Sunday, September 02, 2012

Bexley Invicta.

Like pretty much everybody, I get annoyed by the repetitious nature of TV commercials. The same old boring dross seemingly repeated ad infinitum. It has got to the stage, that I now, rather than ignore them, have started picking them apart. Two current adverts especially have drawn my attention – the Dulux paint commercial, and the grindingly awful BT Infinity advert. The Dulux commercial – should you have been fortunate not to have seen it shows a forty something bloke who still lives with his parents. After staggering home drunk one time too many, his Mum and Dad repaint his room in bright yellow whilst he is out. When he awakens the next morning and sees the eye watering colour scheme, he tells his parents that he is moving out – much to their delight. The commercial has a glaring continuity error in it. There is a close up shot of the bloke as he awakens from his drunken slumber. He is lying on the mattress and there is a visible dark spot which is meant to be where he was drooling in his sleep. The shot then cuts to a wider view of the repainted bedroom with the bloke sitting up in bed, looking horrified at the transformation of his bedroom. The dark spot on the mattress is absent – in the space of about two seconds of screen time it has vanished. Look for it next time you have to endure the commercial; once you know of the error, it becomes glaringly obvious. I love finding this kind of thing, as it makes the whole commercial break experience more endurable. The second issue is with the BT Infinity commercial. This time it is not a technical fault with the filming, it is a matter of the advert does not make sense. The scene starts with one of the students who has featured in several of the recent advert series answering the door of their shared flat, to find an attractive girl standing there. She’s a fellow student from Spain, and wants to use their fibre optic wifi. All well and good, you may think – a strong plot device to get the girl (and an unfeasibly large number of her companions) into the lads’ flat. The point is, the wifi signal indicated on her laptop would suggest that she had a good signal in her own flat – all she needed was permission to use the signal, and the password. There was no need for the girls to lounge around in the boys’ flat, other than for the female student who lives with the lads to come home and find the place crawling with women. The advert makes no sense, and is pretty insulting to all parties portrayed. It is lazy film making, conforming to a ton of stereo types. I understand that commercials often use stereo types, mainly due to time constraints – the director has around 28 seconds to tell a story, and there is not enough time to set up a character, so you have to then rely on a stereo type that the viewer will instantly identify. Nevertheless the number of clich├ęs that are shoe horned into the advert are to me unacceptable. I doubt that many viewers pay as much attention as I do, to what is essentially a piece of throw – away viewing. I would be interested in others views on the subject.

Planning consent is now under consideration by Bexley Council for the redevelopment of the Howbury Centre in Slade Green. Redrow Homes have the contract to build a total of 278 houses in three phases over the next eighteen months or so. I understand that a percentage of the new properties will be social housing. Whilst the potential creation of new housing is overall to be welcomed, I do question the location of the development. Slade Green is not exactly crawling with shops – the Londis mini supermarket in the small parade of shops opposite Slade Green station is about the largest in walking distance. Other than that, potential residents without a car will have to get the 99 bus into Erith for Morrison’s, Farm Foods, or Iceland. The other issue is that the housing market is flat right now, and for the foreseeable future. Although a proportion if the properties will be rental, I doubt that many people will want to buy a house on the new estate. First time buyers are having a hell of a time, often being required to stump up the most impossibly huge deposits – effectively barring them from the market. Whether this intolerable situation will change by the time the houses are built is debatable. Slade Green is never going to be the most desirable of addresses, convenient though it is for the rail journey into London, and close to the M25, it has not exactly got much in the way of cachet.

