Sunday, April 01, 2012

Link rot.

The photo above was taken by me on Friday; it shows the extension to the London bound platform at Erith Station. The work has been taking far longer than it should - a job that should have been completed in a few weeks has dragged out over many months. Finally it is nearing completion. You can see more photos of Erith Station, along with many others taken in and around the Erith area by clicking here for my Flickr Photostream. Coincidentally, The News Shopper have been quite vocal, featuring a story claiming that Southeastern Trains are the least popular train operator in the country. You can read the story here. The problem with this statement is that it is not scientific – very few travellers will have used more than a handful of the train operators, and thus won’t have an accurate view on which to base an opinion. My own view on Southeastern is a bit mixed – I travel by Southeastern trains almost every day; I have to say that overall they are not that bad – and certainly better than the old Connex, who were shockingly bad. The fact that they have increased the number of trains on the line so that we now have a train in each direction every ten minutes is good. The problems seem to come with the fact that the trains are often very short – usually four or five carriages, which is not a problem mid morning or at weekends, but can be an utter nightmare on weekday mornings when heading London bound – the train gets as far as Abbey Wood and all the seats are taken; all passengers further up the line are crammed in. I usually get off the train at Greenwich in order to pick up the DLR to Canary Wharf, and it can be a struggle to get off the train – the crowding is so intense. I see some cautious signs for optimism; the much vaunted platform extensions along the Dartford to Charing Cross / Cannon Street line via Greenwich are (very slowly indeed) coming to fruition. There would appear to be no point in extending the platforms if longer trains were not planned to utilise them. I am hoping that any extended trains are not used just for the period of the Olympic Games – when many London based workers will be unable to use them anyway. I understand one of the main factors on keeping trains short is that they consume a smaller amount of traction current – and thus it keeps the electricity bill down. There is also a finite limit to the length of trains relating to the distance between the rail points. Nevertheless I cannot see why an average train length of, say eight carriages could not be the norm. Comments from transport enthusiasts (I am thinking of you, Justin and Steve!) are especially welcome.

I had quite a bit of interest in my piece from last weeks’ Maggot Sandwich concerning the revamped Erith Morrison’s. I know several people on the management team read my musings on the new look supermarket. I was actually expecting a bit more in the way of feedback. Now that the place has been open for over a week, I have noticed a few features and idiosyncrasies that for me stand out. You may recall that the Peacocks clothing shop chain went bust a while back; ever wondered what happened to their stock? Morrison’s bought it, and are currently offering clothing for sale in their larger stores. The fact the stuff is ex Peacocks is not exactly hidden – the hangers the clothes are displayed on all have Peacocks logos on them – a bit of a giveaway. Another change is that now there is a bespoke pizza bar – a worker will make up a pizza from a range of ingredients selected by the customer. The bar has a range of pre – made pizzas on display to purchase if you are in a hurry, or don’t fancy a custom one. I noticed with utter revulsion that they do a sweet pizza – instead of a cheese base, it has some kind of sugar / white custard icing, and in place of vegetables and meat it has a selection of sweets pushed into the dough. This strikes me as wrong on so many levels. The thought of it completely revolts me, and makes my teeth curl. Who would want to eat such a monstrosity? I am sure there will be customers for it, but you can most definitely count me out.

Northumberland Heath based independent, family owned local electrical retailer Wellingtons are celebrating their 114th anniversary over the next couple of weeks. Their newly refurbished store at 210 - 214 Bexley Road, Northumberland Heath re - opens on Friday 6th April at 10am. They have a whole load of special deals and a very interesting prize draw to celebrate their refurbishment. On top of this, celebrity chef and professional Yorkshireman Brian Turner CBE will be in the store all day on Thursday April 12th running a series of cooking demonstrations and preparing food to give away to store visitors. You can check out the Wellingtons store website by clicking here.

