Sunday, July 15, 2012


On Monday morning I was sitting on a bench at Erith station, waiting for my train to arrive. In addition to the old (and exceedingly boring) stock announcements, I was rather taken aback when Boris came on the tannoy, advising travellers to make alternative arrangements during the period of the Olympics and Paralympics. For a confused couple of seconds I wondered what the bumbling mop haired twit was doing on the microphone in the ticket office, until the penny dropped – of course it was a recording. The repetitive automated announcements have not been updated for several years, so it was quite a surprise to hear something new – even if it was doom and gloom regarding the train service over the forthcoming period. One thing follows on from my coverage of the welcome forthcoming construction of the new Bexley College campus on the old tram shed site in Walnut Tree Road that I mentioned last week; I have since discovered that the plans include a covered walkway from the campus main building to Erith Station. This begs the question, will it include step free access to the London bound platform, as has been campaigned for by many local people, most notably by our own MP, Teresa Pearce. It would seem to be an ideal opportunity to this long running and contentious issue resolved once and for all; the amount of bad publicity the debate has generated for South Eastern trains is impossible to calculate.

The Police are still mopping up the people involved in last years’ riots. The News Shopper have been featuring a wanted list of people who have still to be traced and prosecuted. The message that is going out is that “you have not got away with it, and we will get you in the end” which is as I feel it should be. Erith was very lucky to escape almost undamaged. The only incident of any note was quashed with almost comical ease by a combination of good luck on the part of the Police, and ineptitude on the part of the would – be rioters. Five youths had been congregating outside the Blockbuster video shop on the corner of Pier Road and Colebrook Street, one of them picked up a brick and threw it at one of the glass double doors on the front of the shop. The door shattered, and is it did so, the Borough duty Police inspector came round the corner in his car, accompanied by a number of officers. The would be rioters started to run off towards Morrison’s car park, but they were outnumbered and outmanoeuvred by the coppers and all were caught; I understand that one in particular (the brick thrower) energetically resisted arrest. I understand he’s still inside now. All for wanting to be a rioter. What a pillock. 

The title of this weeks' Maggot Sandwich is fairly self evident; in the early hours of Saturday morning, the Blog received its' 100,000th unique page view. Basically that means that a hundred thousand different people have read it since it started back, almost six years ago to the day. This does not in any way mean I have that many regular readers; the usage statistics are somewhat ambiguous, but I reckon I get a couple of thousand regular weekly hits from all over the world. The Maggot Sandwich was awarded the title of one of London's 50 top Blogs back in 2010, when it was featured in the Guardian after I attended the London Online Community Unconference, as an example of a hyper local news website. I hope that I have continued to live up to the standards of that award now.

Why is it that as soon as some “authority” makes a declaration on a subject, be it health related or covering a contentious subject such as climate change, there is another announcement from an equally prestigious authority contradicting the statement. The latest in this line has been made by a Professor Anthony Jerant, the lead author of a study into how ones Body Mass Index (BMI) affects ones health and life expectancy. The results of the six year academic study have been surprising to say the least. The results show that is far more dangerous to be assessed as "underweight" than it is to be assessed even as "severely obese" - let alone merely "obese" or "overweight". In the six year time frame of the study, it was found that only “severe obesity” was associated with an increased risk of death. Most statistics in this field are still based on the now widely discredited Body Mass Index (BMI) system, under which people are assessed as "underweight", "normal", "overweight", "obese" or "severely obese". The BMI system, devised in the early 19th century by Adolphe Quetlet a renowned  Belgian sociologist and polymath, who admittedly was without medical qualifications, copes poorly with increases in height as it assumes the human body will scale up in mass in proportion to the square of height – which doesn't allow for the fact that bodies are three dimensional – and further fails to allow for the greater cross-sectional area needed in supporting structures to carry increasing weights. Professor Jerant and his colleagues, surveying nearly 51,000 Americans of all ages over a period of six years, found that "underweight" BMI was far and away the most dangerous category to be placed in. During the study period, the "underweight" subjects showed a risk of death no less than twice as high as the "normal" participants. It will be interesting to see if any other research will support this study, or is it some kind of statistical anomaly?

According to some reports, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser is now suffering what appears to be a catastrophic decline in market share. Back in 2006 IE6 had something approaching 88% of the browser market sewn up; Mozilla produced Firefox, but at that point it had not made much impact on the browser market, other than with web savvy techies like me – but I am not a typical browser user. Nowadays the choice of web browser is far wider – and consequently competition is far keener. Most famously, Google launched their Chrome browser, which has taken off like a rocket. Firefox has matured into a very stable and feature complete browser, and Opera have a niche product that has its’ fans. Even Apple have Safari – which I have to say is pretty poor – it is a memory hogging slow coach, and tends to crash more often than not – and that is even under its’ native OS X – let alone the Windows port; it also has a poor reputation for security, having been cracked on several occasions. Internet Explorer still has a strong showing in business and government, in many cases because they have web applications hard coded to that browser. Outside of commercial areas, some reports indicate that IE use is down to around 15% of users, with a majority now using Chrome, and a smaller number using Firefox. Opera has never really taken off in its “full fat” version,  but the mobile version is showing some traction. You can see a very detailed breakdown of browser usage by operating system and time by clicking here. 

The poor weather last weekend impacted on the Chap Olympics, held in London. The event, held over both Saturday and Sunday still managed to attract a little over a thousand spectators, but the event was somewhat of a damp affair. The BBC covered it to quite a large degree on the BBC News website – you can see the footage by clicking here.

