A Murder of Crows?

London 2012 Festival Crow image

Crow is the third Handspring Puppet Company production that I’ve seen, and it’s very different to the other two. In War Horse it was easy to forget the people operating the horse puppets, and marvel at their subtle rendering of  small details of horse behaviour that made it possible to suspend disbelief. In Or you Could Kiss Me the puppeteers were harder to overlook as there were three for each three-quarter life sized man puppet and they sometimes seemed to be part of the play, like a medical crash team around a dying man. But sometimes their use of puppets put a spotlight on an aspect of reality such as the frailness and creakiness of old age.

In Crow the different crow puppets highlight different aspects of Ted Hughes poetic vision of the Crow, from a frail, skeletal creature struggling to be born to a nightmarish priapic wingless man-bird engaged in aggressive sexual pursuit. The word puppet just doesn’t do justice to these creations.  In Crow the puppeteers are completely engaged in the action- dancing and reciting the poems as well as manipulating the Crow creations.

It would be impossible to present the whole of Ted Hughes long and multifaceted mythic masterpiece in just over an hour, but I think Handspring have created a congruent synthesis of  poetry, music, movement and setting that captures its essence. The set is bleak and monochrome, post-apocalyptic, with a central hill composed of a kind of metamorphic material that might have been melted in a nuclear holocaust and re-solidified. Ben Duke’s choreography is not graceful, but is danced with hugh energy and commitment, complementing Hughes’ poems. During Crow’s birth it reminded me of tribal dancing seen on a holiday in India, and there was a hint of deep didgeridoo tones  in Leafcutter John‘s sparse music which added to the ancient primitive feel. Later a courageous, dangerous leaping embrace at the top of the hill was the perfect match to Lovesong‘s story of obsessive, competitive, dangerous love.

Although the production of Crow is dark and stark, Crow is ultimately a survivor ….   the final lines of Examination at the Womb-door:

Who is stronger than hope?      Death.
Who is stronger than the will?     Death.
Stronger than love?     Death.
Stronger than life?     Death.

But who is stronger than Death?

Me, evidently.

Pass, Crow.

Handspring UK’s production of Crow is part of the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (GDIF).  It is on at the Borough Hall in Royal Hill until 7th July 2012, tickets from Greenwich Theatre. Not to be missed.

Police Arrests for Farm Crimes

Greenwich MPS Tweets
Snippet of Greenwich MPS Twitter Feed

Greenwich Borough MPS, @MPSGreenwich, reported in twitter updates  this afternoon that they had arrested three teenagers in connection with the vandalism at Woodlands Farm last week, and that they had charged an 18 year-old man with burglary. Stolen personal items had been recovered and returned to their owners.

Good work by the police, and quick!

Farm Attacked Again

Woodlands Farm Front Gate

Woodlands Farm was hit by vandals for the second time last Tuesday night, following the arson attack on the chicken coop just a couple of weeks ago. This time they were burgled, vandalised, sprayed with graffiti and animals were attacked – one hen was killed. Personal possessions were stolen or scattered around.

The pathetic people who carried out the attack killed a  white hen which had been ill and quarantined away from the others while she was cared for by the farm’s volunteers. They  also injured Bella the saddleback pig  on her left shoulder, possibly with the fire extinguisher that was found in her pen, separated two recently born piglets from their mother, Cynthia the Oxford Sandy and Black Pig, and threw a pitch fork at the Gloucester Old Spot pigs.

Since the attack farm volunteers have been busy fixing broken windows, scrubbing and repainting to remove graffiti and comforting traumatised animals.

The farm will need to find about £2000 to replace the burnt out chicken coop, and now will also need to pay for repairs and improved security. They would welcome donations. They will be holding their annual Summer Show on Sunday July 1st to help raise funds to run the farm.

Cynthia and her piglets reunited
Reunited – Cynthia and her piglets
The burn-out remains of the chicken coop
The burnt-out remains of the chicken coop

Grand Events

Woolwich Grand Theatre from the Woolwich Centre
Woolwich Grand Theatre

A talk by actress Emily Lloyd and a screening of  “Wish You Were Here”, the BAFTA-nominated film that she starred in, kick off a regular series of events at the Woolwich Grand Theatre next Wednesday, 27th June. Emily Lloyd won Best Actress awards from the Evening Standard and the National Society of Film Critics for her role in the film, and was also nominated for the BAFTA Best Actress award. She later starred in the film “A River Runs Through It” directed by Robert Redford.

