Sunday, January 23, 2011

The ashes of the Phoenix.

The photo above shows some tugs moored on a buoy on the River Thames at Erith; the view is looking upstream towards Lower Belvedere and the industrial works located there. Click on the photo for a larger view.

Despite the assurances from the authorities that work was due to commence on the repairs to the fabric of Erith Railway station as I covered last week, I can confirm that absolutely nothing has happened in the intervening time; it is now over six weeks since the station entrance was surrounded by yellow and black striped warning tape and metal fencing. Basically the railways don't give as stuff, as the building itself does not generate any revenue. All this and fares went up 12.7% this month, for what is rapidly becoming a worse service. You can read more about the situation on Darryl's excellent 853 blog here.

Fellow radio amateur and Erith resident Bob G4MHJ has just upgraded his home weather station; his excellent new version is fully internet enabled. As well as the station having its' own web server, it also provides a local feed for Google Weather. A screen capture of the weather station main page is shown above. A direct link to the live version can be seen by clicking here, or by using the link on the right side of the Maggot Sandwich home page. Bob's own website can be seen by clicking here. Bob is providing a valuable contribution to local meteorology.

Several local libraries are being threatened with closure, as the Council tries to save £975,000. You can read all about it on the News Shopper website here. Upper Belvedere and Slade Green libraries are two of the five local amenities that look like they are for the chop. I used to be a great fan and regular user of both Erith (one of the only locations not currently threatened) and Upper Belvedere libraries, but since they were rebranded as "Library Plus" I have avoided them like the plague.  They have gone all self service and there are few staff, and those that are present appear disinterested and unmotivated. The library now seems to be the place for students to get free WiFi access for their laptops, so that they can update Facebook and copy and paste text into their essays from Wikipedia. Libraries don't actually appear to have much to do with books, which I find is a great pity. The old Erith Library was housed in the magnificent Andrew Carnegie gifted building in Walnut Tree Road. The building is now semi empty, now that the Library "plus" is running in the soulless and dispiriting new building opposite Erith Health Centre. I think I am far from being alone in considering this to have been a very poor move. The only possible upside to this would be if the old library building gets utilised for educational purposes if Bexley College moves into a new campus, possibly to be constructed on the old Erith tram shed site adjacent to the station, and directly opposite the old library. It would seem to make sense to put the magnificent building back into productive use. Let us hope that some common sense breaks out, though I am not holding my breath.

Early in November 2009, I wrote the following passage on the Maggot Sandwich: I had a bit of a journey into the recent past yesterday evening; Ian's new band played their first gig with him as frontman / vocalist at the Phoenix pub in Dartford. (Photo above) I ended up with my clothes, hair and skin reeking of tobacco smoke - something that I thought was now a relic of the past. The pub, which is a hotbed of neo Nazi followers if the conversations I overheard were anything to go by, is also the home to a fairly large number of apparently infirm and ancient bikers. The landlady positively encourages smokers within the premises - despite this being completely illegal under current anti smoking laws. The venue was a haze of cigarette smoke and the memory of the disgusting, unhealthy and criminal stench clings to me still. The band played well, under very uncomfortable circumstances, and were enthusiastically received by the crowd composed of a variety of geriatric neanderthals, along with a smattering of relatively normal people, who I guess had turned up specifically to see the band. The band had to set up their equipment in front of the entrance to both the male and female toilets; during their set, a number of women had to make their way onto the "stage" in order to gain access to the loo. Strangely the same was not the case with the straggly haired, portly and  extensively tattooed male population of the cesspit of a hostelry; I later discovered they were venturing outside in order to urinate up one of the pubs' external walls. Enchanting. The Phoenix should be nuked from space; it is most definitely the dirtiest, scruffiest, smelliest establishment that houses a well past their sell by date biker gang, who would mainly be advised to hang up their sweaty and grime encrusted leathers and take to a bath chair. One of the side rooms in the noxious hostelry housed a rusty Kawasaki motorbike in its' final death throes; it appeared to be being broken for spares. Inside a pub. Yup. My views of the Phoenix and its' inhabitants have not softened in the intervening time; in actuality they have been upheld after the news that earlier this week the dive was raided by North Kent Police. The following story appears in this weeks' Dartford Messenger:

Police found guns, ammunition, and knives when they raided The Phoenix, in Lower Hythe Street.

