Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Pom Pom Womblers.


The photo above shows The Cross Keys Centre and Erith Playhouse, both located in the Erith High Street conservation area; out of the shot and to the right of the Playhouse is the White Hart (no longer referred to as the White Hart / Potion Bar, as all reference to that lager swilling, drug dealing, Chav infested abomination have now been completely and utterly expunged from the site as part of the ongoing restoration and conversion of that historic Victorian building). The new replica frontage of the White Hart is now well on the way to being completed; it is now in the process of being glazed and painted, and already it looks vastly superior to the anachronistic and shabby float glass frontage that was illegally installed by the owners of the hated Potion Bar. The whole High Street area is looking immeasurably better than it has done for many years, thanks to a handful of dedicated people who have put much time, effort and money into improving the historic part of Erith. 

As I recently mentioned, it would seem that London Mayor Sadiq Khan has quietly dropped plans for a river crossing between Rainham in Essex and Lower Belvedere. This is despite a survey of local residents which indicated that seventy seven percent were in favour of river crossings at both Thamesmead and Belvedere. In fact, Richard de Cani, managing director for planning at TfL, said in an interview almost exactly a year ago: “With the capital’s population rising rapidly and more much-needed housing being built, crossing the river will become ever more important. It’s great to see overwhelming support for these two new cross-river connections at Gallions Reach and Belvedere, which would provide better public transport links and help unlock opportunities for local people.” There is a degree of polarisation of opinion regarding the necessity of extra river crossings; Latest estimates have London’s population growing by 1.5 million in the next 15 years, with South East London already taking on vast new housing developments - Erith alone has Erith Park, Tower Hill, the redevelopment of the former Riverside Swimming Baths site, and the large development on Erith Quarry. Proponents of the scheme believe more road links linking the north and south banks should be built sooner rather than later to accommodate the extra traffic this would bring. There is also a discrepancy between crossings in the West and East of London – there are twenty six Thames crossings between London Bridge and Kew Bridge to the west, while there are only eleven from Tower Bridge to Dartford Crossing in the East. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


Home in less than fashionable suburbs of outer London have become the fastest-selling in the capital, research released this week shows. An analysis by property website  Zoopla shows that properties in Sutton are the quickest to go under offer after they are put on the market. Experts said the study is further evidence of the strength of outer London’s property market in comparison to the “prime” central London market, which has stalled in recent years. More people are now willing to move to previously unpopular areas because of their affordability and improving transport links, they added. Sutton properties take an average of 28 days after being listed for sale to get an offer, the research suggests. Havering and our own Bexley were next at 29 days. I am certain that areas such as Plumstead and Abbey Wood will be strongly affected by the Crossrail development. I predict that the area around Plumstead Common will be a very popular area once the Elizabeth Line opens - in fact I predict that it will become like Blackheath Common in time - the shops, cafes and pubs will move upmarket within a very few years of the new transport hub opening. Mark my words. 

A little known fact is that the hospital that is now known as Queen Mary's in Sidcup was instrumental in pioneering several forms of surgery that have become vital in modern medicine.  A chap called Doctor Harold Gillies – a New Zealand born surgeon, who earned the title of “The father of plastic surgery” pioneered reconstructive surgery on wounded soldiers who had been injured in the trenches of the First World War, and who had a remarkable local connection. Harold Gillies initially opened a small unit in the Cambridge Hospital at Aldershot which had beds for two hundred injured men. He pioneered the use of skin grafting – a technique he adapted from one first used by professor Hippolyte – Morestin in France, he employed dental reconstruction techniques invented by Charles Valadier, coupled with the use of X-Rays, and photographs to detail the injuries of his patients; he was also fastidious about cleanliness and the use of antiseptics (a very important point, as antibiotics were yet to be discovered, and deaths from sepsis or blood poisoning were still very common). Harold Gillies also came up with the simple but effective policy of ensuring that all patients were attached to a luggage label listing their injuries, and where the injured soldier needed to be sent for treatment – many of the men were unable to speak through injury, or otherwise rendered unconscious. Once the Battle of the Somme took place, the two hundred bed unit in Aldershot was drastically overcrowded – at one point there were ten patients for every bed. A new home needed to be found for the plastic surgery unit, and one was found at Queen’s Hospital at Sidcup (what is nowadays Queen Mary’s).  The unit took up much of the hospital, and it was conveniently close to the Royal Artillery barracks at Woolwich, where a small number of patients were located during their convalescence. Doctor Gillies was an interesting man – on top of being a very early pioneer of plastic surgery, he was a great golfer, a professional standard violin player, rowed in a winning team for Cambridge University in the boat race, and created a comedic alter – ego called Doctor Scroggy which he used to entertain his patients. He would walk around the wards of Queen’s Hospital at night, dispensing champagne and oysters to the injured soldiers, despite the strict ban on alcohol within the hospital grounds. He encouraged the recovering men to perform theatrical productions and shorter skits, which often involved the recuperating soldiers dressing in drag. Harold Gillies was aware of the emotional as well as physical trauma he was treating – and his solution was to make recovery fun. His influence was such that later, in the Second World War, he was able to rebuild the burned faces and hands of airmen, alongside his better known cousin, Archibald Mcindoe, whose disfigured pilot patients later formed The Guinea Pig Club. Harold Gillies also performed the first gender reassignment operations, and became a leader in the field of sex change surgery.  He was ahead of his time in so many ways, and much of his work first undertaken at Sidcup has been used as the foundation for modern reconstructive surgery. It is a shame that the story is not better known.


