Odeon Swiss Cottage reopens with Imax

After a £3m redevelopment, the Odeon at Swiss Cottage is reopening its doors on Friday 16th September. New features to the 5-screen, Art Deco venue include north London’s first IMAX screen and, at the top of the building, a large bar area called ‘Ambar’.

The first thing that strikes you is how bright and welcoming the cinema now is, it has benefitted from the lick of paint and feels modern and fresh. Reassuringly, it is still the labyrinth of old, with the narrow staircases and never-ending corridors, but unfortunately the large “retail” area that dominates your eye line on entry is still American in both look and feel.

The new bar area upstairs is a very welcome addition.It’s spacious and comfortable and works as a meeting place. Odeon is offering 30 different types of wine as well as a selection of appetisers and desserts here. If you were being cynical you could say it is a blatant attempt to take a larger share of their customers’ wallets, but I would rather spend my extra dime here, than on some popcorn and a drink downstairs.

The other major change is in the nature of the cinema’s five screens. They have been split into three distinct groups. The Imax is an impressive state-of-the-art facility that will show modern classics (Dark Knight, Inception) and Imax events. Two of the other cinemas are standard multiplex screens with 100 or so seats. The third and most interesting category comprises the two ‘club’ cinemas, which will house 60 guests and offer a premium experience (think Everyman in Hampstead).

I was impressed overall and will return, however I did have an issue concerning the film rota strategy and pricing.

In a normal week, the four non-Imax screens will share only three films. One each for the first multiplex and club screens, and then a third will show in a standard multiplex screen and in the second club screen.

This, coupled with the pricing strategy (10.75 Adult std vs. £16 Adult club) looks slightly misguided and overpriced. A comparable club ticket at the Everyman in Hampstead or Belsize Park is £13.

So, overall, the Odeon Swiss Cottage has made a welcome return to the neighbourhood and is a great place to watch film. However if you’re pushing the boat out for a premium experience there are cheaper options available.

David Locke of La Brocca reflects on 20 years

All this weekend, La Brocca is celebrating its 20th birthday. Moya “Scoop” Sarner, spoke to the owner:

The impressive figure of David Locke, usually found dominating a bar stool of West Hampstead local La Brocca, is familiar to many of us. He opened the restaurant 20 years ago today, and one of his first customers was his granddaughter Yasmin, then a baby in a moses basket. Today she’s the warm, sparky brunette, working as a waitress in the bar upstairs. It’s very much a family business, as he explains: “My wife Edda does all the hard work in the back office, our daughter Laura is the manager, and I’m in charge of ‘marketing, strategy, and drinking'”. Sounds like a damn fine strategy to me.

The bar is much the same as when it opened – but the area certainly isn’t, he says. “West Hampstead has changed totally in 20 years. There wasn’t much here back then, but it’s grown more and more upmarket. When they opened the Jubilee Line through to Canary Wharf [in 1999], all the pine doors and brass knockers appeared, and property prices doubled”. That’s reflected in more sophisticated tastes – so the bar sells more champagne and prosecco, and the restaurant has branched out from pizza and pasta into meat, fish, and other specials. But, he is quick to point out, “West Hampstead is an amazing place to live. Although it’s gentrified a bit, it’s nowhere near as up itself as Kensington or Chelsea – in my view, it’s still one of the last villages in London.”

The regulars – and they are many – haven’t changed at all. Take the two white-haired gentlemen who rarely leave their window seat. “Pen and his friend Peter started coming in about 10 years ago, for lunch,” David says. “Now they’re addicted and come every day. They have two large sherries, a bottle of red, three large green chartreuses and two courses – I hope I’m doing that when I’m 87!”

And there are celebrity customers too, from the Crediton Hill mafia’s Emma Thompson and Imelda Staunton, to rugby and cricket stars including Ricky Ponting. “And one afternoon”, David continues, “I strolled in to find Peter O’Toole sitting at the bar, with his sparkling blue eyes”. Then there are the well-respected jazz musicians who started off at La Brocca’s Thursday night jam sessions, friends and students of our very own local musician and teacher @cyberdonkey, aka Simon Whiteside. Many are now big names, like jazz pianist Gwilym Simcock, Mercury Award nominee for best album, just pipped to the post by PJ Harvey. “The jazz is a love”, David explains, “but it doesn’t make me money. You want to know how to make a million pounds out of jazz? Start off with two million.”

Jokes aside, David glumly says that La Brocca is not immune to the effects of the economic downturn. “Our turnover’s gone down 15 to 20 per cent over the last couple of years. We’ve had to cut back on staff and wages – we’re okay, but life isn’t as much fun as it used to be.” But David still seems to be having a pretty good time, as do his customers. “Loads of couples have met here in the bar,” he says (at this point I decide to spend even more time in La Brocca). “They get married, and they all come back to see us with their kids. When we first opened, I was maitre d’, and trying to get rid of a couple who were, shall we say, lingering. It looked to me like it was a blind date, and they were deciding whether to go off together or not. So, eventually, I said ‘Ain’t you got no homes to go to? Ain’t you got a bed?’ The best thing was, the guy was called Mr Rutter! Anyway, they came back six months later, married, and they’d brought me a little model of a double bed. ‘There you go’, they said, ‘We’ve got a bed now!'”

Don’t worry folks, despite the tough economy, La Brocca won’t be going anywhere soon. “I want my daughter Laura and the next generation coming up to carry on running the place”, David says. “That portrait of me on the wall is about 15 years old – I hope it stays there for my grandchildren and my great grandchildren – for at least another hundred years.”

Cocoa Bijoux opens

It’s a hive of activity on Broadhurst Gardens at the moment. New Italian restaurant Spiga opens tonight (I know we’re all waiting for the verdict from Tom’s Diner), and Cocoa Bijoux opened with a soft launch at the end of last week. Senses of course closed a while ago (no great surprise), so there is another vacant unit up for grabs.

Cocoa Bijoux’s owner Stuart Daniel has been in the chocolate business for 20 years, and it’s clear that this is his passion. Having operated as a wholesaler he finally decided it was time to open his own place. Cocoa Bijoux occupies one of the small units in Broadwell Parade and sits between the cigar shop and Luli’s barbers.

Stuart has two chocolatiers who create artisan chocolates – he’s less interested in the endless matching rows of classic Belgian creams that you might find at Fortnum & Mason’s, and more in offering something a little more unusual. Generously he let me sample a few. I had a lovely caramelised walnut coated in dark chocolate and dusted with cocoa powder. He uses very specific French walnuts that are less bitter than many on the market. Then I had a delicious Grand Marnier truffle, but unlike any I’ve had before (mostly because it was twice the size). And finally, I tried a salted caramel ball. Very fashionable right now of course and I have to say this was the best I’ve had. Not too salty, not too sweet and with a perfect liquid centre.

Stuart also sells English chocolates from Prestat, which come in gorgeously designed boxes, and all manner of other treats. He focuses otherwise on French and German chocolates rather than Belgian. Cocoa Bijoux also has a table inside and will have some chairs outside for coffee or hot chocolate (made from couverture chocolate of course).

It’s a slightly odd site, and a very small shop, but I could see this working. There’s not much competition, especially since Wilton & Noble up by Waitrose closed, and being next to another destination shop (the cigar shop, not Luli’s) can only help. There is a new chocolate shop – Coco Exchange – opening on Belsize Road, but that’s apparently going to have a Belgian focus.

Stuart also seems like he knows what he’s doing and is open to trying things out. I wish him the best of luck. He’s also generously donated a nice (large!) box of chocolates for the Whampgather raffle, which I thought was very kind given that he’d only just met me!

Those of you who bang on about supporting independent shops – here’s another one to add to the list. I know it’s not going to please everyone because it’s high-end luxury items rather than day-to-day goods, but we have to face economic facts – these are the sorts of shops that are more likely to survive.

I will add a few photos to this post soon – didn’t have my phone with me this morning.

Do you know where it is yet?

When I was asked to review a book about London architectural landmarks, I immediately handed over responsibility to local architecture fiend Lauren. She’s starting work on her own exciting project about the Kilburn State, and seemed the perfect person. We also have a copy of the book to give away if you can tackle our slightly challenging local buildings quiz below. But first, here’s Lauren’s review:

“Those striking caricature-style illustrations of London landmarks that have been appearing on ceramics and tea towels for a while now, have found their way into a book. ‘London Buildings – An Architectural Tour‘ by Robin Farquhar and Hannah Dipper (pub. Batsford) is a neat collection of 45 illustrations by People Will Always Need Plates, the company behind the stylised line drawings of the likes of the Barbican and the Trellick tower.

The bright orange cover (looking almost like a stylish record sleeve) features beloved London landmark Battersea Power Station, and fairly accurately reflects the entire contents of the book. Bright, simple black and white graphic descriptions of the best of this city’s architecture; from 16th Century Classicism to 1960s Brutalism and everything in between. Locally, there are some brilliant examples of Modernism in Hampstead at 66 Frognal and its neighbour, the 1930s Sun House.

The big, bright blocks of colour and minimal text set the book out as a good introduction to London’s showcase buildings, with an eclectic selection including tube stations and gas towers. With minimal detail and lack of background distractions, these drawings are clearly intended to get you thinking about how you read the built environment. The unique illustration style is what makes this quirkier than your average photo-filled coffee table architecture book – it would make a great gift or a fun ‘beginers guide’ for exploring London’s architectural history.”

Quiz time
Interest piqued? Good. To win your own pristine copy of London Buildings all you need to do is correctly identify the name or location of the nine local landmarks pictured below. Some are easy, one or two are a little trickier. Click on the image to see a much bigger version, which might help (or not).

It’s possible no-one will get all nine, so even if you only have 7 or 8 it’s probably worth a bash. The person with the most correct answers wins, and if there’s more than one of you then the winner will be decided on a tiebreaker judged by Lauren and me.

Tiebreaker: In no more than 15 words tell us your favourite local landmark building and why.

Congrats to Ian Farrar who correctly identified all the photos below. 1) Clock by Kilburn Grange park, 2) Wet Fish Cafe, 3) Cholmley Gardens, 4) Swiss Cottage Library, 5) West Hampstead library, 6) Sidney Boyd Court, 7) Czech National House, 8) West Hampstaed tube station, and 9) Kilburn State.

Ian’s favourite building is Lately’s “for its enlightened door policy of turning people away for not being drunk enough”.

Jubilee Line finished, but closures persist

I’d spotted last week that the Jubilee Line had more weekend closures scheduled for September and October. I was a bit confused, because I was fairly sure that the upgrade work was complete, we were now getting an incredible three trains more an hour (yet I still had to wait more than 5 minutes for one yesterday), and all was hunky and dory on the Stanmore-Stratford silver subway.

Then a tweet this morning from the BBC London’s transport correspondent Tom Edwards explained the situation. The four weekend closures still to come (see below for details) are actually because the Metropolitan Line work is unfinished. Given how close the lines are to each other it’s simply not safe to have people working on the Met Line while Jubilee line trains swish past. Yes, I know the Met Line has been open sometimes when the Jubilee has been closed, but the Jubilee closures have been about signal work and testing more than track work.

What does this mean for us? Well, as West Hampstead is one of the stations where trains can “turn round” as it were, it doesn’t mean much for southbound passengers. All the closures are between Stanmore and West Hampstead, so the station will be open for those wanting to go into town. Those of you who use stations from Kilburn north are back on the (frighteningly expensive for TfL) rail replacement buses.

Naturally, there is political capital to be made of this. Val Shawcross, London Assembly member and Labour’s transport spokesperson said “On at least five separate occasions this year Boris Johnson has promised an end to weekend tube closures on the Jubilee Line and each time he has broken his promise.”

Ken, sensing a chance to have a swipe at Boris and of course himself an avid Jubilee user, has been up in arms about it, asking for a halt to the autumn closures, although as The Scoop points out, the Met Line work does need to be done.

According to the BBC report, a spokesperson for the Mayor said, “We appreciate that this does mean further frustrations when some interconnecting lines need maintenance and upgrade work.”

What do you think? Has Boris just been shafted by the whole shoddy process or should he and TfL been more creative in finding ways to minimize the weekend closures that have blighted NW London for what now seems like for ever?

Here are those closure dates:
Sat 3rd & Sun 4th September
Jubilee closed Stanmore to West Hampstead
Met closed Harrow-on-the-Hill to Aldgate

Sat 17th & Sun 18th September
Jubilee closed Stanmore to West Hampstead
Met closed Harrow-on-the-Hill to Aldgate

Sat 1st & Sun 2nd October
Jubilee closed Stanmore to West Hampstead
Met closed Harrow-on-the-Hill to Aldgate (Sat), Uxbridge to Aldgate (Sun)

Sat 15th & Sun 16th October
Jubilee closed Stanmore to West Hampstead
Met closed Harrow-on-the-Hill to Aldgate

Note that there are other closures on the Met Line on other weekends, but they are mostly north/west of Wembley Park. There is a Baker St-Aldgate closure on the 8th/9th October and the 6th November.

A trip down Kilburn’s memory lane

I got sent a fantastic link via Twitter this morning. It was to a photograph taken in 1965 of the State building on Kilburn High Road. The photograph is interesting, but the history site that it’s part of turned out to be a treasure trove.

Click on any of the seven photos of Kilburn taken around the same time, and you’ll find a few dozen comments from people who grew up in the area. It takes a bit of diving into the site to find all of them – some are comments to the initial memories, and so on. They paint a picture of post-war Kilburn that in many ways we could recognise today: a lively, bustling, rough-around-the-edges neighbourhood that people generally have an affection for, with characters such as Biff Lewis (who of course gets into a fight) and Susan the Swedish employee at Woolworths.

Naturally there are also some big changes – not least in the number of cinemas. One person recounts four different ones: the Ionic, the Grange, the Essoldo and of course the State.

I shall leave you to browse the site, but here’s one of my favourite excerpts as Fred Parker’s recalls trips to the cinema:

“Every Saturday evening I would go to the ‘pictures’.. with a group of friends. Often we would have to queue to get in and maybe stand for some time once we got in. We sat in the 1/6d seats. Films ran continuously in those days and we often saw the end of the film before we saw the beginning. We would walk home after the cinema and probably buy a bag of chips plus a pickled onion if we were flush.”

Thanks to Jon Kelly for the original link. Look out for an architecture competition on the blog in the next day or so. And if you want to read about some West Hampstead history, check out this post about how our part of London fared during the Second World War.

Update 4.30pm, 20th Century London sent me a link to some more great old photos of Kilburn including one of the Rolling Stones backstage at the Gaumont State.

Cooling down with Orange

Get your barometers out whampers!. On the 25th and 26th August, Orange (the phone people) will be driving round London with an ice cream van handing out… well, ice cream. The only real question is which ringtone they’ll use for the van.

Anyway, London is a big place right? And the van is only in town for two days. So, if you want it to come up to these parts then you need to get active.

There are two ways to get them up here:
1) Head over to The Feed and submit NW6 (just the first part of your postcode is required). If the first part of your postcode is NW3 or NW8 then you can damn well afford to buy your own ice cream.
2) Head straight to Twitter and just tweet “NW6” to @OrangeTheFeed along with the hashtag #keepmecool.

The more mentions NW6 gets, the better the chance of Orange taking a turn through the hood (although if they choose Queens Park over West Hampstead there’ll be trouble). Get on it people.

The ice cream will be free, but if it doesn’t satisfy your craving, pop along and give your custom to this Kilburn ice cream van with its, um, ominous jingle.

Sponsored Post
Viral video by ebuzzing

Contact the Elderly needs you

A guest blog by Charlotte, who needs your help:

My friend Kathleen recently turned 100.

“What’s your secret?” I asked as we tucked into tea and cake at a special party to celebrate her landmark birthday.

“I always eat wholemeal bread,” came the reply.

Kathleen is one of nine elderly people I really enjoy chatting to and spending time with on a monthly basis at our local Contact The Elderly tea parties.

Once a month myself and other volunteers pick up lonely elderly people in the North West London area who are unable to leave the house by themselves and take them to a tea party.

The parties take place at volunteer host’s houses between 3pm and 5pm – where guests are given tea, sandwiches and cakes and get the chance to chat. Our elderly friends really benefit from this social interaction and it clearly makes a massive difference to their lives.

It is also a lovely experience for the volunteers too, who not only get to enjoy tea and cake, but also all the amazing stories from years gone by.

Kathleen was born an only child in Dollis Hill in 1911 and worked for many years as a teacher in Willesden and Harrow. She has endless stories about travelling the world. In 1936 she made her first visit to Hamburg and then travelled on to Berlin where the Olympics were being held. Since then she has visited most of the European capitals, as well as the USA, Canada and Japan. It is a real privilege to spend time with her.

We rely on the goodwill of our drivers and also the hosts who throw open their homes to elderly guests for the tea parties but with nine elderly members now and not enough volunteers we are struggling.

We are now looking for new voluntary drivers to help pick guests up and also hosts willing to arrange a tea party perhaps once or twice a year.

Many of our guests are frail so any host home would need to have easy ground-floor access, a downstairs toilet available and a space large enough to seat around nine elderly guests comfortably. There will also be about five volunteers in attendance.

If you can help then please email or call 0208 208 2021

West Hampstead place shaping workshop report

You may recall that at the end of June I was invited to join a “place shaping” workshop organised by Camden council. I wrote it up, but explained that the full report would be available later. That later is now. I received the document this morning. It’s quite long so, although I feel it’s a very fair reflection of at least my workshop (there were two in total), I’m not sure you need to read the whole thing unless you’re really interested.

Therefore, I’ve circled paragraphs that I think capture the main points, and made a few annotations. It’s important to clarify that the purpose of this was not to find solutions, but to try and establish some common purpose that can inform decisions taken by the council. Of course, much of what came up is not really in the council’s purview, and to some extent the least tangible concepts of community are up to residents to demonstrate themselves. Do leave comments and (if they’re appropriate) I can pass them back into the whole process.

West Hampstead Shaping the Future Workshop Final Report

On the record with Londonist

On Monday morning I found myself in Hackney Wick – bit out of my usual patch. I was there with @BarnetEye to contribute to the Londonist Out Loud podcast, hosted by the hugely likeable and professional N Quentin Woolf.

It was a strange time to be talking all things London. The riots of Sunday night were of course fresh in everyone’s mind, but we obviously didn’t know that the situation was going to escalate later that day. So, we joined everyone else in speculating wildly about the context. At this stage I didn’t feel I had much to add given that north-west London had yet to feel any effects from the trouble. I would have had a lot more to say had we recorded on Tuesday morning, both about the damage and the social media implications.

The whole experience was fun – oddly, aside from the rioting there wasn’t a lot of other fascinating London news to discuss, but we seemed to cover a fair amount of ground.

If you want to listen to me ramble on riots, blogging, and communities then you can do so.

Hold your horses

West Hampstead residents are fairly used to seeing horses clip-clopping their way down West End Lane. As most of us know, we are home to one of the Metropolitan Police’s eight stables. Almost every day the horses are taken out for a stroll around the area. Although this is primarily for exercise, it’s not uncommon to see mounted police stopping people – they are on duty after all.

Less frequently, we see even more horses on our streets. The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery is based at a barracks in St John’s Wood.

Click for large version

The barracks itself is privately owned, but will close after more than 200 years in operation. The owners announced back in June that they were going to sell off the land, which is expected to fetch more than £250 million.

The “troop” is often seen in convoy on Finchley Road, but this morning was spotted (and snapped by the aptly named in this case @cyberdonkey) heading north up West End Lane, prompting tweets ranging from “makes an amazing noise”, to “try and be more inconvenient”. They won’t be inconveniencing us any more once they move to Woolwich.

King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery on West End Lane
Photo via @cyberdonkey

Largely unscathed

West Hampstead and surrouding areas escaped Monday night’s widespread rioting and looting relatively unscathed. Despite the rumour mill working overtime when it came to Kilburn the actual damage there was limited to the Vodafone shop on the High Road. This was broken into and stock was stolen but apparently the police were on the scene very quickly.

Photo via Mike Katz

The Guardian reported that 20 people had been arrested in Kilburn and it seems that generally whenever there was a crowd gathering, the police dispersed them fairly rapidly. This approach appeared to work well.

As I was tweeting into the early hours of Tuesday, I did feel nervous for the first time as there were reports of groups of young men heading down Adelaide Road towards Swiss Cottage and down Belsize Park in the same direction. I had visions of them coming through West Hampstead to get to Kilburn, or just stopping off in West Hampstead itself.

In the end the impact locally was very limited. The bottom pane of glass at Flower Gallery, the florists by the tube station, had been smashed – which could have happened any night really. By Finchley Road tube, Parkheath estate agents was broken into and their posh iMacs were stolen. I heard today that this wasn’t really a rampage, but was done quite carefully, and I also heard that they chose to install Windows rather than Apple’s operating system, which will surprise the eventual owners.

Photo via @RentalflatsNW6

Anyway, back to the verified facts… the only other casualty in the area was Carphone Warehouse on the corner of Burrard Rd and Finchley Rd, up in the north of West Hampstead. This took a bit of a battering, but that was pretty much it for our part of the world. Real Radio Scotland interviewed a witness.

Photo via @msjlucas

I took a walk through Kilburn on Tuesday morning to check the damage for myself. The Vodafone shop certainly had been hit and there was a police car parked outside and police tape round the entrance. Reports of damage to one of Halfords’ windows were also correct – just a bit late: this had happened a few weeks earlier. Finally, there was some concern when staff were spotted sweeping water and minor debris out of one of the entrances to Poundland, but a quick enquiry revealed that a pipe in the ceiling had burst. Shit happens.

I took another turn through Kilburn mid-afternoon amid rumours that the police presence was increasing and after the Guardian reported that the police were telling shops on the High Road to close. It was a sunny day, and although not as busy as usual, the main drag was still bustly. Some shops were closed, notably TKMaxx, Primark, Phones4U and HSBC. Others, such as Sainsbury’s main store, had strong security on the door. There were no police to be seen. Eventually, I came across four constables heading north on foot patrol and asked one about the instruction to shops. He looked blank and shook his head. He said they weren’t advising shops what to do, although some of course were closing and it was an individual choice.

This was contradicted sometime later by a pub landlord and a member of the public who said he had stood there while a café owner had been advised to close although the timings of these events weren’t clear. Anyway, as the afternoon wore on it became clear that most larger shops were certainly closing earlier than usual. Sainsbury’s obviously had an edict to close its “Local” stores at 6pm, as the shops in Kilburn, West Hampstead and Willesden all shut at the same time.

Despite this, and a distinct tension in the air, West End Lane was busy with people determined to enjoy the good weather, sitting outside the bars and cafés in the evening sun. This wasn’t “normal” though. A police car came hurtling up Lymington Road and swung left on West End Lane. Nothing especially unusual about this, but everyone stopped in their tracks and watched it.

Hopefully, as the atmosphere cools in the capital we won’t have a repeat of Monday night over the next few days.

Live tweeting a quiet night in Kilburn

It’s been a busy evening on Twitter. Naturally, I have a search set up for “Kilburn” in my timeline and from late afternoon it seemed that every other message came from someone suggesting that riots were going to kick off in Kilburn.

It became increasingly hard to determine fact from speculation from deliberate fanning of the flames – whether for fun or for more sinister motives.

Finally, I began to get more convincing sounding reports, many from people I know and trust, that said there wasn’t much happening. It became clear that there was a substantial police presence, and that shops were closing… although it was approaching 6pm, so some were closing anyway. Around 6.30pm someone tweeted that all the banks were closed. No kidding.

There began to be more reports of small groups of young men mooching up and down the road, some with masks. Initially skeptical I refrained from retweeting this, but eventually I was convinced. Several people were doing trawls of the entire High Road to see what was happening – after all Kilburn High Road is a mile long – and reporting that there was no actual trouble. Then there were solid reports that police were stopping some peole and shortly after the Guardian’s Simon Rodgers tweeted that 20 people had been arrested in Kilburn.

I’m willing to trust the Guardian, so lets assume this is true. The Guardian’s rolling riot coverage read:

Kilburn, in north west London, has also seen trouble reports Simon Rodgers. He says there have been 20 arrests near Kilburn High Road. Youths are roaming around the area, Simon says.”

This seemed a fair reflection of the situation, and was clearly chicken feed compared to the serious situation in Hackney, Peckham and Lewisham.

Unfortunately, the Guardian then tweeted this:

Follow LIVE #LondonRiots updates as trouble spreads to #Croydon #Kilburn and #Birmingham http://gu.com/p/3x4he/tw.

Of course this got RTd to death and suddenly perfectly sane people were understandably concerned. Of course the news moved on, nothing at all happened in Kilburn, and the Guardian carried on talking about the serious problems in Croydon and Clapham. Is it too much to expect a follow-up to say that Kilburn was calm? I know the journalists are stretched, so maybe it is too much. This isn’t meant to be a Guardian-bashing post anyway. But it’s indicative of the challenge journalists and responsible tweeters/bloggers have in trying to be up-to-date with events while not falling for seductive sounding “breaking news” tweets. People like to give their false reports authenticity… “my aunt says…” “a colleague rang me to say…”, etc. But it’s fairly easy to weed those out.

Harder to unravel were those messages from people I know who hear something from someone they know and – in a commendable effort to be helpful – ping me to keep me up to speed. With so many people tweeting though, one isolated report without a picture is to be taken with a large pinch of salt. In every single case, further investigation revealed that the reported fact simply wasn’t true. Many were either misunderstandings, or nuance was lost in the brevity of Twitter, or it was the product of over-active imaginations. But each one gets retweeted, especially when it’s written by someone with a lot of followers, before there’s a chance to contradict it and the whole thing starts again.

Part of me wonders whether it’s worth doing this – I’m under no illusion that fighting (with some very able allies – thanks to Julius_Geezer in particular) all the misinformation has any impact on what might happen, but it does seem worthwhile to allay people’s genuine fears.

More importantly, I would much rather be spending an evening trying to counter some misinformation than writing about looting, arson and general thuggery in the neighbourhood. In the parlance of the day, stay classy Kilburn.

Billy Fury Way officially opens

The path from West End Lane to Lithos Road was named Billy Fury Way last year following a poll. Billy Fury – one of Britain’s original rock & roll stars – recorded regularly at Decca Studios on Broadhurst Gardens.

