Sunday, May 06, 2012

Then and now.

The photo above shows one of the Traveller Cob ponies that are now living on the piece of enclosed waste land behind Morrison's in Erith; I wrote about them in last week's Maggot Sandwich update, and had hoped to include a couple of photographs. Unfortunately the weather was so inclement, every time I planned to take my Nikon camera around to the ponies, the heavens opened. Even on Sunday afternoon, as my normal deadline for the new edition going live approached, the weather did not let up. As I have said before, many locals feed the ponies, and lots of small children visit them on a regular basis. Whilst travellers would appear to be squatting the ponies on the land, I am led to believe that it is not actually illegal. As long as the animals are properly fed and watered and not in any way mistreated, there is nothing that the RSPCA or local Police can do. The Erith Safer Neighbourhoods Police team are indeed fully aware of the presence of the equine residents, and keep a regular eye on them for safeties' sake. Below you will see the other chocolate brown pony, which was somewhat more elusive than its' piebald companion pictured above.

Monday morning was not exactly a pile of fun; I normally aim to be in the office in Canary Wharf at a few minutes before 8am. This enables me to carry out a few routine tasks when not too many staff are around and getting under my feet. This time I was at Erith station in good time, admiring the new lights that have been installed on the extended platforms – still no sign of the longer platforms opening though. As I waited for my train, the fast service from Gillingham to Cannon Street came through. I immediately noted a strong smell, similar to overcooked car brake pads, but stronger. There was a thin haze of smoke coming from the traction units underneath the train. Then it was gone. To be honest I was more interested in the contents the The Times and gave the incident no further thought. When my slow train arrived, I dutifully got on and found a seat; the train then made its’ way to Belvedere. Once it arrived, things started to get interesting. The train stayed on the platform at Belvedere station for a period of time, when the driver came on the PA to say that we would not be moving for a while, as there was a fire on the train in front! After about twenty minutes of inaction, the train trundled at very little more than walking pace towards Abbey Wood, where a very large number of disgruntled passengers got on. The train then ambled about half way to Plumstead, where I could see a fire crew looking at the underside of the offending train, which by this time has been manoeuvred into the sidings and the occupants evacuated. There was still some smoke coming from the traction unit, but it did not look quite as dramatic as I had anticipated. Nevertheless the fun and games made a lot of people late for work; I think the most important thing was that the whole incident was handled well – although come the Olympic Games, it would have been a far more serious traveller impact. On a second note, I see that only a few weeks after I wrote at some length at the prospect of the Olympics being protected by anti aircraft missiles, the press have only just picked up the story. I have given the whole thing some thought. I am of the opinion that the missile batteries may well be a “box ticking “exercise. If a suicide plane was indeed targeted one of the main venues, any attempt to shoot it down could well be counterproductive. As happened in the first Gulf War, where Patriot missiles were used to shoot down incoming SCUD missiles, there ended up being more casualties from falling debris that there was from the SCUDs themselves. Quite often the cloud of falling metal and plastic created a “shotgun”  effect – far worse than had the missile been allowed to come down more or less in one piece. I understand that this is not the kind of message that the authorities would want to send out to a potential terrorist group, but the thought of a 300 tonne airliner coming down in bits over anywhere inside the M25 must be a truly nightmare situation – there would be carnage – think of the devastation after the Lockerbie crash; and that happened in a relatively sparsely populated part of Scotland, not one of the world’s most population dense cities. I sincerely wonder about the wisdom of holding the Olympics in London. The crusty, outdated and frequently unreliable transport infrastructure struggles to cope with passenger levels on a normal working day; what effect the predicted increase in passenger levels will have during the games can only be guessed at. The DLR is great when it is working, but an utter nightmare when there is a failure, as alternative transport in many of the locations the DLR serves can be patchy or nonexistent; this was outlined on Wednesday this week, when the entire system went down due to a power failure. Effectively, access to Canary Wharf from the South east was severely limited for a couple of hours – the alternative route of travelling to London Bridge then coming back on yourself via the Jubilee Line was almost un navigable due to the number of commuters all trying the same approach. The Jubilee Line Platform at London Bridge Station became dangerously overcrowded. This was a normal working day; I shudder to think what the implications would be if the same problem recurred when the network was packed with Olympic visitors as well as regular commuters.

It is a sad day when one sees a local advice centre have to resort to soliciting donations in order to survive. Erith’s own Cross Street Law Centre, which offers free legal advice to disadvantaged people is in financial hot water, and is requesting that both its’ customers and other local residents assist them joining in on the 10km London Legal Walk around the capital’s law landmarks on May 21st. This year’s route includes the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls and the Attorney General’s office. A number of London based law services undertake the fund raising walk, and last year they managed to raise a total of £497,000 across the capital. The Cross Street Law Centre provides a vital service to local people, many of whom could not afford to go elsewhere for legal advice.