A story broke early in the week in the local press, which as well as being serious and a matter for concern, also brought an element of black humour. In the early hours of Monday morning, a JCB load lifter was stolen from a building site in Erith. Normally when such vehicles are stolen, they are loaded onto a lorry and taken by a gang of organised criminals. Not so in this case. Instead a hardened criminal with what appears to be the I.Q of a small Begonia was the culprit. Alan Lamb, 34, of Star Lane in St Mary Cray was caught by Police after a (very slow) chase of the JCB along North End Road and into Thames Road. Bearing in mind such vehicles are limited to a top road speed of 35 miles per hour, the pursuing Police cars cannot have rivalled the car chases in Smokey and the Bandit or The Blues Brothers! Alan Lamb was promptly arrested, and appeared in court on the 14th March. He claimed that he had  attempted to drive the JCB to Dartford. However, he didn’t know how to control the digger correctly as “there were lots of levers”, so when police signalled for him to stop, he could only let the vehicle slowly roll to a stop. This meant police were only able to stop Lamb along Thames Road outside Dartford. When the police approached Lamb in the JCB, he told them that “I have just nicked this and I’m wanted on recall to prison.” When interviewed by the police further, he told them he was going to be paid money for the JCB and he needed the money because he owed two men for heroin and crack cocaine. He was also wanted for the theft of £350 worth of coats from Peacocks in Orpington on December 17. Lamb pleaded guilty to stealing the JCB and for the theft of the coats and was sentenced to 20 weeks in prison. What amazes me is that however astonishingly thick and drug addled Alan Lamb may be, he did not realise the utter futility of stealing construction plant or equipment. It is well known that nearly all such valuable kit is fitted with electronic tracking devices, which enable security companies to relatively easily trace stolen hardware, notify the Police and get the kit returned to its rightful owner. You can see a series of videos on exactly how stolen plant equipment is tracked down by clicking here.


As predicted some time ago, the spit of land which separates Fraser Road and Alford Road in the area of Erith historically known as the Pom Pom, due to the historic noise of 20mm and 30mm cannons being tested on the nearby range that was located behind the Maxim (and later Vickers Maxim) arms factory in Fraser Road. The land is now being stripped and will shortly be used to widen the road adjacent to the entrance of what will be the new Erith Quarry housing estate, which is currently under construction. One piece of good news is that a new volunteer group has recently been established, which will be collecting rubbish from in and around the Pom Pom area; they are called the Pom Pom Womblers. They are keeping the Pom Pom clear of rubbish, and acting to assist the council in generally keeping the area looking clean and tidy. Organiser, Brian Weekes, who was already a regular volunteer litter picker with his wife Brenda in the Alford Road area said: "At a recent meeting of the community group we requested help for a clean-up on Saturday 19 November and we received offers of help from 12 people. We also posted information through letterboxes in Pembroke Road, Battle Road, Riverdale Road and St John's Road. We had a good turn out on the day, collecting 46 bags of rubbish. We are hoping that many of those who turned up will continue with litter picking within the area." Volunteers for the Pom Pom Womblers, or anyone wishing to set up their own local rubbish collecting volunteer group should please email Jennie.Beckett@bexley.gov.uk or telephone the Council on 020 8303 7777 and ask for Jennie Beckett.

