Sunday, February 25, 2024


The two images above were both taken last week; the left one shows damage to a ULEZ camera located on a set of traffic lights at the Welling end of Westwood Lane in Bexleyheath. An anti ULEZ protest took place at around the same time as the damage was photographed, though I have no information as to whether the ULEZ camera was damaged at an earlier time. Less than two weeks since it was installed, the ULEZ camera on the corner of Manor Road and Frobisher Road in Erith has been cut down. It has been reported to me that at approximately 11pm on the evening of Monday the 19th of February, a masked figure with a large angle grinder was seen cutting thought the pole supporting ULEZ camera - the results can be clearly seen in the right photo above - click on it to see a larger version. A TfL surveyor was seen at the site of the damaged camera at around 10am on the morning of Tuesday the 20th of February, and a contractor with a large van arrived to remove the camera and pole at around midday. I spoke to one of the workers removing the camera and I was told that a replacement would be installed shortly. On Saturday of last week, The London Evening Standard printed an article which said:- "A “funeral for Ulez” has been held in south-east London to protest against Sadiq Khan’s clean air zone. Around 500 protesters, some dressed as skeletons and t-rexes declared “Ulez is dead” as they marched through Biggin Hill on Saturday afternoon. Flowers were thrown in front of a hearse while buskers and DJs performed at the Day of the Dead-themed event. Biggin Hill resident Claire Dyer, who helped organise the event, has claimed there has not been a Ulez camera in the area since October as protesters keep blocking contractors when they arrive to put the enforcement cameras up. The claim has not been verified yet". You can read the full article by clicking here. A similar protest was held in Welling on Tuesday of last week, as mentioned earlier in this article. As I have written on numerous previous occasions, I do not support or condone any kind of criminal act including but not limited to criminal damage or vandalism. Comments to me at

Last week I wrote a fairly comprehensive article on the historic Maxim and Vickers machine guns being used by the Ukraine armed forces fighting the Russian invaders. I mentioned that the guns were built in factories in both Crayford, and notably in the Maxim factory which was located in Fraser Road, Erith. The factory still exists, and nowadays it is occupied by local company BATT Cables. Established in 1952, BATT boasts a legacy as the oldest cable distributor in the country, its story deeply intertwined with the industrial heart of Erith. 1952, and amidst the post-war reconstruction efforts, two enterprising individuals, Bill and Arthur Turner, saw an opportunity. With a keen eye for potential, they established "BATT" - an acronym for Bill, Arthur, Turner, Turner - focusing on supplying electrical cables to the thriving Erith industries. Their initial stock was modest, housed in a small warehouse near Erith station. Yet, their dedication and commitment to quality quickly garnered them a loyal clientele. As Erith evolved, so did BATT Cables. The 1960s and 70s witnessed significant growth, fueled by the demands of construction projects and an expanding industrial base. Recognizing the shift towards specialized cables, BATT diversified its offerings, catering to industries like shipbuilding, telecommunications, and oil & gas. This strategic move solidified their position as a leading distributor, attracting clients not just locally but nationwide. The year 1987 marked a significant milestone: the opening of the impressive "superhub" facility in Erith. This state-of-the-art warehouse, boasting cutting-edge technology and vast storage capacity, cemented BATT's position as a major player in the UK cable market. Today, the Erith super hub remains the company's headquarters. Throughout the 90s and into the 21st century, the company expanded its reach, establishing branches across the UK and venturing into international markets. Their commitment to innovation and global partnerships further solidified their reputation as a reliable and versatile cable supplier. Today, BATT Cables stands tall as a leading UK cable distributor, employing over 200 people and supplying a diverse range of products to an extensive clientele. 