This is the culmination of a lot of work by the team at the Grand, including  a successful appearance before the Greenwich Council licensing committee and the sourcing and erection of a 20×25 ft cinema screen. The erection of the screen in the main hall by Woolwich Grand Director Adrian Green and volunteers  Scot and Sean is graphically described and pictured on the Grand’s Facebook page.

Adrian intends to host a regular weekly sequence of events at the Grand, as he says:

…. we will be holding the following in the Red Room:
Wednesday- Film Screenings and Talks.
Thursday- Cabaret/Quiz Evening.
Friday- Music Night with a mixture of bands and soloists.
Saturday- Comedy Nights including stand-up and sketches.
Prices for these events will vary, so please e-mail us at info@thewoolwichgrandtheatre.com to enquire about tickets. Tickets can be bought through our paypal account or at our box office.
We will also be holding larger events in main hall once a month and these will be announced on our website and Facebook page.

These will be great evenings and we look forward to seeing you there!

The talk by Emily Lloyd on Wednesday starts at 6.30pm and the  film screening at 7.00pm. Tickets cost £10.00 and can be bought on the door or by contacting the theatre by e-mail, info@thewoolwichgrandtheatre.com. Food is available and there’s a bar ’till 12.00. The quiz on the 28th is looking good too, previous music nights were excellent and I can recommend the lunches at the Arts Cafeteria.

Update: Adrian has now confirmed the other three events for next week on the Grand’s Facebook page:

28 June at 18:30  Quiz Night and Cabaret ?
29 June at 18:30  Live music
30 June at 18:30  Comedy open mic night
All in the  Red Room Bar at the Grand.

Local History Walk on Thursday

The Ypres Milestone at Christ Church
The Ypres Milestone at Christ Church

Shooters Hill Local History Group will be holding a local history walk for their regular monthly meeting tomorrow (21st June), so it will be starting half an hour earlier at 7.30pm, meeting at Shrewsbury House as usual.

I don’t know what route they will be taking, but it’s sure to be interesting – the local historic landscape reaches right back to the Bronze Age Barrow on Shrewsbury Lane/Brinklow Crescent and includes a Second World War gas decontamination centre and other war-related sites, various ancient stones on Shooters Hill, the sites of several historic mansions,  not to mention significant historic military buildings such as the Military Academy and the Royal Artillery Barracks.

Should be a fascinating evening.

Bronze Age Barrow at junction of Shrewsbury Lane and Brinlow Crescent
Bronze Age Barrow at junction of Shrewsbury Lane and Brinklow Crescent


Local Enthusiasms

English Bull Terriers Diamond Jubilee fancy dress parade in Eltham Park South
English Bull Terriers Diamond Jubilee fancy dress parade in Eltham Park South Doggie Fun Day

From books to Bull Terriers, via  ukuleles, steam trains and a dipping pond: an eclectic set of personal passions were on public display last weekend on or around Shooters Hill.

The weekend started on Friday with the official opening of the Eaglesfield Park Lilly Pond. Madeleine from the Friends of Eaglesfield Park wrote describing the event:

On Friday 15th June Friends of Eaglesfield Park wanted to share and celebrate with our local community that the once lost and forgotten pond has been restored into a wonderful wildlife pond with a dipping platform that hopefully will now become a focal point for visitors to the park. To Commemorate the opening The Mayor of the Royal Borough of Greenwich officially “cut the tape” and opened the gate to the dipping platform. We certainly won’t forget which year the restored pond was opened – 2012 (we became the Royal Borough of Greenwich, The London Olympics and The Royal Diamond Jubilee!). The day will also hold a further significance for several children who tried out our pond dipping platform. They received a unique certificate to commemorate they were part of the opening ceremony and among the first people (children or adult !) to use the pond dipping platform.