Officers executing a firearms warrant at the pub found a loaded handgun in a cabinet, a cloth-covered .22 rifle in a cupboard, a dart gun, a Taser-style stun gun, and a large amount of ammunition, including rifle rounds.
They also discovered shotgun cartridges, a clear sealed bag containing three white bullets, and a small bag of Class B drug amphetamine.
According to the report from North Kent Police's licensing department, search teams found knives and "an assortment of other weapons" throughout the bedroom and the rest of the living quarters at the pub.

At the time I wrote my original piece about the pub, several people thought I had gone "over the top" with what I wrote - you can read the entire original posting, along with the comments here. It turns out I was completely correct, so excuse me whilst I have a little gloat. The place has been a threat to civilised society for some time, it being the base of a group of racist thugs and drug dealers - the place would not look out of place in a Guy Ritchie gangster movie. The thugs call themselves bikers, but the bikers I have known for years would be offended to be associated with this lot. The Phoenix should be bulldozed and the hole concreted over. As Ellen Ripley once said "Take off and nuke them from space - it's the only way to be sure". You can read the original story about the raid on the Dartford Messenger website by clicking here. The story also made the national press, as you can see by clicking here.

"For Sale" signs have now been erected on Erith Trades & Social club in James Watt Way. I doubt the building will be reused; it would require such an extensive renovation that I can only see the building being bulldozed and replaced with yet more flats. You can see more photos of the local area if you click here for my Flickr photo website.

The BBC News website and others have been commemorating the 30th anniversary of the New Cross fire, when 13 young people were killed in a fire which started during a party they were holding in a house at 439 New Cross Road on the 18th January 1981.  Much has been written about the fire and how it started. The commemoration made me think back to a conversation I had less than a week after the incident occurred. I was sitting in my English class, and the teacher was late arriving. I was sitting next to a chap called Adrian, whose cousin had been one of the victims of the fire. We talked at length, and he told me a story I have never been able to forget. I cannot verify the accuracy of his account, but I have since spoken to a couple of other people who lived in New Cross at the time, and it would appear to be consistent with their own experiences.  Adrian told me that the party had been high spirited but not too rowdy; at some point an older man in his mid twenties turned up and successfully managed to gate crash the party. Eventually the man's boorish and drunken behaviour got him chucked out of the house - apparently there was an argument on the doorstep and he eventually went on his way. Adrian alleged that the man later returned with a jerry can of petrol and set fire to the house, killing 13 party goers in the process. Popular rumour at the time was that members of the National Front had been behind the killings, and that they were racially motivated. Many in the Afro - Caribbean community had long felt ignored or even targetted by the police, who were able to hide behind the sus law to disproportionately target young black males. It suited local feelings at the time to be able to pin the blame on an external group of high profile racists, and gave the community a bugbear against which to unite. It has since been posited that the event was a cornerstone to the creation of an identity for young black Britons. You can read an essay on the subject by clicking here.

The story continues; what I was also told was that the arsonist was actually caught and interrogated by the Metropolitan Police within a few days of the fire. He was then released and disappeared. Adrian said the reason for this was the man was a member of the Yardies, and also a high level police informer. The police were so frightened of losing control of the Yardie gangs in London, that they were prepared to overlook the murder of thirteen teenagers in order to protect their secret intelligence source at the time. I related this story to a friend who lived in New Cross at the time of the fire; he said "You know what? I heard exactly the same thing". Again, I have no way of knowing the truth of the account, but it certainly seems to be consistent with the situation at that point in history.