On Friday,  the path was officially opened and a new mural was sprayed on at the West End Lane end of the path by graffiti events company Graffiti Life.

As well as being a interesting visual addition to West End Lane, the idea is to spruce up this path and to encourage young people from the area to contribute more artworks along the whole path. I understand that Graffiti Life will be supporting this and working with the local community.

Festivities began yesterday at 1pm with a song-title laden address in St James’ Church hall from Sgt Dave Timms, from West Hampstead’s Safer Neighbourhood Team. Odd? Well, not really – this is in fact an initiative driven by the police. Some of you will remember that one of the imperatives for naming paths such as this one and the Black Path was so the police could identify their location when chasing wrong-uns down these network of alleyways. It’s great to see real community support from our local police team who have similar plans for other parts of the footpath network.

Some 40 or so Billy Fury fans came along – many of whom had travelled from all over the country – including Holly Johnson of 80s band Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

After a blessing of the site, councillor John Bryant who had driven the renaming exercise cut the ribbon.

ShakeTastic took the opportunity of a crowd just outside to hand out free samples, while the police were spending half their time posing for photos and half stopping the traffic on West End Lane from mowing down ageing rock fans.

The Safer Neighbourhoods Team also worked with Network Rail on the land it owns alongside Billy Fury Way, which included overhanging shrubs, hidden lighting and damaged fencing. Network Rail has undertaken a ‘deep-clean’ of one the most badly affected areas of litter and have re-fenced the area.

Meanwhile, Camden’s Highways Engineering Team plans inspections and repairs to damaged pavement, and street cleaning contractors will clean these paths twice a week. The council will also start patrols to identify any irresponsible dog owners. Dog litter bins, as well as free standing regular litter bins, will be placed halfway along Billy Fury Way.

PC Ruth Marshall, also from the Safer Neighbourhoods Team, said: “We want people to feel safe using Billy Fury Way. By keeping the area maintained, it will encourage the public to use it,” adding that the artwork was a “fitting tribute” to Billy Fury.

There are more plans for more murals to celebrate the area’s musical heritage. Lets hope that this one sets a good precedent for the paths.

Loyalty at Hampstead Theatre – review

Loyalty, written by Sarah Helm, is set during the run-up to the Iraq war, and around the period of the inquiry into it. She brings a unique insight into the machinations of government at this time – she is the wife of Tony Blair’s chief of staff Jonathan Powell. She is also an experienced Middle East correspondent.

The play, described as a “fictionalised memoir“, stars Maxine Peake as Laura a staunchly anti-war journalist with experience in the Middle East who is married to Nick (Lloyd Owen), who happens to be chief of staff to a prime minister called Tony (Patrick Capaldi). As you can see,
the fictionalization only goes so far.

It’s a compelling play with some chilling moments and a genuine sense of internal conflict. Peake starts off perhaps too shrill, but settles into a more believable character that balances excitability with a sense of conscience and inquiry. Owen, understated throughout, is a convincing foil. Capaldi musters up a rather enjoyable Tony Blair, cutting something of a tragicomic figure throughout.

There are some poignant scenes that resonate very strongly today – Murdoch pops up at one stage telling Tony that war is the right decision. This leads to some lines getting laugh where perhaps laughs weren’t intended (unless such scenes have been hastily added in light of recent events).

Edward Hall’s production is pacey, especially the second half, with good sets and a strong supporting cast. I recommend it.

Loyalty runs until August 13th at Hampstead Theatre.

Iverson Road garden centre to close?

I received an e-mail yesterday:

“I heard today that Adrian Hall Garden Centre on Iverson Road, right next to the new Thameslink station entrance, is to close at the end of the month. The staff only heard two days ago. Apparently Network Rail sold the land at the point when Adrian Hall would have needed to renew their lease.

West Hampstead is fast becoming a desert as far as useful supplies are concerned. First Tesco and Sainsbury and now we will have no garden centre. And who will take over the site and for what? Adrian Hall has been there for 34 years…”

If anyone has any more information on this, do please let me know. Note also that this site is adjacent to the Liddell Road industrial estate, which is a potential site for a new primary school.

Summer sun for Whampgrill

We managed to find the short sunny window of this fairly dismal summer for the Secret BBQ on Sunday. Just over 50 people turned up to a flat on the edges of West Hampstead on the hottest day of the year so far.

Chris very kindly opened up his house to a whole bunch of people he didn’t know but all of whom left as friends.

Some astute shopping and some industrial-scale grilling meant that no-one went hungry and definitely no-one was thirsty as the monster Pimms tureen was emptied as fast as it was filled. Same time next year?

Here are a few photos of the day taken by Michael. You can see the full slideshow here.

West Hampstead / Fortune Green Area Action Group

The rain and perhaps Andy Murray on Centre Court meant a slightly below-par turnout for last Monday’s West Hampstead and Fortune Green Area Action Group meeting. On the plus side, when Cllr Keith Moffitt asked whether anyone was attending because they’d read about it on Twitter a few hands actually went up.

The evening kicked off with a presentation from Camden council’s Principal placeshaping officer, Kate Goodman. Kate talked about the Community Investment Programme, which is Camden’s scheme to turn physical assets into cash – i.e., to sell council-owned land and buildings. The focus is obviously on those facilities that are underused or with very high runningh costs. Sixty sites have been identified across the borough, but only two are in the West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards. 156 West End Lane is the large red brick building that includes the District Housing office and Travis Perkins. It has been identified as a possible site for disposal, with housing units the likely end use, although there will be a push to at least retain a ground floor retail presence. The second site is Liddell Road, the light industrial estate between Maygrove Rd and the trainline, which has been mooted as a possible site for the new primary school being discussed for this part of London. An initial report was submitted to the council in December 2010 and the second report will be in July this year.

During the Q&A the audience was reminded – although clearly some weren’t aware at all – that West Hampstead has been identified as an area for intensification in the London plan. The car park between Homebase and Sainsburys has been earmarked as an ideal site for more housing, including affordable housing. A couple of people accepted that even if there was not a lot we as residents could do about some of the development plans, it was important to be better informed about them. Obviously the council can’t track all potential private developments, but there was an agreement to provide a clearer map overview of public plans at least for the next session.

There was also some grumbling that the Thameslink station wasn’t delivering on its promises in terms of an attractive eco-friendly building. It’s true that for “cost reasons”, some of the specifications for the building were changed by Network Rail after the consultation. Cllr Keith Moffitt pointed out that although Network Rail had conducted a very good consultation “A good consultation doesn’t equal a great outcome”. With regard to some of the bigger projects, and the more general intensification, he also pointed out that these projects could take years to amount to anything, especially in today’s constrained funding environment.

West Hampstead is one of Camden’s nine “place shaping” areas, and thus has a Place Plan, which aims to get developers to fit in with the local area. I’m going to a meeting next week about this so will have more details about that then. In the meantime, you can read much more about this initiative here.

The next item on the agenda was the ever-popular topic of retail. Cllr Gillian Risso-Gill has been investing time on this issue, and ran through some of the changes on West End Lane since the last meeting, which blog readers will be familiar with and mostly boil down to more cafés/hairdressers/kebab shops.

She told us that Caffè Nero had to do battle with Costa for the Atlanta site that the blue coffee chain won. She suggested that delis were closing as a direct result of Tesco, although I find this hard to believe in all cases, as the stock is usually very different. More plausible to me is a relative fall in customers’ disposable income through inflation and economic uncertainty, so less willingness to buy high-end/high-price gourmet items, exacerbated perhaps by the convenience of supermarkets.

Gillian explained why cafés such as Nero no longer needed change-of-use permission to turn a shop into a café. Elsewhere in the country, it has been successfully argued in court that cafés where no food is cooked are essentially shops. You can argue the blatant nonsense of this all you want – it’s now been established in case law and is therefore difficult to overturn. In trying to spin a positive story, Gillian said that at least there was never an empty shop on West End Lane, which is more true since Ladudu tool over the long empty Glo site.

The conversation then turned to Mill Lane. While West End Lane homogenises, Mill Lane seems to be deteriorating as shops such as the Kitchen Stores close, and the general state of many other units is far from appealing.

Following the success of the Christmas market, Gillian is now thinking of setting up an Autumn market as well as repeating the Christmas edition, but needs helpers.

After this ‘state of the union’ address, the questions flowed. There were complaints about rents with one man saying it was now £45,000 for a shop on West End Lane – equivalent to Brent Cross (he said). There were also comments about parking (better parking would encourage more shoppers), delivery vehicles (WHAT is apparently looking into this), lobbying central government for a separate coffee shop classification, and restricting rent rises for smaller shops. Cllr Flick Rea pointed out that central governments of all hues tended to see development as inherently a good thing, and that offering objectors the right to appeal decisions might help (although at a much bigger scale you could imagine this causing some projects to never get off the ground). She also pointed out that the restaurant category A3 had in fact been split into two sub-categories, but it hadn’t made any difference.

The main outcome of the wailing and gnashing of teeth seemed to be that if we could find a way to increase footfall in Mill Lane, then that would be a Good Thing. I’ve suggested separately that having some sort of banner on the railings outside Emmanuel School pointing people to the shops further down might help, as might a rebranding of the retail section of the street focusing on its quirky more artisan shops. Finally, if an organization such as Empty Shops could find ways to tackle the empty or underused shops, that might breathe some life into it. There was much excitement as before about the idea of a regular market, but finding space for it is proving tough – traders want a hard tarmac surface for starters.

Then we moved on to the libraries – I think I’ve linked to enough stories about this that most of you should know what’s going on. In a nutshell, West Hampstead library won’t close but will see its hours cut – as will all other libraries. Camden will, however, cease provision of library services at Belsize, Hampstead and Chalk Farm libraries and their future remains uncertain.

Finally, there was a brief presentation of Camden’s newest online venture We Are Camden. This externally funded online service is being billed as a way to carry on the sorts of conversations that residents have at these local meetings. It’s in its infancy and during the first phase the idea is that it’s a way for Camden to talk to residents. Phase 2, which sounds much more valuable, will enable groups such as residents associations to set up their own presence.

What’s new on the Overground?

Are you a regular Overground user? If so, then this guest post by Ed Fordham is for you. Ed sits on the London Overground Passenger Board – the user group that discusses issues relating to the Overground network and in particular the North London Line:

“Being a frequent user of one part of the line, I tend to confine myself to taking a close interest in the stations between Willesden Junction and Gospel Oak.  There are other user groups for the other bits (Barking-Gospel Oak, West London etc), but the six rail stations between Willesden Junction and Gospel Oak can be a bit left out. So I thought I would report back on what had occurred at the last meeting on 15th June – which felt exceptionally positive.

Overall the Overground network achieved 95% punctuality over the past 12 months, making it one of the most punctual services in the UK. This is based on arrival time at the end destination, rather than at intermediate stations – and given some of the routes are so long and have so many stations, there are variations. The North London Line section of the network was only 92%, and steps are being taken to try and tighten up on that.

It is expected that this service – going through residential areas will be heavily used during the Olympics, so there will be 70 additional staff and some additional services for parts of the line. An Olympic and Paralympic timetable will be out in the next week or so.

Phase 3 refurbishments
As you may have seen over the last 18 months, there havebeen a host of small scale station improvements ranging from new signs and a general paint job to the more comprehensive redecoration at Hampstead Heath station (this was part of the Art on the Overground project).

There is now a chance to have a more substantive conversation about issues and improvements in the medium and longer term and it would be good to hear your ideas and suggestions.

Issues that have been mentioned include:

  • Better recycling facilities generally, especially for free early morning papers (on trains as well as platforms?)
  • Additional shelters or canopies at Brondesbury station
  • A lift at Hampstead Heath station – especially given access to the hospital
  • Taking down the excessive anti-vandalism measures at Finchley Road and Frognal
  • A cashpoint to be installed at Brondesbury Park station

Getting the community involved
One specific initiative has been to get the community working with London Overground to introduce flower boxes and flower beds at other stations and it strikes me that this would be very possible at Kensal Rise, West Hampstead and Hampstead Heath stations in particular. If any local residents, amenity groups or traders would like to get involved with this please do get in touch and I can help facilitate the conversation asap. Homerton Station has been very successful at this.”

Thanks Ed! Ed sends out an e-mail update every 2–3 months or so on these issues, so any local residents, users or traders on or near the Overground Line should contact him on . He tends to concentrate on the six stations between Kensal Rise and Hampstead Heath.

Useful links
LOROL – London Overground Rail Operations Ltd
TFL and Overground
Passenger Focus

Tots and Toast at LoveFood

Alicia, a local mum, is organising a “Tots and Toast” social morning for local parents and carers with tots in tow at LoveFood on Monday mornings. The aim is to provide parents with a relaxed, grown-up but child friendly place to relax and have a proper coffee.

There’ll be an area for parents to sit and chat, and to make toast for themselves and their kids. The café is throwing in the toast and condiments for free and Alicia’s working on a monthly door prize and regular guest speakers.

For more information on the event, suggestions for speakers or topics, or if you want to volunteer as a speaker, then please contact Alicia at .

The mornings will start on Monday 20th June and run from 9:30 to 11am. All parents and carers welcome.

Do WHAT now?

If you’re interested in all things West Hampstead – and lets face it, if you’re not then you may be on the wrong blog – perhaps you should consider joining WHAT. What? Yes, WHAT. The jokes are almost endless*

WHAT stands for West Hampstead Amenities and Transport and has been going for more than 30 years as a non-political community group that cares about local issues and ensures residents have a voice in local affairs through lobbying, meetings etc. As far as I know, it’s the most prominent and wide-reaching of the various local community groups. Like all such organisations, it does of course need fresh blood – not least to ensure that it continues to reflect the local population’s thoughts and ideas.

So, if you want to get involved and join WHAT, then you can find a membership form right here.

*that’s the end of the jokes

West Hampstead Transition Town kicks off

On Monday evening, the Transition Town West Hampstead initiative kicked off. Sadly I couldn’t make, it but guest reporter Suzie was on hand to tell us more:

It was a good turn out for the inaugural West Hampstead TT meeting. Around 30 people gathered at St James’ Church to find out what the Transition Town movement was all about.

George Latham and nettle pesto canapés

Having been welcomed with some homemade and locally foraged nettle pesto (quite yummy, as it happens!) and elderflower cordial, West Hamsptead resident David Abrahams kicked off proceedings. He had been impressed, he said, by what our neighbours at Transition Belsize and Transition Kensal 2 Kilburn had achieved over a short period of time, and wanted to replicate this in West Hampstead.

David Abrahams

The evening started with A Farm for the Future, a film that tells the story of wildlife filmmaker, Rebecca Hoskin, who returned to Devon to run her family farm. She explains how heavily modern farming relies on oil – from the diesel needed to run the planting and harvesting machinery, to the oil-based fungicides, pesticides and insecticides used in growing the crops. As she puts it: “All food production is dripping in oil”.

The film went on to explain that with world oil reserves diminishing, energy prices on the rise, and a farming community in decline (there are only 150,000 farmers left whereas there used to be 10 times as many), the UK – a net importer of food – is in a precarious position to feed its own growing population.

So what’s the answer? The core concept of the Transition Town movement is building local resilience to a future world without oil, and finding “local solutions to global problems”. It aims to do this by sharing knowledge within local communities; by re-learning lost skills, such as foraging for food (apparently Hampstead Heath is a rich resource!) and sewing; and developing new ones, such as creating cycle groups and learning how to make your home more energy efficient.

Camden’s former ‘eco champion’ Alexis Rowell talking to the group

It’s also about teaching and inspiring people, and helping them feel safe and happy by encouraging residents to get to know their neighbours and breaking down feelings of isolation. Did you know that 48% of Camden residents live alone?

George Latham, from the Kensal 2 Kilburn group, shared a few examples of what can be achieved. He told us how it had set up a community allotment on a Brent Partnership housing estate (which has since doubled in size), and created “abundance groups” – volunteers that collect fruit from local residents’ gardens that would otherwise have been wasted. In fact, last year a staggering two tonnes of fruit went to local schools! It also shared other skills such as crocheting, apple pressing, and jam, chutney and bread making. A big success was their local harvest festival, which drew 200 people and ended up with everyone sitting next to their neighbours and sharing a ‘festival stew’.

Transition West Hampstead can be anything we want it to be and it’s up to Transition members to follow their passion, whether it be energy, sustainable transport and food production, or wellbeing and the creative arts. Last night the enthusiasm was palpable and there was a sense of momentum, but the next step is ours. The key thing is that it’s enjoyable. Remember: “If it ain’t fun, it ain’t sustainable!

If you’d like to find out more about Transition West Hampstead, or would like to get involved, please email: . Or read more about the wider transition network.

Private Space holds private style party for locals

On Thursday evening, 30 West Hampstead fashionistas descended on The Private Space on Mill Lane for Whampstyle – an evening of fashion, food and free wine!

After the all-important mingling and sampling of some delicious food provided by West End Lane’s newest restaurant Ladudu, we gathered round to hear stylist Zahide Ozkardesler discuss this season’s trends (clashing colours seemed to feature), accessorising (it’s all about belts), and understanding your colours (I confess I got a bit lost here).

Then Christian Croce, owner of The Private Space, gave some top simple hair tips for accentuating your look and a couple of brave volunteers were draped in clothes from the rack and quickly recoiffed before our very eyes.

There was a bit more mingling and we all polished off Bake-a-boo‘s colour-coordinated cupcakes before everyone melted off into the night. It was great to see some familiar faces and plenty of new arrivals both to the area and to whampevents. Big thanks also to The Social Metre

The next major event is the Secret BBQ on June 26th. It’s been filling up steadily so don’t leave it too late to put your name down.

Discount fruit & veg via Red Apple

If you like fresh ingredients, but find it hard to pop to the shops every couple of days, then a new delivery service could be for you. Red Apple will bring a wide variety of seasonal fresh food to your door and has just added NW6 to its distribution area.

Very kindly, it sent me a “test” delivery yesterday – and my kitchen is now groaning under the weight of jumbo asparagus from Suffolk, some delicious large tomatoes, courgettes, beans, satsumas, kiwi fruit, potatoes, lemons, carrots, satsumas, a red pepper, a cucumber and a butternut squash.

Even more kindly, Red Apple is offering whampers a great deal: half price off your first order if you follow them on Twitter and quote “WHAMPWIN” when you place your order. Can’t be bad.

The company delivers to West Hampstead on Saturday, and you need to order by Thursday 9pm.

I’m off to have the rest of my five-a-day.

Put a Shhhh… rimp on the barbie

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted the Secret BBQ on the calendar. What gives?

A very generous whamper – Chris – has volunteered to host a barbecue after being converted to the delights of the whamp community at a whampreview a while back. So, between the two of us, we’re bringing you #whampgrill!

And the secret? We’ll reveal the exact location the day before to those of you who sign up (Chris isn’t a big fan of posting his address all over the internet and I don’t blame him). Rest assured, it’s within a 10 minute walk of West Hampstead tube station.

The date: from 2pm on June 26th.
The exciting bit: you don’t have to bring your own food – we’ll provide all the food – including non-meat things for the non-meat eaters. All you need to bring is something to drink. We’d also really like it if you brought a donation to help us cover our costs. Any extra money we make will go to The Winch, so do feel free to make generous donations.

Sounds good, right? A chance to make some new local friends, catch up with those you’ve already made, and enjoy some lovely grilled food in the rain (it won’t rain).

Now what? Given that it’s a party in his flat and his flat isn’t infinitely large, we are going to ask you to sign up for it so we can keep track of numbers – we can be a bit flexible but we’re expecting at least 40. If it looks like getting full, we’ll let you know so hopefully no-one misses out. Mail or tweet me if you’d like to come (with the number of any additional guests), with dietary requirements (coeliacs may need to bring their own bread rolls) and a mobile number so we can text you the location the day before.

Please say you’ll come if you actually plan to turn up, rather than just thinking “I’ll go unless a better offer comes along.” Sorry to get all pernickety, but just imagine poor Chris sitting there that evening surrounded by bridge rolls and uneaten burgers! Exactly. If you sign up and DO get a better offer/can’t come then please let us know asap. WHampers are invariably a well-brought up bunch, so doubt this will be a problem.

Oh, and if it rains, Chris assures me that he has enough room inside to cope and it will go ahead as planned. But it won’t rain. Definitely not.

See you there!

Soldiers of Fortune (Green) vs. Athletic – the West Hampstead 5-a-side derby

After a decidedly unsuccessful first season, finishing dead last in the Fortune Green 5-a-side league, West Hampstead Wanderers FC disbanded, splitting into two separate teams for the start of the new season. Dan reports on their first encounter.
Despite the new teams – West Hampstead Athletic and Soldiers of Fortune (Green) – maintaining a core of the old Wanderers players, both sides recorded victories in their respective opening games. But this positive start was bound to end for one of the teams as match day 2 saw the former team-mates go head-to-head for the first time in what must now be the ultimate North London derby. 
This rivalry brought out the best in both teams, and what resulted was an incredibly tight, hard-fought match. The energy levels were high, the quality of the football higher.
The Soldiers opened the scoring, but Athletic soon drew level. Goals were harder to come by than in previous matches, thanks mainly to sterling displays in goal by the two keepers, and some brilliant defending. 
With about a minute left to play, and the scores level at 4 goals apiece, everyone on the pitch turned their dials up to 11. In the end, a late goal from Thom Hoffman handed the win to the Soldiers of Fortune (Green). But never have cliches such as “it could have gone either way” and “both teams deserved to get something out of the match” been more applicable.
It was a fantastic game to be involved in, and I can’t wait for the return fixture.
Final Score: Soldiers of Fortune (Green) 5 – 4 West Hampstead Athletic.

Sign up now for Whampstyle on May 26th

Early spring sunshine has already got locals busting out their summer fashions. But are you up to date with this season’s trends, and do you know how to tailor your look to best suit your personal style? The right clothes need the right hair – perhaps you’re looking for some top tips of how to style your hair at home so you can change your image quickly for those summer parties.

Well, it’s a good thing that I’ve teamed up with The Private Space on Mill Lane to offer an evening  that’s going to help you with all this. Due to the size constraints, places are limited for this free event, so we’re asking you to sign up for it rather than just drop by.

The evening on Thursday May 26th will kick off at 7.30pm with wine and canapés (free of course). Then Zahide Ozkardesler, London College of Fashion graduate, professional stylist and image consultant, will talk about the hottest summer looks and how to accessorize. Christian Croce, owner of The Private Space, will then offer some top hair tips to match the styles on show. There’ll be plenty more time to mingle with fellow West Hampstead fashionistas, pick up some more tips from the professionals, have another drink, and take advantage of discounts on The Private Space’s products and services.

There are strictly limited places for this event, so please sign up asap (this is a first come-first served event, unlike #whampreview for example where names are drawn from a hat). Please either tweet or e-mail me or mail The Private Space directly at to secure your place – and of course you can bring your friends along, just let us know how many are going to turn up.

Look forward to seeing you all there!

UPDATE: This event is now full. I’m also delighted to say that the food will be provided by Bake-a-Boo and West End Lane’s newest restaurant Ladudu.

AV hustings in West Hampstead provoke fiery debate

On Wednesday this week, Father Andrew Cain at St Mary’s church hosted Camden’s only hustings debate on the upcoming referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system.

In favour of AV were local councillor Andrew Marshall – going against his Conservative party line – and Times journalist David Aaronovitch. On the No side sat former Hampstead & Kilburn Conservative PPC Chris Philp and Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden Siobhain McDonagh.

Around 100 people filled the pews at St Mary’s and it was gratifying to see a healthy number of younger people participating. The Ham & High’s editor Geoff Martin presided over proceedings.

David Aaronovitch kicked the debate off explaining that he initially hadn’t felt that strongly about what he described as “a mild reform” until he’d seen the arguments rolled out by the No campaign. He reeled off some figures that ostensibly made the point that while First Past The Post (FTPT) had worked well when there were only two main parties and turnouts were high, it was less suited to today’s lower turnout/multi-party world.

Aaronovitch: “mild reform”

Chris stood up to deliver his speech – still unable to shed that slight hectoring tone that some found offputting during his election campaign. Apart from attempting a very dodgy Yorkshire accent at one stage – the less said about that the better – he set out to suggest that people simply weren’t interested in voting reform and that the whole issue had come about purely as a condition of the coalition agreement. He trotted out the argument that AV would make hung parliaments more likely and argued that this would remove the public’s right to select the government and hand it to the Lib Dems. He made lots of references to the BNP, although didn’t articulate clearly [at least to me] how AV would benefit them – he seemed more concerned to say that he didn’t have any interest in receiving the second vote of a BNP voter and didn’t believe it was right that such voters had more influence over the result.

Philp: “I don’t want the second vote of a BNP voter”

Andrew opened his Yes speech suggesting that in an age of enormous amounts of data, it was ironic that we asked so little about people’s opinions every 4–5 years. “FPTP assumes people are very indifferent to the merits of other candidates.” Although he agreed that people on the doorstep hadn’t talked actively about voting reform, plenty had asked him how they should vote tactically. He also argued that if there were more hung parliaments, that was up to the electorate and if parties wanted to avoid that then they had to do more to get the necessary votes. He also reminded the audience that AV is already used in other elections in the UK – for example in Welsh and Scottish elections and – as has been mentioned a lot – in the leadership elections for both the main parties. Countering Chris’s arguments about FPTP being used in the US, he quipped that Al Gore knew all too well that FPTP didn’t always work.

Marshall: Parties must work harder to get votes

Siobhain McDonagh arrived late and thus hadn’t heard much of what either Yes campaigner had said. She began with a dubious joke about coming from south London before launching into a clearly well-rehearsed speech. She argued that FPTP was simple and traditional with a story about seeing people in her constituency who’d fled persecution “and in their eyes I see a respect for our system.” She also argued that AV would mean giving up the right to influence parties’ manifesto for the “direction of travel” they would follow. I didn’t really follow the logic of this to be honest. She then launched into a savage attack on the Lib Dems over, for example, tuition fees, saying that they “deserve a kicking.”. This did not go down well with the audience who started heckling loudly with cries of “stick to the topic”.

McDonagh: “Lib Dems deserve a kicking”

The floor was now open to questions, of which there were many. There was a lot of arguing between Chris and David over the interpretation of statistics, for example on the number of hung parliaments. Lib Dem PPC Ed Fordham popped up from behind a flower display to ask about the use of AV in other UK elections and allowed Chris to get in a neatly worked jibe about Ed Miliband being the “least offensive” candidate for the Labour leadership.

