Sunday, June 17, 2012

Blimp over Erith.

I took the photo above on Tuesday evening; it shows the Goodyear Blimp flying over the Frobisher Road housing estate in Erith. Why a blimp and not an airship I hear you ask? Well, there is a vital difference between the two lighter than air vehicles. An airship has a lightweight chassis framework over which the material of the external structure is stretched. This makes for a rigid, but expensive design. You can see photos of the Stella Zeppelin I took back in 2008 here. A blimp is simpler - it relies for its' internal gas pressure to hold the shape of the exterior shroud. Blimps are a lot cheaper to manufacture, but are very hard to control in crosswinds or other complex weather. 

Ever since my time working for Radio Caroline, I have had lots of admiration for the volunteers who run the lifeboat service. I have been a member of the RNLI since 1991; they do an invaluable job, which goes largely unnoticed by the general public. Most people don’t realise that most of the RNLI staff are unpaid volunteers; generally speaking, only the Coxwain (skipper) of each lifeboat is paid, all the other crew have day jobs and carry out their life saving duties in their spare time. There was a call for the lifeboat at Erith last week; a man had a fall on a sailing barge moored on one of the PLA buoys on the River Thames off Erith Riverside Gardens. Gravesend lifeboat was called, and the man was taken ashore at Erith Causeway to a waiting ambulance. All this happened at just after 3am on the 6th of June.

The regeneration of the hated Larner Road housing estate is really picking up momentum now. Planning displays and an interactive meeting where local residents can ask questions of the developers is to be held between 10am and 2pm on June the 23rd in the Northend Baptist Church on Larner Road. From my understanding the entire Larner Road estate will be progressively demolished in phases, to be replaced by low level housing. The entire project is scheduled to last until 2018, and will cost a total of £128 million. I would have thought that everyone would be glad to see the back of the hideous 1960’s concrete tower blocks, but judging from the talk back on the subject on the News Shopper website, naysayers are already proclaiming that the building of around 600 low rise houses will leave Erith covered in brick. To my mind, anything is preferable to the current, menacing walkways and huge and depressing brutalist designed concrete tower blocks. I would think that most residents will be glad to be shot of the worn out and ugly buildings.

This story comes into the “you could not make this up” category. It transpires that an online petition has already garnered over 1,100 signatures the petition is in support of the construction of another McDonald’s fast food outlet in Woolwich. So far only 51 objections have been logged – quite extraordinary really. Woolwich famously was the home to the very first UK McDonald’s, which opened in Powis Street in 1974; when you consider it, the menu was not much different to today – except for the prices, which considering the cost of living in 1974 were actually pretty steep for the time, if you look at the original menu pictured above - click for a larger view; in real terms, eating at the fast food outlet has actually got quite a lot cheaper. I am puzzled however; in addition to the original Powis Street eaterie, there is a huge drive through McDonald's at Pettman Crescent in Plumstead, right next to the Royal Mail sorting office and the Plumstead bus garage. There was a long period of time when I would pass it every day when I used to visit my Dad in Gallion's View nursing home, though I never actually went in the McDonald's as I am not a fan of their food. About the only dish (if I can call it that) which I like, is the Filet of Fish burger. My only problem with it is, though the fish (a boneless fillet of New Zealand Hoki) is nice, and the cheese and tartare sauce OK, the bread with which they make their Filet of Fish buns contains a huge amount of sugar, and is simply too sweet for my "savoury only" palate to tolerate. Why would a third large scale McDonald's be needed in what is a relatively small geographic area of Woolwich? There is also a McDonald's and a KFC drive through within a couple of hundred yards of Pewty Acres; I have visited the McDonald's maybe seven or eight times since I moved into Erith in 1996. The KFC I have tried once - their food is salt laden, greasy and gives me indigestion - the chicken is also of questionable quality. The only relatively fast food chain I really do like is Nando's spicy chicken, which is basically African food given a European spin. The (free range) chicken is poached, then finished on a charcoal grill, rather than fried, so it is far lighter in fat, and lower in salt. It is also the only mainstream place that serves what I call actually spicy food - most places like KFC and Burger King serve food that they say is spicy, but turns out actually to be bland and tasteless as hell. Nando's food actually has some decent spicy bite to it - something I personally really enjoy when I usually order the extra hot seasoning. A couple of commentators have dubbed Nando's as a middle class version of KFC; personally I have no issue with this.

It is gratifying to hear that the Bexley Metal Crimes Unit of the Metropolitan Police, which was only formed in December of last year, has been nominated for a prestigious civic prize – the  Problem Orientated Partnerships Award, a strangely titled but important recognition of the sterling work undertaken by the squad.  The team have made 24 arrests in 12 operations,  they have executed 25 search warrants and seized 11 vehicles in just a three month period. They certainly seem to have made an impact on the thieving scrotes and low lives that have been nicking drain covers, memorial plaques and copper cable all over the place. I understand the Bexley is one of the worst affected boroughs in Greater London, partly because it has a particularly high concentration of scrap dealers – a number of which are run by crooks. As I have previously written, the sooner cash transactions at scrap dealers are legally banned, the better. Apart from the increased traceability of stolen metals, it will also prevent a great deal of tax dodging that currently goes on in parts of the scrap industry.

