Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dobbin and chips?


The photo above shows the M.V Shetland Trader - a bulk freighter that plies its trade on the River Thames past Erith on an almost daily basis. You may have seen photos of the ship featured on the Maggot Sandwich in the past. I took the photo above recently whilst the Shetland Trader was moored on Erith Pier. You can see a member of the crew engaged in some painting and maintenance duties - not much fun when the weather is currently so cold and windy.

You may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote about the level of unpaid crossing fees that have already built up since the Dartford QEII Bridge and tunnel converted from physically collecting tolls from motorists via a series of toll booths, to a new ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) technology, whereby a high definition camera will record passing number plates, compare them to a database and charge the owner of the vehicle accordingly. This week the News Shopper are reporting that Bexley Police have begun a campaign to educate local residents about number plate theft. On Thursday they visited a number of locations around the Borough, including B and Q in Lower Belvedere, Harrow Manor Way in Thamesmead, and the BP Connect garage in Northumberland Heath. The Police teams gave away anti – tamper number plate screws free to visitors. Some crooks physically steal number plates so that they can evade things like the London congestion charge and the Dartford crossing toll. This is a crude, but very effective form of identity theft. Other crooks look out for vehicles that closely resemble their own, and make a note of the number plates. They then get copies of the plates made up – plate blanks and lettering are easy to come by if you know where to look – I have even seen whole number plate making “turnkey” systems for sale on EBay, albeit not in the UK. This is a major issue – hundreds of false plates are in circulation, and the onus is on the legitimate owner to prove identity theft, rather than the other way around. Often many people don’t realise their plates have been duplicated until they get a letter in the post accompanied by a fine for non – payment of charges. I foresee this becoming an increasingly serious issue, and it will not be long before the popular press pick up on the story. It will only take a celebrity or senior politician to get sent a fine or summons for prosecution due to their vehicle ID having been hijacked before the tabloid press will be all over the story.

There have already been some consequences regarding the changes in the train services on the North Kent Line. Apart from the lack of trains into Charing Cross, the planners at the Docklands Light Railway have decided to increase the number of DLR trains outside of rush hours on the Woolwich Arsenal to Canning Town branch. They are effectively doubling the number of trains on off – peak times on the Bank to Lewisham via Greenwich line, so that travellers should not have to wait more than five minutes for a train at any time. This can only be a good thing; the downside to all of this is that DLR staff are likely to go on strike from the 28th January for two days – I don't fully understand their complaints, but it seems to me that the withdrawal of labour is a fairly drastic move, and usually means that communications between the parties in dispute has failed. For many hard pressed commuters, it is very bad news, myself included, as I spend a great deal of time working in Canary Wharf, as do thousands of other people, all of whom will be inconvenienced by the action. Personally since the trains are all computer controlled, I don't see why that don't just run without their normal supervisor, who seems to be not much more than a glorified ticket inspector anyway. I have more trust in the computer to operate the train than I do in a human. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

