Sunday, July 20, 2014

Eight years of the Maggot Sandwich.


The photos above were taken late on Saturday morning in the entrance hall of Trinity School in Erith Road; it shows the first public consultation event held over the forthcoming redevelopment of Erith Quarry - the brown field site that is between Bexley Road and Fraser Road that has been left empty and disused for around the last forty years since the loam was exhausted and the quarry closed down. The consultation was set up by public relations company Lexington Communications on behalf of the developer, the Essex based organisation The Anderson Group. They plan to build approximately seven hundred new homes on the site. Unlike a lot of other development work going on locally, which has concentrated on one and two bedroomed flats, the Erith Quarry site will have two, three and four bedroomed houses - they are targetting second or third time buyers looking to upsize from smaller accommodation. There will also be a new primary school on the site, and a large amount of public open space. at present the details are still pretty sketchy; to be honest, whilst I was talking to a chap called Ed Grieve (who I believe is the Erith Quarry project manager for Lexington Communications, the PR company), I got the feeling that they were quite nervous about possibly getting a negative reaction to the development. My own view is that the site has been left unused and left to rot for far too long. It is a sizable piece of land and much good can be made of it. There are sizable engineering problems to be overcome, not least in that the site varies in height by around thirty metres from highest to lowest point, and the physical access points to it are currently quite limited. These can be resolved; their initial issue is that the site has been used as a dumping ground for the best part of forty years, and they need to run ecological surveys to determine just what nasties such as heavy metals and poisonous chemicals pollute the ground, and potentially the groundwater. A team of environmental scientists are currently checking the site, and drilling boreholes to check for underground contamination. One biological problem will certainly challenge the scientists. The whole site is utterly overrun with invasive Japanese Knotweed - which is very hard to kill. I suspect that a mass digging up of the roots, followed by burning may be the only viable solution, since it is illegal to transport Japanese Knotweed plants, as they are legally classed as controlled waste. Once this has been completed there will be a second round of public consultation - it strikes me that the developers are very keen to involve the local community, and seem genuinely to want to engage with the residents of Erith. There is a website where you can register to be kept up to date with the latest developments regarding the Erith Quarry site that you can visit by clicking here.

Recently I wrote that I did not want to describe Erith as one large building site; I am now of the opinion that to all intents and purposes it is. The entire town is undergoing a degree of regeneration not seen in a couple of generations. Not since the old and beloved Victorian town centre was demolished to make way for the brutalist concrete monstrosity that was the 1970’s era shopping centre (of which my enduring memory as a small child was the ever present smell of stale wee). Whatever issues or subjects Erith residents of a certain age disagree with, the unifying subject is that the heart of the town was ruined when the shopping centre was constructed. Only really in the last few years have things started improving, firstly by the fundamental re- engineering of the old shopping centre to form the current Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, which is a very pleasant place to be, and light years away from the gloomy and threatening old structure. Morrison’s have added a lot to Erith; in fact the Erith store was the first the then Northern based supermarket chain opened in the south, back in 1999. I recall being served by Sir Ken Morrison on the first day of opening (though I had to be told who he was, as I was clueless). Morrison’s employ well over five hundred local people, and put a lot of money back into the local economy. I would estimate that they are second to, or equal with ADM Oils as being the largest employer in the town. There have been a lot of rumours about the Erith Morrison’s over the last couple of months. Until now I have declined to mention this, as I wanted to try and find out more. After consultation with someone in the know, I can say that Erith Morrison’s is not closing due to lack of trade. It is correct that Morrison’s are reducing the number of managerial grades in all of their stores over the coming months in order to streamline and modernise their management structure, and that some managerial roles may be merged with some local job losses. I think it extremely unlikely that anything more than this will happen to the Erith store; if anything it will need to strengthen its position, now that the Asda in Lower Belvedere has proved to be so popular, and with the advent of the forthcoming giant Tesco on the site of the old Bexley Council offices in Bexleyheath.


