Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rapier in Oxleas Woods.

The refurbishment of Pewty Acres has started in a serious way. The photo above shows the state of my kitchen at 3pm on Thursday afternoon. What was meant to be a relatively minor bit of damp proofing and re - plastering, prior to the installation of a complete new kitchen took on a more worrying aspect. When the workers from Swiftcure removed the existing plaster, they found that the wall under the window at the far end of the kitchen that faces the garden (see the photo above - click for a larger view) was completely rotten - the bricks were full of water and were rapidly turning into sand; there was also a massive hole which had been plugged at some time in the past by an unknown bodger with a couple of pounds of Polyfiller. The old, rotten plaster was literally holding the wall together. When the plaster was removed, the wall, weakened, started bowing outwards under the weight of the double glazing. The workers phoned back to their HQ in Upper Belvedere, and within around twenty minutes their surveyor arrived on site. After much frowning and sucking of teeth, he said "it does not look good; we are going to have to get this fixed quickly". True to his word, he went back to the office, put together a remedial package, agreed the additional cost with me and got the workers under way in less than forty minutes. The section of wall under the window was laboriously replaced, brick by brick - taking too many away would have caused the wall to have collapsed, possibly taking the one year old double glazed window with it. The original work was scheduled to take a single day; with the increased scope, it will now be completed on Monday. I am without washing machine or main cooker for the weekend, though the old sink and taps have been temporarily reinstated so that I can wash up and fill the kettle. I can strongly recommend Swiftcure - their services are excellent, their staff work to a very high standard and their rates are reasonably priced.

A rather surreal row seems to have broken out, seemingly begun by Eltham based MP Clive Efford. It would appear that his nose has (rightly or wrongly, I don't know) been put out by a plan for the Army to site Rapier anti aircraft batteries in Oxleas Woods, on Shooters Hill, during the Olympic Games. The idea is to protect London against attack by a terrorist piloted aircraft during the Olympics. You can read the details here. It would not be the first time that the Royal Artillery have protected London from the local area; I recall back in 2006 when my Dad spent some time in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, there was a Rapier battery on Woolwich common for the best part of two weeks. I have a contact well placed to know about such things, and he confirmed they were there for real - it was not a training exercise. Fortunately nothing came of the matter, and they were able to pack up and go home (back then, only a trip of a few hundred yards, as at that time the air defence battery was based in Woolwich, though sadly now no longer). Siting the missiles in Oxleas Wood, adjacent to the Oxleas Wood Cafe would have a number of strategic and material advantages. As can be seen from the photo above, which I took a couple of years ago, the area is the highest vantage point in Greater London, with a clear line of sight view of a huge area; it also has excellent UHF, VHF and HF radio coverage; an added bonus is that the Army Catering Corps would not need to be deployed to feed the troops manning the rocket batteries - the adjacent cafe does an excellent selection of hot and cold food, sandwiches and drinks. Click here to see a photo of the building. I am sure that they could keep the troops fuelled with bacon sarnies and cups of tea at a far more reasonable cost to the tax payer than the Army could manage. To my mind, the whole situation is a win / win one. What do you think? Please leave a comment below.

I have come across a local band that I rather like - being a sucker for Progressive Rock does not help; here is a track from the second album from Woolwich based Prog Rock combo Konchordat. They have received absolutely excellent reviews in Classic Rock Magazine, and have been featured recently on Planet Rock radio. Here is a video of their track "Scars Inside" - made by local video production collective "ReVco Productions" - watch and feel free to comment.

I read with interest on Malcolm Knight's Bexley is Bonkers website about the appeal against the refusal to grant planning permission to Asda to build a supermarket to share the current B and Q superstore site in Lower Belvedere. Malcolm attended the council meeting, and reported accordingly. The councillor's vote was close, but in the end they voted 6 to 4 in favour of allowing Asda to open after all. From what Malcolm writes, there were as many local residents in favour of the supermarket as against, and in general they were better informed and motivated. I can sympathise with both sides in the debate; I think the anti camp had their argument weakened by the fact that some of the leading figures in their campaign had vested financial interests in the outcome. I visited the shop owned by one of the leading anti Asda campaigners last Saturday - I can see why he's anti any competition - his shop is over priced and under stocked - it only stays in business as locals have no alternative. Market forces will dictate that either he will improve his services to compete, or deservedly go under. The consumer wins either way.

