Sunday, May 24, 2020

Danson Road.


As I mentioned some weeks ago, when the Covid-19 lockdown first began. Morrisons in Erith shut down the popular self service salad bar that you can see in the photo above - click on it for a larger view. They initially replaced the salad with a large display of Prosecco bottles. now the wine has gone, and in its place is a display of various varieties of Cola. I can understand closing the salad bar, as it would make a good vector for virus contamination; on the other hand, we are all being encouraged to eat as healthily as possible, and the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables goes a long way to complying with this. Personally I am a great fan of salad, and I will have it as a side dish with pretty much every evening meal, where possible. I avoid the heavy pasta and mayonnaise based dishes on the salad bar, and stick to the sliced bell peppers, raw red onion, sweetcorn, grated carrot and the like. I know that I am not alone in missing the salad bar, but I can see a strong argument for suspending it for the time being. I detest the articles you see on certain websites with titles such as "learn this simple trick to lose weight" or "this simple hack will change your life" and other such items of blatant click bait. Anyway, I have found what such people would term as a "food hack". As I cannot get a portion of mixed green salad from my local supermarket, and I cannot justify buying the whole raw vegetables to make it myself - I have tried this, and I have found the veggies start to go off before I can finish using them - which is a waste of money, if good for the compost heap. Instead I did a bit of lateral thinking; I visited a local kebab shop, and instead of ordering a large shish or a similar meat based meal, I simply ordered a large side salad to go. They were initially a bit cautious about just selling a salad to take away, but after doing it a couple of times, they now seem fine with it - after all, it is all trade for them, and I am pretty sure the profit margin on a box of mixed green salad is far higher than on a kebab. Another plus is that the kebab shop salad is freshly prepared each day, whereas the Morrisons salad bare fare comes pre - produced, out of a series of plastic bags and boxes. In case you were wondering, the kebab shop I source my salad from has held a five star "Scores on the Doors" food hygiene rating ever since it first opened, so I have little danger of getting food poisoning. On Friday, Morrisons made the following public announcement:-"We recently opened up our meat and fish counters; the Summer BBQ & Steak Bars and BBQ and Seafood bars, all with social distancing and safe working in place, with some great offers supporting British Farming and Fishing which went down really well. We’re now working on how we safely open up our Salad Bars. Our Bakeries and make your own Pizza counters are now open and by next week we’ll have opened up our Deli, Pie Shop, Oven and Cake Shops with some great deals to celebrate – and I’ve been asked to mention our half price sausage rolls at 50p!"


Older Maggot Sandwich readers may be recall the giant Fraser and Chalmers factory. The company had a very long history; they started back in 1849, when two young Scottish men - David Fraser, a millwright, and Tom Chalmers, a foundryman travelled to the USA to take up careers in agriculture. Soon after their arrival in America, the California Gold Rush started, and they found it far more profitable to make mining machinery spares and equipment than to grow crops. They set up a large factory in Montana, and by 1860 they had moved to Chicago and continued expanding. By 1890 they were the largest mining equipment manufacturers in the entire USA. At this point they were approached to set up a new factory in England which was designed to supply mining machinery for the South African gold fields. The Erith works was opened in May 1891. The new factory was built on what had previously been a recreation ground. The British arm of the firm severed all connections with the American part, and by 1903 they expanded production to include steam plant, milling machinery, and general engineering products. Just after the First World War, the factory, which by this time employed four thousand workers and covered an area of thirty four acres was sold to the General Electric Company. 

The onset of Spring has meant that on certain days it has been possible to open windows and back doors to enjoy the fresh air. The downside of opening the back door – apart from the very close encounter I had with a fox in my living room some years ago – is that I got a number of flies in the house. I cannot abide flies of any description; they are nasty, disease ridden, irritating invaders of my personal space. A few days ago I found half a dozen of the little blighters seemingly practicing touch and go landings on my kitchen work surfaces. I got out the fly spray and gave them a decent blast. I’m not the kind of person to spray a burst in the air as per the usage instructions; I either wait until they have landed and give them both barrels at point blank range, or I use the spray can like a mobile Ack – Ack battery and squirt a stream of flit directly at the airborne insects. This task done, I left the flies to die. About twenty minutes later I went back into the kitchen to find nearly all of the flies blithely continuing their orbit of the room, as if nothing had happened. Frustrated I gave each of them another long blast of fly spray (by now the kitchen smelled like a chemistry lab on a bad day) but the flies just carried on flying. By now I was of the opinion that I would be better off swatting them with the can, as the spray seemed to have little or no effect on them. I went up to my home office and did some research. It turns out that the common house fly normally only lives for two to three weeks in the wild (or considerably less when I have my way). It would seem that the number of generations that are able to be produced each year is considerable, and that compared with the relatively long life span of the average human, flies are able to evolve quickly. It is becoming apparent that domestic flies are developing a resistance, and in some cases an immunity to insect killing fly sprays. I have come to the conclusion that a rolled up newspaper may be a messy, but still effective alternative. If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

As many regular reader will know, I have a great interest in radio in all its forms. I am a licenced Radio Amateur, with the callsign M1CXN. I am also very interested in broadcast and utility radio. For at least two decades, the future of H.F or more commonly known as Shortwave broadcast radio has been in doubt - many governments around the world holding the opinion that Shortwave radio was old fashioned, inefficient, and easy to replace with internet based services. It would appear that this view may now be changing, for a number of interesting reasons. A guest contributor, who chooses to remain nameless writes:-" When is the last time you heard a shortwave radio transmission? And why should you put up with possible crackly audio and some interference when we have now internet, satellites, FM and all forms of digital radio? This holds true if you are in London, Boston, Paris or Toronto. But what if you are on an island in Indonesia, or find yourself in west China, in Kashmir or in Brazilian Amazonia? Because, whether we like it or not, there are several remote places in this vast world, many of which still depend on shortwave broadcasting. In the past (think the Cold War) a lot of people were able to obtain free information from the international shortwave program. Many international broadcasters were running expensive, energy-guzzling transmitters for this frequency band “without borders” that ranges from 1.7–30 MHz (176.3–10.0 m), from the high end of the medium frequency band just above the medium wave AM broadcast band, to the end of the HF band. Shortwave is just short of a miracle, actually. When it is beamed at an angle, it hits the ionosphere. A mirror around the Earth and then it falls like a ball at great distances, beyond the horizon. Thus these transmissions reach listeners over large areas, continents and beyond. Two or three high-power transmitters can potentially cover the entire world. Shortwave is used not just by international radio stations or radio amateurs but is also essential for aviation, marine, diplomatic and emergency purposes. Shortwave signals are not restricted or controlled by the receiving countries and, as frequencies change in winter and summer, they need to be coordinated internationally.This is the task of the High Frequency Co-Ordination Conference (HFCC), a non-governmental, non-profit association, and a sector member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). This group meets twice a year to produce a coordinated schedule for a summer and winter season, ironing out any interference issues among countries or broadcasters. At their recent meeting last month, they also discussed — once again — the future of shortwave. Nobody can deny that shortwave goes beyond geographical, cultural, religious, political barriers, is free and can be consumed anonymously, which few platforms can claim nowadays. About 20 years ago, the BBC decided to cut its shortwave transmissions to countries such as the United States and other developed parts of the world, since these territories, or rather “markets” were served by FM and the internet etc. Other important international broadcasters, including Deutsche Welle, Radio Australia and Radio Exterior de Espana soon copied this model. But the BBC kept shortwave for its large audiences in Africa and part of Asia. At the moment the major shortwave broadcasters are BBC, Voice of America, All India Radio, China Radio International, Radio Japan, Radio Romania, KBS Korea and Voice of Turkey and many more. Twenty years after the first big blow to shortwave, this frequency band and its potential is being revisited. After all, not all the listeners in the world have broadband, smart phones, data plans, connected cars or enough disposable income. And analogue radio in general continues to be resilient: a third of households in the United Kingdom don’t have a digital radio (DAB penetration has reached 64 percent). That is 25 years after the first DAB broadcasts started in London in 1993), and almost 20 years after the commercial players join in. Shortwave has been put on the agenda again as some of the old transmitters needed to be replaced or upgraded. Meanwhile it has become digital and this means more efficient transmitters and significant energy savings of up to 80 percent compared with the old analog. No wonder most of the analog shortwave transmitters sold today are DRM-capable or ready. In 2020 the BBC is still on shortwave and has large audiences in countries like Nigeria, having recently introduced new shortwave transmissions in additional languages. In Australia there was recently a wide consultation on the possible reintroduction of shortwave for the many Pacific islands depending on the services of Australian broadcasters, which had rushed to close down good shortwave facilities in the pursuit of internet and local digital. Radio Exterior Espana has doubled its transmissions since last October, adding other languages than just Spanish to its schedule. Radio Moscow, the blunt propaganda tool of the Cold War, has been transformed into the sleek Radio Sputnik. And Radio China has quietly upgraded some of its many shortwave transmitters for domestic use and is now covering practically the whole country with digital (DRM) shortwave signals. Digital Radio Mondiale was originally invented to offer medium (AM) and large coverage (HF) and the advantages of the good audio quality and extra multimedia services that can take shortwave into the 21st century. Maybe DRM was ahead of its time. The phasing in of digital broadcasts internationally was not in tandem with the production and sale of receivers, which remains a regional and national business. Since its birth DRM has proven that it is a suitable option for shortwave offering an good digital quality of audio and even short live video at great distance without fading and crackly sound. Now, at last, there are DRM receivers capable of receiving shortwave, there are broadcasts and interested broadcasters. Quietly and surely shortwave is being re-examined and appreciated for the quality of broadcasts and its potential as a “crisis radio” too. It can become crucial in emergencies when local and regional radio stations, satellite and internet may be off the air due to damage. Broadband is getting cheaper but is limited, 5G will come but not just yet for the developing world, digital (DRM) shortwave is here. The golden age of analogue shortwave broadcasting is probably over. However the band has an important role and great potential. It needs to be appreciated and examined with an open mind as there now seems to exist a true alignment of national interests, technical possibilities and receiver availability, which could give shortwave a new lease on life as a viable and unique platform". An interesting piece, and certainly quite thought provoking for anyone with an interest in communications. Comments as always to hugh.neal@gmail.com


The photo above (click on it for a larger version) shows the 229 and 99 buses parked in what was then, and is still now the bus halt in the old Erith Town Centre, along what appears to be a Ford Escort Mk1 van - used by the duty bus inspector. The photo was taken between January and July 1975. The original frontage of the White Hart can be seen in the background, many years before the criminals that later bought the place and illegally removed the locally listed frontage and installed the hideous plate glass frontage that was replaced with a replica of the original a few years ago. If you have any old photos of the local area, please feel free to send them to me - you will receive full credit, unlike the originator of this photo, who chooses to remain anonymous.

If you have an Apple iPhone, and use the Siri digital assistant, you may well be in for a bit of a shock. It has been revealed this week that Apple may still be recording and transcribing conversations captured by Siri on its phones, despite promising to put an end to the practice nine months ago, claims a former Apple contractor who was hired to listen into customer conversations. In a letter sent to data protection authorities in Europe, Thomas Le Bonniec expresses his frustration that, despite exposing in April 2019 that Apple has hired hundreds of people to analyze recordings that its users were unaware had been made, nothing appears to have changed. Those recordings were captured by Apple's Siri digital assistant, which constantly listens out for potential voice commands to obey. The audio was passed to human workers to transcribe, label, and analyze to improve Siri's neural networks that process what people say. Any time Siri heard something it couldn't understand – be it a command or someone's private conversation or an intimate moment – it would send a copy of the audio to Apple for processing so that it could be retrained to do better next time. Le Bonniec worked for Apple subcontractor Globe Technical Services in Ireland for two months, performing this manual analysis of audio recorded by Siri, and witnessed what he says was a “massive violation of the privacy of millions of citizens. All over the world, people had their private life recorded by Apple up to the most intimate and sensitive details,” he explained. “Enormous amounts of personal data were collected, stored and analyzed by Apple in an opaque way. These practices are clearly at odds with the company’s privacy-driven policies and should be urgently investigated by Data Protection Authorities and Privacy watchdogs.” But despite the fact that Apple acknowledged it was in fact transcribing and tagging huge numbers of conversations that users were unaware had been recorded by their Macs and iOS devices, promised a “thorough review of our practices and policies,” and apologised that it hadn't “been fully living up to our high ideals,” Le Bonniec says nothing has changed. “Nothing has been done to verify if Apple actually stopped the programme. Some sources already confirmed to me that Apple has not," he said. "I believe that Apple's statements merely aim to reassure their users and public authorities, and they do not care for their user's consent, unless being forced to obtain it by law,” says the letter. “It is worrying that Apple (and undoubtedly not just Apple) keeps ignoring and violating fundamental rights and continues their massive collection of data.” In effect, he argues, “big tech companies are basically wiretapping entire populations despite European citizens being told the EU has one of the strongest data protection laws in the world. Passing a law is not good enough: it needs to be enforced upon privacy offenders.”


Remarkably, in another technological landmark, last week marked the thirtieth birthday of Windows 3.0, and, after the curiosity that was Windows 2.1, Windows 3.0 featured a significantly improved user interface with a slick 3D-like appearance (certainly when compared to the flatness of previous versions and, er, more recent incarnations). Running on top of MS-DOS, Windows 3.0 could also take advantage of the improvements in memory management afforded by Intel's new processor chips. Additionally, it introduced the Program Manager (beloved by those that most likely today complain about the loss of the Start Menu they whinged about in Windows 95). Also in the Windows 3.0 box were executables including improved Paintbrush and Calculator apps, File Manager, a Recorder to create macros, and, of course, Solitaire. After a glitzy launch (for Microsoft at the time), Windows 3.0 shifted a million copies worldwide in the first three months alone. In a harbinger of things to come, it also turned up pre-installed on many machines, including those from Zenith. Microsoft Solitaire was by far the most popular game played on Windows 3.0 machines - Ranking as one of the most played video games of all time, Solitaire started life in 1989 as a project for Microsoft intern programmer Wes Cherry. Initially planned to familiarise users with how a mouse worked and introduce concepts such as drag and drop, the simple card game also ranks as one of the greatest productivity sponges of all time. It is deviously easy to get into. The back of decks can be selected from a predefined range, with one or three cards being drawn from the deck at a time. Winning the game resulted in a delightfully rewarding cascade of cards. Despite its immense popularity (and inclusion in subsequent versions of Windows) Cherry did not net the big bucks for his efforts. He was an intern, and the royalty rights for Solitaire remained with Microsoft, who made all of the money.


As reported some time ago, residents of Danson Road and Park View Road are getting increasingly concerned about the number and severity of road traffic accidents that are occurring on the busy road junction directly opposite the main entrance to Danson Park. One resident, who prefers to remain anonymous, took the photos above (click on either for a larger view) earlier this week; fortunately in this case there were no serious injuries. The phasing of the traffic lights, and the layout of the street furniture may need to be altered to try and make this dangerous, and exceedingly busy junction safer. Have you had any safety concerns about the Danson Road / Park View Road junction? Email me in confidence to hugh.neal@gmail.com.

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "Barnehurst ward has an overnight burglary in Chipstead Road. Two males were seen on video footage, unfortunately no facial images could be seen. It's believed the two suspects may have been looking for vehicle keys. Entry was gained by forcing the front door. There have been two incidents of vehicle crime in Everseley Avenue. On both occasions suspects have smashed a window and stolen items within. Both Incidents occurred overnight". Belvedere ward:- "Our patrols of the Streamway area have continued this week, working together with officers from Erith SNT and Northumberland Heath SNT as there have been reports of ongoing ASB in and around the area. We have been able to identify a few of the culprits responsible for this behaviour and will continue to pay close attention to this area when possible. There was a theft reported from two motor vehicles belonging to the same resident of Willis Road recently. Whilst paying a visit to the victim, PCSO Worrall was made aware that an item that had been stolen was in the front garden of a nearby property – this was found to be an expensive power tool and was returned to it's rightful owner. Residential burglary on the ward remains extremely low. Lloyds Pharmacy in Nuxley Road was broken into last weekend and a quantity of perfume stolen from within. CCTV enquiries are on-going". Bexleyheath ward:- "Tuesday 12/05/20 2040 – 13/05/20 0900 Criminal Damage to motor Vehicle Cineworld car park, Bexleyheath. Wednesday 13/05/2020 1730 Theft Items stolen from BT workman at location Townley Road. Sunday 17/05/2020 0900 – 1500 Theft From Vehicle Number Plates Stolen Asda car park, Graham Road. We have a very low crime rate again this week which is great news". Crayford ward:- "I am really pleased to say that there have been no burglaries on our ward this week and only one vehicle related crime. On Monday 18th May between 03.00-03.30 a white Ford Transit van was broken into whilst parked on the drive at Gravel Hill, a toolbox containing a Fluke Process Manager was stolen. Between 18.00 on Thursday 14th May and 8.30 on 15th May criminal damage was caused to headstones and wooden crosses in the churchyard of St Paulinus Church. At Hall Place car park between the times of 21.00 on Tuesday 19th May and 7.30 on Wednesday 20th May criminal damage was caused to the gates, nitrous oxide canisters and other rubbish were found. Officers from Barnehurst, Bexleyheath and Crayford teams arrested a male in Lower Station Road on Sunday 17th May, initially a search for drugs, it became apparent that he was wanted for a firearms offence. We have visited several addresses where COVID-19 guidelines have been overtly ignored. Please don't give us reason to knock on your door, the guidelines are there to protect us all".


Erith ward:- "This week we have been patrolling areas that are having ASB issues which is including areas not on our ward such as steamways. Crimes of note - We had an attempted burglary in Glebe Way where the ring door bell was removed but entry wasn't gained. Theft from Motor Vehicle – Riverdale Road – Thursday 14/05/2020. Theft from Motor Vehicle – St Johns Road – Wednesday 13/05/2020. Theft from Motor Vehicle – Compton Place - Monday 18/05/2020. Theft from Motor Vehicle – Wharfside Close - Monday 18/05/2020. We have been patrolling the areas hit from Theft from motor vehicles. Weapon sweeps have been carried out across the ward as well as plain clothes patrols". Northumberland Heath ward:- "Crimes are still very low but a few reports regarding Anti-Social Behaviour incidents. Last few weeks The local Policing Team and Bexley Council have been able to work together regarding on going incidents involving Anti-Social Behaviour and Local youths causing issues at Streamway in Upper Belvedere. We now have a CCTV camera in the area and have been able to identify a few males involved . We are now in the process of attending the suspects addresses and providing Acceptable Behavioural Contracts and Community Protection Notices on certain individuals. The local residents are also working together with all agencies to tackle this issues. Officers have also been completing patrols more regularly when available and have been able to complete stop and searches which was has resulted in one male to be in possession of cannabis. There has been a public order offence at Pizza Hut on Bexley Road after a suspect entered the shop and tried to Order a pizza, but was asked to stand outside due COVID-19. He has then become abusive and began to throw things around the shop. This investigation is still ongoing and awaiting CCTV identification. Northumberland Heath put together two drug warrants authorised by Uxbridge Magistrates Court. Lucky we had help from the Territorial Support Group this morning with two drug warrants executed simultaneously". Slade Green and Northend ward:- "An attempted burglary was made at 4 am at the Sportsman in Moat Lane on Saturday. The suspect was still on scene when police arrived and was arrested, admitted all the offences, charged and is now serving his sentence. Great work by response officers. No other crimes of note reported in the last week. If you are returning to work please remember to ensure you have locked all your doors and windows before leaving the house. Please also be aware of leaving front ground floor windows open during the hot weather if you are spending time in the garden". Thamesmead East ward:-"No burglaries this week. Motor Vehicle Crime - Between 8:00 am Tuesday 12/05/20 and 8:00 am Wednesday 13/05/20 a vehicle parked near to Dexter House SSt John Fisher Road has the passenger side wing mirror stolen. During the early hours of Thursday 14/05/20 a vehicle alarm set off a resident of blewbury house had called police and a male was arrested .Tuesday 19/05/05 a vehicle parked in Garganey Walk had the trim around the driver's side window and the quarter light window was loose. No items taken. PC Pruden conducted a search on 2 males following information regarding an area being frequented by drug users. Community Protection Warning notices to be issued. Following more good work from PC Pruden, a male a whom had failed to appear was arrested for the theft of a charity box at a local store is to appear at Snaresbrook Crown Court in June. His co-defendant had received a 15 week sentence". West Heath ward:- "Once again no reported burglaries over the past week. On Tuesday 19/05/2020 a van was stolen from Hurst Lane at approximately 02.30am. This was captured on CCTV showing the suspect driving it away. The victim later discovered his van parked up with no damage to the locks, however a number of plumbing tools were stolen from within it. Post was stolen from an outside post-box in Ashbourne Avenue at approximately 3.30pm on Saturday 16/05.2020. It appeared that the suspect was pretending to be delivering leaflets. The victim has now removed the post-box . Please be vigilant and if you have an outdoor post-box please remove your mail as soon as possible and report any suspicious activity to the police. We have had a report of a female knocking on doors in Totnes Road on Monday evening May 18th asking for money as her electricity had been cut off. The resident thankfully did not give the female any money and the female left. One again please be vigilant and contact police if anyone knocks on your door asking for money. Thank you to everyone who has continued to follow the government guidelines in relation to the Covid 19 Regulations. It makes our jobs much easier".

The end video this week is a piece performed by The Carnegie Ensemble - the "house band" of The Exchange, normally based in the historic Andrew Carnegie Old Library building in Walnut Tree Road, Erith. With the building in Covid - 19 lockdown, along with pretty much everywhere else, the members of The Carnegie Ensemble, who are also members of the larger BBC Symphony Orchestra have been forced to practice their instruments at home. Here, done with some cunning editing by The Carnegie Ensemble leader Phil Hall, you can see them play a short piece called "Romance" by historic local classical composer, Percy Hilder Miles. Comments to hugh.neal@gmail.com.