A new and very worrying form of Ransomware has been discovered, which targets computers running Windows. Ransomware is a form of malware that infects target computers and stealthily encrypts the users files, making them unreadable. The ransomware then offers to provide the decryption key to restore the encrypted files - in exchange for a large amount of money, and of course there is no guarantee you will get anything at all after handing over your hard earned money. The new ransomware infestation has a Star Trek theme, and is known as "Kirk". Kirk is reckoned to be the first ransomware to utilise virtual cash transfer system Monero rather than BitCoin as the ransom payment of choice. The malware decryptor "Spock" will be supplied to the victim once the payment is made, but at this time the ransomware does not look like it can be decrypted, anti-malware firm Webroot reports. At present, there are no known victims of the ransomware and there’s no sample of the decryptor, so information regarding it is limited. The decryptor is said to be promised once the ransom is paid, but obviously there are no guarantees and it cannot be decrypted at present without it. For the first two days, crooks are demanding 50 Monero or roughly $1,072 (£867). The fee doubles every few days if victims fail to cave in. If no payment is made by the 31st day, the decryption key gets permanently deleted, according to the ransom note. Security researchers are currently investigating the malware in the hope that they will be able to find a backdoor or other vulnerability in the malicious code that will enable them to neutralise the threat, but thus far one has yet to be found.


The "then and now" photos above come from local history expert Martin Barnes. They show the ridiculously narrow opening under the railway bridge at Maiden Lane in Crayford, both in 1938 and more recently in 2014. I have never understood why the bridge was designed in the way that it was - it seems to make no logical sense to make something so small. If you have any insight into why such an impractical bridge was designed and built, please let me know.

The Shortlist rankings website recently ranked the ten worst ways to commute into and out of London. Not surprisingly Southeastern Trains came out as the number one worst way to commute. Their opinion of Southeastern was expressed thus:- "Run by the same French public body as Southern, the undisputed champion of bad commutes has to be Southeastern. The evil geniuses at the top have managed to double profits in the past 12 months, despite astonishingly low levels of customer satisfaction and punctuality. Even City Hall says the service is so bad it should be run by TfL. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of being on one of its ancient carriages you’ll know the pain of being on a train so slow it is overtaken by elderly foxes strolling along next to the tracks, before the train terminates early leaving you stuck at a bus stop in the middle of Lewisham. There’s a poor guy working at Cannon Street station who has said “Southeastern apologises…” so many times it’s given him Tourette’s.  The company once took umbrage when we said Isis could run a better train service but now we think about it, although they both love a scapegoat (either the US or Network Rail) and are run remotely, the terrorists do seem better organised and more social media savvy." Quite. I feel that things are very much unlikely to improve until Transport for London are allowed to take over the running of the service. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced in December that he would not devolve responsibility for the Southeastern franchise to London's Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan. He claimed Transport for London's business plan did not offer extra capacity and was simply based on "a belief" that the organisation could run the system more effectively. But Mr Grayling was accused of putting politics ahead of passengers over the issue after a leaked letter showed he opposed the policy in 2013 as he wanted to keep the network "out of the clutches" of any future Labour mayor. In a recent interview, Chris Grayling said: "Services on the Southeastern rail network have been unacceptably poor for far too long. Passengers have endured disruption, overcrowding and delays, particularly during redevelopment work at London Bridge station, and they deserve better. That is why this consultation is so important. Appointing a new franchise operator from 2018 provides us with a great opportunity to sort out the problems which have plagued the Southeastern network, and deliver the high quality of service that customers expect. We are going to do things differently. I want passengers to enjoy more space and comfort, more and better communication with the operator, and a consistently reliable performance." The problems with Southeastern were thrown into sharp relief last Monday when a train was put into service on the 8.09am from Dartford to Charing Cross when it had not been cleaned from the night before, and passengers found vomit on a couple of seats. A chap called Adam Pearson Tweeted Southeastern asking why staff had not noticed the smelly and offensive mess, and why hadn't the guard done anything about it? Southeastern in a fairly typical piece of inserting their foot in their mouths responded with:- "Staff would not have noticed the mess as there are no conductors on services between Dartford to London". That just about summarises Southeastern at present; in their defence, they are proposing a number of measures to improve their future service, which I understand will include creating more space for passengers by running longer trains and upgrading or replacing older trains, increasing reliability and reducing delays by the train operator working closely with Network Rail, improving compensation arrangements with a simple automated system, introduction of a smarter payment system, including mobile phones, improving customer service with staff able to respond quickly and effectively to passenger’s needs. Extending the number of carriages on stopping services from eight or 10 to 12 carriages and providing more seats on high-speed services is also being considered. Southeastern are obviously trying to fend off competitors for when the franchise comes up for renegotiation during 2018. Thanks to regular reader and occasional contributor Brian, I had discovered that Transport for London are asking a hell of a lot (as indeed they should) of their next franchise holder, whoever it turns out to be. Brian has found a whole repository of information on the Gov.UK website. On there the following announcement has been published:- "Passengers in south east London, Kent, the Medway towns and East Sussex are on track to get improved journeys, as the Department for Transport (DfT) seeks views on a new franchise in the south-east. South Eastern handles 640,000 passenger journeys on 1,900 train services every weekday. The government is keen that passengers, local councils and anyone with an interest in improved service on the Southeastern franchise take the opportunity to shape what the next operator will deliver. The Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling said: Passengers on a new South Eastern franchise from 2018 will enjoy modern trains with more space and a more punctual and reliable service. This consultation sets out what we expect the next operator to deliver for passengers, including working more closely with Network Rail to ensure a focus on performance, and innovative use of technology to improve both ticket buying and compensation if things do go wrong. DfT’s ambitions for this franchise include: creating more space for passengers by running longer trains and upgrading or replacing older trains; increasing reliability and reducing delays by the train operator working closely with Network Rail; improving compensations arrangements with a simple automated system; introduction of a smarter payment system, including mobile phones; improving customer service with staff able to respond quickly and effectively to passenger’s needs; These ambitions need an innovative new approach from the rail industry. As the Secretary of State set out in his speech on 6 December 2016, this will be the first franchise to have an integrated operating team between train services and infrastructure. This means that the new operator must form an alliance with Network Rail, working as one team to deliver a better railway for passengers". I note how the upgrades proposed by Southeastern dovetail extremely closely with those on the requirements from the government - strange that! I don't know if I am being cynical, or merely realistic, but I have my doubts as to if Southeastern will even be shortlisted as a contender for the new franchise, as their reputation and performance has been so utterly woeful. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com

