Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bring back the workhouse?

A recent photo of Erith Station. The News Shopper ran a story this week that Erith Station is not going to receive any funding to install a lift for disabled travellers and parents with small children. Wheelchair and child's buggy users currently have to travel down line to Dartford, change platforms using the lifts at Dartford and then come back up on the London bound track if they require to travel to any destination closer to the capital. Despite having street level access to both platforms, Bexleyheath station is getting lifts, at a a cost of approximately £1 million. A campaign has been run by both Erith Town Forum and by Teresa Pearce MP on the Fix My Transport web campaign site for some considerable time now, and it has attracted widespread interest. You can see the site by clicking here. I think that there is a subtle bit of discrimination going on here; It will not be very long until Bexley College will be opening in Erith Town Centre, and the amount of traffic passing through Erith station can only increase. The fact that the London bound platform is only accessible by a foot bridge means the station is in a far worse state of accessibility that Bexleyheath - yet why does Bexleyheath get the money? Because the powers that be would appear have taken the default position they always do - "Don't spend anything on Erith - it is out of the way in the North of the Borough, and only benefit cheats and problem families live there - and they don't vote". A very inaccurate and condescending opinion. It is not the first time we have had this situation - the waste burner I mentioned a while back is a case in point. The authorities view seems to be that the area is already an industrial dumping ground, but since (in their view) "nice" people (as in those likely to vote in local elections) don't live in the area, it does not matter. I have to point out that our local MP, Teresa Pearce does not fall into this category. She is almost unique in my experience; party politics aside, she really puts in a huge amount of time and effort for the constituency of Erith and Thamesmead. There - I never thought I would compliment a politician; my long standing view is that in almost all cases I can think of, the desire to become a politician is a character flaw, and that wanting to become a politician should automatically disqualify you from doing so. I am glad to have found a notable exception. The only down side is that it gives me one less public figure to whinge about!

Whilst travelling in and around London, and up to Watford this week, I have noticed something relatively new. In an attempt to drum up some badly needed Christmas sales, pretty much every stand up comedian who can draw breath has a DVD out. Nothing that unusual there then; however they are almost all advertising on the tube; on my last excursion on the underground almost every video screen had a comic on it - it became quite surreal. It would indeed appear that for the time being at least, comedy is the new rock and roll. It did also highlight something I think many of us came to realise. DVD is not going away. Blu-Ray disks just have not taken off in anything like the way the manufacturers would have liked.  When DVD's first came on the market in 1998, they very quickly superseded VHS video cassettes with their vastly superior picture quality. The fact that at the outset the DVD format did not allow domestic recording was not seen by many as a major set - back. People bought DVD players to rent and buy movies, and kept the VHS player for recording EastEnders. Within the space of no more than two years, the sales of DVD's skyrocketed. The death knell of VHS was the advent of DVD recorders and systems such as Sky+. I think that many in the industry were expecting the same pattern when Blu-Ray machines were launched, but it simply has not happened. Disks are up to twice the price of DVD's, often with little perceptible increase in image quality, and with few extra features. The advent of upscaling DVD players, and the general public's apparent choice that for general viewing, DVD's are "just good enough" means that I don't think Blu-Ray will ever be the dominant force that DVD was when it was released. I also think that Blu-Ray is the last physical media format. There simply is no need for high capacity data storage when content can easily be downloaded from ever faster broad band connections. Virtually every TV you can buy nowadays supports Ethernet, WiFi and even the humble USB memory stick for streaming content. Why bother traipsing down to Blockbusters in the cold and wet to pick up a movie that you can rent or purchase either via your TV directly, or via your computer. I feel that the whole physical media market will fizzle over the next few years; it is simply redundant now. 