Much to my surprise, the Emails I received from the Melbourne Theatre Company have gone on to the point where I have now signed a contract, authorising use of one of my photographs as the backdrop to a stage production they are undertaking. I just received a small parcel in the post which contained a copy of the programme, complete with a credit, thanking me for the use of the image. I let them use it for free, as amongst other reasons, I don’t consider my photos to be of “proper” commercial quality. I was quite surprised at the theatre company’s choice of shot – a rather dreary snap of the office buildings in Snow Hill, Birmingham that I took a couple of years ago, whilst I was in the city on business (see the image above - click for a larger view). The photo does rather confirm most prejudices regarding Birmingham – that it is a dull, grey concrete jungle. This may have been true ten or so years ago, but nowadays it is a really nice city, with some excellent shops and restaurants – certainly somewhere well worth a day out visit to. I get the feeling the theatre company wanted an image of a grey and faceless municipal cityscape to portray an anonymous metropolis – although it is not anonymous as all that – there is a bit of a giveaway in the form of the BT tower in the foreground. I am unsure if they noticed this – far be it for me to impose editorial decisions on them.

Earlier I mentioned my current views on the state of current television advertising. I omitted one particular advert, as I felt it needed a piece all to itself, as I feel that it represents the thin end of the wedge, and a potential privacy concern. You may have seen the latest television commercial for featuring their usual selection of animated people singing new lyrics to the tune of YMCA”. “Why pay for bad drivers?” goes the hook line for the commercial, which features a cartoon stereo typical chav boy racer in a souped up hot hatchback, racing around and causing several upsets. The ad goes on to say that by fitting a small black box “to monitor what a good driver you are” you can reduce insurance costs. This sounds all fine and good, but the implications are widespread and serious. The Black Box they refer to is what is known as a Telematic Monitor.  It is designed to monitor what the driver does and how they behave. In essence it is a telemetric monitor of the vehicle, recording where you go, how long you spend in the car, your acceleration / deceleration and even G-forces experienced by the vehicle during each journey. The insurers (and for that matter, anyone the insurers give access to the data) can thus remotely tell what the driver has been doing. “Fine” you may say “I have got nothing to hide, and if it gets me cheaper car insurance” – but this is missing the point; it is only a matter of time before most, if not all insurers demand a telematic monitor box be installed. As soon as this tipping point is reached, the government will be in the position of making them law – and they will then have the perfect method of monitoring and controlling the general public. We are sleep walking into a system of totalitarian control. The government are already able to monitor and track the position of anyone with a mobile phone with a degree of accuracy you may find disturbing. To couple this with (potentially) compulsory telematic monitoring really would leave us in a situation where Big Brother from 1984 would be jealous. Paranoid rantings? I think not; it is just that most people don’t know about the technology or what use it can be put to; by the time they do, it may well be too late.

Local amateur football club Bexley Invicta are recruiting new players. They are just about to begin the new season for the first time in a competitive league; they will be competing in the London Unity League. Bexley Invicta are a gay friendly football club - their players are a mix of gay and straight people; something that should be strongly supported in the still widely homophobic world of association football. Their chairperson is a chap called Brian Silk, who is a Maggot Sandwich reader (and occasional contributor). He also manages the excellent Erith centered web resource - which I can highly recommend. Here is a recording of an interview that Brian undertook about the team on BBC Radio Kent.

There has been some debate in the technology press over the last couple of weeks in relation to retro gaming – that is, playing old 8 bit games designed for 1980’s home computers. Nowadays emulators for all the major classic computers are available on pretty much every platform, and seem especially popular on Android. Websites such as The Register regularly feature “top ten” favourite retro games. One that consistently features is the ground breaking space warfare / trading game Elite”. This was a very early pseudo 3D wire frame animation which initially ran on the BBC Micro, although it was later ported to the Sinclair Spectrum and the Commodore 64. The application is still available in various forms, and a small team of independent developers have created a modern, 32 and 64 bit updated version, now called Oolite” with improved, solid graphics. The game is available for Windows, Apple OS X and Linux. The game is free and open source and you can download it here. I have tried the OS X and Linux versions and it has the same game play as the original, even though the graphics are now more refined. I would certainly recommend that you give it a spin – after all, it is free.

