Sunday, August 28, 2016

The spy who came in from the Co-op.


The photo above was taken on Friday morning by Maggot Sandwich reader and local resident Pam, who noted the illegally fly - tipped waste in Fraser Road, Erith. The tipped waste included furniture and domestic waste - including a number of used baby's nappies (delightful - not!) and most notably a three seater sofa that had been dumped in such a way as to make the footpath virtually impassable. Some scumbag had the temerity to dump the waste on what is a busy main road whilst traffic passed by. Once Pam told me of the situation, I contacted Bexley Council Environmental Crimes Unit. Unfortunately the person I needed to speak to was on holiday. After a couple of quick Emails to local Councillors Edward Boateng and Abena Oppong - Asare, they both got things in process, and the mess was cleaned up by a Bexley Council contractor by 7pm on the same evening. Great work and thanks to both of them for a job well done. What we need to do is stop the fly tipping from happening in the first place. In my opinion the two biggest threats to local law and order are illegal bike riding and criminal fly tipping. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

You may recall that I recently mentioned that Bexley Council were planning on selling off seven parcels of land in the local area, most of which were located in the North of the borough. I have since found out that the sale of such land is not in my opinion economically viable, and does not make any good business sense. In an article published by the Bexley Times last week, the journalist Simon Allin wrote:- "Millfield Open Space on Iron Mill Lane, a recreation area that includes play facilities for youngsters, has been earmarked for disposal, along with five other spaces in Erith, Crayford and Belvedere. The council cited ‘unprecedented financial pressures’ as the reason for the decision, with the need to make savings of £56 million by 2019/20. It estimates that the sale of the six sites will raise £0.07 million, which, when added to the revenue raised from the first four sites in the disposal programme, results in a figure of £0.8 million. Councillor Peter Craske, cabinet member for community safety, environment and leisure, said: “The money from those disposals would be used to prevent further cuts to the grant maintenance budget. If we had to make further cuts, we would have to remove playgrounds across the borough and stop cutting grass.” What Peter Craske fails to make clear in his statement is the amount potentially being raised by the sell - offs of the six further sites will only raise in the region of £70,000 - less than a middle - ranking Council executive's salary. The £0.07 million is window dressing to make unsuspecting readers think the money involved is a bigger sum than it actually is, and on top of this it does not take into account the fees and taxes that will need to be deducted from that amount. The eventual profit will be miniscule compared with the loss of the irreplaceable open space. You can get an idea of the senior management pay scales in the table below.


Regular Maggot Sandwich readers will be aware that I am a big fan of the Tesla brand of electric cars. Tesla founder Elon Musk (often referred to as the “real life Tony Stark”) has ploughed vast amounts of his not inconsiderable fortune into making viable, usable in the real world electric vehicles which are not only practical, but good to drive and extremely desirable. The Tesla Model S saloon competes with marques such as Jaguar and Mercedes, yet is literally years ahead of the competition in drivetrain technology. Last week Tesla announced improvements in both acceleration and range to their vehicles through the adoption of a new architecture for their patented battery technology. The Model S P100D will be the fastest new car produced on an assembly line. The car will have a 100 kilowatt-hour battery, which with Ludicrous mode can go from a standstill to 60 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds, compared with 2.8 seconds for the current P90D Ludicrous version. It will also go 315 miles (506 kilometres) on a single charge. The P100D Ludicrous upgrade costs $10,000 for customers who have ordered a P90D Ludicrous but haven’t taken delivery, or $20,000 for owners who already have that vehicle type. “It’s quite a milestone that the fastest car in the world will be electric,” Elon Musk said in an interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday. Tesla have been gradually upgrading the power delivered by its batteries and the performance of its cars for several years. Musk first unveiled models with Ludicrous mode last year – Ludicrous mode is the ultra-high performance option which gives Tesla cars unmatched acceleration – at the cost of a great reduction in available range. The name comes from a scene is the comedy film “Spaceballs”). You can find plenty of videos on YouTube showing the incredible, hyper – car performance of the Model S, in what is after all a five door saloon car. Up until Tesla came along, electric cars were a bit of a joke – and many in the UK associated electric propulsion with the old fashioned milk float, with its tragic whine and pedestrian top speed. Tesla have made electric vehicles desirable and credible. Other automotive manufacturers are now starting to get worried, and rightly so. Elon Musk has put his money where his mouth is, and he is now starting to reap the rewards.


