Sunday, September 16, 2012

Poo Mews.

The white line painting pixies have been out in force in Erith this week; I awoke on Wednesday morning, and as I walked to the station on my way to work, I noticed that overnight many of the main roads had been repainted with fresh road markings. My guess is that this was undertaken in the wee small hours of the night, as the area is too busy with traffic at pretty much any other time.

Apparently there has been a massive increase in the number of ukuleles sold in the country. The instrument, with its’ somewhat comical image, is now the best selling musical instrument in the UK. Many schools are encouraging their pupils to take up the ukulele in preference to the recorder – probably as a badly played ukulele will not grate on the nerves anything like as badly as a recorder – a device seemingly designed to aurally torture all within range. It is said that the ukulele is also the easiest musical instrument to learn, and become reasonably proficient in. One celebrity ukulele player is journalist and presenter Nicky Campbell, who plays at various music festivals, and occasionally regales listeners to his BBC Radio 2 show with tunes on his ukulele. The video clip below shows an absolutely virtuoso ukulele player showing just what can be done with the simple instrument. The video has gone viral, so apologies if you have seen it before. Do feel free to leave a comment below.

As many people now know, Erith Pier is the longest structure on the River Thames; since it was refurbished during the construction of Morrison’s supermarket in 1998 / 99 it has become quite a local attraction; people like to promenade (in the original sense of the word) along it when the weather is nice, and there is a vibrant community of anglers who can be found fishing off the pier at all hours of the day and night. You can often see their mini tents and Tilley lamps glowing in the dark. The pier certainly gets more use now than it ever did when it was used commercially as the landing point for giant rolls of newsprint, freshly delivered by ship from the giant paper mills in Scandinavia. The rolls were then loaded onto lorries to be stored in warehouses on the Europa Industrial Estate in Fraser Road, prior to then being driven up to what was then Fleet Street for use in newspapers. In those days the pier was not open to the public, and it was a dirty and dangerous place to be. Nowadays the opposite is the case – I would like to see the pier get more recognition as a really nice place to visit on a sunny day (it has to be said that in the winter, it can be bitterly cold, with the East wind seemingly coming upriver, straight from the Siberian Steppes). Outside of Erith, nobody seems to be aware of the existence of the pier, which is a real pity. I would be interested to see what the reception would be if the Thames Clipper Ferries that operate on the London reaches of the River Thames were to extend their service to Erith? I would be keen to commute via the river, rather than the traditional route of the train. I would imagine that it might take a little longer than the overland route, but it would surely be a more relaxing way to travel. There is little traffic on the river, and not much to get in the way of a ferry. I wonder what you think about regular travel into the capital by ship? The river seems to be an under used resource that gets treated as a barrier, rather than a thoroughfare in its’ own right.

Home owners in Sandcliff Road are up in arms yet again – and with good reason. They are blighted by the incompetence of Thames Water. Ever since 1998 the road has had drainage problems – a giant chemical effluent leak caused several thousand gallons of industrial liquid waste to seep up through the drains and flood a number of houses in the road; I recall at the time that several houses were evacuated for months on end and one was condemned as unfit for human habitation, Thames Water were subsequently fined £250,000 by the Department of the Environment for the spillage, and their apparent inability to properly organise the subsequent clean up. There have been a number of sewage floods in the road since, to the point where locals re – named the road “Poo Mews” – something which seems to have stuck. Now there have been a further five floods of liquid excrement in the last month you can read all about it on the News Shopper website here. It strikes me that the local residents are blighted not just by the actual floods, but by the damage to the reputation of the road. I would be surprised if house prices are badly affected by the situation – after all, who would want to live in an area where you had a strong chance of ending up knee deep in other people’s number twos when you ventured outside your front door? From Thames Water’s perspective, it is a PR disaster; I think the main reason that they don’t take a more proactive approach to the problem is that Sandcliff Road is a little travelled side lane, with a predominantly working class population. If a flood of dung was to happen in somewhere rather more affluent (rather than effluent) like Bexley Village, I reckon that the “sharp elbowed middle classes” would have got a rather better reaction from the powers that be. I have walked down Sandcliff Road several times recently, and I can confirm the aroma of multiple bowel movements is hard to ignore; it is just as well I am a non smoker, as the volume of methane in the air could well be close to a combustible level. I feel sorry for the residents, and hope that the problem can eventually be resolved.

