Sunday, June 24, 2012

The ballad of Larner Road.

For the second time since it was installed, the hideous fish sculpture on the roundabout opposite the Council offices in the centre of Erith has been attacked by a car. Some years ago I reported on the sad story of a bloke who tried to end it all by crashing his vehicle into the statue – but he forgot to disable the cars’ airbags and he survived almost unscathed. Unfortunately a couple of weeks later he threw himself off the top of one of the tower blocks on the Larner Road estate (of which, more later). This week another car was involved in an incident with the fish. A young man drove over the gassed roundabout reservation, narrowly missing the sculpture itself; he was intercepted by the Police, as he tried to make his escape, with his car trailing oil from its’ damaged sump. It would appear from the sketchy information currently available, that he was either drunk, drugged or otherwise incapacitated, rather than trying to end it all. As hard bitten Maggot Sandwich readers may well recall, I have on many occasions railed at the fish sculpture – calling it a waste of council tax payers money, a hideous “Mister Whippy” style psychedelic turd, crapped onto Erith by a giant passing alien creature, and worse. My view is subtly changing nowadays; I still think it is hideously ugly and completely unsuited to its’ role as symbolic guardian to the gates of Erith, but it is now used as a landmark by so many people when giving directions to the town (“When you see the fish sculpture, you’ve reached Erith”) that it has become part of the DNA of the area. It has to my mind become a case of “it’s so bad it is good” now. Please feel free to comment with your own views on the sculpture; I am interested on what others think of it.

A Norfolk based professional poet named Luke Wright was commissioned to write a long form poem by Orbit Housing Association. The subject of the poem is the Larner Road estate. I wish this was the first line of a joke, but it is not. The poem describes the (fictional) experiences of a number of residents of the estate, and their reactions to the forthcoming regeneration of the area. As a bit of promotional fluff, one has to hand it to Orbit their public relations department have certainly got some original thinkers working there. The poem is pretty undemanding stuff – almost Happy Shopper Pam Ayres material; it just somehow feels rather surreal and inappropriate to write poetry about an Erith housing estate with such a poor local reputation. Back in the mid nineties, I had a friend who lived in one of the ghastly high rise tower blocks; back then the pub off Larner Road (then called the Boundary, later the Stile and Winch, and now a convenience store) had a reputation as being Erith’s premier fighting pub. When I visited my friend, we would watch a video, chat and pass the evening. When it got to eleven o’ clock, we would automatically open the door and go out onto his balcony, which directly overlooked the pub. Without fail a Police transit van full of officers would be parked outside; they did not wait to be summoned. Over the next half an hour or so, any onlookers would be able to watch the free street entertainment as drunken / drugged yobs would fight with the Police, each other and anyone else available, before being arrested and chucked in the back of the van. It seemed to me that the same yobs would turn up, week in, week out – it was probably their sole form of entertainment when they were off duty from their day jobs of drug dealing and mugging. The problem is, the Larner Road estate has such a long history of social problems and crime that its’ image is to my mind forever tarnished. The regeneration of the estate is eagerly awaited by many residents, but not all, there have been some negative comments on the News Shopper website, once again stating that the area is drowning in bricks. I don’t know what the anonymous poster would have done instead; the current estate is knackered, the concrete that the tower blocks are constructed of is crumbling in places, the mechanical and electrical services are now several years past end of life – where the wiring and plumbing has not already been illegally nicked for scrap, and the urinals lifts are at best disgusting, and often less than best. Whatever Orbit build to replace the current estate has got to be an improvement. You can read the poem here.