Next Saturday will mark the second anniversary of the opening of Bexley Brewery. They are located on the Manford Industrial Estate in Manor Road, Erith, in Unit 18. If you look for the Erith Wind Turbine to the East of the town, on the banks of the River Thames, Bexley Brewery is almost directly below this well - known landmark. Next Saturday they are holding an open day party, with a local Barbecue pit master from Belvedere based Steve's Kitchen. They will have the bar open with at least 5 cask ales & 2 Kent ciders, plus wines & soft drinks (they might even has a few special ales on…) If you would like to book a ticket for the BBQ & Beer combination at just £9 then visit the Eventbrite special event booking website for more information.



Much put upon travellers on the North Kent Line will have even more disruption in the next week. On top of the customary rail replacement bus services at weekends that have become so common over the last couple of years, there will be a very changed train service. From Saturday until Thursday, September 1 there will be no Southeastern services to Cannon Street, and instead trains will be diverted to Victoria, Blackfriars and New Cross. Trains will not be stopping at Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill or Westcombe Park stations for those six days.  Over the weekend there are no services to Charing Cross, Waterloo East, Cannon Street or London Bridge stations while work takes place as part of the Thameslink programme. For three working days after the bank holiday commuters will face rail replacement buses running every fifteen minutes between New Cross to Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park stations. Personally I have another journey planned, which will involve the Docklands Light Railway. I am also fortunate that my “day job” in technology consulting means that I can easily work from home – all I need is a broadband connection and I am fully able to carry out my duties. I realise that I am very fortunate in this respect. I don’t know how many commuters are going to be able to cope - Southeastern is advising anyone travelling on those days to alter their journey, as fewer trains and busier services - in particular those to Charing Cross - are expected to cause a strain on the service. On top of this, From September 2nd , Cannon Street trains will no longer stop at London Bridge, affecting those who travel on the Woolwich Line from Greenwich, Plumstead, Erith and Dartford. The reason for this is that extensive work is being carried out on both the Thameslink upgrade programme at London Bridge, and the Crossrail Project at Abbey Wood / Plumstead. I fear that the minimal alternative transport offered – a bus every quarter of an hour – is going to be woefully inadequate for the task. At least there is some good news on the horizon. After months of weekend and occasional overnight closures, engineering work at Abbey Wood station has finally taken a recognisable step towards completion. Both the Kent-bound and London-bound North Kent Line platforms are now complete, meaning passengers will benefit from better seating, improved lighting and canopy cover, new customer information screens and new CCTV cameras. you can see the results in the short video above. In an interview with the Bexley Times last week, Matthew White, surface director at Crossrail, commented: “The Elizabeth line will help to transform Abbey Wood. When the new railway opens in 2018, it will be quicker and easier for local people to get to a range of destinations across London and the South East. The improved transport links will also help to bring more businesses and investment into the local area.”


People of a certain age will remember classic children’s TV shows like Play School and Fingerbobs from the 1970’s. The man behind much of this well-loved television was laid back, softly spoken Canadian actor, musician and scriptwriter Rick Jones, he of the bald head and bushy beard that many can fondly remember, and can be seen in the photo above. It turns out that from his memoirs, life at the BBC in the early 1970’s was not nearly so innocent as was portrayed on screen at the time. It turns out that Rick Jones has a link to the local area that I reckon he would rather not have had – as it ended up with him getting the sack from the BBC. Even now at the age of 78, he gets fan mail for Play School and Fingerbobs. Jones, originally from Canada, worked down an Ontario nickel mine to save up the money to come to drama school in London.  He was 24 and married with two children when he became one of Play School’s first presenters in 1964.  But the BBC was nothing like he expected. ‘We went in there thinking “it’s going to be very staid”,’ he says, ‘and soon found out that wasn’t the case at all.’ There was the BBC Club on the fourth floor. It was dangerous as any time you had a break, it was up to the club. All roads met at the Club. You could be doing Songs Of Praise and you’d still be up there, knocking endless drinks back. Everyone met there — there were love affairs, book deals, assignations of almost every human kind.’ Then there were the drugs. I answered a fan letter from a mother,’ he recalls. ‘It was so well-written and so seductive that I drove to Erith to meet this woman.  'I was rewarded by the most astoundingly beautiful person and an astoundingly beautiful daughter aged about four. We spent the whole afternoon sitting under a big tree in her garden smoking her weed. ‘Nothing else happened except that two weeks later a letter addressed to me and containing two huge spliffs turned up on the desk of the head of Play School, Cynthia Felgate.’ Unfortunately for Jones, the fan from Erith had made clear in her letter what she had got up to with him.  ‘Cynthia summoned me in and told me: “Not at the BBC, Rick.” She was old-school. ‘I said to her, “OK, you have that one and I’ll have this one,” and I walked out because I knew it was all over. I was ready to go anyway.’


