Sunday, August 14, 2011

Saving General Gordon.

I visited Woolwich on Tuesday lunchtime. It was the smell that first got to me; an acrid mix of wood smoke, battery acid, burning rubber and melted plastic that permeated everything in Woolwich town centre. The central square was taped off to a large degree, as Police and Fire Service personnel were still hard at work. Whilst the Wetherspoons pub was a wrecked and empty shell, the Wilkinson's store next to the Tram Shed Theatre was still smouldering. Concerned fire fighters were still damping down the structure. The neighbouring Barclays Bank was singed, with the windows smashed and the paint blistered. The only way to get into General Gordon Square from Woolwich Arsenal Station was to exit via the Docklands Light Railway exit. It was as if a pitched battle had taken place only hours earlier, which in a sense it had. The rioters had damaged the place to a far greater degree than I had imagined. No buses were able to use the square - they were all diverted, but no-one seemed to know where from. The scene reminded me of the French village which is the location of the pitched battle that takes up most of the last third of the movie "Saving Private Ryan" - the place was a real mess. It is such as shame, as much work and effort had been invested in the civic improvement of Woolwich. It was finally coming together, and after years of neglect, the town was beginning to turn the corner and attract investment and therefore local jobs. A few hours of recreational violence later, and many local jobs were threatened, and several independent local retailers given the prospect of going out of business. I am not going to dwell on the events that transpired earlier this week; others have done so far more eloquently than I could hope to. I would heartily recommend that you read the account made by Darryl of the 853 Blog - not only is it a timely and informative record of the events of the last week, but Darryl is a "proper" journalist with a keen eye for both detail and context. Anyway, here is some amateur footage of the destruction of the Great Harry - the Wetherspoons pub much beloved of many Woolwich residents.

You can see what the place looked like courtesy of the following photos taken by Ian, whose office is only around 200 metres from the location. these were taken the morning after the riot, and give an idea as to how bad the damage was. It is my understanding that initial surveys have shown that the 1930's era building, which survived the Nazi Blitz has been so damaged by the intense heat that it will need to be demolished - that is if it does not fall down of its' own volition in the mean time. I wonder what will happen to all the staff of the place? I doubt that they will all be able to be redeployed elsewhere. One comment I have heard from many people, is that the kind of shops targeted by the thieves seemed to be very specific. One observation was that Phones 4U, Curry's and JD Sports were all hit and looted in a block of shops, but the Waterstones book shop located right between them was ignored and untouched. I think this says a lot about the looters.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday afternoon I was working from home, as I do on most afternoons after visiting Dad in his nursing home. I was typing away on my Lenovo X201 business laptop (a lovely bit of kit that I would heartily recommend, it being an ideal mixture of small size, portability and power - albeit at a price - not that I had to pay for it). The Pewty Acres security systems suddenly alerted me that there was an intrusion on my property. I looked out of my home office window, that overlooks my back garden, and I could see two Police officers at the rear of my parking spot. I popped out and spoke to them; it turned out that they were in hot pursuit of a number of wanted felons. I left them to their work and returned indoors. I have subsequently discovered that five local scrotes decided that they were going to start the revolution in Erith, by lobbing a brick through the window of Blockbuster. What they failed to account for was the drawing up of a Police patrol car in the road directly behind them whilst they were in the middle of the act; suffice to say the miscreants were all caught after a brief chase, and I understand that all have already been up before the beak. Score one for the local Police. I just hope that I can persuade them to follow the policies of Gene Hunt. One can but hope in vain. Well, that's enough of the riots; I think that we have all just about had enough coverage by the media. Me adding a bit more is probably as far as I will take it.

Now for something completely different. Can any kind reader recall what this sound is, and where it comes from? A clue. A mis - spent youth in the 1980's will definitely help.

There are quite a few anniversaries coming up over the next couple of years. One that has taken place this week is the 30th Anniversary of the launch of the IBM 5150 computer. Not heard of it? You might know it better as the PC. Yup. Thirty years of the Personal Computer, as launched by IBM, who thought it was going to be a fad that would not sell many small computers. They wanted to get back to the "serious" business of selling System 370 "big iron" mainframes to government and big business. When the then fledgeling Microsoft wrote MS DOS and MS Basic for the 5150, they insisted that they retain the rights to sell the applications elsewhere to other customers. IBM agreed, saying "no problem, the money's in the hardware - nobody's going to make a fortune selling software" (!)

The ironic thing was, the 5150 was no great technical shakes when it came out. It was cobbled together from generic components "off the shelf, and even for its' day it was a pretty poor performer - it was also eye wateringly expensive. A sample specification and price sheet is below (click for a larger version). Its' weaknesses were actually its' strength - it was open and modular, and IBM actively encouraged third parties to create hardware and software to work with the system. It was also blessed with a small blue badge with "IBM" on it. Back in the day the phrase "No - one ever got fired for buying IBM" was common. Even for its' time, the machine was relatively low powered and clunky. It did have a very nice clicky keyboard action, and was both solid and reliable - and if it did for any reason break down, IBM's famous high quality engineering service would have it up and running again - as long as you could afford their high support contract charges. Businesses lapped up the model, and its' higher powered siblings. Compaq famously reverse engineered much of the then fairly pedestrian IBM PC technology, and the whole "IBM Compatible" industry took off. Every PC in use around the world today can directly trace its' DNA back to the original IBM 5150. You can read more about the origins of this remarkable piece of technology by clicking here.