David claimed that saying that people voting for smaller parties had an “extra vote” was ludicrous, using the French presidential election as his example (the French system is very similar to AV but there is a time gap between making your first choice and second choice as the lowest scoring candidates are knocked out). He undermined Siobhain’s point that FPTP was a British tradition by pointing out the use of AV in Wales and Scotland. One might also argue that plenty of other voting “traditions” have been altered as times change.

The atmosphere in the church was getting more and more fractious, especially as one guy started shouting almost everytime any of the panel spoke. It got to the stage where David was treating him as a stand-up would an annoying heckler and frankly he should have been thrown out.

An unsuccessful Labour PPC from Yorkshire asked how the FPTP campaign would answer voters who thought there was “no point” turning out in very safe seats. He argued that voter apathy was in many cases “realistic apathy” rather than a lack of interest in politics. Chris pointed out that the very safe seats were won by 50% majorities anyway and therefore AV wouldn’t make a difference.

Inevitably someone in the audience opened with “I promise this will be a short question,” before launching into a long statement. Then David took real issue with what he described as a “pious” attitude from Chris who had been saying that all he wanted was for people to vote for the person they wanted to win. Echoing the thoughts, I suspect, of almost everyone in this constituency who lived through the vociferous arguments of all the three parties that only two of them could possibly win. The result: the closest three-way vote in the country.

There was much talk of the fact that Australia uses the AV system – with people reading both positive and negative outcomes from the country’s lengthy experience with it. An erudite Australian stood up and gave his verdict on it – which was wholeheartedly positive and ended up getting the biggest cheer of the night.

The whole audience was getting more lively – my favourite heckle coming as one man stood up and gave a long speech saying he feared AV would put us on the “slippery slope to PR”. “Oh dear,” said an older woman a few rows back – her voice dripping with amused sarcasm. Andrew responded that given the slow pace of electoral reform it must be a very shallow slope. Siobhain, who had let Chris handle most of the answers to the audience, finally chipped in with a comment about the very low turnout she expected for this referendum and Chris finally scored an emphatic point against David who had accused the No campaign of “whipping up apathy”, citing the three months he had dedicated to this.

One audience member challenged Siobhain’s point about simplicity, suggesting that it was odd to champion simplicity for something as important as electing the government, and wondered whether AV would ignite young people’s interest in politics. Chris argued that more dynamic politicians would do that.

The session finally wrapped up – there was no attempt to take a vote and no-one was prepared to admit that the hustings had changed their mind, but it was good to see a healthy turnout and a distinct lack of apathy among these voters.

It will be interesting to see how the Hampstead & Kilburn vote on May 5th compares to the London and national vote given the constituency’s unusual position as a genuinely tight 3-way, where AV might have ended up in any of the three main candidates taking the seat.

Will Ladudu do do it?

Vietnamese café/restaurant Ladudu opened today on West End Lane. I popped in at lunchtime to see what was on offer and was given a very friendly greeting. As some readers might know, it has a problem with gas for cooking – namely there wasn’t any being piped in. Previous occupant Glo clearly wasn’t that fussed about using hobs.

Anyway, it’s going to be mid-late May before chef Teresa is cooking on gas according to her front-of-house partner Tristan. Until then, Ladudu is serving from its appetisers menu – 10 “tasty nibbles” including spring rolls, salads and betel beef rolls. I tried a couple of things, both were good although I think it’s probably fair to give a place a few days to settle in before really judging the food! Mains, once they come online after the gas is installed, are all under £8. Starters all under £5.50.

The decor is attractive with thick wooden tables and some comfy chairs in a lounge area. There are some larger sharing tables too, but overall it has a clean modern yet warm feel.

For the moment, Ladudu is open 7am to 6pm weekdays and 10am to 6pm weekends. It will close at 11pm once it’s fully operational. I understand from Tristan that they fancy their chances against Starbucks and Costa for the commuter coffee business. That may be a tall (skinny) order, given how wedded people can get to their coffee, but why not give it a try and support a local business run by people who actually live here.

No doubt we’ll be hearing more about it over the coming weeks, but for now, Good Luck.

Positive end to the season for Wanderers

The team was already consigned to the bottom of the table, but was able to salvage some pride in a 5-a-side match that suggests next season’s league (revised to 5-a-side from 6 this season) could be much more competitive. Tim reports:

Matchday 12. Monday April 4. KO 7.20
West Hampstead Wanderers 11 – 9 The Gym Utd.

Gym Utd arrived at Fortune Green fresh from their title decider the previous week. Maybe it was the taste of defeat in that match, or having one eye already on next season; but either way, a match between the league runners up and the dead last team coudl have been expected to be a walkover to an outsider.

The Wanderers struggled to field a full line-up for the final match, so it seemed the writing was on the wall. However, The Gym Utd kindly agreed to field a 5-a-side team, which allowed more space in the previously cramped court. Some of the early football played by the Wanderers was reminiscent of the tiki-taka approach taken by some larger, foreign teams.

Wanderers were very quickly two goals to the good, following some simple pass and move with calm finishing from @timcheese and @matthewmargot. The gents from the Gym fought back, and the game was close as half-time approached. In the blur of competition, the writer considers that the scores were around 4 a-piece. Most surprising at the interval was that @timcheese already had a hat-trick under his belt, as he hadn’t scored all season whilst playing in defence. With 10 players on the court, far greater space was afforded with counterattacking suiting the bolder, quicker team.

Following the changeover, Utd looked shell-shocked early into the second half as the plucky Wanderers continued as they had started, with a couple of quick goals from a rejuvenated @samwong1. There was real belief that an upset beckoned. @MartinTse was kept busy in goal, with some quite optimistic defending, and tired legs betraying Wanderers’ ambitions. During the mid-point of the second half, Wanderers started to slow and dictate play, with @thomhoffman picking up two of his three goal tally; one of which involved a sublimely understated use of his eyes to direct the keeper away from his exquisitely placed shot. With that, The Gym Utd were almost broken, and after the addition of a fourth by @timcheese following a dubious handball claim denied, all that was left was to see out the final onslaught. Utd’s goliath effort was finished, David like, by @matthewmargot with the simplest of tap-ins before the final whistle blew.

The match had no effect on the standings, but dead rubber or not, the boys from West Hampstead showed their neighbouring cousins with their 11-9 victory that the battle for next season is just beginning.

League standings:

Kilburn Wizards          P12 W8 D2 L2 GD +27
The Gym Utd.             P12 W6 D2 L4 GD +17
Abacus Athletic          P12 W4 D2 L6 GD -4
West Hampstead Wanderers P12 W2 D2 L8 GD -40

Cock Theatre closes for good

Earlier this week, the popular and very highly regarded Cock Tavern Theatre in Kilburn was forced to close temporarily when it was discovered that the pub above which it operates didn’t have a licence for “upstairs entertainment”.

It was hoped that this could be resolved quickly using a series of Temporary Event Licences while a permanent licence was sorted out. But Adam Spreadbury-Maher, the artistic director, announced today that the theatre would have to look for new premises after discovering that complying with Brent Council’s Health & Safety requirements regarding the fire exits would be prohibitively expensive. Quite whether the risk was really that great is no doubt moot. At my recent visit, I can’t say that I noticed the stairs were especially steep or narrow. UPDATE: The Independent has more detail on this story.

All performances have thus been cancelled and the theatre is in the process of trying to reimburse people while it moves to new premises.

It does seem hard to believe some sort of compromise could not have been reached, and instead Kilburn loses another high-quality arts venue.

First time at The Cock

Kilburn’s Cock Theatre – fresh from its victory at the Olivier Awards – is currently staging back-to-back Tennessee Williams plays as part of the centenary celebrations of his birth. As a bit of a fan of TW (due in no small part to the smouldering tension between Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – one of the more inspiring A-Level English texts we did), I thought this was the perfect opportunity to visit this pub theatre for the first time to see I Never Get Dressed ’til After Dark on Sundays.

The play came to a close a couple of nights later, so I’m not planning to review it here (although if I was, I’d be saying it was a good production of one of Tennessee’s weaker works (it was unpublished in his lifetime)). I’m more just saying that it’s a great small theatre and its reputation is already so strong that you need to grab tickets fast when they come out. It seats only about 50 people (although some turned out to be cast members).

What at first amused me, and then slightly depressed me, was that as people arrived – many clearly not regulars in Kilburn – they rather huddled by the door looking a bit terrified of the locals rather than just heading over to the bar (which gives discounts once you wave your programme around) and saying hello. Perhaps the locals don’t look that welcoming, but within… ooh… five seconds of ordering, my neighbour Seán had introduced himself, shaken my hand at least twice, and told me not to mind him, he was just a drunk Irishman. Which he was. But a very friendly and harmless one.

So if you do head down to the Cock Theatre, please try and spend some money in the Cock Tavern as well and don’t create a rather frosty divide between “theatregoers” and “pub dwellers”. From my experience of living in Dublin for a bit, some of the most unlikely looking people in pubs are far more fluent in Beckett and Joyce, than many so-called fans of the theatre are in Shakespeare or Pinter.

Last minute goal thriller consigns Wanderers to last place

With three weeks left until the end of the season, the Wanderers needed a win and other results to go their way if they were not to be destined to finish bottom of the league. Thom reports

Match day 10. Monday 21st March. KO 6.30
West Hampstead Wanderers 9 – 10 Abacus Athletic

A solid start saw the Wanderers take the lead after pressure high up the pitch led to a penalty, which was  stuck away by Thom. Abacus scored two in return before another penalty made it 2-2. The hard work at the start of the half  began to take its toll and some clinical finishing by the opposition meant that the Wanderers went into the break 5-2 down.

Heads didn’t drop though and the pressure was ramped right back up in the second half.

Some slick finishing and another penalty brought the score to 5-4 but the Wanderers’ carefree attacking play led to them being caught on the break and although they scored several, they were conceding as well. With a minute to go before the final whistle, Abacus was leading 9-8 when they gave away yet another penalty. Thom stepped up to stick it away and the Wanderers were on the verge of drawing the match. Amazingly, all the hard work was undone with seconds to go as Abacus’s Yemi released a belter from the halfway line, that even the lovechild of Jesus and Peter Schmeichel wouldn’t have been able to stop. Final score 10-9 to Abacus.

It was a good fun game with some great performances, and with no subs to bring on the shape and movement of the team was a lot more controlled, which bodes well for next season.

Goals: @ThomHoffman x6, @SamWong1 x1, @MatthewMargot x1, @Talalb01 x1

League standings:

Kilburn Wizards          P10 W7 D1 L2 GD +25
The Gym Utd.             P10 W5 D2 L3 GD +17
Abacus Athletic          P10 W4 D2 L4 GD 0
West Hampstead Wanderers P10 W1 D1 L8 GD -42

At the end of this season, the league becomes 5-a-side and the Wanderers will split into two separate teams so more people get a chance to play.

Wanderers get caught on the break

The season is starting to draw to a close and, as in the Premiership as in the Hampstead 6-a-side league, teams beginning with W are struggling. Tal reports on the Wanderers’ latest outing:

Match day 9. Monday 14th March. KO 7.20
West Hampstead Wanderers 3 – 10 The Gym Utd.

After a few disappointing defeats the Wanderers were looking for a win against a side they have had close and well fought battles with in the past. Unfortunately, we were missing our goalkeeper, but @Martin_Tse stepped up to the plate and took the gloves after others shied away from the responsibility. Martin put in an excellent performance early in the game and was helped massively by the energy and desire shown by the outfield players. The team seems to have addressed its problems of closing down early and the team defended as a single unit.

The Wanderers peppered the opposition’s goal with shots throughout the first half and had the best chances throughout. The team did a great job of regaining lost posession and shooting when the opportunity arose. Lady Luck, however, wasn’t on the Wanderers’ side and many of the shots were very close or were saved – on another day they’d have been in the back of the net.

The Gym Utd. got stronger as the game wore on and stole a few goals on the break giving them a healthy lead, The Wanderers pushed further upfield in search of goals, @ThomHoffman nabbed a brace through hard work and continual pressure, and @MatthewMargot used his strength and power on the ball to score another long range shot.

Of course, as the Wanderers pressed forward, The Gym Utd attacked on the break and pulled further ahead leaving the final score 10-3 to The Gym. This score doesn’t tell the tale of the game though. There were some positive signs from the Wanderers: a good defensive attitude, a willingness to shoot and slowly developing a knowledge of each other’s movement. This can only lead to good results in a  league which has proven to be very competitive in the Wanderers’ debut season. As always, the next game will be a win!

Team: @nickhudgell, @NWSixDan, @ThomHoffman (x2) @Talalb01, @Martin_Tse, @SamWong1, @MatthewMargot (x1), @TimCheese

League standings:

Kilburn Wizards          P9 W7 D0 L2 GD +25
The Gym Utd.             P9 W5 D1 L3 GD +17
Abacus Athletic          P9 W3 D2 L4 GD -1
West Hampstead Wanderers P9 W1 D1 L7 GD -41

Sainsbury’s Local gets West Hampstead over excited

As everyone knows, because the sign is so brightly lit that aircraft are now using it as a navigation device, a new Sainsbury’s Local opened on West End Lane on Friday where Best One used to be.

It’s fair to say that this caused a fair amount of Twitter traffic. The story unfolds below

Congratulations to Richard, who took the first photo from inside the store

[let me know if you like this format of showing tweets/telling stories]

Library cuts – is West Hampstead immune?

So what exactly is going on with local libraries? Amid accusations that closures have been pre-determined, a consulation process that has triggered some fierce criticism, and the very raison d’être of libraries evolving, I thought it was time to try and make sense of it all.

First the facts. Camden, like every other council in the country, is facing a shortfall in the funding it receives from central government of £80-£100 million over the next four years. The final number is unclear because the budget gap for the fourth year of these restrictions has yet to be calculcated. Council tax accounts for less than 10% of Camden’s spending, so even substantive rises there would make little difference overall.

Like every borough, there are services that Camden has to provide (statutory requirements) such as transport for adults to social care services, schooling etc. Everything else is discretionary and therefore could be cut. Discussion rages about where the balance should fall between cuts to frontline services and further efficiency savings at Town Hall.

Camden’s contentious budget meeting last week set the level of cuts for each department. It has been decided that £2 million of the £8m library budget needs to be cut. (The Culture department’s total budget is £14 million). At 25%, libraries are one of the more heavily affected services although almost no frontline discretionary services remain unaffected as we have seen with the proposed closure of children’s centres such as the one on Acol Road and the Netherwood centre for Alzheimer’s patients. 

One criticism, levelled by West Hampstead Lib Dem councillor Keith Moffitt among others, is that the £2m figure seems to be set in stone already even before deciding how it might be cut.

Some savings have already been made. Camden’s cabinet member for Culture, Cllr Tulip Siddiq explained to me that she has already saved £400,000 in back-office efficiencies, but that still leaves a £1.6m shortfall over the four years. However, and much to her displeasure, it is front-loaded, so that £1.2m has to be found next year (2012/13).

Rumours circulated early on that Camden’s officers (the term used for what is effectively the borough’s civil service) had a plan in their back pocket to slash the library provision in one fell swoop, reducing the service from 13 libraries to just four “super-libraries”. Cllr Siddiq told me she rejected this out of hand, although it is hard to see how it would ever have gone through anyway given the level of outcry it would have triggered. Although some level of library provision is statutory, the definition is open to enormous interpretation.

Cllr Siddiq hopes we don’t have to close libraries

Are closures inevitable? And how safe is West Hampstead library? The consultation document – especially the online version – was roundly criticised for forcing people to agree with some form of closures or major reductions in service before other options were discussed. Of course, where library passions run high this hasn’t stopped community groups getting together to discuss taking over the running of a couple of libraries. Cllr Siddiq wouldn’t say which libraries, but it’s fair to assume that such an initiative would be feasible only with the smaller libraries.

Taking over libraries – or a “community asset transfer” to use the big society parlance – could work in a number of ways. A group could be granted a long lease, say in excess of 20 years, to run the library and would take responsbility for all aspects of it. Or a shorter lease could be considered whereby Camden would retain a little more control, perhaps even providing one librarian to work alongside the volunteers, but the major running costs would come off the balance sheet without it being considered a closure.

West Hampstead, having recieved investment relatively recently would be an unlikley candidate for closure and is large enough to be daunting for a community takeover. However, it is probably wise to take nothing for granted – West Hampstead is the most expensive library in the borough in terms of cost-per-user.

The consultation process, which 3,000 people have so far engaged with, has thrown up all sorts of other ideas both for cutting costs and generating income across the board and Camden is also working on its own ideas. Some, such as charging for WiFi access, seem to go both against the grain of why libraries are there in the first place as well as surely offering a mere drop in the ocean in terms of extra revenue. Higher library fines may be marginally more popular, but for serious money-spinning ideas then ideas such as licencing coffee shops within libraries, or perhaps a post office would have a greater impact. There’s even talk of turning some of the Swiss Cottage library space into an art gallery – with at least one artist offering to pay handsomely (and rather philanthropically) for the privelige of hanging work there.

Cutting hours at individual libraries is one option. The more costly the library is to run the bigger the absolute savings this generates. There is always a risk that reducing hours becomes a downward spiral as fewer and fewer people use the service, but at some of the mid-sized libraries it’s hard to imagine that shaving some of the quietest hours off would make much difference to users.

This really leads to the bigger question of what exactly libraries are for today. Are they book lending services, are they places for quiet(ish) study, are they a depot for information about local services, or do they offer a place for people otherwise stuck at home – young parents, the less mobile – to have some access to the outside world? The answer of course is that they are all of these things – but different libraries serve different needs.

In thinking about issues such as opening hours, Camden has to make some judgement calls on priorities. Swiss Cottage library, for example, seems to be heavily used by schoolkids and ensuring it’s open for them after school hours might be deemed more important than it being open early for young parents. These are tough choices and will almost certainly vary across the library network, but some smart thinking here could help get close to the savings required while keeping the negative impact as low as possible.

The notion of libraries as community spaces rather than just book depositories could also be taken a step further. This might mean making the library a shared services space. Imagine, for example, if West Hampstead library hosted a drop-in housing clinic at certain times of the week – especially now the housing office on West End Lane is closing. Such cross-departmental coordination is needed during these difficult times, and one hopes that council officers and cabinet members are not too caught up in their own departmental problems to peer over the fence to see what benefits could come from collaboration.

Consultation officially closes on April 4th. The findings should be made public in May and decisions ratified at the council meeting in June.

74 Georgia Avenue at New End Theatre

Academy-award nominated Murray Schisgal’s play is something of an oddity. For a start it’s only 40 minutes long. Daniel Dresner is Marty, a man returning to the home of his Brooklyn youth. Nathan Clough is Joseph, the current tenant of 74 Georgia Avenue and the son of the janitor of the neighbourhood’s old synagogue that Marty’s family used to attend. Over the course of one evening the two men find some common ground through Joseph’s mysterious transformations.

The underlying idea of the play was interesting but the execution and its brevity made it hard to connect with the characters. Dresner, slightly overdoing the De Niro-esque hand wringing, was never entirely convincing until a lengthy speech towards the end. Clough was more believable but as he morphed into ghostly figures from Marty’s past it was hard to suspend disbelief entirely. Some strange lighting changes didn’t help the cause.

While the storyline may appeal to the Jewish community, it proved a little inaccessible for me and the narrative wasn’t given time to evolve and compel me to care about the characters. It would probably work better as a short story but would always be a challenging play to stage.

74 Georgia Avenue is on at the New End Theatre until March 19th

*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket courtesy of the theatre

Wanderers fall under Wizards’ spell once more

The third outing of the NW6 derby game saw league leaders Kilburn Wizards notch up another win although as in the previous encounters, the Wanderers weren’t so far off the pace despite being without player/manager Nick. Matt reports:

Match day 8. Monday 7th March. KO 7.20
West Hampstead Wanderers 4 – 8 Kilburn Wizards

The Wanderers got off to a cracking start applying pressure all over the field. The Wizards struggled to keep the ball and gave away an early penalty which @thomhoffman casually put away, giving the Wanderers an early lead.

The Wanderers were missing some regular defenders and the Wizards were able to carve out a couple of chances against the patched up defence. Had it not been for the exploits of @domchristie in goal we would have gone in to half time with a larger deficit than 2-1.

The second half saw three amazing Wanderers goals. The first was the culmination of an excellent passage of play and a superb finish from @thomhoffman after a wonderpass for his second of the night. The second was a long hit into the bottom corner from @MatthewMargot as was the third by @Talalb01.

Unfortunately in the second half the Wizards scored 5. Very disappointing for the Wanderers, and due to a few lapses in concentration, superior opposition fitness and some dodgy refereeing decisions (including a disallowed Wanderers goal).

Team @DJVectra, @DomChristie, @NWSixDan, @SamWong1, @ThomHoffman (x2), @MatthewMargot (x1), @Talalb01 (x1)

Thom tops the Wanderers’ goal scoring so far this season with 12 goals, followed by Matt on 10

League standings:

Kilburn Wizards          P8 W6 D0 L2 GD +19
The Gym Utd.             P8 W4 D1 L3 GD +10
Abacus Athletic          P8 W3 D2 L3 GD +5
West Hampstead Wanderers P8 W1 D1 L6 GD -34

Iverson Road pavement works

You’ll have noticed that Network Rail’s works on Iverson Road are progressing well. What you may not have yet realised is quite how big an impact the pavement widening is going to have.

I’d seen the plans and noticed the extra space, but if you walk a few yards along and peer over the fence you can see just how wide it will be. Everything right up to the far wall will be pavement. It’s going to be 3-4 times as wide again as the existing pavement. This picture taken from up against the current fence line doesn’t really do it justice.

This whole space – which will be owned by Network Rail – will (at least outside of rush hour) become a rather pleasant open area, almost like a mini town square. It should vastly improve the whole environment at the junction (good news for Ladudu opening across the road on West End Lane).

It is also now possible to see just how big the new cut corner is going to be – again hard to capture on camera, but worth noticing next time you walk past from the tube direction. All the space you see will be pavement. This section is owned by Camden, but hopefully the whole unified area can be used for hosting small events (Christmas market, carol singing, community stalls), and preferably not as a hangout for chuggers.

This should be a very positive change to West Hampstead’s streetscape as well as improving the pedestrian flows between the stations. Hurrah.

Read more on the various roadworks on West End Lane.

Wanderers continue to prop up the table

Another week, another match. The Wanderers were facing Abacus Athletic once again in the league. Would the team be able to restore some pride after last week’s drubbing. Dan reports.

Match day 7. Monday 28th February. KO 6.30
West Hampstead Wanderers 5 – 11 Abacus Athletic

After last week’s resounding defeat at the hands – and feet – of Gym United, the Wanderers were determined to get a positive result against Abacus Athletic. A positive opening period saw the Wanderers take the lead, with an early goal from @MatthewMargot.

For 10 whole minutes, the West Hampstead side looked genuinely good. The passing was slick, despite a wet and skiddy surface, the defense was strong and physical, and @Martin_Tse pulled off some spectacular diving saves in goal.

But then it all went down hill. Abacus scored an equaliser, and then took the lead. The Wanderers players’ heads went down, and three more Abacus goals followed. At half time, the Wanderers were 5-1 behind.

At this stage a comeback was still on the cards. The Wanderers were playing some good attacking football, and working hard off the ball. But for large periods, Abacus simply outplayed them.

Second half goals came from @ThomHoffman and @NWSixDan, and @MatthewMargot deservedly completed a hat trick, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap. Final score: West Hampstead 5, Abacus 11.

It was a fair result on the night – Abacus were definitely the better side – but there were plenty of positives to draw from the Wanderers’ performance. Next week, West Hampstead take on the table-topping Kilburn Wizards in what will be another tough game. But in this crazy old league, anything can happen.

League standings:

Kilburn Wizards          P7 W5 D0 L2 GD +15
The Gym Utd.             P7 W4 D0 L3 GD +10
Abacus Athletic          P7 W3 D1 L3 GD +5
West Hampstead Wanderers P7 W1 D1 L5 GD -30

Dan also interviewed Wanderers’ player/manager @NickHudgell who dissects the team’s performance and prospects for the rest of the season.

Video streaming by Ustream

Still Life at Pentameters Theatre: review

Pentameters Theatre (the little one above The Horseshoe pub in Hampstead) has a Noël Coward double-bill on at the moment. In 1935, Coward penned a series of short plays in a series called “Tonight at 8.30” and two of them – Red Peppers and the more famous Still Life – are directed by Aline Lewis in the intimate theatre.

Red Peppers, the first and shorter of the two, combines music hall revue tunes with backstage carping as the married couple who are the Red Peppers bicker with each other, the musical director and the theatre manager in an entertaining half hour of banter. It’s a very light piece, but enjoyably funny – if perhaps a bit shouty in this production, especially given the proximity of the audience.

After a short interval (aka pop back to the pub), we are treated to Still Life. This one-act play is better known these days as Brief Encounter – David Lean’s film for which Coward wrote the screenplay, extending this original work. The story is simple enough – we see the growing complicated romantic affair between housewife Laura and local married doctor Alec, which is contrasted with the straightforward flirting between Albert and Myrtle who both work at the train station where all the action is set.

The play works well on this small stage. The two lead actresses, Fiona Graham (Laura) and Déirdra Whelan (Myrtle), are especially good. The play suffers from Alec’s dialogue becoming a little stilted as the play progresses and this felt even more awkward in the hands of Elliot James. He simply looks too young for the role and, while Fiona Graham’s portrayal of Laura exuded the mix of guilt and passion it needed, the chemistry between her and James was lacking – his performance never quite finding the balance between repressed emotion nor unadulterated lust. He is, fittingly, at his best in the poignant final scene, which captures the transient nature of the whole affair rather well. The play would also benefit from more sense of how time moves on from one scene to the next, which would also help reinforce the depth of feeling the two protagonists have for each other.

After my last negative review of a Pentameters’ production, I’m delighted to say that this was an evening well spent. It’s not challenging or demanding theatre – it’s Noël Coward after all – but a very enjoyable local night out that will have you tucked up well before bedtime dreaming of bath buns, milky tea, and the vagaries of love.