The News Shopper are reporting that Belvedere Splash Park will not be opening this summer; the reason given is that they need to save water and comply with the hosepipe ban. All this during the wettest drought in living memory. From my understanding, the Splash Park recirculates the water sprayed from the various fountains and water features; it is collected and directed through drains, where it is filtered and then pumped back up to go round the semi closed system. Most water losses are from evaporation and a small amount that get spilled on the adjacent grass. I get the feeling that the whole thing is a box ticking exercise.- the Council can look good, complying with water conservation regulations, whilst also saving a few bob on staffing costs for the place. I know a lot of local children, not to mention parents who will be sorely disappointed by the move by Bexley Council. It is one of the few remaining free things to do on a sunny day in the local area, and one leisure facility that Belvedere can normally by truly proud of. It will be interesting to see if there will be a significant kick back from the splash park users. Time will tell.

The one computer I miss to this day was one that I sold in 1993 to fund an early laptop purchase. It was a Psion 3A – a very early pocket computer, almost exactly the same shape and size as a spectacles case. It was powered by a couple of AA sized batteries (which would last for weeks and weeks) and it came pre installed with a calendar, a simple database, an Excel compatible spreadsheet, a Word compatible word processor (my personal favourite – and a very capable piece of software it was too), and address book and a lot of other useful stuff. On top of that there was a lot of commercial software available to install via mini cartridge. Everything from route planning to merchant marine ship load calculation software. The Psion was reliable, economical, portable and supremely useful. I used to write quite  number of short stories, restaurant reviews and magazine articles on it – often from the comfort of a corner seat in the Fox in Belvedere Village – my then local pub. I regret parting with it. I don’t think any portable device has equalled the Psion 3A for its’ unique strengths. A pocket computer way before it's time.

Erith’s very own Cyber Khazi has been out of action for most of this week; this means that the whole of Erith is now without any form of public toilets, since the ones in the Health Centre were closed “due to vandalism” to coincide with the initial opening of the revenue generating Khazi – very convenient (ho ho!) I have no idea how long we will have to suffer without a civic thunderbox. There are now no free, council operated toilets anywhere in the London Borough of Bexley. They have all been closed and in many cases, sold off for commercial use; the loos in Bexleyheath Broadway were famously sold off to be converted into an undertaker’s office. This cannot be good for public health. Most coffee shops and pubs prohibit the public from using their loos unless they are customers.

Scrap metal continues to be a subject close the heart of a significant number of local residents, some of whom sit on the wrong side of the law. Anyone who has spent any length of time in Erith will attest to the sheer number and regularity of scrap vans on a seemingly continuous patrol of the town and the suburbs. They normally act with vulture – like efficiency should anything with the remotest possibility of value become available to them. On Tuesday evening I managed to turn the tables on them in a minor, but very satisfying way. I popped out with my camera to take the horse photos you have seen above, and I noticed an object in the middle of the road, almost directly outside of Pewty Acres, it was shiny and shaped like a large ice hockey puck; it was a danger to traffic, so I popped out into the road and shifted it into the gutter with my foot – it was made of shredded metal, possibly from crushed then shredded car bodies. I thought that it was the kind of scrappie bait that normally would be gone in moments. I carried on my way to the ponies, fully expecting the puck to have gone by the time I returned, but to my amazement it was still there in the gutter. I popped indoors, got an old Morrison’s carrier bag, and in the manner of a dog owner, I “pooper scoopered” the mashed metal disk and took it home. It is probably only worth a couple of pounds, but I would guess there is a local scrappie gnashing his teeth to have lost it.

Some time ago Erith was besieged by a plague of chavs on mini moto bikes – the small, illegal bikes could be seen all over the place, causing consternation and disquiet to local residents. The Police acted robustly, confiscating and crushing many of the vehicles, and taking legal action on the owners. For a couple of years following this, relative peace ruled the area, but once again it would appear to have been broken. Local kids are obtaining old, unlicensed and uninsured mopeds and scooters, and they are riding them around the streets, often not wearing helmets, merely a raised hoodie to protect their identity. I saw two scrotes whizzing up Appold Street on such vehicles, they turned at speed into Manor Road, and very heavy traffic; they then proceeded to wheelie along the road, between the slow moving traffic. The bikes had no tax discs or registration plates, so it was next to impossible to identify them. I just hope this does not become a more regular occurrence as we head into the summer months. Hopefully the Police will crack down on the miscreants and the streets will become that little bit safer than now.

This weeks' video is a bit of a "then and now" collection in and around Erith - watch and see what you think. Comments below as always.


  1. A couple of points. The travellers seem to do with their horses what they do them selves, just set up home anywhere they feel like regardless of the legality. There are horses, and indeed goats and sheep, dumped on waste ground all over the borough. They used the old swimming bath site in Erith for a period of time.

    Network rail announced last week in the transport press that London Bridge Station would be 'fully operational' during the rebuilding works.
    This is indeed a major project, it has been in the planning stages for almost 20 years, and has been made more difficult by the plonkers who gave planning permission for The Shard and the surround developments, despite the plans for the station being around for almost 15 years!!!
    A case of money talking methinks!!

  2. Loved the video this week, I have lived in Erith since 1995 and have seen massive changes. Do you know what the music is that accompanies the clip. I have tried to Shazam it but no luck.

  3. Great Video, only known the area for the last 10 years but what a shame, some lovely buildings replaced by souless shells. Guess the planners don't live there!!