Sunday, September 28, 2014

Erith - then and now.


I have written in the past about the traveller pony that lives on the small patch of land between the end of James Watt Way, and the riverside walk adjacent to Erith Morrison’s supermarket. That particular animal gets spoiled by the parents who take small children around there to see it – they usually ply it with carrots and apples, and in summer it can end up getting pretty fat. This is most definitely not the case with most horses and ponies that are left to “fly graze” on both public and private land without the landowners permission. This is a problem all over the country, but seems to be particularly bad in South East London and North Kent – possibly because of the high population concentration making the issue appear more visible than elsewhere. I have seen signs posted on trees and other structures located near pieces of open grassland in Abbey Wood and Thamesmead with messages such as “do not leave your pony here” and “no fly grazing” – which periodically get ignored. I saw an interview on Sky News earlier in the week, in which RSPCA Superintendent John Grant said “The equine market has dropped. When there used to be a bit of a meat trade, people could move them on, but at the moment people are giving colts to each other. It means there's nowhere for them to go so they just dump them on whatever grazing's available”. Vicky Alford, from the Blue Cross animal charity, said that many fly grazing horses are severely neglected, and some have to be put down."We see them in pretty poor conditions, in some cases, really quite emaciated. We see worm burdens on these horses, lice, and if horses are quite skinny then the rain can pool and puddle on their backs which can lead to some really nasty sores." Much of this can be attributed to the British people  having an aversion to eating horsemeat. If there was a local market for the excess horses, then the overgrazing and illegal use of open land would cease. Many of the animals involved currently have no intrinsic value whatsoever, and instead potentially cost the owners for upkeep. Some, like the family that own the pony on the land adjacent to the riverfront at Erith are responsible and ensure that the beast is always kept with a large amount of feed and plenty of fresh water. Many are less careful, and the horses they own suffer accordingly. I think we should be encouraging the consumption of horsemeat in the UK. I have eaten roast horse, and very good it was too – quite similar to venison. It is unfortunate that the recent horse meat scandal (which involved horsemeat being substituted for other meat, mainly in chilled or frozen ready meals) was mainly about the fact that the horsemeat was of unknown provenance, and the health of the animal prior to slaughter could not be determined, rather than there being a problem with eating horse meat at all. This does not seem to have registered with the general public, who thanks to some lazy press reporting, associate any horse meat as somehow suspect. If this attitude could be changed, it could actually make the overall welfare of British horses and ponies better, as once they had a status where they had monetary value, it would be in the owners interest to look after the animal. This is on a far larger scale than my recent story on the value of rat meat (the infamous, slightly tongue in cheek “Kentucky Fried Rat” story from a few weeks ago) but the message is broadly the same. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

Less than a day after I had written about Southeastern Trains getting an extension on their franchise to serve South East London and North Kent, despite having a service that was judged to be the second worst in the country, they excel themselves. On Monday morning I arrived at Erith Station at a couple of minutes before 7am as usual. The London – bound platform was already packed – a worrying sign. It turned out that there had been no trains for some time, and after waiting an additional twenty minutes or so, a much delayed train turned up, already very well occupied. I was just able to get a seat, but by the time the train arrived at Belvedere, it was standing room only.  Bearing in mind that the train normally continues to gain passengers at every station until it reaches Greenwich, where quite a number, myself included, exit the train to transfer to the DLR to Canary Wharf. This means that in such a situation, the Southeastern train carriages become uncomfortably full of irritated and tetchy commuters. As I am sure you can appreciate, Southeastern Trains are not exactly flavour of the moment with their regular customers, most of whom have no alternative method of travelling to and from London, and who are effectively held to ransom by the train company. Having sad that I have doubts as to whether any other of the train operators eligible could actually do any better – as mentioned last week, it may be a case of “better the devil you know”.


The photo above shows Erith Town Forum members and friends who organised a cakes tombola stall to support Riverside Shopping Centre raising funds for MacMillan Cancer Support Coffee Morning on Friday 26th September.