I swear that one or more reporters from the News Shopper read the Maggot Sandwich. The recent mini campaign I have been running about local food hygiene and the "Scores on the Doors"project seems to have been picked up by the local paper. The fact that Erith, and Bexley in general gets such a woeful overall food hygiene rating has been picked up by them; they have published a story on the subject - pointing out that the London Borough of Bexley gets the lowest score of any local authority in the UK! You can read the News Shoppers' take on the story by clicking here. It would seem that the area's kebab shops are the absolute overall worst offenders, and the advice is to avoid any establishment with less than three stars out of five. The bad news is that the highest rating any independent (non chain) takeaway in Erith gets is two stars!

The computer floppy disk is forty years old this week; its’ heyday was really from the mid 1980’s to the mid 1990’s. Whilst they are most definitely yesterday’s technology, they were the first truly portable storage media. I know cassettes were very popular in the early 80’s, but they were so grindingly slow that unless you were a die – hard (like me) you did not bother copying them and passing them around. Once floppies became popular, initially with the 5.25” format, a whole computer subculture arose around them. Many kids could not afford double sided disks – ones that you could turn over like a record and “play” the other side. Some enterprising individual discovered that if you carefully cut a notch in the correct position on the vinyl disk cover, you could turn over a single sided disk and use the other side – which nearly always worked – it seemed that the single and double sided disks had the same recording media inside – the single sided just lacked the extra notch which told the drive the disk was double sided. Most brands were absolutely fine doing this; indeed several kitchen table companies were set up selling notching tools of varying quality. Personally I found a pair of small nail scissors did the job just fine, and I cannot recall ever actually ever knackering a disk as a result. The 3.5” coffee mat sized disk came in during the mid 80’s – a more robust format, with a spring loaded cover over the recording media, but it lacked the ability to have its’ hardware hacked in the way of the older, physically larger , but smaller capacity disks. You can read more about the history of the floppy disk here.

I have been running an occasional series featuring independent local companies for a while now. This time it is the turn of Defender Consoles – not the home of the classic 80’s arcade game (which would have been nice in itself), but an Erith based company that manufactures custom dashboards and roof consoles for the Land Rover Defender series of off road vehicles. You can see their excellent website by clicking here. I think that this is just the kind of niche, specialist manufacturing facility that a small local company can really succeed at.

So many buildings in and around Erith stand empty and seemingly abandoned; Erith Trades and Social Club, situated on a piece of land that separates Morrison’s petrol station on one side, and the KFC drive through on the other has been derelict and empty for a couple of years now. The same is true of the old Erith Pop in Parlour building, opposite the Baptist Church in Queen Street, which was bought at auction on the 12th December last year, but which still remains boarded up and unloved (see the photo above - click for a larger view). I try and keep an eye on the local planning applications for clues as to what is going on locally, but I have seen nothing in respect of this building. The same can be said of the infamous Cross Keys pub, which has also been boarded up and seemingly abandoned since it lost its’ licence back in September 2010. It has been put up for auction a couple of times, and I believe it eventually found a buyer, but I have no idea what the latest position regarding it is. If any reader has information on any of these buildings, please let me know – you can contact me at hugh dot neal at gmail dot com (sorry about the format, but I don’t want a ton of spam as the result of an over enthusiastic web crawler).

I had a couple of comments regarding my coverage of the history of Sebel and Co. manufacturers of Mobo Toys in West Street, Erith, between the end of the war and the early 1970's. It would seem that a significant number of locals had an involvement with the business. I had a couple of comments regarding this, but for some obscure technical reason, one of them would not publish correctly - it shows in the blog management console as published, but it is not - until now. Here is the previously missing comment: "Sebels - I worked there for a bit as a kind, drilling and press operating. Pay wasn't all that bad for the late 1960's although the factory was falling to bits. Pathe have an interesting newsreel clip of local Erith kids testing some of the toy horses, etc, to destruction, something they liked doing, but was frowned on by mum and dad. See"

This weeks' video clip is from US sitcom "The Big Bang Theory" where Sheldon gets an unexpected Christmas present. Enjoy.