The video clip this week dates back from the period of the New Cross fire. In many ways it highlights the real and dangerous tension between the police and various minority communities in the UK. At the time, this sketch from Not the Nine O'Clock News was pretty inflammatory stuff - as it was essentially true - the police were rife with racism and bigotry, and the hated Special Patrol Group were a distillation of this. Here is PC Savage (Griff Rhys Jones) being given a dressing down regarding his "over zealous" behaviour by the Chief Superintendant, played by a young Rowan Atkinson.


  1. Interesting pic', it's things like that which will be a record in the what I'm trying to say in a cack-handed way is that it's a great historical snap.

    Good job on the Erith Railway Station shack, I mean Station story. I agree doubt anything be done till the place falls down and they turn it into flats (is it me or is EVERYTHING being turned into flats these days? Pubs, petrol stations, FLATS!...), you hardly ever see a new building being used for say a pub or a plucking-a-idea-out-of-the-air carpet store. Suppose its just not feasible to pay for a building to be built this day and age. Bet the old Erith Trade's club will get bulldozed into flats!

    GREAT link for the weather site. Thanks Bob G4MHJ (isn't a Polish surname?! HAHA) for setting it up.
    Really rather useful although I am tempted to find out where the camera is situated and hold up signs with rude words on...

    I'm LIVID about the possible closure of Upper Belvedere Library. It's always been "my" library. I used to go to school next-door to it and have been using it if not weekly then at the least MONTHLY since about 1981. Not quite the same charm it used to have but I'm extremely fond of it and do think it's a useful addition to the Village. When things like that go that's when shoppers go. Sidcup High Street proved that, they lost most of their local services and now the place is a ghost town.

    Interesting bit of discussion with The New Cross fire. Brave.
    I can just about remember it happening as I had family in New Cross so used to go past the house almost weekly on the trip there. Was a terrible crime but I always wondered why it wasn't, what's the right term? "Held up more"? It's never been raked over by the media in the years since which I find surprising I mean 13 people died, regardless if it was racial that's a HELL of a lot of lives, I'm sure no-one was ever charged so it's ripe for being brought back up into the limelight.
    I LOVED Not The 9 O'clock News.
    I was WAY to young to watch it but I did manage to see some episodes at the time and a friends Dad had the book (and extremely offence distillation of the best jokes in the series as a HELLO magazine type format) which I devoured and of course the obligatory albums (which I still have copies off). To be honest I think this helped set my comedy tastes later in life.

  2. I joined the Crayford library when I was very young - with no special facilities in those days! The children's room was a separate room on the left just after you went in through the front entrance - and it wasn't supervised. Reading for pleasure wasn't an occupation that most my peers enjoyed; so I don't think book theft wasn't high on the library's list of concerns.

    I read all the books in the children's room (Some, several times) The non fiction section was probably a bit inappropriate - Auschwitz and suchlike - but I gained an understanding of the world at an early age. The staff told me that although underage, I could take books from the adult section, but as they gave no guidance I never knew what to borrow.

    A few years ago, curiosity made me go into the library after a 50 year gap! The children's section had been opened into the main room and looked quite jolly - but no staff member came up to me at any time to offer to help or inquire why I was there - so I left quite disheartened.

    I also have a bit of a gripe about Local Studies - who although probably helping to stimulate the interest of school parties, seem less interested in the casual browser. When it was at Hall Place we used to go every Saturday and so much material was easily available. Now you have to ask for exactly what you want - and often you don't really know what is available. A couple of years ago I was doing a lot of research into Vickers and on asking for information, a disinterested young man just waved his arms at the books on show and said I would have to look through them. I asked how I would find out about who was the managing director for a certain year - and he just replied that he had no idea! (I did complete my work - but not with the help of Local Studies)

    Libraries are just the tip of the iceberg in Council cutbacks - the coming year will be interesting!