Sunday, 28 February 2010

Cycling scapegoats: addendum

After my last post about cycling scapegoats, John pointed me in the direction of a recent Evening Standard article. The person behind this anti-cycling ranting in Westminster council is Angela Harvey, chairman of the Built Environment Policy and Scrutiny Committee and of the South Area Forum. She also spoke on yesterday's BBC's Radio 5 Weekend Breakfast programme. (It's a 3 hour programme so skip forward to 1:41:00 for the 5 minute feature.) After her Standard assertion about a rogue cyclo-terrorist:

We're always getting little old ladies who are knocked down and abused by a cyclist, who leave them on the ground as they ride away.

was apparently hit by a Freedom of Information request and found to be red-light jumping reality, she dropped this fantasy and, stressing that she is a cyclist, talked about towpath prams:

...cyclists are rushing through and we may end up with a pram in the canal. That's what we're very worried about.

I'm not quite sure how giving Council officers powers to issue fixed penalty notices to cyclists for road traffic offences can have anything to do with Regent's Canal racers. Last time I looked, canals weren't on a public highway. British Waterways affairs actually have nothing to do with what the residents have talked about. And the reason cyclists use the towpaths is because they want somewhere quiet, flat, red-light free to commute and exercise on. Because the roads are jammed up with traffic. Towpath use - responsible towpath use - is actually relieving the strain on Westminster's roads and they aren't thinking of improving cycle provision apart from the City Hall inspired cycle hire initiative*. Each cyclist on the towpath is one fewer on the road. And each cyclist on the road is taking up far less room than the alternative modes of transport.

So, because Angela Harvey has a bee in her bonnet about cyclists, they're damned for being on the roads (knocking down old ladies) and for being off the roads (pushing prams into the canal).
If you want to see this Angela Harvey, she was last seen riding roughshod over Westminster Bridge on a red Vendetta.

*For a cheap laugh, the minutes of Westminster's cycle workshop are worth a read. Whereas we only get a cycle hire scheme, they actually get a Cycle High Scheme

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Cycling scapegoats

Evidently taking its cue from the Daily Mail school of journalism, the BBC's Inside Out (London) broadcast a piece on red-light jumping cyclists in the city last night. As any journalist writing an ''Opinion''* article in the Mail will know, the best way to kick things off is to appeal to prejudices with the all-time classic cycling cliché: the lycra lout. These are the opening words of Matthew Wright's presentation:

''I think we're all familiar with the capital's lycra louts, that breed of cyclist that bombs about the street, flouting the Highway Code, missing pedestrians by a whisker and giving the vast majority of sensible riders a bad name. Well, thanks to pressure from those who've borne the brunt of bad riding, councils and the Met police are starting to clamp down on these two-wheel transgressors....''

Well, so much for challenging stereotypes, eh? The rest of the piece showed lots of cycling clips, many perfectly law-abiding cyclists and the odd dangerous and illegal manoeuvre. And what do you know? None of the transgressors filmed were wearing lycra. That wasn't the point though, was it? I don't know how many hours the film crew spent trying to nail a shot of a lycra wearing cyclist breaking the law or putting pedestrians in danger, but they didn't manage to film a single one doing it. (They did admittedly manage to get one fellow in lycra being pulled for an infraction but missed the actual offence.) But though the film failed to nail any of these two-wheeled lycra lout transgressors, the stereotyping remained unchallenged and, if anything, was reinforced.

Now, I'm not going to defend red-light jumping. But having twice been alarmed yesterday by the sudden acceleration of a car behind me making a dash through a ''London green,'' while I was already slowing for the red light, I will argue for a sense of perspective. Which is more dangerous, a cyclist weighing under 100kg travelling at 15mph or a motor vehicle accelerating through a red light? This is not a particularly difficult question.

What I find most unsettling about this picking on sound-bite scapegoats is that it diverts attention away from the real dangers on the road. Focusing on the cyclist blinds us to where the dangers actually are - and this is why I use the word ''scapegoat.'' Drivers see the hi-viz motes but not the beam in their own eyes.

