Sunday, October 14, 2012

Where there's muck, there's brass.

Erith is somewhat unusual in that it is a town that still has an old – style “cottage hospital”. I don’t know how many local residents are even aware of this, as unless you live in close proximity to the site in Hind Crescent, you might well have not heard of it. Nowadays the hospital is mainly used for blood tests and X-rays, rather than in patient care. Back in the 1980’s there was a small surgical unit in the hospital where routine type procedures were carried out. There were two wards accommodating a maximum of thirty one in – patients in 1986. Nowadays the most common reason to visit the hospital is to have an X-ray. The X-ray department is located in a rather unusual out building, which resembles a “Happy Shopper Bond villain lair” in the words of my best friend Ian. You can see a photo of the building above – click for a larger view. The bunker was built in 1938 by the then Erith Borough Council as part of the Emergency Medical Service introduced by the Ministry of Health to deal with the anticipated large-scale casualties from enemy bombing during the Second World War. The provision was mainly hutted accommodation and although another five of these concrete structures were planned on the site, no others are known to survive. The only other underground hospitals known are the one at Dover Castle built by the military as a Field Dressing Station as part of a combined HQ accommodation and the underground hospital at Jersey built by the Germans with forced labour for their defence from the allies. Neither of these examples are comparable with this structure at Erith. The bunker was converted from an emergency field hospital into an X-ray department in 1950. The bunker structure was granted Grade II listed status in 2003, due to its history and uniqueness. It certainly still has a war – time atmosphere; on the one occasion I had to visit the bunker, I half expected a brace of Hurricanes to fly overhead! The photo below shows some of the war time staff that ran the place, along with some description of their working conditions. Fascinating local history. Thanks to Ian for taking the photos and passing them to me to use on the Maggot Sandwich.

I have been a Sky customer for more years than I care to remember; I was one of the early adopters of the original Sky Digital, after having the original analogue system for a couple of years. Now I am on Sky HD+ and I have noticed over the last year or so that Sky seem to be changing their approach to content. It used to be heavily biased towards sports and popular entertainment, and whilst this is still very much the case, there is now a much stronger emphasis on high quality programming, with new channels like Sky Atlantic (The Borgias, Boardwalk Empire) and Sky Arts One and Two. Sky Arts in particular is a departure from the normal populist entertainment Sky is well known for. I have watched a 1969 black and white recording of a very young Led Zeppelin playing to a live audience in Paris, seen a documentary about Peter Gabriel’s “Real World” studio in Bath, and watched footage from the 2012 Beatles week festival – all things you would be hard pressed to find on BBC2 nowadays. Sky Arts seems to be filling the hole left by the Old Grey Whistle Test, and out “BBCing” the BBC. It is clear that Sky is spending money on what might be considered as minority interests, which is interesting considering the commercial nature of their operation. I would be interested in what others think of the direction Sky seem to be heading in.

The mystery surrounding the intermittent foul and sickly smells that have been plaguing Erith for the last few weeks has been solved. Following my recent Emails to the Council on the subject, I had a phone call from James Meconi of Bexley Environmental Health Service first thing on Friday morning, and he explained what was going on. It turns out the smells are coming from ADM Oils, the vegetable oil processing plant In Church Manor Way, Erith (see the photo above - click for a larger view). The processing of various seeds and organic matter into cooking oil produces some pretty horrible smells; it turns out that you need a special licence from the Department of the Environment to carry out the processing at all. For the last ten years, ADM have had a special smell filtering and odour mitigation system in operation, which until recently has done a good job of keeping nasty smells to a minimum. Recently the system began to wear out, and at present ADM are in the middle of replacing it with a brand new odour control system. At present there is no odour filtering due to the engineering work. They expect the new system to be up and running by the end of October. I have been asked by the Council to monitor the situation, and if we are still getting nasty smells by the beginning of November, to let them know and they will take appropriate action.

The news that London Resort Company Holdings (LRCH) propose to build the World’s fourth largest theme park for Paramount Entertainment on the site of the derelict quarry site at Swanscombe has got to be excellent news for the entire region, if not the country as a whole. The proposed site features Europe’s largest indoor water park, theatres, hotels, restaurants and all manner of themed rides, all in a site spread over approximately 872 acres. The bill (at least now, but it is bound to escalate) is estimated to be in the region of £2 billion, and the park will employ 27,000 people, many of them from the local area. If this plan gets the green light (and I seriously doubt it won’t) it will be a massive boost for the economy for the whole of North Kent and South East London. Much of this story is detailed on the News Shopper website here. What amazes me (quite apart from my usual misgivings about the quality of talkbacks and lack of moderation on their website) is the naysayers who are already moaning about the increase in traffic and likely disruption that the construction work will undoubtedly cause. These small minded people seem to completely miss the fact that the park will be a complete economic game changer for an area that will stretch from around Woolwich to down well past Gillingham. Once the park is built and running there will be all sorts of permanent jobs needed to keep the place ticking over – electricians, security, engineers, cleaners, administrators – the list is as long as your imagination. Ironically the brown field site in Swanscombe was the location of the destruction of Top Gear’s old “reasonably priced car” when local company Erith Construction blew up the old LaFarge factory chimney onto the hapless vehicle, as part of a stunt for the show.