Nuxley Road in Upper Belvedere (not Nuxley Village – there is no such place, that erroneous name is a construct of the local estate agents) seems to be turning into a pretty dangerous place in the evening. There have been a couple of reports that a gang of up to fifteen blokes have been hassling passers by. The most recent incident happened on Friday night last week. A group of people were waiting for a couple of mini cabs outside the Fox pub; a group of men approached them and started hurling racial abuse at the black and asian members of the group; I understand that things got rather nasty; fortunately the mini cabs turned up and the original people were able to escape the tirade of abuse. There have been a couple of incidents in the recent history which closely resemble this behaviour, one of which almost ended in a death. 

The disruption caused midweek when the O2 mobile phone network went down has been interesting and instructive, as well as frustrating for a large proportion of O2’s estimated 23 million UK customers. When you think of that many millions of users, and the amount of time between serious network failures, that must be billions of successful calls. I don’ t think their average down time is particularly bad. Any form of advanced technology will have an element of failure and associated down time. It is the nature of the beast – the real issue is how any outages are managed. This would have seemed to have been the problem O2 had – they did not get a handle on the specifics of the problem quickly enough, and also took too long implementing a plan to initially put in place a work – around for the problem, whilst simultaneously deploying a fundamental fix to the underlying fault. This kind of thing (admittedly, on a slightly smaller scale) is my bread and butter at work. The principles of problem management remain the same, whatever the size of the outage. The other weakness in O2’s approach was not providing their customers with regular status updates. When people don’t know what is going on, they tend to make wild and often inaccurate guesses. Sooner or later they start posting messages on Facebook or other social networking sites, and the whole thing snowballs. Information management is key – O2 dropped the ball, and are now paying the price. That aside, it does rather worry me that a large proportion of the most vocal complaints have been lodged by people who merely use their mobile telephone for social contact, rather than business. Not being able to update your Twitter feed or Facebook status is hardly the end of the world. If you need to make a call, there are still (some) public phone boxes around the place. People seem to have very short memories; it is not that many years since the only mobile phone owners were businessmen. What did we all do then? We got by. I think nowadays mobile phones have made people lazy – the need to plan ahead has been lessened – after all, you can now text to say you will be late for a meeting, whether it be in an office or a pub. Children with mobile phones seem to lack the ability to improvise – instead of working out an alternative way to get home after missing the last bus or whatever, they can now have instant access to their parents – there is a constant safety net, which may be a worthwhile thing in some circumstances, but it does mean that it is far harder to cut the apron strings, as they become reliant on phoning Mum for advice, rather than being forced to work things out for themselves.  I would be interested in your take on the issue. I am probably coming from the situation from a somewhat unusual viewpoint – from someone on the outside, looking in.

I was walking along Appold Street on my way home from work one day last week, when I came  across something laying in the gutter that I have not seen in an absolute age; A TDK D90 audio cassette, with a huge birds’ nest of tape hanging out of it. We used to see this kind of thing all of the time – dumped video tapes too. I cannot recall how long it is since I last saw such a sight. It looked as if the tape had failed and the owner had thrown it out of a car window. I cannot imagine that many people are still using analogue audio tapes – let’s face it, the compact cassette was a really poor technological solution – they were constrained by so many engineering limitations when the format was created, most of which were never really developed out. All I can think of is that the owner of a classic car dumped the tape – maybe they had kept a vintage cassette deck in the car to keep the interior looking original. I doubt that I will ever find out. It did get me thinking that whilst modern audio equipment and music formats have got more easy and convenient to use – not to mention their extreme portability, the sound quality output by such devices, whether they be an iPod or a mobile phone has decreased substantially. The main audio formats MP3, AAC and Ogg Vorbis all compress the recording data to the point where the original sound is inevitably compromised. I still am a fan of vinyl, space consuming and fragile as records are, they (to me at least) have some indefinable special quality about them – a well recorded and pressed LP still for many audiophiles is their favoured media format. This is ironic, as I have recently packed up my Linn Sondek LP12 turntable and put my record collection into long term storage. This is not through any desire to get rid of them; quite the opposite. My LP12 was purchased new for £700 (then a huge amount of money) in 1987, and is now in desperate need of both a service (LP12’s need servicing every three to four years, and mine was last done in about 1991) and a mechanical and electronic upgrade. The problem is, the work required to bring the turntable up to 2012 specification would set me back well in excess of £2000. Under the current circumstances, with pricey building work still under way in Pewty Acres, I cannot justify the additional expenditure for the foreseeable future.

The video this week is a track from Mister B - the Gentleman Rhymer, one of Britain's finest exponents of Chap Hop. Take a gander below.


  1. Congratulations on getting to 100k Arthur!

    Thanks for the BMI item - I'll be requoting it endlessly to all these people who go on about me eating desserts.

    I keep my LPS in the living room - even though I don't have a turntable to play them now - I just like knowing they're there and looking at them from time to time! Vinyl is pretty robust actually - and by far the most exciting sounding listening format. My offspring are looking forward to cashing in on them when I pop my clogs too.


  2. Congrats on the milestone Hugh! Great work.

    I'm an ex-Erith chap (well, Northumberland Heath) and have very fond memories of Erith before it turned into the town it is now.

    I now reside in Brisbane, Australia and have only been an avid reader for a few months. Your blog helps me keep in touch with everything Erith.

    Keep it up!