Sunday, September 25, 2016

Riot.


The original painting above was created by Erith based professional artist Patrick Hearne. It was painted earlier this year, and shows the view looking Eastwards along Erith Station. It was displayed at the "Our Erith" local art exhibition arranged by the Friends of Christ Church Erith earlier this year. Patrick has an excellent website showing more of his work, which you can see here.

The area got some extremely unwelcome bad publicity at the beginning of the week; several national tabloid newspapers, including the Sun, as well as being featured on the BBC News website. On Monday evening a fight broke out between what is estimated to be around a hundred school pupils in Northumberland Heath. It is not my usual practice to report on stories that make the national press, as there is little point in going over ground that has already been covered by professional journalists. I make an exception in this case, as it is so worrying and affects local people. Whilst the precise details of the mini riot are still somewhat sketchy the best part of a week later, it would appear to have been organised via social media, and a number of those involved were armed with baseball bats or knives - the main clash happened near the Duchess of Kent Pub in Brook Street. Police and specialist officers with dogs descended on the area after reports of a “large fight between a group of youths” at around 5.40pm. The Met’s police helicopter flew overhead as officers tried to break up the violence. Seven people, aged between 15 and 21, were arrested. Various video clips are now circulating on social media, and these have been picked up by the press and online. On Wednesday Bexley Police were given authorisation to disperse and ban troublemakers from Bexleyheath town centre and Northumberland Heath over a following two day period. One thing does strike me - almost nobody in the UK plays baseball, so how come so many of these stories involve youths with baseball bats? Where are they coming from? Bearing in mind the impact to actual sport would be minimal, would not an immediate ban on the sale, resale or ownership of baseball bats be a good move on the part of the authorities? The official Police report on the riot read thus:- Officers are appealing for information following a large scale fight in Bexley involving more than 100 youths. Police were called to Northumberland Heath, Bexley, at approximately 17:40hrs on 19 September, to reports of the large fight between a group of youths. Officers from the borough and the Met's Territorial Support Group (TSG) were called to the scene attending within eight minutes. Two males aged 15 and 19 suffered non-life threatening injuries and were taken to a south London hospital by London Ambulance Service. Seven males, aged between 15 and 21 years, were arrested and taken to a south London police stations. They are currently in custody. Just before the fight in Northumberland Heath, there was a disturbance between a group of youths in Bexley Broadway at approximately 16:30hrs. Police dispersed the large group of people and they were believed to have been involved in the fight in later on. Officers are investigating the circumstances of what happened in the run up to the incident and appealing for anyone who was involved or witnesses to speak to them as soon as possible. Police will be in the area of the Northumberland Heath tonight, 20 September, to provide reassurance to the local community. They will also be working with local schools in the area over the next few weeks. Borough Commander of Bexley, Chief Superintendent Jeff Boothe, said: “This incident was a large scale fight in a public area and would have been shocking to anyone who witnessed it. "The safety of young people in our borough and the wider community is paramount.  We are actively investigating what happened and take matters like this extremely seriously. There will be extra patrols in the borough to provide reassurance in the community. I would appeal to anyone with information about what happened to contact us. They can speak to their schools liaison officer or hey can do this anonymously through Crimestoppers.” Speaking about the scale of the incident, Chief Superintendent Boothe said: “In total over  40  calls were made to police by members of the public and a number of incidents occurred across at least five different locations. Every available officer within Bexley was deployed to assist with the incident and support from the Met Territorial Support Group was provided. We were not able to attend and speak with every person who called police due to the large volume of calls and multiple incidents occurring. The calls had to be prioritised based on the risks and scale of disorder at each venue. Officers will be contacting those people over the next coming days as part of the investigation and to provide further reassurance." Anyone with information or witnesses can call Bexley police on 0208 284 9146, the police non-emergency line on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously 0800 555 111.