Nowadays many people are familiar with the ground breaking work done by hundreds of men and women during World War II at Bletchley Park to break the Axis ciphers, which are said to have shortened the war by around two years. Much has been made of the work by Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman, John Tiltman, and the hundreds of mathematicians, linguists, statisticians, cryptanalysts and administrative staff who worked to crack the Enigma Code, and several films and documentaries have been made on the subject, including the absolutely terrible film, The Imitation Game, which is horrendously historically inaccurate, and actually fabricates much of the story. In fact shortly after the release of the film, GCHQ Departmental Historian Tony Comer went even further in his criticism of the film's inaccuracies, saying that "The Imitation Game only gets two things absolutely right. There was a Second World War and Turing's first name was Alan". Nevertheless, the real, rather than fictional work carried out in utter secret was absolutely vital to the Allies eventual victory. What is far less well known is the story of how Station X (the code name for Bletchley Park) broke the cipher used by Germany's high command, which was even more fiendishly complex and hard to break than the already formidable Enigma Code. Tuesday of last week marked the 80th anniversary of the first use of a digital, programmable computer, which not only substantially eased wartime code breaking, but went on to change the world - and it all started in a draughty shed near Milton Keynes. I digress; The cipher used by Hitler and his top generals was called the Lorenz Cipher. Lorenz used a massively modified electrical teleprinter. Teleprinters are not based on the 26-letter alphabet and Morse code on which the Enigma machine depended. Teleprinters use the 32-symbol Baudot code. Note that the Baudot code output consists of five channels each of which is a stream of bits which can be represented as no-hole or hole, 0 or 1, dot or cross. The system enciphered the message text by adding to it, character by character, a set of obscuring characters thus producing the enciphered characters which were transmitted to the intended recipient. The simplicity of the Lorenz system lay in the fact that the obscuring characters were added in a rather special way (known as modulo-2 addition). Then exactly the same obscuring characters, added also by modulo-2 addition to the received enciphered characters, would cancel out the obscuring characters and leave the original message characters which could then be printed. The Lorenz machines at each end of the communication link had to be set up with the same cipher key in order to effectively communicate. The difficulty was how to ensure, in a hot war situation, that the same random character keys were available at each end of a communications link and that they were both set to the same start position. The Lorenz company decided that it would be operationally easier to construct a machine to generate the obscuring character sequence. Because it was a machine it could not generate a completely random sequence of characters. It generated what is known as a pseudo-random sequence. Unfortunately for the German Army it was more "pseudo" than random and that was how it was broken. Brigadier John Tiltman, one of the top code breakers in Bletchley Park, took a particular interest in these enciphered teleprinter messages. They were given the code name "Fish". Because the Lorenz system depended on addition of characters, Tiltman reasoned that if the operators made a mistake and used the same Lorenz machine starts for two messages (known by code breakers as a depth), then by adding the two cipher texts together character by character, the obscuring character sequence would disappear. He would then be left with a sequence of characters each of which represented the addition of the two characters in the original German message texts. For two completely different messages it is virtually impossible to assign the correct characters to each message. Just small sections at the start could be derived but not complete messages. As the number of intercepts, now being made at Knockholt in Kent, increased a section was formed in Bletchley Park headed by Major Ralph Tester and known as the "Testery". A number of messages were intercepted but not much headway had been made into breaking the cipher until the Germans made one horrendous mistake. It was on 30 August 1941. A German operator had a long message of nearly 4,000 characters to be sent from one part of the German Army High command to another — probably Athens to Vienna. He correctly set up his Lorenz machine and then sent a twelve letter indicator, using the German names, to the operator at the receiving end. This operator then set his Lorenz machine and asked the operator at the sending end to start sending his message. After nearly 4,000 characters had been keyed in at the sending end, by hand, the operator at the receiving end sent back by radio the equivalent, in German, of "didn't get that — send it again". They now both put their Lorenz machines back to the same start position. This was absolutely forbidden, but they did it. The operator at the sending end then began to key in the message again, by hand. If he had been