Sunday, December 11, 2011

Beyond the Thunderbox.

The photo above shows the view looking Eastwards along one of the main concourses in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre; I took it early on a Sunday morning whilst standing outside the extremely popular Mambocino coffee house / cafe that I wrote about last week.

I have noticed that this year people in the local area are being a lot more restrained with their selection of house and garden Christmas ornamentation and lighting. Going back a couple of years, quite a few local houses had displays which rivalled the Blackpool illuminations. Some were quite nicely done, but many were a bit, or a lot on the tasteless side in my opinion. Things seem to have drastically changed, and very few houses have much on the exterior at all. I wonder if this is a mixture of the huge increase in fuel costs, the subconscious thought that a conspicuous display is probably a bit unwise in times of general financial hardship, and maybe a touch of boredom with the decorations "arms race" that had been running for some years previously.

Work to extend the platforms at Erith station is proceeding at a glacial pace; at the rate the work is being undertaken, I think the Olympics will have come and gone before the extensions are open. I understand that the working hours are limited to the time over night when no trains are running, but even so, digging a few footings, laying a bit of cement, and installing some pre – cast concrete units with a mild bit of block work is hardly something to test a proficient team of builders. I keep meaning to pop down to the station to photograph the (lack of) progress, but the incredibly short hours of daylight at present have proved to be a real problem. Maybe next week will prove easier.

The News Shopper website has seemingly turned into the editorial equivalent of the Wild West over the last year or so; it used to be an excellent local news and opinion resource that was promptly updated and full of interesting stories. I, along with others have noticed a change in it, especially in regard to the moderation of comments on individual stories. What used to be a well managed, relatively civilised discussion environment has, due to lack of editorial moderation, become a pretty spiteful and vicious sparring ground. One story illustrates this quite well – the story in question is relatively drama free – a newsagent who owns a shop in North End Road, Erith had a whinge about one of Bexley Council’s parking enforcement camera cars parked in the bus stop bay outside of his shop. The story is pretty much fluff, but the tirade of comments that have been made on the story almost beggar belief. You can read the story, and the subsequent comments by clicking here.

For much of this week I have been looking down from the office window into Canada Square and the traditional ice rink that covers most of the park in the middle of the square between November and February each year. On last Monday morning a fleet of lorries parked up in the road, opposite to the Waitrose / John Lewis store. A small army of technicians then spend a day or so erecting scaffolding, running out cables and setting up lights. It was all very mysterious, and nobody seemed to know exactly what was going on. By the late afternoon, as darkness descended, several large movie cameras were set up. For the next three days I have been told that filming took place between about 9pm and 6am, when Canada Square was then closed to all traffic. I managed to discover, despite the tight security, exactly what was going on, and who they were. The company carrying out the work was Eon Productions (big clue there, to anyone who knows about movies). It was the second unit, filming scenes for the next James Bond Film, Skyfall. Unfortunately I did not see any of the action – just the crew setting stuff up and breaking it down. One of my colleagues saw Bond himself, Daniel Craig on Wednesday evening, which is more than I can say I did. Canary Wharf has been used in many films; the roof restaurant over the Waitrose / John Lewis building was used in Batman Begins to stand in for a fine dining bistro in Gotham City. You can read more about movie locations by clicking here.

I don’t know about you, but I feel that there should be some protocol or convention covering the usage of mobile phones in the toilet; on Thursday I was in a loo at work, quietly riding the porcelain bus and minding my own business. The unknown gentleman in the cubicle next to me was grunting and groaning as if he was giving birth to a bowling ball – it was most disconcerting; I was at the point of banging on the wall to enquire if he required gas and air. What made it suddenly worse was that his mobile phone went off mid heave, and he proceeded to have a protracted conversation with some unknown client. I have experienced this on a number of occasions, and I don’t like it. The gentleman’s kharzi should be a place of quiet contemplation; for catching up on the fat stock prices, and bidding farewell to last night’s curry. It is definitely not a place to conduct civilised business. I feel that there should be some type of social stigma for those who mix the world of work, and the world of the thunder box.

The much troubled Cross Keys pub (see the auctioneer's details above - click for a larger view) went for sale last Wednesday. Unfortunately it did not make it as far as the auctioneer's gavel, as it was privately sold for an undisclosed sum to an anonymous buyer before the auction began. I am endeavouring to discover who bought it, and for how much, along with what their plans are for the listed building. I sincerely hope it is not going to be converted into flats, as I recently wrote. I suspect that unless a minor miracle has happened (such as it being purchased by Fullers or Shepherd Neame, refurbished and opened as a proper pub serving quality real ale and decent food) it will follow down the route of so many former pubs in the area and end up as rather indifferent housing.