And as an illustration of that selective blindness, here's a still from the programme. Yes, before a bevy of bobbies, we can all see the cyclist red-light jumping. But unremarked and uncriticised in the programme, what's that behind the cyclist? Oh, they didn't notice the big blue thing in the background. Because they were busy concentrating on cyclists. Perspective, please!
*''Opinion'' here is used by the press to evade censure. ''It's not a reflection of our editorial policy, the views expressed are those of the commissioned author.'' Right, that went well, let's commission another piece....

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Deptford Commoners?

I find that maps, both old and new, have started to fascinate me - particularly on wet, cold misty mornings. Whilst whiling away the morning hoping that the weather would improve I ended up looking at Wyld's 1872 map of the local area. Looking south of Deptford I was surprised to see that the area to the south of Lewisham Way did not get the name of Brockley but is shown as Deptford Common. Even the Brockley Cemetery is given as two adjoining cemeteries: Deptford and Lewisham. So as Deptford has shrunk, Brockley has spread a little. But because there is a historical precedent, the next time I go to (contemporary) Brockley I shall consider it as Deptford. And Hilly Fields as Deptford Common. In fact I believe that it would be perfectly acceptable to call the next Brockleyite I meet a Deptford Commoner. I wonder how they would react....

edorourke (see comments) has very kindly taken the trouble to put the two map files I originally uploaded together into one file. My previous best attempt was to place the two side by side, but it's much better as one file.

Apologies to any Brockley people for associating the place with Deptford and Common.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Eclipse of the Laban

Though I've always had reservations about the perspex-like cladding on the Laban - it reminds me of document folders that Rymans used to sell back in the 80s - there's no doubt that it stands out pretty proudly when viewed from the Ha'penny Hatch.This was how it looked about 6 months ago (summer 09) - the blues still form a link between sky and water. But I took stock of the view again yesterday (Feb 10) and the view has changed dramatically.
Ok, fair enough, it's a greyer, murkier day and it's not taken from exactly the same spot but the Laban's lines no longer reach the sky, instead they hit the grey-green cladding of the Creekside Village behind it. And it's still going up. It's beginning to look like a squat box dominated by the apartments of the ''village,'' and the Laban will get smaller and more insignificant as this goes on.

That's not the reason I had a camera with me on the Hatch: I'd brought it with me to photograph a periscope that some visual comedian has installed just on the Greenwich bank, west of the bridge. There is also a black binliner in an improvised holder attached to a post with cable ties and there were 3 clumps of artificial flowers that had disappeared the previous night. I have visions of a night carouser drunkenly presenting his girlfriend with a Valentine's day bouquet that night who is now walking with a very definite limp...
I tried taking a photo of what you can see through it but as I didn't have my glasses on I didn't notice that the camera's settings had got changed. So all you can see is that light does pass through it and it looks a little like a tunnel
I have absolutely no idea what linked the periscope, the bin plus liner and the plastic flowers - apart, of course, from the people who put them there. Curiously, the last person I bumped into and had a quick chat with on the hatch is called Perry.

Anyhow, here's an old view of the railway bridge and the hatch from an altogether different era

Sunday, 14 February 2010

From Chemist to Pharmacy

An old sign that I saw yesterday in Nunhead...reminded me that Chemists, or Dispensing Chemists, no longer call themselves Chemists. I'm not quite sure if it happened all at once or slowly over a period of time any self-respecting chemist is now a pharmacist. This sign - on Evelina Road at the top of St Mary's Road, SE15 - Green(-e or -es?) Chemist had been established over 50 years when it was painted. Today it calls itself a Pharmacy. No change in use over the years, but a subtle change in terminology. Perhaps it avoids moments of temporary confusion at dinner parties when a dispensing chemist gets introduced as a chemist and the intellectual guest starts asking questions about the periodic table. Perhaps it simply sounds more formal - the medical profession are a little prone to choosing the most imposing title they can. I had an unresolved kidney problem, but I didn't get referred to a kidney doctor, nor even a renalogist (which I would have understood). No, it had to be a nephrologist - a title very few punters will readily grasp.