Opening the Eaglesfield Lilly Pond
Opening the Eaglesfield Lilly Pond

Although our large marquees would have provided shelter, we were indeed lucky to have good (well reasonable) weather and our planned celebrations opened in true carnival spirit with the children of Plumcroft and Christ Church primary schools in vibrant costume and displaying their considerable drumming and dancing talents. We would like to thank TARU Arts, a local Woolwich based community Arts Project, for the great job they have done working with the local schools in the lead up to this event and in organising the festivities. Of course we would also very much like to thank the Staff and children from Plumcroft and Christ Church Schools for taking part with such enthusiasm.
Throughout the day TARU provided drumming and hat making workshop opportunities and face painting for the children. Add to this a vibrant Brazilian Jazz Band and Zumba dancing and the aroma of delicious spicy food provided by Guarida Community Cafe, we indeed enjoyed a festive celebration. Who needs sunshine anyway!
The wildlife pond area looks wonderful and we would like to say thank you to the “diggers and gardeners” for their time and enthusiasm (and tools!) for helping to create the wildlife meadow surrounding the pond. The pond is already attracting tadpoles, small frogs, water skaters, leech, newts and, as yet, unidentified “bugs” and visits from two mallard ducks. The wildlife flower seeds have been sown, but it is next year that we can expect a colourful display.

Following the enthusiastic drumming and dancing on Friday, a different enthusiasm was on display early on Saturday morning in the bibliophilic queue at the Church of the Ascension in Blackheath for the Amnesty Blackheath & Greenwich Book Sale. The technique adopted by the most sadly enthusiastic is to grab an old cardboard box and quickly fill it with as many books from your favourite sections as you can and then to sit at the altar end and  sort through them to decide what you really want. My more modest selection included Jon Snow’s “Shooting History”, which I was really pleased to discover later at home  had been autographed by the author. I’m looking forward to seeing Jon in conversation with some of the Elders at the Barbican next week.

Later at the Eaglesfield Park Neighbourhood Watch  2012 Annual Community Fete there were opportunities to join in a very wide range of local enthusiasms, such as sporting (Shooters Hill Lawn Tennis Club, Shooters Hill Golf Club, Woolwich and Plumstead Bowling Club), Conservation (Woodlands Farm, Shrewsbury and Eaglesfield Park Friends‘ Groups, pond dipping) and historical (Shooters Hill Local History Group, Severndroog Castle Preservation Society) together with a strong contingent from the Metropolitan Police. Entertainment was provided by The Fleas Ukulele band. Unfortunately I had to leave when the bagpiper started.

Bull Terrier in fancy dress
Bull Terrier in fancy dress

A gentle walk across Oxleas Meadows and through Shepardleas Wood took me to Eltham Park South, where the Doggie Fun Day was in full swing. The highlight was the Bull Terriers Diamond Jubilee  fancy dress parade and competition. I felt slightly sorry for the indignity suffered by the dogs in their imaginative costumes ….  such as a jousting horse, lots of England football fans and a Sherlock Holmes complete with waxed jacket and deerstalker hat. Sherlock suffered added indignity when the compere announced that he had come as a tramp. The well-deserved winners of the competition, and the Jane McInnes Trophy cup, were a pair of English Bull Terriers dressed up as pearly king and queen. There was a special commendation for a bull terrier who entered as a very convincing chihuahua (in fact I think it was an actual  chihuahua pretending to be a bull terrier pretending to be a chihuahua).  The competition included Bull Terriers rescued by Absolute Bull Terrier Rescue.

Finally, Sunday was one of Welling and District Model Engineering Society’s  public running dates. The WDMES is a group of enthusiasts for model steam trains, many of them former engineers who build the model trains themselves, fabricating the precision-engineered components necessary for the steam engines. On the public running day engines of varying sizes are put through their paces, but the main attraction is to ride on one of the trains on the 1268 feet 3.5″ and 5″ gauge raised steel track.

Welling and District Model Engineering Society  public running
Welling and District Model Engineering Society public running

What a very varied set of enthusiasms and enthusiasts!  There are more photographs on the e-Shootershill Flickr site.

Rain or Shine – Eaglesfield Park Summer Festival

For Queen and Country
For Queen and Country - one of Stu Mayhew's images of the Jubilee Beacon in Eaglesfield Park

The Eaglesfield Park Summer Festival will go ahead on Friday whatever the weather, an e-mail from the Friends has told me, and they have hired marquees for shelter and children’s workshops. The weather forecast is for “Light Rain Showers” through the afternoon, according to the BBC web site, so the Friends are wise to prepare for possible wet weather.