Fellow local blogger and “proper” journalist Darryl, of the excellent 853 blog has uncovered something semi hidden away in Boris’s manifesto to be re – elected as London mayor. Darryl writes” there’s a line in it which went largely unnoticed which could have profound effects in Woolwich. “I will launch a new car ferry service from Thamesmead to Gallions Reach, to replace the ageing Woolwich ferry.” That’s the first confirmation that the mayor’s planned ferry – overshadowed by the Slivertown tunnel kerfuffle – would replace the Woolwich Ferry, whose three vessels were launched nearly 50 years ago. I’ve gone on about the joys of the ferry before, but it’s very hard to imagine Woolwich without a crossing which has existed in various forms for hundreds of years.” Darryl is very good at uncovering stories that get overlooked or ignored by the local press, and has scooped stories that have later been covered by the London Evening Standard. The loss of the Woolwich Ferry would be a profound one, and not something I think that would win Boris the mop haired buffoon many local votes. Boris does not really appear to understand outer London, although he makes token visits when a suitable photo opportunity appears. The thing is, the Woolwich Ferry links the North and South circular roads, and acts as an alternative to the (justly) much maligned Blackwall Tunnel. The fact that Boris wants to establish a new ferry service between Thamesmead and Gallions Reach lacks a degree of logic; the new ferry would be replacing the scrapped Thames Gateway bridge – the problem is that the Thamesmead side of the crossing is located in a quiet residential area; a sudden increase in both traffic volume and the appearance of many heavy goods vehicles in what has historically been a rather sleepy part of the Thamesmead development, close to the Gallions View Nursing Home – where my Dad lived for over six years. There has been a ferry service at Woolwich for hundreds of years – for good reason; one is needed. I recall as a child, getting the 99 bus to Woolwich during school holidays, going down to the ferry and riding backwards and forwards for what seemed like hours. I think this is a pretty much shared memory for many people who grew up in the local area. I also wonder what transport companies would say about such a move – I would say that two thirds or ferry users are commercial vehicles. Having to drive a couple of miles further out of London is not going to be popular with them from both a time and fuel consumption viewpoint. Your thoughts on this are welcomed – just click on the “Comments” link below.

The Maggot Sandwich has now been online since July 2006. If you click on the drop down menu produced by the “Blog Archive” button to the lower right of this text, you will see a whole list of previous postings. There are a total of 376 individual blog updates; an average of one per week. I have been going through some of these old articles and have noticed that there are some missing images and broken links. Bearing in mind the age of the articles in question, it is not surprising there is a degree of link rot”. Images I have embedded from links to other web sites, and links to articles posted online are now sometimes broken, or actually lead somewhere completely different to what I intended. Blogger is not really equipped to monitor and prevent link rot, unlike Word Press, which is designed to always use canonical URL’s. Apologies if you surf around the history of the Maggot Sandwich and discover a faulty posting. To be honest it is now such a huge body of text that it has become practically unfeasible for me to police the content and stop things breaking. This is also one of the reasons that I have not updated the theme I use. If I update the theme, I will find every image on the website shifting to the left of centre. The reason for this is that the theme has a bug; when you embed an image, it appears to the right of centre by a few pixels. I have for ages manually edited the HTML script underlying the page to hack the image back to the centre – I have been doing this for so long that I now barely think about it. Any changes to the theme will correct the bug, and I will have nearly a thousand photos all appearing out of place. In theory I could edit the text an HTML editor, using a search and replace script, but I am certain I would end up breaking things – my HTML skills are pretty limited – I know just enough to get myself into trouble, and not enough to get out of it. Blogger are updating their look and feel in April, so I may well have some changes imposed on me anyway.

