Sunday, October 21, 2012

Page's Bar.

The small piece of waste land behind Morrison’s car park, and adjacent to the river front walk once again has a resident. Another traveller pony appeared there on Monday - see the photo above. I cannot tell if it is one of the same ones that was there a couple of months ago, as one black and white piebald pony looks pretty much the same as any other black and white piebald pony to my untrained eyes. The practice of fly-grazing” has become increasingly common both in the local area, and also around the country. Thousands of horses and ponies are being abandoned by their erstwhile owners as irresponsible breeding, spiralling bills and sale prices which have reached rock bottom take their toll. A pony can fetch as little as £5 at auction – if it sells at all, whilst stable costs, feed and vets bills can amount to around £100 per week per animal. The six main horse welfare charities have come together to compile a report on the situation; it would also appear that the European appetite for horse meat may be fuelling the situation – a £5 pony can turn into a £230 carcass on the European meat market. It may be that ponies are actually being farmed for live export to France, Belgium and Italy. The RSPCA have called for legislation that will enable them to more quickly identify owners and punish them with fines and the seizure of animals for fly-grazing. They also want a review of agreements allowing the free movement of horses not intended for slaughter between Britain, Ireland and France. The British horse population is thought to be just under one million animals in size. The vast majority are owned privately for leisure – a sector which, unlike the horse racing industry, is not tightly regulated. I know that whenever travellers put one or more ponies on the waste land, the ponies become an attraction for parents and child minders looking after small children – the animals end up getting fat, as they have a seemingly non ending series of treats given to them by their small visitors.

Several tabloids picked up on the following story in the middle of last week; I mention it only so that nobody hauls me over the coals for missing it - I have nothing to add to my previous comments, and I don't feel that re - stating them right now would be productive, or for that matter, very interesting for the readers. Feel free to comment below if you think otherwise.

If you get two or more Erith residents in a room, it is a statistical inevitability that sooner or later the topic of conversation will turn to the Dartford River Crossing, and sooner or later one of the participants will say “of course, we were told when the tunnel was first opened, that once it had paid for itself, it would be made free”. Of course this has never happened – the crossing is too much of a cash cow for any council, operating company or other authority to want to give up. A new campaign for at the very least a reduced toll fee for the residents of Bexley has been started. Erith and Thamesmead MP Teresa Pearce has been campaigning for a discount after the toll prices were increased on the 7th of October. You can read all about it on the News Shopper website here. It is a laudable sentiment, but I fear that Teresa is unlikely to get anywhere with it – there is simply too much money being generated for the Exchequer that they are disinclined to relinquish it. The queues and traffic jams generated by the toll booths would seem to be a inconvenience that the operators are more than happy to keep going, just as long as the toll cash keeps rolling in.