On Wednesday the 16th, the Maggot Sandwich officially celebrated its’ eighth birthday. I had absolutely no idea how the blog would take off – indeed for the first couple of years, it did struggle to find a style. You can see the very first posting above - I am sure that you can appreciate that it has evolved substantially over time. Nowadays it is so much part of my life that I could not imagine a Sunday without a publishing deadline to meet. I have never missed a Sunday in all these years; on a couple of occasions I have had to go elsewhere in order to publish, due to no network connection at home, but I have never actually missed a deadline. The Maggot Sandwich has enabled me to meet with innumerable people who have now become friends, and in return I have been empowered to highlight some local issues that could have otherwise had a very negative impact on the local area. A number of people have commented in the past saying that they think that I am a frustrated journalist, and I guess that they are right. I always wanted the blog to have a positive impact on Erith and the surrounding area, as historically the town has had a bad rap, with nobody really giving it an online voice. Others such as the excellent Erith Town Forum do far more for the area than I, but as far as the online presence of the town is concerned, I try and do my bit. 

Although I have previously explained where the name of my blog originated, I feel that it was long enough ago, and I have picked up many recent readers, so that the story bears repeating. Back in 1987 I was working for a small but very influential Bexleyheath based pirate radio station called Radio Lumberjack, which broadcast live every Saturday on 92.4 FM from 9am until midnight or later from a house off Bedonwell Road. The station played an eclectic mix of music and humour; 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 surreal. 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 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. And the rest, as they say is history. Back in 2006, when I started this blog, I resurrected the long disused name of my one time radio show; my thoughts were that whilst it was no longer on the radio, it was a newer form of interacting with an audience that could be anywhere in the world. This proved to be correct. Today the Maggot Sandwich has readers all over the planet – from Australia, Japan and India to the USA and mainland Europe, along with people closer to home. It might be a silly name for a blog, but I can guarantee nobody forgets it! Please feel free to comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


The photo above was taken on Friday the 18th July at 8.15 pm, and sent to me by a resident of Manor Road who wishes to remain anonymous. It shows a van belonging to Concept Building Services illegally avoiding the road closure, and driving along the pavement. There have been innumerable occurrences  of motor bikes doing this, but this is the first time that such a blatant criminal act in a four wheeled vehicle has been recorded since the road works began. The van drivers' employer and the local Police have already been informed and sent a copy of the incriminating photograph. Hopefully the outcome will be available for me to publish in the next edition. Fortunately the road works on the residential section of Manor Road are close to completion. Hopefully the offender in the photo will be brought to justice, or at the very least sacked by his employer.

As many will already be aware, I have been documenting the appalling standard of food hygiene in the London Borough of Bexley, and Erith in particular for some considerable time. I have bemoaned the number of food outlets that score less than a three out of five stars for their food hygiene standards. Nine places in West Street alone got zero scores last year; not something the area would really want to boast about. I have been very pleased (and not a little surprised) to discover that many of the very low scoring places have now been re – examined by the health inspectors, and have been given substantially improved star ratings. The Yildiran kebab shop on the corner of West Street and Mildred Road has gone from an awful one star out of five to a very creditable four stars in their most recent inspection; I am very pleased by this, as their food has been consistently excellent. It would seem that the council are doing some positive work in encouraging better standards of cleanliness and good food preparation practice, which is gratifying. Even Town Kebab, by the infamous fish roundabout on Bexley Road / Bronze Age Way junction has improved and now has an acceptable three stars. I half jokingly mentioned last year that if the place did not get closed down by the health inspectors, it could make a small fortune from feeding the hungry students of Bexley College when it opens in September. It seems that the owners of Town Kebabs have taken this to heart, and could well be doing very nicely indeed by this time next year. Being the closest fast food outlet to the new college campus will have all sorts of advantages, however good the food in the college refectory undoubtedly will be - the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I expect the whole of Erith to benefit from the influx of around a thousand college students. Until now Bexley College was located out of the public eye, half way to Belvedere; the building was difficult to access and it was generally not in a position to be a very active contributor to the local community. Now that the new campus is slap bang in the middle of town, it will be far more inclusive and an important part of life in Erith. Retail outlets in the Riverside Shopping Centre will also benefit from having an influx of new customers, which should be interesting, especially at lunchtime. I might sound like a propagandist for the college, but hard as I try, I cannot think of any negative aspects of the college moving into town – it seems to be a win / win to me.


