Sunday, August 11, 2019

Two stars.


The photos above show a couple of views of Erith Pier - the longest pier on the River Thames by quite some distance. Last year the very first Erith Pier Festival took place; the organisers expected around four hundred people to turn up to the inaugural event. As it turned out, something over four thousand people visited the pier on the day - helped by the excellent weather at the time. The Erith Pier Festival will be returning to the riverside on the 21st September 11am - 9pm this year. The festival will feature live music, various pop - up food stalls from the Erith Kitchen, Bexley Brewery will have a beer tent serving some of their excellent, locally brewed real ales, and there will be a number of children's entertainers as well. You can read more about the event by clicking here. Please note that the "Get there by boat" option is erroneous - it is not currently possible to visit Erith Pier by any public river service. If you own your own ship, that is however another story. 

I know that some sections of the popular press have been getting quite upset over the price of computer printer toner, and it is indeed a complete rip – off. I think that they were missing a trick, however, as there is something that is an even bigger con; I know it is something I have mentioned before, but I do feel strongly that it needs to be revisited. Why is the cost of men’s wet shaving razor blades so extortionate? Some are £15.75 for a measly eight blades. The materials involved in their construction and the labour utilised is minimal – the production lines are almost completely automated, and the materials are high quality, but there is little metal involved in reality. The only conclusion that I can come to is that the reason razor blades are so eye wateringly expensive is that the companies that produce and sell them seem to have the market completely sewn up. They charge so much just because they can. I think the only solution to this would be for a new player to enter the market to produce blades of an equivalent quality and durability (don’t get me going as to how quickly blades wear out – you are lucky to get four shaves out of a blade, nothing like the month of use that the manufacturers’ claim) at a fraction of the cost. I cannot believe that this would be technically or financially impossible. It takes someone with the kind of business expertise and audacity that have caused Ryan Air to overturn the short and medium haul air travel industry, to be able to challenge the big players in the men’s grooming market.  I bitterly resent being held over a barrel when it comes to shaving. On a side note, does anyone have a clue why there are no mousse or gel hair removal products targeted at men? A facial “Immac for Men” or similar might be an interesting product. I don’t know if there are any technical or medical reasons why such a product could not be brought to market. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please leave a comment below. All comments will be moderated and published within 24 hours of receipt. Email me at the usual address:- hugh.neal@gmail.com.


A form of ferry service has been in place at Woolwich since the 14th century, as a way of allowing the community to safely cross the Thames. The service pre-dates all other tunnel and bridge crossings in the capital. The documentation from that date refers to the waterman who ran the ferry, William de Wicton, sold his business and house to William Halle, for £10. In 1320 the ferry was sold again for 100 silver marks. There is no further mention of the ferry during the years that Woolwich rose to prominence as a royal dockyard under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Much later, in 1810 the army established its own ferry that ran from Woolwich Royal Arsenal to Duvals Wharf. In 1811 an Act of Parliament was passed to establish a ferry across the Thames from Woolwich at the Old Ballast or Sand Wharf, opposite Chapel Hill, where the dockyard then terminated. The ferry became known as the western ferry and was run by a company that called itself The Woolwich Ferry Company. The Western ferry continued to operate until 1844, when the company was dissolved after a history of inept management. The current free ferry was set up in the 1889 and has run ever since. The ferry infrastructure at the Woolwich terminals had been in operation for over 50 years, providing a ‘roll-on/roll-off’ transport service, and has seen traffic volumes using the service dramatically increase over this period. Over 1 million vehicle crossings and 1.95 million passenger journeys were recorded using the service in 2014, which is operated and run by Briggs Marine Contractors, under a long term operating contract with Transport for London (TfL). Since the two new ferry vessels entered service earlier this year, there have been an almost constant series of mechanical and electrical breakdowns, labour strikes and other disruptions to the service, which the public was erroneously told the introduction of the new ships would prevent. There have been several problems with the new service; the ships are run by electric motors powered by diesel generators, and the new automated docking system is also powered by electro magnets. The diesel generators have so far proved far less reliable than predicted. On top of this, the electro magnetic docking system only seems to work properly when there is little wind or tide affecting the movement of the ferries as they dock. Anything less than perfect conditions causes the ferries to bounce on the docking mechanism, and fail to make a secure contact. I have read reports that the new ferries, despite their new technology, are actually far harder to operate than the old 1960's models that they replaced. On top of this, there are a series of ongoing labour disputes between the ferry crews and the management of the service; at the time of writing these are unresolved.


