Sunday, January 13, 2013

A thin crust pizza with extra salmonella Sir?

As I have said on a couple of occasions in the past, there are weeks when I struggle to write content for the Maggot Sandwich, and there are weeks when the blog virtually writes itself. This is one of those occasions. You may recall that last week I once again wrote about the “Scores on the doors” website, and the star rating system for assessing restaurants and fast food outlets for the quality of their hygiene standards. On Wednesday the News Shopper reported that the Pizza Hut in Bexley Road, Northumberland Heath (not Erith, as they incorrectly state in their article) was visited by Bexley Environmental Health Officers in November; the food outlet was apparently in a disgusting state – inspectors found a total of sixteen health code violations; these included items used in the production of almost every pizza such as the pizza oven, the equipment tubs, the vegetable slicer and the fridges and freezers. Even the telephone was so dirty it was considered to be a danger of infection. Inspectors found that items were still considered a health risk after they had been through the dishwasher, they were so thoroughly contaminated. Apparently the place has received a deep clean and its’ hygiene standards are improving, though personally I would not touch the place with a barge pole. The story made The Sun on Thursday, in a large colour article that you can read by clicking here. What is worrying is that the Pizza Hut was one of a total of fifty food outlets in the London Borough of Bexley that scored zero out of five points for hygiene. That is just over seven percent of the commercial food retailing in the borough. Bearing in mind the official recommendation that customers should avoid any place that scores less than three out of five stars, and the area has a lot more places scoring one or two stars, it is very worrying. As I wrote last week, the health inspectors don’t ever actually seem to close any outlets down, they just issue notices for improvement – it is understandable to not want to put staff out of work, but surely a few examples need to be made. It might well shake up the other low scoring establishments. The first commenter on the News Shopper story says, he had not suffered any ill effects from eating food from the Pizza Hut store in Northumberland Heath; I have a theory, so please bear with me. I reckon that the locals who frequent the large number of squalid and unsanitary fast food shops in the area do so on a very regular basis, and in so doing they build up a strong resistance to the harmful bacteria and other nasties that are doled up with their noisome burger, kebab or curry. If an outsider were to sample the same cuisine, they would most likely drop dead in a large puddle of explosive diarrhoea. Just an (unsavoury) thought. Please leave your thoughts in the comments box below – you can select “anonymous” from the drop down list of ID’s if you so wish.

Some time last Monday afternoon, the digit counter ticked over the 150,000th unique visitor to the Maggot Sandwich. This does not mean I have 150,000 readers (though it would be nice!) It means that 150,000 different people have visited the Maggot Sandwich at some time or other – this is after visits from spammers and crawl bots are discounted. I get an average of 15,525 visits per month, many of which are regular readers. Most others seem to do Google searches for subjects I have discussed, or photos that I have taken, so there are a lot of “stumble on” encounters as well. I am pleased to say that if you input the name “Arthur Pewty” into Google, the blog comes out over the Monty Python name that inspired it in the first place. The down side to this level of popularity is that the blog gets a huge amount of spam posing as comments from readers – usually around a hundred items a day; this is the reason that if you do write a comment, it does not appear instantly. I have to log into the Blogger control console and manually check for any genuine comments amongst the spam and dross.