You may have seen the BBC News website story on the thirtieth anniversary of the launch of the Sinclair C5 last week. Those with longer memories may recall how the revolutionary electrically assisted trike was launched with a wave of publicity by Sir Clive Sinclair at a time when his star was still very much in the ascendant; he was the golden boy of the British technology boom of the early to mid 1980’s. The press referred to the C5 as an electric car, which it clearly wasn’t, and derided its’ low profile and relatively sedate road speed (something that was partially dictated by the road legislation of the time, which required a licence for any powered vehicle using the road that was capable of speeds in excess of 15 mph). It was intended to be an entirely new class of vehicle to be used instead of a car for short local journeys, but as soon as the press saw it, they made fun of it. They said that as it was made in a factory operated by Hoover that the C5’s electric propulsion was powered by a washing machine motor, which was factually incorrect – the drive was a specially designed, very efficient and advanced design for 1984. The chassis of the C5 was designed by Lotus, who then as now had a reputation for producing lightweight and very well handling car designs. All this did nothing to stop the press from making fun of the C5 and Clive Sinclair. They cited the low driving position and lack of visibility to other road users as potential dangers. It really was a case of an invention that was too far ahead of its time. The C5 only sold around 12,000 units before the project was scrapped. I think if the C5 was launched now (with updated technology) it would be a hit. They were never designed to be driven on roads next to cars, though this is invariably what the press always seemed to show. I have a personal involvement with the Sinclair C5 story; after Sinclair Vehicles went bust, owing over £1.5 million to Hoover, the remaining stocks of unsold C5’s plus all of the spares and accessories, including the right to the C5 name were bought by a friend of mine. Adam Harper used to own a bicycle shop in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere (NOT Nuxley Village – there is no such place – it is a name made up by Estate Agents who don’t live in the area and know its history). Adam bought everything related to the C5 from Sinclair, and stored them all in a warehouse. He was of the opinion that eventually the C5 would be recognised as the ground breaking piece of transportation technology that it actually was. He was correct. A mint, boxed and never used C5 with an uprated 24 volt specification battery can sell for up to £4,000 now. Even a fairly run of the mill used model will sell second hand for £450 - £475. Adam Harper got so fed up with the negative and inaccurate press the C5 continued to get, even after the end of production that he built a special racing C5 in 1995. The machine cost over £30,000 to put together, including several sessions at the MIRA wind tunnel (where the photo above was taken). It had an aerodynamic under tray which provided down force; the front wheel was from a Lynx helicopter and the rear wheels from a Harrier jump jet. The racing C5 was powered by aeronautical gel batteries supplied by Exide, which were actually graded as military secrets, and he had to get a special licence to use them, and a custom made, ultra high output double electric motor; it also had a braking parachute made by Irvin – the same company that manufactured the parachutes for the Space Shuttle. Performance – wise the special C5 could accelerate from 0-60 mph in 2.9 seconds and hit 150mph. As you can see from the photo above, it was substantially different from a stock model, but the basic body and chassis were original – a real tribute to the design engineers at Lotus. Adam was featured in many TV and press articles, and even made the front cover of the Sunday Times magazine. During development of the racing C5 (much of which took place in the rear of his bike shop) Adam discovered that the aerodynamic under tray was so close to the ground that it would occasionally scrape against the ground, interrupting the aerodynamic flow and causing the vehicle to become unstable at high speeds. Without funds to book another wind tunnel session at MIRA, Adam decided to try a more practical problem solving approach. Despite being enormously modified from stock, the racing C5 was still road legal as long as it stayed below fifteen miles an hour. He sprayed the under tray with some removable marker paint, and we decided to drive the racing C5 slowly along Woolwich Road from the Abbey Wood end back towards Upper Belvedere and his shop we would then check the paint on the under tray to see where the problem was coming from. I was to follow in the “chase car” (an old Volvo 240 estate, if memory serves). One bright and sunny weekday morning, Adam started trundling sedately down Woolwich Road. He had