Red Peppers & Still Life runs until March 13th at Pentameters Theatre.
Ring the box office on 020 7435 3648
*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket courtesy of the theatre

Charitable thoughts

Cancer Research UK is looking to form a fundraising group in this area but needs your help. As a Fundraising Group, you would decide to organise what fundraising events you want, how often you want them and you will be supported by Cancer Research UK every step of the way. It might be a gala ball, a dog walk, an abseil, a quiz night, a bike ride event, a golf day or a lunch party – whatever it is, it can be a great way to have some fun while raising money to fight cancer.

If you would like to get involved, or find out more details please contact Sophie at or visit the website.

Black Monday for Wanderers

It was another outing against The Gym Utd for West Hampstead Wanderers last night. A couple of tweets after the match suggested things hadn’t gone the Wanderers’ way. Nick reports:

Match day 6. Monday 21st February. KO 7.20
West Hampstead Wanderers 2 – 17 The Gym Utd

With previous outings against the Gym Utd being close battles that had gone both ways, the expectation for last night’s game was high.

As the saying goes, “great expectation can bring great failure”* and it did. For whatever reason the Wanderers failed to string anything together that would even resemble football – in attack, midfield and defense, the football was lacking.

Despite goals either side of half time by @MatthewMargot and @NWSixDan, which spared some blushes, the Wanderers could not stop the goals from leaking in, and failed to get anything back for themselves.

As a result, and to sum up: last night we got beat. Bad.

We’re half way through the league, and there is time to pick up more points. So we’ll scratch last night as a bad night at the office – and move onwards (and upwards?).

* quite possibly not a ‘saying’.

 [Ed: notable that the table-topping Kilburn Wizards also lost yesterday, so was clearly a strange night]

League standings:

Kilburn Wizards          P6 W5 D0 L1 GD +18
The Gym Utd.             P6 W3 D0 L3 GD +7
Abacus Athletic          P6 W2 D1 L3 GD -1
West Hampstead Wanderers P6 W1 D1 L4 GD -24

V for Valentine’s not Victory in the NW6 derby

Derby day again in the 6-a-side league as the Wanderers took on top of the table Kilburn Wizards on a cold February 14th evening. David reports:

Match day 5. Monday 14th February. KO 7.20
West Hampstead Wanderers 3 – 8 Kilburn Wizards

This didn’t turn out to be the Valentine’s Day massacre that many feared – just a solid, if unspectacular defeat. It featured a brave performance from a Wanderers’ team shorn of a few key players by the commercial nonsense lovely occasion that is Feb 14th. @Martin_Tse made a welcome return to the backline to marshal the defence, but the Wizards were on good form, moving the ball quickly and effectively and lived up to their billing as league leaders. @NickHudgell ’s energy was rewarded with a cheeky goal in the first half and @Talalb01 used his cannon of a right foot to score a couple of nicely taken goals. The Wizards were only 5-2 up at half time but, by scoring first in the second half, they took control of the game and never let the Wanderers have a sniff of victory.

The post-game debate centred on appropriate fines for @NW6Dan and @ThomHoffman for being “missing in love”… all suggestions welcome. Fines will also be introduced for every time @TimCheese incorrectly rolls the ball back into play – it is becoming a weekly ritual, as predictable as a Paul Scholes booking. Man of the match for the Wanderers was once again @DJVectra, who finds new parts of his body to make flying saves with every week, and continues to showcase his wide range of replica shirts.

The Wanderers are a much better team than when we first played together – more cohesive, skilful and committed – and continue to enjoy the Monday night local league.

Team: @NickHudgell (1 x goal), @Talalb01 (2 x goals), @TimCheese, @DomChristie, @SamWong1, @DJVectra, @Martin_Tse, @oneDavidLewy

League standings:

Kilburn Wizards          P5 W5 D0 L0 GD +19
The Gym Utd.             P5 W2 D0 L3 GD -8
Abacus Athletic          P5 W1 D1 L3 GD -2
West Hampstead Wanderers P5 W1 D1 L3 GD -9

Wanderers rack up a point against Abacus

Monday night is football night here in NW6, and this week’s clash saw the West Hampstead Wanderers take on Abacus Athletic in a rematch of the first game of the season, which the Wanderers lost 7-11. But in a rich vein of form, could they steal the points in the reverse fixture. Dan reports:

Match day 4. Monday 7th February. KO 6.30
West Hampstead Wanderers 9 – 9 Abacus Athletic

When Newcastle United came back against Arsenal from 4-0 down at half-time last weekend to eek out a 4-4 draw, many pundits thought that a more impressive comeback, and a more emphatic capitulation, could not be repeated. Not in our lifetimes, at any rate.

But last night, in a thrilling goal-fest at the Home of Football – Fortune Green play centre – the West Hampstead Wanderers faced an Abacus Athletic side with all the spirit, grit and determination to rewrite the history blogs.

The Wanderers took an early lead after @Talalb01 surprised the Abacus keeper with a long-range effort. The “Mathematicians” equalised, but the Wanderers, brimming with confidence and playing the kind of tiki-taka football that would have Lionel Messi salivating, kept their heads and kept scoring. This reporter’s memory isn’t what it used to be, but the score was somewhere in the region of 5-3 as half-time approached.

Abacus did brilliantly to close the gap, and if not for some outstanding keeping by @DJVectra in the West Hampstead goal, may well have taken the lead. Thankfully, superb goals from @ThomHoffman, @DomChristie and @Talalb01 meant that the Wanderers always had their noses in front.

A close-fought and well-deserved 9-8 victory looked to be a certainty but, with what would turn out to be the very last kick of the game, one of the Abacus players completed a great solo run and shot into the bottom corner of @DJVectra’s goal.

Final score: 9-9. Another strong performance from West Hampstead Wanderers, who really do seem to be going from strength to strength. It’s a long season – and a game of two halves, etc – and there’s still all to play for.

Goal Scorers:
@ThomHoffman x2, @Talalb01 x2, @DomChristie x2, @MatthewMargot, @NickHudgell, @NWSixDan

League standings:

Kilburn Wizards          P4 W4 D0 L0 GD +14
Abacus Athletic          P4 W1 D1 L2 GD -1
West Hampstead Wanderers P4 W1 D1 L2 GD -4
The Gym Utd.             P4 W1 D0 L3 GD -9

West Hampstead & Fortune Green Area Forum report

Monday night saw the latest area forum for the combined wards of West Hampstead and Fortune Green. Maygrove Road resident Matt went along to find out more:
About 75 people braved a chilly February evening to attend this month’s area forum. Through some geographical anomaly Maygrove Road counts as Fortune Green, so this was a good opportunity for me to meet my councillors and find a little about what’s going on in the local area.
Keith Moffitt introduced five of the six councillors for the two wards (Gillian Risso-Gill is on holiday in Antarctica!) before handing the floor to Theo Blackwell, council cabinet member for resources (i.e., Finance), for the first 45 minutes or so.
Theo’s brief cannot be an easy one in the current climate. His role was to outline where and how Camden would need to cut services in order to balance the books. Whilst the figures are sobering, Theo was keen to point out Camden had historically provided “over and above” what is required by law. This will hopefully mean that, even after the cuts, we get more from our council than some of our neighbours.
Theo first explained where the money comes from. I was surprised to learn only 11% of Camden’s income comes from council tax, with a massive 70% coming from central government in one form or another. It’s this central funding that’s being heavily cut in the coming years. Over three years there is a budget gap of £80-100 million. To put that in perspective, this could be plugged by a rise in council tax – a rise of 35%.
This is obviously not going to happen, so the alternative is spending cuts. Camden thinks efficiency savings can cover about half of the deficit. This includes around 1,000 council jobs, which puts a bit more of a human face on the word ‘efficiency’. A few more pennies can be raised by increased fees. Motorists have already been bled pretty dry, but things such as planning applications for large houses or removal of washing machines will start to cost a little more.
It’s at this point when the cuts will really start to bite, and this was where the attendees started to make their voices heard. There was some good debate on the balance between preventative and reactive services: cut £10,000 on home visits to the elderly and you might spend £20,000 on extra A&E admissions.
The take home point was that Camden is consulting on the spending cuts and it’s important to contribute to the debate. The older age demographic at the meeting made me wonder if younger adults will lose out in this debate. Age Concern reps spoke several times at the meeting and are clearly well-organised at getting their points across. Do the 20- and 30-somethings have anything similar? Anyway, if you have some views, get on the website.
The £80-100m is just the spending gap for Camden’s operating costs. Capital spending is a bit of a car crash too. Camden lost out to the tune of £200m with the scrapping of Building Schools for the Future (BSF) funding for new schools projects. Whilst Camden owns about £3.4bn of property, most of this is housing stock. The Council is reviewing how some property assets can be utilised to release funds for new capital schemes.
We then heard a little about what Keith Moffitt calls the ‘jigsaw’. This is a range of building and infrastructure projects around Mill Lane and Emmanuel School. Much of this was over my head (coming from the other side of the ward), but what was clear is just how complicated these interconnected projects are. Problems with one affect all the others, so it’s important that our councillors take an overview of the whole area, particularly as it seems that a different council officer is responsible for each individual project.
Next, a planning officer gave a presentation on the Blackburn Road development. In short, nine floors, residential accommodation for 347 students (University of Westminster), and six business units (probably workshops). Much was made of the safeguards for the area (such as no car-parking for the students), but many were worried about the impact of construction works on an already congested road that is a vital thoroughfare for pedestrians down to the O2. The developer is paying c£500,000 in “Section 106 monies” (which will be spent by the council on offsetting the impact of the development), but the student accommodation will bring in nothing in council tax revenue. However, perhaps it will provide a useful shot in the arm to the shops on West End Lane. As long as the students don’t overcrowd the Lower Ground Bar…
Flick Rea then talked about the library consultation, which had launched earlier in the day. Camden is looking for £2 million in savings, which means either closing libraries, or reducing opening hours across the board by up to 50%. Flick felt the consultation was unimaginative and did not even consider things such as library sharing across boroughs (Kilburn library for example sits on the boundary of Camden, Brent and Westminster boroughs). There was widespread horror that the council had paid a private contractor £25,000 to draw up a simple consultation document. I’d have done it myself for £10k!
Finally we heard from the chair of Friends of Fortune Green. Since the Sager building (think Tesco Express and Gym Group) went up, the residents have got together to make sure their voice is heard, but also to improve their local community. Some modest National Lottery grants, together with some free labour from Community Payback has meant that lots of painting and planting has been happening on the green. They are currently looking at improving the play areas to keep things interesting for the over-5s. Bravo.
Whether the council listens to us on all the current consultations remains to be seen. But it is at least consulting on lots of things at the moment. Please do make your views known, if only so that we can have a good moan on Twitter if we’re all ignored!

Wanderers win as Hoffman bags five

Before the season re-started, The West Hampstead Wanderers had played The Gym United. It was the team’s first competitive match and they lost. Quite badly. Now, with the league properly underway and the Wanderers’ form improving with every game, it was time for a rematch. Thom Hoffman reports.

Matchday 3. Monday 31st January. KO 6.30
West Hampstead Wanderers 5 – 2 The Gym Utd.

A solid start to the match saw a series of tight exchanges between the two teams. Hard running from the Wanderers made it very tough for the Gym Utd, who were restricted to a few long-range chances. Eventually the ball broke for @nickhudgell who played a great pass to @thomhoffman who slotted home the first goal of the match. The Gym Utd chased back and made it 1-1 after good work from their big striker who had been the thorn in the Wanderers’ side in the previous encounter. The Wanderers’ defence had learned from that however, and changed tactics – not committing too close and making it hard for TGU to play where they wanted. The Wanderers were playing some superb passing football, with the rock solid @timcheese breaking from the back and providing options on the wing. A sneaky one-two with a TGU defender allowed @thomhoffman to make it 2-1, and solid defence kept the scores that way until half time.

The second half started with TGU on the up and only some unbelievable goalkeeping by @DJVectra kept them out. Eventually though, they found some space and the game was level once again. @thomhoffman slipped back on the pitch and managed to nick a goal after a good pass from the throw in. Back in the lead again, the Wanderers began to ‘pass and move super smooth’ like an Anfield Rap instructed behemoth. Great performances all around the pitch and a 100% work rate made it impossible for TGU to get back in the game. @thomhoffman nicked a couple more to end up with five goals. The United keeper worked hard all night, and kept out many shots from almost all the Wanderers – the final score could have been a lot more.

Team: @NickHudgell, @nwsixDan, @ThomHoffman, @MatthewMargot, @DomChristie, @Talalb01, @TimCheese, @DJVectra

Goal scorers: @thomhoffman x 5

League standings:

Kilburn Wizards          P3 W3 D0 L0 GD +8
Abacus Athletic          P3 W1 D0 L2 GD -1
The Gym Utd              P3 W1 D0 L2 GD -3
West Hampstead Wanderers P3 W1 D0 L2 GD -4

Wizards cast a spell on Wanderers

Matchday 2 of the 6-a-side season was a close-fought NW6 derby game as the West Hampstead Wanderers took on the Kilburn Wizards. Sadly the Wanderers couldn’t find enough tricks to unlock the Wizards’ defence. Dom Christie reports:

Match day 2. Monday 24th January. KO 6.30
West Hampstead Wanderers 3 – 6 Kilburn Wizards

West Hampstead Wanderers had a near-full squad available ahead of the game against the unbeaten Kilburn Wizards. @timcheese was forced to pull out thanks to “British Rail” while @martin_tse replaced the injured @djvectra between the posts. @thomhoffman and @nwsixdan were back from trials at (or “trips to”)  Barcelona, and went straight into the starting lineup.

The Wanderers kept it tight from the start, and eventually took a well-deserved lead mid-way through the first half thanks to @thomhoffman. This good form continued with some superb saves from @martin_tse, but the Wanderers couldn’t quite hold out and, on the stroke of half-time, the Wizards levelled.
It was the first time the Wanderers hadn’t headed off for half-time oranges trailing their opponents, so optimism was high. The second half was feisty, and the Wizards were getting away with some pretty aggressive slide tackles. The quick tempo saw them slot home three quick goals and suddenly the Wanderers found themselves 4-1 down.

The referee sin-binned Wanderers’ @onedavidlewy midway through the second half, and appeared to do the same to a Wizards’ player a few minutes later; but the Wizard – clearly deploying some cunning mind spell – played on regardless. Despite being a man down, the Wanderers plugged away with @MatthewMargot scoring a second and @thomhoffman getting his second and the Wanderers third. Unfortunately the Wizards had two more tricks up their collective sleeve and also scored twice. Final score: 6-3 to the Wizards.

The Wizards are top of the league, but once again the Wanderers’ improved on their previous week’s performance. There’s a long way to go in this campaign, and you can be sure that next time the two teams meet the Wanderers will be highly motivated to pull the rabbit out of the proverbial and turn the tables on their tricky opponents.

@NickHudgell, @Martin_Tse, @nwsixDan, @ThomHoffman, @SamWong1, @oneDavidLewy, @MatthewMargot, @DomChristie, @Talalb01

Goal scorers:
@thomhoffman x 2

League standings:

Kilburn Wizards          P2 W2 D0 L0 GD +6
Abacus Athletic          P2 W1 D0 L1 GD +1
The Gym Utd              P2 W1 D0 L1 GD 0
West Hampstead Wanderers P2 W0 D0 L2 GD -7

small hours at Hampstead Theatre – review

small hours is different. It would be as at home at Tate Modern as it is in the Hampstead Theatre’s Michael Frayn space. Indeed as the small audience (restricted to just 25 per performance) assembled in a hallway, we were told this was an “installation”. We were then asked to remove our shoes.

The play, directed by the sometimes divisve Katie Mitchell, takes place in a closed off large living room. The audience sits around the sides of the room on furniture; the atmosphere is intensely claustrophobic. Over the course of the hour there is almost no dialogue, but the play is far from silent. There is a palpable sense of the uncomfortable as actress Sandy McDade paces around the room confronting her inner demons. The interruptions come at first from the radio and then a phone ringing that makes everyone jump. Then we hear a baby crying.

As we move through the small hours of the night, the room becomes filled with noise to drown out the crying child. Nigella’s perfect life blares from the TV, the vacuum cleaner hums and, finally, music is cranked up high as the woman seems to force herself into a series of trance-like states. She checks on the child once or twice; then the dawn chorus begins and a new day begins.

This work by Lucy Kirkwood Ed Hime is a play wthout drama – it creates a mood but does little with it. There are references to all the (en)trappings of many women’s lives: children, husbands, mothers, cleaning, cooking, make-up. But empathy is hard to come by with such a stark production and a performance that switches strangely from the naturalistic to the stylised.

I’m glad I saw small hours, but wouldn’t choose to see it again and would recommend it only to people who are prepared for something a little unconventional and deliberately lacking in exposition. I found it intellectually interesting but not especially stimulating.

small hours is now playing at Hampstead Theatre until Feb 19th
Book tickets

Wanderers start the season (again)

Another Monday, another first match of the season. As the league began again, the Wanderers were able to wipe the memories of last week’s defeat and start afresh with a match against Abacus Athletic. Matthew Margot reports

Match day 1. Monday 17th January. KO 6.30
West Hampstead Wanderers 7 – 11 Abacus Athletic
West Hampstead Wanderers second first game of the season was against Abacus Athletic. The league format had undergone a slight reshuffle with a team dropping out and the games changing to six-a-side.
The Wanderers started slowly conceding an early penalty. Abacus were moving the ball quickly and their superior fitness was on display in the early stages of the game. A couple more goals from Abacus saw the Wanderers trailing 3-0.
The Wanderers had the advantage of three subs and brought on some fresh legs. @Talalb01 scored a tidy goal and the comeback was on. @MatthewMargot also added a goal with a mishit left foot volley but with halftime approaching Abacus added a few more goals and the score going into halftime was either 5-2, 6-2 or 7-2. Without @DJVectra’s excellent goalkeeping it could have been much worse.
Following an encouraging team talk from the captain/manager/player @NickHudgell with instructions to press further up the pitch, pass the ball quickly and shoot on sight the Wanderers returned to the pitch.
The second half started well with the Wanderers dictating the play. @TimCheese and @Martin_Tse were strong at the back and @SamWong1 and @DomChristie were pulling the strings in midfield. The instruction to shoot on sight meant shots were flying in from all over the place and it wasn’t long until @Martin_Tse had a long ranger fly in courtesy of a massive deflection. @Talalb01 added his second of the night with a good shot from range and then @MatthewMargot scored from the edge of the box. The deficit had been reduced and the score was 7-5.
The Wanderers were pushing for more goals but unfortunately got caught on the break a couple of times by Abacus. @oneDavidLewy added one for the Wanderers from long range and with the clock running down @MatthewMargot completed his hat trick following in on a rebound but it was not enough to complete the comeback. Final score 11-7.
In summary it was a very good second half performance. The Wanderers grew as the match went on adapted to the conditions and style of play required, with more time the game could have been levelled. The extra three subs probably helped a little.
Goal Scorers:

Tough first outing for West Hampstead Wanderers

Yesterday, the newly formed West Hampstead Wanderers kicked off their season in the Hampstead 7evens League with a game against The Gym United. Player/manager Nick Hudgell reports:

Match day 1. Monday 10th January. KO 7.15.
The Gym United 10-4 West Hampstead Wanderers
The first game of a new season, let alone for a new team is always hard. The Wanderers took to a cold and dark Fortune Green Playcentre for their first ever 7-a-side game against the ominously named ‘The Gym United’. Despite a slight delay while the floodlights went off and the Wanderers practiced some 1-touch in the dark to hone their skills, the game started fairly promptly at 7.15pm, a light drizzle making the ball move quickly across the surface.
The Wanderers, used to playing on the more spacious Fortune Green park, started slow but, despite some early pressure from TGU, they opened the score sheet. The goal will undoubtedly go before the dubious goals committee, but was claimed at the time by @nwsixdan. The lead was short-lived as the red-clad Wanderers conceded a penalty that was swiftly converted to bring TGU level. 
The Wanderers regrouped and quickly got back into their stride with a goal from @Talalb01 to go 2-1 up, but under sustained pressure from TGU the Wanderers lead couldn’t last for long. TGU’s main player (and league organiser) showed some impressive striking ability and a flurry of goals put them quickly into the lead despite some superb efforts from @DJVectra in the Wanderers’ goal. Thankfully, before the half was up, a sloppy pass across the goal from TGU’s defence allowed @nickhudgell to steal in and grab a goal – a lifeline on the stroke of half time.
A second half “impact substitution” brought on a flu-riddled @thomhoffman, but even operating on just one lung, he gave the Wanderers a bit of pace, some more movement, and put TGU on the back foot. However with only one more Wanderers goal from @nickhudgell, and a couple more from TGU – the final whistle blew with the score 10–4 to The Gym United.
If the game had gone on longer, the Wanderers could have come back into it. They learned and adapted as the game went on. The team certainly learned a few lessons, but also took away a lot of positives, with some fantastic individual performances from @samwong1 and in goal from @DJVectra and @Martin_Tse.
Thanks to Chris from @TheRailwayNW6 for a meal-deal offer that was taken up by four of the team – a good way to end the day.

The next match date will be announced very soon.

What will happen in 2011?

Happy New Year!

So here we are in 2011, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. But what does the next 12 months hold in store? Rather than speculate wildly I thought I’d ask my Twitter followers to speculate wildly instead. And they didn’t disappoint.

Here’s what some of you think will happen this year. You’re a sardonic bunch aren’t you (it’s why I love you).

Unsurprisingly, the tubes and trains were popular topics.

@RandomCarlos Jubilee Line will be converted into a moving walkway so we can get into town more quickly
@simontreanor the Jubilee line will often be closed on weekends. It’s a long shot, I know
@mermayden the Jubilee line will be closed entirely until the Olympics. So NOT a long shot.
@gitfinger the Jubilee Line will be shut most weekends all year. 🙁
@Sparklegirl21 They actually build something at the Thameslink station instead of playing with their diggers
@mermayden They build a tunnel from the Thameslink to the Jubilee line. It takes three weeks with no disruption to the local folk.
@David_Stringer One weekend, just one, the tubes AND overground will both work
@Warmachine450 The new Metropolitan line trains will be fitted with extra seats instead of the current design of less seats more standing

Am disappointed though that no-one predicted Boris Bikes arriving in West Hampstead (or us getting our own hyperlocal bike hire scheme), or a new shuttle bus service that connected Kilburn, West Hampstead and Hampstead Heath. Your ambitions were greater, however:
@blueskyflowers Mill Lane gets pedestrianised!
@PrioryTavern Belsize Road actually gets cleaned and the traffic wardens move office…
@fac203: #whampers will finally get an international airport…we do need an international airport…
And the most plausible prediction of all:
@aktaraja Roadworks/gasworks/electrical works on WEL

The imminent arrival of a Sainsbury’s Local on West End Lane inspired many of you to foresee a dystopian retail future – and in many cases to rebel against it.

@daveeeeeed Waitrose, Morrisons, Asda open up small branches in the plots between Sainsburys Local & Tesco Metro on WEL
@Daljit_Bhurji Atlanta Food & Wine becomes a Waitrose Local
@RandomCarlos The combined effect of both Tesco and Saunsbury delivery vans will cause National gridlock.
@mermayden I predict that the residents of West Hampstead will go postal on WEL Tesco’s arse and it will be forced to close.
@blakeconnolly We’ll all go to the new Sainsburys and ignore Tescos (everyone I know has a bad story about that place!)
@thepickyfoodie how about we ignore them all & support local shops instead?
@churchnw6 Locals successfully boycott the evil Tesco & Sainsbury Local and save local shops. WHamp flourishes again.

No-one mentioned the rumour that M&S has been sniffing around the Pizza Express site (long-time readers may remember that Pizza Express categorically denied that they were looking to offload the WEL restaurant when I asked them about it early last year). Mind you, in these straightened times, maybe we should be thinking more downmarket than Marks & Spencer’s

@marmitetoast Pound shop WARS in Kilburn when someone undercuts the 98p shop with a 97p shop
@Cyburn maybe a £1 shop will open in west hampstead or maybe a £2 shop which will be more posh.

Of course, 2011 can’t be all about supermarkets – what about the rest of the retail sector?

@marmitetoast More estate agents in West Hampstead; more bookmakers in Kilburn
@flyperson The number of local estate-agents will be eclipsed by that of coiffeurs.
[self-promotion alert] @RentalflatsNW6 We shall build on our core business and continue to offer a superb service for our current and new landlords in 2011
@giornalista1 After being shut for about 4 yrs, The Flower Mill on Mill Lane finally reopens – as a fabulous shoe shop
@bobbymann the new ‘mens’ hair and beauty salon that is due to open next to the station will shut down…
@netinyahoo I see Lately’s becoming a super club and taking over the parade of shops it is in!
@ichaloner I predict that Achillea Flowers will provide the flowers for at least 10 celebrity weddings
@leonora1 I will finally open my own craft shop!
@CharlieSnow Foxtons in Willesden Green fixes its window and then it gets broken again, and again and again.
@giornalista1 A shop opens on Willesden High Rd that doesn’t do fried chicken or payday loans.

Food & Drink
Despite it being a tough climate for the restaurant industry, you were relatively sanguine about how West Hampstead would fare with its fayre. With one notable exception:

@nickhudgell glo gets let to a mexican burrito joint.
@sblower ShakeTastic will produce a drink mixing peanut butter with fruit, and… roast veg.
@RandomCarlos The Indian takeaway by Oddbins will offer chicken curry & rice as ‘special of the day’… every day.
@gitfinger The restaurant formerly known as Le Petit Coin closes and reopens under a new guise. Twice.

Culture (sort of)
Sadly, no-one predicted that anything would take the place of The Luminaire, nor that a bunch of aspiring part-time actors would get together to form a WhamDram group.

@BBetter 30% of the residents will understand that hiphop is a culture and lifestyle, not just a music / dance etc. :o)
@gitfinger someone who has appeared on Dr Who moves to West Hampstead
@cathusmax Blue plaque for former resident Stephen Fry ‘s house? *it is the sleb centre of London REALLY*
@gitfinger West Hamstead library stays open! YAY!

