Sunday, March 24, 2013

Forty three versus one.

Work continues on the old Cross Keys building, as it is slowly converted into office and classroom space for international management consultancy firm The Aleff Group. From what I have been able to observe, the upper floors in what was the private accommodation have been refurbished, and decorators have been seen repainting the interior. Below this, the two huge and very distinctive bay windows that dominated the first floor level above the bar have been removed, and at the time of writing the holes are covered by two large blue tarpaulins - see the photo above - click for a larger view. The ground floor, where the bar once was located appears to be a building site, and quite a way from completion. The level of interest in the work has been quite high; I think many locals (who may not be aware of this blog) are unaware of what is going on, or the plans to reinvigorate the building with new occupants and a new purpose.

The project to extend the platforms at a number of railway stations on the Dartford via Greenwich line has mysteriously resumed after the best part of a years’ gap. Whilst Erith Station platform extension is completed (but not open for use – there are barriers preventing commuters from walking on the extended sections), other stations, notably Plumstead, had been abandoned and have resembled a building site for many months What has prompted the resumption in construction work is anyone’s guess. I had heard all sorts of explanations as to the reason for the halt on the extension work – the most plausible one to my mind being that there was no point in extending platforms on the line, as the existing power supply infrastructure would not have sufficient capacity to provide the motive energy for longer trains, and that the reason for the disconnect was that station engineering and power infrastructure were overseen by different teams within the South Eastern Trains engineering department, who did not talk to each other, and outsourced the physical work to different contractors. Presumably any issues related to this have been resolved, and it would appear that the work is back in progress. It does beg the question, why exactly are longer trains being introduced? The original explanation was to provide additional capacity for travellers during the Olympics, but as you may have noticed, these have been and gone. To be honest, with the exception of the morning and evening rush hour, the current provision of five or eight carriage trains every ten minutes is more than adequate, and during the rush hour, if they made all trains ten or twelve carriages for this period, there would be no need for any further provision. The platform extensions, and thus longer train capacity seems to me to be a solution in need of a problem. Please leave your thoughts below.

Last weeks' rant about paper telephone directories has prompted local activist and blogger Malcolm of the Bexley is Bonkers website to drop me a line in order to correct a couple of points I raised. I am always happy to publish constructive feedback – here are his thoughts: “I think you were a little hard on BT last week for sending you a telephone directory that few want any more because I seem to remember that when I worked for BT in 1984 - the year of privatisation - they were statutorily lumbered with providing all the basic telecoms services while the upstart new companies were allowed to cherry pick. My quick perusal of OFCOM's website suggests that nothing has changed. OFCOM is compelled to produce a paper directory and BT gets the job. Like you I see little need for a Phone Book in the internet age and it makes me a little sad to see what a pathetic little effort it has become. From 1967 to 1971 my job was to get all those massive A-D, E-K, L-R, S-Z tomes published - HMSO did the printing - and it was a totally manual job. Across the country 57 separate groups prepared the Telephone Directories and it was my bad luck to be in charge of the London one based in Old Street. Every name and phone number was indexed on cards which overlapped each other in a metal frame which was then photographed in readiness for the printing process. Lots of scope for errors and the Post Office Corporation, for that is what it was called at the time, set up a project team to get the whole operation on to a computer. I got roped in as the nearest 'directory man' to POHQ. Because directories across the country had been a local responsibility no two directories were exactly alike. Although most of the staff knew the alphabet ran from A-Z the rules applied to numerical entries and names that were double barrelled, some hyphenated some not, or included apostrophes, varied considerably. Similar problems arose with the sequencing when a lot of (for example) T. Smiths were all due to appear in the same book. Computerisation was going to fix all that. For some unfathomable reason the Daily Mail became obsessed with what we had planned and headlined it as a scheme to publish directories which would not be in alphabetical order. Their journalists must have been spending far too much time in the Fleet Street taverns. I was interviewed by a DM reporter and found myself on the front page next day confirming that their story was true. I had said nothing of the sort and if the principal Press Officer hadn't been with me during the interview I might well have been for the high jump. I've never really trusted newspaper journalists since then. The computer allowed for a new directory to be compiled, printed and ready for distribution in four days and the first one off the blocks was the Sunbury (Middlesex) local book. My boss insisted the new book was compared end to end with the source records before distribution and we found nearly 100 errors, far fewer than would have been the case with manual preparation but such was his fear of the Daily Mail that he insisted on it being pulped and the thing reprinted. This may seem an extreme over reaction but the PO Corporation Chairman was sacked for his perceived mishandling of what was in effect a pack of lies by several national newspapers". A fascinating story from someone in the know. Good stuff.
I took the photo above (click on it for a larger version) a couple of Sundays ago whilst I was walking around town; Erith Rowing Club is a long established club that rows both on the Thames off Erith, and on Danson Lake in Bexleyheath / Welling. Their club house is in what used to be the car park of the old Erith Police Station, on the river front, next to the Riverside Gardens. They share the area with marine engineering specialists Kort Propulsion, who not that long ago moved into what used to be the River Police HQ (to the left of the photo) and the Police station building itself, which is now (badly) converted into private flats.

