Sunday, January 22, 2012

100 yards of poo.

The exterior of the Peacock's store in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. Peacocks is one of the largest tenants in the shopping centre, and it has been in place since the place opened. Take a good look at the photo above, as Peacocks may not be there for very much longer. The retail chain, which employs over 6,000 people in nearly 600 shops around the UK has gone into administration with debts estimated to be in excess of £240 million; the official receivers have only ten days to find a buyer for the business, else it will be wound up and closed down - another victim of the world recession. You can read the details by clicking here. What is ultimately ironic about this situation is that the Riverside Shopping Centre has just reported a record increase in visitor numbers, as covered by the News Shopper. They report that visitor numbers in the month before Christmas show a 30% increase over those in 2010, with 62,000 people visiting in the week before Christmas alone. I think that a lot of this is due to the "halo" effect of Morrison's - people park up in the Morrison's car park and think that they will take a swift look around the Riverside Centre since it is only next door. Whilst many more of the long vacant shop units are now occupied, they are not what one could describe as aspirational. Cash Generator, Pound Town, Nemesis Gym, and the Money Shop are all businesses that would only find success in areas of low net worth - basically they will only thrive where poor people live. I am glad to hear that the shopping centre is getting more visitors, I just wish that there was a better selection of quality local stores to take the visitors' money.
There was an excellent documentary on Channel 4 this week: "Richard Wilson on hold". Actor Richard Wilson, best known for playing the gloriously grumpy Victor Meldrew in "One foot in the grave" examined automated customer services. Wilson was admirably restrained,  letting the lunacy of the facts do the talking as it emerged how much time, money and energy we fritter on automated services that should make our lives easier but just save big corporations wads of cash. Self-service, as one test proved, actually takes substantially longer than cashiered tills in supermarkets - something I have been banging on ad nauseum for ages. Not that there weren’t any comic  moments. Wilson was driven to the edge by voice-recognition systems which he labelled, not without justification, ‘borderline racist’. Well, how would you feel if you were after tickets for The Adventures Of Tintin but the computer stuck you with Johnny English Reborn because it couldn’t grasp your Scottish accent? See the clip below for an example. ‘All these companies are making me do more and more of the work, while they’re taking more and more of my money,’ he concluded. The only reason the big companies use voice recognition systems and other dubious "press the hash button now" telephone systems is because it saves them money. A phone call to a manned call centre can cost a company between three and four pounds. On an automated system is can be a few tens of pennies. The level of stress and frustration engendered in the customer is ignored.

The one form of business that came out pretty well in Wilson's investigations were the high street banks. They answered the phone promptly, and  generally offered a pretty fair level of customer service. This is interesting, as a report from credit card provider Visa this week stated that the cashless society is getting ever closer. In 2010 more money changed hands via debit card transactions than in cash for the very first time. Visa can claim a large chunk of this; apparently £1 of every £3 spent in the UK is on a Visa debit card. They are apparently keen to encourage more people to use the new contactless cards. Apparently 20 million Britons already have them. I would strongly advise against the use of contactless cards. The technology has already been hacked. The cards can be read surreptitiously from around ten feet away - easy to do in somewhere like a busy McDonald's (coincidentally one of the first companies to install contactless readers in all of its' outlets). The whole area of RFID deployment in retail has a lot of similarities with early versions of the Windows operating system. Make things easy for the user, make the experience great and add a lot of functionality - oh, and sod the security.  I feel that the security and encryption levels on these no - swipe debit cards will only be taken seriously when people start seeing money being syphoned from their accounts. I guarantee it is going to happen - and sooner rather than later. *Update* - since penning this section of this weeks' entry, I have received a new bank debit card, which has a contactless payment RFID chip installed. I visited my local bank branch, and explained that I did not want a contactless card, as I was concerned that they are a security risk. The lady I spoke to was very helpful; she told me that they were issuing contactless cards to all their customers within the M25, (she said they were considered to be the most "metropolitan" and accepting of new ideas). Outside of the M25 it was going to be an option for the customer. She took my details and was going to arrange for a fresh, non - contactless card to be issued to me within a week. Result! I would recommend that you raise the matter with your own bank if you share my security concerns about this issue.

As you may have already been aware, I have been running an occasional series on the history of Erith; this would appear to have been picked up by the News Shopper, who have run a similar article here. I think that we both need to thank the work of local Erith historian John A Pritchard, who wrote a comprehensive series of historical pamphlets back in the 1980's for his work.

On Wednesday a Willow Road, Dartford woman was jailed for eighteen months after leaving her six year old daughter at home alone for five days. All the poor girl had to eat was Monster Munch crisps and yoghurt. The house was unheated, unsanitary and in a very poor state. It was only when the daughter approached a neighbour for help, that the Police were informed. You can read more about the terrible and shocking case by clicking here.