It is no great surprise that Southeastern Trains have announced that they are not going to make WiFi connectivity available on their trains. To be honest, the relatively short journeys the service makes are not the type where network connectivity is a major issue for most. It is not like the long distance Virgin Pendolino services, where passengers may be on board for two to three hours. Wifi access can be justified for this kind of trip duration, whereas the average journey time on Southeastern is around the twenty minute mark. By the time you had set up and got online, it would be time to close down as you were about to reach your destination. Most people who need continuous web access will be business people; generally most companies will provide their staff with 3G adaptors if they have a suitable business case. Either way, I cannot see the financial justification in equipping short journey trains with Wifi; the effort and expense would not be reflected in the increase in passenger satisfaction.

The office I spend most of my time working from overlooks Canada Square in Canary Wharf; currently the square is playing host to a very up market car show, the Canary Wharf Motor Expo. The usual suspects are all present Rolls Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Porsche – all to attract the bankers who work in the area, and who, surprise surprise have recently got their monumental bonuses. One upmarket, but somewhat less well known brand that is absent this year is Bristol Cars. Just after appearing at last years’ expo, they went bust in a fairly well documented manner. I was able to find out the cause of their demise (and swift resurrection). Bristol were a defence manufacturer as well as being a bespoke vehicle manufacturer. They had a contract with the MOD to manufacture and fit the aluminium slat armour fitted to many Army vehicles in order to defeat rocket propelled grenades. As part of the defence budget cuts, this contract was terminated early. The defence part of Bristol Cars was not legally separated from the car works, so the whole show hit the skids due to lack of cash flow. Bristol Cars had been sailing financially close to the wind for a long time. Fortunately a once well known name in Motoring Frazer Nash (now a very important motoring technology research and development company) stepped in to rescue Bristol. It is quite ironic, as in the late 1940’s / early 1950’s Frazer Nash and Bristol had a strategic partnership. The arrangement has seemingly come full circle. Frazer Nash intend investing heavily in the Bristol brand, including the launch of a couple of new vehicles, using Frazer Nash’s own patented hybrid drive train technology. They will continue to be very exclusive, bespoke gentleman’s expresses, and owners of existing and historic Bristol cars will continue to be supported. It is just a pity that during this period of upheaval they are not at the Motor Expo. Their salesman on their stand last year looked like a younger version of Terry Thomas, and he sported a magnificent cravat – every inch the classic Chap.

Normally my transition from overcoat to tweed sports jacket, and vice versa marks the changing of the seasons; when the tweed comes out of the wardrobe, it means that Spring is well on the way. Unfortunately this year it has gone a bit differently; currently I am wearing a beige overcoat, as the weather has been too cold and wet for event the stoutest of tweed. On top of the terrible weather meaning that the hosepipe ban has been lifted in many areas, there has been the irony of the success of the campaign to get the Council to open Belvedere Splash Park, originally destined to stay closed over the summer – ostensibly as a water saving measure, but many locals suspect it was really as a stealthy means of saving a few quid. Now that Bexley Council have back tracked, the weather is too cold and wet to use the facility.

For the first time in over ten years I am going to have to go shopping for a suit; whilst in time I long for a bespoke Savile Row ensemble, the ongoing (and increasingly eye wateringly expensive) building work being carried out on Pewty Acres (more on this later) means that I will have to get something rather more modest from the high street. The reason for my acquisition is that I am going to a civil partnership ceremony in a few weeks’ time – my friend and work colleague Martha and her partner Tracy are getting hitched. The event is being held in upmarket Putney, at the London Rowing Club – you can see details of the venue here. I must admit I am looking forward to it, the place looks amazing.

I took the photo above in July 2008 when I visited Bletchley Park. The statue, made from damaged slates recovered from the roof of the main building during renovation works, shows ground breaking mathematician, scientist, ace code breaker, athlete, and the father of modern computing Alan Turing. Next Saturday, the 23rd June will be the 100th anniversary of his birth. He's one of my particular heroes. He almost certainly did more to shorten WWII than any other single individual; he was key in the invention of the computer, and he came up with the concept of artificial intelligence in the early 1950's. Although not as well known as Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein, his influence is now regarded as being as great or greater than those historic figures. You can read more about the life and works of this monumental man here and here.

In respect of the building work I am having done, the originally planned element of the entirely new kitchen and bathroom is nearing completion. That being said, the scope of the work has altered somewhat. I noticed a damp patch on the bathroom wall, just at the ceiling line. Upon investigation it swiftly became clear that the flat roof over the bathroom was leaking – the current wet weather having defeated it – the roof is totally knackered. I now have another expensive job to manage – getting the area re – roofed and subsequently the satin white walls of the bathroom will need partial repainting – only a matter of a few weeks since the job was last done. If I had known about the impending water leak, the bathroom refurbishment would have taken back seat to the roof repairs. On top of this, the damp proofing work recently carried out in my kitchen by Swiftcure has also encountered a problem; on small section of wall to the left of my back door was missed by the workmen - damp is still coming through the newly white painted wall. The very efficient and friendly surveyor who originally inspected my property returned on Friday morning to take a look; he confirmed my suspicions - damp proofing was not carried out in the area affected. This means that the newly painted wall section will be stripped of plaster, damp proofing resin will be injected into holes drilled into the brickwork, then it will need to be re - plastered. Fortunately this won't leave me any further out of pocket, as it is covered by the comprehensive Swiftcure warranty. Coincidentally, I also had Brittles Carpets from Welling visit on Friday, to measure up for new carpet and underlay for the lounge. I will have to put this on hold until the potentially messy remedial damp proofing is completed. These home improvements seem to be never ending.

And now for something completely different. Hell's Grannies...

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