You may have read in the popular press that certain car insurance companies are refusing to insure certain models of vehicle, the most widely known model being the latest Range Rover. The reason they cite is that crooks have cracked the digital keyless entry system on the upmarket off – roaders, and crooks can just walk up to the cars and drive away – the hack involves a device that mimics the electronic key fob, not only unlocking the doors, disabling the alarm and the immobiliser, and even starting the engine. I understand that Range Rover are currently investigating, and it is said that a recall of certain affected models for a firmware upgrade on their security systems is imminent. This is a bad state of affairs, but it would seem to be limited to a small number of vehicles from a specific car maker. Things are possibly going to get a whole lot worse though.  American security analyst Corey Thuen has discovered a state of affairs that could make the Range Rover security vulnerability look like small change. You may be aware that a number of UK insurance companies offer reduced premiums to drivers who have telematics “Black box” devices installed. Black box insurance works when your car is fitted with a small 'black box' device, about the size of a smartphone, which records speed, distance travelled and the time of day or night that you are on the road. The device also assesses your driving style by monitoring braking and cornering. It will also record the types of road on which you typically travel, and the times of day and night you tend to drive, to build up a comprehensive profile of you as a driver.  With a device fitted to your car you can access a website to find out how you are performing in each category. This will show you if you need to make any changes to your driving style, and will provide tips on how you can improve your driver score and bring down the cost of your insurance. As a rule of thumb it is assumed that driving fewer miles on less dangerous roads, while also limiting night time driving, will result in lower premiums. Policies linked to black box recorders charge premiums on a monthly basis, which means the insurer can adjust them swiftly to reward better driving (and punish those who show themselves to be a risky proposition). Aside from privacy concerns (personally I find the concept of being monitored via satellite repugnant, but I know many do not share my worries). The telematic devices may suit younger drivers – indeed I understand that some insurance companies will only issue policies to newly qualified drivers if they have a “black box” installed – at the driver's expense. In the USA there are over two million telematic monitoring units installed on vehicles, and it is likely that in the next few years they become widely spread all over the world. The problem is that the devices currently in use are extremely vulnerable to malicious interference. Corey Thuen said  “The firmware running on the black box is minimal and insecure. It does no validation or signing of firmware updates, no secure boot, no cellular authentication, no secure communications or encryption, no data execution prevention or attack mitigation technologies… basically it uses no security technologies whatsoever.” A skilled attacker could almost certainly compromise such telematics black boxes to gain remote control of a vehicle, or even an entire fleet of vehicles. Once compromised, the consequences range from privacy data loss to life and limb; also, there is the attack vector of progressive backend infrastructure. If those systems are compromised, an attacker would have control over the devices that make it out to the field. In simple terms, we have seen that cars can be hacked and we have seen that mobile cellular communications can be hacked.” Privacy of data within cars is also a growing concern, one highlighted by Thuen’s research. BMW this week said it had repeatedly been asked by technology companies and advertisers to hand over the data their cars generated, but it has refused to give in to those requests. Thuen said it would be possible to intercept data passed between the black boxes and the insurance providers’ servers, likely including location and performance information, as they do nothing to encrypt or otherwise protect the information they collect. From my research, unless the telematics companies and to a lesser extent the car manufacturers take data integrity and security more seriously, it is only a matter of time before there are disastrous consequences. I predict that hackers will compromise whole fleets of vehicles, demanding cash ransoms to release vehicles from their control, in a very similar method to the current spate of “ransomware” that has affected many PC’s – a remote hacker encrypts a users’ files, then demands a fee to release the encryption key. I don't see any difference between a desktop or laptop PC and a car – indeed modern cars have as much if not more processing power than a home PC, so the analogy is sound.

My observations last week in respect of the changes made to the Southeastern Trains service into London on the North Kent Line have inspired a response from regular Maggot Sandwich reader Paul Thomas, who writes:- "Interested in your comments on the changes to the train services along the Greenwich line and your comments regarding the platform alterations. When the Thameslink Programme(as the alterations caused by the works at London Bridge are called) was first mooted it was envisaged that the Greenwich Line would lose many services during the 4 year building programme. This has not happened to the extent that was originally envisaged, although the fact that trains from Erith run exclusively to Cannon Street is a pain for me personally as I used an early morning Charing Cross train. Getting to Cannon Street after work at night is also an inconvenience, but there really was no alternative to severing the link that allows Greenwich Line trains to cross the tracks as a new dive under is being created in the space the cross over occupied. These new lines will help the movement of trains and ease conflict of movement that currently cause delays on the approach to London Bridge. The platform extensions were done at the time they were simply because the engineers were available to do them at that point. The UK has a chronic shortage of civil engineers and the work has to be planned many years in advance. Network rail is already planning projects for the period 2019-2024, and seeking requests from rail companies, local councils and Government for infrastructure enhancements for 2025-2030. Crossrail is also using many engineers, as are many other civil engineering projects such as the alterations to the Dartford Crossing. The longer platforms were generally expected to accept 12 car trains from 2018/19 when The Thameslink Programme is complete. Once all these new works are complete and 12 car trains introduced and Crossrail starts from Abbey Wood, travelling along the Greenwich line and reaching Central London will be much easier and smoother. With regard to Woolwich Dockyard Station; The first carriage of the train cannot be inside the Tunnel if selected door opening is to be used as the driver needs to see the on-platform cameras for safety reasons. It was closed during the Olympics as the special timetable run during the events meant that in order to run the extra trains more capacity was needed and by not stopping at this much underused station precious minutes were saved. Hope this info helps a bit". Very interesting insight - and thanks very much for sharing it with everyone. Much appreciated. If anyone else has information that you feel others might find of interest, please get in touch with me - you will get full credit, or can be anonymous as you so wish.