This weekend marks the largest Star Trek fan convention in London for a number of years – the Star Trek London event was held at the Excel centre from Friday afternoon until this evening. The most expensive VIP tickets for the event were an eye watering £2,999 each - and they sold out in advance! Outrageous, though I concede the cheaper tickets offer a bit better value for money. The BBC reported that a Swedish couple travelled to the convention in order to get married in a Klingon ceremony.  I must admit I would used to go to the odd smaller convention on occasion, but the big, very commercial ones are a bit of a no – go area for me. I think the main reason is that I was a bit spoiled during the mid 1990’s by being a regular visitor to Page’s Bar. Pages (see the photo above - click for a larger view) was an anonymous looking building in Page Street, Westminster, in the shadow of the MI5 headquarters, and around the corner from the Houses of Parliament. On Saturday afternoons you would see a long queue of people outside, waiting for the doors to open at 4pm. Once you got inside the place, you realised just why people were prepared to queue in all weathers. The place was kitted out like the interior of a Federation starship – as you went through the doors, ceiling mounted strobes would fire, giving the impression that you had just beamed aboard. As you entered the main bar area, a gigantic, eight foot long model of the USS Enterprise D, actually used in filming, hung from the ceiling. The walls were covered in Star Trek props and memorabilia, and even the carpet under foot was custom made, showing the Starfleet logo. Trekkers came from all over the country to visit the bar; it was not uncommon for people to park camper vans around the corner, exploiting the weekend free parking that used to be in place back then. The campers would sleep overnight in their vans before heading home in the morning. Many visitors took the opportunity to dress up in uniform, and it was always possible to identify “Page’s virgins” – as they were the only people with blue stained mouths from the Romulan Ale” (actually Foster’s lager with a large amount of blue food dye in it) which was sold at the bar. It was something only tried once, as the dye stained your lips and mouth for several days afterwards. The landlord of Pages at the time was a larger than life character called Bob; who wore ST:TNG era Admiral’s full dress uniform on special occasions. Bob knew loads of people in the TV industry, and you would regularly see famous, or not quite so famous people in the bar. Comedian Bill Bailey was a semi regular in the years before he achieved fame, and several of his sci fi / cult TV themed routines were first aired in Pages. Janet Ellis of Blue Peter fame was another regular – apparently she had a flat nearby, and the bar was her “local”. On top of this, as the publicity around Pages Bar spread, actors from Star Trek and other science fiction series appeared as guests for question and answer sessions and autograph signings – a lot of this was helped by Bob’s personal contacts. On one particularly memorable occasion I was present when former Doctor Who Jon Pertwee made an appearance. He was an entertaining personality, telling the assembled audience many stories of his past, some of which did not make it into his memoirs for legal reasons; during the consequent question and answer session, the radio microphone that was being passed to audience members to as their questions was handed to a small figure standing next to me. The person asked Pertwee “Who was your favourite companion?” – in a very familiar voice. It was Liz Sladen! She had been secretly smuggled into the crowd by landlord Bob. Later that evening I was able to get signed photographs of them both. In what was cruel irony, Jon Pertwee was dead only two weeks later, after suffering a massive heart attack. The evening at Page’s Bar had been his last ever public appearance. On a happier note, as the place got better known, it became the subject of attention of the World’s press. I was once interviewed by a film crew from Japanese television, though I cannot for the life of me recall what they asked me. On special occasions, mainly on “ticket only” events, the regulars would really push the boat out. You would arrive to find two Klingon warriors in full makeup and armour, complete with Bat’leths, guarding the door (at least until a Police patrol came past and told them to put away the offensive weapons). Regulars who turned up way too early in the day to gain entrance to Pages formed an informal club called “The Away Team” – they raised huge amounts of cash for a number of deserving causes by dressing up in character and visiting tourist traps near to the bar. They would allow themselves to be photographed by the tourists in return for a suitable charitable donation. One of the people behind “The Away Team” was TV psychiatrist Dr Raj Persaud, who was a close friend of landlord Bob. Pages would quite frequently show Star Trek episodes, on their video projector onto a giant screen at the far end of the bar, well before their transmission in the USA, let alone the UK. The prints were so new that they would often come with special effects scenes missing, or editing time codes present in the screen corner. This got landlord Bob into hot water with Paramount television when they found out – a contact in the Star Trek: Voyager production office had been mailing over DVD’s from post production. Eventually the place became a victim of its’ own success. Tourists would read about the bar in “Time Out” and would come along to satisfy their curiosity; regulars started feeling like exhibits at a zoo, and part of the magic of Pages was lost. The lease on the building came up for renewal in 2004, and that was the end of the pub – landlord Bob moved on to another venue, and the whole Pages experience ended. I chose not to attend the final, farewell party – I preferred to remember what it had used to be like in its’ heyday. Memorable times.

