Sunday, January 01, 2012

Cows in Quilts.

Erith Pier looking uncharacteristically quiet and empty recently. The place is usually busier, with anglers and walkers out for the view and the fresh (ish) river air. The holiday season has meant that the whole area has been somewhat quieter than normal, which I suppose is actually no bad thing. As I have previously noted, as well as Christmas decorations on the exterior of local houses being a lot more discreet and subtle than in years of yore, I have also noticed the total lack of carol singers - not in the sense of proper choirs raising money for good causes in shopping centres and the like, but in the sense of the handful of local kids knocking on doors and waiting for the householder to answer before launching into a ragged couple of lines from "We wish you a merry Christmas" (which is all they know) and expecting a cash hand out. This is something I am glad to see ending; not only was it an annoyance for the householders, but potentially dangerous for the children. Not all traditions are good. 

I am a great enthusiast for the recycling centre in Morrison's car park. It is so close to Pewty Acres that it is very convenient to take my glass, plastic, card and tin cans round there every couple of days - it saves having unsightly and smelly bins in the front garden, and mystifies the dustbin men, who know that somebody is living at the address, but that there is never any rubbish left out for them. The facilities at the recycling centre are regularly emptied, and the whole place seems to tick over quite nicely.  The problems stem from visitors misusing the facility, and dumping stuff on the ground next to the recycling hoppers. It seems to me that some people go to some extensive effort to take their recycling materials to the facility, then just dump their bags on the ground. Bearing in mind about 90% of the exertion would have been in getting the stuff there in the first place, how much more difficult can it be to drop your bottles and cans through the correct hole? It just does not make any sense to me. The only time when I can fully understand it is when large cardboard boxes, such as those used to protect TV's and HiFi's in transit need to be responsibly disposed of. The card and paper hopper has a very narrow door, and it requires extensive box crushing and ripping up to get anything into it. A good analogy is that using the card hopper to deposit a large box is like feeding a plasma TV crate through a letter box. It can be done, but it is time consuming and difficult. A better way of recycling large objects would seem to be need to be found; post Christmas, the pile of large boxes adjacent to the recycling point was threatening to show up on Google Maps if it stayed there any length of time. 

One of the favourite festive nibbles / accompaniments to a main meal that is often enjoyed during the festive season are pigs in blankets - small chipolata sausages, wrapped in bacon and roasted. unfortunately, me being pork intolerant they are a dish I am forced to steer clear of - as any consumption of pig related products results in me needing to fit a seat belt to the toilet. What this does mean is that I have to get creative with alternatives. On Christmas evening I invented "Cows in Quilts" - Kosher cooked smoked beef and turkey sausages (courtesy of Canary Wharf Waitrose), liberally smeared with Dijon mustard and then wrapped with thinly sliced peppered Pastrami - delicious; you should give them a try. 

I have recently complained to the Highways Department of Bexley Council about the dreadful condition of several roads in and around Erith. One of the worst cases is in Manor Road, heading east from the town centre towards Slade Green. The road surface was only relaid at the end of May 2009 (See the photos I took of the road works by clicking here), and it began deteriorating within a year. Parts of the road, by the 99 bus stops are now little more than bituminous rubble. I think most of the problem with this specific road is that the surface laid was partially experimental - it was designed to reduce the amount of road rumble and traffic noise experienced by local residents. The road resurfacing closely coincided with the change of bus route going along Manor Road. For 21 years, the single deck 469 was run on the route along Manor Road, between Erith and Bexleyheath. In January 2009 this was changed for the double deck (and much heavier) route 99 between Woolwich and Bexleyheath via Erith. I don't think the structural engineers that designed the road took this, or the huge amount of HGV traffic on the road into account when they set up the mechanical specifications for the road surface, or its' underlying layers. We are now suffering as a result. 

The film clip above is a real curiosity, and a glimpse of history as it was being made. The piece is the very first CGI 3D visual rendering ever made; it is 40 years old. It was made by an American chap called Ed Catmull, who later went on to form Pixar, and a chap called Fred Parke. They created at the University of Utah in 1972, where they were both studying computer science. During the film, which also shows how the animation was made, there is a section showing a CGI version of a human face; apparently each single black and white video frame took the $400,000 mainframe computer two and a half minutes to render to the screen. When you think a modern video game console can render 1080p HD colour content in real time at around sixty frames per second, it just goes to show how far we have already come in what is only a couple of generations. You can read more about the film, and the people behind it by clicking here

