Wednesday, 30 January 2013

President Franklin D. Roosevelt: London statues and birthday

He was born on this day - 30th January - in 1882 at Hyde Park; in New York, that is, writes Paul Coleman.
   One statue of him stands on a plinthe in Grosvenor Square. But many Londoners know his Mayfair statue better. Indeed, every day people pose for a photo by squeezing between the amiable bronze figure of Franklin Delano Roosevelt sat beside his relaxed counterpart, Winston Churchill.
   By 1921 polio had paralysed FDR's legs. But polio did not stop FDR from becoming the 32nd United States President in 1933. Roosevelt led the United States out of the 1930s Great Depression with his New Deal. He centralised power so the Federal Government could halt bank runs, regulate shares, farm prices, wages and create jobs to help  America's 13 million unemployed.
   Today's 'austerians' on the political right deride FDR for leading America towards socialism. The left denounce Roosevelt for saving capitalism instead of allowing the 'beast' to die. 
   Both right and left claim economist John Maynard Keynes influenced FDR. But people who knew him best say FDR acted instinctively in the interests of the jobless, poor, homeless and hungry. Roosevelt, they say, wasn't a great reader. 
  Looking at Roosevelt's face on his London statues, I wonder what kind of world would've emerged without FDR's instinctive New Deal rescue? And, what would Roosevelt have thought of the global financial mess we now face and our political responses to it?

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, January 2013

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Helicopter crash, the Tower, St George Wharf, Vauxhall, London Intelligence

Two people are reportedly killed this morning as a helicopter crashes in to a crane next to The Tower building at St George Wharf in the Vauxhall area of central London.
   The development with tower and crane is pictured as it looked last summer.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, January 2013

Heygate Estate, Lend Lease, Southwark, Elephant and Castle, London Intelligence

A midnight gamble. A roll of the dice into an uncertain future with £1.5 billion at stake, writes Paul Coleman.
   Just after the stroke of midnight, at the end of a six-hour meeting punctuated by protest,  Southwark's elected politicians vote four to two, with one abstention, to approve global developer Lend Lease's plan to redevelop the landmark Heygate Estate at south London's Elephant and Castle.
   Lend Lease chief Dan Labbad and Southwark leader Peter John voice delight at the outcome. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," says Labbad. "Despite challenging financial times, we have the financial capacity to commit to this scheme."
    But local people packed into the meeting express their dismay at the loss of over 1,212 council homes on the Heygate. Lend Lease are now committed to building between 2,300 and 2,469 new homes across the site. But local people point out only 71 'social rent' or council homes are earmarked across the £1.5bn re-development scheme.
   Over 200 former Heygate tenants still want to exercise a 'right to return', according to Adrian Glasspool, a Heygate leaseholder. Southwark Council has promised residents they could return if redevelopment plans were approved.

Viability gap
Just before the midnight hour vote, Lend Lease corporate officers persuade a majority of councillors that its financial capability as a global developer means it can include 25 per cent 'affordable housing' across the development. Studies though put viability at just 9.4 per cent. Any more affordables and this viability gap means Lend Lease won't get a return on the scheme.
   Affordable homes will be a mix of shared ownership and 'affordable rent' aimed at 50 per cent of the market rate.
  Thousands of residents living in the Heygate were moved over the last decade to other parts of the Elephant, across Southwark and to other parts of London and south-east England. But Glasspool refused to be moved and his home is now subject to compulsory purchase.
   Looking further ahead, the plan's magnitude means Lend Lease's self-certified financial muscle could well be needed as economic  uncertainty and a lack of government funds for new homes could dominate the next decade. 
   How long will demolition and redevelopment of the Heygate take? Southwark and Lend Lease say more than ten years.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, January 2013