The local area has many claims to fame, and for some reason musicians seem to feature prominently – we have Kate Bush (Upper Wickham Lane, Welling), Keith Richards and Mick Jagger (Dartford) John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin (Sidcup) and David Bowie (Beckenham / Bromley). Other famous local residents have in the past included Sir Roger Moore (Wansunt Road, Old Bexley), Bernie Ecclestone (Bexleyheath), Lennox Lewis (Danson), Nevil Shute (Hatherley Road, Sidcup), Delia Smith (Bexleyheath) Linda Smith (Erith), Michael Crawford (Bexleyheath), Roald Dahl, (Hurst Road, Bexley), Sheila Hancock (Erith), Boy George (Shooter's Hill), and Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley). All of these well – known and illustrious people have contributed to both the local and the national well being in one way or another. The same could not be said of another local resident, of whom you may have heard. Melita Norwood, who died on June the 2nd 2005 aged 93, caused a brief flurry of excitement in back in 1999 when it was revealed that not only had she spied for the Russians for four decades, but that the authorities had known of her treachery but had done nothing about it. The story of Norwood, a jam-making great-grandmother and self-styled "Bolshevik of Bexleyheath", broke in September 1999 after she admitted being "Hola", a KGB agent exposed in papers produced by Vasili Mitrokhin, the KGB archivist who had defected to the West in 1992. Norwood's treachery had begun in the 1930s when she was a secretary at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association and passed on secret documents, including details of Britain's first atomic bomb. Her security clearance was revoked in 1951 amid suspicions about her Communist sympathies, and suspicions hardened into certainty in 1966, when the "Venona" files of decrypted Soviet communications revealed that she had worked as a spy in the immediate post-war years. Yet MI5 decided not to interview her, and she continued to pass documents to her Soviet handlers until her retirement in 1972. When further evidence came to light following Mitrokhin's defection, junior MI5 staff decided not to pursue an investigation because it "might have led to criticism for harassing an old lady", and eventually the law officers too decided not to prosecute. The decision led to an investigation by the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee, which concluded that MI5 had made a series of "serious failures". What was far more outrageous, in the view of the press, was the fact that Norwood treated public indignation about her treachery as a huge joke. She steadfastly refused to accept that she had anything to be ashamed of: Soviet Communism was "a good experiment, and I agreed with it… I would do it again," she told reporters. More interesting was the question of how an apparently intelligent woman could have remained loyal to a system which had caused the deaths of millions and impoverished and oppressed millions more. She was born Melita Sirnis on March 25 1912 to an English mother and a Latvian father. A bookbinder by trade, Alexander Sirnis translated and printed works by Lenin and Trotsky, and later founded and edited a weekly paper, The Southern Worker and Labour and Socialist Journal. The family house, at Christchurch near Bournemouth, became known locally as "the Russian colony". Alexander Sirnis died aged 37, when his daughter was six; but her political education was taken up by her mother, Gertrude, a member of The Co-operative Party and active in the Workers' Educational Association. When Melita was 10, the family moved to Thornhill, near Southampton, to live with her maternal aunt, one of the first female trades unionists and an official of the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries, which Melita was to join when she was 19. Melita was educated at Itchen Secondary School, then studied Latin and Logic at Southampton University, but only for a year. She and her family moved to London, where she took a job in a Paddington bakers and joined The Independent Labour Party, getting to know such figures as Fenner Brockway, the founder of CND. In 1936 the ILP split, with some members joining the Labour Party and others (including Melita Sirnis) The Communist Party. This was a time when Stalin was tightening his grip on the Russian people with purges and imprisonments without trial. Such details did not bother Sirnis: "You didn't have to agree with everything that was being done in Russia," she said. "But on the whole, it seemed to be a good idea." In 1932 Sirnis had become a secretary with The British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association at Euston, where she kept quiet about her Communism and was considered an industrious worker. The Russians were aware that the Association was involved in nuclear research, and in 1935 she was recommended to the NKVD, the precursor of the KGB, by Andrew Rothstein, one of the founders of the British Communist Party. She was recruited, and by 1937 was a full agent. In the early years of the war, a secret project known as "Tube Alloys" was launched, to build an atomic bomb. Understanding metals such as uranium was a key requirement, and much of the work passed over the desk of Sirnis's boss. Quietly and efficiently she removed Tube Alloys files from her boss's safe, photographed them and passed them on to her Soviet handlers. After the Second World War, Anglo-American atomic co-operation broke down, and Britain decided to pursue Tube Alloys alone. It entailed massive investment in nuclear reactors and isotope separation plants. Every detail was passed on by Sirnis to the KGB. She seemed to live a charmed