I was discussing the issues with 3D television a couple of weeks ago; since then I have learned some interesting facts about OLED (organic light emitting diode) screens which were meant to be “the next big thing”. They are thinner that conventional LED or LED screens, as they don’t need a backlight. Currently they are in development hell, with Samsung promising dates that now seem to be eternally slipping. The main problem is that OLED screens are difficult to make in large numbers, as they have a niggling problem with dead pixels – something that used to be relatively common in all types of flat screen TV technologies, but nowadays is deemed unacceptable by consumers. When you are shelling out around £5,500 for a 50 inch TV, the last thing you would expect to see is a tiny dark spot on the screen. By the time the likes of Samsung and LG have ironed out the wrinkles in their production technology, and can actually supply OLED sets for consumer use, another technology will be on the horizon. 4K television is the next generation of high definition, having a resolution of 3840 x 2160, four times higher than the current 1920 x 1080 offered by existing technology. This higher resolution can be offered using existing LED technology – no new processes are required. Whilst the 4K sets will cost approximately twice as much to build as a standard HD set, this is still far cheaper than making an OLED set – and I understand that the huge cost of making OLED screens is unlikely to come down a significant amount until around 2017. The problem with 4K and its ’”retina” level resolution is that there is very little in the way of native 4K content available now, or in the immediate future. Certainly 1080 content can be upscaled to 4K, but it will not really sparkle until the likes of Sky and Virgin can offer original, native 4K programming. Nevertheless it seems likely that the real future of high definition television is with the cheaper to make, higher resolution 4K format, rather than the technologically more impressive, thinner OLED that we have all expected to win the television format war. Only time will tell if we end up with another Betamax versus VHS war.

Pound Town has proved to be surprisingly popular with local residents. The shop, currently located in the old Wise Furnishings premises on the corner of the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre that faces towards the Bexley Council offices, is looking to relocate to a larger unit. This will be interesting, as I am not aware of any units bigger than the one Pound Town already inhabit being available. One hope I have for the move (wherever they move to locally) is that their new home is air conditioned; their current shop is stiflingly hot and stuffy even on relatively cool days. It is bad enough for the customers – it must be terrible for the employees. Still, whatever the details, it is good to see a local business succeeding. The previous occupant of their current shop building – Wise Furnishings, did not last very long at all; they ended up cutting and running after the level of business that the shop did was unable to support itself. I always thought a “big ticket” shop would not be successful in Erith, as it is not a destination which non locals visit. You go to Bluewater or Lakeside to buy such items. Something like a pound store was always going to be a better business fit with the area; and it would appear to have been borne out by the facts. The owners of the Riverside Shopping Centre have still not managed to let all of the retail units, although the level of utilisation is a lot better than in the first couple of years of it opening, where a majority of shop front space was covered by decorated chipboard panelling, trying in vain to disguise the empty and unloved retail units. 

Have you ever put some key search words into a search engine such as Google or Bing, and got back some really unexpected results? For example, searching for “bicycle safety” and getting results from payday loan websites. If you have, this is down to a criminal activity called search engine poisoning. Search engine poisoning attacks are designed to skew results so that dodgy sites - anything from malware infected websites to payday loan sites - appear prominently in the index of sites related to popular search terms. In many cases the tactic is so successful that malware sites appear in the first page of results for popular search terms, in sometimes much higher than legitimate websites. More recently, miscreants have begun trying to manipulate image search results. The murky world of high interest payday loan sharks is to blame in many cases. The lenders always require details of potential new customers – what they refer to as “leads” and they are prepared to pay substantial amounts of money to grab as many leads as they can. One way that they do this is by hiring “lead generators” – dodgy, semi legal outfits that have been involved in hacking innocent, completely unconnected websites to redirect to payday loan websites and similar. The other side of this, is if you were actually searching for, as previously mentioned, a bicycle safety site, your search would result in your enquiry being redirected to a dodgy loan website – and your details potentially being siphoned off your web browser for the lead generating company to sell on to the highest bidder. All search engines suffer poisoning to some degree or other; web analytics from security company Sophos indicate that currently Microsoft’s Bing is the worst affected – which is surprising as it is relatively small in comparison to the elephant in the corner – Google. It would appear that whilst Google does suffer from search poisoning, their security is tighter, and less gets through.

The photo above was taken by local resident Norbert from a viewpoint on Erith Pier; it shows the moment when the cranes were used to install the turbine blades on the body of the new Erith wind turbine a couple of weeks ago. Since the News Shopper led mini furore last week, the complaints of a handful of residents seem to have died down. Personally, I think it is a better piece of industrial sculpture than any of the so called street "art" around here, and has the added bonus of generating 500 kilowatts of electricity much of the time. From observing it from my home office window, I have noticed that the rotor will spin under the very lightest of breezes - it would appear to be particularly efficient, which is an added bonus. if you click on the photo to enlarge it, you should immediately notice that the turbine is  located on an industrial estate on Slade Green Marshes, with a couple of breakers yards for company - it is not exactly in anyone's back garden, though as I mentioned, I can clearly see it from mine. Behind the turbine you can clearly see the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge - more popularly known as the Dartford River Crossing.