The photo above shows an article about the NHS that appeared in Tuesday's edition of the Times. If you click on it you can enlarge it enough to read. It heavily features our local hospital - the Queen Elizabeth at Woolwich, and is most definitely worth a serious peruse - click on the photo above to see a larger, readable version.  It certainly makes for some food for thought. What the article does do is throw into sharp relief the outstanding work carried out my the army of volunteers at the hospital. Many years ago I used to be a volunteer at the predecessor to the Queen Elizabeth - the Brook Hospital on Shooter's Hill. I used to visit the wards every Sunday morning, talking to patients and gathering requests that I played later in the day in my programme on what was then WHBS, and is now Meridian Radio. Unfortunately I eventually had to give it up when I went to work for Radio Caroline.

I have had several Maggot Sandwich readers Email me to ask me to cover more on the history of Erith and the local area; one thing that has become apparent to me is that I have neglected any mention of the Second World War - an event that has had a massive impact on the town and the people. The first real damage caused to the London Borough of Bexley occurred on the night of the 5th of September when a string of bombs were dropped on Glenview and West Heath Road on the border of Upper Belvedere and Bostall Heath. Following this, the Luftwaffe moved their targetting away from air fields and military bases and instead concentrated on London; this resulted on 18 bombs falling on Erith on the 7th September. Later, Callender's Cables,  the Borax works, Turner's Asbestos, Fraser & Chalmers, and the British Oil and Cake Mills were other local businesses that were damaged in addition to the private properties in the area. Throughout the war, Erith was a major target for the Luftwaffe, who often used the River Thames to navigate to and from Central London. Erith was hit by a total of 444 high explosive bombs during the length of the war. One of the worst bombing incidents of the entire war, as experienced in the town happened on the 21st January 1944, when the old Erith Fire Station was demolished by a direct hit. The plaque in the photo above (click on it for a larger view) is now installed in the same location as a memorial. You can still see it, mounted on the wall of a small concrete and brick out building adjacent to the car park of Erith Council offices. Not many people know that it is there - probably just as well, as the illegal scrap dealers would only steal it.

Following my recent comments regarding the actions of scrap dealers illegally stealing power and communication cables, along with anything else they can get their hands on, I read in the Times earlier this week that the Government are planning on introducing legislation by the Spring to ban cash transactions and increase the criminal penalties for receiving stolen goods, as I have previously outlined. The sooner this happens, and is actively enforced, the better. You can read more about the issue, and the objections made by the scrap metal industry by clicking here. It would appear that much of the scrap industry is closely linked to organised crime, though many are scared to say it. This must be a great concern to the legitimate parts of the essential trade. The whole industry needs a major shake up and reorganisation.

I have had an idea; it is one that on the surface would appear to be rather controversial, but when you examine it, may make social and financial sense. As you may well have seen in the week, it was widely reported that the Government are making an additional £448 million available to help the estimated 120,000 "problem families" around the UK as reported in the Guardian here. The government cash will be designed to help "chaotic families" where there are chronic and ongoing antisocial behaviour, truancy, violence, criminality and drug abuse issues. The trouble with this scheme, as with others previously introduced by the last Labour government is that they are too cautious - usually providing reactive assistance after a family crisis. This has resulted in the roughly 120,000 affected families being a drain on the public purse to the total cost of £8 Billion. This is vastly disproportionate, and tends to treat the symptoms rather than deal with the cause. My idea was to introduce a new version of the workhouse - remove the problem families from their neighbourhoods (no doubt to the sighs of relief of their neighbours) and house them in a controlled environment, away from their drug dealers and the influence of gangs. This would not be a punitive matter - more of a way of retraining them, educating them in social skills, the consideration of others and the breaking of drug addictions with proper therapy and support. The key would be in separating them from their social network. Board and lodging would be paid for, as long as the inmates complied with the rehabilitation regime. Their children would get intensive schooling and the chance to undertake after school activities such as dance, drama, art or learning a musical instrument; the kind of things that they would not normally consider being open to them. I reckon that between six months to a year or so of concentrated social therapy and education could turn around a significant proportion of any families that enlisted in a programme of this nature. Whilst I am sure it would not be cheap, I am convinced that it would be less expensive to the pockets of the tax payer than the current "sticking plaster" policy and would result in a better society. Feel free to leave your thoughts below. 