Erith continues to be bombarded with promotional material from Virgin Media, who seem to be trying to corner the market in digital TV for those individuals who have not already made the switch away from the old analogue service, which is switched off in Erith next week - the 4th of April. I notice from the Digital UK website that they describe the need to upgrade in the following terms: TV is going digital. The existing analogue TV signal will be switched off and replaced with a new, stronger digital TV signal. It will mean that almost everyone will be able to receive digital TV through an aerial (Freeview). Digital TV also uses less broadcast space which means that after switchover, there will be more room for new services such as wireless broadband, local TV and High Definition Television (HDTV). To keep your TV service, you will need to convert your TVs to digital before your area’s switchover date”. Most of what is written above is correct; though one key point is in error. The digital TV signal is not always stronger than the outgoing analogue one. As with many things there are a lot of variables to take into account. What is true is that any digital signal degrades a lot less gracefully than an analogue one. With a degrading analogue signal, the picture will get increasingly grainy as the signal lowers towards the noise threshold – it is still watchable (as anyone who has used a set top antenna on a portable TV can attest). With digital, as the signal strength drops, the screen becomes pixellated and “blocky” as the error correction fails (a good example of this is any Sky channel when it rains heavily – the rain attenuates the microwave signal from the satellite). In essence digital transmission is “all or nothing” – either an excellent picture, or something totally unwatchable. Analogue signals degrade gracefully, digital signals do not.

In a somewhat related topic, I don’t know if you watched last Monday’s BBC Panorama” investigative documentary about the rise and fall of digital broadcaster and one time Sky TV rival ONDigital. The programme alleged that a hacker group was hired by a News International (owners of Sky) subsidiary in order to crack the encryption system used on the ONdigital decoder cards. Once the encryption key was discovered, the hacker group published it online, and thousands of fake decoder cards flooded the UK market, denying ONdigital income, and thus putting them out of business, leaving Sky TV as the dominant commercial broadcaster in the UK and Ireland.  It was a cracking story and made very good television. The trouble is, the story is not actually true. You can read a factual account of why ONdigital really failed by clicking here for the full story.

There has been quite a bit of hype in both the technical and the popular press around the launch of “Angry Birds – Space” with some rather breathless hacks claiming the game has been downloaded ten million times in a week since release. Whether this is an accurate figure or not is a moot point. I have downloaded the Apple Mac version from the Apple store, and have played the game. As many of you may know, I am not a gamer – I lack the dexterity or patience to get to grips with the more involved and absorbing games. In many ways I am the ideal customer for Angry Birds – you can dip in and out of it and just play in small bursts. What I discovered with “Space” is, that although the physics and strategy within the game have been updated, it is actually very easy. I completed all levels (albeit not with a full three stars on every one) in two days – a total playing time of not more that around four hours. This seems pretty poor value. I know that further levels are published on a fairly regular basis, but it does seem to me that if I, a rubbish game player can power through all levels in short time, then what satisfaction would a hardened gamer get? Talking of gaming, the press has been giving fairly high profile coverage to the story that the national retailer Game has gone into administration. Luckily (for the time being, at least) the two local stores at Bluewater and Bexleyheath are staying open. You can see a full list of the Game stores that have received a stay of execution by clicking here.

News reaches me that there is to be a remake of the classic TV comedy series "Yes Minister". To say that I am appalled is an understatement; this absolute classic series with its' superb writing, cutting satire and spot on performances cannot be emulated or bettered in my opinion. It is as relevant today as it was when the pilot episode was filmed during Margaret Thatcher's election back in 1979 - even then the pilot was withheld from transmission during the run up to the election on the grounds that the BBC feared that it could have influenced the result. You can read more about the new version here. I for one will not be watching it - my boxed set of the original "Yes Minister / Prime Minister" will get a re - watch instead.


  1. Seeing your post which mentioned the Morrisons refurb meant that it prompted us to visit last week - the first time in ages.

    I do applaud the variety of vegetables (as we already grow some of them - and are very casual about having them, I then noted the prices and thereafter insisted that every day we had something from the garden. My goodness, kale, broccoli or greens every day!).

    What I wasn't sure about in Morrisons was the effect of the vapourised chilled water spray. It certainly keeps the veg fresh and hydrated - but you have to dry them carefully when you get home as externally they start to discolour.