As I have recounted on many occasions in the past, South East Trains really are a place where you can see the World in microcosm. I was on the Kent bound platform of Plumstead station on Thursday afternoon. Two revenue protection officers were interviewing a familiar looking woman about her not having bought a ticket. I recognised the woman from a couple of previous encounters in the same location. It was not that long ago that she and her smack head boyfriend were sitting woozily on one of the benches, both in a state of extreme refreshment, and loudly stage whispered to each other as to how they were going to nick my laptop bag. Needless to say after I robustly confronted them, they backed down and slurringly said that they were only messing about. Anyway on the most recent encounter, she seemed sober and almost over helpful and compliant with the revenue officers and meekly accepted the fine notice that they issued her with. Once she had scuttled off, I had a word with the two revenue officers. I explained that she was a regular "face" and I understood the Police were aware of her. They said that they knew she was a small time drug dealer, and was being co-operative and polite, as she was aware that the revenue protection staff have no powers of search or arrest. If she kept her mouth shut, they would have to issue a fine and let her on her way. It was likely she was carrying an amount of illegal drugs, and wanted no Police involvement. All life travels on our railways - and occasionally even pays for a ticket.

I have been listening to a little known radio situation comedy from 2008 on BBC Radio 4 Extra. The show is called Double Science, and it can be likened to a British radio version of The Big Bang Theory, only set in a further education college, and featuring real ale and curry in addition to a couple of socially inadequate and rather bewildered lecturers. It is worth a try - click here to listen to an episode on BBC iPlayer.

I am currently investigating an issue that I hope to be in a position to report on in the next week or two. It would appear that the pets of a fair number of Erith residents are being poisoned - not by some malicious idiot as has happened in other parts of the country in the past, but possibly by the very environment within which they live. More from me on this subject when I have some hard facts, once the investigation is properly under way.

Apologies that the embedded video clip for "The Interceptors" from BBC TV show "Top Gear" is no longer working on my post from two weeks ago. It would seem that the accountants and legal people from the BBC took a rather dim view of the person who posted the clip on Youtube, and promptly took legal action, banning the clip. I have found another copy though. and am reposting it because I can. Bog off Beeb - I pay my licence fee, and if you cannot see that this would make the greatest one - off spoof television episode ever, you really do need to have your bumps felt. Click here for a re - run of "The Interceptors".

Bexley Council have taken a decisive move against the plague of local fly tippers. There has been an ongoing problem with criminals illegally dumping building rubble and industrial waste at the junction of  Wheatley Terrace Road and Appold Street, just off Manor Road in Erith. A new surveillance camera has recently been mounted on top of one of the warehouses that makes up Abbey Car Breakers. There are also dire warning signs in the area, threatening up to £50,000 fines for anyone caught dumping rubbish in the area. I just hope that the sight of the prominently mounted camera deters the scumbags, or better still, catches them red - handed. The mood of the authorities being what it is, I just hope any sentences handed down send out the appropriate message to other potential wrong doers.

Apple's long awaited iPhone 5 is scheduled for release on the 7th September. Whilst, as many of you know, I detest mobile telephones and refuse to own or use one, as I feel I am already subject to quite enough RF radiation as it is. Nevertheless, the iPhone and its' direct competitors are fascinating mobile computing devices. You can read more about the forthcoming iPhone 5 launch here.

The aforementioned Darryl of the Charlton based 853 blog has been in contact following my whinge about the current shortness of trains that I covered last week. It turns out that South East Trains are using the holiday period to refurbish and carry out major servicing on the running stock. They have been running short trains in the hope that less carriages would be needed due to the holiday season. The current economic climate has had the effect of causing less people to take holidays than usual. This has led to the overcrowding I recounted last week. I think it is a case of unintended consequences.

The final video clip this week is a trailer that should be an antidote to all the big budget Hollywood super hero and alien invasion movies currently doing the rounds; it is the big screen adaptation of the classic John Le Carre novel "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy". It looks to be something I would definitely want to see on the big screen. The last decent spy movie I saw at the cinema was "Munich" - so I am more than overdue for some well acted and intelligent fare. This does look very promising. Do feel free to leave a comment below.


  1. I had just updated my last post with the addition of a wartime looting poster - popped over to your blog and found you had your very own poster!

    I haven't been to Woolwich to see the damage (other than view online) but so many of my neighbours are heartbroken over the state of it - and like you they are really stunned over they have found - as it had so little TV coverage. I have my own views about why that was.

  2. Good to read why the trains have been constantly short meaning an end is hopefully in sight soon. It's been a real pain. Great blog by the way