Back in the late 1980’s there was much consternation in the scientific community – to the extent that the story quite soon made it into the mainstream press. The story concerned a potentially world changing new method of generating potentially limitless energy from a derivative of seawater. The process was called Cold Fusion. Scientists Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischman claimed that they had found a way to generate large quantities of energy at room temperature, with almost no harmful radiation. You can read all about them here. Cutting a long and complex story short, when Pons and Fleischman posted the results of their experiments, other scientists around the world attempted to replicate them. They could not. After eighteen months or so of various attempts, the word got out that the whole thing was a dud, and that the original outstanding results were suspect due to chemical contamination in the test samples, along with a large dose of wishful thinking on the part of the experimenters. Pons and Fleischman continued on their own for years, but all scientific credibility (and thus funding) had evaporated. Cold Fusion became a bit of a bye word for a white elephant, and for most people the whole subject was consigned to the bin of history. I recall having detailed discussions with my physicist friend Doctor Barry Singleton at the time; he said “it is not fusion in a conventional sense, but there is definitely something going on”. A small handful of researchers have continued the experiments over the intervening years, though they now don’t use the phrase cold fusion – steeped as it now is in a tarnished reputation. Nowadays they refer to the process as Low Energy Nuclear Reaction” (LENR). A trio of Italian scientists – Fabio Penon, Fulvio Fabiani, and David Bianchini have just announced the results of a series of experiments they have been carrying out with the LENR generator developed by another scientist by the name of Andrea Rossi. His device, the ECAT is claimed not only to work, and output much more energy than is input, but to be ready to be engineered into a working one megawatt power supply. He claims to have discovered a LENR process which can bring on a revolution in energy production. In a nut shell, he claims with his apparatus that he has found a way to input electricity that interacts with hydrogen in a way to cause nickel to convert into copper. In the process gamma rays are given off which creates large amounts of thermal energy – more energy than the electrical energy that was put in. Rossi is now taking orders for 1MW thermal heating units. Keep in mind that thermal energy can be easily and cheaply converted into electrical energy, so you can see how the ECAT could be a big deal. What’s important here, if Rossi’s claims hold up, is there is not a chemical reaction creating this thermal energy. There is something else going on, perhaps a true Low Energy Nuclear Reaction. The most energy dense chemical compound found in everyday use is petrol (gasoline to the Americans), which has an energy density of 13 kilowatt hours per kilo. The energy output from the ECAT generator was independently measured at 578 kilowatt hours per kilo – roughly 45 times greater than that found with petrol. That is an amazing result, looking almost too good to be true. Thereby hangs the problem. If something looks too good to be true, it generally is. Andrea  Rossi claims that the reason for the secrecy surrounding the project is that there are four other teams working on a similar process, and the first one to patent the technology will be looking at vast wealth, along with a Nobel Prize. Others are more sceptical about the whole thing. I feel that this is a very under reported story right now, and it will be interesting to see when (if?) the mainstream press pick up on it. Comments below, as always.

Since my piece on Bexley Councillor Peter Craske last week, I have been corrected; apparently he did not appear in court, he was arrested on a charge of misconduct in a public office and appeared at Bexleyheath Police station. He is however, due to appear again on October the 16th. My confidential source suspects that this case may be dropped without ever going to court. I will say nothing further for now. Craske is innocent until proven guilty – and if it does not go to court, he’s innocent in the eyes of the law.

There has been some unusual activity in the row of shops in Pier Road (opposite the car park that years ago was home to Erith Market). The old carpet shop very quietly closed down – I don’t think it had done anything in the way of business for years; I walked past it daily on my way home from work, and I cannot recall ever seeing a customer in the place. It is a bit of a wonder it lasted as long as it did. The shop building was almost immediately taken over and a number of workers could be seen refurbishing the interior. They were adding some internal partitions and a hatch type window leading onto what I guessed was going to be a waiting area. My curiosity was piqued. I could not see the need for another mini cab office on the edge of the town centre, and I could not fathom what else the unusual internal configuration of the shop could be for. Earlier this week the penny finally dropped. The small unit a few shop fronts closer to the Tunnel of Doom (tm) which has housed the Point 2 Point tattoo studio for the last few years (see the photo above) had a sign in the window, saying that they were moving to bigger premises further along the block. This suddenly made sense – the waiting room in the new unit was for the tattooist’s victims. In some ways I was not surprised that Point 2 Point were moving to larger premises; whenever I walked past their old shop, there was always someone waiting to be seen, and on top of this, I get the feeling that the proportion of tattooed to non tattooed Erith residents is quite high. My personal philosophy is “if it works for you” – I am a libertarian, and think that people should be able to do pretty much anything they like, with the proviso that it neither directly or indirectly causes harm, distress or inconvenience to others. Personally the whole idea of tattooing repels me; the desire to have one’s body permanently disfigured I find bewildering – I just cannot see the point of it all. It would seem that I am very much in the minority in the local area though. I do recall that some years ago I reported on Point 2 Point offering gift vouchers – something that I found somewhat surreal at the time – and to be honest, my view is unchanged. Still, it is an independent local business that is supplying a demand, so I can only give it my wholehearted support – though it does feel very strange for me to do so.

The video this week is on a subject very close to my heart. It is a full, hour long BBC documentary about Bill Tutte and Tommy Flowers - two men who not only contributed a huge amount to the allied victory in World War 2, but also had a major influence on the development of the computer. They were not involved in breaking the Enigma code, but an even more complex and devious cipher known as Lorenz, which was used by Hitler and his senior generals. Whilst information is pretty hazy, it is thought that my great uncle Horace may well have worked with Tommy Flowers at the Post Office Research Centre at Dollis Hill - where they created the world's first computer - Colossus, in order to break this extremely high level encryption. Do give the film a watch, and leave a comment below accordingly.


  1. A couple of yeares ago Erith pier was mooted as a new home for the Radio Caroline ship Ross Revenge, ( but a combination of objections put paid to that plan.

  2. And now having read your full profile and sidebar list of blogs you follow you were probably aware of this.

  3. Thanks for highlighting the Sandcliff Road issue (I'm the pillark holding the sign in the News Shopper Article). You're quite right, the road (in which we have lived for some 20 years) has been blighted thanks to Thames Water and still has inherent problems (a former resident who now has long term health issues as a direct consequence of the aforementioned issues passed my a load of information that would appear to show that Bexley Council have been aware of the problem and the fact that sewerage has been handled illegally (it's and crap to me but it's something to do with Open sewers which, apparently, we're not supposed to have nowadays) but have done nothing about it. So far, no more raw sewerage has been flowing down the road but I'm still on poo patrol so look out for more articles in due course! Love all the Blog/comments too! Keep up the good work!