Sunday, March 10, 2013

Kebabs and college.

I recently wrote about the derelict and long abandoned building in James Watt Way that used to house Erith Trades and Social Club (see the photo above - click for a larger view). The club closed down about three years ago, and the building has been empty ever since. Thieves have stolen all of the electrical cabling and both the gas and water piping from the place, and it is in very poor shape indeed. One of my sources has discovered that a planning application has been submitted for the location.  The application involves the demolition of the existing club building (this was always going to be close to inevitable – the structure is in such a state that it is beyond economic repair).  The proposal is for a six storey block of flats, with forty individual flats. Of these forty, six will be one bed, thirty one will be two bed, and the remaining three will be three bed. This is to be accompanied by twenty nine parking spaces, a refuse disposal facility and a communal garden. Quite how the developers are going to fit all of this on the site is beyond me; the parcel of land is of modest dimensions and is sandwiched by the KFC drive through on one side, and the Morrison’s petrol station on the other.  Quite who would want to live with the smell of frying chicken mixed with petrol and diesel fumes, not to mention the almost 24 hour noise from the sites is a mystery. I am guessing that the Council planning team will probably refuse this application on the grounds it is too many flats on too small a piece of land. This well may be a ploy on the part of the developer – put in an over ambitious application initially, only to “revise” it to that which they actually wanted all along. Time will tell. Over the last few years – basically since the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre opened with flats above the shops, the population of central Erith has ballooned.  It is understandable in a way, after all, Erith is one of the cheapest places to live within relatively easy access of London. That’s why I moved here, along with I guess quite a lot of other people.

Am I alone in noticing a local trend in womens’ hair styles? There seems to be a fad for having hair tied up in a very tight bun right now. Some of the ladies I have seen out and about have buns that look so tightly woven that they look like they were made of fibreglass and glued into place. They remind me of the BMW multi function selector iDrive system. I doubt twiddling the hair bob would change any functions however, other than to get you a smack in the mouth, or worse!

The Maggot Sandwich updates keep growing; I originally intended for each weekly submission to be no more than two thousand words a week. It then rose to two thousand five hundred words, and at present it hovers at a little over three thousand words. I am concerned that the length may start to put off causal readers, who may see a dense mass of text, and then think "I cannot be bothered to read all of this", which I can fully understand. As it is, I have had to carry over a couple of stories I would have liked to feature - they will now be recounted in the next update. Apologies to Erith and Belvedere football club, and the Blues Brothers International - you have not been forgotten about. 

