Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Black Widow and the Romford Rolex.

The photo above shows the view from the top of the recently repaired stairs leading to the path that takes the traveller to Erith Railway station via the infamous Tunnel of Doom (tm). The row of African shops, the nail bar, tattoo parlour and Erith's own snooker hall used to be covered by a large hollow plywood and steel canopy, which over time had become home to a large flock of feral pigeons. All previous efforts to eradicate the unhygienic pests had met with abject failure. This time the Council have been serious; their contractors have completely removed all of the plywood panelling, destroyed the pigeon nests and left nothing but the steel joists in place, as can be seen in the upper half of the photo at the head of this page.  The pigeons that were not killed in the process hung around for a while, somewhat bewildered by the state of events (not that bewildering a pigeon is difficult - they are notoriously stupid birds). they have now departed, leaving the area a lot cleaner than of yore.  I was walking along this path just before 7am on Thursday morning when I was met by a figure shambling in the opposite direction - a bloke in his mid 30's in a stained shell suit, clutching an outsized can of Riot Coke - in this case it was a half litre container of Frosty Jack's white (sui)cider, which looked to not have been his first of the morning. It was also apparent that he was adorned with a Romford Rolex - a Court enforced electronic tag. Fortunately he ignored me and continued on his wobbly way, dragging asthmatically on a twiglet thin roll - up as he headed towards the town centre.

The Bexley Times are reporting that there is a severe rat infestation affecting the recently closed and sold off former public toilets in Townley Road, Bexleyheath. It would appear that a mixture of overflowing commercial dustbins, and surreptitious fly tipping have encouraged a large group of rats to breed. You can read the story by clicking here. I suppose now that the site is now in private hands, it will be the responsibility of the new owner to take on the problem. To be honest, the best solution to the problem is to employ a hunter with a suppressed .22 air rifle - no poison for pets to eat, or toddlers to pick up. Difficult to carry out in an urban high street environment, I do concede though.

I have seen a number of instances of an unforgivable sartorial faux pas in the last week. In Canary Wharf  I have seen a number of men wearing lounge suits with shorts. This is wrong on so many levels; certainly shorts should never be seen anywhere other than on a sports field. Unsightly and slightly creepy are phrases that currently spring to mind - the sight of a pair of knobbly knees accomanying a pin striped jacket is enough to curdle the milk in your cup of tea. For a detailed guide to how a gentleman of taste and discretion should manage his attire, please check out the Ten Commandments for a well dressed gentleman by Frances Bown. A man after my own heart; more on this delicate subject in the weeks to come.

I was waiting for a homeward bound train at Greenwich station on Tuesday lunch time, when who should spot me? None other than "Bexley is Bonkers" blogger and local activist Malcolm Knight, who was returning from a visit to the town. I am afraid that I was not the best of company, as the reason for my journey home, rather than visiting my Dad as normal was that I was suffering the debilitating after effects of a nasty attack of migraine. I had taken my medication, which had kicked in well, but I still felt rather fragile, and was not firing on all cylinders. Malcolm told me about some of his recent run - ins with Bexley Council, which he recounts in full detail online here.

You may recall the story that entered the popular news media a couple of months ago about a new and revolutionary computer virus that was doing the rounds. The difference between it and pretty much any other piece of computer malware, was that on 99.9% of computers it infected, it did absolutely nothing; it just lay dormant, and eventually wiped itself from the machine automatically. On a tiny number of PC's connected to a specific piece of industrial machinery however, it wreaked havoc, whilst indicating to the user that everything was just fine and dandy. By the time the user discovered that the computer was deceiving them, millions of dollars of intentional, irreparable damage had been done. The industrial equipment was a specific type of gas centrifuge which is solely used for the production and purification of weapons grade Plutonium. It is thought that Stuxnet was created and deployed in order to sabotage the Iranian nuclear weapons programme. The Stuxnet computer worm is the first widely successful weaponised software code. Watch the video below for an outline of what it did, what it may do in the future, and conjecture as to who was behind this incredibly sophisticated digital weapon. It may well be subject to the law of unintended consequences. We have not heard the last of this remarkable piece of software.

Something that struck me during the week, is - where have all the Roma beggars gone? A couple of years ago they were all over the place - whether it be begging in the street in Plumstead and Woolwich, or hassling the travellers on the Underground, they were everywhere, the women clutching their intentionally drugged children to try to elicit sympathy, and thus cash from the more gullible. Now they have completely disappeared - I cannot recall the last time I had to fend one off. Was there some kind of Home Office / Police campaign, or did they just realise that they were not making much money from the people of the area? Your guess is as good as mine.

