Sunday, December 14, 2014

Are you the Vicar?


I took the photo above (click on it for a larger view) whilst helping out at the Christmas Tree Festival held at Christ Church Erith. The vent raises a substantial amount of money for a number of good causes, including Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice. Eighty decorated Christmas trees filled the church and hundreds of people visited from as far away as Milton Keynes over the course of the weekend. Additionally there was a charity sale in the church hall, which was also very well attended; I noted that the kitchen was doing a roaring trade in not only teas and coffees, but also hot sausage sandwiches and bacon rolls. It is just a pity that I am pork intolerant and could not partake. Whilst handing out publicity leaflets for the Friends Of Christ Church Erith (FOCCE), I was approached by a lady who asked me "Are you the Vicar?" Which I must admit that I found highly amusing. 

You may recall that back in March I wrote in some depth about the problem of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBT). Betting shops are now making a significant proportion of their profits from these devices, on which a gambler can lose £100 in less than thirty seconds. The machines have been called “ the crack cocaine of gambling”. In  the 55 most deprived boroughs in the UK – overwhelmingly located in Northern cities and urban Greater London have a  total of 2,691 bookmakers shops, in which £13 billion was gambled on FOBT machines, and £470 million lost by gamblers in the last year alone. The large betting companies have targeted the poorest areas that have the highest unemployment, lowest per capita income and higher crime rates. The last year has also seen a large increase in the number of high street betting shops, mainly due to the leap in the total number of FOBT machines, such as digital roulette in use. In December 2013 there was a total of 9,343 active betting shop licences in the entire United Kingdom, which was an increase of 280 since 2012. The most deprived town council in the UK was identified as being Liverpool. A total of £118 million was gambled in 570 machines, and £23 million was siphoned off by bookmakers in the process. A report was published this Wednesday by The Responsible Gambling Trust that said more than a third of the people who play high speed, high stakes Fixed Odds Betting Terminals have problems with their gambling. The researchers found that 37% of respondents experience “problems with machine gambling” somewhere between “some of the time” to “almost always”. This compares to a problem gambling rate of 0.4% for all adults, according to 2012 government health studies. The Responsible Gambling Trust also found that the players who frequent the UK’s 9,343 betting shops were likely to be poor, jobless and not white. Bookmakers rely on the revenue from the country’s machines, which take £1.5bn from punters. Campaigners point out that the data showed that these problem gamblers were depositing huge amounts of cash – £1,200 a week – into the machines. This from a group where a third of men had incomes of less than £10,400 a year. The money has to be coming from somewhere other than their pay packets; gambling industry analysts suspect that a portion of the money gambled on FOBT machines is from the proceeds of organised crime, and that crooks are using the terminals to launder dirty money. For some reason central government don’t appear willing to legislate against these machines (the cynic in me thinks that the amount of tax that they receive from the gambling industry might well be behind their reticence). This has meant that local councils are forced into setting rules; Newham Council has been in the forefront of such local action; they are proposing imposing a £2 per throw maximum gambling stake, with a £100 maximum pay out – the same as is already in place with conventional “one armed bandits”. There would also be a compulsory warning displayed on screen if any gambler spent more than thirty minutes using the FOBT machines. The book makers vigorously oppose this, as FOBT’s make up such a significant proportion of their revenue stream. Personally I fail to see the attraction of bookmaker’s shops, but it would seem that many do; when I walk past those in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, they always seem to have a steady stream of willing customers, though one does seem to see the same faces week after week.

At long last local authorities have got powers to issue fines to people who spit in public.  After a meeting of council leaders on Thursday, and agreement has been reached by the London Councils’ transport and environment committee. It will now not be long before someone caught spitting in public will potentially be issued with an £80 fixed penalty notice, which will be reduced to £50 if paid within fourteen days. Personally I find the practice of spitting abhorrent and I welcome the new measures, though I do wonder how they will be enforced – it will not make a lot of difference if the new regulations are treated like the regulation banning the use of handheld mobile phones whilst driving – something so widely flouted as to be a toothless and rarely enforced law. No doubt time will tell.