The News Shopper has reported two negative stories about the two local Wetherspoon’s owned pubs. The first story involves a young mother who had met with a small group of friends for a late breakfast in the Furze Wren in Bexleyheath. She was accompanied by her young son who needed breast feeding. A member of staff then approached her and asked her to cover up. Understandably she was upset by this, and complained. The story has caused quite a stir on the News Shopper site, with a huge number of comments being posted, and on Thursday there was a "Breast Feed - In". Whatever one’s personal opinion, the woman is covered by the 2010 Equality Act; what gets me is not so much that she was breast feeding, but that someone actually saw her doing it. From my own experience in the Furze Wren, it is so dimly lit and murky that one is hard pressed to see anything much at all! In the second incident, a chap tripped over a piece of loose trim on the bottom of a toilet door in a Wetherspoon’s pub in Deptford. He was seriously bruised and suffered from internal bleeding. To compound matters, the man was already suffering from brain and lung cancer. In both cases Wetherspoon’s are in negotiation with the injured parties. This contrasts with the opening of The Penny Farthing micro pub in Crayford, which looks to have been a resounding success. As I have previously written, Micro pubs differ from mainstream pubs in that they tend to have shorter opening hours, they don’t serve spirits and they don’t sell lager. They concentrate on high quality real ales, and usually a local cider. Most also have restrictions on the use of mobile phones on the premises as well. The Penny Farthing is the second micro pub to open in the London Borough of Bexley, after The Door Hinge in Welling. A third micro pub – the Broken Drum is due to open in Blackfen within the next few months. This is certainly a cause for celebration, as the micro pub philosophy is to encourage strangers  to talk together and to foster a sense of community, and to turn back the clock to create pubs as they once used to be. The Penny Farthing is open noon to 3pm from Tuesday to Sunday; 5pm to 9.30pm from Tuesday to Thursday; 5pm to 10.30pm Friday and Saturday and closed Sunday evening and all day Monday. Incidentally the other current local micro pub The Door Hinge has just been voted Greater London pub of the year by members of CAMRA. It is now one of the sixteen finalists going forward to compete for UK pub of the year - an amazing achievement for a micro pub that has been open for less than two years. Congratulations Ray! My personal feeling is that the pub business in the UK is going to split into three distinct categories over the next few years; indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that this is already happening. The categories will include the large corporate chain pubs such as the aforementioned Wetherspoon’s, and others such as the Slug and Lettuce brand; the second category will include the high end “destination” pubs such as the Robin Hood and Little John in Lion Road, Bexleyheath (which I love), and (*Shudder*) gastro pubs - which I personally detest. The third category will be micro pubs, which are currently expanding at a fast rate. You may notice that I don’t mention the classic back street boozer. This is because I feel that these kind of pubs will die out, and in many cases have already done so. The role  of the traditional pub in local communities is now much reduced – cheap supermarket booze and large screen televisions keep people in their homes, and the high level of beer taxation, along with (to a lesser extent) the smoking ban have meant that rather than just popping round the corner for a quick pint, many people stay at home, and only go out to a pub as a special occasion / meal or similar. What do you think? What should be done? Are micro pubs the way forward? Either leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


The photo above (click on it for a larger view) shows the view looking North along Erith High Street. I can confidently state that the photograph was taken in the spring of 1938 at ten past eleven in the morning. The (then not long opened) Odeon cinema is showing a poster for the John Ford directed film "The Hurricane" starring Dorothy Lamour and Jon Hall prominently on the side wall. The film was released in the USA during November 1937, but it would have been a few months until prints reached the UK, and looking at the state of dress and the weather in the photo, it must have been mid to late spring when the photograph was taken. The time can easily be determined from the clock outside the row of shops to the left of the photograph.