an automaton and used exactly the same key strokes as the first time then all the interceptors would have got would have been two identical copies of the cipher text. Input the same — machines generating the same obscuring characters — same cipher text. But being only human and being thoroughly bored and disgusted at having to key it all again, the sending operator began to make differences in the second message compared to the first. The message began with that well known German phrase SPRUCHNUMMER — "message number" in English. The first time the operator keyed in S P R U C H N U M M E R. The second time he keyed in S P R U C H N R and then the rest of the message text. Now NR means the same as NUMMER, so what difference did that make? It meant that immediately following the N the two texts were different. But the machines were generating the same obscuring sequence, therefore the cipher texts were different from that point on. The radio interceptors at Knockholt realised the possible importance of these two messages because the twelve letter indicators were the same. They were sent post-haste to John Tiltman at Bletchley Park. Tiltman applied the same additive technique to this pair as he had to previous Depths. But this time he was able to get much further with working out the actual message texts because when he tried SPRUCHNUMMER at the start he immediately spotted that the second message was nearly identical to the first. Thus the combined errors of having the machines back to the same start position and the text being re-keyed with just slight differences enabled Tiltman to recover completely both texts. The second one was about 500 characters shorter than the first where the German operator had been saving his fingers. This fact also allowed Tiltman to assign the correct message to its original cipher text. Now Tiltman could add together, character by character, the corresponding cipher and message texts revealing for the first time a long stretch of the obscuring character sequence being generated by this German cipher machine. He did not know how the machine did it, but he knew that this was what it was generating. This manual cracking of the Lorenz Cipher proved that it could be broken, but it was far too slow and laborious to be used in any kind of practical manner. What would massively accelerate the breaking of Lorenz enciphered messages would be if there was a way to automate the comparison of the hundreds of messages that were transmitted by the Nazis every day. This is where Colossus - the world's first, digital, programmable computer came in. Built by the Post Office at their research and development laboratory in Dollis Hill, and designed by a largely unsung genius called Tommy Flowers. Colossus was huge - hence the name, and used thousands of thermionic valves (what the Americans call tubes) to operate. Colossus reduced the time to break Lorenz messages from weeks to hours, and sometimes even minutes. Colossus read teleprinter characters, in the international Baudot code, at 5,000 characters per second from a paper tape. These characters were usually the intercepted cipher text which had been transmitted by radio. The paper tape was joined into a loop with special punched holes at the beginning and end of the text. The broad principle of Colossus was to count throughout the length of the text the number of times that some complicated Boolean function between the text and the generated wheel patterns had either a true or false result. At the end of text the count left on the counter circuits was dumped onto relays before being printed on the typewriter during the next read through the text, an early form of double buffering. It was just in time for the deciphering of messages which gave vital information to Eisenhower and Montgomery prior to D-Day. In effect Bletchley Park were "reading Hitler's Email". These deciphered Lorenz messages showed that Hitler had swallowed the deception campaigns, the phantom army in the South of England, the phantom convoys moving east along the channel; that Hitler was convinced that the attacks were coming across the Pas de Calais and that he was keeping Panzer divisions in Belgium. Colossus was so good at deciphering Nazi High Command messages that there were many instances when the cryptographers at Bletchley Park were reading decrypted messages before Hitler did! After D-Day the French resistance and the British and American Air Forces bombed and strafed all the telephone and teleprinter land lines in Northern France, forced the Germans to use radio communications and suddenly the volume of intercepted messages went up enormously. The Mark 1 had been rapidly succeeded by the Mark 2 Colossus in June 1944 and eight more were quickly built to handle the increase in messages. The Mark 1 was upgraded to a Mark 2 and there were thus ten Mark 2 Colossi in the Park by the end of the war. By the end of hostilities, 63 million characters of high grade German messages had been decrypted — an absolutely staggering output from just 550 people at Bletchley Park, plus of course the considerable number of interceptors at Knockholt, with backups at Shaftesbury and Cupar in Scotland. The first Lorenz enciphered message to be cracked by Colossus happened 80 years ago last week - and it changed the world, launching the computer age.