Out of the blue
Some of you were less beholden to the traditional concerns of locals and came up with some good predictions for life in general

@mermayden Chloe Madeley and Ken Livingstone bond over a Starbucks latte and get it on.
@JessOutGirl A Whamp baby or wedding
[both subsequently confirmed before 2010 was even over]
@chinmj Official pronunciation of Kilburn to be confirmed as ‘west-‘hamp-‘sted
@trintrax 2011 snow will be just as slippery

The best predictions for 2011
As the WHampstead 7-a-side team gets going, the team is optimistic

@nickhudgell I predict that #whampkick team win the league..
@SamWong1 West Hampstead Wanderers to win the league, then get bought by an arab billionaire.

It will be 10 years since 9/11, and Osama bin Laden is still in hiding….

@DanDrillsma Bin Laden found directing global operations from the back room at Lower Ground Bar…
@Moyasarner …but no-one would ever know – What happens in Lower Ground Bar… *chorus sings* “Stays in Lower Ground Bar”

But my favourite prediction for 2011 goes to @Lewis_Hill

“I predict that getting punched or groped inside the Brondes Age will be re-named a “Kilburn Cuddle””

So, see you here in 12 months time to see what came true and what… er… didn’t.

Big WHamp Quiz of the Year

It’s been a good year for the blog and Twitter and the WHamp community generally. We’ve had lots of meet-ups over dinner, drinks and even our first picnic. The blog was mentioned a couple of times in The Guardian and I was the only non-mainstream media person allowed to the Hampstead & Kilburn election count in May.

We had to say goodbye to some of those who attended the very first whampgather (of which there have now been five!), although they will always remain honorary locals. Even Stephen Fry has left the neighbourhood. But many new friends have appeared, and there should be plenty more chances to get to know your neighbours in 2011. Look out for all your predictions in tomorrow’s New Year’s Day blog.

Back to this year, and rather than try and do a review of 2010, I thought I’d set you all a short (and very easy) quiz. No prizes, it’s quite lidderally “just a bit of fun”. Thank you for all your support over the past 12 months – West Hampstead Life and @WHampstead would be pointless without you all.

1. How many times did Boris Johnson visit West Hampstead during the election campaign?
A. Boris who?
B. They were only reported sightings. There was never any proof
C. Twice
D. We couldn’t get rid of him

2. Which of these is a genuine cocktail at the Betsy Smith?
A. Honey-roast parsnip shaken with caramelised red onion relish. El Jimador tequila, rhubarb liqueur, lemon and apple juice. Served with dolcelatte cheese garnish
B. Turkey breast puree blended into rosemary-infused cranberry juice and Grey Goose vodka. Served with a salt-encrusted sage leaf
C. Tomato juice, apricot essence, chipotle powder and celery salt muddled with Hendricks gin and vermouth. Served with a cheeky grin and a star anise
D. Warmed champagne and pineapple juice poured over three cherries soaked in Angostura bitters. Served with a forest fruits brochette

3. Election question a) What was the name of Tamsin Omond’s political party?
A. Creative Commons
B. Common Sense
C. Common Ground
D. The Commons

4. Election question b) What was Glenda Jackson’s winning margin over Chris Philp?
A. 4
B. 40
C. 42
D. 440

5. Who bowled the first ball in the Hampstead CC charity cricket match?
A. Emma Thompson
B. Jim Carter
C. Imelda Staunton
D. Daniel Radcliffe

6. Which popular local live music venue announced it was closing?

A. The Good Ship
B. Powers
C. Sir Colin Campbell
D. The Luminaire

7. What event opened up the Kilburn State to the public for the first time in several years?

A. The Pope’s visit to Kilburn
B. OxjamKilburn’s fashion show
C. Ruach Ministries Bring & Buy sale
D. General election hustings

8. Which restaurant did the whampreview gang rate highest overall in 2010?

A. The Green Room
B. The Wet Fish Café
C. Walnut
D. The Rotisserie

9. What have locals found slightly peculiar about new cafe Senses?

A. The staff speak only Magyar
B. They don’t allow pushchairs
C. The furniture is all for sale
D. There’s a mannequin in the window

10. Which children’s author was the first recipient of a green plaque in Kilburn?

A. Richmal Crompton
B. A.A. Milne
C. Kenneth Grahame
D. Alison Uttley

Final score:
0-3 Pay more attention in class
4-6 Unremarkable
7-9 You’re a keen whamper
10 You need to get out more

Thank you and good night.

Baby it’s cold outside

So, don’t know whether any of you noticed, but there’s been a light sprinkling of snow in NW6 over the past couple of days.

How do you think the council, TfL, and other public bodies have coped? Was enough done in advance? Was there enough grit? Have they reacted fast enough given the sudden dumping of a few inches in just a couple of hours? What else could have been done given financial constraints (remembering that despite snow in London over the past couple of years, it has been a relatively rare occurrence in the last decade or so)?

Let me know your experiences and your constructive thoughts for what could be done differently.

Remember to visit Camden’s winter pages for up-to-date information on services. And here’s an article from the BBC that gets behind the myth that the rest of Europe always copes better than we do.

Tonight I’m going to party like it’s 2011

I know, I know, it’s not even Christmas yet, but some of you lovely people want to know what excitement is on offer on New Year’s Eve in the neighbourhood. And who am I to stand between you and a continuation of your borderline alocholism.

In West Hampstead, The Gallery is having an 80s themed party. “Think ‘Back to The Future’, neon spandex, sweat bands, big hair and classic tunes!” Sounds more like a Fame tribute party to me. But remember people, “Fame costs, and right here’s where you start paying”. £20 to be precise (+ booking fee if you buy via View London).

Sister bar The Alice House is having a Masquerade Ball. “The venue will be styled with a traditional Victorian theme, cupcakes, masks, prizes at midnight, DJs and an early breakfast.” Tickets for this one are a slightly eye-watering £22 – the excitement kicks off at 9.30pm and goes ’til 4am.
The Mill Lane Bistro is having its first ever New Year’s Eve party. “There will be live performances, music, drinks and lots of dancing!” The bistro promises large discounts on drinks and “lots of punch”. Tickets bought in advance (£8) include a free drink and the chance to win a bottle of champagne. E-mail . Or pay £12 on the door (no drink included).

Over in Kilburn, The Good Ship has its annual ‘don’t rip off the punters’ New Years Eve Party. Doors open at 7.30pm and DJs Robot & Dinosauro will see you through the new year with “a delicious feast of best of 2010, indie dance extravaganza, post-modern new wave romance, some dirty, filthy electro madness and club classics you forgot you loved.” Entry is £5 in advance, £7 on the night (although it usually sells out in advance). Email to reserve tickets.

The Betsy Smith lives up to its slightly kooky image with Cirque de la Nuit. “Expect acrobatic mixology and fantastical feats by performers including Caged Lions and Tiger Dancers as well as the most weirdest and wonderful clown interludes.” There are 2-for-1 cocktails (7-9pm), dance floor favourites from guest DJ Final Conflict and a 4am licence. Tickets are £10 in advance but £20 on the night.

The North London Tavern is holding a Mad Hatters Dinner Party with Mock Turtle soup, Queen of Hearts Tart, a White Rabbit terrine, Warm Pigs Belly & Roast Dodo. Bookings on 0207 625 6634 or . Prizes for best costume and the bar is open until 2am. There’s a cover charge on the door for non-diners, but no tickets are available in advance. Am finding out the cost [watch this space]

The Westbury hosts “The Nextmen with their up-tempo, hip hop beats. Four hands, four decks, four times the fun! Assisting in the musical mash-up will be DJ Vadim with his eclectic vibe, enlisted by the talents of The Westbury’s favourite residents.” Doors open at 8pm, but get there any time before 9.30pm for a free cocktail. Buy your £20 tickets here.

Anything I’ve missed, please add into the comments, or mail me.

Review: The Nutcracker at Pentameters Theatre

This was my first time at Hampstead’s smallest theatre. Pentameters is a tiny space with about 50 seats, accessed from some narrow stairs behind The Horseshoe pub on Heath Street. The stage is surprisingly big and, for this adaptation of The Nutcracker, creatively adorned.

Purists expecting a faithful rendition of Tchaikovsky’s ballet are in for a shock. Theatre company Butterfly Wheels has developed a slightly sinister adaptation of the classic story in which a child’s Christmas reality and fantasy collide. Unfortunately, the execution does not live up to the creative ambition.

Aside from the instantly recognisable Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (who is portrayed as some gilded homage to the Maschinenmensch in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis), the music veers to the contemporary. At times this lends the whole production the feel of a German high school’s attempt at rock opera. And not entirely in a good way.

The story itself is told in a rather staccato fashion, and at times the libretto feels as wooden as the Nutcracker himself although there are some nice multimedia elements. The only male actor in the production, Tim C J Chew, is quite good as the Prince and the dolls that come to life are entertaining in a pantomime sort of way but one leaves the theatre feeling more bewildered than enchanted.

At £12 for adults (£10 concessions, £5 for under 5s, but seriously don’t take your under-5) it’s quite expensive, especially when you consider that for £15 you can see the outstanding Midsummer at the Tricycle. However, if you’re flush with cash this Christmas holiday season and like a healthy dash of alternative with your festivities then maybe wend your way up to Pentameters for something a little different. Take your 9-year-old – they’ll probably love it.

The Nutcracker runs until January 6th at Pentameters Theatre.
Ring the box office on 020 7435 3648
*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket courtesy of the theatre

Christmas craft courses

Ok – I don’t normally do free advertising like this but, as it’s Christmas, I’m making an exception.

Fortune Green Interiors (who had a stall at the Christmas Market) is running a Christmas fingerpuppet knitting course on Thursday evening [Ed 15/12: this has been cancelled due to illness] and a Christmas card lino print course on the 22nd (for those last-minute cards I guess). Click the thumbnail for details.

Christmas market success

There was a pleasingly busy flow of browsers and shoppers around West End Green on Saturday for the first ever West Hampstead Christmas market. In mercifully mild and dry weather, local businesses and craftspeople had a good selection of stalls. Feedback from both stallholders and residents was generally positive and fingers crossed that this will become an annual event. It would be nice if next year we could have a bigger tree and maybe more seasonal entertainment in the space in the middle.

Blowing my own blog trumpet

Some of you may have noticed that last month I added a little badge on the right with my Wikio London Blog ranking. This is based mostly on other blogs in the list linking to you and is therefore of dubious import what with so many of these blogs having their own local focus. Moving up and down the list is indeed dependent on one of the big London-wide blogs giving you a shout-out.

Which is what happened this month, when I spotted that West Hampstead had been missed off this tube map that used font names instead of stations. Annie Mole of the London Underground blog duly linked back to me and I’ve shot up from No.51 to No.25 in the rankings as a result (not sure when the widget updates, but Wikio sent me a sneak preview of the new list a couple of days ago). All well and good, although frankly I’m more concerned that the blog is of interest to my local readers than to anyone else, otherwise what’s the point!

December’s Wikio “London Blog” rankings

1 dezeen
2 Londonist
3 Going Underground’s Blog
25 West Hampstead Life

Ranking made by Wikio

West Hampstead Christmas shopping

Given that it’s now December and it’s snowing, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to do a quick round-up of the best places for Christmas shopping in West Hampstead.

Since Dizar sadly closed, North West 6 on the corner of West End Lane and Blackburn Road is the only full-on gift shop on the street with a suitable collection of small bits and pieces, including jewellery, mugs, and Secret Santa sort of presents.

West End Lane Books should do a roaring trade this month – and don’t be shy of asking the staff for advice too. The bookshop even has a Christmas Shopping Day on December 9th when everything is 15% off from 9am-9pm  and there’s mulled wine and mince pies available in the evening *drool.

The Kitchener is fast becoming something of a local favourite. It is now rammed full of great things – not just basic kitchenware, but festive treats, spices, a good selection of cards and of course everything for the chef in your life. Want Christmas tree-shaped brownies? Get the moulds there.

If your loved ones are more into eating food than making it then you’re in luck. Peppercorns, LoveFood and Gustoso on West End Lane all sell foodie gifts. You can also order your Christmas meat and turkey from The Kitchen Stores on Mill Lane, and pick up chocolate, Christmas puddings and mince pies while you’re there.

For something more alternative and just a smidge further afield, why not go to Ms Marmite Lover’s Underground Farmers’ Market this Sunday afternoon , where there’ll be artisan wrapping paper, home-made liqueurs, cheese, sausages and Christmas puddings. Seriously, what’s not to like? You do have to buy £5 tickets in advance, and that will reveal the location – but it’s not too far away!

Of course the charity shops are a great source of gifts and cards, and heaven knows there are enough of them on West End Lane. Oxfam is probably the best for new (as opposed to second-hand) gifts. There are also Card Aid outlets at the Hampstead community centre and at the Hampstead Theatre in Swiss Cottage when open.

If you like your Christmas just a little bit retro then you have to go along to tea-room extraordinaire bake-a-boo on Sunday from 2pm-6pm for its “Walking in a Vintage Wonderland” event. There’ll be vintage clothing, jewellery, flowers, nostalgic gifts, one off pieces made from vintage fabrics and of course edible gifts.

While you’re on Mill Lane, check out some of the art for sale in Thou Art in Hampstead – it doesn’t just frame pictures, it also sells them.

Thinking about decorating the house? Christmas trees are available from Homebase and the Hampstead Garden Centre on Iverson Road. Any why not pop along to Achillea Flowers on Mill Lane for a winter wreath. Homebase (don’t turn your nose up) does cheap and perfectly decent decorations – that is if you don’t feel the need to go over to Habitat in the O2 centre for this year’s colours.

Don’t do all your Christmas shopping too early though – you’ll miss the main event on Saturday 11th. The West End Lane Christmas market on West End Green promises to be excellent and I can reveal that stallholders include Zana Boutique, The Pink Petshop, Fortune Green Interiors, Achillea Flowers, bake a boo, Kitchen Table, Mill Lane Garden project, Rooms Above and Chocolo. There will also be stalls from independent local craftspeople selling jewellery, bags, tea towels, stained glass, cards, and knitwear. There may still be room for a couple more if anyone’s interested? Contact for more.

Local businesses in West Hampstead are also offering various discounts and promotions on the day, including West End Lane Books, Chez Chantal, David’s Deli, Walnut, Insight Opticians, Mill Lane Barbers, Holistic Hair and Beauty, Robert Brennan Fitness, The Alliance, Mill Lane Vets and Hair by Red.

So, whatever you want to buy this festive season why not buy locally where possible. Check out the local business directory for all the shops in the area, and LoveCamden for special offers.

Buying local might be a pound or so more than ordering online but it’s a lot more fun, you know it will arrive on time and you’ll be supporting local businesses at the end of what has been a very difficult year.

Midsummer [a play with songs] at The Tricycle Theatre: review

Midsummer was a hit at Edinburgh. It is actually set in Edinburgh at midsummer and is simply a story of boy meets girl, or rather girl meets boy. The girl is a divorce lawyer, the boy a petty criminal. Over the course of the play they let us look into their lives as 35 year-olds. They don’t especially like what they see, but we love them. We cannot help but love them.

It is an astonishingly good play. David Greig’s script (he also directs) flows effortlessly and convincingly from appropriate dialogue to poetic musings. Attempts to do this jar in many modern scripts, but never once does it seem out of place here. The staging is great – there’s no interval, no set changes, and definitely no fourth wall. With just a bed and a few props, the cast of two work their magic. Yes, just a cast of two. At times they each morph into other characters – which sounds odd but works brilliantly. I can’t recall seeing a production that plays so smartly with the suspension of disbelief yet never once disengages you from the unfolding drama.
The two actors are faultless. Cora Bissett perhaps has the edge, but it’s really unfair to split them. Matthew Pidgeon turns “Robert… Rob… Bob… fuck” into a tragic hero on a par with the best. These two are a double act and utterly convincing. Over a drink after the play I tried hard to think of faults with this production and struggled to find one.

Throughout Midsummer there are musical interludes penned by Gordon McIntyre – it is after all “a play with songs”. These work rather well – rather like music in a TV drama, except here it’s the cast that sing and play guitar. Again, sounds a bit odd – works like a dream. Seems a bit Dennis Potter doesn’t it. Well, he was brilliant too.
I can’t recommend this highly enough. It is both hilariously funny, utterly engaging and incredibly moving as the characters come to terms with what they are doing with their lives. And it’s on our doorstep. Go and see it. 
Midsummer runs until January 29th at the Tricycle Theatre.
There’s even a singles night on December 21st (midwinter, geddit)
*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket courtesy of the theatre

Area group postscript : Burn, baby, burn

After the Area Group meeting had disbanded, West Hampstead Lib Dem councillor Nancy Jirira approached me to make what were distinctly party-political points.
“The Labour party in Camden,” she said “needs to be managing more efficiently, rather than just focusing on ‘cuts cuts cuts'”. She accused Labour – now in control of Camden council – of a lack of imagination, and argued that the proposed cuts were “officer-led” decisions rather than being developed by political debate. 
“There could be much more business process re-engineering,” she argued (that’s ‘doing things better’ to you and me), based on her experiences of working for a local PCT. She couldn’t tell me what proportion of the £80 million in cuts could be delivered through efficiency savings vs. cuts to services/programmes. 
She also thought that Labour, as the opposition party nationally, should be holding the government to account, even though her own party is in government. In fact, she came come across as disillusioned and disappointed with Labour as a whole. Which is no doubt how many in her own party feel about the path that their own leadership has taken them down.
She also said that it was crazy that schoolchildren were going on demos, and seemed to be blaming Labour for that too. I pointed out that most of the anger about changes to education funding was being directed towards Lib Dems over the broken promise on tuition fees. 
In what may be a representative position of Lib Dem councillors across the country* she was clearly extremely sympathetic to the protestors. “They can burn Nick Clegg’s effigy if they want,” she said, which is an odd thing to say about the leader of your own party. 
Do other Camden Lib Dems hold similar (if less publicly expressed) views? Will all six West Hampstead and Fortune Green councillors run under the Lib Dem banner again? Might some with a strong personal reputation be better placed running as independents given that the Lib Dems could get hammered the next time we go to the voting booth?
*wild speculation – probably

Travesty (would be a good name for a font)

The redoubtable Annie Mole, whose Going Underground blog is one of London’s finest, today posted a photo of yet another tube map mashup. We’ve had lots of these of late – puns on film titles, anagrams, movies shot in the location – all following in the footsteps of Simon Patterson’s 1992 work, The Great Bear.

Today’s addition to the fold is from Eiichi Kono, the man responsible for the distinctive New Johnston typeface used on the standard map. Here, Kono has replaced all the stations on the modern tube map with the names of typefaces, so Waterloo is Frutiger, Liverpool Street is Baskerville, etc.

Photo courtesy of Annie Mole

Except he hasn’t replaced all the stations. Two – just two – are omitted*. West Hampstead and Finchley Road stations are marked on the map but have no associated typeface. Why would we be snubbed in such a way!?

Here’s a larger version of the photo above. Which typefaces would you choose to go on the map for West Hampstead and Finchley Road? Which would capture something of the essence of these two stations?

Review: .45 at Hampstead Theatre

If Martin Scorsese collaborated with Tennessee Williams, you might end up with something like Gary Lennon’s superb .45.

Set in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen in 1977, this play bristles with sexual tension, moral ambiguity hangs thickly in the air, and there’s an ever present sense of danger. It’s a moody drama set to a blaring CBGB’s soundtrack.

The cast is excellent. Natalie Dormer is particularly compelling as Pat, the woman at the heart of the story who is loved by everyone. She combines strength and vulnerability perfectly, while her scenes with Daniel Caltagirone who plays her boyfriend Ed are as loaded as the handguns he pulls.

Despite the urging of her friend and would-be lover Vic (a superb Katie Wimpenny) and reformed tough guy Reilley (Chris Reilly), Pat simply can’t just walk away from Ed. “I love him ‘cos he’s home,” she says. “We suffer well together.”

It is the introduction of social worker Kat (Emma Powell) that disrupts the cycle of violence. At first her presence jars; her repression too stylised in contrast to the overt sexuality of the other characters. Indeed her first scene is the weakest in the play – it’s an unexpected gear change and the staging is initially confusing. If I had a criticism of the play it would be that Kat’s emotional release is too staccato, and thus less believeable, but this is being picky.

.45 was made into a film starring Milla Jovovich and directed by Lennon (who wrote cult US TV series The Shield). I have not seen it and have no desire to. This is a great example of a play that works brilliantly on stage. The confrontations between characters are immeasurably more powerful when they are happening right in front of you, but the most violent scenes happen off stage and leave the audience to explore its own dark imagination. 

The play, directed by Wilson Milam, is in Hampstead Theatre’s Michael Frayn Space – a small stage downstairs. The intimacy this provides is very suitable for the stifling atmosphere of the apartment and bar where most of the action is set, but why squirrel this away in some ‘alternative’ space? It’s the first time the play has been staged in the UK and, sure, it won’t be to everyone’s taste – there’s a lot of swearing and sexual references. But if you think that going to the theatre can be much more than a pleasant evening of mediocrity, then buy tickets to plays like this and prove to theatres that there is a demand for more engaging and challenging work even from the typical Hampstead Theatre audience.

Watch an interview with Natalie Dormer below, and for interviews with all the cast, visit the Hampstead Theatre’s You Tube channel. Then go and buy tickets for the damn play already.

.45 runs until November 27th at the Hampstead Theatre
Book here

*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket courtesy of the theatre

Macaroon Mania at Waitrose Cookery School

As soon as you walk into Waitrose’s gleaming new cookery school, it’s clear they’ve splashed the cash. I went along to the Finchley Road branch, above which the school is located, to find out whether aspiring home cooks should do the same. Our aim for the evening: perfect macaroons.

The space is certainly attractive: there’s an expansive dining area with chunky light-wood tables (no doubt available from John Lewis), an attractive wall of wine and a modern bar.

Off to the side is the theatre, which looks like a TV studio kitchen, with seating for about 40 people. Separated from the dining room by a glass partition is the kitchen itself, which has a demonstration area, and then nine workstations, each with an oven, hob, fridge and cupboards and drawers filled with pans, utensils and gadgets. Around the sides more equipment sits on windowsills – behind me are umpteen Le Creuset pans, pots and tagines.

 It all looks good and of course it’s all immaculately clean (this is only the second night the kitchen has been open). The major appliances are John Lewis own brand and the stations are meant to deliberately mirror what most people have at home, although the food mixer we’re using is a top-of-the range professional one.

After a welcoming glass or two of champagne and a couple of canapés – one of which we’re accurately warned is tongue-scaldingly hot – we don our whites and gather round to watch head pastry chef James Campbell (formerly Gary Rhodes’ group head pastry chef) talk us through the macaroon making process.

When it comes to our turn, the ingredients have already been measured out although we have to separate our own eggs. We’re making Italian meringue because it is easy and stable, but it does mean pouring hot sugar syrup into whisked egg whites (a fancy digital thermometer tells us when we hit the 114 degree Celsius mark.).

We’re working in pairs, which I find a little odd – people are rarely allowed IN my kitchen, let alone permitted to pick up a spoon unless under close supervision! However, it turns out that my cooking buddy actually teaches cooking classes herself, although is quite scathing about wasting time cooking patisserie.

The vast majority of the people here are food bloggers who Waitrose has invited to this second preview night. The first one had been for the mainstream media. Celebrity Masterchef winner Lisa Faulkner had been there, and Heston himself had even made a fleeting appearance although Delia hadn’t graced the school with her presence.

There are no celebs tonight, but as the chefs introduce themselves, you realise quite quickly that it’s not just the fixtures and fittings that have cost money. Charming head chef James Bennington won a Michelin star at La Trompette, sous chef Eleni Tzirki casually namedrops Pierre Koffmann and Bruno Loubet as she introduces herself, while Aussie Wilson Chung, who’s in charge of cocktails tonight, has an astonishingly eclectic CV that includes running the kitchen at the Sydney Good Food & Wine Show.

One of the best things about the experience is the ratio of chefs to punters. As we’re busy worrying whether our peaks are stiff enough or our mixture smooth enough, one of the team is always around to advise.

While the macaroons bake, we head to the bar to learn how to make bitter orange cocktails (Grand Marnier, orange juice with maple syrup, ice – simple) and get the chance to practice our cocktail shaking technique. Then, while the macaroons cool we get a demonstration of how to make espresso martinis (these really aren’t hard either). Of course we get to drink all these things too. This isn’t an evening to have planned to drive home.

In the full version of this macaroon course, you get to make your own filling, but this has been done for us. We get to practice on some glittery pink macaroons, filling them with some berry mixture and a mulled wine flavoured liquid centre.

 For our own creations, there’s an apricot filling in the fridge and, despite some dodgy piping skills, they all end up looking pretty good. Certainly everyone seems happy as they pack the fruits of their labour into boxes to take home.

If we were paying customers, this evening course would set us back £105. Whole day courses are £175 and cover everything from Thai cookery to Boxing Day leftovers. I suspect the cookery school will be very popular with corporate events as there is so much flexibility to meet quite specific needs. It is not cheap, although I’m sure most people would enjoy the experience, and a quick trawl of other London options suggests it’s broadly in line with the market.

Waitrose Cookery School
Nearest tube: Finchley Road
T: 020 7372 6128
W: http://www.waitrose.com/inspiration/cookeryschool/index.aspx

WANTED: Eager football players

Yesterday I tweeted about Hampstead 7evens, a local seven-a-side football organisation based in Fortune Green. West Hampstead local Thom Hoffman was trying to get a team together and then faster than a Gareth Bale strike into the bottom right corner/Theo Walcott run down the line* people were replying left right and centre expressing an interest.

Then, Thom had an idea and asked if I’d post it, so I am:

“Hi, as there is a lot of football interest I propose an official kickabout. I think it would be a good idea to have a big footy match on Fortune Green next Saturday 13th November K/O 12 noon. Loads of people seem interested, and I’d love to play a bit more locally. There could be enough for a few 7-aside teams in the future; or just enough people interested that we can have kickabout tweetups once in a while. I realise Saturday mornings aren’t great for everyone but it has to be sometime…”

Where: Fortune Green Park
When: Saturday 13th November, midday
Bring: Trainers and shinpads!
Email: thom.hoffman (at) ymail.com if interested or tweet @thomhoffman

*delete according to your north London football predilections

West Hampstead’s witches and warlocks

Halloween is around the corner, but these days it’s more of an excuse to smear black lipstick on the rim of a cocktail glass than to knock at your neighbour’s door in the vain hope of receiving some Haribo (or a tangerine if they’re middle class).

