Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Auto Stacker and the Russian Tank.

The photo above shows a couple of the abstract sculptures mounted on the pavement opposite the hideous fish sculpture - which I suspect nobody notices, as they are too busy wincing at the eye watering fish. They are there anyway, for whatever purpose they were installed.

It most definitely is the silly season in the local press. Many column inches were dedicated by the News Shopper to a story concerning a post box close to Belvedere railway station which some joker partly painted gold, in a parody of the campaign the Post Office had to officially paint gold a post box in every town that housed a British Olympic gold medal winner. The guy was caught red handed by local police in the early hours of the morning, complete with a paint brush and a can of gold Hammerite. As has been so often the case in the last couple of years, the comments made on the talk back for the story have been telling; the level of bad grace and bile exhibited by many of the commentators has become the norm for the News Shopper. They don’t seem to police or moderate comments left by readers, even though in a significant number of cases, the content has been offensive. I think it will be sooner, rather than later before something serious comes of it.

I don’t really watch much in the way of television drama; I seem to spend most of my time watching stuff such as the National Geographic, Military History and the Discovery Channels. I have never watched serial dramas such as soap operas – not through any degree of snobbism, they just don’t appeal to me. I understand that both Coronation Street and EastEnders have huge followings, though I would be personally hard pressed to tell you much about either show. It is interesting to see that EastEnders has a substantial local link in the person of actor Tony Discipline, who plays a character called Tyler Moon in the soap. He was accused of beating up a man in a West End nightclub, and the case went to court last week. The trial lasted less than a day, when the judge determined that the accuser was lying through his teeth, and that there was no case to answer. Tony Discipline was acquitted on all charges. I was surprised to discover that he actually lives in one of the town houses in Rutland Gate, just off Erith Road in Upper Belvedere. Not the kind of glamorous address one would assume a soap actor would choose as a base, but then, acting is really just another job.

Next week’s Maggot Sandwich update will be a bit of a landmark, for it will be the 400th entry since I started the Blog in July 2006. It has come a long way from then, though I am conscious that it really needs an overhaul to the look and feel, as the design is becoming very stale. I have, as previously mentioned, been putting this off for a very long time, primarily as it will involve a lot more work than a bog standard re – skin. The design that I have been using for many years has a bug in it, which means that embedded photos do not display correctly, they appear to be justified to the right, rather than centred. I have had to manually edit the HTML code for each picture for as long as I can recall. When I change to a new template, my manual code hacking will mean that all images are skewed to the left in the new, un-buggy template. It will be a huge amount of work to correct this, but this is a nettle that I will have to grasp.

A few weeks ago I featured a story about the food hygiene scoring system recently introduced by Bexley Council. It is designed to give customers an idea of the attention to hygiene and cleanliness in the borough’s restaurants, shops and other food outlets. The rating goes from five stars (outstanding cleanliness) to zero (violent squits virtually guaranteed every visit) A score of 0 or 1 means that the food outlet is under council supervision, and may be forcibly closed if their approach to food hygiene is not markedly improved. Apart from the large chain restaurants like KFC and McDonald’s, no independent place in Erith scored higher than two stars out of five. The plan was for food outlets to display their star rating on a certificate in their windows, to give potential customers an idea of the kind of hygiene experience they will get. Over the last week or so, I have been walking around Erith, looking in the windows of places like Panda Garden, Town Kebab, Starburger, the West Street Cafe and others. Unsurprisingly not one of them has their certificate on display, as it is not a legal requirement at the moment. No doubt they are ashamed of their poor scores and hope that local people don’t become aware of the situation –  I am keen to promote awareness of the scheme for this very reason. Local people should not be subjected to a lottery regarding their health every time they eat out, or order a takeaway.