I took the photo above at the Christmas Tree Festival that I mentioned earlier; it shows Erith resident and Scottish Piper Chic Mackie in full flow, piping the visitors into the church hall for the charity sale. Chic is a fascinating person with a very interesting history. He will be guest writing a piece for the Maggot Sandwich in the near future - watch this space.

I have been walking around various shopping centres, vainly trying to get inspiration for Christmas. One thing I have noticed in the technology retailers such as Curry’s and John Lewis’s TV department are heavily promoting 4K ultra high definition televisions over standard HD, which they intimate is now becoming old hat. The problem, as I have written before is that there is very little native 4K content available, and not much chance that Sky, Virgin, or even the humble Beeb will offer 4K content in the foreseeable future. The only alternative to get 4K quality content is to stream over the web (presupposing you have a high speed, low latency fibre broadband connection – bog standard over copper wire ADSL will not be fast enough for a smooth experience with 4K – video will pause and flicker, and freeze whilst content is caching – think what standard video was like on a PC back in the days of dial – up internet connections). If you do have a fast connection, that is not the end of your 4K streaming woes. The slow march of 4K content availability across 2014, combined with the steadily dropping prices for 4K televisions, has finally reached a point where people with regular-sized wallets may be considering an upgrade for the living room. Unfortunately, as more services roll out support for streaming 4K content, it is becoming increasingly clear that none of the boxes currently sat under your TV such as a PS4, Xbox One or Netflix receiver are going to be able to handle those streams. As the most recent supporter of 4K streaming, Amazon’s new page for their 4K Prime Instant Video service lists thirty four televisions that will be able to play 4K streams. A quick look over at Netflix reveals a similar set of televisions that will support this feature. What is not made clear, though, is that these televisions will be handling those streams through the Amazon application that is built into the TV, and for right now those native apps will be the only way to get 4K content. The industry explanation regarding the technology needed to make everything work, is that the current HDMI 1.4 specification is insufficient to support 4K streaming. According to Amazon, HDMI 1.4 “doesn’t support the security requirements that the studios require for the delivery of 4K.” Since the studios are a fairly important part of this equation, Amazon and Netflix need to work closely with the studios in order to stream this content. Unfortunately, the number of devices you can buy right now that support HDMI 2.0 are nearly zero. The specification is very new, which is why Sony and Microsoft didn't include it in their game consoles, and according to the people who built the specification, there is currently no system in place for any company to upgrade 1.4 to 2.0 because most conversions would require a hardware upgrade and firmware updates. It is likely that we'll see plenty of hardware in 2015 to address this, but for the time being you are stuck using the 4K applications that are built into your television. The means no Kinect voice commands, no instant loading from Amazon’s Fire TV, and a Roku remote will probably start collecting dust as more 4K content becomes available. It means those smart TVs that record your activity and dial home to the vendor about it will have a record of your viewing history. Most importantly, it means you are going to need to spend even more money if you want to go back to the way you are currently streaming content if you want it in 4K. All in all, as I wrote a while ago, save your money; if you must have a new television for Christmas, just buy a cheap standard HD telly for a few hundred quid for now, and wait until both the HDMI 2.0 standard has fully rolled out, and when more 4K content is actually available. At present 4K is very much “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

The swingeing cuts imposed by Bexley Council are now biting services even harder; the following letter was sent to all parents of children who are members of Erith and District Swimming Club (EDSC):-

To: All EDSC Members.

