Sunday, February 10, 2013

When Arthur met Reg.

The photo above (click for a larger version) show the mural that used to form part of the side wall of the old Erith Swimming Baths. When the building was demolished, the mural was saved and given a rather over enthusiastic restoration. When it was installed in its' new location adjacent to Blockbuster, the ultra bright, garish colours used by the restorers looked cartoonish and nothing like the mural did before. A couple of years of sunlight, and the strong wind coming straight off the River Thames have now faded it slightly, making it (to my mind at least) more aesthetically pleasing now, and a lot more close to how it looked when situated in its' original location.

I am pleased to say that my week long loss of broadband has now been resolved by British Telecom; it turned out to be caused by a somewhat unusual combination of hardware failures. I am now back up and running, and no longer needing to borrow my Mum's Apple iMac to post updates. talking of iMacs, I have just placed an order for the replacement for "The Beast" - my nearly five year old iMac that died shortly before Christmas. The new machine should be a screamer, as it will be heavily customised and uprated when compared with a standard "off the shelf" iMac. More further down the update. 

The construction workers are still on site at Erith Station – they have been occupying a series of site offices and workshops built from converted shipping containers for what seems like an interminable time. The only obvious results of their labours have been the wooden fencing that backs on to the still unopened extensions to both platforms. The original fencing (which looks just like ordinary wooden garden fence) which was installed shortly before Christmas has been ripped out and replaced – with fencing that looks almost exactly the same. I really have not got a clue as to exactly what is going on at the station – and nobody on site seems to have an idea either. It does seem to be keeping a sizable work crew in employment for what appears to be a disproportionately large amount of time, with little or nothing of substance to show for it.  If anyone has more information, please get in contact  with me. On the subject of the railways and Southeastern Trains, I have noticed that when trains get cancelled or delayed, that the behaviour of commuters seems to be in at least part dictated by the station on which they begin their journey; it would seem that I am not alone in this observation. Inevitably the train carriages become congested. When things are really bad, and there is absolutely no space for additional people to get on, it seems that commuters from Westcombe Park and Maze Hill are the most vocal and demonstrative.  One commenter on the News Shopper website describes a similar situation on the Blackheath and Lewisham line where packed trains pull into Blackheath station and the locals “expect the peasants from zones 4 – 6 to do as you say, and move into spaces where there are no spaces”.  This pretty much sums up the experience at Westcombe Park and Maze Hill. I have no idea if it is something in the water, or if there is some other reason why commuters from the more prosperous areas on the Dartford to London Bridge via Greenwich rail line seem  to be ruder and less considerate to others. What do you think? Please leave a comment below.

I don’t know if I have had an abrupt sense of humour failure, but BBC comedy show “Mrs Brown’s Boys” leaves me utterly cold. I cannot abide it – it is crass, crude, badly written and to my mind makes “On the Buses” look like Samuel Beckett. It cannot hold an LED torch, let alone a candle to that other Irish sitcom “Father Ted” – which was a work of twisted and surreal genius. Obviously a lot of people do like the foul mouthed Mrs Brown and her fictional family, but I for one cannot fathom why. It would have been considered unsophisticated in the early 1970’s, so just why it can have the ratings success it enjoys is a real mystery. There was an interesting article on the subject in the Guardian recently, which you can read by clicking here.