As I have written previously, the “Scores on the Doors”  food hygiene rating website provides hours of innocent and instructive amusement. In the last few weeks the entries for many of the food outlets in the London Borough of Bexley have been updated, and the results make disappointing reading.  Whilst Dartford Borough reports only one food outlet with a zero out of five stars for food hygiene (the Ship pub in Sutton at Hone), Bexley Council reports forty three zero rated food outlets! Bearing in mind the fairly similar population numbers and social demographics of the neighbouring council areas, something has to be going seriously wrong. Either Bexley is incredibly strict on its’ scoring of restaurants and takeaways, or Dartford is incredibly lax. I don’t know what the statistical  chances are of such a radically different result are, but if it is not down to differing ways of assessing the hygiene levels of an outlet, then it is extremely worrying for any and all Bexley residents. Having the most unhygienic food outlets in the entire country has to be a source of shame for the Council. Also one needs to bear in mind that any food shop that scores three stars or less is to be regarded with suspicion – clean places are those with four or five stars. This means that a majority of the cafes, restaurants and pubs in the London Borough of Bexley are not recommended to frequent, which is a scary thought.  As I have said before, I strongly believe that any place scoring less than two stars should have to take immediate remedial action (say, within two weeks of the inspection, prior to a compulsory re – inspection) and that any outlet scoring a zero should be closed immediately, and not allowed to re – open until a re – inspection scores a minimum of three stars. I believe that the “Scores on the Doors” score sticker should be legally binding, and compulsory to display prominently in the window, next to the menu, if possible. It should be like a vehicle excise disk – you could not operate without a current certificate. I know this sounds like wishful thinking, but if Bexley Council are going to improve the hygiene levels of commercial food retailers in the borough, they are going to have to take bold and brave moves to substantially improve the situation, and this inevitably should lead to enforced closures. I am contacting local MP Teresa Pearce to see what influence she can bring to the matter. *Update* I have been in communication with Teresa Pearce since I wrote the piece above; she is taking up the matter with Bexley Council as I requested. She did also comment that from her previous investigations, it would appear that the Environmental Health team issue a detailed questionnaire to each food outlet as part of the hygiene inspection. The questionnaire is only available in English, and apparently a lot of the owners and staff of takeaways don’t have English as their first language, and some have very little English at all. In these cases the document does not get completed, and this considerably marks them down before the inspection proper has even begun. This is an interesting point that I must admit that I had not even considered. It will be instructive to see what other information that Teresa can dig out of Bexley Council about the whole thorny subject. Hopefully more on this in the weeks to come.

A second guest writer makes an appearance this week. Brian Spurrell is a stalwart behind Erith and Belvedere football club. He asked me a while back if I would write a feature on the club; after a bit of consideration (and bearing in mind my knowledge of football could be fitted into a very small matchbox, without taking the matches out first!) I decided to hand the editorial reins over to him to give some background to the historically significant local football club:-