For the last couple of weeks, any shopper unfortunate to walk past the exterior of Erith Morrison's on the side of the building that has the windows into the restaurant area, and that contains the cash machines facing the car park cannot have missed one thing - the awesomely terrible pong.  It was hard to describe in mere words; in the way that garlic is a highly concentrated onion, the stench was like that of an unflushed loo the morning after a night supping pints of Guinness, followed by an extra hot Brussels Sprout and Stilton Vindaloo. My nose hairs shrivelled at the overpowering smell. Anyway, the facilities team at Morrison's got a specialist drain company onto the problem. After sending remote controlled mobile "mole" cameras down the drains, they soon realised the problems were extensive. On Monday evening I saw the drainage engineers lowering a mole camera down a manhole in Wheatley Terrace Road; they spent several hours hunched over the monitors in their van, watching the small device inching its' way along, back towards the supermarket. The next day they were back, with a small fleet of vehicles parked adjacent to the cash machines in Morrison's car park. I asked one of the workers what was going on, and he said that the drainage pipe was blocked pretty much for its' entire length - which stretched from the main supermarket building all of the way to Wheatley Terrace Road - that's around a hundred yards of poo. No wonder it stank! All seems fine now, so the drainage engineers have obviously conquered the aromatic problem. Not a career I would choose, but as the old adage goes - where there's muck, there's brass.

Bexley Neighbourhood Watch Association have issued the following warning to local residents about a scam that is currently being perpetrated in the area:-

Police warn residents to be wary of card scam.
Bromley Police are reissuing their warning about a scam in which fraudsters use false pretences to try and get people's bank cards, after 25 attempts to perpetrate this scam across the borough in the last two weeks. The scam works by the victim initially receiving a phone call, or number of phone calls, from someone claiming to be from their bank or credit card supplier. The caller obtains personal details from the victim before advising them that they need a new card and telling them that a courier will visit them shortly to collect their old card. A person, dressed to look like a courier, then arrives at the door to take the card. A spokesman for Bromley Police said: it is important that residents are aware of the tactics used by con-artists. Never-ever disclose your bank details to anyone cold calling. Banks will never call you asking for personal or account information as they already have these details, and neither will the Police. If there was a problem with your card and it needed to be replaced the bank would write to you advising you to cut the card up. You should never give out bank details or other personal information over the phone, whatever the reason behind the request".

For more information on safety and security in and around Erith, visit the Erith Watch website here.

On Friday I had to visit the London Probate Registry in High Holborn with my Mother in order to get probate granted on my Dad's will. We had to wait around for a while, though, to be fair, we did arrive rather on the early side. We spent about half an hour waiting for our interview. In this time I was able to study the place and the people who worked there. The results were not good; all of the tired civil service stereotypes were there. Without exception, all of the male staff wore old and ill fitting shiny suits, accompanied by worn and dirty shoes; they all looked like they still lived with Mum and she also cut their hair. One chap shambled around the waiting area, looking for people who had missed their appointments - he was straight out of central casting when they are looking for a "drip". He probably went electricity pylon spotting in his spare time. The women appeared (with one exception) to be ancient to the point of decrepitude, and dressed courtesy of a long deceased catalogue that specialised in something akin to hessian sacking. No matter I thought, as I repaired to the gents just prior to the interview. I was shocked when I found the loos looked like they had not been cleaned for at least a week; the cubicle I used had a toilet which had more skidmarks than the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. When I washed my hands the "hot' water wasn't, and the cold did not work at all. The electric hand dryer was pathetic - it had less blow than an asthmatic budgie. The building itself was ugly on the outside (see the photo above), and neglected on the inside - it appeared not to have seen a lick of paint since around 1974. The only modern and efficient area was the private security who frisked all visitors and X-rayed their hand luggage, looking for weapons. I set the scanner off when I walked through its' arch. A lady, somewhat reminiscent of a rather less charmless Rosa Klebb then checked me with a hand held metal detector - who told me I was clear - she was puzzled as to what had set the alarm off. I did not point out that she had ignored the steel toecaps of my size 12 boots.

I have found an interesting website which has a number of archived newsreels on Erith, including a collision between two ships on the Thames at Erith in 1948, and the 1965 bye election in Erith and Northumberland Heath. You can visit the Pathe Newsreel archive on Erith here.

The video this week is a bit of an oddity; it shows an amateur theatre group putting on a musical version of Aliens on ice. Quite. Thanks to Ian for sharing this with me. I think.

1 comment: