called the top - it was the southern end???).

At the 'bottom' was the cinema known as the Deptford flea-pit...Pecry’s an open fronted drapery shop, where my mother would 'pay-off' items which were then reserved for whenever she had fully paid for them..I can still recall the excitement of making the last payment and proudly taking home new sheets or material for curtains.

(Pecry's is on the left in this photo from 1910, and the station can be seen in the distance. I believe the road in the right foreground is Giffin Street, and the pub stands where Giffin Square is now.) UPDATE: SEE COMMENTS FOR A CORRECTION

I remember Maines(?) a similar kind of shop on the other side of the road...Sainsbury’s...gleaming white tiles...Edwards the baker who sold round flat bread puddings at 4d each...Saunders with free-standing bowls of dried fruit, peas and lentils, some outside the shop, with a scoop to fill bags and take to the counter...was this the start of self-service?.....the wonderful bakers on the corner of Douglas St...shops opening up their cellars at Christmas to sell toys; not their usual line...then...the more bright lights...pavements covered in broken glass....signs where the windows were, saying 'More open than usual'.

We were 'bombed out' of Windmill Lane and after living in a trench in Deptford Park (I believe one of 7) with 5 other families, for some weeks went to pick hops in Kent. This took about 3 years, but we returned to Deptford in time for the V1 flying bombs Again we were 'flying bombed' out and had to emigrate to Bermondsey. My first job after leaving school was in a radio shop (I was even then mad keen on anything electronic) called Evelyn Radio. situated would you believe, in Evelyn St. close to the bottom of the High St.

I remember...1946/47 was not much fun...rationing was still in force...the Blackout returned due to power cuts...even shops (like ours) that had electricity, were not allowed to use it during certain hours, not a good time for any cousin Eileen getting her first job in a self-service mini-market at the top of the High of the first supermarkets?

After leaving Evelyn Radio I had no close contact with the High St until around ’56 when I came back to work in Boyds, part of the GUS group, as a TV engineer. This shop was on the western side fairly close to New Cross Rd.

I remember...the changing demographics...the area manager coming into the shop just before closing time with another man whom he introduced to the manager as 'the new manager, starting on Monday morning...'! This happened twice during my time at Boyds. Luckily, TV engineers were harder to replace than managers!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Nu X turn left: a comics and art garden party.

While I can't pretend my inner editor doesn't cringe at the word 'nu', I am very excited at the combination of comics, art, craft and cake promised by the garden party which will be held at the Old Police Station in July. (Added later: Actually the word 'nu' is only used on the Facebook page, the blog is blissfully free of it!)

Currently the organisers are inviting submissions from cartoonists and artists who want to exhibit at the show, which will be a curated event, and also from vendors interested in having a stall at the garden party.

"We're looking for exhibitors for Nu X Turn Left: A Comics and Art Garden Party, to be held at the Old Police Station on Sunday, 24th July, from 1-11PM (114-116 Amersham Vale, Deptford, SE14 6LG).

The event is named for the most basic directions to the OPS - go to New Cross station, turn left on exiting, walk a bit, you're there!
Organised by Julia Scheele, Howard Hardiman, Ellen Lindner and Nevs Coleman, the Garden Party is just what we say - a garden party! We'll be selling comics, cakes, crafts and art, and we'd love to get you - a local artist- involved. In the evening we'll have a book launch for a minicomics collaboration between Ellen Lindner and Barnaby Richards, Art History Dropouts.

This is a curated show, and we're focusing on South London artists and cartoonists. Not an artist or cartoonist? Keep reading for info on attending - we need you, too!

For £5 you can sell your wares all day, either at one of our communal tables in the station caff, or outside in the courtyard (weather allowing, of course!) For that price you can also submit an exhibition idea for one of the station cells - yes, an actual holding cell, completely unchanged from when the station was Deptford's police station.
For £10 we will cater your lunch - a lovely Panda Panda sandwich and drink of your choice (£1 bubble tea supplement), delivered straight to the Police Station on the day. You also get cake!


Please email with exhibitor interest, exhibition proposals and questions -

Once we discuss what you'd like to sell, I'll require payment via PayPal. We're aiming to have a full roster of 20 artists by 20th June , so please get in touch with any interest ASAP. "

Faircharm estate regeneration plans

The days of cheap studios and rehearsal space for artists and musicians on the Faircharm Estate, Creekside look to be numbered, with the estate's owner Workspace Group about to launch plans to redevelop the site.