During the Summer Festival the Mayor will officially commemorate the opening of the newly restored wildlife pond. It will also include: a carnival and drumming procession with the children of Plumcroft and Christ Church primary schools; live music; Zumba dancing; children’s workshops; pond dipping; and other entertainment led by TARU Arts. The festival  runs from 2.00-6.00pm.

Then on Saturday Eaglesfield Park hosts the Neighbourhood Watch  2012 Annual Community Fete  from 1 to 4pm. The forecast for Saturday looks quite good at the moment, with a sunny afternoon predicted, fingers crossed.

There will be opportunities at the Eaglesfield events to find out more about the Friends of Eaglesfield Park, and get involved in activities from bulb planting to bat watching.

The Lilly Pond June 2012
The Lilly Pond June 2012



Shooters Hill Olympics – Car Parking & Travel

Map extract showing Shooters Hill EDZ
Map extract showing Shooters Hill parking restrictions area

Plans for transport and parking changes for the Olympic Games have been finalised by Greenwich Council, TfL and LOCOG, as you may have seen by the many notices decorating lamp-posts in Shooters Hill, competing with the Jubilee bunting. As expected there will be parking restrictions in Shooters Hill during the games – we will be in an Event Day Zone, or EDZ in the Council’s acronym- laden notices – and we will need to apply for residents parking permits.

The parking restrictions will now be in place from 27th July to 9th September, covering both the Olympic and Paralympic games and the period in between, and will operate every day between 8.30am to 7.00pm. Parking will be allowed for up to 2 hours without a permit, but for over 2 hours a residents or visitors permit will be have to be displayed. Permits will only cover us for the Shooters Hill sub-zone, labelled OC in the Council’s maps, not for any other restricted parking area.

The boundaries of the EDZ look almost unchanged from the original proposal, apart from a slight change round the junction of Upton Road and Ennis Road on the eastern boundary, and a change south of Shooters Hill Road to add in the Royal Herbert Pavilions and the Broad Walk/Mayday Gardens area.

We can check whether we live in a postcode where we need a permit, and apply for the permit,  through the Greenwich 2012 Parking Permits web-site – it has separate links for residential and business checks. We have  until 14th July to register. There is also a phone number for people who are not on the internet – 0300 777 2012.  I found the system a little bit unclear: it told me that my vehicle was already on its database and that I didn’t need to apply for a permit. So I assume I will just be sent a permit within 5 days, as stated on the frequently asked questions list?    When I applied for my 2 visitor permits the site says “to activate the permit when your visitor arrives, please click on the Book a visitor button, found at the top left corner of this screen” – there is no such button on the screen. Teething problems I guess.

Ha-Ha Road closed
Ha-Ha Road closed for Olympics test event

There will be two sets of changes to roads – the closures within the events area at the Royal Artillery Barracks and the Olympic Route Network. The road closures will be the same as for the test events in May, as the Royal Borough of Greenwich web site says:

In Woolwich:

  • there will be no right turn for traffic from Woolwich New Road on to Grand Depot Road during Games time
  • there will be 38 pre-bookable parking spaces for Blue Badge users on Woolwich Common
  • Repository Road and Ha Ha Road will be closed to traffic between 7 July and 19 September. However, there will still be full access for emergency vehicles

Congestion on Shooters Hill and Shooters Hill Road increased quite a lot during the test event when Ha-Ha Road was closed; I guess it may be even worse when the games are on as there will be increased traffic and the road restrictions from the Olympic Route Network.

Local snippet from TfL Olympic Route Network map
Local snippet from TfL Olympic Route Network map
Olympic Route Network sign
Olympic Route Network sign

The Olympic Route Network doesn’t come up as far as Shooters Hill, but does effect Charlton Park Lane and Shooters Hill Road between Greenwich and Charlton Park Lane. The main changes as far as I can tell are:

?    A “Games Lane” on Shooters Hill Road from Blackheath to the Sun in the Sands roundabout, and then to Eastbrook Road. Only official games vehicles are allowed in the Games lane between 6.00am and midnight.

