Sunday, January 29, 2012

The SS Richard Montgomery.

I sneakily published the Maggot Sandwich early this week. The original version of this posting went up at 11am this morning, rather than at the usual 6pm (ish). I know a few regular readers caught onto this and had an early look. Sure to say, I have since made some alterations and updates. As you will see from the photo above, taken at around 4.45 this afternoon, two large Dutch bulk freighters were moored up on Erith Pier. The sea anglers had to cast around the two large ships. This weeks' entry has a distinct maritime feel - I do plan these things, though sometimes happenstance does assist.

I see that the newly formed Bexley Metal Theft Task Force already have their work cut out for them. The News Shopper have reported that thieving scrotes tried to steal telephone cable from an underground pipe located under the bridle way that separates Lesnes Abbey Woods from Kingswood Avenue in Belvedere. Around two thousand residents currently have no land line telephone because of the criminal actions of a couple of individuals. What is even more annoying, in many of these cable theft cases, the cable is fibre optic, rather than copper, and thus worth nothing to the criminals. The need for new laws covering scrap dealers (banning of cash transactions / traders having to register with a specific dealer – stuff I have outlined in the recent past) is becoming more pressing than ever. Update - since I typed this piece earlier, the Government have announced that they are banning the sale of scrap metal for cash, along with a number of other stringent measures aimed at combatting scrap metal theft. You can read all of the details by clicking here. Good news for us all, with the exception of the thieving criminal scumbags.

The News Shopper is also reporting that there is a strong chance that the Larner Road Estate in Erith is in line to be used as a location for a couple of Hollywood films, before it is demolished in 2013. I think that this announcement is a bit on the optimistic side; the reporter does put an interesting spin on the story - actually the main concrete part of it is that the estate has been placed on a register of potential movie locations. It will become less red - tape bound to film there as the flats get emptied as the residents get re - housed or sent to prison. It is probably the roughest estate in the whole of Bexley Borough, but still the home to some decent people who deserve to live somewhere other than what has become a hellhole of a sink estate.

One of my local sources informs me that the RAF flew Eurofighter Typhoons over Erith a number of times last Saturday night as part of the rehearsals for security cover during the forthcoming Olympics. It is a pity that they could not have used the opportunity to drop a few bombs in the direction of Potion Bar (which their ignorant website still refers to as laughably being in South West London - what a bunch of Muppets). The place continues to be a hive of scum and villainy, and seems to only be able to keep hold of its’ licence by the skin if its’ teeth. I sincerely hope that 2012 sees the reformation, or better still, the closure of the seedy and disreputable dive of a place.

There has been a lot of hot air and bluster from the groups both for and against the construction of a new airport in the South East, on the Thames corridor. A new (and somewhat novel) argument has been put up by the anti airport camp. They say that there is a danger that nearby aircraft could detonate the WW2 freighter, the SS Richard Montgomery, which sank in the Thames Estuary in 1944. The vessel is still to this day loaded with around 1,400 tons of rather unstable high explosives. According to a BBC news report in 1970,  it was determined that if the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery exploded, it would throw a 1,000-foot (300 m) wide column of water and debris nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 m) in the air and generate a wave 16 feet (5 m) high. Almost every window in Sheerness would be broken and buildings would be damaged by the blast. Back in the days when I was working for Radio Caroline, we would often make tender runs from Strood on the River Medway, out into the Southern North Sea, and the South Falls Head, where the Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge was moored, outside British territorial waters, and thus outside of the law. These trips were invariably made at the dead of night, navigating by radar and from navigational buoy to navigational buoy using good old fashioned charts and a compass. On one occasion I was at the wheel of the thirty foot fishing cruiser we were using as a covert supply vessel; we had to time our trips precisely; at that time, the Olau ferry company operated a couple of very large passenger ferries out of Sheerness. The skipper of the Olau Britannia was a great friend to Caroline, and would often go out of his way to help us. One way he gave us practical help was by allowing us to exit the Thames Estuary in the huge vessels’ radar shadow, thus hiding our activities from the authorities. I was concentrating on staying in formation with the giant car ferry, when I suddenly noticed a series of warning buoys dead ahead – I was steering the vessel straight into the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery! Needless to say, I came around hard to Starboard, to the consternation of the skipper and the rest of the crew, who were thrown around by my sudden course changes, and we narrowly avoided a collision. I reckon if we had have hit the wreck, we would probably have been the first fishing cruiser in orbit! More on Radio Caroline later, with a rare bit of vintage footage uncovered by Ian as the ending video this week.

I see that Bletchley Park, in conjunction with the post office are releasing a set of first day covers, commemorating what would have been Alan Turing’s 100th birthday. You can read more about the story here.