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

HMV, inevitable structural failure, human damage, economy, London Intelligence

HMV, a temple of my adolescence, is going...going...gone. The 92-year-old music shop chain is in administration, writes Paul Coleman.
   The little dog listening to His Master's Voice on the gramophone seems set to disappear from London's 'high streets'. Shops, like my favourites on Oxford Street and in Enfield Town, will remain open whilst Deloitte tries to find a buyer for HMV, or at least some of the business. 
   But HMV's prospects look gloomy. The human damage of this High Street failure means over 4,000 staff across HMV's 238 shops across the country face great anxiety. 
  "We first heard about going into administration on the news," a young salesman tells me from behind the counter at HMV in Enfield Town, the chain's oldest branch. 
  Unhappy staff at Jessop's, the camera shop over the road, tell a similar tale as they dismantle shelves and self-serve photo print teminals. "We heard about our chain going bust on the TV," says a long-serving member of staff. "A lot of other shops are worried too here." Jessops closed all of its stores last Friday.
Inevitable structural failure
Earlier this morning, we were treated to the sight and sound of handsomely paid business analysts, blessed with the glorious wisdom of hindsight, labelling HMV's demise as 'inevitable structural failure'.
   Internet retailers and supermarkets offering downloads, CDs and DVDs at cheaper prices have squeezed HMV, the analysts say. Suppliers reportedly baulked at HMV's request for about £300 million to help the chain pay off its bank and revamp its business model. 
   Hang on a minute though; if HMV's plight was inevitable, why are so many staff facing a sudden and imminent fall over a cliff into joblessness?
   Of course, 'record shops', as folks of my generation still call them, have bitten the dust before. I recall many happy hours forming my LP and 'singles' record,tape, CD, VHS and DVD collections in places like Our Price in Southgate, Tower Records in Piccadilly and Camden, and now Fopp in Shaftesbury Avenue. 
   All gone, except for Fopp.  
  No, hold it, Fopp is an HMV discount offshoot. Fopp will flop too.
But I can't help thinking if HMV had been an ailing bank, that £300m would've been deemed small change. 
   "Sorry, little mutt, listen to your real master's voice," say the analysts. "It's all to do with inevitable structural market failure in the internet age.
  "And, no, you ain't a bank, geddit," says the market.
   So, scram!"

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, January 2013 

Words & Photos © Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2013

Sunday, 13 January 2013

London Intelligence: Economy, Jessops closes,1,400 lives damaged

The young woman in black blouse and trousers hesitates before me. "I'll be with you in a minute," she says.
   She serves a man showing interest in buying a Canon camera. I'm a tad miffed. I only want to pick up my prints. Finally, the man leaves without buying.
   "Sorry 'bout the wait," she says. I get my prints and leave.
   Just days later, the young woman finds herself out of a job.
 I didn't know it at the time but that was to be the last of my many trips to Jessops, the photography shop in Enfield Town, a north London suburb.
  On Friday evening, (11 January) Jessops closes for the last time. And not just in Enfield; all 187 Jessops stores across the country close with the loss of almost 1,400 jobs.
    HSBC and the Pension Protection Fund, as main shareholders, become secured creditors. Former  Jessops chairman David Adams says: "It should never have been put into administration . It was undue haste. It's appalling people have lost their jobs."
   An HSBC statement says: "We have provided extensive support for Jessops in addition to providing funds to cover the cost of administration and to ensure staff are paid in January."
   So, sadly, my local camera shop now merits a final photo itself. I wouldn't have quibbled over a few minutes wait. London's High Streets have lost an excellent shop with diligent staff giving good service.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, January 2013

Words & Photos © Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2013

Saturday, 5 January 2013

London Football: FA Cup 3rd Round day - Crystal Palace 0 Stoke City O

It's 12.48pm. BBC TV football commentator Jonathan Pearce's excited cackle bleeds through mobile phone headphones worn by a  nearby train passenger, writes Paul Coleman.
   Pearce is describing the ebb and flow of today's early FA Cup 3rd round clash between Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United. I first watched an FA Cup third round tie some 35 years ago. In those days, the idea of live match commentary piped via a mobile  telephone to a man on a train would've been dismissed as utter science fiction.
  I'm on my way to watch another FA Cup tie. Championship hopefuls Crystal Palace will take on Premiership tough guys, Stoke City, at Palace's Selhurst Park stadium in south London. A Crystal Palace club was originally formed by  workers at the Victorian era Great Exhibition but the current club was founded in 1905.
Nostalgic aroma
Smoking is now banned in English football stadiums, including Crystal Palace. Outside the stadium, next to a huge van containing police horses, a man with a clipboard drags on a fat cigar. The aroma wafts my mind nostalgically back to those FA Cup ties 35 years ago when cigar smoke filled the air inside stadiums. 
   2.30pm. The ticket office girl smiles and sells me a ticket for seat 51, row 31, Block C in the Holmesdale Road grandstand. I pass through the turnstile and inside buy a bacon cheeseburger. 
   "That's wiv, or wivout, mate?"
- "What's wiv or wivout?"
"Wiv onions or not?"
With a 'cutta tea', my luncheon costs £6.50.
   I happily munch next to a patch of grass on which rests a small plaque, some flowers and mementos. The plaque reads: 'The ashes of Crystal Palace fans lie here. They come to every match. Please show them respect'. 
  A younger man  walks by and says to an older man. "Dad, that's where we gonna put you."
- "Don't be 'orrible," chunters the older man.