life. In 1937 British agents rounded up a ring of Communist agents working at Woolwich Royal Arsenal. Their ringleader, Percy Glading, had mentioned agent "Hola" in his notebook, but the authorities failed to identify her. After a few months on ice she was reactivated in 1938. In 1945 she was cleared for secret documents, despite concerns over her Communism. In 1949 she married Hilary Norwood, a fellow-Communist and mathematics teacher. Her Soviet controller warned her not to tell her husband about her involvement in espionage, though he soon found out. Yet although he was said not to approve of her activities, he did not report her to the authorities nor, it seems, make any effort to dissuade her. Most historians of the period argue that the nuclear spy Klaus Fuchs was more significant in enabling the Russians to build their nuclear capability, and that the worst that could be said of Melita Norwood's treachery was that it enabled them to develop their atomic weapon a little earlier than they would have. This was a view expressed by MI5 in its written evidence to the 1999 parliamentary investigation. Yet this was not quite the picture given in her file in the Mitrokhin archive, where she was described as "a committed, reliable and disciplined agent, striving to be of the utmost assistance". Indeed, so highly was she regarded by the KGB that in the 1930s, when, as a consequence of the purges, there were not enough Soviet officers to keep in contact with all their spies in the West, the KGB chose to keep in contact with her rather than with Kim Philby. After the end of the Second World War, the KGB and Soviet military intelligence fought for control over her. She was secretly given a Soviet award, The Order of the Red Banner, in 1958, and was granted a small pension by the KGB a few years later. In retirement, Norwood settled into suburban obscurity and would probably never have been unmasked had it not been for Mitrokhin's defection with six trunk-loads of files from the KGB archive, and for the work of the historian Christopher Andrew, who recognised the importance of the British spy codenamed Hola. The evidence provided by Mitrokhin added little to what MI5 already knew, but as interviewing Norwood might have led to the archive being compromised, the decision was taken to do nothing. When, in 1993, it was felt to be safe to interview her, MI5 again decided not to go ahead, reasoning that as a committed Communist she would be unlikely to incriminate herself, and that the service might be open to criticism for harassing an old lady. The case slipped out of sight until 1998, when it was decided to allow the publication of Christopher Andrew's book on the Mitrokhin archive. The realisation that publicity surrounding the book might lead to the identification of agent Hola persuaded MI5 to consult the law officers, who recommended, yet again, that nothing be done. Thus it was that when, in September 1999, journalists tracked Norwood down to her 1930s pebble-dashed semi detached house in Bexleyheath, their visit marked the first time that she knew she had been unmasked. For years she had carried on living with her secret, unaware that anyone, apart from her Russian handlers, knew about her past, her husband Hilary having died in 1986. Much of the shock surrounding Norwood's exposure was due to the fact that she seemed so ordinary. Her neighbours in Bexleyheath knew she was a life-long Communist who still took The Morning Star - she would buy 32 copies of each issue and hand them out to friends - but she never appeared other than a mildly harmless eccentric, the only evidence of radicalism being the CND posters in her window. She was "The spy who came in from the Co-op". She remained until the end a true believer in the myth of the Soviet peasant worker state that had first inspired her treachery. She hated all reforms of the Soviet Union's genocidal dictatorship. Norwood remained convinced that Communism could work and that capitalism was ultimately doomed to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. My mother used to occasionally see Melita Norwood on the bus, blithely unaware of the whispered conversations her recognition had brought. She remained deluded until her death in 2005. Britain's greatest traitor was a little old lady who lived in a quiet suburban side - road in Bexleyheath

And now to the end video. This is a TV news report on the large warehouse fire that took place in Fraser Road, Erith. I recall, back on the 16th of May 1984, not very long before the Erith deep water wharf (on the site of what is now Morrison's supermarket) finally closed down, that the warehouse that stored the giant rolls of newsprint brought in by ship from Scandinavia caught fire. Once the paper was alight, it proved impossible for the fire brigade to put out. Fraser Road was blocked for nearly two weeks, as the emergency services contained the blaze, but left it to burn itself out. I can remember standing in the back garden of my parents’ house in  Upper Belvedere on a bright and sunny day, and being amazed by what appeared to be snowflakes falling from a cloudless sky. The flakes were actually specks of ash from the raging paper warehouse blaze a couple of miles away. The smell of burning pervaded the area for nearly a month, well after the fire burned itself out naturally – and left the warehouse building a burned out shell. From my recollections of the fire, nobody was seriously hurt, and there was a substantial insurance settlement to the owners of the Europa Industrial Estate. Watch the contemporary news coverage below. Please feel free to leave a comment below; alternatively you can Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.