Sunday, April 26, 2015

The 10th Bexley CAMRA Beer Festival.


The photos above were taken by Maggot Sandwich reader and prolific local musician, Ian "The rEV" Doherty. We met at the 10th annual Bexley Beer Festival, held at the Old Darfordians sports club in Bexley Village. The event also celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Bexley branch of CAMRA, which was formed on the 21st July 1975 at the (then) Blue Anchor pub in Bridgen Road. Many of the founders are still members all these years along. I have been fortunate to attend every Bexley Beer Festival since it started back in 2005 at the Sidcup Sports Club; the Sidcup venue was lovely – a really classy location. The only problems were that it was a very long way from the centre of Sidcup, and very poorly supported by public transport. It was a very long walk from the bus stop to the venue, and cabs in the area were not very reliable in my experience. Added to this, after the first few festivals, the operators of the Sidcup club decided that they did not want festival visitors using the excellent club toilets, and instead Bexley CAMRA had to spend money hiring a load of Portaloos – which if you have every tried using one in a pitch black car park, is absolutely no cause for joy, and a very easy way to end up with wet feet. A couple of years ago the committee made the decision to relocate to a venue that was more central to the Borough, and which also had excellent public transport links. The new venue at the Old Dartfordians club is outstanding – inside loos, a large club house and a giant marquee at the rear, where the beer festival actually takes place. The weather this year was better than expected, and the rain held off, but once the sun went down the temperature outside plummeted and the wind rose. Most festival goers headed inside, either to the marquee or the club house itself. I think last year we were spoiled with stunning, tropical weather, but this year we were back to bog standard British fare instead. Still, it is not that many years since we had almost hurricane force winds and rain that was almost horizontal because of it, so I suppose we cannot complain too much. Erith’s own Bexley Brewery featured strongly in the event, which saw all of their casks run dry very early on the Friday; in fact by the end of the Friday session, there were only a handful of casks with any beer remaining at all – the Saturday session looked like it was going to be pretty short indeed. The event was very well attended as always, though I did not manage to see Cliff Murphy of the Bexley Brewery in person. The festival is a well-managed and run event that is a credit to those behind it. Now the countdown begins to the 2016 festival!


Wednesday evening saw a large delegation from the Save Belvedere Splash Park group visit Bexley Council Offices in an attempt to persuade the majority Conservative councillors to preserve what has become an invaluable community asset, not just to Upper Belvedere, but to the whole area. Many families with small children relay on it in the summer months. You can read a very detailed and insightful report of the events that took place on Wednesday by Malcolm Knight of the Bexley is Bonkers Blog


The photo above shows the block of flats and retail units that is located opposite Erith Health Centre. I have heard very good things about the quality of the flats - in fact some time back I visited one of them and found it to be lovely, with a great view out over the River Thames. Not so good things can be said about the retail units at the ground floor level of the block, unfortunately - they have stood empty ever since the block was built. My understanding is that a couple of businesses have shown interest in moving into the units, but various impediments have stopped them. Originally one of the units closest to Morrison's was under consideration by a company wanting to set up a children's soft play facility with a ball pit and climbing frame. I am sure that this would have gone down well with the many local families with small children. The cost of the lease proved to be too much, and the people pulled out - although on a happier note, I understand that the same company is moving into the site of the old Blockbuster video store diagonally opposite soon. The other two large retail units were under serious consideration by a Nando's franchise, which would have created a number of full - time and part time jobs. The problem was that the retail units have not got fume extraction or electrical power at present, and fitting this essential equipment would have cost small fortune. The Nando's franchise company negotiated with Bexley Council to get a council tax holiday to put towards the cost of the work, but the council rejected it (as with anything they do, the bottom line of the spreadsheet overrules any and every other consideration). Consequently we don't have a Nando's in Erith, and several people don't have a much needed job. Hopefully as the local economy slowly recovers, some organisation with deeper pockets will be able to turn the empty retail units into a productive business. There is a rumour going around Erith that a Subway franchise owner is interested in taking the White Hart / Potion bar and converting what was the ground floor bar into a Subway fast food outlet. I can find no evidence to support this, and there has been nothing to indicate a food use for the former pub and wine bar that has come to my notice. The two planning applications that have been submitted have been far more concerned with the potential for a residential conversion of the upper floors of the locally listed building. If a Subway outlet was to take over the former bar area of the building, it would be a very expensive concern, as not only would a replica of the original Victorian frontage have to be installed, as I demonstrated last week, along with a copy of the architect’s drawings, but a brand new kitchen and restaurant interior would need to be installed, along with proper fume extraction and ventilation equipment. Conservatively any investor would be looking to spend something in the region of a quarter of a million pounds before the doors on the outlet would even be ready to open, and to be honest, I just don’t see this going to happen. The chance of making back the investment, and getting the operation into a decent profit is just too small – any canny business person would realise that less risky investment opportunities exist elsewhere. I feel that the Subway rumour is probably little more than wishful thinking, and it is unlikely to amount to anything – as much as I would like it to be true. I would be happy to be proved wrong. if you have any information on this, or any other stories you feel would be of local interest, please feel free to drop me a line to hugh.neal@gmail.com in complete confidence.