So, you’re in your best Morticia Addams or Freddie Kruger costume but don’t want to brave the scary beast that is the Jubilee Line. You need Halloween action, but you need it local. What are your options?

Last year, sister bars The Gallery and The Alice House sensibly had their Halloween parties on separate nights. This year, The Gallery takes the lead with two consecutive nights of ghoulish partying at Gothic Horror Halloween on Friday and Saturday. The bar is open ’til 2am and the flyer says “Dress to kill (literally)”, which we can only hope they don’t regret on Sunday morning.

The Alice House meanwhile has a “Not so scary” Halloween theme on Friday and Saturday with prizes for best costumes. I’m not sure whether the prize is for the least scary costume…

DJ_Postscript will be pumpkin’ out the tunes (sorry, sorry) at The Railway on Saturday night from 8 ’til late, and The Lion also has a DJ lined up. A DJ too at the revamped Priory Tavern on Belsize Road, where they’ll be serving cauldron cocktails on Saturday, while on Sunday there’s face painting for kids and “devilish roasts”.

Head over to Kilburn and new kid on the block The Betsy Smith is hosting Fangtasia on Saturday from 7pm-3am. The blurb for this True Blood themed party says “be very nice to our vampire sheriff of the Kilburn district or punishments will be given!! People have been known to go missing….”. So, just an average night out in Kilburn then.

The Westbury has a Juicebox Halloween Party on Saturday from 8pm-3am. This night of “drinking, dancing and general tomfoolery” is free before 9pm, £3 from 9-10pm and £5 after 10pm. Or free at any time if you come in fancy dress. Although quite who decides what’s fancy dress and what’s just Lady Gaga popping in on her way back from Tesco Express is not clear.

Finally, one of the few events actually taking place on Halloween itself is The Good Ship‘s Celebrity Shame Halloween Party. “Think Lindsey Lohan in prison get up, George Michael frequenting toilet cubicles, Cheryl Cole punching toilet attendants…”. It’s £3 in and prizes for best costumes.

Whatever you’re up to, have a gorylicious Halloween, and remember the clocks go back at 2am Sunday morning, so you’ll get an extra witching hour this year.

West Hampstead’s X(mas) Factor

I know it’s only October, but there’s a reason why I’m bringing up the “C” word so early. And that reason is: volunteers!

New West Hampstead councillor Gillian Risso-Gill is looking to get a Christmas Fair off the ground. The idea is to support the local shops (which we’re all generally in favour of, right?) and it has been well received by traders, the council and a few community-minded folk already. It is likely to take place on the weekend of 11/12 December on West End Green.

But it won’t take place at all without your help.

Putting such a thing together does require support from within the community, so Gillian has asked me to put the word out to see whether anyone who would like to get some experience of event organising (or of course who already has it) would like to get involved.

Naturally, the traders themselves will be involved and there are talks with possible sponsors as well. But between now and the end of the month there’s plenty to do in terms of consultations, paperwork and other duties. If there are enough volunteers then the time commitment shouldn’t be more than a few hours a week.

If you’re interested, and would like to see West End Green host a Christmas fair to give a seasonal boost to the community please contact Gillian at .

Review: The Saloon Singer at New End Theatre

Holly Penfield has a one-woman show (+ band and bartender!) at Hampstead’s New End Theatre. The Saloon Singer sees the cabaret artist link together a collection of songs from “One for the Road” to “Rhythm of Life” via “The Boys in the Backroom” and a host of others – some classics, some less well-known.

In a variety of glam outfits and wigs, Penfield channels Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe and Julie Andrews, among other sultry sirens, and also gives us a rather good self-penned song. In between the music, an overly breathless Penfield coquettishly declares her love for the audience, the silver screen and hats with shoes on them.

There’s rather a lot of audience participation, as she hauls a succession of men on stage. When it’s just to be sung too and mildly embarrassed I don’t mind this too much, but the poor guy dragged up during the finale could barely have looked more uncomfortable and there was something ever so slightly distasteful about seeing this woman of indeterminate age ‘riding’ a hapless punter who had presumably paid the full £18 for his ticket.

It’s a 90 minute show, with a ‘pause’ rather than an interval, during which Joe the bartender (who’s on stage for the whole thing) hands out free glasses of wine, which is a nice touch. I can see it working well in a cabaret club setting where Holly would be able to roam among the audience, but the stage version didn’t do it for me. The script – such as it is – is loose to put it mildly, which means she occasionally loses her way but the very act of staging a show like this in a theatre rather than a club means the audience has certain expectations.

I would rather have just had the songs because there’s no doubt that Penfield can sing – the highlight of the evening was her rendition of The Eagles’ track Desperado. In what one assumes is the latter part of her career, playing to her strengths would seem to be the way forward.

The Saloon Singer runs until October 24th. It starts at 9pm, so there’s time for a drink at one of the nearby pubs or a burger at Tinseltown on the corner (where they kindly gave me a free smoothie!)
Book tickets

*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket for the play courtesy of the theatre

Review: Enlightenment at Hampstead Theatre

In a scene towards the end of Enlightenment, one of the characters is wrapped in a sheet; one assumes the impression of a straitjacket is deliberate.

Three-quarters of the way through this production, I was feeling similarly constrained. I wasn’t being led down blind alleys or fed red herrings. Any room for speculation was blocked by some awkward dialogue. I was interested enough to want to know how the play would end, but the route to get there didn’t excite me quite enough.

This was a shame, because there was much to like about Ed Hall’s debut as artistic director of the Hampstead Theatre. The stark set, which subtly morphed from a home into a clinical examination room of hope and fear, worked well. The bombflash lighting changes were effective, and the ghostly projected images provided an opaque netherworld contrast to the characters’ attempts to rationalise their situation.

The acting too was generally good. Julie Graham, on stage for most of the play, was at her best when wracked with emotion. Richard Clothier was excellent in the role of frustrated tired husband, while Daisy Beaumont’s parasitic journalist channelled Davina McCall too closely for comfort. Tom Weston-Jones never truly convinced no matter which side of his character he was showing, but he had stage presence – essential for his scenes to be believable.

No, the production was good. It was Shelagh Stephenson’s play that I struggled with. It flitted around themes such as truth, benevolence, self-deception, hope, love, narrative and security. Yet it also found time to throw in the bourgeois decadence of capitalism, geopolitics and the nature of modern media. Highly contemporary, but perhaps a little ambitious. Worse, the philosophical musings seemed misplaced against the powerful emotional torture that was the backbone of the entire play.

The story also stretched the bounds of credibility once too often. I can turn a blind eye to some dramatic licence, but the third time around you start to lose empathy with the characters.

Stephenson’s story might be better suited to television than the stage. It needed to be faster-paced, and give more time to the evolving tension between Weston-Jones and Graham’s characters. A screenplay would be less ponderous and might do a better job of showing not telling. It might also feel less obliged to seek the laughs, which jarred at times – for this wasn’t always gallows humour. A bleaker interpretation of the script might have made the narrative more compelling without sacrificing the barbed one-liners.

Once again, the Hampstead Theatre has produced a crowd-pleaser and doubtless plenty of people will enjoy it. But for me it didn’t live up to its billing as a “mesmeric thriller”. Its strength is as a dark emotional exploration of the horror of the unknown.

Enlightenment runs at The Hampstead Theatre until Oct 30
Book here

*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket for the play courtesy of the theatre

The Plaque at Pooh Corner

“A party for Me?”
thought Pooh to himself.
“How grand!”

There can be very few people who have not encountered Winnie the Pooh. One of the great characters of children’s literature and I can’t help but feel also a precursor of Homer Simpson. Lovable, of “little brain”, and ever so slightly obssessed with food.

Pooh’s creator of course was A.A.Milne and – who knew – he was born in Kilburn in 1882. The house where he was living was destroyed in the war when a V1 fell in the vicinity and the site is now occupied by Remsted House, part of the Mortimer Estate, at the junction of Mortimer Place and Kilburn Priory.

Lib Dem worthy and sometime local historian Ed Fordham has launched a Historic Kilburn Plaque Scheme. Appropriately enough given the area’s Irish heritage, the plaques are green. The unveiling today of Alan Milne’s plaque was the first of what Ed hopes will be “at least 20” such plaques to be dotted around Kilburn.

Under gloriously blue skies an impressive crowd was gathering for the big moment. Milne’s granddaughter Clare was present.

Ed kicked off with a few booster words for the area, before local historian Dick Weindling (he literally wrote the book) gave a short explanation of the heritage of the area – formerly the Greville Estate (and much earlier part of a 12th Century priory).

Weindling explained that Milne’s father had bought and ran a private school – Henley House – on the site at which 13 boys boarded. Four years later, A.A. Milne was born. In 1889, H.G. Wells was the science teacher there for a year and despite being highly critical of the type of education at Henley House he praised Milne’s father as a “really able teacher”. The Milnes sold the school in 1893, apparently concerned that “the neighbourhood was going down”.

Michael Brown, chairman of the Pooh Properties Trust and wearing an approriate Pooh-themed tie, then said a few words about A.A. Milne himself. Of course he is famous for the Winnie the Pooh books, but he also wrote successful plays and adult books and was very much part of the literary elite in the interwar period.

It was time for the unveiling – suitably to be done by two kids. “Either the string will break, or the tape will stay up, or something will go wrong,” said Ed.

But really isn’t that what would have happened to Pooh? Piglet would have pulled with all his Strength. Rabbit would have advised from the sidelines and Eeyore would have pointed out all the things that could have gone wrong. The strings were pulled, the curtain fell, some tape remained and Pooh would have been a very happy bear.

OxjamKilburn comedy night

Last night, OxjamKilburn’s four-night comedy festival kicked off. Along with Friday’s fashion show at the State building, this is all building up to October 23rd’s OxjamKilburn takeover when your favourite Kilburn music venues play host to a day of live music – all accessible for a tenner if you’re quick and £12.50 if you’re not (wegottickets.com). Proceeds from all these events go directly to Oxfam.

A good crowd turned out for launch night at Power’s on the High Road to see compère Jeff Leach walk us through six acts. Paul Sweeney and Simon Feilder were the stand-out stand ups. I also have a soft spot for Tom Allen, who I saw at The Good Ship a few weeks ago.

The evening ended up in mild farce as headliner Julian Deane got caught up in strange 1-on-1 conversations with audience members and the whole thing verged on the uncomfortable. Gelatio Mio were on hand with free ice cream – what’s not to like about that you’re thinking? What’s not to like may be when it’s thrown at Leach (playfully-ish I should add). There was a distinct mood shift after spoof band Hot Brew finished its surreal character comedy cabaret act. It was different, and entertaining, but maybe this wasn’t the right audience as most sat there in stunned silence.

The comedy festival runs until Wednesday. Monday & Tuesday the shows take place at Paradise in Kensal Green with Trevor Lock and Alex Zane headlinng respectively. Wednesday’s show is at The North London Tavern where Rufus Hound and Gail Porter (yes, that Gail Porter) top the bill. Leach is on stage every night and probably justifies the £5 ticket price (£6 on the door) by himself.

For more information, visit the website.

The Betsy Smith, Kilburn – Opening night

(photo: courtesy of Kai Reysenn)?

The Betsy Smith opening night last Friday attracted the crowds. The bar staff, vying for the Artful Dodger lookalike prize, were struggling. At one stage the crush at the bar was seven-deep and getting a drink took upwards of 40 minutes. Bluntly, the place was heaving.

A cunningly worded press release had set the scene earlier in the week. This sister venue of The Winchester in Islington and Ealing’s Lodge Tavern was already being referred to as the “Narnia” pub although it struck me more as Alice in Wonderland.

The front of the bar, in what used to be Osteria del Ponte, is heavy on seating and a little crammed. As my companion commented on arrival, “It’s about 15% All Bar One”. Ouch.

Force yourself through to the back, however, and the décor, ambience and style change gear. Here, the tables are more secluded. There’s a mezzanine level perfect for private hire and below that a small area where a band was setting up. This was clearly the place to be. It’s darker, quirkier and far more seductive, especially on a night when the hordes were clamouring for their cocktails at the bar.

The drinks list is laden with contrived idiosyncracies, with cocktails categorised by their degree of whackiness. Parsnip and blue cheese? Really? More standard cocktails and of course beer, wine etc. are also available.

The Betsy Smith has aspirations to be almost 24-hours, opening 8am-midnight Sunday through Thursday, and closing at 3am on Friday and Saturday. On opening night there was finger food being passed around, which was certainly better than average and bodes well for the quality of the kitchen.

The Earth Lights Boogie Band, led by Spencer Kennedy, cranked up the volume and blasted everyone’s eardrums through the wardrobe or looking glass or somewhere into the nether regions of Cricklewood at the very least. They were good. Very good in fact. Playing a mix of boogie and funk covers at full throttle, with a few poptastic tunes thrown in for good measure, the surprisingly (and pleasingly) mixed crowd settled in to listen for the first set. At such decibels, talking was pretty much out of the question.

By the time the second set kicked in, numbers had thinned slightly, it was possible to get a drink within just 10 or 15 minutes (!) and the small dance floor was getting its first workout. In the dark, with the multiple lampshades on, any All Bar One-ness from earlier in the evening had vanished. Revelling continued into the early hours with Louisubsole on the decks.

(photo: courtesy of Kai Reysenn)??

The Betsy Smith looks like it will be a success as long as it can keep appealing to a mixed Kilburn crowd. It’s too far from the entertainment core of Kilburn (Tricycle/Good Ship/Luminaire/Powers) to draw many drinkers from there, but close enough to The Westbury to be direct competition. It will need local support as well as to lure people from beyond Kilburn for its DJ nights. Midweek reports since opening night have suggested it’s been quietish and coupley rather than meat-market sweat-on-the-dancefloor, but if it can get both groups in it might just last. If it hopes to turn NW6 into Shoreditch, it might face a revolt.

For more details on what it offers, check out its Facebook page, along with loads of photos from opening night
The Betsy Smith
77 Kilburn High Road
T: 020 7624 5793

The Bake-a-boo book launch

West Hampstead hosts its fair share of literary events, but few recently have been so eagerly anticipated as the launch of the Bake-a-boo Bakery Cookbook. Sadly, I was unable to make it to the party at the tea shop, but several whampers (and many others) were in attendance, so here’s what a couple had to say:
@Tangentical: “There may be debate as to whether Marie Antoinette actually said “Let them eat cake’, but none around the fact that she lost her head. Entering the haven of decorative whimsy that is bake-a-boo it is all to easy to lose your head and crave nothing but cake. Now, delightfully, we can recreate some of the gorgeous confections at home thanks to a new recipe book, which includes a selection of dairy and gluten free recipes.
The launch party was a 1940s-influenced cocktail affair with alcoholic and virgin fruity numbers served in dainty teacups, while jazzy tunes were provided by The Rockabellas.
Cakes aplenty were available and author Zoe Berkeley – the hostess with the mostess – was on hand to autograph copies for all the happy customers of whom I was certainly one.
@bubela “Bake-a-boo was even more crowded than usual at the launch of cookbook. The outside seating under a pretty white canopy was fully occupied by happy punters sampling the drinks and divine mini-cupcakes and sandwiches that were on offer. At the back of the café a terrific Andrews Sisters-type group were the entertainment, all making for a great atmosphere. Plenty of books were being signed and sold, one indeed to myself.

So, all in all, I missed out big time, but am now off to go and collect my copy. Congratulations to Zoe.

Photos courtesy of Rachel and Bakeaboo.

West End Lane’s changing streetscape

Ten days or so ago, it was brought to my attention that Best One – the mini-market on the corner of Fawley Road and West End Lane – was covered in memos from Sainsbury’s regarding an impending licence application.

I posted this on Twitter and got a few tweeted groans in reply, along with a more interesting response from local councillor @KeithMoffitt who said “Understand Sainsbury’s interested in Best One site but nothing finalised yet, so licensing notice odd.”

Yesterday, I noticed that the licence application had now been registered at Camden and is online.

Posting this elicited far more reaction, with the usual comments about the destruction of the character of West End Lane, the replacement of independent shops with chains, and the swamping of the neighbourhood with supermarkets. I think it is debatable whether replacing a franchised mini-market with a large-brand mini-market is particularly a bad thing, although it does serve to homogenise further the high street.

A broader issue is whether large chains can (and do) pay over market rates for rents and leases, thereby raising the market level and squeezing out existing independents as well as making it almost impossible for start-ups. I also think it’s worth looking at what we do have in West Hampstead.

I am building a directory of all the shops, restaurants, consumer services in the area and was astonished that I could tally more than 50 places that served food without venturing beyond the traditional borders of West Hampstead into Swiss Cottage or Kilburn. Yes, some of these are national chains (only four restaurants: GBK, Nandos, Pizza Express and Strada), especially in the take-away market, where some are franchises just like Best One) but the vast majority are independent.

We also – as everyone knows – have an amazing number of estate agents and a lot of charity shops. We don’t have very many ordinary independent shops – but we do have some, such as the electrical shop, the bookshop, the greengrocers and others, especially those tucked away along Mill Lane.

I’m not in the militant camp that thinks we should boycott chains, or who won’t shop in Tescos. When possible, yes, I do try and support local businesses but like most people I am also beholden to cost and convenience.

My request from this blog is simple: by all means berate the homogenisation of West End Lane, and by all means let your local councillors know your views on the matter (although remember that at the most basic level there’s little they can do to prevent individual shops from moving into existing retail units), but above all if you do believe in maintaining some independent shops in West Hampstead then please use them from time to time.

I know some of you don’t see the problem and are quite happy to see more chains move in as long as they’re selling things you want to buy. I also know that a lot of you do already make efforts to shop at independents where possible. But if you’re someone who always buys books from Amazon, why not – once in a while – buy or order a book from West End Lane Books; forsake Homebase for the electrical shop, the Iverson Road nursery or The Kitchener; or escape the congested fruit & veg aisle in Tescos and walk a minute up the road to the greengrocers. Not necessarily every day, but some days. Even if costs you a few pence more (and stop press folks: the chains in fact are not always cheaper), think of it as a small investment back into your community.

Comments welcome of course

A little bit about bikes

Congratulations to @flyperson (above), who may well have been the first person to bring one of the new Boris bikes into West Hampstead and is certainly the first to provide unphotoshopped evidence (compare and contrast with this from @garymc!).

We are of course too far out of central London to have our own docking stations here in the ‘hood, so how might whampers best make use of the scheme?

The nearest docking stations are in St John’s Wood and there are a couple in Maida Vale near Warwick Avenue tube station (the red dots on the map mark the bike stations). So if you want to take advantage of those, they’re no more than a short bus ride/walk away. At that point, hopping on a bike to take you into town might be quicker than sitting on a bus, especially during busy periods when as we all know Oxford St can be jammed.

They can also be used to save on bus transfers – want to go to Hyde Park from West End Lane? Rather than changing tubes or walking from Selfridges, get on a 139 and then grab a bike from Abbey Road/Hall Road and shoot down Lisson Grove and Seymour Place.

Circle Line not running and you fancy going to South Kensington? Jump on a 328 to Portobello Road/Pembroke Road – grab a bike and make your way through Notting Hill Gate and onto Kensington Gore, there aren’t too many docking stations right outside the museums, but there are plenty within 2-3 minutes walk.

I shall personally use it to cut out the disastrously slow bus route from Kensington High St into Piccadilly Circus. It’s only 2.5 miles, but it can take 30-40 minutes on a bus, about the same as walking. Hop on a bike at the southern end of Kensington Church Street (by a 328 bus stop) and it should only take 10 minutes to get to the other end. If you (understandably) don’t fancy tackling the traffic around Hyde Park Corner, you can either wheel your bike through the subway (they’re heavy so avoid anything involving stairs), or drop your bike off by the Queen Elizabeth Gates, walk through to the edge of Green Park and hop on a new one.

I would strongly recommend looking at the guide to cycling in the Royal Parks, which gives maps of the cycle paths through the parks as well as the location of docking stations – far more pleasant to trundle along South Carriage Drive than battle the traffic on Kensington Road.

Two final thoughts of how one might use the bikes from a West Hampstead perspective. No weekend Met Line and Thameslink not running across London? Go as far as St Pancras, grab a bike and cycle south. It’s less than two miles down to Waterloo Bridge and a smidge further to Southwark Bridge for South Bank attractions. Or what if you want to go to Greenwich or Docklands but the Jubilee Line is closed? Again, take a bike from St Pancras to Tower Gateway and hop on the DLR.

So, although it seems very unlikely that we’ll ever get bike stations up here in NW6, by using the excellent transport links we DO have, whampers can still benefit from the bike hire scheme. Not already registered? Read all about the scheme and the charges here and then sign up.

PS – if you wonder whether I have any experience of cycling peculiar bikes, then check out this heap of junk I was given for a day in Nebraska last month

It’s business time at The Winch

Whatever the eventual outcome of the election, it is unlikely to remove the need for organisations like The Winchester Project – the charity that #whampers have been supporting in 2010. Back in late March, I posted director Paul Perkinsappeal for Admin & Support help. Now, Paul is back with a new request – this time for help under the banner of Business & Enterprise.

An abridged version of his e-mail appears below. If there’s any way you can help, do please contact him directly.

Dear Friend,

Our work at the Winch continues at full throttle. As well as seeing our Youth team grow and taking on new placement students and volunteers, we have recently run another successful Play Scheme over the Easter holidays, for which we had around 50 children. It’s busy work, but in the holidays the building really comes alive with activity, laughter and energy. It’s a great time to be around.

Following on from the Admin & Support drive, I’m delighted to say that we’ve had an opportunity to meet with many of you who are able to give your time and energies in the office and other areas.

Perhaps, though, that wasn’t for you and you’d be able to offer more through Business & Enterprise. There are a few starting-off suggestions in the attached PDF, but there are a couple of reasons we’re asking about this. One is that charities such as ours depend substantially on grants from statutory and private sources, and whilst we welcome this we’re keen to reduce our dependency on these streams, in part by developing our own social enterprise activities. That’s also about sustainability, and with the risk of cuts on their way from central and by extension local government, we want to develop as a more self-sufficient, sustainable voluntary sector organisation. Secondly, it’s not only social enterprise which you might be able to help with but pro bono and in kind services and expertise – whatever it is you do may well add value and have relevance to our initiatives here – services and skills which can be contributed on a pro bono or in kind basis.

If you’re not sure whether the skills you have, or an idea which has popped up, fits with this area, don’t hesitate to drop me a line to talk it over.

In the meantime, thank you once again for being part of what we’re doing at the Winch. The work, time, insight and energy which you give makes a real difference to the children and young people we serve and, ultimately, our wider community.


Paul Perkins
Winchester Project
21 Winchester Road
London NW3 3NR
Tel: 020 7586 8731

Hampstead & Kilburn as it happened

The early indications when I arrived at the Hampstead & Kilburn count were that it was going to be close. It was too soon to tell quite how close.

180 counters split between H&K and Holborn & St Pancras first had to verify the ballot papers. This means checking that the number of votes in the ballot box is the same as the number of votes that is supposed to be in the ballot box. As they do this, dozens and dozens of party supporters, candidates, council candidates, campaign teams and number crunchers – hover over them like hawks trying to keep track of how their candidates are tallying up. It looks complicated (and slightly intimidating). Pages of tallies are then fed to the geeks who presumably make extrapolations, predictions and prognostications, which seem completely pointless given that the actual result is only a matter of hours away.

There were some inevitable problems with the redrawn boundaries. Some ballot boxes had to come over from the Brent wards that now form part of the new constituency. Of course with two voting papers, people make mistakes and put parliamentary ballots into the council ballot box. These papers also had to be dispatched to Haverstock school and were one of the causes of the lengthy delay in the first count being finished.

During lulls in counting (for example while waiting for the Brent boxes), the rosette-wearing phalanxes descended into the refreshment area where the media was largely camped out along with some Camden staff. The groups coalesced into pockets of red, blue, yellow and green, all grouped around the TVs. Every time Labour held a seat a roar went up from the red corner. Whenever the Conseratives gained a seat a similarly man-sized cheer erupted. There weren’t very many cheers from the yellow camp.

Any sense that Ed Fordham might romp to victory in Hampstead & Kilburn, therby justifying the exceedingly short odds available on him, was clearly evaporating. “It’s very close” was the anxious utterance from all sides.

As the count neared its conclusion, the ballots for each candidate were bundled together in groups of 25, topped with an appropriately coloured piece of paper, and placed together in long rows. In even ‘quite close’ races, this makes it reasonably easy to see the state of play. Who’s got the longest set of bundles should be easy to judge by eye. Frank Dobson’s victory over Jo Shaw in the Holborn & St Pancras seat was evident well before anyone clambered on stage. In the H&K counting hall, however, the blue pile was opposite the red pile and they looked to be exactly the same length. The yellow pile was next to the blue pile and although it was hard to be sure, it did look marginally smaller. Confined to the media zone though it was hard to get a clear picture.

Tamsin Omond claimed she’d seen a pile of votes for her, relieved that she’d at least made double figures, but it seemed very clear that this was a three-horse race (who’d have thought?) and the other candidates were not going to figure in any meaningful way.

Talk of a recount had been floating around for some hours. Ed told me that he would leave any such decision to his agent, but that a gap of around 500 might be worth a second look. Chris – whose emotions normally seem to be held in check – had quite an animated conversation with me, expressing a lack of comprehension as to how on earth Glenda’s vote was holding up so well.

Some time later, as we all waited for news, he blasted through from the counting hall, urgently looking for somewhere private to talk to his wife. With a face like thunder, one might have expected the worst, but a glance at the votes suggested that he was right in the mix.

The final Brent votes arrived. It looked as if Ed Fordham was out of the race now, unless.., unless there was a significant number of these “loose” ballots. Chris was unlikely to pick up many votes from Brent, so could this be Ed’s chance to catch up. The report was that the pile of new ballots was slim, and thus so were Ed’s chances of living up to the pre-election hype. The faces of the yellow rosettes were struggling to muster smiles. We were down to two.

Sky’s journalist Orla Chennaoui, who had been hanging around with her camera crew since well before the count started, scooted over with an eavesdropped tip – just 50 seats split Chris and Glenda. A recount was inevitable. Tamsin came over with a printout of the actual figures. It really was tight, Glenda’s lead was closer to 70 than 50, and Ed Fordham was less than 1,000 behind Glenda too. The others were all a long way back with the Green’s Bea Campbell comfortably in fourth.