Before the Olympics and Paralympics, I was accused of being a killjoy for doubting the long term benefit that the various infrastructure projects would have in and around London; whilst for many of the projects it is far too early to tell, one thing does stand out. The passenger utilisation figures for the Arabfly Dangleway (the Emirates Thames cable car) dropped as soon as both games had finished, and now stand at only around five percent of their full capacity – currently an average of 229 people an hour. You can read the whole story on the News Shopper website here.  It seems pretty clear that as I predicted, the cable car is only being used by tourists – not by commuters as had been widely touted by Boris when he tried to justify its’ creation. There is a very detailed analysis of the cable car usage figures by fellow blogger Diamond Geezer here. As I have written before, the main problems are the expense of the tickets, the fact that the service is not an integrated part of London’s transport system, and most tellingly, that the service runs from nowhere to nowhere. I doubt that it will be even covering its’ costs, let alone making a profit with the very low usage figures; I wonder how long it will be before it closes down for good? I think the general opinion is that it is a potentially great tourist attraction, but it was built in entirely the wrong place – it would be better in central London – maybe adjacent to the London Eye? What do you think?

I am pleased to say that since I spoke to Bexley Council Environmental Health Department about the terrible stench from ADM oils, there has not been even the slightest whiff of offensive odour around Erith - well, discounting any local chav covering their B.O with liberal splashes of Brut, or whatever takes its' place nowadays. It is a bit suspiciously convenient, but I am not complaining - hopefully the pong has now gone for good.

Magners so called “Irish” cider has been an unwitting force for good in the last few years; It has been heavily advertised and through clever promotion, has revitalised the previously moribund market for cider. Suddenly the drink, which for years has had a serious image problem (think three litre bottles of “trampagne” and the brain numbingly strong Diamond White – which is called cider, but is not made with apples, but is scoffed with abandon by many "gentlemen of the road"). People have associated cider with street drinkers and teenage parties - with all of the disruption and vomiting that usually ensue. Magners, which is actually made from Spanish apple pulp that is sent to the Irish republic by tanker lorry, has been at the vanguard of re – popularising cider as a beverage. Magners is utter rubbish, full as it is with additives (including caramel to give it a golden brown colour), but nevertheless it has encouraged people to try other, higher quality ciders – which incidentally don’t contain the nasties. Long established companies such as Aspall’s and Weston’s produce superb quality cider in both bottle and draught form, which sells for little more than the mediocre at best Magners. The taste of the craft cider is in a different league. I can see why drinkers would find such a leap in quality attractive. Magners have unwittingly ended up promoting their higher quality competitors – something rather ironic I think. This has not gone unnoticed by the large brewing companies – recently wife beater brewer Stella Artois launched their “Cidre” with a series of cod 1960’s television adverts, encouraging drinkers to serve the brew in a "Chalice" – utter tosh of course - Stella Cidre is actually manufactured from Belgian apple syrup in a huge industrial refinery . The French do produce some excellent ciders, but the Stella concoction is not among them; it is just a cynical marketing exercise to try and gain market share. Quality will out, and the increased sales of the artisan brands would underline that. I would rather quaff a single pint of the aromatic, slightly astringent and cloudy Old Rosie – a cider produced by Weston’s, that is made with apples collected from no more than fifteen miles of their brewery, than I would drink a bucket of Magners. It seems that the drinking public agree, and are now voting with their feet.

The video this week is a hoot - it is the trailer for a new sci fi thriller movie called "Manborg" an ultra low budget movie that pays homage to the popular genre of "direct to VHS" sci fi action movies that filled the video hire shops in the 1980's. Although only made last year, it is as if the nineties and noughties had never happened film - wise. "Manborg" uses green screen techniques and old fashioned "stop motion" animation - something that has nowadays been almost completely been replaced by CGI. You can read a review of the film here. Now be prepared for the cheese - fest that is "Manborg"...

1 comment:

  1. I can just imagine a new compensation industry springing up based on the mis-selling of cancer causing (allegedly) mobile phones.

    At least a phone held to the ear is closer,from the square law aspect, albeit lower powered, than a mast on top of a school.

    Frank 'WMR.