I took the photo above the Thursday before last, whilst I stood talking to Dr. Julian Hilton of the Aleff Group on the rear patio of the Cross Keys Centre. The view out over the River Thames from the former pub, and now business and community centre is stunning. Whilst we were chatting, I saw the ship in the photo above slowing cruising down river - it is the M.V Bert Prior, which has been trading on the Thames since she was built back in 1961; she's a small (175 ton) bulk carrier specialising in the transportation of sand and gravel for use in construction. She looks pretty much unchanged over the decades, although I do suspect that her radar was probably added quite some time after she was originally commissioned. People tend to forget that Erith is a maritime town with a long and (mostly) proud history of marine trade and exploration. It is certainly the only place in the London Borough of Bexley where you can gain access to the River Thames via both Erith Pier and the jealously defended Erith Riverside Gardens, which certain developers would dearly love to build on, which won't happen if many concerned locals have anything to do with it.


You may recall that last week after my article on Clickbait websites, I wrote that I would be revisiting the subject with some more details. Clickbait websites are those which you find featured on the web page footers of some reputable websites. They tend to have titles such as “Tiny trick kills erectile dysfunction” or “Steroid alternative putting gyms out of business” – you know the kind of thing – a strap line featuring some kind of statement, often linked to “miraculous” weight loss or some other far – fetched health benefit that encourages the reader to click on the link to read more on the subject. As I said last week, these invariably link to websites chock full of flash adverts for unlicensed, illegal and potentially harmful diet supplements, slimming pills and all sorts of nastiness. One other tactic the Clickbait producers rely on is pandering for people looking for a way to make a quick buck, unaware that “if it looks too good to be true, it usually is”.  As you will see from the screen capture above, the site promises great financial wealth if the reader follows certain steps – the graphic even encourages this; it shows a wild – haired man standing by some shelves holding gold bars – with the inference that he obviously knows how to make money. You may well have seen the graphic yourself. All however, is not what it seems. The man in the photo is not actually some financial wizard. In reality his name is Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff CBE CChem FRS FRSC FIChemE, who is the Research Professor in Chemistry at the University of Nottingham. The photo with the gold is actually a screen capture from a YouTube video the professor made on the element Gold, as part of his online video series on the Periodic Table of Elements – a very easy to understand and entertaining series of educational videos he has presented, which are widely watched on YouTube. I somehow doubt the professor is even aware that his likeness is being used to promote a Clickbait site and dodgy financial advice. It happens that the professor has a unique look, and I follow his educational videos on YouTube, and recognised him straight away. The best way to discourage clickbait websites is to not click on them. They are parasites and offer nothing for the user except stress and loss of cash –  and possibly also your identity. The problem of people being fooled into buying unregulated and often fake medicines online – often via Clickbait websites has been unfortunately thrown into sharp relief this week;  a young lady named Eloise Aimee Parry aged 21, from Shrewsbury, took the “Miracle Fat Burner” diet tablets which are believed to contain the highly toxic industrial chemical dinitrophenol, also known as DNP. Shortly after taking the tablets, Eloise started to feel unwell.  She drove herself to Royal Shrewsbury hospital, where she explained to doctors what she had taken. At this point she was still fully conscious, and she still seemed to be OK. All that changed when doctors carried out a toxicology report that revealed how dire her situation was.  “The drug was in her system, there was no antidote, two tablets was a lethal dose – and she had taken eight",  Her mother Fiona Parry said in a tribute. “As Eloise deteriorated, the staff in Accident and Emergency did all they could to stabilise her.  As the drug kicked in and started to make her metabolism soar, they attempted to cool her down, but they were fighting an uphill battle. She was literally burning up from within. When she stopped breathing, they put her on a ventilator and carried on fighting to save her. When her hearted stopped they could not revive her. She had crashed. She had taken so much DNP that the consequences were inevitable. Eloise Parry died the same day. West Mercia Police are currently investigating the source of the lethal, so called “diet” pills. It is highly likely that they will have come  from somewhere with little or no regulation, such as the Philippines, where many of the shady criminal outfits tend to base themselves. Needless to say one should never under any circumstances buy any form of medication online – the risks are just too great; you don’t know if what you receive (if anything) will actually contain the active ingredient of the medicine – or indeed what the other components of the medication actually are. On top of this, you lack the safety of a consultation with a Pharmacist to ensure you are getting what is safe and effective for your medical condition.  In extreme cases like the one above, buying online medication can prove fatal.