A 15 minute break was called before the recount, and we all took the opportunity to refuel. Then the counters filed back into the hall and off we went. It seemed that every counter was being scrutinised by two or three campaigners. Chris stalked around the outskirts, looking in at some counters. Everyone was exhausted, so who knows how they were able to concentrate.

Ed knew he was beaten, but found time for some supportive words for Tamsin who deep down must have hoped to do better than her 123 votes. “You ask the questions and there are only two answers”, he said philosophically. I guess you can’t go into politics if you’re not prepared for losing.

There was a small whoop and cheer from a corps of red rosettes. Game over? Chris walked past. “How are you feeling?”, “Yeah, I’m fine.” It seemed there would be no second recount.

The candidates took to the stage – well, some of them did. Gene Alcantara, the BNP’s Victoria Moore and, more surprisingly Bea Campbell didn’t appear. Personally I think that it’s a disservice to the people that bothered to vote for you not to turn up to the result. Glenda was grinning widely amid cheers.

The returning officer read out the votes starting with Alcantara’s 91 and finishing with Chris Philp’s 17,290. The crowds cheered “Glen-da, Glen-da”. She had won by 42 votes.

It was approaching 9am. Glenda stepped forward to give her thank yous. There was a defiance amid the usual winning humility. She singled out Chris, praising his clean campaign. No mention of Ed who had played more on her residency in Lewisham and lack of activity. The Lib Dems might have a different perspective on the Conservative campaign, after an intense spell of “Vote Fordham get Gordon” literature.

Glenda talked of her pride in being the first MP for the new constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn and reiterated that she’d work hard for all residents of this area. Elsewhere, there were mutterings that she’d somehow achieved this Houdini act on the back of a couple of leaflets and some hustings performances. Apparently a Tory press officer had admitted earlier that they had expected Ed to take the seat, but the forest of literature pushed through our doors and into our hands by the Lib Dems and the Tories had ultimately been for nothing.

Chris stepped forward and was very gracious in defeat, although didn’t congratulate Ed for his strong showing. Ed paid generous and warm tribute to Glenda,and thanked his campaign team amid cheers. Some people may even have had something in their eye. Ed – just 841 votes behind Glenda – said that the independent spirit would live on in NW London.

Nationally, it had been a night when the Conservatives good cheer was slightly muted and the Lib Dems had looked shocked from the moment the exit poll came out. Locally, it seemed that the scare tactics and jockeying for position as the true rivals to Labour had ended up splitting the anti-Labour vote. The night was now the day. It was over, and it belonged to Glenda Jackson.

National to local

As we watch David Cameron give his thank you speech having delivered a 22,000 majority in Witney, the situation in Hampstead & Kilburn is looking close and people are slightly tense.

There are a few issues with ballots that have wrongly ended up in Brent, there’s an issue with the constituency map up on the screen (it’s a Camden map that doesn’t show Kilburn, but is being fixed), but the main count has begun and it’s too close to call.

Have we all got caught up in a local bubble and missed the bigger national picture – the Liberal Democrat surge clearly hasn’t delivered anything meaningful across the country (although Nick Clegg may well still have a very important role to play). Does this mean that Ed Fordham’s campaign on the ground will have been for nothing? It’s going to be close and, as I just reminded Chris Philp, the Conservative candidate’s name is the last on the ballot and will be the last to be called – and thus the result won’t be known until that moment. The H&K 1-2-3 could be a bit of a surprise.

Where are we again?

It’s 12.40am. The green room (which has purple tablecloths) is buzzy. Lots of rosettes everywhere – yellow, blue, red, green, and others. There’s a large TV showing the BBC coverage and another that seems to flit between ITV and Sky. I’m parked on a table with @camdenvotes and two young (with a small “y”) Conservatives (with a big “C”), who are doing important things with pieces of paper.

The counting rooms are busy and noisy, the tables surrounded by party members and candidates verifying the counters’ activities. To the uninitiated (me) it seems a bit chaotic, but clearly it’s a well-oiled machine. At least I hope so.

So far have spotted only three parliamentary candidates – Chris Philp, Magnus Nielsen and Natalie Bennett (the Holborn & St Pancras Green candidate). There may be others from H&SP of course. Keith Moffitt, leader of the council, told me that the concentration required now is like “doing your finals having run a marathon”.

Decision time in Hampstead & Kilburn

So, here we are at last. Election day in Hampstead & Kilburn.

It’s been fun covering the campaign in my own small way over the past few weeks, but very soon all the bickering, sniping, politicking and – dear god – leafleting will be over.

I have tried to remain impartial. Indeed, I only finally made my mind up a few days ago as to who would get my vote. I’ve never been a floating voter before – it was rather disconcerting. Some of you will have an idea of my intentions. Many may have the wrong idea, and hopefully some of you have no idea at all. It doesn’t matter anyway.

Whether you are casting your vote for Gene, Beatrix, Ed, Glenda, Victoria, Magnus, Tamsin or Chris, do please vote. It matters. We are in a tight seat in a tight national election. I personally believe that in this constituency, tactical voting is too hard to judge.

I am voting for what I believe in. I urge you to do the same.

Tamsin Omond “met a woman on the High Road”

After my first interview with Tamsin Omond before the election kicked off, we agreed we’d speak closer to voting day to see whether her ideas had resonated with Hampstead and Kilburn constituents, whether she had a cliché’s chance in hell of becoming an MP, and whether that confident manner would be battered and bruised by electioneering.

“I think it’s going really well. About midway into the campaign we realised that whatever our ambitions had been, it was best to keep them small and beautiful.”

Day after day of door knocking, flyering and general canvassing have certainly tempered Tamsin’s ambition. “Whether we get 20, 40 or 2,000 votes I think we’ll be chuffed,” she argues initially. Probe a little deeper though and there’s a less flippant answer. “I’m not going to predict that I’ll win but I do need some votes. We would like a mandate to continue to build over the next four years, but to do that we need to get some votes, so anything between 200 and 1,000.

Tamsin urges anyone who might have been thinking of voting for her to do so, or if people are disgruntled with the others, then vote for her. She continues to argue forcefully that she’s not denting the other parties’ votes at all.

“I met a woman on the High Road,” she says (not spotting the leaders’ debate rhetoric), “who was shouting , ‘How dare you stand here, you’re going to split the left’. But I found it really easy to say that none of those votes naturally belong to Glenda or anyone else.”

Tamsin has focused her campaign largely on Kilburn, with some door knocking in West Hampstead and Queens Park. She has canvassed at all the tube stations but otherwise ignored Hampstead where the houses are further apart, there’s only one person in during the day, and they “like to have long conversations, before telling you they’re voting Liberal Democrat.”

In Kilburn, immigration is the overwhelming issue – she’s the only candidate I’ve spoken to who says this – although it is usually related to housing, drugs or benefits issues. She expresses real concern over the popularity of the far right but says that when she talks to these voters, it’s often a matter of explaining why some of these problems have arisen and having the discussion. These are not intransigent people.

Assuming she doesn’t win the seat, what next? She is determined to build on the platform she has created here, and excitedly tells me that six council candidates across the country have said they will defect to The Commons if elected. She also needs to focus on fundraising if she is to mount a more serious challenge in four or five years time.

And for those undecided voters, or those who have never voted before. Why should they put a cross next to Omond on the ballot paper. “Because I’ll be the most enthusiastic conversation starter they’ve ever known.”

It’s a tight race here in H&K, and many people will be casting their vote for the main three parties. But if the idea of something different appeals, or if you are disillusioned with the whole system, head down to the polling station and consider giving Tamsin your vote to help her build something more credible next time round.

Ed Fordham is “in it to win it” in Hampstead and Kilburn

Ed Fordham is sporting his golden Liberal Democrat rosette when we meet at the café that overlooks the swimming pool at Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre. They’ve run out of his normal almond croissants and he has to change to a chocolate one. “Is that a bad sign?” he asks. “Fordham in fourth-place shock!” He has no plans to finish fourth although is exceedingly diffident when I presume he will predict a Lib Dem win in Hampstead and Kilburn. “No no no, not at all. All the coverage is flattering, but if you believe the coverage you’re sunk.”

Ed has certainly had plenty of media exposure, but is also the most active of all the candidates on social media sites, especially Twitter. “I’ve got people helping on the campaign who I’ve contacted through Twitter.” His Twitter relationships have also allowed him to personalise some of the thousand or so letters he signs a day, with hand-written short messages on the envelopes.

The intense level of engagement is one of the biggest changes in this campaign from the others he has contested (the 2005 general election for Hampstead & Highgate and the 2006 local election for Hampstead ward). “I’ve knocked on tens of thousands of more doors and tried to make it more personal. I’ve also been to low-profile groups, such as an alcohol abuse centre in Brent, in order to get under the skin of the constituency.”

As for the issues on the doorstep, Ed says that international issues crop up regularly as of course does transport. The economy is a backdrop, but people’s questions are usually very specific on issues such as corporation tax rather than on the deficit. “The other issue is that people are stunned you’ve knocked on their door and the reaction is usually ‘you’re the first person who’s bothered’, although sometimes you know that’s not true because you remember their doorbell.” Ed’s normally relaxed manner occasionally gives way to this pride in remembering detail – of people’s doorbells, dogs, addresses. One cannot accuse him of not knowing the “manor”, although whether people need an MP who can recollect the type of flooring in their hall is unclear. And “manor”? Is that not a bit ‘East End mafia’ for H&K? Ed laughs, “I prefer David Beckham swank.”

I raise Glenda’s concern that a Lib Dem or Tory win here would leave the vulnerable neglected. Ed responded by citing the lack of any “positive intervention” in the south Kilburn housing estate for the past 18 years (although this presumably includes the last five years when his colleague Sarah Teather was MP for that area). “People underestimate how much power and influence an MP can bring to bear, and if you decided to act proactively you could achieve a lot for the people in that area.”

The Conservatives have made much of Ed’s quote on the NW6 blog that he wouldn’t work with them in a coalition government. Of course that interview took place before Nick Clegg began suggesting that he might be prepared to work with David Cameron. Ed stands by what he said in terms of his personal position, but of course recognises that his own views are irrelevant should a Tory/LibDem coalition be on the cards.

This is just one issue that has caused spats between the blues and the yellows. I suggest that all the main candidates seem to get on well, with the exception of Ed and Chris. “It’s fair to say I get on very well with Tamsin and Bea and Glenda,” replies Ed. “I just find the Conservative campaign slightly disingenuous based on all the various claims of who’s said what, who might not have said what, and how that’s been interpreted.”

The question of who’s really in with a chance of winning of course crops up. Cheekily, Ed slips in one of his many rhetorical questions “Could it have been a three-way race? Absolutely. But as soon as the Tory surge stopped, not on the ground – Chris is still rushing everywhere, the thirty-somethings of West Hampstead suddenly weren’t talking about Cameron.” He thinks that the Lib Dem vote has hardened, and is convinced that Labour is in the race but as for Chris Philp’s chances, “I think the Tories could get the shock of their lives. “

Ed claims that he hasn’t been getting ahead of himself, and hasn’t thought about what his first actions will be if he wins. Then he proceeds to tell me in some detail what he’ll do if he wins. He wants to bring together everyone who has an impact on people who live in social housing, from council housing officers to GPs. He also wants to call a meeting of every significant religious figure in the constituency to “get the conversation going,” and to encourage greater understanding not just between religious groups but between the different parts of this diverse seat.

As for national politics, Ed – like Chris – voices an interest in education among other things, but says he thinks you end up taking what you are offered. For the first four years, howeve, he just wants to be a local MP.

And if he doesn’t win? While Chris jogs over Hampstead Heath, Ed will be tidying his flat (not Chris’s flat – I think that’s very unlikely), but is unsure after that. “There are quite a few books I’d like to write,” he says. “And Mogadishu looks pretty exciting”.

It’s time to go – he’s off to the Ham & High offices next door to be photographed voting early. But there’s time for the final question. Why should we vote for Ed Fordham on May 6? “Because you’ve made a positive decision to do that, rather than made a negative decision about the other parties.”

Chris Philp on the record

Is Chris Philp in Bank Holiday mode, or is this his Kilburn gear? The usually casually besuited Conservative PPC for Hampstead & Kilburn is wearing a grey fleece, jeans and some snazzy trainers as he chats to a supporter on the Kilburn High Road, while the wind does its best to deliver a pile of leaflets across the entire constituency in one fell swoop.

We retreat to Caffé Nero.

Chris tells me in his brisk no-nonsense style that the campaign is going well – he manages to mention that he got married here last year, which may be the best-known and least-disputed fact of this year’s election in H&K. Chris neither mumbles or waffles. This is rather refreshing. When the question is one he’s answered before, the answers come smoothly. Throw in an oddball, such as what has surprised him most about this campaign, and he stumbles slightly – it feels like he’s searching for the on message response.

I’ve met Chris once before, very briefly, after the hustings a couple of weeks ago. I’ve seen his apperances at other hustings on video, and read about his performances as well as catching him live and overshadowed by Boris last week. In front of an audience he can be a little didactic. One-on-one, after you’ve got past the dubious jokes about the Lib Dem campaign (“what campaign?”) he is far more personable; the poster boy image is shed for one of determined focus and commitment and it’s easy to believe that Chris would work hard for the constituency.

He says that the economy and jobs is a major issue being raised on the doorstep, and that holds true across the whole constituency. Public services are also at the forefront of people’s minds, especially education – one of Chris’s particular interests: “People are feeling that the state is failing to meet their needs”.

Business rates are a particularly local challenge, especially in West Hampstead. West End Lane businesses have seen rates double recently compared to an average London increase of 10 percent, due to valuations that said that property prices had shot up in the area. The Conservatives are saying that, if elected, they will make small business relief automatic to ease the burden on this sector.

Glenda Jackson had said that affordable social housing was the main issue she was encountering and I put it to Chris that the Conservatives were keen to sell off local housing stock. He set out the context for Camden’s sell-off, placing the blame on the previous Labour-run council that had failed to invest in maintaining properties. This had led the current Lib-Dem/Conservative coalition in Camden to sell off 500 of the council’s 25,000 properties, of which 130 have been sold thus far. The money raised, he argued, was going towards upgrading the rest of the housing stock. This would hold through until 2012-2013. Further funding would come from both within the existing budget and the rather drastic measure of rebuilding some council housing with higher density estates from which surplus stock could be sold off.

Chris slammed Labour claims that the Tories would cut Sure Start, “categorically assuring” me that Sure Start would not be cut and saying that such smears were symptomatic of Labour’s “ethical bankruptcy”. While we’re on the subject of categorical answers, he also denies point blank that his campaign has received any money from Lord Ashcroft.

Does he, I asked, agree with David Cameron that Britain is broken? Chris answers carefully, perhaps aware that this term has become quite emotive, saying he belives that “some parts of society are broken”, citing the country’s high rate of teenage pregnancy, long-term unemployment, and Britain’s high debt.

I had wondered whether all the tedious bickering between the parties here about exactly which of them were serious contenders for this seat might have finally been put to bed. However, Chris was adamant that this was still a two-horse race and no, Ed Fordham was not one of those horses. He alleged that a Lib Dem activist had placed a major bet on Ed to win in order to reduce the bookmakers’ odds – even suggesting that Nick Clegg’s party pulled this trick across the country. To my mind, it seems slightly risky to be so confident that the Lib Dems won’t be in the mix on election day.

If he does not win the seat, Chris says he plans to sleep and then go for a run on Hampstead Heath, but has not thought beyond that. If he is returned as the MP for Hampstead & Kilburn in the early hours of May 7th, his first meaningful tasks will be to work on sprucing up the Kilburn High Road and focusing on the proposed new school in Swiss Cottage. Indeed, he expressed an interest in an education role in any future Conservative government, “I went to state school and – against the odds perhaps – went to Oxford. I believe all children should have equal opportunities,” continuing to argue that educational attaintment should not be based on parental wealth – either in terms of affording private education, or moving to more expensive areas where the best state schools are found.

Finally, the question for all the candidates. Why should I vote for Chris Philp? “Because I have a great track record of getting things done, and it’s the only way to be sure of a change of government.”

Before returning to his wingmen, who are valiantly trying to woo the electorate on the High Road, Chris pops to the gents thereby missing the sight of his rival Ed walking past the Tory stall. Another great photo opportunity missed.

Can Gordon save Glenda? The PM comes to Kilburn

Sadly, I missed all the excitement of Gordon Brown’s hardcore day of touring London seats, including our very own Hampstead & Kilburn. Disappointed to have been unable to cover this for you, I’ve asked the very partial (but also the very present) Mike Katz, local Labour activist and council candidate for Camden’s Kilburn ward to write a few words. Also read Richard Osley’s account here.

“I’m sure the North London Tavern on Kilburn High Road has had its share of excitement, but today must have been a cut above the norm.

Dozens of Labour party supporters, local press and TV crews crammed into the pub’s upstairs room to hear the rallying cry for the last week of the election campaign from Hampstead & Kilburn’s Labour candidate Glenda Jackson, and the Prime Minister.

Gordon Brown was in great form, especially for a man who has just spent the last month on the road, and a bullish mood saying he was going to ‘fight every single moment of the day until Thursday’ to make people aware of the threat to jobs and the economy if the Tories take power. Glenda was full of passion too, talking about the importance of realising the potential of “our greatest natural resource – our people”.

Much of the news coverage focused on what happened afterwards. Some local Lib Dems turned up to heckle, so most of us bounded outside to ensure they didn’t have the last word. There was some largely good-natured badinage and a bit of jostling but nothing too serious.

Given our enthusiasm, and the fact that we were trying to stay on the pavement to avoid the traffic, we all ended up crowding round the door on Christchurch Avenue making it more or less impassable – so it’s no big surprise that Mr & Mrs Brown had to use an unorthodox exit (through the cellar, I believe). I didn’t actually see them come out, just heard a big cheer and the crowd instantly moving off afterwards. All that was left was to crowd round a BBC reporter and chant ‘Glenda, Glenda’ to make sure no-one was left unsure of the hearty Labour support in Kilburn.

Some people do this every day in the election campaign. It was fun, but once was enough. I prefer a gentle stroll from door-to-door myself.”

Boris Johnson is back

Just three short months after his last visit to West Hampstead, Mayor of London Boris Johnson was back in West Hampstead with a gaggle of local Conservatives around him including of course Chris Philp. Boris wandered up West End Lane, before ducking into The Wet Fish Café much to owner André‘s surprise (although they didn’t buy a coffee).
Boris and Chris then emerged to applause from the Tory supporters

And then made their way over to The Alice House, where various locals, party faithful, journalists and #whampers were waiting. Robert Webb turned up too, but studiously (and sensibly) ignored all the hullabaloo and had a smoothie tucked quietly out of the way.

There followed the obligatory entertaining, rabble-rousing speech from Boris about how we had to choose between Conservatives or a hung parliament; how West Hampstead (as opposed to Hampstead & Kilburn) was a “hinge of fate”. “He who holds West Hampstead holds London,” said Boris, hyperbole flowing as usual. He spoke of the fears of a hung parliament and the potential for Brown and Clegg to be “dickering and bickering”. To emphasise each point, Boris seemed to hit Chris in the chest. Which can’t have been pleasant.

Ashford MP Damian Green was also on hand and gave a slightly less verbally dextrous speech about erosion of civil liberties while Boris and Chris had a coffee.
There was some Q&A, although when the panel are on first name terms with the audience, one wonders quite how impromptu some of the questions were. There were few challenging questions, although Boris did tackle briefly the issue of funding for Crossrail.
Boris then did a few interviews with some weary looking journalists, who seem to know that there’s little chance of getting anything meaningful out of him, while I was introduced (for the second time) to Brian Coleman and asked if I wanted to interview him. I didn’t, which is just as well as he told me that “I don’t do bloggers.”
Tamsin Omond turned up, some blue cupcakes with pictures of David Cameron turned up, and slowly people began to disperse and eventually Boris too was on his way.

Glenda Jackson: The Interview

It’s Tuesday morning in Labour’s rather basic campaign office on the Kilburn High Road. Glenda is discussing campaign strategy amid piles of envelopes waiting to be delivered. A large Hampstead & Highgate peace banner hangs from the ceiling. I wonder how Kilburnites feel about that as I wait.

Over a coffee in the back room, Glenda Jackson sets out her prediction for the election. “A Labour government, with a much reduced but workable majority. But there’s a long time between now and next Thursday and many things can happen.” She’s right. The next day, Gordon Brown has his run-in in Rochdale.

Of course, Labour’s MP for Hampstead & Highgate for the past 18 years is unlikely to predict anything other than a win for her party. As for her own position, she is “perfectly prepared” to accept that this is a three-way race. This marks a change from some weeks ago when she was in the only-the-Conservatives-or-Labour-can-win-here camp. But denying the Lib Dem’s surge nationally, or Ed Fordham’s strong candidacy locally would now seem disingenuous.

Competition aside, how does this campaign differ from previous years? “There is a huge buzz on the street. People know it’s a very serious election and are taking it very seriously. On the specific local issues, the overwhelming issue in this constituency is the lack of affordable social rented housing. And there’s the perennial issue of planning. People here are very concerned about maintaining open spaces. You do see the benefits of government thinking – not only acknowledging the importance of open spaces as breathing spaces, but also as places where children can play in safety and as part of improving health.”

Perennial issues are one thing, but how is the double Oscar winner being received herself? “I’m pleasantly surprised at the reaction to me and the Labour party. There have been attacks on me personally by my opponents, which has never happened before, on the issue of me never doing any work.” The Liberal Democrats have branded Glenda “the least active MP in London” on the basis of her mentions in Hansard, where she compares unfavourably with Brent East’s Sarah Teather in particular.

She has defended her position at hustings and, after expressing outrage at the accusation, reiterates her point here. “I don’t need to stand in the rain,” she says, referring to Ed’s oft-used line about his lobbying of TfL over the Jubilee Line closures. “I can pick up the phone. There is a difference between achieving and doing a press release”.

I suggest that perhaps it’s an issue of visibility. “I can only go on what I do,” she says, frustrated, “and if it isn’t particularly visible, well there’s nothing I can do about that. A lot of the stuff I do in the constituency, such as visiting schools or mental health daycare centres, although I think it’s important I don’t think it’s necessarily newsworthy.”

She admits to finding it a bit disconcerting when the image is more important than someone’s actual presence. I suggest that visibility and broader engagement through modern tools such as YouTube and Twitter might be one way to counter people’s impression that she is not active. “I have a Facebook and a web,” she replies before (unneccessarily some might suggest) pointing out that she’s IT illiterate. It seems the benefits of modern political communication methods have not won her over although after the interview she asks more about Twitter.

She raises herself another criticism levelled at her by opponents: her decision not to live in the constituency. She argues that London constituencies are interdependent anyway, that she frequently spends every day of the week in the area, and that constituents’ concerns extend beyond the boundaries.

The final issue that has been a thorn in her side this campaign is her age. She is 73, and one journalist was brave (foolish?) enough to suggest that – should she win – she’d be a walking by-election. Her response then is her response now. “I found it absolutely outrageous given that we’ve just passed an Equality Bill and I thought we were doing away with these kind of ‘-isms’. She says she was reselected for the constituency three years ago and has never thought of changing her mind although this would be her final term were she to win.

So, what leads her to think that an outright Labout majority is possible when the polls suggest otherwise? “My reading on the street is that the underpinning for this election is the economy, and this delicate recovery has to be looked after. And the other thing I’m getting is that people don’t regard this as a broken Britain. The greatest natural national resource this country has is its people and their imagination, creativity and adaptability. There is this sense that when this country is in tough times we pull together. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.”

She is also an ardent supporter of Gordon Brown, and claims that she encounters similar support for him on the doorstep. “Honesty is a big word that comes up”. She also says people comment on Brown’s solidity and how Cameron and Clegg seem like little boys in comparison. “You think about Mr Cameron going to Europe and negotiating for us, with the people he’s lined up with… it’s crazy.” Her lack of conviction in Cameron is palpable.

“I know Gordon extremely well, and I’m absolutely stunned at the endless litany of abuse he gets. You couldn’t be more authentic than Gordon Brown. He is passionately committed to this country, to the Labour Party and to its founding principles of equality, opportunity, and social justice. I’ve had serious arguments with Gordon, not least on 42 days [the proposed time suspected terrorists could be held without charge], which I voted against, but he doesn’t bear grudges and he values debate.”

The bookmakers have her as third favourite in Hampstead & Kilburn. If she loses, what does she fear will happen? “It would be the neglect of the most vulnerable. We’ve already seen [with the LibDem/Conservative Camden council coalition] costs increasing for pensioners, the removal of 24/7 care in sheltered housing, funding slashed for youth services. They’re protesting they wouldn’t take away the Freedom Pass, but I have my doubts.”

Referring back to the issue of affordable social housing, Glenda cites the situation in Hammersmith & Fulham. “I believe the chair of the council [Stephen Greenhalgh] is the Conservatives’ housing guru. They are deliberately destroying social housing because they don’t want mixed communities, they want to ‘sweat the asset’, which is the expensive land.” More broadly she argues that we would lose a fifth of our SureStart centres and “in a nutshell, it would certainly be those who most need government support who would lose it. That’s the Big Society idea, what it really means is charities and the voluntary sector and if you don’t meet their criteria, tough.”

The passion in her voice rises. “To turn back what we’ve managed to achieve after those two home grown recessions of the Conservatives… the schools in this constituency have been genuinely transformed from when I was first elected. And to think that we would have millions of British people on the dust heap…” her voice trails off in quiet anger. “The Conservatives may protest they have changed but they haven’t.”

Her commitment is evident and her drive undimmed judging from the glint in her eyes when she is fired up. Whether it is enough to get her the votes she needs is far from obvious. So why, in a sentence, should anyone put a cross next to her name. “I always become a shrinking violet when I’m asked these questions,” she replies, causing a look of mild disbelief to cross my face. “Contrary to popular opinion, it’s the constituents more than the constituency that dictate the work of an MP. That’s why it’s so humbling.” She actually says a lot more. It certainly isn’t a one-sentence answer as she talks about political movements, voting against her own party, and the relationship between an MP and constituents.