It is with much sadness that I write to let you know that from the end of December 2014 and after some 102 years, Erith and District Swimming Club will no longer be running Beginners and Improvers classes in the teaching pool as part of our swimming programme. This change has been forced upon us by Bexley Council’s leisure facilitator, Parkwood Leisure.  Their 30 year contract to run the Council’s Leisure Centre’s, (which has 22 years remaining), gives them the right to run all swimming lessons at the 3 Bexley Borough Centres and having left us alone for the last 8 years they are now enforcing this right. We have been allowed to continue to run our Sunday afternoon programme of lessons.  These lessons will be for swimmers who can swim and are looking to improve aspects of their swimming to enable them to reach the standard required for them to enter into our Competitive Squad System.  If your son / daughter are affected by this change then Miranda Jaiteh and I will talk with you individually to ensure that you find a way to continue with your their lessons. Miranda will continue in her role as Head Teacher and will be working with the swimmers in the Sunday afternoon classes. As always, should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via e-mail – john@edsc.org.uk

I have come to a conclusion; what actually is the function of a local council? Is it the traditional role of ensuring the council tax money is responsibly collected, spent and accounted for to ensure that the residents and visitors to the borough find clean, well – lit streets, decent car parking and disabled access, and a range of support, advice and recreation services, or is it to fund exceedingly well pad “jobs for the boys (and girls)” in senior council executive positions, and to ensure that the senior executives get shielded from the inevitable backlash from embittered and angry local residents, who after all end up paying for it all. I will leave that judgement up to the reader. It does seem that Bexley Council do whatever else you may feel have a very skewed sense of priorities – they spend fortunes making expensive and ill – thought out changes to the pedestrian areas of Sidcup, Bexleyheath and Northumberland Heath, which even the locals find baffling and for a large part a waste of time and money. They then undertake a hugely unpopular project to close Belvedere Splash Park for reasons which are mostly little more than sensationalist fiction – incorrectly assuming that locals would be stupid enough to fall for the blatant propaganda that spews forth from the Watling Street Junta. I would elucidate further, but certain members of Bexley Council Executive Committee don’t understand metaphor, and certainly lack even a basic background in English classic literature, so my musings would be lost on the target audience I am afraid.


Some enterprising local person has set up a new business. Delivery Busters is a service by which you can get fast food, groceries, drinks and tobacco delivered directly to your door within an hour. The service works by collecting goods from a supplier / retailer and delivering them to the customer for a fee which is based on the distance covered. Delivery Busters also will collect pre – paid electricity keys from the customer, get them charged and then returned for use. The fees that Delivery Busters charge are lower than that of a cab service, and for someone without a car, or who has had a couple of drinks and is worried that they would be over the blood alcohol limit if they did drive, it would make a lot of sense. The Delivery Busters website is slick and well designed, although it would seem to me to be a one person operation. Under their testimonials page there are a couple of quotations which if I were in charge of the brand, I would think twice about publishing:- “It was Friday night and we were all pissed… and we ran out of alcohol and fags. We got delivery busters to bring all our alcohol, vodka, Jack Daniels, and ciggies. We all were too pissed to drive really so it’s great to have delivery busters around”. Another writes “I was seriously craving a McDonald’s breakfast, but was soooo hung over from an explosive party the night before and my head was simply spinning so there was no way I was going out to get it myself. Lucky for me, I called up delivery busters and they got my food to me in no time”. Neither quote really reflects the kind of values a respectable company would wish to promote – whatever the reality. I would guess that their everyday work would probably come from requests of this nature, rather than from another satisfied customer, who wrote “All I needed was some bread, eggs, milk and toilet roll. I don't drive, I have 2 kids and the nearest shop is 35 minutes’ walk away. It would cost me £10 to use the taxi there and back. Delivery busters sorted it for me for a fiver. I use them regularly now when I am stuck“. There is a concern over this kind of service, and I have to say right now that I am not a lawyer, and have not received any legal training, so my view may well be factually inaccurate. I am of the view that reselling tobacco and alcohol without a licence may well be an offence, albeit a somewhat technical one. Delivery Busters buy the goods from the vendor, then sell them on to the end user with the addition of a delivery fee. This would seem to me to be something that if I was running the service, I would want to get a competent legal opinion on from a solicitor with retail and licensing experience before I made the decision to deliver alcohol and tobacco. My only other concern is the “guerrilla advertising” that Delivery Busters use. They are currently fly posting adverts and stickers on bus stops and public notice boards around the local area – something the hoarding operators take an exceedingly dim view of. These issues aside, it would seem that Delivery Busters are providing a much needed service in an innovative and imaginative manner. It may well be that Delivery Busters are in the vanguard of a new kind of service based business; it would not be the first time that a real business innovation would have its’ genesis in the area. I recall that back in the late 1980’s if you wanted a take away meal of any type, you had to go out and collect it yourself – Chinese, Indian, Fish and Chips, Pizza – there was none of the “delivered to your door" malarkey that you get nowadays. A bright spark in the back streets of Plumstead came up with a new, and for that time revolutionary food service. It was an Indian food outlet that consisted just of a kitchen and a few delivery drivers – they had no shop for customers to visit at all. Instead customers phoned through their order and it was delivered to their door shortly thereafter. The name of this then revolutionary company was “Hurry Curry”.  They did very well for a couple of years, but soon thereafter the ordinary takeaways caught on to this, and introduced their own delivery services, and Hurry Curry ended up quietly expiring. I have many fond memories of 1987 and 1988, sitting in the Radio Lumberjack studio in Bexleyheath, and eating a Hurry Curry prepared Chicken Vindaloo, Mushroom Rice and Garlic Naan whilst presenting the original Maggot Sandwich – my pirate radio show on Saturday evenings; and talking of pirate radio – who says that I don't plan these things?