his crash helmet on, but not his protective overalls. We were making sedate progress when a couple of lads driving a Ford Escort XR3i pulled up parallel with Adam and started shouting insults at him. It would appear that even though by this stage Adam was a minor local celebrity, they did not have a clue as to who he was, or that the C5 was far from bog standard. I was following behind, and helpless to do anything. I noticed that the C5 had begun to gain speed; the Volvos’ speedo was reading 25, then soon 45 miles per hour. Adam did not take criticism well, and was easily riled. The XR3i driver and his hapless passenger were getting perplexed; as soon as they increased speed to outrun the tiny electric tricycle, it matched, then exceeded their speed. By this time we had got as far as the entrance to Abbey Woods, where Adam opened up the C5 fully. There were tiny spurts of smoke as the rear tyres tried to spin under their load, and the vehicle shot off, seemingly at Warp speed. The XR3i occupants were so gobsmacked they pulled over to the side of the road, enabling me to try in vain to catch up with the errant racer. The racing C5 had enormous straight line speed, but it also had a great weakness – it was impossible to turn either left or right at anything over around 20 mph. The consultants at MIRA had previously told Adam that if the vehicle tipped over at speed, helmet or not, he would be killed, as his neck would be broken. Adam had obviously realised this too, as he was very rapidly approaching the roundabout opposite All Saint’s Church and Belvedere Police Station. The racing C5 had two braking systems – a very small bicycle type parking brake for very low speed use, and the aforementioned Irvin Parachute system which was used for rapid deceleration at the end of high speed runs. Adam was now alongside Belvedere Library, and rapidly running out of options. I saw a puff of smoke and sparks from the front wheel – we later discovered the aluminium parking brake had vapourised as it overloaded with far more energy than it was ever designed to cope with. There was then a sharp crack as Adam deployed the main parachute, which was roughly the same size as a chute you would use for sky diving. Adam and the 150mph C5 came to an undignified halt right on the roundabout with smoke coming out of the nosecone and the parachute slowly falling to the ground at the rear. A couple of amused looking coppers outside the Police station were looking on. Surprisingly, although he got a stern ticking off, no charges were pressed. I get the feeling the Police did not want to stand up in court to recount the incident. That was the last time the vehicle ever went on public roads. To further promote his souped up C5 and electric vehicles in general, he then undertook a series of publicity stunts. Initially he raced a Group B racing car – a VW Golf VR6 on the main straight at Silverstone, just before the start of the 1996 formula 3000 championship. The C5 easily won; he then planned to jump the gap between the two sides of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge at Dartford, before it was completed. Understandably the authorities took a very dim view of this and banned him from the attempt. He then decided that the racing C5 should be driven through a 75 foot tunnel of fire. I was involved with this, and accompanied him to Pinewood studios where we met with the head of Eon Productions stunt team – the James Bond people. I have actually been in the James Bond production office and in the Pinewood members bar and on the James Bond sound stage. Eon arranged the tunnel of fire on the Pinewood back lot, and it all went very smoothly indeed - I was unable to be there, as I had recently got a new job in London after being out of work for quite some time, and did not want to ask for a day off so soon after starting. At this point Adam was invited to join the Dangerous Sports Club, which was limited to one hundred members, all of which were by invitation only. He also became involved in the BBC TV series “Robot Wars”, where initially he was employed as a technical consultant. Later he became a competition judge, and for several years he was a regular on television. I used to accompany him on many occasions to the location where the show was filmed (an old warehouse adjacent to the Excel Centre in East London – long since demolished). An interesting time. Unfortunately not long after this I moved house and lost contact with Adam - he had moved to the Midlands to take up an engineering consulting role. I wonder what he is doing now?

The end video this week is something I stumbled across on YouTube; it is a mock documentary on the history of the USA, had the South won the civil war. It is thought provoking, and sometimes blackly humorous piece - especially watch out for the commercial breaks - they remind me somewhat of the spoof commercials in the original "RoboCop" movie. Feel free to leave a comment below.