Glad it's over
Crystal Palace and Stoke City emerge to a raucous Palace fans' rendition of 'Glad All Over'. Stoke strikers Peter Crouch, now  aged 31, and Michael Owen, 33, start the match for Stoke, renewing a once lucrative goal-scoring partnership for England's national team. Crouch's lanky frame contrives to miss an open goal from inside the six-yard box. 
   Owen's fading career is now in gloomy twilight.  The play and the ball  bypass him constantly. His few touches prove ineffectual. Not surprisingly, Owen is substituted only five minutes into the second half.
   Wilfred Zaha combines skilfully with his attacking team-mates but  Crystal Palace's spidery-limbed young star limps off early in the second half to a standing ovation interspersed with mutterings about his lack of upper body strength.  
   Palace huff and puff with admirable possession play but lack both guile and muscle to break through the  towering red and white timbers of Stoke's defensive forest. Stoke simply play to their strengths - superior height strength - to stifle Palace. They deaden the tie so it lulls towards a final scoreless stalemate. 

Knowing smile
But Stoke's cumbersome football fails to silence Palace's admirably loud and good humoured fans. Now I know why the ticket office girl smiled. In Block C everybody stands during entire games singing their hearts out for Palace's red and blue Eagles. 
It's 4.53 pm. Referee Neil Swarbrick blows the final whistle. 
My seat is still cold. 
We've all watched the entire 90 minutes standing up. 
Just like when I watched football in my 'old days'.

FA Cup Third Round, Saturday, 5 January 2013
Kick-off: 3pm
Venue: Selhurst Park
Result: Crystal Palace (0) 0 Stoke City (0) 0
Attendance: 13,693
Replay scheduled 15 January at Stoke City

My ticket: £20 
Programme: £3  Ranked 8/10
Burger & Tea: £6.50    6/10
Match quality: 4/10
Best player on view: Wilfred Zaha
Disappointment: Michael Owen
Atmosphere: 7/10 

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, January 2013


London: FA Cup 3rd Round: Magical normality for 90 minutes at Crystal Palace, West Ham and Chelsea

"War! What is it good for? Absolutely nuthin'," once sang famous soul funksters War.  
   Portsmouth football fans might just shrug their shoulders. After winning the FA Cup in 1939, 'Pompey' held the famous trophy until 1946 but without having to win a single match. The UK government had ordered football's cessation at the outbreak of World War II in 1939.
   However, as war and misery spread, the authorities allowed a limited resumption of London challenge matches to boost morale. Royal Air Force Spitfire and Hurricane fighter planes were said to have twitched in north London skies as crowds of over 30,000 enjoyed matches at Wembley Stadium.
   Today, (Saturday, 5 January), at 4.50pm, millions will eagerly focus their attention on the re-assuringly magical trundle of results emerging from matches played across the country in the 3rd Round proper of the FA Cup.

Glorious humiliation
Don't believe the hokum, humbug and hype written about 'the decline of the FA Cup'. The oldest football competition in the world - founded in 1872 - remains close to the heart of football fans in England and Wales. 
   'Proper' refers to this traditionally special stage when top flight clubs from the Premiership and Championship enter the competition. Hoping to meet, beat and gloriously humiliate them are lower league clubs from small towns who have battled through earlier qualifying rounds that began in late August. Much attention will this afternoon focus on the battle of Hastings United as their part-time footballers venture north hoping to put mightier Middlesbrough's full-time professionals to the sword.

Mighty oaks
Thankfully, the FA Cup 3rd Round is a sign we are not at war. But we are still in the mire - austerity, unemployment and recession - of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s Depression. 
  So, the exciting tick this afternoon of 3rd round FA Cup results means the welcome distraction provided by this great day in the sporting calendar. Across London, thousands will flock to watch West Ham battle Manchester United, Chelsea scrap with Southampton, and Charlton Athletic harangue Huddersfield Town. 
   Up and coming Crystal Palace hope to topple the mighty Premiership oaks of Stoke City, a skilful  yet ruggedly physical team boasting some of the tallest footballers in the land. Stoke supporters are also reckoned to be the loudest.
 Magical normality for 90 minutes, at least. How the most raucous could be silenced, how the mighty could fall...

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, January 2013