For years I have been wracking my brain, trying to recall the name of a children’s TV show that absolutely terrified me back in the day; it was a sci fi series set in contemporary times, rather bizarrely I found a reference to it in the current edition of Practical Classics car magazine earlier this week. The Changes posits a Britain where a sudden enveloping noise emanating from all machinery and technology causes the population to go berserk and destroy them. The resulting upheaval displaces many people and reverts society back to a pre-industrial age where there is a deep suspicion of anyone who may be harbouring machinery. Even the words for technology are taboo. The remnants of modern technology that escape destruction (such as electricity pylons) produce a physical and sometimes violent repulsion among those left in Britain. The Changes are seen through the eyes of teenage schoolgirl Nicky Gore, and the 10-part series, originally broadcast every Monday from 6 January to 10 March 1975, traces Nicky's quest to reunite with her parents and solve the mystery. The serial's theme echoes the adult drama series Survivors, in which a small group of British people attempt to survive the annihilation of the world's population by disease. Looking back on it, the show was not suitable for children under twelve or so. I recall it utterly scared the willies out of me for ages. The Changes has not been repeated on terrestrial TV, and apparently has only had one outing on UK Gold back in the mid nineties.

The excellent E-Shooters Hill blog has a bit of a scoop this week; they have discovered that the beautiful art deco Co-Op building in Woolwich (see the photo above) is being saved; it fell into dereliction some years ago, and has been threatened with demolition on several occasions. I heard an (unsubstantiated) rumour a couple of years’ ago that Bono (of popular beat combo U2)'s hotel company had made enquiries about obtaining the building, but that apparently no agreement could be reached with the owners. Now it is going to be sympathetically converted into a hotel. Just for once something good and constructive is happening in the local area. You can read all the details on E-Shooters Hill here. Thanks to Mike who kindly permitted me to use his photo of the Co-Op you can see above. You can see all of Mike's photos on his Flickr site here.

I don’t think that I am alone in being of the opinion that recorded sound quality nowadays is substantially poorer than of yore. Lossy compression formats like MP3, Ogg Vorbis and WMA don’t offer the rich audio experience of older, but superior formats. OK, the convenience and portability of digital music is a real bonus, but it is a shame that it comes at such a high cost in quality. Even lossless audio codecs like FLAC, whilst a great improvement in quality, do not approach the sound of the “real thing”.  I am not going to bang on about the benefits of one of the oldest recording formats – vinyl, as there are plenty of other places where this argument has been expounded. Needless to say, I would not be without my Linn Sondek LP12 turntable.

The current Vodafone TV advert has definitely got me riled. The commercial, set in a suburban sushi bar, shows a bloke with his significant other; he’s got a new mobile telephone and is showing it to his partner. She remonstrates with him, “you’re not going to transfer all your stuff from your old phone now are you?” Before he can respond, Yoda, who is conveniently sat next to them starts using the Force to levitate the phones – he’s going to the transfer the data for the bloke. There are so many things wrong with the commercial that is quite hard to know where to begin. For a start, what the hell is a fictional, dead Star Wars character, in Lucas’s own words from “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” be doing in what was meant to be in contemporary suburban southern Britain? On top of that, one shot shows Yoda sitting in front of a plate containing a piece of Salmon sushi. Anyone who has any knowledge of the Star Wars universe will know that Yoda was vegetarian. It seems that Lucasfilm are now plundering their coffers, selling the use of their characters to all and sundry, just so long as their pockets are deep enough. This follows the woeful Curry’s / PC World commercial starring Darth Vader back in last November. George Lucas owns the rights to the franchise, and if he thinks that raking in the cash by devaluing his creation is what he wants to do, it is entirely his right. I just don’t want to have to watch it. It is not long until he re-hashes the movies into 3D. I will be voting with my feet and staying away from their theatrical release.

This weeks' video is a bit of anorak gold; it shows the preparations for the first legal restricted service licence broadcast from the Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge, when she was moored at Dover Eastern dock in the spring of 1992. Only the previous year the ship had been forced to come in from the North Sea, and, whilst fundamentally still mechanically sound, it was looking rather shabby. The volunteer crew were hard at work repainting and refurbishing the vessel prior to the commencement of radio transmissions. If you look carefully at the fifteen minute uncommented film, you will see me (in a red baseball cap and green overalls at around 4 minutes 20 seconds into the clip), Colin (G3VTT) Turner (at the same time) with his trademark moustache, Bongo (in the mess room with the tabloid newspaper), Barry Lewis (next to him in the mess room, with the beard, looking as laid back as always). Little Steve (foul mouthed) Masters pops up from time to time. John the Paint is around, and his Ford Sierra XR4x4 can be seen parked on the jetty next to the ship. I have probably missed lots of people, but it does give you an idea of what was going on at the time. There was a real sense of purpose and community; something we don't see very much of nowadays. I have some very fond memories of the time.