    I am not overkeen on Erith's Morrisons (Thamesmead seems to have better selection)- but if it was closer to us I daresay we would shop there. Most of our shopping is done at Sainsburys Crayford with a few bits at M & S and John Lewis if we are at Bluewater, but you do pay a premium and as times are getting harder for us personally I expect we will have to change our ways accordingly.'Cut the cloth according to our means'

    Often we use our little shop at the end of our road (higher prices; but convenient)- and someone will bring the food down to us if we are unable to go up to them.

    Growing up, we mainly used the CO-OP (for the Divi) but once again little shops were the places we used for odds and ends.

  2. Hi, Hugh,

    Whilst being absolutely flattered that I should be mentioned by name on your blog, I'm afraid I really can't help with the ins and outs of electric train operation, an are completely alien to me.

    On the plus side, herein lays the proof that I do actually read your blog each week!

    Best wishes,


  3. Link Rot?
    I thought you were going to admit you had some sort of Darkest Peru based groinal infection!
    I have to say apart from a couple of years in my 21 year (so far) working life I've never had to bother with trains but you raise an interesting point. The only time I really had to rely on them to get to work was for a year or so when I lived just outside Canterbury and worked in Maidstone but didn't drive. That was comparable to your daily trips to "Sunny Watford" as it was a 2 mile bike ride to the station, a train to Ashford, change at Ashford and a mile and a half walk from Maidstone Station to work for 8:30am start. The only plus point was I got really fit from the exercise and had to walk past the Bassets sweet factory and all its smells (there's nothing quite like walking through the smell of cooking Jelly Baby's so thick you could just open your mouth and chew) but I'm rambling, what I wanted to say is that I've just changed from bus to train as my main way of getting to work in the past couple of months and it's SOOooooo much quicker and easier so I'm obviously in the minority. No more waiting for 10/15/20/40 (record 65) minutes for a bus service that runs every 12. I have to say I only go 3 stops but a total journey time of 40 minutes has gone down to just under 20. Hell even the staff have been mostly nice. There's been a couple of really surly goits but overall very pleasant and helpful.

    I'm still not impressed with Morrison's refit.
    It's okay just dull. I'm not looking for a theme park-a-like refit in a supermarket but there seems to be a lot of ranges dropped and the whole prepared food section seems much bigger (suppose where the profits are). It's nice enough but…
    As for a sweet pizza I'm with you! Mind you I'm a terrible Pizza tradionalist and think chicken of any flavour or anything "BBQ" should be banned from pizza let alone a sweet version.

    I've never used Wellingtons but you got me thinking it's quite unusual that in the local area we have 2 relatively big independent Electrical retailers, the others being Davis and Sons. I think their more/mainly white goods but nice to have them even if I'm more likely to go to a big out-of-town Electrical Store if I was shopping for goods. Habit I suppose.

    So bouncing Boris wants to scrap the Woolwich Ferry?
    Any reason why? Yes it's old but how about replacing the boats? Surly cheaper than building a whole new infrastruce. I used to spend many a happy hour on them as a kid. I never got off at North Woolwich though as it had all the charm of Basra or Beirut.

    I'm GUTTED about the analogue signal being switched off. Have to say it's all for stupid reasons but Hey! I still have a working 1984 Sony Watchman that's now just a paperweight will I get compensation as it can't be made Digital friendly??!
    Actually rather coolly the last thing I watched on that was the last ever Pink Floyd gig at Live 8 with the full post Barret line up whilst I was in a tent in the wilds of Dorset.

  4. Good work on the updates on Erith station. The line was supposed to have 12 car length trains back in 1991 before privatisation killed it off so it's a long time coming.

    I wouldn't get too excited about regular full length trains though.
    This scheme is mainly so they can run fewer, but longer trains when London Bridge rebuilding begins and they have to close platforms.

    I'm not sure if it will be operational by the olympics. Depends if the upgrade to the electricity supply is done which is the big job.