The next month could be historic for Erith and Belvedere FC.  With 11 Kent League games left, “The Deres” are six points clear of nearest rivals VCD Athletic, with a game in hand and superior goal difference.  They visit Lordswood this Tuesday for the Kent League Cup semi-final second leg, defending a 3-0 lead.  The winners play Corinthian in the final.  So Deres have a good chance of a double as well as promotion to the Ryman League. Deres have been groundsharing with Welling United since 1999, but their local roots are deep.  The first football club in Erith was founded in 1885 at Easton and Anderson’s factory in the town.  Its first match was against Royal Arsenal - the Arsenal club’s future would be more distinguished than Erith’s! There were several small clubs in Erith but none representing the area until Belvedere and District FC formed in 1918.  In 1922 they became Erith and Belvedere and joined the Kent League, playing their first match on 26 August 1922 at Park View, Belvedere (adjacent to Belvedere station).  Up against numerous semi-professional clubs and nursery sides for the likes of Spurs and Chelsea, Deres never finished any higher than 3rd place in 1928-29, but greater success came in amateur competitions.  They twice reached the final of the Amateur Cup: in 1924 they lost the final 3-0 to Clapton at Millwall’s ground, The Den – with the biggest football crowd of the day, over 32,000 - and Erith Town Band played the returning team through the streets to a reception at the Cross Keys (where Deres’ captain Billy Swayne happened to be landlord!)  In 1938 they lost 1-0 to Bromley, again at The Den, with a crowd of 33,346, and supporters danced on the Park View pitch at the civic reception while waiting for skipper Len Scott to return from guesting on BBC radio’s “In Town Tonight”. In 1939 the club joined the wartime South-East Combination league, alongside other prominent London clubs, and found that geography was in their favour.  With many of their players in reserved occupations, working at Woolwich Arsenal or Callenders, Deres lost fewer players to the Forces than clubs in leafier parts and became one of the top clubs in Kent.  In 1941-42 they won a league and cup double, became the first amateur club in 30 years to win the Kent Senior Cup, scored 253 goals in 44 games and had a 64-game unbeaten home run ended only by an Army side fielding four full internationals. After the war Deres were founder members of the Corinthian League, remaining there until 1963 before joining the Athenian League, where they stayed until 1978.  Its most successful manager during this period, when they won the Kent Amateur Cup four times in five years, was Roy Dwight, a Belvedere boy who had won the FA Cup with Nottingham Forest in 1959 and whose cousin Reg was about to become better known as Elton John.  They reached the Athenian premier division in 1971, and won the League Cup in 1974, but chose to return to the Kent League in 1978 for economic reasons.  A local junior club called Welling United took their place in the Athenian League, which was the point at which the clubs swapped places in the local football hierarchy. In 1982 Deres were Kent League champions, their only peacetime league title so far, and entered the Southern League.  Life was hard for Deres in the Southern League, with just six top-half finishes in 232 seasons and a best placing of 7th in 1992-93.  Then on 1 September 1997 arsonists destroyed the main stand at Park View.  The club was based in portakabins for two years before moving to Welling, the Park View ground being sold to B and Q. In 2005 the Deres were relegated for the first time in their history, back to the Kent League.  They were in promotion contention until the final day of 2005-06, but were out of the hunt in the following few seasons.  Current manager Micky Collins, formerly a player with Gillingham and Dartford, took over in May 2010 and guided the team to 5th in 2011 and runners-up last year.

Remaining fixtures:

March   26         Lordswood (a)   Kent League Cup semi-final 2nd leg (lead 3-0)

            30         Erith Town (a)

April       1        VCD ATHLETIC (H)

              6        SEVENOAKS TOWN (H)

              9        Corinthian (a)

            13         Whyteleafe (a)

            16         ERITH TOWN (H)

            20         BECKENHAM TOWN (H)

            22         TUNBRIDGE WELLS (H)

            27         Lordswood (a)

            30         GREENWICH BOROUGH (H)"

Thanks Brian - an interesting read to everyone, not just your local league fan. Do visit the club website here if you would like some more information.

On a further hospitality based thread, I read that Bexley Council are not going to charge a late night opening levy on licenced premises that open between midnight and 6am. The council are legally permitted to make a charge, which is supposed to go towards cleaning sick off the pavement and the like. Fortunately Bexley is not exactly Las Vegas, and I struggle to think of anywhere that would be open overnight. The only night clubs in the vicinity are out of the Borough in Dartford or Woolwich. I understand that the amount of revenue that would have been raised had a charge been made would have been so low that it would have hardly covered any administration charge.
You may recall that some time ago I wrote a brief account of an amusing incident that happened as I was waiting at a local bus stop; I was standing, looking down the road for a sign of an impending 99 bus, when a woman walked up to me and told me that aliens were controlling the weather. She made a couple of other rather strange remarks which I did my best not to respond to. Luckily I was saved by the arrival of the bus – the woman did not get on. Well, she has now achieved a fame of sorts, as she features in the most read and commented on story in the News Shopper last week. You can read about her claims that aliens are guiding the British economy back to prosperity, that they are also controlling the weather, and even giving Arsenal football manager Arsene Wenger advice on cup winning strategy. I get the impression that she may well have beamed down a few too many times. You can read the story here – and check out the comments too.