Shock news following the recent health and hygiene inspection of the KFC Drive Through (I will not call it "Drive Thru" as that is an abomination). Bexley Council inspectors visited the restaurant located at 1, Manor Road, Erith on Tuesday the 6th of August. After the visit, the chain outlet scored a worryingly low two out of a possible five stars on the "Scores on the Doors" hygiene rating system. The low, two star award, means that "Improvement is necessary" - not what you would expect of a large multinational food franchise. How could a multinational mega brand allow one of its stores get into a position that it can only rate a two out of five star rating? It is immaterial whether the store is company owned or a franchise – the standards expected are identical. The damage to the KFC brand should such information become widely known is difficult to calculate, but it certainly would not be good. The Erith store has had a history of problems; In the summer of 2016, I received several reports of certain menu items being unavailable when requested, and I also heard a couple of unsubstantiated rumours that the store was suffering cash flow problems. It would seem from the investment subsequently made into the store, that these rumours were either incorrect, or had been successfully resolved. The Erith KFC branch made it into the tabloid papers back in February of last year; one of the largest news stories both nationally and locally had been at that time that of the temporary closure of a majority of KFC fast food restaurants around the country due to problems with their supply chain management, which had recently been taken over by courier firm DHL. KFC outlets around the UK ran out of ingredients, and had to temporarily close. Footage, allegedly showing KFC staff transferring raw chicken from a car into the side entrance of the Erith store was taken by a local person and uploaded to Facebook. The uploader made a number of unsubstantiated claims about the restaurant, including that staff were sleeping in the building. This was all published by the Sun newspaper without verifying any of the claims - not surprising as the Sun is well known for not letting the facts get in the way of a good story. A local source informed me at the time that the box the workers had taken from the car into the back of the restaurant actually contained a selection of cleaning materials. I was also told that when the Erith KFC Manager realised that the workers could not serve much in the way of food, and they could not at that stage be sent home, he got them to carry out a deep clean on the kitchen and the public areas of the restaurant - an instruction that apparently did not go down too well with some of the staff.


The vintage photo above (click on it for a larger view) was originally taken by me as part of a school geography project on the River Thames, way back in 1981. You can see Erith Police Station - when it still was a police station, and not a seedy and badly converted bunch of low rent apartments as it is nowadays. Next to it are some buildings that were a remnant of the old Erith - they are boarded up in the photo; not too long afterwards they were demolished to make way for sheltered housing. I came across the photo whilst going through a huge pile of photographs whilst clearing out a cupboard in my Mum's house some years ago. Nearly all of the shots were consigned to the bin. A few choice ones I have kept, and may share a couple with you online in the next few weeks. Unfortunately the rest of the geography project photos of Erith have disappeared - I was hoping to be able to archive them, but sadly this is not going to be the case.

Erith has been the location for an astonishing number of world changing inventions. It is unfortunate that prime amongst these is one that will forever be associated with the carnage in the trenches of the First World War. Hiram Maxim, the American born, naturalised Briton who invented the eponymous Maxim machine gun had his factory at Erith, which I covered in some depth recently; Maxim's company later merged with the larger Vickers company to become Vickers Sons and Maxim, and went on to produce the most heavily used machine gun of WW1. It was responsible for more deaths in combat than any other weapon at the time. What a lot of people don’t realise is that the biggest killer of World War One was not a weapon at all, it was a disease. More people died during the great flu pandemic of 1918 than died as part of the conflict itself. Figures are somewhat vague, but it is estimated that five hundred million people around the world  became infected with the H1N1 influenza virus, of these, between fifty to one hundred million ended up dying; at the time this was between three and five percent of the world population, making it the deadliest natural disaster in recorded history.  What was especially unusual about the outbreak was that the victims were mainly young, normally fit people, rather than the elderly and infirm. The reason for this was that the H1N1 virus caused a massive over – reaction in the body’s auto immune system. The strong immune systems in healthy people were thus far worse affected than those in elderly people or infants, and consequently more people at the prime of their lives ended up dying. To maintain wartime morale, British and allied censors removed almost all references to the horrendous flu outbreak in newspaper stories featuring the UK, Germany, France and the USA, and instead focussed on flu stories in the then neutral Spain. Consequently the outbreak nowadays gets called the Spanish Flu, when in fact the terrible effects were felt all around the world.