It would seem that once again local bloggers are ahead of the "professional" press on a number of news subjects that affect the area; The relatively little publicised Emirates cable car across the Thames is to open shortly, as Charlton based blogger Darryl of the excellent 853 blog has reported earlier in the week that what was touted as a new means of travelling across the River Thames is really going to be nothing more than a glorified new tourist attraction. The cable car service will only operate until 9pm at night - and it will only begin at 7am in the morning - too late starting for many commuters. It is all a bit academic really, as travel cards - as used by many commuters - will not be accepted - Oyster only, with a fare of £3.20, or £4.20 for cash. The really curious thing is that the service will operate at two different speeds, depending on what time of day you travel. In the mornings and evenings a journey across the Thames will take five minutes, but during the middle of the day it will take ten minutes, presumably to allow tourists more time to take photos as they journey high above the river. Blogger the Diamond Geezer has a very pithy and witty take on the whole Emirates Greenwich Peninsula cable car situation; he renames the service as the "Arabfly Dangleway" which pretty much sums up his opinion - to which I concur. The whole thing is a huge vanity project for Boris - I reckon it will make money for a year or so - mainly from tourists who will not realise the cable car goes from nowhere to nowhere, before it gradually fades from public view. The first major mechanical or electrical failure of the system will also be instructive - as to how the emergency services manage it, and how the public react to the incident.  You can read Diamond Geezer's deconstruction of the claims relating to the cable car service by clicking here. The cable car has been touted as a new part of South East London's transport infrastructure, which upon close examination it is not - it is a bit of tourist fluff. This was a mistake not made by the operators of the Millennium Wheel, which was originally only intended to be a temporary structure, but due to good management has become a vital and much loved London landmark; I somehow think the Arabfly Dangleway will not have such an illustrious future.

More Olympic related doom and gloom (though I promise after the next paragraph I will shut up about the negative sides to the tax payer funded white elephant international sporting event, and talk about something else). The local overground train service special timetables for the period of the Olympics and Paralympics, and as feared, several stations on the Dartford to Charing Cross / Cannon Street / London Bridge line are going to either be closed, or have the number of trains stopping there seriously curtailed for the duration. one thing that does occur to me when consulting the table above is that though some stations on the Dartford / Erith / Greenwich / London line are mentioned, not all are - both Abbey Wood and Erith stations are not covered, even though these are two of the busiest stations on the line. It would seem that once again we do not matter. As previously mentioned, I am fortunate in that I will be able to work from home for the duration of the events, but many people in the local vicinity will not. There is no practical alternative to journey into London by public transport other than the overland train. We have no tube, the DLR does not start until you get to Woolwich Arsenal (and it looks like it is going to be incredibly crowded over the period of the games) and the Crossrail development from Abbey Wood is little more than a scrape in the earth surrounded by heavy construction vehicles for the foreseeable future, though I do understand that building work and earth clearance has been stepped up for the month of June, with contractors working from 8am until 9pm each work day; much concern has been expressed by residents of Plumstead and Abbey Wood about the increase in noise the extended building hours will bring. You can read more about the project, and the efforts to keep noise and disruption to a minimum by clicking here.

True to their usual form, Microsoft announced their entrance into the computer tablet market earlier this week, by showcasing their new Surface” device. What they did not announce was when it would be available, or how much the two models will cost. This is typical Microsoft behaviour – make a vast, sweeping announcement about a forthcoming product, get lots of press coverage, then produce an actual product some months later which roughly resembles that which they launched, at an even higher pricing point than commentators guessed at. Microsoft did not create the concept of Vapourware, but historically they have been prime exponents of it. I think the Surface” tablets look interesting; many tech journalists have noted that Microsoft are not keen on making forays into the hardware market – the Zune music player being a classic example of a product that failed so badly it ended up not even being released outside of the continental USA, and countless thousands of the players being consigned to landfill. The only hardware Microsoft have so far released that has been a sales success has been the Xbox range of consoles, and the amount the firm has spent on subsidising the purchase price and marketing the product probably means the actual bottom line profit has actually been minimal. The Surface is a bold move for Microsoft – there will have had to be a substantial investment to get the hardware designed and fabricated, something the company normally eschews – after all when your primary business is software and support services, where the production overheads are relatively low, and the repeat costs are zero, getting involved in actually making a physical product is a real challenge. They don’t really have a choice if they want to remain credible with their shareholders – the market in tablet devices (and indeed portable music players, as Microsoft have already found, to their cost) is dominated by Apple, with Google quickly closing with their Android operating system being installed on devices supplied by a myriad of companies. Microsoft know that if they don’t make a viable go of producing a tablet device that actually takes some substantial market share, they will be out of that market, just as the late arrival of the Zune (complete with technical glitches) did not make a dent on iPlayer sales. I sincerely hope that Microsoft do well with the Surface – the market could do with some solid competition, and thus in the end, better devices for the consumer.