There has been a rumour circulating over the last week or so, and I have been able to get to the bottom of it. As many people know, Erith Morrison's supermarket is currently undergoing a much needed refurbishment. This includes the petrol station adjacent to the supermarket main building. Word has been going round that when the petrol station is refitted, it will be selling alcohol in the shop. Several concerned local residents have contacted me, as have a couple of Morrison's staff who are worried about an increase in crime if alcohol is served from the petrol station. I am happy to report that I have received word from official sources that whilst Morrison's applied for a drinks licence for the petrol station, it was not granted, and the station shop will remain alcohol free. The correct outcome all round, I feel. If you have strong feelings about this, or any other issues, please leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

I have had several readers comment on my story last week on The News Shopper, and how for the last year or so they have had no base in South East London / North Kent, as they have closed their Pett’s Wood office and moved to Sutton in Surrey. The readers had not been aware of this situation – understandably, as the News Shopper did report the move at the time, but they kept it rather low key, and the story slipped under many peoples radar. When one reads the paper with this information in mind, it does become rather obvious that the emphasis is now on stories in South West, rather than South East London and North Kent; for example, they have been running a promotion on behalf of Young’s Brewery, to celebrate the 185th birthday of the pub company and brewer. The problem is that the edition that is available both online and in print for the local area features Young’s pubs taking part in the promotion that are located in Wimbledon, Richmond, Putney, Sutton, Croydon and Kingston.  Not exactly reflecting local stories and issues then. It must be very hard for what were former local newspapers that are forced into becoming regional newspapers as the only way to survive in what is a cutthroat and competitive market. One of the main motivations of the Maggot sandwich was to become a "parish magazine” for the Erith / Slade Green area and slightly beyond, as no local paper was covering the area in any detail. It has come to pass that the blog has become far wider ranging than originally intended – in many ways it has become somewhat of a victim of its’ own success – not that I am complaining! There has been a void in local news provision, which the Maggot Sandwich endeavours to fill.


You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I ran a story about a number of green spaces that Bexley Council wants to sell off to raise some cash. Once again the law of unintended consequences has come into play. Rather than quietly do away with the various small packets of green land around the (mostly Northern) parts of the borough, Bexley Council have done a sterling job in fostering community spirit and local cohesion. For example, a chap called Mark has been on contact with me - he requested that I publicise a FaceBook site that has been set up to fight the sale of the parcel of green land that exists on the corner of Napier Road and Wellington Road in Belvedere. I am more than happy to do so - whatever the outcome of the fight, it has brought local residents together against a common foe. I would suggest that one of the best ways of ensuring the continuing free space would be for the neighbours to form a charitable trust and to club together to jointly buy the land. That way they could guarantee their continued peaceful enjoyment of the open space. They would need to consult a solicitor with specific experience in such undertakings though. You can join the No To Napier Road Green Space Sell Off page by clicking here.

Riverdale Road based local musician Wayne Jacobs has been making the headlines again. The amateur singer / songwriter has won yet another award. He’s won the UK Country Radio listeners club award for the fifth time in a row. The singer is known for his three hits that reached number one in Nashville Tennessee, including My Tennessee Girl, I Want My Daddy and Rockin’ in the USA. Mr Jacobs first started writing his own country music after watching Walk the Line, the well-known film chronicling the life of music legend Johnny Cash. You can read more about Wayne Jacobs and his latest win by clicking here. I must admit that I am rather conflicted about this award. Whilst I am really pleased to see an Erith resident excel in an artistic field; I just wish it was playing something other than Country and Western music. I can (just about) see why certain people in the Southern states of the USA would like it - after all it talks to experiences they, or at least their grandparents may have had. Why someone from outside the USA would feel it appropriate mystifies me. Country music is mostly still synonymous with southern, white, cowboy culture. We can talk about parts of the genre that have moved past cowboy boots and pick-up trucks but if you look at the chart toppers, concert attendance, and country music media in general you'll still notice these things: 1) Very traditional gender roles. 2) Some measure of conservative, patriotic (or jingoistic depending on your perspective), religious undertones. 3) Traditional and maudlin, self indulgent, romantic themes. 4) Explicit, direct, emotional expression - a very un - British concept. On top of this, Country and Western music lacks any concept of irony or self - awareness. Why anyone British would want to pretend to be American completely escapes me. If you have some insight into this phenomenon, I would love to hear from you. Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