The CCTV image below shows a shady looking character who has been knocking on doors around Erith, posing as a surveyor from Bexley Council. He has been telling local residents that the Council are employing a contractor to provide free quotations for repairs to house exteriors following the last couple of harsh winters. It is all just a ruse to try and get his foot in the door - when pressed, he leaves the house holder with a flyer from a seemingly non - existent company called "Home Improvement Marketing Ltd", which I have researched as a service provider for reputable company "Bayer Global Group". It would appear that the individual pictured below is making deceptive claims in order to drum up business. Here is a direct quotation from the website of Bayer Global Group:

Unfortunately through the years there have been significant cases of bogus callers following behind authorised providers of our Products and Systems and passing themselves off as genuine suppliers.  Elderly people especially need to be aware and extremely cautious, if anybody calls after an installation has been completed, even several years after, claiming to be a service call or representing the company that completed the installation, you should always check their authenticity first by calling the Licensed Service Provider’s telephone number written on your contract, contract folder or alternatively you can call us direct. In general, if you ever get a call at the door, always ask for ID first and before letting someone into your home, don’t hesitate to ask a caller to wait outside until you have had a chance to phone up and check them out.  If someone cannot provide ID or you are suspicious or concerned about the caller, you can always call the police on 999.  And don’t forget, never hand over money in the form of cash until work is completed to your satisfaction.  Even then most companies providing any significant levels of service will take a cheque or card payment.  If in doubt, pick up the phone and ask someone else’s opinion or advice.

Both the North End and Erith Safer Neighbourhood Police teams have been informed of the duplicitous actions of the individual. We will just have to wait and see what happens. You can read more about the situation on the Erith Watch website here.

The old pub at the Pom Pom (why the strange name? Read on...) - the Nordenfeldt, has now been completely converted into flats; although it  was always a bit of a dive, and never served anything resembling real ale, I am still somewhat disappointed to see the end of the place. It seems to be the fate of so many pubs nowadays. I think it will not be long before pubs in the UK come from only two categories; the large corporate chain outlets like Wetherspoons and the Slug & Lettuce franchise, and the high end pubs like the Robin Hood & Little John in Lion Road, Bexleyheath. All the middling "boozer" type pubs will have gone to the wall. I think it is a combination of high alcohol taxes, the supermarkets selling beer at below cost as a loss leader, and a changing society. We no longer have men working in foundries and steelworks, clocking off for the day to neck back a few pints of Mild before heading home for their tea. Call centre workers (the modern equivalent of the factory or mill) don't exactly sweat off much in a days' work, and in any case they probably drive to the industrial unit where they sit all day, unlike the manual worker of yore, who lived in the shadow of the works, and walked to the factory gate from home. The world has changed, and the pubs need to accomodate that or go under. 

On Friday I was on the train to Chatham; it travels over the rail bridge by Strood Pier, where one can see the forlorn and rather rusty "Black Widow" Russian attack submarine, listing a few degrees to Starboard as she lies on the bottom of the River Medway. The Daily Mail recently ran a (rather inaccurate) article on the boat, which you can read by clicking here. They refer to the Foxtrot class hunter killer as a "Nuclear Submarine" which she most definitely is not - she is a (rather noisy) triple screw Diesel Electric vessel. During the cold war years she was however equipped with a couple of low yield nuclear torpedoes - almost certainly for taking out U.S aircraft carriers. These were removed when the boat was decommissioned. The vessel is now in private hands, and looking for investors to re-open it as a tourist attraction. It opened in the early 1990's adjacent to the Thames Barrier at Charlton, and later moved down to Folkestone. If something is not done to preserve this fascinating relic of the cold war, I fear that it may soon be too late to rescue her. It would be a great shame to see her broken for scrap. When working for Radio Caroline in the late 80's / early 90's I recall having several highly speculative conversations with Nick Jackson and others about employing such a submarine to covertly supply the Ross Revenge with food, water and fuel. If it spent most time submerged, the (as then was) DTI would be unable to trace it. I overlooked the practicalities - not only would it have been prohibitively expensive, it would have been political suicide. The decider was far more prosaic however. The Southern North Sea is actually very shallow indeed - a submarine would be physically unable to submerge for much of the tide, as the water is just not deep enough. Nice idea, as long as one does not think about it for too long.

The Military History channel have recently been transmitting a series called "Tales of the Gun" - which is a complete history of firearms from the Chinese fire arrows in the 12th Century, until the modern weapons of today. One episode documents the history and development of the machine gun. Erith features heavily in the development of the machine gun, which is something most locals are completely unaware of - maybe just as well, as it is a pretty dark period of history for all sides. Hiram Maxim, the American born, but British naturalised industrialist and inventor (it is now considered that he was a credible rival to the title of greatest inventor in the 19th Century, along with Thomas Edison) had his main gun factory in Erith, on what is now the BATT cables site on Fraser Road; (not in Crayford, as the Wikipedia entry on Maxim wrongly describes). It is the reason the locals still refer to the area as "The Pom Pom" - from the sound of the Maxim machine guns being tested on the factory firing range. The irony is that the origin of the unofficial name has been lost in time as far as most Erith residents are concerned. Hiram Maxim also invented the sprung loaded mouse trap, and for many years was in patent disputes with Thomas Edison, over the rights to the incandescent light bulb. The main video below shows an excerpt from "Tales of the Gun" describing the Maxim gun and the life of its' inventor. Do watch, then leave a comment below.


  1. Hi Hugh,

    Tut tut, as an ex 'matlot' I think you will find that said sub has a list to starboard old boy.

    Port and starboard are always referred to as if you are looking from the bridge.

    Ho hum :-)

    Captain Colin.

  2. You are entirely correct, as always. For some reason I thought that the Russians treated their sub controls like they did their tank controls (everything around the opposite way to NATO!) All now rectified.