The Bakery photo in yesterday's post, became a Duncan's Chemist, now it too is a Pharmacy.
Meanwhile, back to Nunhead. Green's chemist-cum-pharmacy has another sign painted up over its entrance.
The end of ''Nunhead'' is still visible, as is the postcode, SE15, down on the bottom right. It seems to read ''Nunhead nr St....'' and I thought perhaps it could have been the nearby St Mary's. But, because there is an overlay of different writing - for example, the word ''OFFICE'' is legible on the lower level and the ST seems just a little too big, I'm inclined to think it was simply ''ST'' for Street. What appears to be a B at the start of the second line, could quite conceivably be a P - was it once, a Post Office? All in all, the still-discernible letters seem to give an obviously false message:


Saturday, 13 February 2010

Faded New Cross

I seem to have been avoiding New Cross on my wanderings. I think this is mostly because it's so unfriendly to cyclists. But I did notice the other day that there were a lot of faded wall adverts along New Cross Road and the Old Kent Road.

I don't recall ever having noticed this one before:Clutton(?) Swan & Co, Artistic Ticket Writers. It's behind the Amersham Arms in Amersham Road.

Just opposite the Bryant and May safety matches advert in Alpha Road, at the end of Mornington Road, there's another one peering out from under a couple of J C Decaux hoardings:From underneath the competing Telecom adverts the words ''The finest the...'' are visible and the original advert appears to continue upwards almost to the top of the Vodafone boards.

Further on towards Peckham, I noticed that wall adverts seemed to come in pairs of sites, like the Bryant and May/The finest the...'' ones, over the road from each other. Just before New Cross Road changes into the Old Kent Road, there's a fairly recent undertakers sign:
To judge by the Google street view, this is only visible in winter when the trees just in front of it are leafless. And just over the road, there's this one:
''Nestlé Milk, rich in cream.'' And underneath that, are the traces of a previous Bryant and May advert. Maybe there's also a suggestion of a third advert, starting with an ornate outline of the letter R, which starts just before the N of Nestlé and and continues - beyond my deciphering powers until it finishes with an S just after the final letter of Nestlé. ''Redfern's?'' is my best shot, whoever they might have been.

Some of them are even harder to work out. This one, just opposite New Cross Gate station may as well have been written for the Enigma code.I fancy I can make out the words ''Film Cinema'' in the second line down, and also the word ''TOWER'' in large capitals at the bottom. But there again, the word after TOWER appears to say ''scream'' and that makes absolutely no sense at all.

Using the ''now you've stopped to take a photo, look the opposite way'' theory - I can imagine the signwriters also thinking, ''now we've stopped, let's see if they might be interested over the road'' - there's this:Again there's a degree of overpainting and I can barely make anything out apart from ''orders promptly'' down by the graffiti.

Finally, here are a couple of indecipherables:

Greenwich High Road, next to the Prince of Wales Pub, latterly the St Christopher's Inn, super-latterly Belusha's, there's a chemist which was a bakery at one time. The Greenwich Phantom has a photo of an advert for Justice Pies. What I only recently noticed was that up top the word ''bakery'' is still visible. The name though is beyond me.
And down alongisde the Sainsbury's in New Cross, at the corner of Hart's Lane and Hatcham Park Road, there's this. Though the lower word is not legible from the photo, when you're up close, it seems to read ''Corn''. But what words that end in -OUS could the first word be?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


I recently came across a random Daily Mail headline generator. It's from a blog by Chris Applegate which goes under the (obscure for me) title of Go on, make your own Daily Mail-o-matic headlines....

(Obviously the title is one of the generated headlines. Cyclists are one of the DM's bogeymen for 2009. Let's see how they get on in 2010... )