Hall Place has to be one of the most historic and picturesque locations in the whole of Bexley Borough. The main building dates back to 1537, when it was built for a wealthy business man and former Lord Mayor of London, Sir John Champneys. In rather more recent times, during the Second World War, it was home to many American service personnel, some of whom worked for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services – the predecessor to the CIA) who used it as a base to train agents to be dropped into occupied Europe. Ian Fleming was based at Hall Place for a period when he was acting as an intelligence liaison officer; it is thought that some of the roots to the James Bond novels may have started whilst he was stationed there. In addition to the OSS, there was also a “Y” radio intercept station, code named “Santa Fe”. The grounds were filled by antenna towers and long wire aerials, feeding then state of the art H.F receivers located in the main building, staffed by members of the U.S Army 6811th Signals Intelligence unit. These powerful RCA AR-88 receivers were used to intercept German radio traffic, including both Enigma and Lorenz ciphers. The encrypted signals were then passed by secure telephone lines up to Bletchley Park for decryption. The interception of weak and sometimes garbled signals made for very strenuous work; operators would spend eight hour shifts listening intently via headphones; any missed digits might make the message indecipherable, and possibly leading to lost lives – operator would often end their mammoth listening session with shaking hands and bloodshot eyes. The Great Hall and Tudor Kitchen housed the set room and cryptographers work rooms, some of the men’s billets were up in the Great Chamber and the Parlour was used as a mess room. The roof was stringed with radio wires and outbuildings were erected in the gardens. The GI’s made an impression on the neighbourhood, attending dances at the Black Prince, and playing softball on the Hall Place lawns. Some observers noted  said that to their knowledge none of the local’s ‘ever inquired what we were up to at Hall Place.’ It was one of the only intercept stations that was permitted a copy of the “Elephant Book” – a painstaking compiled list of German military call signs from previous, decrypted messages. This gave an indication of just how important the stately home and its’ contribution to the war effort was. Today the historic building and its’ formal gardens are open to the public, and the main building is available for hire for special occasions. The whole place has recently been sympathetically refurbished at huge cost. This has brought about something new – an admission charge to the main house. At £20 for a family of four, it does sound a bit on the steep side, but the upside is the charge is for an annual season ticket, so one fee covers potentially multiple visits. The gardens are still free, and these alone are more than worthy of a visit.

A lot of people think that Space Invaders was the original coin operated video game to be a massive hit; whilst Space Invaders and also Pac Man were indeed massive hits, they were not released until several years later. The first and original arcade video game, which caused the founding of seminal 80's video game and computer giant Atari to be formed, was the original game of Pong. Pong is now 40 years old, having been released in March 1972; it was so successful as an arcade game, Atari realised that they could make a fortune if they released a version that could hook up to a home television - and thus the home gaming industry was also started. You can read more about the birth of Pong by clicking here. Nolan Bushnell, the man behind Atari in the same way as the late Steve Jobs personified Apple, has issued a challenge, as reported last week in the Register - "Atari founder Nolan Bushnell will judge entrants in a $100,000 competition to bring iconic bat and ball game Pong to Apple iGadgets. Forty years after he scored his first hit with the arcade version of Pong, Bushnell will help oversee the Pong Indie Developer Challenge to “re-imagine” the primitive game for iPhones, iPods and iPads. A number of Pong-like games are available from the App Store - but none have been blessed by Atari. It was the combination of Bushnell's entrepreneurial flair, and Al Alcorn's engineering brainpower that led to the production of the world’s first successful computer arcade game in 1972. They followed that smash hit with the first successful home console game, also Pong. The winner of Atari's competition could see their game appear in Apple’s App Store under the official Atari brand, a “long-term” publishing agreement with the company that’ll include development and creative resources, plus marketing support, and a chance to win up to $100,000. Bushnell will be joined by members of the Atari management team and freelance journalist Mike Schramm. Atari fans also get the chance to vote." You can read more about the Pong challenge by clicking here.

I have a bit of an apology to make; I know that some of you have recently been receiving spam Emails purporting to come from my Email account; I have even had a couple of people contact me saying "I think that your Email has been hacked". Well, it hasn't. What has happened is that some scumbag is spoofing my account, making it seem that spam messages are coming from my BT account when in fact they are coming  from elsewhere. I have spoken to BT, who, it has to be said are keen to prevent it happening. I have done some forensics into the spoofed messages and to be honest the spoofer is not that bright. I don't want to go into too many specifics, as for all I know the person is reading the Maggot Sandwich. Suffice to say the spoofer is using Outlook Express on Windows XP, and shows a Spanish I.P address of a well known criminal spammer. Suffice to say, I don't own a computer running Windows, Outlook Express does not run on anything other than Windows, and I have never been to Spain. I am not going to take any action at this point - my ISP is aware of the spoofing, and I pay them good money to sort this kind of thing out. Should they not succeed, then an ideal vector for me to have a little look around the spoofers' system will be my forthcoming Raspberry Pi. I don't think that there is going to be any malware aimed at Linux on ARM architecture for quite a while. Incidentally the initial tranche of Raspberry Pi computers has been delayed - through either incompetence, or corruption at the factory in China. The charitable organisation, the Raspberry Pi Foundation set a very precise hardware specification for the device; the factory cut corners and, rather than using the high quality, surge protected RG45 network port that was specified, they used a cheap and nasty alternative which would save money on production costs. If the Raspberry Pi with the cheap port was plugged into a router with an unstabilised power supply, there would have been a fair chance the whole computer mother board could have fried. The initial 10,000 unit run has been recalled for the network port to be swapped with the correct, stabilised model as per the original specification. I think the fabricator was trying to make a crafty buck at the expense of the reputation of the Raspberry Pi Foundation - fortunately they were caught out.

The closing video this week is the latest Simon's Cat cartoon. As always, it is very true to life and funny. Drop me a line by clicking on the comments option below.


  1. We go to Hall Place Gardens a couple of times a month as they are such a nice and rare outdoor space in the borough. I often prefer to walk round the gardens and admire the architecture of a building rather than go inside and look at numerous family portraits and vases. Hall Place offers a peaceful setting for a walk or a picnic and the ducks are a good distraction for toddlers and children. I cannot wait for their rose garden and the Wisteria to come into bloom!

  2. What did your dad do to justify the deployment of a rapier missile battery nearby?

  3. asda supermarket has got the go ahead to go into B&Q ive no you have mentioned asda. in privous blogs. i bet it wont be long now till its ready.