Have you noticed that most mobile phones and portable MP3 players make great stock of the sheer number of tracks that they can store and play. It does seem to be that in the last decade or so we have regressed dramatically in terms of what is deemed acceptable audio quality. Back in the eighties, as CD gradually overtook vinyl, compact cassettes were the preferred portable audio medium. Other, superior formats such as DAT and Mini Disk came and went, but never really competed. With the advent of digital downloads popularised by the illegal likes of Napster and LimeWire, the emphasis switched from the quality to the quantity of music that could be acquired. Instead of owning a curated library of hand-selected albums, 21st-century listeners have seen their music libraries become repositories of multiple thousands of song - often downloaded or transferred in bulk, often without any particular attention being paid to what was arriving. The more that our new century's music fans were obtaining for free (typically via illegal file-sharing on peer-to-peer networks) the less they tended to pay close attention to what they were hearing. There were just too many songs to deal with. And more arriving by the day. If listening to music was once a purposeful, attentive act, it has become over the past 10 or 15 years a random and distracted act. People often listen to whatever their iPod wants to shuffle into their earphones, and are usually doing a couple of other things at the same time. Online commenters boast about their "massive" libraries - rarely about the quality of the music they're listening to. Meanwhile, streaming services, such as Spotify, brag about the many millions of songs available, and assure us that we should be regularly sharing our hastily assembled playlists with both friends and strangers via social media. As if the constant over-feeding of our ears is now music's primary goal. Music, basically, has become the aural equivalent of fast food: consumed quickly, in super-sized portions; users get filled up but not necessarily nourished. The act of taking a record out of the cover, removing the paper sleeve and placing it on the record deck (in my case, my highly prized Linn Sondek LP12)  became like an act of supplication – a ritual to be performed with care and devotion. The spinning of the record, and the gradual motion of the tone arm and stylus across the face of the vinyl could become almost hypnotic; one did not stick on a record and go off and do something else – at least I never did. The value of music via digital downloads seems to be to have been diminished – the look and feel of the sleeve, the notes and credits were to me all part of the overall experience. How can you ever replace the thrill of reading the cryptic messages left on the run – out groove of the record by the cutting technician? It turns out that there are a couple of websites dedicated to recording this unusual phenomenon – click here.
Now that construction of the new Bexley College campus has begun on the site adjacent to Walnut Tree Road, I think it is high time for the businesses in Erith to step up to the plate in order to be ready for the influx of students, most of whom will have money to spend locally. The most obvious contender for improvement is Town Kebab in Bexley Road (photo above - click for a larger view), as it is the fast food outlet located closest to the campus site, just on the opposite side of the hideous fish statue roundabout. The problem that Town Kebab currently has is that it currently only has a single “Scores on the Doors” star, so has a woeful record of food hygiene. One would think that the prospect of over a thousand hungry students on his doorstep would encourage the proprietor to raise his game to compete with the likes of Domino’s Pizzas, or both Macdonald’s and KFC, which are a bit of a longer walk for the hungry teenager. If the place was tidied, given a deep clean and a lick of paint, it might do much to improve its’ image - historically it made most of its’ money on a Friday and Saturday evening when it fed clubbers after they had spent the evening in the nearby T’s (later Tease) nightclub. When that closed down, much of their revenue stream was lost, and the place now looks to be struggling. If they can hold out to the end of this year, and invest a little in fabric of the shop, they could well find themselves sitting on a small gold mine.

Much of the mainstream press (specifically the Guardian, which has worked itself into quite a tizzy) have been writing at length about Google Glass – the beta test version of Google’s new wearable computer / enhanced reality headset that has gone on limited release to a number of U.S based testers, who have each paid $1,500 for the privilege. The problem that some security analysts see is that you cannot readily tell when a Glass user is taking video or photographs. In one example, a journalist was demonstrating a Glass headset to a film crew in a Starbuck’s coffee shop. The shop manager asked the film crew to stop filming, but ignored the presenter, who was also shooting video through the Glass headset. I think this is the crux of the privacy problem; when someone is using a DSLR or even a mobile phone to take video or still photographs, it is obvious that they are doing so, and if you don’t want to be filmed, you can take action to avoid it. With devices like Google Glass, it is impossible to determine what the wearer / operator is doing. Mobile phones make a synthesised and quite loud shutter “click” when they take a photo to make certain that surrounding people are aware that a photograph has been taken. The reason for this? Some early camera phone users in Japan were using their phones to covertly take photos up women’s skirts on the Tokyo Underground. The shutter sound was added to make this far more difficult. Not only this, but Google Glass video and still photo content is automatically uploaded onto Google’s servers – potentially for the world to see.  Much in the same way that Google Street View has suffered from the law of unintended circumstances, catching people up to all sorts of humorous / criminal / dangerous activities, what will Google Glass end up doing? I have a few ideas, and I am sure that others have too. It does seem that Google senior management have the attitude of “sod the consequences, let’s chuck this technology out and see what happens.”