I have written before as to how back in 2012 I purchased a Samsung ES 8000 smart television, and how unimpressed I was with the whole smart TV experience – the interface is slow and clunky, and the applications less than inspiring. I must admit that I don't use any of the smart TV functionality at all – it might as well be just a dumb screen (albeit with stunningly good picture quality). It turns out that owners of anything other than the very latest technology may well be in for a bit of a surprise. Google are shutting down an older version of the YouTube app built in to Smart televisions and other multimedia devices. According to a revised product support page, the YouTube apps built into certain devices manufactured in 2012 or earlier will soon stop functioning, beginning this week. The cut off will apparently happen regardless of whether the manufacturers advertised their devices as supporting YouTube at the time customers bought them. Google, characteristically, has tried to cast the end of service in a positive light, describing it as an "upgrade." "As we upgrade the YouTube Data API to bring more features, we'll begin shutting down the old version on April 20, 2015," Google's post explains. "We will continue to focus our efforts on improving our official YouTube app for TV which is available on most 2013 and newer Smart TVs and Blu-ray players, game consoles and streaming devices." The devices that will be locked out of the streaming service include pre-2013 TVs and Blu-Ray players by Panasonic and Sony. But a surprising number of other, even "smarter" devices will no longer work, either, including many from Apple. Any device not running iOS 7 or above won't support the new API (Application Programming Interface) – meaning the iPhone 3GS and earlier, the fourth-generation iPod Touch and earlier, the first-generation iPad, and the second-generation Apple TV are all shut out. People also have to realise that their fancy sets, however expensive, may actually have a shorter working life than their picture elements suggest, and that the services that make them "smart" may disappear long before the screens themselves burn out, as vendors stop supporting the installed applications whilst the hardware still has life in it.

The News Shopper have featured the story that the long – awaited new Micro Pub The Broken Drum has now opened in Blackfen. I have featured the ale house a while back; I understand that there have been a number of legal and building related issues which needed to be overcome, which led to much of the delay in the place opening . South East London and Kent have been very much at the forefront of the micro pub phenomenon. The Broken Drum is the third micro pub in the London Borough of Bexley – the first two were the Door Hinge in Welling, followed by the Penny Farthing in Crayford. The name of the broken Drum comes from the phenomenally successful “Discworld” novels by the late and much missed Sir Terry Pratchett. It was the name of a popular pub in the city of Ankh Morpork. There is a rather cunning twist to this; the Broken Drum is to be visited by a jolly nice chap by the name of Richard Reeve, who aims to cycle around Britain, visiting all one hundred micropubs to raise money for research into a cure for  Alzheimer’s Disease. Here is how Richard describes his aims:- “My quest for 2015 is to cycle to all 100 micro pubs in Great Britain! I'll be raising money for the Alzheimer’s Society. To make a donation to Alzheimer’s Society, please visit my fundraising page at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RichardReeveCycling. What is a Micropub? The Micropub Association website describes a micropub as "a small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks". Notably micro pubs do not serve any form of lager.  As of 1/1/2015 there were exactly 100 micropubs on the association's website. From Kent to Devon to Swansea to Berwick-upon-Tweed. My task is to visit them all!" The poignant side to this excellent venture is that Sir Terry Pratchett suffered from Early Onset Alzheimer’s for the last years of his life, so it will be doubly fitting that Richard should plan to visit. What is also interesting is what congenial and friendly places micro pubs are; at the time of writing , I understand that there has never been a recorded incident where Police have been called to a micro pub – which I think says something about both the clientele and the kind of places that micro pubs are. No lager = no louts.