In a rare piece of original investigative journalism, reporter Berk Uyal of the News Shopper recently carried out drug wipe tests in the toilets of five pubs in Bexleyheath. The results he found were rather surprising. Three of the five pubs tested had no signs of drug use; these pubs were The Golden Lion, The William Camden and The Red Barn in Barnehurst. The two pubs which tested positive for cocaine use in the toilet cubicles were The Wrong 'Un and The Furze Wren - both Wetherspoon's pubs. You can read the full report on the News Shopper website here. What the report does not say is were both the ladies and gents toilets tested? It has been widely reported - including by me - that The Wrong 'Un is currently up for sale, and is expected to close once the sale has been completed. The Furze Wren, on the other hand is a large and extremely busy Wetherspoon's pub in the centre of Bexleyheath - please see the two photos above - click on either to see a larger version. The reason for my surprise concerning the detection of cocaine use in The Furze Wren is because in my personal experience, the clientele who frequent the establishment are approximately 70 percent retired, 20 percent young mothers with small children, and the remaining 10 percent are everyone else. Whilst The Furze Wren can get quite noisy, due to the large number of customers, again, in my experience the place is normally used by polite, responsible and well behaved people. What do you think? Email me at

For 144 years, the BT phone directory has been a staple in British homes and offices. It served as a reliable resource for finding contact information, a symbol of connection in a pre-digital age. However, the times have changed, and so has the way we communicate. As of March 2024, the iconic blue book will officially be retired, marking the end of an era. The final edition of the directory is currently being delivered across the UK, with the cover emblazoned with the message "Final Edition, hold on to it forever." This serves as a poignant reminder of the directory's historical significance and the changing landscape of communication. The decline of the phone book was inevitable. The rise of online directories and mobile phone technology rendered the printed version increasingly obsolete. In 2005, BT made the directory accessible online, and in 2019, the Yellow Pages, another popular print directory, ceased publication. Despite its fading relevance, the final edition holds a certain nostalgic charm. It represents a bygone era of simplicity and physical connection. For many, it evokes memories of searching for numbers, flipping through pages, and the satisfying thud of the book hitting the table. The decision to end the print edition has not been without controversy. Some argue that it disadvantages those who lack access to digital technology, particularly the elderly and vulnerable. BT has acknowledged this concern and has implemented measures to support these individuals, such as offering printed copies at a "reasonable cost." Fellow local Blogger Malcolm Knight of the "Bexley is Bonkers" Blog was, until he retired, responsible for compiling and updating London's telephone directories. He has kindly agreed to be a guest contributor to the Maggot Sandwich, to give some unique history and background to the story of the telephone directory; he writes:- "Until a year or two ago I used to read Telephone Directories. Every time a new one came through the letter box I would quietly fume about what was at one time a compendium of local information both local and telephonic being systematically decimated. In its prime it would have been too big to go through a letter box and eventually there was nothing of interest in it at all. At that stage mine went straight from doormat to recycling bin which I regret today as I set about writing a short history of telephone directories because I cannot look back at a copy to see how poor it had become. I am not at all surprised to see that the death of Phone Books has been announced. My interest in Phone Books goes back to the rear end of 1966 when at the age of 23 I was put in charge of Directory Enquiry Services (DQ) and directory production across the GPO’s London Telecommunications Region (LTR) in a building since demolished to make way for James Bond next to Vauxhall Bridge. I suspect I was dumped in that job because they could find no one else to do it when the future was more automation (STD) and International Services (ISD) and a loss making Cinderella service was not a fast track to promotion. The advantage was no boss to interfere with the day to day running of directory services. We were a team of five. The London Postal Area’s (LPA) four Telephone Directories (A-D, E-K, L-R and S-Z) were produced by an entirely female team in a then newish building next door to Old Street Underground station using a manual system called Flexocopy. DQ and phone directories were obviously closely linked subjects but more so than you might guess. DQ operators had only a full set of public directories to call upon. Four for London, augmented by occasional supplements, and 56 more from around the country filed in such a way that every one of them was within arm’s reach. At a time when telephone ownership was becoming the norm and phone directories consequently growing fatter it was not a system with a long term future. I recall producing a graph plotting my DQ staff number increases against female school leavers (the nineteen sixties could be very sexist) to show that within a few years every one of them would have to become a DQ operator if the service was to continue. No one seemed to care. The LTR was bigger than the GLA area is now and included a dozen or more DQ centres to which calls could be routed and load balanced from anywhere in London. Locally there was only Maze Hill but a cheap alternative of my own design was installed in Orpington and Forest Gate while a better engineered standard unit went into Westmoreland Place in Bromley; but it was a losing battle. How could Telephone Directories be made smaller? Until the late 