In the mid nineties, I worked for a company that was based in the East End of London, very close to Cable Street, the location of The Battle of Cable Street.  Due to the proximity with Brick Lane, I would invariably head to the lane for lunch at least one day a week. Nowadays Brick Lane and the surrounding area has become gentrified, with media companies moving in, and the widespread restoration of the Spitalfields area; back then it was a slum; nowadays the Huguenot period houses sell for millions.  Brick Lane back then was still dominated by wholesale clothing shops, and the side streets were full of illegal sweat shops. Now it is smart and feels a lot safer, though it has definitely lost the edge. I used to be one of the few European faces seen walking down the road at lunch time, especially so if the service at the Brick Lane Mosque had just finished. The huge number of “tourist trap” curry houses had yet to spread. Nowadays waiters tout for business outside many of the restaurants, offering passing visitors unbelievable deals if they choose their restaurant over the plethora of others. I detest this – many, maybe most of the restaurants on Brick Lane are poor quality, and certainly not worthy of your patronage; they exist mainly to fleece the tourists, who won't be back to complain. One place that stands head and shoulders above the rest is one of the oldest restaurants on Brick Lane, and a place I used to be a regular at. It is an unpretentious cafe style place located on the junction of Brick Lane and Chicksands Street called Sweet and Spicy – you can read a recent review of the place by clicking here.
This week the Maggot Sandwich plays host to Richard, a local resident who has picked up on my comments concerning the apparently illegal parking notices in the B and Q car park in Lower Belvedere, and I suspect all over the country. The story was first broken by Malcolm of the Bexley is Bonkers blog, but Richard has carried out some quite extensive research into the legalities of the situation. I should point out that Richard is an enthusiastic amateur, not a legal professional, so your mileage may vary. Here is his take on the situation:- "A company calling itself 'Vehicle Control Services Ltd' have placed signs in the car park of B and Q in Lower Road, Belvedere. They say “24 hour parking enforcement in operation”.  The notice in it's present context is meaningless as the car park is on privately owned land. Parking enforcement procedures can only be carried out by an approved local authority enforcing a Penalty Charge Notice:

Penalty Charge Notice (Local Authority) 
This is NOT a fine but a civil debt recoverable in the county court.

Traffic Management Act 2004.
The regulations made under Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 enable a Local Authority 
in England, provided it has been given the relevant power by the Secretary of State, to enforce 
parking contraventions within a particular geographical area (CEA) and to enforce other 
contraventions such as double parking and parking across a dropped footway within a Special 
Enforcement Area (SEA).

The signs then go on to state “maximum stay 3 hours”. This statement is totally ambiguous and could mean anything, 3 hours a day, a week, forever. Who knows? The notice continues to list conditions that, if not complied with will result in a series of what it calls 'enforcement procedures'. (See above). These conditions are interesting. To paraphrase, “if a valid ticket/permit is required it must be shown in the front windscreen of the vehicle”. No valid ticket/permit is required as it is a free car park so none of the penalties would apply even if they were legal. A Parking Charge Notice charge is only enforceable by the court. In order to get such an order the car park operator would have to establish that a contract existed between themselves and the motorist. A contract requires an object (something the car park operator provides) in exchange for a consideration (something the motorist offers in exchange). No consideration, void contract. End of story. A Parking Charge Notice is a claim of civil debt governed by contract law and property law. While this may look like a penalty charge notice it is no such thing and can be treated as a speculative invoice for a breach of contract. Other penalties they threaten refer to wheel clamping and towing. This became a criminal offence under the Protection of Freedoms Act on 1st October 2012. It may also be considered a threat to commit a criminal offence with the intention to obtain money which is an offence under the Public Order Act, S4.

Section 4  Fear or Provocation of Violence 
A person is guilty if he either 
a) uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or 
b) distributes to another person any writing or sign which is threatening, abusive or insulting.

The above would also apply to the land owner for allowing the sign to be displayed. 

Contracts with unlawful objects are also void.


There is no such thing as a parking fine.  Although the term is widely used it is almost always incorrect. A 'fine' in English law is issued as a punishment for a criminal offence. The only time the term could be considered is when a fixed penalty notice is issued by the Police for a traffic violation such as:-

parking at bus stops 
parking on pedestrian crossings 
parking in safety zones outside schools 
parking on yellow lines. 
Anything else is only a civil penalty which can be challenged in the county court."