Not that very long ago I attended a conference at which a number of very senior Civil Servants were present. During a conversation with one, I was told with no uncertainty (and I quote) “If you think Yes Minister is a sitcom set in the world of politics, think again; it is a gritty, fly on the wall documentary”. Something that was both amusing and at the same time worrying.  It strikes me that the actions of Matthew Kershaw, the special administrator hired to sort out the troubled South London Healthcare trust has overspend his already huge budget by around £1.1 million. From what local reports are saying, Kershaw spent around £3 million on management consultants from McKinsey (who are renowned for their high fees and lavish staff remuneration). Bearing in mind that the report was designed to establish how Queen Mary’s in Sidcup, and The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich could save money, possibly by closing certain functions such as accident and emergency at University Hospital Lewisham. It is supremely ironic that the special administrator has overspent in order to try and stop a bigger overspend. If Kershaw and his team of tame management consultants cannot control their own costs, it does not bode very well for their ability to advise on cost control for other parties. The final report and recommendations was presented to the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt on Monday; there is currently no news on when the final decision will be made public, although a lot of the recommendations have been trotted out and dressed up by the local press as if they are definitely going to take place. As previously mentioned, I think it is likely that despite the extensive and heartfelt local protests, Lewisham will lose its’ accident and emergency department.
Anyone in the local area who has to commute into London by train (pretty much the only option, as buses into town are ridiculously slow, and you need to make a couple of changes to boot, and the congestion charge makes driving uneconomical) has been hit by a fares rise of 4.2% - well above the rate of inflation. Bearing in mind an all zones travel card from Erith already cost £205.10 before the increase, you can do the maths. Bearing in mind the erratic service and general lack of cleanliness in the trains, not to mention the tediously regular overcrowding that commuters have reluctantly become resigned to, and the picture is not exactly rosy. Things (once again) get Yes Minister – like when one delves into the activities of those behind the fare price hikes. The Rail Fares Minister (and who would have thought there would be such a post – one would have thought that rail fares would have come under the remit of the Minister for Transport, but apparently not) is a chap by the name of Simon Burns. Mister Burns has rather blotted his public image (such that it was) by using a Ministerial car to chauffeur him from his home in Essex into his London office. His excuse for using the car with driver is that he often has to work on classified documents during his journey, which he is forbidden to do on public transport. Just what kind of classified documents can a very junior minister have access to? The design of the next generation of radar absorbing stealth train perhaps? It is not like Simon Burns is the Minister for Defence, or a member of the Intelligence Oversight Committee. He’s a relative nobody, and the excuse of privacy strikes me as being utter rubbish. Mister Burns is renowned for being a particularly heavy smoker, and cannot last more than thirty minutes before needing a cigarette break. If he was to make his journey by public transport, it would take him nearly two hours, and he would be unable to smoke at all; what also gets me, is that as his official car has a driver, it is classed as a place of work, and the rules of the smoking ban are also in effect, so he should not be smoking in his car either. He ought to set up his parliamentary office in the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre - the smoking ban applies there too, but it is so widely flouted that it might as well be a smokers haven. I feel that by distancing himself from the very commuters he is meant to be championing, he has made a pretty big public relations gaffe.  Nothing new there then – as some wag once said “It does not matter who you vote for – the government always wins”.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine turns 20 years old this week. The series was a darker, grittier take on the Trek universe, and a significant number of fans cite the show as their favourite Trek. Like the Next Generation, the original broadcast quality of the picture was atrocious – whilst both shows were shot on film, they were transferred onto NTSC video for editing, which did much to knacker the image quality. As I have previously written, the UK Sy Fy channel are showing ST:TNG remastered from the original film footage, and the HD results are astonishingly good. Whether CBS/Paramount will do the same for DS9 is debatable.  Many fans found the concept of boldly sitting where everyone has sat before was tedious in a weekly format. Despite this,  the show was initially very successful, but this soon dropped off after viewers cottoned on to the fact that the space station was little more than a high tech motorway service station - Crossroads with phasers, if you will. Later series improved with the appearance of the Defiant starship, and the transfer of Worf from TNG, but the similarity to the rival show Babylon 5 did neither programme much good – except to the notoriously partisan sci fi fans. Personally I was not that keen on either series, but it has to be said they were very much in the vanguard of (then) new television science fiction – which was extremely scarce at the beginning of the nineties. Shortly after DS9 got under way, we saw the appearance of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (otherwise known as Beverly Hills 90125 with vampires) and Hercules / Xena and the other sci fi / fantasy shows that became such a common part of the television schedules in the mid to late nineties. DS9 won several awards for its’ art and production design, but the quality of the acting was variable in the extreme, going from as wooden as an Ikea flat pack wardrobe to a level of scenery chewing second only to Brian Blessed in Flash Gordon (a film I love dearly, but which is sorely misunderstood by many viewers, who accuse it of being over the top and camper than a field full of pink and sparkly tents – I have news for them... it was meant to be that way..). Anyway, Happy Birthday Deep Space Nine. At least you were better than Voyager and Enterprise – not that it took very much.

There has been much press coverage of the new ITV reality show “Splash” and to how cringe makingly awful it is. The Guardian had an interesting article referring to the programme, and how it has become some peoples’ “guilty pleasure” viewing.  The discussion covered other shows that could be treated as guilty pleasures – almost all of which I have never watched, as I have no personal interest in reality television or competition type shows. I suppose my equivalent guilty pleasures are “Man versus Food” and “Wheeler Dealers”, both of which I can watch on a virtual loop. One BBC TV show that I feel gets unfairly pigeonholed into both the guilty pleasure and the turkey categories is one that has long faded from many memories is the soap opera “Eldorado” which still has a small, but very loyal fan base. It was the first British TV show to be both filmed and edited from a foreign location; it was the first to feature a disabled person in a lead role, and the first to feature foreign language actors in roles which did not require them to speak English. So sure was the BBC of the potential of the show, they moved the production forward by six months; a decision which led to its’ downfall only a year later, due to the rushed preparations for the show to go live. Much has been written about the programme. If you want to learn more, I would suggest checking out the Eldorado Wikipedia entry here. Shows from my own murky past that could be considered to be similarly so bad that they became good include the iconic “Get Stuffed” – a cookery show that was shown in the wee small hours of the morning on ITV. It was made for what was obviously about £2.50 an episode, and was basically a cooking show for students. Original five minute episodes were aired between 1991 and 1994, though they were repeated into the new millennium. The show had a “wacky” look, but some of the recipes were actually quite good, and able to be made on a student budget. It did have a message for the emerging health and safety brigade (sort of) in the presenters’ catch phrase “and now we wash our handies”. Oh, the thought of it brings back guilty memories of late night post pub RealEat veggie burgers and re – runs of “V”. Happy days.  You can watch a montage of vintage clips of “Get Stuffed” by clicking here. A modern, slightly less anarchic equivalent to Get Stuffed is the excellent and very entertaining "Titli's Busy Kitchen" - an online cookery programme that is amazingly popular and should, in my opinion, be given a slot on BBC2 at the very least. The food demonstrated covers most international cuisine, but there is an emphasis on Asian and Mediterranean food. Titli's recipes tend to be relatively simple and unfussy, as is the case with the low fat, diet recipe for a vegan Lentil Bolognese in the video below. Personally I would have added a wider variety of herbs to the dish; the beauty is, you can always customise the recipes to your own particular taste. Watch the video below, and see what you think.