1960s and perhaps until a little later, every manned telephone exchange employed an Exchange Clerk who kept records on a card index system. Phone number, line renter, address etc. and changed daily as customers came and went. A copy would find its way to Old Street where hundreds of typed overlapping cards were laid in a large metal frame with only the top line directory information on display. By some sort of magic which I never got to see, the frames were photographed by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office and a couple of months later an enormous heap of paper was ready to be loaded on to lorries. I experimented with Microfiche derived from the HMSO negatives and found them cumbersome but then discovered a team studying the application of computers in the GPO’s HQ in St. Martin’s le Grande. They were keen to justify their existence by computerising Telephone Directories and I became their local man setting the specifications and testing systems as required. Telephone Directory entries are by definition in alphabetical order - or so you might think - but they were not. The Old Street staff knew that B followed A etc. but what was to be done with the O’Learys, the McDonalds, MacPhersons, the French with ‘de’ in their name or the Dutch with ‘van’, the apostrophes, hyphens and brackets? There were no set rules and the manager (a Higher Clerical Officer in Civil Service terms) at Old Street did her own thing as did her 56 counterparts elsewhere in the country. Few systems were identical and the differences caused DQ operators to be slower than ideal and complaints were made when they failed to find entries. I knew of several names that would catch them out every time. The HQ computer team said they would use ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) rules for every directory so as to achieve consistency; something we have all taken for granted for many years. Somehow the word got around that The Post Office Corporation, as it was by then known, was going to publish directories which were not in alphabetical order and the Daily Mail led a widely supported press campaign against any change. It probably didn’t help that French Phone Books were not published in name order. The rumour was nonsense and I visited an insurance company where the instruction was to file policy documents in a warehouse in ‘Phone Book order’ to explain. I soon proved that they were already arguably more sensible than the HCO in Old Street because directory sequence was inconsistent. A Daily Mail journalist came to see me and I explained what we planned to do with directories and at the end of the interview he read back to me what he had written. I remember the ensuing conversation as if it was yesterday. “That is nothing like what I said to you.” “I know, but it is what I am going to print.” Next morning a colleague threw a copy of the Daily Mail on to my desk. I was front page news and let out a loud expletive unbecoming of a 1960s office. I might have been in serious trouble over that interview except that it was in the presence of LTR’s Principal Press Officer who knew the truth. Ridiculous as it might seem now, the Chairman of the PO Corporation was forced to resign. Eventually the day came when the computer boys said they were ready to print. The target was to have an A-D on the streets within nine days of pressing the Start button but to go live on a London Directory was seen as too risky so we went for the Sunbury-on-Thames local instead. A copy landed on my desk two days later but with all the bad publicity surrounding it one of the big bosses - I remember his name - ordered me to check every single entry against the source data. A team of 14, if I remember correctly, DQ operators read and compared every entry and found 32 discrepancies.  Exactly what one might expect of a week old directory and much better than any manually produced copy. The boss ordered me to pulp the lot. The reprint was probably just as ‘bad’ but we didn’t let on. I think the first LPA Directory to be produced by the Derby based computer was the S-Z but don’t take that for Gospel. I only found one serious bug in the system, if there was an input error in the source data it was at first almost impossible to delete it for reasons which I had better not go into if this report is to ever end. There were only two serious customer complaints one of which came from the airline industry; Air India from memory. Unlike their competitors there was a hyphen in their name which caused the computer to list them separately from the Air Everything Elses. I think they dropped the hyphen when ASCII based systems became the norm. The other was from The Sun (Newspaper) who found themselves listed among a long list of pubs, however we got away with that one because I had written to them with a warning that if they didn’t add the newspaper suffix to their name the computer would turn them into a public house. They told me where I could go. They were The Sun and that was it! The impact on DQ services was massive. No paper books to be taken off shelves, just a screen to be interrogated and when the required number was found, press a button and the computer spoke the number to the caller allowing the operator to get on with the next call. All those school girls were safe. I never got to see the DQ service gradually decline and disappear; I was shunted into another dead end job. Computerising the Telegram Service, but I saw the Telephone Directories which I helped improve and become an essential item in every home and office become redundant in the age of the Internet, smart phones and nobody wanting their name in the Phone Book anyway". Fascinating stuff, you can read Malcolm's "Bexley is Bonkers" Blog by clicking here

The end video this week is a recording of some BBC local TV news coverage of the 100th anniversary commemoration of the explosion at the Slade Green munitions factory on Slade Green Marshes on the 18th February 1924. The explosion killed 12 women and a male supervisor. The cause of the explosion was never found. Comments and feedback to me at