The photo above was taken by me yesterday afternoon from as close as physically possible to the site where the photograph from Spring 1938 was taken, subject to the limitations of the changed road layout and the different camera image aspect ratio.  As you can clearly see, nothing of the original photograph has survived. The Odeon cinema should have still been in place, as it was a grade 2* listed building (a 2* is half way to grade 1 listed status, and is very rarely awarded - the reason for the award was that the architect of the cinema Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was also the man who designed the iconic K6 red telephone box that has become a symbol of Britain). Back in the late 1990's the cinema building was empty and in pretty poor shape. It had been originally proposed to convert it into a Wetherspoon's outlet, but the developers realised that restoring the original structure was going to be prohibitively expensive, and it was demolished - something that should really never have been allowed to happen. Instead a rather anodyne block of flats was constructed on the site. 

A further train related story has been raised by Darryl Chamberlain, who writes the popular 853 Blog, which mainly covers the Charlton and Greenwich areas. The name of his blog comes from the old dialing code for the area. I hesitate to call Darryl a blogger, as he is actually a "proper" journalist who writes for a number of publications. He has been highlighting a campaign that has recently been started to get the London Overground train line, which currently terminates at Barking Riverside, and to extend it under the River Thames to both Thamesmead and to Abbey Wood, where it would link up with both the North Kent rail line and the Crossrail railway currently being constructed. This would bring the first railway station into Thamesmead proper - the only large town in South East London currently with no form of railway connection. It would give Thamesmead the rail service it was first promised forty years ago. A new rail link across the Thames would open up jobs and new opportunities on both sides of the river. New connections would be opened up to Bluewater, Lakeside, Southend Airport and the Olympic Park at Stratford. Residents on both side of the Thames could do all this without having to take a car or enduring long bus rides. Hopefully something concrete will come of this, but I am not holding my breath.

Actor Karl Howman, who most famously played Jacko in the popular late 80's / early 90's BBC TV sitcom "Brush Strokes" has been cast in a role in Eastenders. I don't know much more than that, as I never watched Brush Strokes, and I don't watch TV soap operas. The only reason I mention it is because Karl Howman is a local lad. He went to Picardy School (now Trinity) in Belvedere, and I have it on good authority from his former head of year that the only reason Howman was not expelled for bad behaviour was because he was the captain of the very successful school football team! I don't know where he lives nowadays, but in the late 80's he and his wife lived in a big house in The View, off Woolwich Road. I used to sometimes see him parking his Ferrari 328 GTS in Nuxley Road, as he went to buy fish and chips for supper. 

Fellow local Blogger The Thamesmead Grump has been very busy of late; he’s been carrying out his own investigations into the state of food outlets policed by Greenwich health inspectors; the results have been pretty impressive – when he checked the fast food shops in and around Thamesmead, he found that most had a five star rating, or a good four. He did notice that some outlets don’t show their sticker very well, a surprise when the results have found to be so good overall. It definitely feels that things are well on the up with regard to the cleanliness and proper preparation of food when one is out and about in the local area. There are still disappointments, however, including one that I have to say really surprised me. A local outlet has scored an overall two star rating; the inspectors commented that the food hygiene and safety standard was Poor, the Structural Compliance was Fair, and the Confidence in Management was Some. What shop do you think this rating applies to? Erith Morrison’s supermarket! How the “big five” supermarket can rate only a two star Scores on the Scores on the Doors rating makes my mind boggle. It sounds like the management of the huge store really need a fundamental shake-up. I will be monitoring the Scores on the Doors website for the next inspection of Morrison’s, as the rating should be radically improved. It is doubly worrying as Morrison’s is one of the town’s biggest employers, having around 550 staff in both full and part time work. I would have thought that any sufficiently large company would have processes and procedures in place to ensure a high standard of food hygiene. I would be interested if anyone knows what caused the very poor food hygiene rating. If you are a Morrison’s employee and can enlighten me as to the problems which the store appears to be suffering from in respect of hygiene inspections, please drop me a line to hugh.neal@gmail.com and I will treat any information that you can give me with the utmost confidence and discretion.