Over the past couple of years or so, I have been running an ongoing feature bringing lesser known radio stations to Maggot Sandwich readers attention; there are a number of other such stations I may well mention in the future, but I thought this week I would highlight another radio phenomenon – the weekend hobby radio pirates. These stations come on air sporadically for a few hours, usually on a Saturday night or Sunday morning, almost certainly broadcast from the operators’ spare bedroom or garden shed. They usually broadcast on Shortwave, and probably only have audiences numbering in the couple of dozen. Nevertheless there are a number of people who have made it their hobby to monitor and record when these stations come on air, and what content they broadcast. The transmitters these pirates use are usually either homemade, or heavily modified amateur radio equipment, re tuned to work on the broadcast radio bands, rather than the legally allocated amateur radio spectrum. The Christmas holiday period tends to bring these hobby pirates out of the closet and onto the airwaves. These pirates operate pretty much with impunity nowadays – back in the 1980’s at the height of land based pirate radio activity, enforcement was a lot more rigorous, when the likes of the infamous Eric Gotts of the DTI Radio Investigation Service would be chasing round the country, eager to feel a few collars and confiscate an illicit transmitter. Nowadays things are a lot less strict; the Radio Investigation Service is no more – it was subsumed into OFCOM some years ago. Nowadays unless an unlicensed transmission is causing interference with a licensed service, or someone complains, there is a very slim chance that OFCOM would take any action. In other European countries, the situation is different – in the Netherlands for example, penalties for unlicensed broadcasting are pretty strict, with fines and the confiscation of equipment being normal upon conviction. Whatever the penalties, the number of such stations has remained pretty constant for years. You can read more about them, and what radio frequencies you can find them on, and when here. You can see a daily updated log of stations here. Have a look and let me know what you think. There are also a very small number of full - time Shortwave radio stations in Europe that operate 24/7 outside of government control. There is the quirky commercial station Radio 700 in Belgium, which transmits locally on FM, but also has a shortwave transmitter. There is also the Netherlands based commercial Shortwave station KBC Radio, which I have examined in the past. Lastly there is also the long running pirate station Laser Hot Hits, which I will be covering in more detail in a week or two.

Last week I wrote about the historic connection that both Erith and Crayford have with the armaments industry; I explained how over a hundred years ago the Vickers Maxim company produced the first really effective squad machine guns, and these had a devastating effect on not only the First World War, but also in many later conflicts. It is said that Vickers machine guns have killed more people than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs combined. Here is a short video showing a Vickers machine gun in action on a shooting range. Fortunately in this case only paper targets are involved. Feel free to comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.