Once again the poor rail commuter is being hammered with above inflation fare rises; the crux of the problem is that for many in the local area, if you work in London, there is no choice of options to get to work; you are pretty much consigned to using the overland train. We have no underground infrastructure, the DLR only goes as far as Woolwich Arsenal, and the forthcoming Crossrail service will terminate at Abbey Wood – when it eventually opens, which will still not be for a number of years. Unless you have a company car or van, and are prepared to pay the crippling congestion charge, you are stuck with the train. People cannot “vote with their feet” – as there is no viable alternative – and before some wag suggests using a bicycle, it is 1) too far to cycle in a reasonable amount of time, and 2) too dangerous, as the recent roll call of dead cyclists can attest. It would seem that Southeastern Trains have got us over a barrel, and are milking the area for as much cash as they think they can get away with. I don’t see any way to effectively vent our displeasure with them – a boycott is impractical, and although I understand a number of demonstrations have already taken place, I doubt that they will really do very much, other than get a bit of much needed publicity to the pernicious issue. On top of this, there is still a strong possibility that staff at a number of stations in the local area, including Erith Station, will lose their jobs, or be redeployed in a non customer facing role. As our MP, Teresa Pearce proved some time ago, unmanned stations suffer a higher rate of crime and anti social behaviour than those that have staff. Personally Erith Station has been understaffed for years – many are the occasions when I have had to renew my monthly travel card by getting off the train at Woolwich Arsenal or Abbey Wood, where the counters are manned for pretty much all of the time. Bearing in mind a monthly ticket from Erith to London and all travel zones now costs £205.00 -  you would expect Southeastern to be keen to collect this sort of money, instead of making it as difficult as possible to do. The automated ticket machines are a joke – they don’t sell all the types of ticket available, they don’t cater for extensions and they are unreliable as hell. There have been several occasions when I have visited Dartford by train; the ticket office at Erith has been closed, and the machine does not enable me to purchase a ticket from Slade Green (the end of travel zone six) to Dartford – so technically I am over riding on my ticket, though it has to be said, in the cases when I have been forced into this situation, the ticket inspectors at Dartford have been helpful and understanding. I would take a guess that they see this kind of thing all of the time, and are powerless to do anything much about it.