We are now rapidly approaching TRP (Tweed Retirement Point), the time of year when my tweed sports jackets get put away in the wardrobe, to be replaced with somewhat warmer garb. For me, along with the first switching on of the central heating, this marks the first steps towards winter. This year has been a mixed bag weather - wise. Not sure if this is a good thing from a personal viewpoint (I really don't do heat well - anything over around 22 degrees Celsius is too much for me), but it should at least temporarily shut up that group who every year trot out the same mantra "we don't get seasons like we used to" and blame it on global warming. As I featured some time ago, all of the data used to model potential climate change is inaccurate, and the predictions made by both the pro and the anti global warming theorists are now worthless. The reason for this is that nearly all weather stations that are used to collect temperature, precipitation, sunlight and wind data are located in towns and cities - wherever in the world you care to check. Some of these weather stations have been in continuous use for many years; quite often for more than a century. When the weather stations were first set up, they were often on farms and smallholdings in what were then the suburbs. Urban sprawl has now happened, and what were the suburbs are now in many cases a part of the city. Cities suffer from a condition known as Urban Heat Island - the concrete and metal that make up city tower blocks, and the tarmac that covers the ground acts like a giant storage heater, keeping the overnight air temperature artificially higher than it would otherwise actually be. When climate analysts compare the heat data, say from 1913 with 2013 they then see a marked hike in the overall temperature, which immediately gets blamed on increased Carbon Dioxide levels, due to pollution. Indeed this may also be happening, but the vast majority of the temperature increase is actually due to the heat leakage from air conditioning units and the buildings which house them. The overnight temperatures stay higher than expected, as the fabric of the buildings slowly leak the heat that they had built up during the day. What this means is that the historical meteorological records bear no relation to contemporary ones - it is a classic case of comparing apples and oranges. Both camps in the climate change discussion really need to go away and re - evaluate their computer models, as they are all based on fundamentally faulty data. You can see the practical results of this if you spend any time in Canary Wharf; the temperature in the wharf is always a couple of degrees higher than across the river in Greenwich, and the wharf is both windier and subject to its own microclimate. All because of a bunch of closely spaced skyscrapers which emit a large amount of heat. the fact that the air temperature within Canary Wharf is usually around two degrees warmer than the area outside at any time of the year, supports the urban heat island theory quite neatly. Whatever ones' personal views in respect of climate change, I feel that it is important to be aware of accurate findings, and at present it would seem that the numbers just don't add up. It may be time for the climate scientists to start again from scratch.


Bexley Brewery have now released their first two brews to pubs and clubs around the local area; if you would like to sample Red House Best Bitter or BOB Pale Ale, you can do so at the following locations:-

Dartfordians Rugby Club, Bourne Road, Bexley
The Penny Farthing, Waterside, Crayford
The Robin Hood & Little John, Lion Road, Bexleyheath
Old Bexley Ex-Servicemen’s Club, Bexley
The Volunteer, Bexleyheath
The Orpington Liberal Club, Orpington

Bexley Brewery hope to have their licence for off - sales approved pretty soon; as soon as this has been granted, they will be able to sell to the general public. I will keep you informed. 

I had the following article sent to me by Caroline Field, the Project Manager for the Erith Park development:-  "Lions and rhinoceroses at Erith Park! Last week the core group met people from the London Geological Diversity Project who came to explain why our site is so geologically interesting. When it was a brick quarry the work wasn't mechanised so the workers used to spot the fossils and keep them for ome local gentlemen who used to pay for them. Some of these are now in the Natural History museum and ...are important speciments - including the skull of a lion and a rhinoceros jawbone. Their research has also uncovered a 19th century brick catalogue from the site. They produced ornate decorated bricks and have printed photos of buildings where they've been used - including Bromley Town Hall and New Scotland Yard. So there are buildings you can still go to and say 'that brick came from Erith Park'. Francois is going to be working with local people to produce an interpretive panel at Erith Park to make sure everyone knows this fascinating history". Thanks Caroline, a really fascinating account that I have forwarded to local historian Ken Chamberlain.

The end video this week is a review of the first ever portable (or should that be luggable?) Computer - the Osborne One from back in 1981. The story of Osborne computers is still taught at business schools around the world as an example as to how not to run your company. Watch and learn.