As mentioned near the top of this weeks' update, the Maggot Sandwich is finally out of exile and running under its’ own steam once again. I have to say that BT have been pretty good; their help desk were polite and efficient, and the engineer who came on both cases was cheerful and knew his way around a screwdriver. Nevertheless I was offline for a week because of hardware failure. It turns out that my fibre optic modem had a known issue, and should have been swapped out for a new model around six months ago. BT outsourced the mass swap – out job to a third party company, who made rather a mess of the operation; some BT Infinity customers were not notified of the problem with their modem, and did not get it changed. I was one of those unlucky people. All now back to normal, thankfully.
Earlier in the week, news broke of the untimely death from Lung Cancer of The Troggs front man Reg Presley. I had the pleasure of meeting him, many years ago when I was still working for Radio Caroline. It was during the period when the Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge was moored in the old Dover Commercial Dock after it had been salvaged after running aground on the Goodwin Sands. Refurbishment work on the ship had begun, and a legal 28 day low power broadcasting licence had been granted to Caroline to undertake their first licensed radio broadcast to the town of Dover and the surrounding area. News soon got out, and we had a stream of celebrity visitors coming down to the dock to have a look around the famous ship. Caroline management had made it quite clear to staff that then Capital Gold DJ Tony Blackburn was not to be permitted on board, as apparently he had made some negative remarks about Radio Caroline during his own radio show. I was on deck one morning, organising a group of volunteers into a painting detail when a bright red Austin Montego swept around the dockside, and stopping at the foot of the gangplank;  four blokes got out, and one started climbing the gangplank. Bearing in mind the instructions regarding Blackburn, and our general caution regarding strange visitors, I blocked the top of the gangplank and asked “Who the hell are you then?”. The bloke, understandably taken aback replied “Reg Presley – we’re The Troggs. We are here to be interviewed”. Suitably chastened, I apologised and escorted the party to the ships’ mess room and made them cups of tea. Fortunately Presley was in a good mood, and when I explained the reason for my initial response, he said “good for you – that Blackburn is an utter git" (or words to that effect - his actual comment is unprintable).  Bearing in mind that at the time this encounter took place, the group Wet Wet Wet had been number one in the charts with their cover of the Reg Presley song “Love is in the Air” for fifteen weeks, making Presley millions in song royalties. A nice bloke who will be missed.

If you watch the popular BBC TV show “Call the Midwife”, did you know that almost all of the external locations for the programme are filmed in and around Chatham Historic Dockyard? They now even carry out “Call the Midwife” location tours. You can read more about these by clicking here.

You may recall that back in March 2011 I covered the results of a chap who killed himself by jumping off the end of Erith Pier. He drowned in the River Thames. Subsequent to this, his friends and family created a shrine to his memory from the small white boarded structure at the piers’ end. You can see my original entry and thoughts on the matter by clicking here. Nowadays the graffiti has been painted over, the urine filled lager bottles have long gone, and the small building returned to normal. I was walking with my camera on the pier a couple of weeks ago, then I noticed a small metal plaque on one wall of the structure. It was a permanent memorial to the lad who died. I thought it was a tasteful and poignant reminder, but it would have been all the more powerful if it had been worded correctly – click here to see what I mean. The local habit of saying “them” instead of “those”, as in “them people”, and “was” instead  of “were”, as in “we was” is rife. I cannot understand how people continue to mangle English into nonsense.  I appreciate that the English language is in a state of constant flux, but to completely ignore the rules of grammar astonishes me.  The same can be said of punctuation, especially the use of apostrophes; it is glaringly obvious to me that many people have never been taught the rules for the use of apostrophes – a local carpet shop is currently displaying a sign with proudly announces “New range of Carpet’s in stock” – AARGH! Has nobody explained the use of the possessive "s" to the writer? I see this all of the time. The writers don’t have a clue as to whether an apostrophe is required or not, so they bung one in just in case.  It is not difficult – something learned for life at primary school. Rant over – for now.

As you may already be aware, following my piece last week about the possible changes to the structure of Bexley Metropolitan Police, it would seem that there is every possibility that we will lose every physical Police presence in the borough. The Police station in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere was downgraded some time ago as a full front line station; the counter service still in operation there is now being removed, and it seems increasingly likely that the building will be sold off for development – no doubt for more unwanted flats. Bexleyheath nick may also be a victim to the proposal to merge the forces of Bexley and Bromley (as I mentioned last week, the forthcoming new boss of Bexley Police is a Superintendent not a Chief Superintendent like his predecessor – which would indicate that he will take order from his boss, the head of Bromley Police).  At this point, this is all conjecture, but I would be surprised if at least some of this does indeed come to pass. *Update* - I have just had word from my most trusted local informant that at a public meeting on Thursday night, current Bexley Police chief Victor Olisa told those in attendance that plans to merge Bromley and Bexley police forces have now been dropped. Good news for once, and thanks to my confidential source. 
On a related matter, Bexley Police are going to be carrying out bicycle marking services in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre between 11am and 4pm on the 22nd February and the 15th of March, Officers with bike marking gear and laptop access to the Police bike database are going to be located outside of Wilkinson’s and opposite the Mambocino Cafe / Coffee shop and will security mark your bike if you take it along; they will also be able to provide security advice on preventing thefts. To be honest, this is a bit late in the day; there have been a number of bike thefts locally from back gardens- especially through shed break – ins. I would not be surprised if a few of the local scumbags took along stolen bikes to get them security marked as belonging to themselves, thus “laundering” the stolen bike and legitimising it as their own property.