I had an mildly distasteful encounter with a sales person on my way home from the station on Thursday evening. Talk Talk had a stand outside the Mambocino coffee house in the Riverside Shopping Centre, and their heavily hair gelled sales weasels. Normally I resolutely ignore them, but for some perverse reason I stopped when the perma-tanned representative called me. He launched into his patter as to how if I signed up with them, I could get my internet access for free as part of the package, and that it would significantly reduce my monthly mobile phone bill over my current supplier. I said that he would find it difficult to meet that statement. He looked a little taken aback, and then asked me who my current mobile service provider was. When I told him I did not own a mobile telephone he looked incredulous, and seemingly did not believe me. I left him there - it was getting too cold and dark to be sparring with a kid trying to earn some commission. 

If I have recently given the impression that Erith Pier is now purely for leisure use, then let the photo above give lie to this; it shows a Dutch bulk freighter moored on the pier a while back. I quite regularly see all kinds of small to medium sized commercial vessels tied up whilst their crew visit Morrison's to stock up on supplies (I kid you not). The River Police have been known to do the same things, mooring their high speed launches whilst they pop into the supermarket for a bottle of milk and a scratch card.

I don't send Christmas cards, so please don't be offended if you know me and have not received one.  Suffice to say that if I did send one, and you got the regular Sunday evening Blog update Email, you would have received a card if I sent them. When Christmas cards were invented by the Victorians (a gentleman called Henry Cole is credited with their creation); it was to send greetings to distant family and loved ones that they might only see once in every few years. Any other communication would have to be by letter, laboriously written and delivered by hand, often taking several days to arrive by horse or foot. Now we have the ability to communicate instantly, anywhere in the world, the whole tradition of greetings cards seems to me to be utterly redundant. The energy used to produce, then deliver the piece of compressed then coloured and processed slice of wood and fibre pulp seems utterly wasteful when an Email can do the same thing just by pushing around a few tame electrons. The whole concept of celebrating a winter festival created by an ancient belief system (the Pagans), which was then conveniently hijacked by a slightly less ancient belief system (the Christians), then given a makeover by the Victorians, and now presented as the highlight of the commercial year all gets somewhat lost on me. The idea of "It's the middle of winter, the days are short and cold, and the nights are long and colder still. Let's have a party!" makes perfect sense, but I get very confused by all the accumulated baggage that comes with it nowadays. 

Talking of Christmas, I have noticed a big change in behaviour of people at office parties held in pubs and restaurants in London. This year the events are all very much smaller, and the participants are heading back to the office by about 3pm in many cases; the extended and extremely boozy events of yore most definitely seem to be a thing of the past - for a while at least. People are highly aware that their jobs may be at risk, and don't want to make an idiot of themselves in front of the boss. One still unfortunately encounters the "amateur drinkers" on public transport - something I have written about in the past.

Bill Hicks, foul mouthed renegade standup comedian, philosopher and humanist would have been fifty this week; he died aged thirty two of pancreatic cancer in 1994. If you are in the UK you can see a documentary about his life on BBC iPlayer by clicking here (one week only). In my opinion he was not the ultimate funniest comic, but by goodness he was the one that made you really think. A short clip of him closing his act, not in the way a conventional comic would. A sad loss and a hugely influential man.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting comments on the railway line through Erith, and I have something to add. I have been using this line for some 16 years now and have often wondered when standing at Charing Cross or Cannon Street stations when services are disrupted why the Bexley and Sidcup lines always seem to get priority over the Greenwich line for train departures. A few months ago I was chatting to an ex railwayman who had worked all 3 lines. I put the above point to him and his answer was amazing. We on the Greenwich line do not complain enough!!!
    The demographic makeup of the users of the Greenwich line means most users just grumble amongst themselves, users of the other two lines are more likely to contact the train operator, and these complaints are the ones recorded and the numbers published and sent to the regulator, hence Southeastern want to make sure that this number is low, especially if a franchise renewal is due, hence the biase. The same reason applies why fast trains are not stopped when slow ones are cancelled, passengers from the Medway towns are more likely to write, phone or email if their journey is delayed. Facinating, but so very wrong.