?    Shooters Hill Road to become a “No stopping at any time” road up to Charlton Park Lane, with some roadside parking changed to partial footpath parking.

?    Temporary removal of road humps and width restrictions on Charlton Park Lane.

?    Changes to some parking on Charlton Park Lane and no stopping at any time along the Lane.

The work needed to create the ORN, such as road markings and traffic light changes, is planned to start at the beginning of  July, which I imagine may also have an effect on traffic congestion, and the ORN will be operational between 25th July and a few days after the games end on 12th August, and then the Paralympic Route Network (PRN) will be in place from the 27th August until the Paralympics end on 9th September.

Train and bus services will also be changed during the Olympics. Because of the road closures there will be similar changes to bus routes  161, 178, 291, 386, 469, 486 as there were at the test event last month, including the temporary 561 bus route from Chiselhurst to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital – full details of all the diversions and dates are in the detailed TfL document starting from page 37.

On the trains, the biggest change will be the closure of Woolwich Dockyard station from 28th July to 12th August, as shown on the snippet from the Get Ahead of the Games rail impact tool, below. In addition there will be a reduced service at Kidbrooke, Westcombe Park, Maze Hill and Deptford and it is expected that Greenwich, Charlton, Blackheath, London Bridge and Waterloo will be exceptionally busy during the games –  the Get Ahead of the Games web site has details of busy times and dates. Southeastern Trains’ timetables are also changing during the Games.

Sounds like a good time to change commuting times, or even work at home if possible.

Snippet from Get Ahead of the Games interactive rail impact tool
Snippet from Get Ahead of the Games interactive rail impact tool

Fever Bell

Restored Fever Bell from the former Brook Hospital at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Woolwich
Fever Bell from the former Brook Hospital

The elixir Gallery run by Verve Arts at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is one of my regular destinations when I’m near the hospital: I’ve seen some impressive photography exhibitions  there. The current one is no exception, a selection of 30 of the photographs submitted to the Green Chain Captured 2012 competition. It runs until 2nd September 2012 and is worth a look.

On my way through the hospital I noticed the restored Fever Bell from the former Brook Hospital in an outside courtyard, which, a notice informed me, was “rung to warn local people of epidemics of fever such as measles, scarlet fever and chicken pox”. Intrigued, I had to find out more … and that led me to a fascinating story about the development of health care through the nineteenth century.

Healthcare before public sanitation, clean water supply, an understanding of disease transmission, antibiotics and the NHS was pretty grim, and exacerbated by poverty and poor nutrition. The nineteenth century was blighted by regular epidemicsinfluenza, cholera, typhoid, scarlet fever, measles and more – killing tens of thousands of people.  Life expectancy for the poor and unemployed was as low as 15, and only 35 for the better-off, with as many as 66% of the children of labourers and servants in northern cities dying before the age of 5. For the old, infirm and poor the Work House was the main source of health care, and their carers were often untrained paupers who were themselves living in the Work House.

Former Brook Hospital Administration Block
Former Brook Hospital Administration Block

Following a campaign by, amongst others, Florence Nightingale, the Metropolitan Asylums Board was set up in 1867 to take over some of the responsibilities of the Work Houses for health care. The MAB  established hospitals to look after people with smallpox, fever and insanity, and opened the Brook Hospital on 31st August, 1896 as part of its response to a scarlet fever epidemic in 1892/3. The hospital was built on the pavilion principle promoted by Florence Nightingale, like the nearby Royal Herbert Hospital, and included wards dedicated to scarlet fever, enteric fever (typhoid) and diphtheria as well as isolation wards. I couldn’t find out anything about the fever bell, but as there had been public unhappiness about outbreaks of smallpox near MAB smallpox hospitals, maybe it was felt necessary to warn local people about new epidemics.