It is now just over three months since I quit Sky TV after twenty three years of subscription to their satellite TV service. I was expecting to "go cold turkey" but quite the opposite has actually been the case. Despite Sky writing to me on a weekly basis, unsuccessfully trying to persuade me to rejoin. The quality of programmes on Sky, and especially the selection of premium movies leaves much to be desired, and I seriously resented paying for premium channels like Sky Atlantic, and still have to sit through advert breaks. All Sky subscribers are actually paying a subscription to watch adverts – it makes no sense. In the USA, commercial TV companies are already feeling the pinch. Some are cutting back on the number and length of their commercial breaks to try and tempt back customers who are now voting with their feet and leaving the traditional broadcasters and moving to subscription based, advert free streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Netflix knows their customers hate adverts. "We know one of the benefits of an ecosystem like Netflix is its lack of advertising," Howard Shimmel, a chief research officer at Time Warner, told Bloomberg in an interview last year. "Consumers are being trained there are places they can go to avoid ads." In response to Netflix's advertising policy, many networks have actually cut back on the amount of ads they show in an effort to lure back in the younger Netflix / Amazon Prime Video generation. Media analyst CordCutting.com crunched some numbers and found that each Netflix subscriber saves themselves about 158.5 hours of commercials per year. The number will be somewhat lower in the UK and most of Europe, where fewer adverts are allowed per hour of broadcast television, but it is still a substantial number. As I have previously written, I consider the Sky business model to be fundamentally broken, and if they don’t move away from hugely expensive satellite broadcasting and convert to a full streaming service, I think they will be dead and gone in the next five years. What do you think? Comment below, or Email hugh.neal@gmail.com.


Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "There was a recent report of a burglary early hours of Thursday 8th August along Drummond Close Erith, entry was gained by smashing the front door of the property. Also there was a report of theft of motorbike outside an address along Normandy Way Erith between 9 pm and 9.30 pm The team shall also be holding a contact session between 4 pm and 5 pm at the Barnehurst Golf Club along Mayplace Road East if anyone wishes to speak to the team. If you do wish to pass on information to Police then please contact Crime Stoppers on 0800 555111. If you are after crime prevention advice, please look at the Met Police website which has lots of information that you may find useful. Remember in an emergency please dial 999 and 101 for non-urgent reporting". Belvedere ward:- "On the 31/07/2019 we had a burglary in poplar mount. The thieves stole gold, jewellery and tools. They gained entry via the rear windows and door, from the alleyway it is believed. Happened sometime between 10:00 and 21:00. The team assisted the RSPCA on 07/08/2019 by seizing two mistreated dogs form an address on Erith Road. Just over our border by PC Smith was happy to help out. We have, for a while now, had complaints about certain HMO's in Barnfield Road. If you are experiencing problems with any of the residents of the HMO's please let us know. Our next Street-a-Week will be on 18/08/2019 from 12:00 - 12:30 on Halt Robin Road, at the junction with Upper Park Road". Bexleyheath ward:- "There have been reports of fights and disturbances in and around the Golden Lion public house, Bexleyheath. The council is seeking witnesses for more information. here seems to be no reports off any burglaries or attempted burglaries on the ward over the last week A theft from motor vehicle was reported overnight on the 04/08/2019 & 05/08/2019 along Pinnacle Hill, tools were stolen from a van. Also along Rochester Drive Bexleyheath, suspects had tried stealing a van off the driveway at about midnight. A purse was reported stolen from an elderly female. Believed to have been taken in the H and M store on the Broadway, this was reported on the 03/08/2019. Also a wallet was reported stolen which was reported in ASDA on the 6/08/2019. There was a report of a victim using an ATM on the Broadway on the 01/08/2019 and was unable to use the machine. They were approached by two youths who allegedly tried to help him get the card out of the machine and victim thought this was suspicious and took their card and walked away. Money was taken from victims account, card was cloned. There was also another report of suspects calling the victim to say they need to upgrade their online banking security and to log on to their online banking which they did and money was stolen. The team regularly conduct patrols along drug hot spot areas and ASB areas on the ward and conduct regular stops and searches where necessary".