It is now only a few scant months until the Olympics are upon us; as I have previously written, I am no fan of the event and feel it will end up costing the country a fortune in lost business due to the travel restrictions in and around London. Many companies will be instigating arrangements very similar to the disaster recovery plans to be deployed in the event of a natural disaster or large scale terrorist attack. In many cases, London office buildings will be shut, with staff urged to either take the time as annual leave, or work from home where possible. One thing is for certain, the games will be going ahead, for good or bad. Bearing in mind that the principal stadium for the Games is going to be at Stratford in the East End of London, one would have thought that the catering and hospitality would have reflected this to some extent, but no, once again huge conglomerates will be hogging the scene. Instead of jellied eels, pie and mash and large mugs of strong tea, the exclusive food franchises for the event will be held by MacDonald’s, Coca Cola and Cadburys. There is going to be a blanket ban on independent food outlets opening in any of the venues, and any pre existing cafes or food stalls will be compelled to remove any signs or advertising, effectively removing their identities for the duration of the event. Details of this can be verified by clicking here to download the sponsor's details in PDF formatBearing in mind that one of the claims of the Stratford Olympic bid was that it would bring jobs and money into deprived areas of the East End, this virtual catering monopoly would seem to give lie to that. I hardly think I would be able to go into a McDonald's on site and ask for pie and mash with liquor, washed down with a cup of builder's tea. It is not right, and it is unrepresentative of the traditions of the East End.

The code competition launched recently by a specialist employment agency on behalf of GCHQ has now had several legitimate winners, despite the solution being searchable online, as I described last week. It would appear that GCHQ’s code breakers are more concerned with how individuals reached the correct answer, than the answer itself. One such successful code cracker is John Graham – Cumming. He postulates that there may actually be a second coded message  within the broken code, due to the number of spare characters in the original cracked message. Personally I think he’s getting  into conspiracy theory territory – inside sources within GCHQ have publicly said that they deliberately left in surplus message bytes in order to “make it look interesting” to code cracking competitors. You can see John’s award – winning blog and make your own conclusions by clicking here.

I see that Bexleyheath has been the scene of yet another murder. A 36 year old man, Frederick Moore was stabbed to death in Bynon Avenue on Thursday evening. A total of eleven people have been arrested, which makes it sound like some kind of gang related activity – but that is pure conjecture on my part in the absence of any further information. This is only two months almost to the day since Bexleyheath resident Sally Hodkin was murdered by the war memorial near the junction of Oaklands and Methuen Road, less than five minutes’ walk from Bynon Avenue. You would think it was a rough, deprived area from the level of homicide it has recently experienced, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is a very quiet, middle class residential area. Quite what has caused this terrible spate of murders is beyond me – maybe it is something in the water?

One advantage of working right next door to a large Waitrose / John Lewis store is that it becomes very convenient to go shopping on the way home from work. As many of you already know, I am pork intolerant, and have to steer clear of any foods containing dead pig products. This makes sausages a bit of a minefield. Even ones purporting to be pure beef, lamb or venison often contain around 15% of pork fat to act as a binder and to keep the meat moist. Pork fat is the material my body cannot handle the most, so I end up not eating sausage very often, as the varieties of completely non pork sausages are very thin on the ground in most supermarkets and independent butchers shops. The one exception is Waitrose; they have a wide variety of Kosher sausages, which are uniformly excellent. I have cooked with their smoked beef and turkey variety on a couple of occasions now. They are not cheap, at around £4 a packet, but of excellent quality.

The latest edition of The Chap magazine has just arrived on my doorstep. You can read all about it by clicking here. As always, it is a fascinating and uplifting read that I would recommend to one and all. 

The photo below is a chance for you to grab a free slice of Erith; it shows the River Thames a few weeks ago, and gives you a chance to download a photo of Erith and the "big sky" for use as your computer wallpaper or such like. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, then right click, you can save it to use on your own computer, should you so decide. I have saved it in a large format in order to make for a high quality image. The dramatic sky is pretty typical of what you can see on a good day from Erith Pier - an under used tourist destination, in my opinion.

Apologies for those amongst you who have been enthusiastic about my recent forays into local history; I have had some very positive feedback when I have covered the subject. The sheer number of issues I have had to cover this week has meant that Erith's history has taken a bit of a back seat; suffice to say that in next weeks' edition of the Maggot Sandwich there will be plenty more on the history of the local area.

The video this week is something that you may have already seen; it show the crew of HMS Ocean singing along to the Mariah Carey track "All I want for Christmas is you". It is a cracking bit of film making and must have been a hoot to be a part of. It has now gone viral, which when you watch it s not surprising. I laughed out loud during the bit where the tough as nails Royal Marine gets offered champagne by the Matelot whilst in his bubble bath! Not a lot more needs to be said, other than all of the best to our service personnel at home or abroad at this time of year. 

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