I have written on several occasions in the past about the situation in respect of unwanted ponies and horses that seem to about around Erith and Thamesmead (in fact the problem exists in many parts of the country). The problem is that there is a glut of animals which has in turn depressed the market to the point where they are now practically worthless. Only on Monday this week a foal was discovered in a water and mud – filled ditch in St. Thomas Road, Lower Belvedere. Despite the best efforts of the Fire Brigade, the foal died, most probably from Hypothermia. It is thought that the animal had probably fallen into the ditch the night before, and had spent all night in sub – zero temperatures. It was only when a passer – by noticed the foal in the morning that anything was done – albeit too late. The problem is that as the animals have no monetary value, their owners have little incentive to care for them. Some economists have suggested that if horse meat was more widely eaten in the UK, the large number of unwanted ponies and horses would have a monetary value as food; this ironically would ensure that many of the beasts would be better cared for. Personally I have no problems with eating horse – it tastes not dissimilar to steak, and is very low in saturated fat – what do you think – would you be averse to a portion of Dobbin and chips? Feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.



Guest contributor Dana Whiffen has written a very engaging piece on a band with local connections that teetered on the brink of major league stardom in the 1970’s. "Remember “Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman? John Speedy Keen was a friend and driver for Pete Townshend of The Who, Pete had recognised his songwriting skills and even included his “Armenia City in the Sky” on The Who Sell Out Album. Such was Pete Townshend’s admiration for Speedy’s song writing that he brought together with Keen two other musicians Andy Newman and Jimmy MCCulloch at the end of 1968 and they became known as Thunderclap Newman. They went into the studios in January 1969 with Speedy Keen on Vocals, guitar and drums, Andy Newman on piano and Jimmy McCulloch on lead guitar and Pete himself playing bass guitar and they recorded what was to become an iconic song titled “Something in the Air”.  It went to number one in the UK single charts holding off both Elvis and The Beatles from the top spot where it stayed for 3 weeks. Something in the Air was originally written for The Magic Christian film and by the end of 1969 it had sold 1 million copies being awarded a gold disc and was to later be used on soundtracks for The Strawberry Statement and Easy Rider CD deluxe edition and later in 2000 used in the film Almost Famous and in 2008 in an episode of My name is Earl and it continued to earn Speedy Keen a lot of money from royalties. Following on from the records huge success was the demand to see the band live, in order to perform they needed to add additional members so in the second half of 1969 they were joined by Jim Avery on Bass Guitar and Jimmy’s elder brother Jack McCullock on drums and they undertook a 26 tour date of the UK including playing THE BLACK PRINCE in Bexley Kent in a concert for Erith College Rag week. Due to Pete Townshend working on the next Who album “Tommy”, both Thunderclap Newman’s  “Hollywood Dream” their Townshend produced album and follow up single “Accidents”  were both delayed. This meant that the band lost important ground in a competitive music market and they failed to capitalise on the success of “Something in the Air” and by the time they were released , both failed to make their mark on the charts with “Accidents” only making number 44 and the album only 163 out of the Billboard top 200 chart. Speedy’s song writing talent was evident but he lacked the will to tour and upset his other band mates but either turning up late for rehearsals or not at all, because of this after their first UK tour both Jack McCulloch and Jim Avery left the band and they were replaced by Australians Ronnie Peel (bass) and Roger Felice (drums). They went onto to appear on TV programmes “How late is it” Top of the Pops” and “Beat Club” in Germany, and they toured the UK again in March 1971 and went on to tour Scotland  in March and early April 1971 again supporting Deep Purple on the UK  dates as well as in both tours of Holland and Scandinavia. Friction in the band mainly caused by Speedy’s low work rate and lack of motivation especially caused problems between him and Andy and reached an all time low and on returning to the UK in mid April they split up, just prior to being part of a 12 week package USA tour with Marsha Hunt and The Who, missing out on a chance to break into the USA market. Jimmy McCulloch had been recognised for his superb guitar playing and he went on to play with many bands including John Mayall, Stone the Crows and Paul McCartney’s Wings before his premature death at the age of 26 in 1979. Andy Newman went on to record a solo album titled “Rainbow” and also play on Roger Ruskin Spear’s (formerly of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band) first solo album as well as touring with him. In 1973 Speedy released a solo album titled “Previous Convictions” with included Jimmy McCulloch and Roger Felice on some tracks, he also released another album in 1975 titled “Y’know wot I mean” but neither had much impact on the charts. Discouraged he tried his hand at production working on punk band “Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers first album LAMF in 1977 and also on Motorhead’s first album before quitting the music industry; he died at the age of 56 in 2002. With more recent increasing interest in Thunderclap Newman’s music,  In February 2010 Andy Newman resurrected Thunderclap Newman with new members Tony Stubbings on bass guitar, Nick Johnson on lead guitar, former Big Country drummer Mark Brzezicki and Pete Townshend’s nephew Josh Townshend on guitar and vocals, they went on to support the Big Country tour of the UK in 2011 releasing a CD titled “Beyond Hollywood”. Both former members Jack McCulloch and Jim Avery are still in touch with Andy Newman today". A fascinating story – thanks to Dana for writing such an interesting piece.