I have been asked in the past questions about a relatively new pastime - the collecting of old computers. Like anything produced for a relatively limited period of time, old computers can become worth serious money - and others are essentially worthless. Already a lively market already exists on websites like Ebay, but it is easy, as with anything collectible and potentially valuable, there are plenty of pitfalls. Like in the more traditional field of antique collection, certain rules apply. Originality is paramount - all of the correct leads, connectors and the power supply need to be present and correct, and the original box in good condition should also be there.  Condition needs to be good to excellent in order to attract a premium price, and any history of the machine in question is a bonus. One of the question I was asked was “If price was no object, what three classic computers would you most like to own, and why?” After a bit of mulling, my response was:- 1) Xerox Alto – the most revolutionary computer since Colossus. More on it in a moment. 2) Xerox Star – the development of the Alto, and the first commercially available computer to use a graphical user interface. 3) NeXT Cube Colour – the great granddaddy of all modern Unix based Apple Macs, and the platform used by Sir Tim Berners – Lee to create the World Wide Web. So why did I pick the Xerox Alto as my most desired classic computer? Well, bear in mind that the Alto was never actually available for commercial purchase, and only between fifteen hundred and two thousand Alto units were hand constructed by Xerox, mainly for internal use, though a handful made it into academia for study purposes, and one made it into the White House. The Alto was the first computer anywhere that had a GUI – a Graphical User Interface, that used the still common desktop paradigm. It had a mouse, used icons, it was able to talk to other Alto computers over an early form of Ethernet data networking. It had a "what you see is what you get" word processing program, it could send and receive Emails with attachments, it could output page set documents to a laser printer and had the world’s first high resolution bitmapped screen. All of this was available in 1973! You can see a short TV commercial for it here. It was at least fifteen years ahead of anything else in the world, but Xerox did not think there would be a market for such a computer, and eventually wound the project down. This business decision made Decca turning down the Beatles look small change in comparison. Later, the GUI computer project was restarted, and in the very early 1980’s Xerox released the Star – a high end workstation based on the earlier Alto concepts. Bexley Council had a couple of Star units in their typing pool for several years in the early 1980's, but they were never really used for anything other than word processing – with their distinctive portrait oriented display screens. Their powerful networking and graphical features were pretty much overlooked. A few years ago, before Bexley Council moved out of their old offices in Bexleyheath Broadway as they were due to be demolished, I tried to find out if any of the Xerox Star units were still being stored on site. I had heard vague rumours that at least one unit was stored in the basement nuclear fallout shelter. I had hoped to persuade the council to donate it to The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. Unfortunately my investigation drew a blank – nobody I contacted at the council knew anything about the computers, and they were actually not very interested. Many phone messages and Emails to them went without response, to the point where I got fed up and gave in. Anyone with a Xerox Star, or even more enticingly an Alto stuck in the corner of their basement (it would not have gone in the loft – it was so heavy it would have come through the ceiling) is sitting on not only a very important piece of computer history, but a small fortune. Collectors will pay substantial sums of money for rare and important computers – as was recently seen when an immaculate and completely original Apple 1 was purchased at auction for $905,0000. Personally I think this was a tad over-valued. The Apple 1 was not the first home computer by some way, it was not revolutionary and it was merely one of a number of kit type computers then available. The later fame of the brand has put quite an image boost over the machine that started it all for the Apple brand, and I will not be at all surprised if the next Apple 1 to go on auction breaks the million dollar mark.