  1. I love "The Big Bang Theory".Used to think I was the only socially inept member of the human race,seems not.(P.S,I don't have a PHd)

  2. Hi - totally agree with your take on TV advertising generally and the BT ad in particular - something that I noticed about it was when the 'senorita' shows her portable, with the list of available networks on the monitor, it includes entries such 'Tony's Wifi', and 'Flat 20' (can't remember exactly what they are, but they are things like this). I recall thinking that BT shouldn't be encouraging the use of externally (third party) identifiable SSIDs, as they are one more small chink in the security of the system. Of course, the whole premise of the ad revolves on this point - so another double thumbs down for BT, to add to those you've already mentioned.

    A big thank you for the tip-off re: 'Oolite' - I used to play 'Elite' on the BBC back in the mid-eighties - am off forthwith to download it.



  3. I never notice anything really - but my husband and son are both awful at pointing out the continuity errors on TV! I now prefer to watch in another room as they seem to compete with each other and I lose touch with what we are all meant to be watching.
    Regarding Mobo again - although I - and all friends - had Mobo scooters, the better off kids had Triang ones! (we lived on a council estate - and in those days no-one even owned a car!)

  4. The Infinity ad annoys me as both the students and their flat are all so immaculate - unlike any students or their accommodation I have ever come across !

  5. What ho Pewty!
    Sorry I've not commented for awhile!
    Good read this (and every) week.
    I'm shocked that apparently Bexley is the worst offender for Food Hygiene. I've heard of finger lickin' good but not stomach rollin' bad.

    I say, I must admit I don't notice ad's too much as I mainly watch BBC and record 90% of whatever I watch so just skip through the ad's and station I.D's. I can't think the last time I watched a TV ad! I don't have the time or the inclination "just to watch TV", I only watch what I wanna watch and then at specific times.

    The problem with building housing without the infrastructure is an old story.
    Hey look at Thamesmead!
    Or Stevenage.
    Or Harlow, where in the early 70's Genesis were saying that in the year (coincidentally) 2012 Genetic Control will breed people to be 4ft in height " that Genetic Control, who has recently bought some properties, will be able to accommodate twice as many in the same building size.." ('Em_Out_by_Friday )The problem as you say is that the bits of land that are being built on are being made into high density flats so you get a large concentration of people where used to be a school field or a petrol station and there's no considering the impact on the area's infrastructure. You end up with areas that are just basically dormitories. There's no shop's, no pub's, no schools so therefore no community. People go to work then come back to the area to just sleep or stay indoors. Where I used to live a petrol station closed down and they were going to build a 5 story block in its place. I worked out it would mean an extra 350 people into the road, the parking spaces numbered 25!
    I think your wrong about the housing market being flat. Your right, people can't afford to get on the housing ladders greasy rungs and there's little in the way of social housing but people have to live somewhere…
    And when they drive they can have a Telemetric monitor fitted! I agree that like most steps on the road to hell "it seems like a good idea" to begin with. Mind you it would be good fun to have one fitted then take it out and fit it to say a plane then back into your car then call the insurers and say can you check my box is working okay?
    It's a dangerous step to allow someone to be able to monitor your personal actions so closely. I'm not a believer in "if you have nothing to fear you have nothing to hide" credo. I know similar things can be done with mobile phones (but admittedly under duress of law) but to INVITE snooping goes against every fiber of my being! As the old saying goes "If the camel gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow."

    8 bit ANYTHING is popular at the moment. There's a brilliant website dedicated to film posters reimagined as 8 bit games. Very geeky. I think half the interest in 8 bit games is that their (relatively) easy to program and people have a taste for small quick innovative games thanks to mobile devices and games like Angry Birds. I never got into Elite but then I was more of a Jet Set Willie kinda kid.

    Congrat's on your picture being used by the Melbourne Theatre Company!
    Shows the power of t' interweb. Your XX thousand miles away and have no connection with them yet they can find a picture you took on a day trip afew years ago and it can become "art".