There are times when the News Shopper leads in highlighting important local issues, and other times when they unfortunately lag well behind events; this week that have shown the latter behaviour. You may recall that back on the 11th January I wrote a blog post describing a group of criminals illegally riding a variety of motor bikes and scooters around parts of Lower Belvedere. They knew what they were doing was illegal, as they had uploaded a series of videos onto YouTube, and had made a crude attempt to digitally obscure the number plates of a couple of the bikes that actually had registration plates. I subsequently passed the information onto the local Police. Now the News Shopper is reporting the same kind of thing that is happening in Lower Belvedere is also widespread in Thamesmead – to the extent that crooks are coming from other parts of the country specifically to carry out traffic offences in the area. You can read their report on the worrying matter here. It seems that the local area is, of the report is to be believed, becoming the recipient of “yob tourism” – with undesirables apparently travelling from as far away as Manchester and Scotland to illegally ride off – road bikes with no registration plates, insurance or MOT. There are a number of groups engaging in this activity, and a large number of riders. The new Thamesmead anti – gang Police team are aware of the problem, and I understand that work is being done, though I don't know of the specifics (and for obvious reasons would not publish here – as it is just possible that one or two of the thugs can read). We have a similar, but thankfully smaller problem in and around Erith, with a number of illegal bikes being ridden along the pavements of Manor Road and onto the Slade Green Marshes, where they have caused damage to the unique, protected local ecosystem, ripping up the foot – traveller only pathways and causing erosion and damage to the bulrushes. It would seem that some kind of compromise needs to be achieved;  I cannot believe that all of the bikers who currently ride in an irresponsible and illegal manner are hardened crooks – perhaps if a legal off – road bike course was set up on a piece of waste land, a club could be established to permit riders to have a good time in a controlled and safe manner? What do you think? The news that thefts of motorbikes and scooters have doubled in the London Borough of Bexley over the last year may quite possibly be linked to the previously mentioned problems with illegal bikers in general; one of my local contacts who is in a position to know about such things told me recently that Police are investigating a gang who are stealing motorbikes from Barnehurst and Northumberland Heath and then take them to Erith and Slade Green to be broken up and sold as parts, or cobbled together to form bikes with a new identity. I suspect that at least some of the illegal, unlicensed and uninsured bikes that the criminal bike gangs use may well come from this source – in fact they may be one and the same – something for the authorities to determine. Whatever the specifics, it is clear that there is a rising problem with bike related crime in the area; it must be very difficult for the vast majority of law abiding motorbike owners – they must be constantly worried that their pride and joy may be threatened by organised thieves. Some years ago a friend of mine, who at the time was living in a quiet road on the Crayford / Dartford borders; he owned an immaculate Harley – Davidson motorbike, which was stored in his garage when not in use. Not only was the garage securely locked, but the bike was additionally chained to bolts cemented into the garage floor. Despite these precautions, thieves broke in and used bolt cutters to free the bike in order to steal it; he never saw it again. Not long ago I, along with many others saw a couple of kids aged not more than fourteen or fifteen who were racing a very high powered sports / racing bike around Erith Town Centre, along the High Street, and eventually into Manor Road, where they headed at very high speed towards Slade Green. Needless to say not only were they a danger to members of the public, but they were in great danger themselves – neither wore a helmet or protective leathers, and  hoodie, facial bandanna and sweat pants don't exactly provide much protection if you come off at sixty miles per hour. Feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

Much has been written in the popular press about the end of Top Gear - the most popular factual television programme in the world. I am not intending to add to that body of work, as I feel that enough has been said already; instead I am featuring a video presented by a thoroughly nice chap called Harry Metcalfe, a wealthy former magazine publisher and car enthusiast who now works as a consultant for Jaguar Landrover. He has started a YouTube channel reviewing all sorts of classic and modern cars of interest, some of which come from his extensive personal collection. Harry's Garage is one of my favourite YouTube channels; Harry is quietly spoken and thoughtful, and it is obvious that he has both a deep love and insight into the cars he features. A sample video is below.