I noticed something on my way to Erith Station earlier in the week. A few years ago, many cars and people carriers would have stickers, usually in their back window with announcements like “Baby on Board” and “Show Dogs in Transit”. I gather the reason for this was that in the event of a serious accident, the emergency services would know to look for an occupant on the rear seat or parcel area of the vehicle. It did strike me that to have such a sticker in one’s car would be rather self – serving and self-important. I was not the only person to form this opinion; satirical magazine Viz printed spoof stickers reading “Dog’s Eggs in Transit”. Ahem. I notice that nowadays these stickers seem to have entirely disappeared. I don't know if others have observed the same issue?

Bexley Neighbourhood Watch Association have just published the following announcement that may be of interest to local readers. Shopwatch is a Neighbourhood Watch scheme, originally set up as a trial in Bexley Village, it is works via an email loop (sharing of information) between Neighbourhood Watch, the shops registered and their local police team. We heard of various stories of distraction theft even from charity shops in the Village and were also aware that shops either end of Bexley Village were unaware of what was happening. Under this scheme "ShopWatch" all registered shops which is most of them were kept informed of crime trends and also let us know of any incidents so that all information could be shared and this saw a significant fall in shop crime in the Village. Because of its success and the eagerness of other Police Teams to see this rolled out in his areas/wards shops we have since worked with them to increase membership to a wider area in different towns in the Borough. We have now enrolled most shops in The Oval Parade Sidcup, Blackfen, Wellington and Blendon Parades, Mayplace Road East, Crayford Town Centre, Northumberland Heath-Erith and Welling with membership now well over 250 shops, we plan to continue to include other shopping parades throughout the Borough in 2015. Our most recent ShopWatch alert has seen information passed on about a shoplifter with a full description of person. ShopWatch is our latest non-residential schemes, which we run in addition to HoundWatch (Dog Walkers registered members walking their dogs report suspicious people etc) PlotWatch (fighting against allotment crime), FaithWatch (combating crime in and around places of worship), and finally HorseWatch for Stables (here they have had theft of saddles etc). If you would like to become a member of any of the schemes mentioned or alternatively you would like to set up a Watch in your road/area/block please contact us at the following;-

Telephone: 0208 284 5537
Email: bexwatch-office@btconnect.com

The end video this week is a sequel to the piece of historical video that I featured a while back that was compiled by local history enthusiast Martin Barnes. It shows all sorts of activities centred in and around Bexleyheath Broadway over the last hundred years - do give it a watch and let me know what you think - leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.