Many thanks to Richard for his work in clarifying this; it would appear that B and Q and their security sub contractor have dropped a massive clanger. It will be interesting to see if either the Bexley Times or The News Shopper pick up on the story, as it certainly has legs. Time will tell. *Update* Since I was sent the piece above in the midweek, I had to attend a conference hosted at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as part of my day job. One of the other delegates was a lady called Margarita McNee, the Legal Policy Manager for B and Q. I bent her hear at some length about the parking warning sign issue at Lower Belvedere (she knew the shop well). She said that in general, B and Q does not own the land its' stores are built on, it is merely a tenant - apparently there are tax reasons for this. The land owner has responsibility for the car park, and B and Q pays a fee to use them. Any enforcement of the parking rules is outsourced by the local landlord to a third party enforcement company. I explained that the general public don't know this, and the current signs obviously damage the B and Q brand. She was very interested, and promised to investigate. Hopefully something positive will come out of this fortuitous meeting.

Whilst I was at the Foreign and Commonwealth office, I walked past the office door of the Minister for Europe, currently the role is held by David Lidington MP. The door was open, and he was sat at his desk with his head in his hands; I have no clue as to what sort of crisis he was managing, but he did not look too happy. I get a good idea of the esteem the Minister for Europe is held within the FCO - his office is right next to the toilets!

The row over the proposed road bridge over the River Thames between Beckton on the North bank, and Gallions Reach in Thamesmead on the South bank seems to have stepped up a gear. Councillor Gareth Bacon of Bexley Council said that building a bridge would be “disastrous” and that “Bexley will not stand by and let the bridge back in with all the congestion that would entail in our borough. It has been proven to be a fundamentally flawed idea and would be disastrous for local people. There are other locations which would be clearly much better suited, such as Woolwich”. Politics aside, there would be powerful engineering and legal challenges preventing a bridge at Gallion’s Reach.  Under international aviation law, it is illegal to build any structure higher than fifteen metres within one kilometre of an airport. Any bridge between Beckton and Gallion’s Reach would need to be substantially taller than this in order to allow enough rooms for ships (including large passenger liners which will be using the new facility on the banks by the O2 Arena) to pass underneath. Guess what? London City Airport is directly adjacent to the proposed bridge site. I think for this reason alone, a bridge at this location is a non – starter.  Environmental concerns, as expressed by Darryl of the 853 blog, and my own worries that the sleepy residential area of Gallion’s Reach would get turned into a rat – run for heavy goods vehicles may come to nothing due to the simple fact that it is forbidden to build tall structures close to airport runways – a fact that those involved don’t yet seem to be aware of.

The ending video this week is from a 1973 BBC live recording of Mike Oldfield and a host of very talented musicians playing the whole of "Tubular Bells" with no studio trickery or overdubs, something that you just would not see nowadays. Maximise the video window and sit back to enjoy a piece of classic Prog Rock. Please feel free to leave a comment below.


  1. Hey Arthur,

    It's the man from Radio Caroline here. Our Erith Pier plan ran aground some years ago, but now we are looking at it again. There is confusion about what the pier can and cannot be used for and indeed what it may presently be used for in any case, permitted or not.
    You took some good pictures a while back. Any chance of getting in touch ???

    Peter M,
    Radio Caroline.

  2. 'Councillor Gareth Bacon of Bexley Council said that building a bridge would be “disastrous” and that “Bexley will not stand by and let the bridge back in with all the congestion that would entail in our borough. It has been proven to be a fundamentally flawed idea and would be disastrous for local people'

    What planet is this man on, apart from Nimbyvotia?

    Has it not occurred to him and the moaning mothers from Brampton Road that a hell of a lot of people in Bexley would actually like to get to Barking and Dagenham without going all the way to Blackwall or Dartford? Maybe he might gain more votes from them than he will lose from the nimbys?