While Workspace says its redevelopment will provide new galleries and studios for local artists and crafters, the cheap and cheerful space offered in the old buildings that currently grace the site will disappear to make room for new development, which will include new residential units.

Despite not having any details of these proposals yet, I have to admit that this initial announcement rather dismays me; this part of Creekside has really come into its own in the last couple of years. While some businesses such as Creekside Studios have been housed on the estate for more than two decades, the creation of the Creekside Artists collective and the launch of the Faircharm Fair last christmas signalled that the estate was really coming into its own.

The Faircharm Fair was a very welcome indication that what had previously been a low-key collection of businesses, studio spaces and light industrial use was finding an identity of its own. Creekside Cafe is a great addition to Deptford's cafe scene with its pleasant ambience and tasty food, and similarly has created a focus for the estate's tenants and local residents alike. And the recent sprucing up of the estate added some visual relief and humour to what are essentially underwhelming sheds. But I wonder what will happen to the businesses and artists who currently benefit from the cheap space, and who contribute to making Creekside such a creative quarter?

With much of the rest of Creekside being exploited for housing it is inevitable that the landowner should want to jump on the bandwagon and make some money out of its waterside location - but with this land previously designated for employment use, any proposal to build residential units here would have been strongly resisted.

It seems that the ongoing softening of planning policies as the old unitary development plans are replaced by local development frameworks is seeing this type of land being converted to mixed use designation. This basically means that as long as you have some offices and business use on the site, you can build housing too.

Architect Karakusevic Carson has been appointed to design this 'major arts and workspace building combined with mixed tenure housing to complement the Deptford Creek creative quarter.' As well as galleries and studios, the buildings will house workshops and office space alongside managed live/work space.

The architect's website says: "We are currently working with local artist groups as well as the London Borough of Lewisham and key stakeholder groups to develop the site in keeping with the needs of the users, land owners, and local residents whilst meeting the council objectives for the quarter."

Given that no planning application has yet been submitted, it suggests that the renderings accompanying the info on their website are indicative.

If you want to find out more, the developer and architect are holding an open day next Saturday, on the same weekend as the Faircharm Fair and open studios of Creekside Artists (and of course Cockpit Arts which is celebrating its 25th anniversary).

The consultation event and exhibition runs from 12 till 8pm on Saturday and includes a BBQ, cinema screening and drinks.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Deptford on the Culture Show

On the Culture Show on BBC2 last night, the Deptford-born South London Art Map rubbed shoulders with David Attenborough and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hallowed company indeed!
Writer Michael Smith visited Deptford and Peckham on a 'Last Friday' to experience the 'late night openings that many art galleries in the area host once a month.

I did have to laugh at the fact that the opening scene to the report shows Mr Smith starting his brave exploration of the far-flung south east of London by Riverboat. No wonder he thinks it's a long way out, the boat is not exactly the quickest way to Deptford and it's a bit of a schlep from Greenland Pier. I know an 8 minute train ride from London Bridge is perhaps not the most picturesque journey to show as an opener but it begs the question why they needed to show the journey at all? Oh yes, sorry, to reinforce the opinion held by everyone else in the media that it's a Long Way to south east London. Mr Smith trots out a few such comments in his intro, reinforcing the opinion held by everyone else in south east London that the mainstream media are navel-gazing idiots who couldn't work out how to swipe an Oystercard at an overground station if their lives depended on it. Ho hum.

Tired cliches aside, the report is worth a look for a snapshot of the local art scene and to get an idea of the rapid expansion Last Fridays has undergone in recent months. The tour takes in Deptford stalwarts Bearspace, APT, The Old Police Station and Creekside as well as including some nice shots of the high street and market, before moving on to Peckham to visit some of the galleries there. Peckham and Bankside linked up with the Deptford Art Map last year to create the South London Art Map, which has given the initiative even greater impetus and undoubtedly helped it to be taken seriously by programmes such as the Culture Show.

The report is not so much about the art as the Last Fridays initiative, but Smith does include a few pieces in his report, including a nice shot of Deptford Creek at low tide featuring Sue Lawes' installation Creekery #2. Sue has written a fascinating blog about the creation and set-up of the work, as well as the difficulties of keeping the crockery clean for the purposes of documentation.

You can watch the episode here on BBC iplayer for the next week. The Last Fridays section begins about 20 minutes in.