A rather more pleasant local transport story follows. It has come to my notice that there is a possibility that steam trains may run from Abbey Wood Station once Crossrail / Elizabeth Line development is completed. The Ian Visits website is reporting the following story:- "A new heritage railway has been granted planning permission, and could make visits to the Crossness steam pumping museum a lot more convenient. The possibility of a light railway being built near Abbey Wood has been lurking around since 2011, when the Royal Gunpowder Mills loaned a locomotive to the Crossness team under an agreement to restore it. That locomotive is a local one though, being the oil fired steam engine, Avonside 0-4-0T Woolwich, which once worked the light railway built inside the Woolwich Arsenal. It’s the Crossness pumping station – a marvel of Victorian engineering – which is leading the plans for the railway, as the pumping station is deep inside a huge Thames Water estate, and it’s a decent walk from the entrance and car park to to the pumping station itself. Hence, the plans for an 18-inch light railway to relieve visitors of that half-mile walk. The intention is that people would arrive at the edge of the estate, then head to the Victorian pumping station on a steam train. At the moment, it’s either a bus ride, or long walk from Abbey Wood station to get to the site, so most visitors tend to arrive by car. The planning application was submitted last October, and yesterday, Bexley Council approved the plans, subject to a survey on managing road traffic from visitors to the site. In the long term, there may even be an option to extend the railway from the Crossness car park along the ridgeway towards Plumstead, and then provide a very convenient link to the mainline station. Give it a couple of years, and a trip on the new Elizabeth Line to Abbey Wood could conclude with a trip on a steam train. If you want to learn more about the plans, and to see the restored locomotive, Crossness pumping station is holding one of its open days on 30th April 10:30am-4pm". It will be interesting to see what comes of this venture. More on this subject to come in the future. If you have any additional information or insight, please get in contact with me. 

The end video this week shows further work on Abbey Wood Station to ready it to receive trains running on the Elizabeth Line, as well as the existing North Kent Line. See what you think.