I ask her again to complete the “I should vote for Glenda Jackson because…” sentence. She utters a slight sigh, implying that slogans and soundbites hold no interest for her. “What you see is what you get. You know what my political affiliations are, and my commitment to these people in this constituency is absolute. They take priority.”

Should she lose, what next? She replies, deadpan, “I have a fantasy that I’d be a jobbing gardener.”

Will the people of Hampstead & Kilburn decide to send her on permanent gardening leave, or will this at times formidable, at times deeply personable and passionate woman be given one final opportunity to be our MP? You decide on May 6th.

Summerhouse restaurant review

OK, it’s a bit outside the hood, but I don’t like refusing invitations, and it’s only a quick 187 bus ride from West Hampstead. Thanks to @w9maidavale aka Lord Elgin for this write-up. Dodgy photo is all down to me.

There are a lot of hungry people in W9 but not many places to eat out. So, a new restaurant is always a major event for the locals and there’s been quite a buzz about The Summer House – a temporary installation occupying the premises of the much loved Jason’s, right by the canal on Blomfield Avenue.

The PR spin has been about depositing The Hamptons in Little Venice. The website boasts of crisp summer salads, rosé wines and the best fish & chips in town, while the interior designers have ransacked Ikea and Habitat for a neutral, mildly nautical theme.

The dining room is lovely; light and airy with a splendid view of the canal. When it gets a little warmer there’ll be some fine tables on the terrace with the water lapping at your ankles.

Lady Elgin, a die-hard veggie, took fright at the menu, so Lord Elgin invited two hungry hyperlocal tweeters – @WHampstead and @stjohnswood1 – to help sample a wide range of fish-based dishes of variable quality. WH and SJW were scouting for girl-friendly date venues. Lord Elgin was hoping for a good local regular for evenings when he doesn’t want to cook.

The Summerhouse is primarily about fish. But it’s not a proper seafood joint. There’s no oyster bar, no catch of the day, no lobster bisque; in fact, nothing that requires a good nose and regular trips to Billingsgate. It’s seafood for people who don’t like seafood, who find de-boning a fish a bit of a struggle and who normally go for the fish cakes rather than the sea bream.

You are also allowed a cow steak, if you want, and the owners have put a single pinot noir on the list in its honour. Otherwise, it’s purely heavily marked up whites leavened by the occasional rosé, all rather underwhelming WH.

Lord Elgin’s a bit of traditionalist and began with clam chowder – plenty of potato, packed with bacon, no discernable flavor and no clams in sight. SJW was more fortunate with the smoked salmon and WH’s ample portion of calamari certainly qualified as “crispy”..

Mains were a mixed bag too. WH was satisfied with his prawn tagliatelle and said it was almost as good as the one he’d cooked himself the previous evening. SJW loved his swordfish steak – done just right and not too many weird sauces. Elgin, as host, was allowed to have the £16 fish and chips. Soggy batter, sickly tartar sauce and the eye-popping price tag disappointed. The chips, to be fair, were perfect, but you can have these on their own from the “Accessories” section of the menu. SJW deducted a point for this bewildering pretention.

No complaints about the portions. Full up with fish, three grown men only managed a single Pimm’s jelly between them for dessert.

The Summerhouse will do well. There’s plenty of W9-ers who’ll flock to the pretty canalside room for fishcake and chips and won’t blanche at the £30-£40 a head they’ll pay for the privilege. But it’s a missed opportunity to create something a bit more fishy that would attract a more discerning crowd from further afield. SJW and WH announced that the watery setting wasn’t enough to swing their next big date the Summerhouse’s way.

Hampstead and Kilburn hustings report

Another Thursday, another election debate. But who needs Brown, Cameron and Clegg when you have five of the eight parliamentary candidates for Hampstead & Kilburn to listen to.

The London Jewish Cultural Centre played host to this Ham & High hustings and the room soon filled up. To capture the mood of hustings, read Sarah’s excellent report on Tuesday’s West Hampstead library hustings. Here I attempt to assess each candidate’s performance on the various questions, see whether there was an overall winner, and then look briefly at where we stand in this three-way marginal. It’s a long blog, if you want to skip to the verdict or to the specific topics (‘Clegg effect‘, Europe, the role of MPs, education, Brent Cross and Israel), then please do.

My views here are of course subjective, but are based on how I felt candidates performed and were received in the room, rather than on my views on their policies.

From left to right we had Conservative Chris Philp is his obligatory open-necked shirt, independent candidate Tamsin Omond with her shock of blond hair, Beatrix Campbell from the Green Party but wearing all black, incumbent Hampstead & Highgate MP Glenda Jackson wearing Labour Party red, and suited Ed Fordham, the only candidate sporting an old-school rosette, yellow in his case for the Liberal Democrats.

Each candidate was given a couple of minutes to introduce themselves.

Ed spoke in broad terms about the “sense of something else” in the air, and made the point strongly that our votes counted while mentioning electoral reform. Glenda went big picture too, saying that nothing less than the future of our country was at stake, and the decision was between moving forward or stasis. She plied the Labour line that the economy was the key issue while we are in this period of fragile recovery and dismissed any notion of voter apathy – even before last week’s opening TV debate.

Bea gave us her potted biography, citing her working-class roots and how the state education system, NHS and housing program had been at the heart of her life. She lost her thread in the middle and had the air of an undergrad tutor leading a seminar. She sounded much more old Labour than Green. Tamsin’s opening was the most polished of the candidates, if sounding a little rehearsed and speech-like rather than conversational. She confessed that after some experiences during this, her first campaign, she didn’t like being a politician before using her time to say that not voting wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, the worst thing was for politicians to fail to engage with constituents who then felt that the BNP was their only option.

Chris was last to go and opened with a cheap gag about Nick Clegg that was met with louder groans than laughs. He reinforced his local credentials both as resident and campaigner before being the only candidate to really mention party policy at this stage and to criticise Labour’s overspending during the boom years.

Winner: this was Tamsin’s round, despite drifting perilously close to a rally speech, she was the most eloquent and came across as the most passionate.

The first question from the chair was about the sustainability of the Nick Clegg effect.

Ed disarmingly said that it was so extreme that it didn’t feel real and argued that there was the election the electorate was thinking about and the election that the media was reporting on and they were not the same. Glenda said the impact was largely due Clegg’s previous anonymity and that we were “supposed to be an adult nation” who wouldn’t be affected by a media story.

Bea thought the Clegg effect wouldn’t be forgotten whatever the election outcome, referring to a “potent sense of collective self-discovery.” Whatever that meant. Tamsin got the first proper laugh of the evening by saying she was surprised at the post-debate reaction because she “didn’t think Clegg had been very good”, going on to praise Gordon Brown’s performance.

Chris didn’t really answer the question, instead saying that the election was a choice between “more interference” or a “new approach”. He also pointed out that all the candidates were sporting a “campaign tan” from being out on the sunny streets so much!

Winner: a tie between Ed and Glenda

At the previous Ham & High hustings, Tamsin had been in the audience and UKIP’s Magnus Nielsen had been on stage. The situation was reversed here, and Nielsen got to ask the first question, which was about Europe’s plan to carve us up into regions.

Glenda was very dismissive, citing the very raison d’être for the European project – namely to bind France and Germany in a peaceful relationship. Chris set out his pro free-trade stance although didn’t believe in forcing states to do things “against their will”, making a bizarre comparison to the former Yugoslavia. He of course argued in favour of a referendum on treaties but is in favour of EU membership.

Tamsin’s short answer was that “We’re in it so we should make the best of it”, while cautioning over relinquishing too much sovereignty. Bea gave us a history lesson, which concluded that the UK was better off as part of Europe. Ed talked about holding referenda on some big issues but not to unpick all that had gone before, and distinguished between the idea of “difference and division”.

Magnus then plugged his blog [link from UKIP site doesn’t work], and – having been prompted by Glenda to the amusement of all – his book [which I can’t find on Amazon, although he said it was available there].

Winner: Chris, despite his Yugoslavia reference

The first question from the floor was about MPs’ availability, the questioner suggesting that the constituency hadn’t had an accessible MP for 30 years.

Glenda, MP for 18 of those 30 years, was given first bite of the cherry. She said she was “shocked and stunned” at that assessment, and said she was available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. She argued that “the work of a MP is what constituents demand of me”. She became a bit irate and said she was hurt by the question. Ed talked about his local achievements as a campaigner, and how MPs had influence if not power.

Bea, who lives just over the border of the constituency, said she’d “like to answer the question in a slightly different way”, eliciting a heckle of “again?”. She had a dig at Tamsin’s desire to represent everyone and said that constituents didn’t need “looking after”. She also pointed out her activist background. Tamsin sought to clarify her position. “I will be your representative”, she explained before saying that she would be “the most energetic conversation starter you have ever known.” At this point Tamsin seemed ever so slightly like Bea Campbell’s mini-me.

Chris felt it necessary to mention his local wedding again, before telling us his nickname used to be Tigger. The question of who exactly had saved Hampstead police station came up, with Chris saying that Ed’s intervention had been irrelevant, whereas he himself had spoken to the decision makers. Glenda chimed in that the police stations had “never been under serious threat”, to looks of disbelief from Ed and Chris and boos from the audience.

A woman in the audience then put it to Glenda that if she lived in the consituency (she lives in Lewisham) she would have fought harder on issues such as the closure of the South End Green sub-post office.

Glenda put up a very robust defence both on that particular post office issue depsite cries of “Shame” from the audience, and on her place of residency. She argued that MPs outside London spend five days a week at Westminster so are hardly full-time residents of their constituency. The questioner felt very strongly that in today’s political world, MPs must be local. Glenda countered, citing the number of letters she receives about national and international issues.

Winner: no overall winner

The next topic was education, specifically the lack of primary school places in Camden.

Chris got another family values point in as he said he hoped to be experiencing these issues for himself soon, before reiterating that he was in favour of state education. He then brought up the Tory’s education policy of getting local groups to run schools.

Tamsin kicked off with the dry remark that mothers had so much free time on their hands that running schools would be easy, to applause from the audience. She then talked about community-based education, which didn’t actually sound that different from some of Chris’s ideas, and raised the idea of retired teachers coming back to help in schools. Bea rather neatly used Chris’s own words of “empowerment” and “liberating” to mock the Conservative proposals before setting out a vision for education that removed inequality of standards and meant that the local school was the best school.

Glenda tried to tackle the issue about Camden schools but focused on secondary education to begin with. Ed, who was shaking his head while Glenda spoke, then showed a very confident grasp of all the facts and figures of local schools and funding. He argued that it was time for a big conversation about education in north-west London. His understanding of the topic, and the challenges of balancing state and private education demand, especially in Hampstead, impressed the audience who gave the first proper applause of the evening. Ed, also managed to get in the word “assiduously”, to match Bea and Glenda who had used it earlier!

Winner: Ed by a mile

Another local question: should the new Brent Cross development go to a public enquiry, given the impact it would have on local high streets?

Bea: Yes, yes, yes. Tamsin: Yes. She then mentioned the West Hampstead loyalty card scheme that has been mooted for a while, suggesting it could be a cross-consituency card, so Kilburn shoppers could get benefits in Hampstead and vice-versa. Was hard to tell whether a horrified shudder spread across the room.

Chris thought that part of the proposal – namely the incinerator and tower – should go to an enquiry, but otherwise trusted Barnet council. He then got on to one of his favourite topics – business rates and taxation of small businesses. He referred to the closure of the Kilburn Bookshop, and became quite animated. The oratory worked and he got a big cheer for his anti-tax anti-regulation position.

Glenda said yes to the inquiry and then tried to fight back against Chris but was a little weak and Chris moved in for the kill saying small businesses had been “taxed to within an inch of their lives”. More cheers. Glenda was on the back foot, but Chris perhaps overplayed his hand with a weaker attack on Labour’s tax record, although the crowd still responded well.

Ed looked Chris in the eye and recalled the day under a Thatcher government when his father’s business was repossessed. The audience was in no mood for maudlin tales and heckles of “answer the question” and “a lot’s changed since then” rang forth. He argued that citing the Kilburn Bookshop is disingenuous as he knows the owner and business rate were not the main reason for closure. He then finally got round to the question and it turns out was involved in drafting the LibDem’s original objection. He went on to criticise both the Tory’s and Labour’s planning laws to a round of applause.

Winner: Chris

The final question of the evening was the one that had been talked about in the café beforehand. A woman asked an extremely well-phrased but direct question to Ed about the Liberal Democrat policy on Israel citing the mixed messages from the party. She mentioned Baroness Tonge, whose anti-Israeli comments eventually led Nick Clegg to sack her, but her continued presence in the House of Lords has angered many. The questioner also mentioned the disparity in message between LibDem leaflets in Holborn & St Pancras that clearly target the area’s Muslim community, and those delivered in Hampstead with some text in Hebrew and photos of Ed with members of the Knesset. The question drew applause.

There was no doubt this was the tough question of the night, and obviously one of particular interest for many of the audience given that this was being held in the Jewish Cultural Centre.

Ed began by stating the Lib Dem’s official policy, which he mentioned is broadly the same for all three main parties, namely a peaceful negotiated two-state solution. He then criticised Baroness Tonge very clearly. “Lose the whip”, someone called out. Ed explained that as a member of the House of Lords the whip couldn’t be removed, and Clegg had done all he could by sacking her. The audience wasn’t overly impressed. Ed continued saying that the LibDems had got themselves in a “difficult place with Israel”, perhaps partly as a result of their strong opposition to the Iraq war.

Ed explained why he had embarked on “political tourism” to Israel and Gaza, and met with members of the Knesset from all parties. The thrust of his point was that he personally recognised the importance of understanding the issue from all sides, and would do all he could to get the party on track. Although he mentioned that the constituency had almost equal numbers of Jews and Muslims, he didn’t address directly the issue of the mixed messages between this constituency and Holborn & St Pancras. He did however get some applause for his answer, and there was a feeling that at the very least these were issues he took seriously and had thought about.

Glenda reiterated Labour’s policy of a negotiated solution, although thought it looked unlikely before embarking on an articulate, passionate and emotional speech about the horror of the conflict that clearly came from the heart.

Bea possibly sensed trouble and chose to quote directly from the Green’s manifesto, which criticises Israel’s “campaign of collective punishment” against Gaza. She didn’t get very far before an angry voice shouted back “what about the Hamas rockets?”. After a moment of back and forth, Campbell declared that the man wasn’t prepared to listen so she should shut up. He agreed. Tamsin backed away from the issue and talked about local grassroots organizations “working things out”, citing a couple of groups in the Middle East that are trying to do that.

Chris, a “Conservative Friend of Israel” focused on the Lib Dems, pointing out that Clegg has said that Israel should be disarmed, that Jenny Tonge was made a peer after she had said some of the contentious things about Israel, and disagreeing that she couldn’t be removed from the Lords. He said the Lib Dems should be ashamed of trying to stir up community feeling. He then rather undermined that point saying that it seemed the Lib Dems “had a list of Jewish people. I can’t be alone in finding that a bit creepy”. There was a murmur in the crowd, and Chris was certainly alone on the stage as all the other candidates and the chair turned on him for that emotive comment. Ed responded, focusing again on his own perspective and getting a warm round of applause. The original questioner said she would hold him to his word.

Winner: Glenda for passion and oratory, but Ed for responding to criticism so well and handling the topic sensitively

Overall verdict: Ed and Chris both performed well. Glenda had her moments, but her inability to remember details was shown up next to Ed’s grasp of minutiae. Bea, although likeable, seemed too keen to have an intellectual debate (and heaven forbid there should be intellectuals in politics!). Tamsin, having got off to a great start, was always going to struggle on some of the specifics, and her mantra of starting conversations and solving everything locally perhaps wore a little thin towards the end. Ultimately, Ed shaved it over Chris whose only really strong performance came on the small business issue.

So, where do we stand in Hampstead & Kilburn with less than two weeks to go? Weighing up the balance between local issues, individual candidates and the national situation is extraordinarily difficult in this constituency.

Lets deal with the minor players first. Despite Tamsin’s fears that the BNP might gain traction with some voters, they don’t generally poll well here. UKIP might fare better if their candidate didn’t seem (as one of his rivals put it privately) “like a Shakesperean fool”. The unknown Gene Alcantara will do well to break the 100 vote barrier.

Intuitively, one feels the Greens should perform well here but, other than at hustings, Bea has been quiet locally and the party lacks the resources to do damage. She is also contesting a council seat and may have better luck there. Tamsin, fourth favourite with the bookmakers, is the unknown package. She’s been working hard to get people registered to vote, and anecdotally is receiving support, but her target group of voters may still not turn out on election day, whatever promises they give on the street. A sunny day and an enormous final push could see her getting a meaningful number of votes, and a fourth place finish ahead of the Green party would be impressive.

So, what about the big three?

It may be too easy to write Glenda off, Labour still has a strong base of support and hasn’t been as badly hurt as some might have expected. A rally for Labour nationally could still see her in with a shout on May 6, although the sense that she personally may have served her time is hard to escape. This presents a problem for the ABC (Anyone but Conservatives) crowd, as tactical voting is hard to judge. Mercifully, none of the main three candidates trotted out the “it’s a two horse race” line this time – lets hope that’s dead and buried now.

Chris will appeal to the diehard Tory voters, and will pick up floaters who like his get-up-and-go attitude. But as the Cameron campaign struggles to deliver the killer blows to a surprisingly resilient Gordon Brown, will Chris be able to count on enough of a general swing to the right to take the seat? His will be the last name called by the returning officer when the result is announced, and only then will the winner be known.

Ed is the bookie’s favourite just ahead of Chris, and has performed well in hustings. The Lib Dems are always strong on the ground with several forest-worths of material shoved through letterboxes every day. His “lives here and loves it” campaign makes him seem accessible and for those tired of Glenda but not ready to turn blue, he may turn out to be the obvious choice as it is hard to dislike him or doubt that he would work hard.

Whatever you do, get out there and vote.

West Hampstead Hustings – the who, the why and the WHAT?

Huge thanks to @Wild_Sarah for this excellent report on Tuesday night’s hustings.

It was standing room only at last night’s Hampstead & Kilburn hustings in West Hampstead library, and a feisty crowd for our six keen candidates to impress.

Cries of ‘Fix the mike’ and ‘Who are you? We can’t see you at the back,’ provided an opportunity for Labour MP Glenda Jackson to show off her Oscar-winning enunciation, though not all candidates fared as well.

‘When I was in Hyde Park I could be heard right back at the Serpentine on a sunny day,’ insisted UKIP’s Magnus Nielsen, resulting in a ‘Go back there!’ from a voice in the crowd.

Debate kicked off with a hyperlocal question about the planned closure of North West London College. Responding for the Green Party, Bea Campbell pronounced the decision ‘a damn shame’ – a sentiment shared by all candidates to varying degrees. They agreed that the three-year old building should be put to good use, even if it is not occupied by students, who have been packed off to Willesden according to Glenda.

Tie-less Tory Chris Philp criticised the ‘centralisation and bureaucracy’ of the current government, which results in money not reaching frontline services and Lib Dem Ed Fordham (resplendent in a gold rosette) declared further education a ‘Cinderella service’.

For UKIP, the trail of evil could be tracked back to Europe. ‘This country is mortgaged to the European Union,’ cried Magnus, not for the last time.

But it was Tamsin Omond of The Commons who won the first applause of the night, criticising the other candidates’ apparent defeatism.’ There is still time to protect this college,’ she asserted, explaining her party’s policy of local taxes, with 70 per cent reinvested in the community.

Question number two required candidates to reveal the issues on which they would defy the party whip: Ed said he could think of 162 things (without specifying any of them); Bea could find nothing to disagree with in the Green’s ‘small but perfectly formed’ manifesto, which unites the two big objectives of attaining social justice and a sustainable planet.

By contrast, plain-speaking Glenda revelled in her disobedient streak: ‘As somebody who has [voted against the whip] many times before, may I say that the first time is the worst’, she joked, before identifying Trident & ID cards as two issues she’d vote against.

Chris revealed that he’d spent ‘the whole year with his teeth fastened around Boris Johnson’s ankle’ to prevent the threatened local police station closures. Glenda pointed out that this was probably ‘too far away from Boris’ brain for him to feel it.’

An emotive question on assisted suicide divided opinion: Glenda would vote against it, to stand up for the vulnerable; Chris would vote in favour, standing up for individual choice & liberty. ‘I find myself agreeing with Chris,’ said Bea, as visibly astonished by her statement as Chris was.

Next came a quizzing on the One Big Issue each candidate would tackle to make a difference Right Now. Chris attempted to introduce four but was dissuaded by loud groans, opting for ‘the economy’ and describing our current level of debt as a ‘damning indictment on Labour’s stewardship.’ He pledged to get national spending under control and to lighten the burden of tax on families and businesses.

Climate change came top for both Ed and Bea, an issue equally close to environmental campaigner Tamsin’s heart, though her key aim is to transfer power to the people, engaging them in democracy.

Meanwhile, Glenda urged us all to ‘start trusting each other: it is fantasy to think that this country has fallen down a black hole called debt, never to emerge again,’ she barked. ‘Our greatest national and natural resource is you.’

When asked about the likelihood of further widespread redundancies, her reply (that she knew little about it, since she herself was ‘always sacked’) was rewarded with laughter, though her promise to ‘create more jobs’ sounded a bit vague.

Bea scolded: ‘I don’t thing it behoves the Tories to lecture about debt, ‘also wiping the smirk off Glenda’s face by adding that ‘New Labour has also endorsed the system.’

Chris spoke of his desire to champion small local businesses, reducing disincentives to employ new staff. For UKIP, the trail of evil could be tracked back to Europe.

Since the hustings was organised by West Hampstead Amenities and Transport (WHAT), it was only right to have a question on transport, which revealed mass fury over endless weekends of Jubilee line closures for ‘planned engineering work’; threatened northern line closures; and the ongoing Thameslink and Overground hell.

Ed was in his element, regaling the audience with tales of ‘embarrassing and preposterous’ conversations with TfL; damp protests in the rain outside its HQ in order to secure a meeting, not to mention undercover work in Lately’s, pumping the rail engineers for information.

Chris talked of his work to reduce the threat of Northern Line closures, although there was a distinct feeling in the room that the Hampsteadites’ needs had been met, whereas those of us ‘down the hill’ had been left to suffer the slings and arrows of the Jubilee line closures.

Ed’s assertion that ‘the Oyster card is the equivalent of a shareholder’s card,’ went down well, unlike Glenda’s apparent lack of action on her constituents’ behalf. ‘Where were you, Glenda,’ catcalled the crowd. ‘You live in Lewisham, for goodness’ sake.’

Tamsin voiced annoyance at the lack of public consultation and Bea at the years spent ‘detaching transport from direct public accountability.’

For UKIP, the trail of evil could be tracked back to Europe, though everyone else thought that Public Private Partnership might have much more to do with it.

A final question on health came at the eleventh hour (five minutes before the official 9.30pm end time), bringing up the thorny issue of cancer guarantees. Bea called for ‘a release from targets’, describing the ‘Tory rhetoric’ over its promise to fund new cancer drugs as ‘easy and glib’, an accusation refuted by Chris, of course.

For UKIP, the trail of evil could be tracked back to Europe.

Ed stressed that we shouldn’t have a ‘cheap, political squabble about the NHS’ a point with which most people agreed, not least because their tummies were rumbling and they wanted to go home.

Minutes later (though a full two hours from the start of the debate) and we were all on our way, safe in the knowledge that there is no danger of apathy striking in Hampstead & Kilburn but less sure who will triumph on 6 May.

West Hampstead bookshop “lock-in” success

Last night saw an experiment in West Hampstead. West End Lane Books threw its doors open from 9 to 10pm to @WHampstead twitter followers (and a few others!). There was wine, there was chat, there was 15 percent off everything. A dozen or so #whampers decided that the election debate on TV wasn’t enough of a lure (or recorded it) and getting to know a few fellow locals was a far better option.

It was great to see a mix of familiar faces such as @bubela, @TheWetFishCafe and @SamWong1 along with some first-time whampeventers including @designbyday, @jenny23232323 and @tractorgirlie.

Photo by @designbyday. Original here

Plenty of books were bought (lets not forget that if we want to keep our independent bookshops we do, at least occasionally, have to buy books from them and not Amazon), a reasonable amount of wine was drunk, and hopefully everyone had a good time!

Other bookshop / @WHampstead tie-ins are being mooted, so keep your eyes peeled and follow the #whampbooks hashtag. The bookshop also organises lots of its own events.

The Winch Needs You!

As many readers will know, the whamp community is supporting local charity The Winchester Project this year under the banner of #whampforgood.

Already, many of you have helped out in lots of different ways, whether by volunteering at the recent open evening, producing films (more of that later), or giving money at some of our events. As some big changes happen at The Winch, it’s time for another call to arms. Time to see whether you might be able to help. To that end, here’s a message from Paul, the director of The Winch:

Dear Friend,

Time whistles by, and unfortunately it’s been slightly longer than the week I promised for sending out a list of the different ways in which people can get involved at the Winch. We’ve managed to distil all the possibilities (or all those we could think of) into 8 areas and will be sending one out at the beginning of each week. Do have a look and see what appeals, and of course if not for you it may be that someone else you know has been looking for a certain opportunity, or has an idea, or what have you. I’m keen that M4th [the open evening] wasn’t simply a nice evening (although we enjoyed it immensely!) but that it’s a foundation we can build on. Thank you once again for being a part of it.

This week, we’re focusing on ‘Admin & Support’. This is the bread and butter of running any organisation which is crucial but pretty unglamorous. Ultimately, we need phones answered, photocopying done and wherever possible, resources contributed (or sponsored!). There are a good few suggestions for what shape this can take, but even simply having more people around – if only for a few hours a week – can free other staff or volunteers up to do other things. It’s a really easy point of contact and and can be ideal as experience on the CV.

In the meantime, here is a write-up of the evening done by the Ham & High, and you can read the article which featured our work in the Camden New Journal. On top of this, we’re excited to say that we’ve been contacted and are in talks with a couple of individuals who are interested in supporting our plans for the future of the building, potentially on quite a grand scale. Of course, I’ll keep you posted on this.

Thanks for being part of what we’re doing at the Winch.



If you are new to @Whampstead or the blog and have NO idea what any of this is about, then why not watch this short film made for The Winch by whamper @hollycocker

An Introduction to The Winch from Holly Cocker on Vimeo.