The photo above shows a very young me, well, the back of my head at least - taken in September 1988 whilst I was working on my very first ever job in radio. Every so often I get asked by readers as to where the name of my blog originated; I usually tell them that if they read it for long enough, they will find out. Well. now is the time, in case you missed it last time I retold the tale, which was now quite a while ago. Over the last few years I have occasionally mentioned radio stations – both legitimate and otherwise that I have worked for in one manner or another. I have always had a deep interest in radio – even when I was at primary school, I would find old radios from charity shops and jumble sales and pull them apart to try and work out what made them tick; at one stage I managed to convert an old Bush valve receiver into an amplifier / speaker for my bedside transistor radio – even if it was only to listen to Ed Stewart on “Junior Choice” on BBC Radio 1. When in secondary school I started to listen the land based pirates which you could find all across both the Medium Wave and (what was then termed VHF) FM bands. The early 80’s were a formative time for unlicensed broadcasting – at that point little government thought had been given to widening commercial licences, and things such as community stations and special event licences just did not exist – with the notable exception of Radio Thamesmead, which at that time was available via Rediffusion cable only to residents physically located in Thamesmead. All sorts of pirate stations broadcast from whatever high points they could find – usually the roof of a tower block – radio signals on the VHF band travel in straight lines, so the higher up the transmitter / antenna are, the further the signal can theoretically travel – though other factors also come into play. My own favourite stations at the time were Alice’s Restaurant, and later Rock FM, which broadcast out of the Epping / Hainault area of Essex. Another station – which only came on during Monday nights was called Imagine – it played melodic rock and electronic music from bands like Tangerine Dream. When I was in the 6th form at school, I worked Saturdays at independent computer store Silica Shop in Hatherley Road, Sidcup, and so was not at home to listen to the various other pirate stations that broadcast on Saturdays. A friend handed me a cassette he had recorded of a pirate station that he said sounded like nothing he had heard before. I listened to the tape and was doubly astounded; firstly the station sounded very slick and professional – they had jingles and sound effects, and even had hourly news bulletins. Secondly, I recognised several of the voices as being people I knew, including one who was a school teacher of mine! I said nothing and carried on with the Saturday job. Sometime later when I had left school, I bumped into several of the people whose voices I had heard on the tape – typically we met in a pub – the Fox in Upper Belvedere (which back then was excellent, unlike now). One thing led to another and I was invited up to the studio. The station was called Radio Lumberjack, and it was run from a large semi-detached house in Bexleyheath. Most of the upper floor of the house had been converted into a main studio and a newsroom / production facility. Unusually for such a setup, the transmitter was located in the studio itself. Normally land based pirates would have a small, low powered UHF link transmitter which sent a hard to track signal to a much more powerful VHF FM transmitter located on the roof of a nearby tower block; the thinking behind this was that the authorities could easily track and confiscate the main FM transmitter, but the low power UHF link signal was far harder to detect – thus meaning it was less likely for the studio to also be raided – though this still was a danger. I later found out that the reason the chap behind Radio Lumberjack was unconcerned about the possibility of being raided was that his day job was as a member of the Department of Trade and Industry Radio Investigation Service – the pirate radio hunters of the time! He knew well in advance of any possible raids, and any documents pertaining to Radio Lumberjack promptly got “lost”, so the station got no official investigation at all, and operated with complete impunity for several years. Having such a “mole” right at the heart of the opposition proved invaluable later, when a number of Radio Lumberjack staff became involved with Radio Caroline – but that is a story for another day. Radio Lumberjack broadcast an eclectic range of music, interspersed with comedy sketches and novelty jingles. I soon became a regular presenter, hosting the evening album music show between 9pm and midnight – allowing pretty much all the other DJ’s to disappear up the pub. The humour on Radio Lumberjack was pretty surreal – much of the comedy material was written by the station staff. There were many spoof adverts, with commercials for fictional companies such as “Bethlehem Motors – car faith healers – save money and save your soul! With one simple low cost prayer, we can have your vehicle back on the road”. “Tacky’s Nightclub, with your host, Bland Groover”. Also, “Gaskets motor spares – suppliers of neo Georgian suspension, arc brake lights and stained glass windows”. Best of all, a commercial for the Thamesmead Tourist Board, with a cod salsa song “it’s the place for fun, it’s the place for sun, come to Thamesmead – go on day trips to all the popular holiday destinations like the Belvedere Rift Valley – home of the world famous earwig farm; enquire at the Thamesmead Tourist Board office – the little green hut behind the bike sheds in Thamesmead High Street!” It was all very slick and professional; the chap that ran the station was a big fan of Kenny Everett, but had his own unique style. Each presenter had their own introductory jingle – mine started with an incredulous voice – “oh my God.... It’s Arthur Pewty!” followed by the sound of Stuka dive bombers, explosions and collapsing buildings, accompanied by a massed band of Daleks screaming “Arthur Pewty, Arthur Pewty!” It was all very over the top and wacky. My pseudonym came from the meek and mild insurance salesman Arthur Pewty from the famous Monty Python sketch about the marriage guidance counsellor. When I first started my evening show, I racked my brains to think of a suitably surreal and silly name for it. I had already got my nickname, and recently I had read a history of 1960’s offshore station Radio London, where John Peel got his big break into radio. John Peel had a show called “The Perfumed Garden” where he played a lot of hippy music and recited poetry sent in by listeners (some of it was toe curlingly bad, but I digress). I thought that my show needed a really surreal title, so, as a play on “John Peel’s Perfumed Garden”, “Arthur Pewty’s Maggot Sandwich” was born. I was part of Radio Lumberjack for a couple of very happy and memorable years, and made friends that I still have to this day. The station naturally ran its course, and in time some of the more dedicated members – the station owner included became involved in Radio Caroline. That is a story for another time. So now you know.

The end video this week was taken recently - it shows Royal Navy Albion class amphibious assault ship HMS Bulwark heading down river after a visit to London. The footage was shot from Erith Pier, and shows the large vessel as it passes Erith on a journey towards the Thames Estuary.  Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.