When Doctor Who returned in 2005 I absolutely loved the show; I thought that Russell T Davies was very much the best person to reboot the programme, and that Christoper Ecclestone was inspired casting as The Doctor. I thought the same about David Tennant and I also like Matt Smith. What I have not liked over the last couple of years have been the story lines and the scripts - for my taste the show became an ensemble piece, and more reminiscent of a sci fi soap opera. A lot of this I feel can fall at the feet of current show runner Stephen Moffatt - multi coloured "Fisher Price" Daleks, for example. Moffatt is an excellent script writer, as some of the best earlier episodes can attest, but he has treated the show with what I feel is a certain degree of contempt. I stopped watching two seasons ago, and I know that the viewing figures have dropped alarmingly, so I am obviously not alone in this respect.  I know that the show has had a recent minor reboot, and I am hoping it has regained its' charm and magic. I will give the forthcoming new series a fair chance. Here is a mini prequel for the new series. See what you think. Comments below, as always.

People who know me well long ago realised that the first place to look for me if I was not at work or at home would be in Erith Morrison’s. In fairness, I do visit the store pretty much every day, but I don’t do a “big shop” – I tend to just buy bits and pieces as I need them, which is convenient for me, as the supermarket is on the way from the station to Pewty Acres. In the past Morrison’s has been pretty staid and unimaginative in its’ range of food products, which seemed to reflect its’ roots in the frozen North. That started changing exactly a year ago this week, when they introduced the wider variety of vegetables, and their unique chilled water vapour tables. Recently they have really pushed the boat out with a wide range of both chilled and frozen cuisine from a number of diverse cultures. I currently have in my freezer the following:- Frozen, oven bakeable Seekh kebabs, a selection of Jamaican patties, African Jollof rice stuffed samosas, oven baked masala fries and some kosher chicken and beef sausages. In my store cupboards I have South Korean Ramen noodles, Japanese Miso paste and chilli sauce from the Bahamas. About the only cuisine I have been forced to avoid is the Polish range; the veggies are fine, but it seems that pretty much every meat product contains pig in one form or another, which is a real problem for me, as I am pork intolerant - eating any pork, especially pork fat makes me violently unwell - don't get between me and the toilet if I do eat something pig related by accident.  Still, the variety of stuff available is excellent, as is the new range of spices, pulses and raw ingredients. It is still no Waitrose of course, but it has the advantage of being on my doorstep.

The ending video this week is a previously undiscovered gem. It is a public information film made by the former Greater London Council (remember them? You are showing your age). It was made in 1974 and is called "Living in Thamesmead". The main characters in the thirty minute film are played by professional actors, but all of the smaller parts and the extras are real Thamesmead residents of the time. The place certainly looks a hell of a lot nicer than it does nowadays!


  1. Hugh, your comments on platform lengthening struck a chord so if you would please indulge me...
    At peak times the tracks into London Bridge station are full to capacity and the trains the proverbial "sardine specials". The only way to meet the projected demand is to both lengthen trains and improve the track and station. Both the station and the approaches are undergoing major works which will see and extra 3 through platforms and remodelling of the approach tracks to avoid conflicting train movements which are a major cause of delay at present. As the works are not scheduled to finish until 2017 at the earliest, the local platform lengthening is not a priority and has to be fitted in when there are free engineers to do the work. Some have been diverted to deal with urgent problems caused by recent floods for example.
    Longer trains may arrive earlier to ease overcrowding as London Bridge will see platform closures over the 2014/17 period to allow the works to take place.
    Hope this enlightend you.

  2. Thanks Pauk - much appreciated. I think my readers will find your explanation helpful.

  3. I think the plan was for longer trains during the olympics to cater for planned increases in demand and as a trial run for 2014 on, but that didn't happen for whatever reason. As Paul said from 2014 (possibly 2015) less train will be able to use the line due to London Bridge rebuilding, and those that do will not stop at London Bridge for a couple of years. This will cause a large amount of upheaval. As such overcrowding will be a problem and the fewer trains running will have to be lengthened to 12 carriages.