I have had some very positive feedback in respect of the coverage of the history of Erith and the surrounding areas that I have been recounting on an irregular basis over the last few months. More will be forthcoming, beginning with the story of how electricity came to Erith. The supply of electricity began as a municipal service with the signing of the Erith Electric Lighting Order of 1899. The undertaking was run by the Erith Electric Lighting and Tramways Committee (my goodness, they liked their titles back then!) The power station for the venture was built in Walnut Tree Road (where a large substation exists to this day). The supply of electricity began on the 12th January 1903. All current for the town was generated at this station until 1922, when part of the supply was then obtained from Woolwich Power Station; by 1927 the Walnut Tree Road power station was deemed surplus to requirements, and all power was generated at Woolwich. Not long after the start of generation in 1903, a project started to convert the little street lighting that then existed in Erith from gas to electricity. The first roads in the area to get electric street lights were Erith High Street, Bexley Road, then two in Belvedere - Albert Road, adjacent to Nuxley Road (though at the time it was somewhat confusingly named Bexley Road). The only other road in the area that was fitted with electric lights was Station Road in Lower Belvedere, coincidentally still the site of a particularly large electricity substation to this day. Despite electrification, and probably due to the high levels of poverty in the area, the domestic use of electricity was extremely low for many years. When the supply began, the population of Erith was approximately 25,000 people. In 1903, the first year of supply, only 189 private electricity customers were registered. The number took until 1911 to reach one thousand, and until 1926 to reach two thousand. The number only started to dramatically increase when the relative cost of electricity began to fall, and as new housing estates were built both in Erith and Northumberland Heath. The new houses were fitted with electric lights and sockets as standard, so the new power source suddenly gained in popularity.

Now is a bad time to be an arachnophobe in the London Borough of Bexley. It was recently announced by  local spider expert Lewis Curran, member of the Natural History Museum's bug forum said that changes in weather patterns have meant that the previously very rare Steatoda Nobilis spider - the False Widow, so called as it bears some resemblance to the deadly Black Widow, is now being found all over Bexley Borough. Whilst not fatal, its' bite can cause allergic reactions in the vulnerable. You can read more about the creatures and how to avoid being bitten by them on the News Shopper website here.

The festive season is one of the best times of the year to listen to pirate radio, especially on short wave. There are numerous stations of varying degrees of professionalism and transmitter power, dotted all over Europe and beyond. There are a number of excellent websites which give up to date information as to what stations are on what frequency and when. The two best, in my opinion are Free Radio Reception and the superbly up to date Shortwave DX Blog. The biggest, most professionally operated and most slick station on clandestine shortwave is undoubtedly the excellent Laser Hot Hits. They are on air 24/7 on two separate shortwave frequencies (currently 4.015 and 6.970 MHz - though in South East London, 4.015 seems to be the stronger signal). You can also listen to them streaming online via their website by clicking here. Do give them a try, they are really jolly good. I got a reception report verification (commonly called a QSL card) from them yesterday - you can click on the image below for a more detailed view.

The Bexley Times are reporting that one of the prototype new Routemaster replacement London Double Decker buses will be on public view on Wednesday morning in Bexleyheath Broadway. It will be open to public view from 9am until midday. The buses are due to go into public service beginning in February, though not initially anywhere in the local area. You can read more about the buses by clicking here.

The award winning Europa Gym will be moving from its' old HQ in Fraser Road to its' new purpose built facility in Maiden Lane, Crayford in phases, beginning on Tuesday 3rd January. You can read all about it on the News Shopper website here

Season three of E4 sci fi thriller comedy show Misfits has just been released as a DVD boxed set. If you were not already aware, the show is filmed in and around Thamesmead, principally on the Tavy Bridge area. I understand that the programme is set in the same dystopian universe that The Clockwork Orange was made, which coincidentally was filmed in Thamesmead when it was brand new and shiny. I must admit that the plot of Misfits - a bunch of chavs on community service who mysteriously all get super powers - is a great idea for a comedy drama. The problem I have with the show is the suspension of disbelief. For me it constantly "breaks the fourth wall" as I constantly think - "I know where they filmed that bit" and so on. Nevertheless the show has been picked up in the USA for a remake. For some reason the Americans have to remake our shows with their own actors - something that has long annoyed me; we take no end of American shows and don't immediately think "this would be better with a bunch of ex - Eastenders actors in it". Recently, the utterly superb Life On Mars was remade for the US audience and it tanked - killed after one season. Top Gear has been remade with American presenters, and event the Americans think it is crap compared to the real thing The same thing happened to the Russian version of the show - viewers complained and asked for the British original to be screened instead. The list goes on, but I won't - I don't want to bore you any more than usual. Why the Americans just cannot watch the original UK version of decent shows astonishes me. The next thing we will hear is that they want to Americanise Sherlock. If you have any insight into this phenomenon, please let me know. I don't think that the old chestnut that Americans cannot understand non American accents can hold much water nowadays, thought I am open to persuasion. 

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