I am currently undertaking some research on mobile tablet devices at work, looking into new and unconventional uses for the Android based computers. It got me thinking; it used to be a relatively common thing to see Internet cafes in most high streets. Erith has had a cyber cafe in the former solicitor’s office in Cross Street for several years. It seems that they are becoming an endangered species though. Rather than go to a cyber cafe to log on using one of their computers, most people now will have a laptop or tablet, and will merely look for a local coffee shop or fast food outlet like McDonald’s that offer free wifi access to their customers. It would seem that this “value added” approach will break down the Internet cafes’ business model – mobile computing devices are nowadays so ubiquitous that the provision of bulky fixed desktop PC’s has become outmoded.  I can see exceptions to this though; I note that Internet cafes are still popular in areas with a population that is predominantly composed of low income, transient residents. I can see the attraction – if you don’t have a lot of spare cash, and are not likely to be around the area for very long, you are unlikely to want to invest any money in a computer which may only work on UK voltage – cheaper and more convenient to keep in touch with the folks at home by paying a couple of quid to use someone else’s computer for an hour over a cup of coffee. This seems to hold true both in Erith and Plumstead, despite both towns having large and wifi enabled McDonalds close by the cyber cafe. I would be interested in others’ views on this.

Bexley Council are currently running a poster campaign “where will you dine with your Valentine?” In an effort to promote the national “Scores on the Doors” food hygiene rating scheme. This is all fine and dandy, except for two things; firstly, very few food outlets display their star ratings in their window – this is especially understandable in and around Erith, as so many places have terrible ratings of two out of five stars or less – the notable exceptions being the Mambocino coffee house / cafe, and the excellent T-Bone cafe in Fraser Road, both of which have four stars. The second and somewhat more telling point is that Bexley Council have not visited every food outlet in the borough, so there are numerous gaps where one can have no real idea who hygienic the omitted outlets are. Personally I would like to see the scheme made compulsory, and the rating sticker like a car tax disc that must be displayed. I would also like to see places with a zero, or one star out of five closed down immediately for remedial action. I know that I am not alone in this desire, but it would seem that Bexley Council have neither the resources or the will to follow this path of action. Next week I will be featuring a guest review of a local eaterie, in what I hope will be a semi regular feature. Watch this space.

Because I spend so much time travelling in and around London on public transport, I get to see the travelling public in all their sundry forms. One behaviour that is now so common as to be the norm is to see travellers engrossed in their mobile phones, whilst simultaneously listening to music, usually from the aforementioned phone. This insulation from events around them means that commuters thus ensconced are oblivious to things such as train announcements or platform changes. The Royal Marines call this “a lack of situational awareness”, and whilst it is not likely to get people killed (unlike in the Marines) it still can lead to inconvenience and confusion. Personally I like to be fully aware of what is going on around me, even if that can sometimes in itself be an annoyance. On Wednesday I was travelling from Bank to Woolwich Arsenal on the Docklands Light Railway. A woman sat on the seat opposite me. She was carrying out an animated conversation with someone. It took me a couple of minutes to realise that she was not using a Bluetooth headset or other hands free device, and that she was actually carrying out the conversation with a voice in her head. She seemed happy enough in herself, and got off the train at Pontoon Dock. All part of the rich tapestry of London I suppose.

After my earlier rant about the dreadful mess that is Mrs Brown's Boys, I thought that I ought to redress the balance; here is a documentary about the phenomenon that was Father Ted - in my opinion the best comedy ever to have come out of Ireland, and leagues away from the embarrassment that is Mrs Brown. Give it a watch and leave a comment below.

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