Just as Microsoft are about to launch their next version of their desktop operating system, Windows 8 to a largely indifferent world, I recall the hype and drama behind the launch of Windows XP back in 2001. I was invited to the UK launch at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. I had managed to wangle a free ticket through work (being employed by a multi - national blue chip company does occasionally have its’ perks). The event started with a film presentation with professional idiot and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on screen WWE” style, bigging up the new OS and then saying how he regretted not being able to attend in person. Just as he finished this, when, also in a style reminiscent of WWE he ran down the aisle from the back of the stalls hollering and whooping like someone demented. I was sat at the end of a row, and he passed me within inches. If I had slightly better presence of mind, I could have stuck my foot out and sent him flying. 

An Erith based environmental enterprise made the national business press last week. Manor Road based paper recycling company Pulp Friction (no, I am not making it up) got sold last Tuesday for £9 million to Pennon Group PLC, the UK’s third largest publicly traded water company. They announced that the purchase of Pulp Friction was part of their strategy to further expand their waste management and recycling business. It just goes to confirm the cliché “where there’s muck there’s brass”. Hopefully Pennon Group will invest in the local business. Having seen Pulp Friction lorries on the roads around the area, I had incorrectly assumed that they had a number of depots in the region; after doing a little research, it turns out that they just have the one facility on the banks of the River Thames, almost underneath the new Erith Wind Turbine. Now that they are owned by a much larger company with correspondingly deeper pockets that might well change in time. It is nice to see a small business succeed, especially in the increasingly important area of recycling. You can see a short video about the local company below. Please feel free to leave a comment, as always.


  1. Hi Hugh, lovely article about Erith hospital There is a smashing website at that lists all the lost London hospitals and is a facinating way to lose an afternoon!!!!

    Your comments on the smells from the oil factory on the Thames rang a bell with me. I live about half a mile from the place and remember when I moved in 17 years ago, some days you just could not go outdoors the smell was so bad. The new developments on West Street were just being built and many a time people would get out of their cars outside the showhouse, get a sniff and just drive away!!!!
    Even on its bad days today, it is much better than then.

  2. Hugh,

    Also on the subject of hospitals I think you will find there is also an underground hospital on Guernsey. It is as the Jersey hospital a result of the second world war Nazi occupation of the Island.Well worth a visit but not as well preserved as its Jersey counterpart.

  3. I'm also pleased to see that Sky is showing, and now even commissioning, some interesting content - eg 'Trollied' and 'Mad Dogs' - instead of poaching material from other channels as it has done previously. The Arts channels have shown some great programmes too.
    Methinks they're anticipating the increased competition from BT etc for sports content, so they're broadening out. Finally proving you don't need the BBC anymore for high quality content in a free market (all the best tv drama in the last 10 years has come from subscription channels in the usa). So when can i get my licence fee refunded?

  4. Looooong Blog this week Mr.P'!
    Glad I could have been of service but supplying a bit of content for the Blog!
    Maybe you could see if you could gain access to take some pictures as you can almost see the ghosts of people in uniform gliding about the place, it's facinating. Quick question as it’s a listed building what will happen once they finally decide to sell Erith "Hospital" land off?

    The STENCH that that processing factory creates is foul and I find it completely reprehensible they can let it go past more than a day or so.
    I've lived in the local area for about 15 years now and it's not something that’s happened on one or two occasions but regularly. It's been okay the past year or so but before then and now the smell can carpet Erith and Belvedere for days at a time. It's difficult to describe, I akin it to the inside of a freshly taken off old shoe dipped in a dead body smell. Now I know who's responsible I know who to complain to thank you!

    GREAT news about the new Paramount theme park! I can't wait! I can't wait to read your Blog review of it in 2018!!! Arthur Pewty in a theme park?? My head will explode! LOL!

    Now I have to admit a dark secret now, your Blogs made me have to confront it, I…I…I like to shop in pound shops!
    There I said it!
    Joking aside they sometimes have some nifty bits of useful tat and I like to think I'm a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to places like that. I get a cheap thrill (pun intended) when I can have a mooch round a new pound shop BUT I have to say the one in Erith I find almost impossible to walk round. It has all the "charm" and shopping experience of Moscow circa 1975. It's dark, dingy and grim. Most chain pound shops have something you (okay maybe not YOU Mr.P'!!) can find interesting or at least useful one day but the Erith one is grubby and soul destroying.

    I must admit I think the building/placing of the Wind Turbine should have been better publicised. As you come down from Northumberland Heath along the main road it rises like a mutant garden ornament over the town and your beloved fish sculpture.

  5. I'm using Kaspersky protection for many years, and I would recommend this product to everybody.