Crayford ward:- "On 3rd August between 12.00-14.30 a catalytic convertor was stolen from a vehicle parked in Bexley Lane. Between 1.20-1.25am on 3rd August two vehicles had items stolen from them in Falsfaff Close, items included two pairs of Rayban sunglasses, a handbag and a wine coloured Barbour jacket. Number plates were stolen from Stadium Way on 3rd August between 11.15-12.15, LX16VXB should be on a red Citigo Skoda. At about the same time on the same day and place, someone attempted to remove number plates from a silver Ford Focus. A Bosch garden strimmer and other items were stolen from a garden shed in Marden Crescent overnight between 3rd and 4th August. A green and white Greenmech Dual Feed towable wood chipper was stolen from a locked yard in Thames Road over the weekend 3rd and 4th August. A white Fiesta van GJ68XYU was involved in a road traffic accident at Swan Lane on Saturday 3rd August. It has since been reported stolen by an unknown person. Our next community contact session is on Wednesday 14th August between 16.00-17.00 at Vintage Lindy Lou's in Waterside Gardens, Crayford". Erith ward:- "We had the Erith Ward panel meeting and had a really nice turn out of people, if this meeting would interest you feel free to contact me for more information. The priories we set out which was chosen by the residents of Erith are as follows - Extra patrols around Compton Place which includes a meeting with the local Cllr. ASB patrols around West Street. Crimes of note - Burglary Residential 01/08/2019 Rutland Gate - By unknown suspect attempting to gain entry into victims house and damaging the front door and making off without gaining entry. Theft of Motor Vehicle 01/08/2019 Fraser Road. Theft of a  Motor Vehicle 02/08/2019 Avenue Road. Theft from Motor Vehicle 20/07/2019 Park Crescent. Theft from Motor Vehicle  03/08/2019 Bexley Road, Theft of Motor Vehicle 06/08/2019 James Watt Way".  Northumberland Heath ward - no report this week. Slade Green and Northend ward - no report this week. Thamesmead East ward:- "Burglary - No household burglaries this week. Crime prevention: Close and lock all your doors and windows, even if you're going out for a few minutes. Photograph and keep a detailed inventory of each item of jewellery and keep it in a separate place. Remain vigilant at all times Burglary Business/Commercial The Beam Engine House, located in Bazalgette Way, SE2 was broken Into between the hours of 4:00pm on Friday 02/08/19 and 07:50am on Sunday 04/08/19. Numerous items taken, unknown Total value of items taken and damage caused to gain entry, however a new roller shutter was costing about £3,500. Theft from Motor Vehicles - Between the hours of 11:245pm on Thursday 01/08/19 and 10:15am of Friday 02/08/19, a vehicle parked locked and secure on the drive of a property in St. Katherines Road, DA18, was broken into. No damage was caused to gain entry, the glove box was searched. A hire vehicle locked and secure parked Kale Road, had windows smashed, untidy search. The theft of a Catalytic converter had occurred at 10:55pm on Monday 05/08/19 in Grange Crescent, SE28. Between 9:am of Monday 05/08/19 and 8:00 pm of Tuesday 06/08/19,a vehicle was stolen from Eastgate Close, SE28.The theft from a motor vehicle occurred in Kale Road .The incident happened in May 2019, after the victim had noticed the passenger door was open and the victims purse was on the passenger seat. Bank cards and cash ,which apparently the victim had left in the vehicle were taken .bank cards were cancelled Victim had not contacted police regarding the theft, it was only after officers contacted the victim following a search of a male found to be in possession of the stolen cards. Good News - Message of thanks from the staff from at the Beam Engine House to Mark Headley - Designing Out Crime Officer and PCSO Dennis Hobbs for help given". West Heath ward:- "No burglaries reported to us over the last week. Unfortunately we have had a number of vehicle crimes. On Friday August 2nd at approximately 8.30 am a vehicle was broken into in Hythe Avenue, an untidy search of the vehicle was made but nothing appeared to be stolen. Attempted theft of an exhaust/ catalytic converter in Bedonwell Road on Tuesday August 6th between 10.30 – 10.40 am. A vehicle was broken in to in Glenview on Monday August 5th at approximately 9.45 pm via the driver's window. Untidy search of the vehicle, no further details known at this time. Theft of motor vehicle from Cranbrook Road between Saturday July 27th and Sunday August 4th, the victim was on holiday and returned to discover the vehicle missing. The victim was still in possession of the keys. Theft of a motor vehicle from Preston Drive on Wednesday August 7th between 4.15 – 4.30 am, thankfully the vehicle was later recovered. One report of criminal damage to a motor vehicle in Longleigh Lane on Saturday August 3rd between 1 am and 2 pm when the owner returned to the vehicle and discovered several dents that were not there before. The team arrested two prolific offenders over the weekend, one for failure to appear and the other was wanted on recall to prison".

The end video this week is a return to a local jazz combo who I first featured a couple of weeks ago; The Tom Fleming Trio were filmed in the main hall of the former Carnegie Library in Walnut Tree Road, courtesy of The Exchange. Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.