  1. OMG! (To use the venacular!) Big glasses and a mullet. What was I thinking.

  2. It's not the art deco co-op that is to become a hotel, but the older Victorian building on the other side of the road.

    Sadly the other former co-op's fate is still to be determined I believe.

  3. Yes, fromthemurkydepths is right, I'm afraid. There were two co-op buildings in Powis Street - the Victorian/Edwardian one on one side and the art-deco on the other. The red-brick older building is being refurbished and converted into a Travel Lodge hotel. I haven't seen any firm plans for the tiled art deco building, and "suggestions" that it isn't to be demolished may be just wishful thinking.
    Sorry if I gave a misleading impression.

  4. Da-HARling!
    That was the height of Pirate Radio DJ chic in the mid-80's!'s that you say it was '92??!

    Larner Road as a film set? You sure it isn't a Life On Earth special?? Good idea whoever sorted that out. I read today the block used in the Sci-Fi film Attack The Bloc that's also due to be demolished has had the top 5 floors taken over by the BBC and its going to be their base/studio for the Olympics.

    I do wish to pick one hole in your Blog this week: "Almost every window in Sheerness would be broken.." too late. Most of them are!

    I must admit my level of audio hi-fidelity has dropped markedly over the past 10 years. Now I almost exclusively listen to DAB radio (which is compressed) through a little Mini-HiFi in the kitchen or use my iPod. In fact one station FUN KIDS that the Mini-ReV's listen to is mono and so compressed it verges on buzzy (good station though, a rare thing as their a commercial station that play kid friendly music and stories almost advertising free).
    I often notice that the music sometimes seems…flat but the upside is I now listen to more new music than I've ever been able to do. I also record (as an MP3) radio programmes from iPlayer and to be honest I dial the quality down 90% of the time just so I can fit more on my iPod which means I'm probably only just beating AM in audio quality! But again I listen to 5/6 hours of radio drama, documentary, comedy etc a week something I never could have done in the past.
    It's swings and roundabouts I suppose!

    Now I know my sci-fi but The Changes is a new one on me.
    I do remember hearing about a show with that premise but obviously never seen it. Survivors? God that was bleak. I've only ever seen a couple of episodes (which mostly seemed to be about farming methods as far as I can remember like a post-apocalyptic Archers) but I made an effort to watch the re-make from a couple of years ago but that was dire. Everyone was clean and relatively well groomed and the abandoned towns and cities just looked like they'd been filmed early in the morning and of course everybody was jumping into bed with everyone else.
    Agree with you about the use of Yoda in the Vodaphone ad. Although can you not be vegetarian AND eat fish? I'm 100% omnivore so don't know but I know if you’re a Vagatarian you can eat something fishy…no, never mind!
    Moving swiftly on!

  5. My own dreaded children's television programme of the 70's was set in a bare house surrounded by grass and large stones that gradually moved towards the house, threatening the two children inside. I can't remember the name of it, but it was very scary and depressing - what wierdo commissioned a bleak psychological drama for children's TV - he must have been Norwegian.

    Your enthusiasm for star wars reminds me of the geeks in that excellent tv comedy the big bang theory! I wonder if american christians condemn the theme song for that programme?

    I love vinyl and have over a thousand albums but never listen to it - and MP3 is so flat. They lie unused in my living room, and my daughter is looking forward to selling them when I cop it. I used to prefer live records on vinyl too, with all the live recording distortions which make the sound so alive and exciting.

  6. when is the travel lodge going down to woolwich? things must be picking up there for travel lodge to be going there.

    send my regards to colin turner.

  7. Maybe there's more hope for the Art Deco Co-op in Woolwich than I feared - the draft Masterplan for Woolwich Town Centre says of the Co-op:
    This important historic building should be converted to high specification residential development, with complementary, active uses on the ground floor. Smaller scale retail, caf├ęs and restaurants are appropriate towards this end of the town centre, as the nature of the town centre gradually changes from the retail core, to what is the retail fringe, with a wider range of uses including leisure, community and culture.

    I've put the links in my blog post

  8. It will be 71 years since the SS Richard Montgomery sank off sheerness on 20 august 2015.
    The wreck is safe to clear but not to leave beginning to break up becoming more dangerous every day.
    Could this be the reason nobody has done anything about it. Only a matter of time.

    The normalcy bias, or normality bias, refers to a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and its possible effects. This may result in situations where people fail to adequately prepare for a disaster, and on a larger scale, the failure of governments to include the populace in its disaster preparations.
    “The assumption that is made in the case of the normalcy bias is that since a disaster never has occurred then it never will occur. It can result in the inability of people to cope with a disaster once it occurs. People with a normalcy bias have difficulties reacting to something they have not experienced before. People also tend to interpret warnings in the most optimistic way possible, seizing on any ambiguities to infer a less serious situation.