The mealy mouthed talk backers who seem now sadly to frequent the News Shopper website have had another field day this week; as soon as it was announced that Erith post office will be one of a tiny handful which will be permitted to sell the collectable Olympic gold medal winner stamp, they got in front of their computer keyboards to whinge. The plan is that when an athlete wins a gold medal, a stamp featuring that athlete will be printed and made available for sale within 24 hours of the event. (The cynical part of me wonders if they will actually print stamps far ahead of the event with images of all of the likely winners, then just pulp the ones that don’t depict the actual winner).  There has also been a second, connected article prompted by the chairman of Sidcup Philatelic Society, saying that the stamps will be a poor investment. Anyway, comments such as “What a stupid choice, we all know the residents of Erith only go to the Post Office to cash their giros” have become wearyingly common.  As I have previously written, at this rate it is not going to be long before a comment that is legally actionable is made. The News Shopper really needs to moderate comments to their website. Talking of comment moderation, I had hoped to once again permit unmoderated comments on the Maggot Sandwich, but I am currently beset with spammers trying to get what look like genuine comments posted – their comments actually contain embedded HTML to try and hijack the web browser to redirect to some dodgy sites – mostly involved with dubious pharmaceuticals or fake designer hand bags.

Here is a nice video clip - it shows aeroplanes from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight over central London during the Queen's Jubilee celebrations. Best to click on the button on the bottom right of the window to make it full screen - it is in High Definition, and you can really appreciate this on a large screen. Please note that the illusion that several of the planes' airscrews (the correct name for propeller) are moving very slowly, or not at all is caused by a stroboscopic interference effect between the rapidly rotating blades and the digital shutter on the HD camera. 

Last week I wrote about the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, an event that got some coverage in the popular press. Turing was not the only genius working at Bletchley Park; others such as mathematician Bill Tutte and electronic engineer Tommy Flowers did work that was equally important, but they never received the recognition they deserved. The video below is a one hour long fascinating documentary on the two men which was made by the BBC. It tells the story of how a team broke the German Lorenz Cipher, a code even more fiendishly complex and difficult to break than the better known Enigma. Watch and feel free to leave a comment below.


  1. By one of those odd coincidences, this morning I had linked to the same info sheet for noise relating to the crossrail works and was quite shocked that they were being allowed to work until 9.00pm.

    They won't reach where we are for a while yet - apparently we will have no disruption when the work begins in Abbey Wood (when you type in postcode)not so sure of that!

    There is also an irony in that another document states that from here to Whitechapel will only take 15 minutes with Crossrail - we have spent 35 awful years travelling to the Royal London at Whitechapel - now our son will mainly be going elsewhere!

  2. Interesting about your acceptance of the ugly fish sculpture as an a local icon - the same thing has happened with the infamous concrete cows of Milton Keynes which are now celebrated as a symbol of the city. I always thought it was irnonic that people interpreted these as a symbol of a soulless concrete city for drivers - it has 15 million trees and separating the local estates from the drivers was wonderful town planning.
    Intrigued by your support for Microsoft too! Have you now accepted my view that the real monopoly dangermen in the IT world are Apple and Google - Microsoft are mere amateurs in comparison.

  3. I happen to love the Fish statue on the roundabout, it ties in very well with the mosaics on the riverside walks and in Ocean Park in West Street.