I see that some of the traders in Woolwich town centre are using some pretty subtle and clever psychology to try and prevent any future instance of rioting from damaging their shops. They have hired an art collective to paint pictures of happy looking toddlers on the metal shuttering covering the shop windows. The idea being that when the prospective rioters see the photo realistic images of children, they will hesitate before trashing the place. This might sound like quite wonky thinking, but as studies in the USA have show, even having a cardboard cut out of a police officer in a shop will cut the level of shop lifting by around 25%, probably as a result of subconscious suggestion. I think the main effort of riot prevention should remain as robust and proactive policing. If you have to rely on some pretty pictures, then things have already gone way too far. I found out something interesting and a little bit bizarre about Woolwich when carrying out some research on the area; it was the home to a fascinating, if ultimately doomed engineering venture. The Auto Stacker in Woolwich was meant to be an engineering and automotive first, when it was constructed in 1960 / 61. It was meant to be the first entirely automated, mechanical stacking car park in the United Kingdom. The idea was that the entire facility could be operated by a single person in a control booth near the entrance. At the touch of a button, a car would be magically carried away to its’ parking bay with no intervention by the driver. The Auto Stacker was designed to hold 256 cars; it was anticipated that it would solve the car parking problems in Woolwich town centre for years to come. The whole construction project ended up costing somewhat in excess of £100,000 – a lot of money in the early 1960’s. The ground floor of the building housed a car sales showroom and a garage workshop, with a petrol station forecourt to the front. The idea was that the driver wishing to park his car in the Auto Stacker would drive onto a conveyor belt in front of one of four vehicle lifts, then leave it. The car would then be automatically moved into a stacked storage bay on one of the floors above – all remotely controlled by an operator in a small booth on the ground floor. When the driver returned, and wanted his car back, he would pay a fee, and then be presented with a Yale type key, which would be inserted into a console, returning the car from whence it came. The Auto Stacker was ceremonially opened by Princess Margaret on the 11th May 1961 – she was to have “stacked” a van specially donated by Dagenham Motors for the purpose. The operation was a failure – a couple of assistants ended up having to manually push the van into the parking space. This was merely an omen of what was to come. The Auto Stacker never worked properly, and a year later, after much unsuccessful remedial engineering work, the then newly formed London Borough of Greenwich pulled the plug on the project, and the whole structure was demolished at an additional expense of £60,000. The whole affair was a great embarrassment to all concerned, and effectively ended the development of mechanically automated car parks in the United Kingdom for decades.
I don’t know if any local residents can recall that in the early to mid 90’s the scrap yard in Manor Road, Erith used to have a rather unusual mascot parked out at the front. It was a Ex Iraqi Republican Guard T-55 main battle tank. I did a bit of digging a few years back, and I managed to find out a bit about it. The company (now European Metal Recycling) were contracted by the Ministry of Defence to import, break and recycle tanks and other military equipment after the defeat of Saddam’s army in the first Gulf War. The company experimentally brought three or four (the precise number is uncertain, but it was very low) T-55 Russian produced main battle tanks over to explore the logistics of breaking them for their component metals. The story goes that all but one of them were cut up, but the process took far longer and was far more expensive than had been anticipated. For this reason the remaining T-55 – the one in almost mint condition (though minus ammunition and without firing mechanisms for the guns) was retained as a mascot for the company. I can recall that before I lived in Erith, I would occasionally see the T-55 when I drove past the yard. The thing became a bit of a minor local landmark for quite a few years. On one occasion it needed to be moved around the yard; one of the staff was an ex tank driver in the British Army – he was tasked with the job. What he did not know was that the controls for Warsaw Pact tanks were an exact mirror of those from NATO countries. He ended up driving the tank clean through the brick wall surrounding the yard, and across the road – it only stopped a couple of feet short of the industrial units on the corner of Frobisher Road. You used to be able to see the patch of fresh bricks which were used to repair the tank shaped hole, though nowadays these have faded and it is now invisible. The tank was none the worse for the accident, and later was used in several music videos, and also was the central vehicle in the movie Tank Girl”. It has not been seen for several years now, and I have no idea what its’ eventual fate was. I wonder if anyone has a clue? Leave a comment below.

Pewty Acres uses BT Infinity 2 fibre optic broadband to connect to the internet; I have just had an upgrade to the service, and I am now getting a reliable 73Mb/second download speed, and a 19Mb/second upload speed. I can recall when, back in 2001 I was the first person to have broadband enabled, not only in my road, but the first on the Slade Green telephone exchange. The BT engineer spent all day physically connecting my house, and had to make two visits to the exchange before my connection was fully set up with what was then an astonishing 512 Kb / second download capacity. This was well over ten times what I was used to with my old U.S Robotics V52 modem, and at the time I was more than happy with it. Times have changed though; my smart TV hooks up to my wireless and plays streaming HD video content quite happily - something not even considered back in the day.

The video this week shows the arrival of the Olympic Torch at Erith Yacht Club a few weeks back; to be honest, it could do with some fairly aggressive editing, as it is far too long, but if you fast forward through it, you will get a good idea of what the event was like. After arriving from across the River Thames by RNLI lifeboat, the torch was then borne along Manor Road, and though Erith Town Centre, before making its' way to Hall Place in Bexley.

1 comment:

  1. We are obviously a road where no-one wants to deliver the News Shopper to any-more! so I made do reading it on-line - this was probably 2 years ago - but was so appalled by the comments written (and from one person in particular) that I wrote to the editor (as I believe many others did also) to receive a reply saying that person had every right to say what he wanted and he had no cause to ban him (I think he was eventually banned for a short time, but soon got back in again.) I do think people should have the right to express their views but not in such nasty and hurtful ways - when they do that it seems to suggest they have a real chip on their shoulder and get pleasure in being venomous. (I never commented on-line - didn't dare!)