Over the last weeks I have travelled on the Docklands Light Railway from Bank Station to Woolwich Arsenal on a number of occasions; as I have previously written, the journey gives a fascinating view of the East End of London, with some of the richest, and also the most poverty stricken societies living cheek by jowel. One thing that has remained a constant in these rail journeys is the Emirates Airline cable car - better known locally as the Arabfly Dangleway. Every time I pass underneath the cable car, every single car pod is utterly empty. I have not once actually seen anyone using it. I wonder how long the whole vanity project can last? I read in the week that many countries around the world want to have a giant Ferris Wheel like the London Eye, and many build them, only for them to go bust through insufficient customers. Even the very popular London Eye never operates at capacity - and London is one of the biggest tourist attractions around.  I think that perhaps Boris and his cohorts in the London Assembly had rose tinted spectacles on when they debated the cable car - as previously said, it goes from nowhere to nowhere whilst flying over scrap yards, factories and warehouses - not the nicest of views. Very few tourists, and even fewer commuters use it. It was built in the wrong place - it should have been in central London, where it would have had a better chance of attracting more tourists. I predict it will be out of business by this time next year. 

The ending video this week is a feature length dramatised documentary about one of the most daring and audacious air raids in military history - the bombing of Port Stanley Airport by an RAF Vulcan bomber during the 1982 Falklands War. It is fascinating "Boy's Own Stuff" - and well worth a watch. Leave a comment below, and let me know what you think.


  1. I too enjoyed the Vulcan documentary. How they got the maths right for the multiple refuels was amazing. I have the Vulcan 607 book and must read it again. Back in the 50's a single Vulcan used to pass over my parent's house in Bexleyheath on its way to Biggin Hill for an Air Show. Also, I will never forget seeing three Vulcans passing over Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight while on holiday there. Does anybody know if there is still a Vulcan stationed at Southend airport?

  2. I too agree with Hugh's sentiments about state of the food establishments in the Borough. Certainly places given a rating of zero should be closed while improvements are made and then retested immediately. The employees would still have jobs while they cleaned the premises and maybe they would learn new skills to keep the place clean for the future. The Council should advertise more the websites and Apps where the public can see the rating before they visit. That way zero ratings or even slightly higher premises would see a dramatic reduction in their custom and maybe they will wonder why!

  3. I very, very rarely eat out in a restaurant ( and never have take-aways) - too scared of what I might pick up. Probably worse for me as I've had a transplant and take immuno suppressants - and what might be an awful tummy bug for some, could well be the death of me ( medically you are warned not to eat shellfish or unpasterised cheeses etc and not eat in unreputable places - but how can you always tell?).

    Our son spent many years being lactose intolerant after a gastric upset from eating a soft ice cream cornet ( this can be a common reaction after food poisoning from a milk based product.)

    When I was young - without fridges - I imagine we were just hardened to the bugs ( which is what you suggested Hugh) Once I got food poisoning from ham - and have never touched it since.

    These days I am a real wimp - and agree that eating establishments should be tested far more regularly than they presently are. Admittedly, this next memory goes back a bit, but for 4 months I lived in the Royal London Hospital with our son ( and had to buy my own food) - and the food outlets around used the local 'down and outs' to wash up out the back - that was an awful eye opener!

  4. I work in this "disgusting" pizza hut you mentioned and let me just say, you have mentioned the fact that "Apparently the place has received a deep clean and its’ hygiene standards are improving". The shop was recently given a new shop front to improve the customer perception of the shop but this was as far as improvements actually went. The general conditions within the shop is probably in my opinion worse than ever. In November 2011 most pizza hut delivery units were franchised off to private companies and this is when the trouble started. The company that runs this and many other stores in the surrounding area presented managers with such unreachable targets that they soon all left. This then left it open for the company to get in their own managers. Just before christmas 2013 conditions within the shop were so bad i was having to work in pools of water leaking from various fridges walls and ceilings. Toilet facilities at one point were completely non-existent, the toilet was in fact broken and laying on its side exposing the sewage pipe where rats were seen and making the whole inside of the shop smell of raw sewage. Dates on ingredients are changed to extend the shelf life rather than discarding then like they should be. Things like the can opener, vegetable slicer and oven are no cleaner really now than they ever were. Finally, Just to say that if any of your readers think that eating here may make you sick, believe me, even I won't eat from here.