At the start of  the First World War the Brook was taken over by the military and it became the Brook War Hospital in 1915, with twice as many beds crammed in. During WW1 over 30,000 military personnel were treated at the Brook. In the second world war it became a general hospital, treating both military casualties and civilians. It was bombed a number of times during the blitz, according to  David Lloyd Bathe’s “Steeped In History”, the most serious being on the 11th November 1944 when a V2 rocket attack destroyed the top deck of a bus and the nearby ambulance station as well as damaging the hospital. An alsatian rescue dog named Thorn assisted in freeing survivors trapped in the hospital. Thorn was a direct descendant of a little puppy rescued in a WW1 trench called Rin Tin Tin and  was awarded the “animals’ VC”, the Dickin Medal, for one of his other rescue missions.

The Brook was taken over by the London County Council in 1930 when the MAB was dissolved and then it became part of the NHS in 1948. It was closed in 1995, when the Queen Elizabeth Hospital opened, and redeveloped as housing. The only buildings remaining from the hospital are the water tower, entrance lodge, administration block and steward’s house. The 130ft high  water tower, which could hold 20,000 gallons, has been converted into luxury self-catering accommodation which can sleep up to 10 people. It still seems to be available for the Olympics, though it will cost £7,500 for a week.

Water tower at the former Brook Hospital
Former Brook Hospital water tower

Opportunities for Wildlife Enthusiasts

Woodlands Farm Wildlife Surveys Leaflet

Woodlands Farm are offering anyone interested in local wildlife  the opportunity to be trained in ecological surveying and to take part in the monitoring of key species at the farm,  they announced at a Launch Event last Thursday.

The Launch marked the award of a £38000 grant to the farm from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a Farm Conservation project, as their web site says:

The Woodlands Farm Trust is delighted to have received £38,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for an exciting new Farm Conservation project in Shooters Hill. Through the HLF funded Farm Conservation project, The Woodlands Farm Trust will be working with local communities and volunteers to increase awareness of the farm’s biodiversity and local conservation priorities, and to inspire local people to become actively involved in biodiversity conservation, This will include working with volunteers to to survey the farm’s biodiversity, and to establish a long-term monitoring programme and conservation management plan. The Trust will also be inviting local community groups to take part in wildlife and conservation activities at the farm, and will hold a series of public walks and talks on the wildlife found at Woodlands Farm.

In a presentation about the project, Lorraine Parish, the farm’s new Wildlife Officer said that the farm intended to survey and monitor species of conservation importance such as bats, birds, butterflies, dormice, dragon flies, great crested newts, moths and reptiles. As well as training wildlife enthusiasts in surveying techniques, they will run a programme of public events such as wildlife days, bat walks, moth mornings and nut hunts. The results of the work would contribute to London and local Biodiversity Action Plans.

The new project complements the farm’s work in sustainable farming, exemplified by their acceptance into Natural England’s Higher Level Stewardship Scheme.

The launch event was opened by the new Mayor of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, David Grant, and attendees included  local MP Clive Efford, journalists from local newspapers and representatives of the Heritage Lottery Fund and local conservation groups such as the Plumstead Common Environment Group and Greenwich Wildlife Advisory Group. Following the presentations the audience was led on a tour of the farm by Dr Barry Gray, Chair of the Woodlands Farm Trust.

The first stop on the tour was to visit Cynthia the Oxford Sandy and Black Pig and her newly born piglets, just a few days old – lots of aaahhs here. There were also seven new Gloucester old spot pigs from Mudchute Farm.

Cynthia the  Oxford Sandy and Black Pig and her new piglets
Cynthia the Oxford Sandy and Black Pig and her new piglets
Oxford Sandy and Black Pig piglet feeding
Oxford Sandy and Black Pig piglet feeding

Next stop was a chance to see one of the traditionally laid hedges bordering the farm’s fields, and hear about the hedge laying craft from some of the farm’s volunteers who lay the hedges themselves. An excursion through Clothworkers Wood, where some of the trees are over 300 years old, took us to one of the farm’s wild-flower embroidered hay meadows, again managed for conservation and habitat preservation. It was here that we saw an example of the magical missile-repelling Corky Fruited Water Dropwort! The tour concluded with refreshments by the dipping pond, accompanied by newts and other water creatures, and a visit to the farm’s beehives.

Anyone interested in becoming a wildlife surveyor should contact Lorraine, the Woodlands farm Wildlife Officer at wildlife@thewoodlandsfarmtrust.org or phone 020 8319 8900.

There are more pictures of the Woodland Farm animals on Flickr here.