Sunday, March 03, 2013

The builders are in.

The photo above shows the state of work on the building site that will become the new campus for Bexley College. As you can see, much of the site has now been cleared of trees and bushes – a not inconsiderable effort, as the whole area was absolutely overrun with undergrowth and full grown trees. I do wonder what has happened to the large colony of rats that were occupying the site – I walk past on a daily basis, on my way to Erith Station, and I have regularly seen giant rats scurrying around, usually after discarded fast food wrappers and the like. No doubt they will have moved on to the bushes around the entrance to the station; I will be keeping my eyes peeled for rat – related activity. Aside from site clearing, it would appear that the main activity going on in the site on Walnut Tree Road is the preparation for the building foundations and ground works. It looks to me that the site engineers will first need to dig up and remove the concrete base and foundations from the old Erith Tram Shed, which was located on the site. From the reactions of the engineers I saw on Thursday afternoon, they were not expecting the concrete slab to be as big or as solid as it appears to be; it looks like quite a big job to break it up and haul it away. I get the feeling that Erith Town Centre will be seeing quite a few spoil lorries coming and going over the next few weeks. Still, it is a small price to pay to get the campus constructed. As I have said before, I think that the campus will be a great benefit not only to the students, but to the whole of Erith. There is more construction work going on at the other end of Erith High Street; The Cross Keys is being refurbished and converted into offices for the international management consultancy The Aleff Group. I have seen BT engineers attending, and there is light and activity under way, but with the heavy metal anti vandalism shutters still covering the lower doors and windows, it is very difficult to see exactly what is going on. I have been invited for a guided tour once the work is completed, but by the look of things, this might be some time away.

Bad news for Erith residents with legal issues. The long struggling Cross Street Law Centre is having its’ funding slashed almost in half due to government cut backs. The long established drop in legal clinics will cease in April because of the loss of its’ legal aid grant. Quite what impoverished locals will do for help following this, I really could not say.

This years’ Bexley Beer Festival has a new venue. After seven years of being held at Sidcup Sports Club, the festival will be hosted at the Old Dartfordians Club in Old Bexley - the details are on the flyer below - click on the image for a larger view.

On a completely different tack, I was reminded of something strange I witnessed some years ago. Back in the spring of 1996 I had not yet moved into Pewty Acres, and experienced the joys of Erith life. I was walking down Picardy Road, in Upper Belvedere on my way to Belvedere railway station. It was a clear, bright spring morning, just before Easter. There were a few small clouds in the sky, but visibility was excellent. I was hurrying to the station on my way to work when I saw an object in the sky, which I initially thought was a hot air balloon. I first thought it was relatively small and low in altitude, but then I saw it pass through some clouds, which were at approximately 8,000 feet. I then realised the object was huge and very high up – it was also travelling quite slowly northwards, against the direction of the wind. As I studied the object I came to the conclusion it was not a balloon at all – it was dark grey and triangular, very large and like nothing I had seen before. It stayed in view for around ten minutes as I completed my journey to the station. I pointed the object out to several fellow commuters, all of whom were mystified by the object. The last I saw it had travelled over the Thames into East London. I had seen the infamous Black Triangle. I contacted LUFOS (the London UFO Study group) who in turn confirmed that a large number of people had independently seen the same giant flying triangle that I had seen, at roughly the same time. They also contacted London City Airport, who confirmed that they had monitored by radar a large unknown flying object in their controlled airspace at the same time as the object was visible over South East London. I never heard any more about the matter, and I have absolutely no idea as to what the object actually was. All I know is it was huge, silent and definitely not a conventional aircraft.  I am not saying what I saw was a craft from another star system / dimension or whatever – what I am saying is I saw something in the sky for several minutes that did not resemble any kind of flying vehicle I could recognise (and my aircraft recognition skills are pretty good) and it seemed to be under intelligent control. The mystery was never solved, and I am still perplexed by the experience to this day. Do let me know if you have ever seen something inexplicable in the sky.
With all the hoo – ha in the popular press about last Sunday’s Oscars, and the debate as to who deserved what award, the almost complete absence of awards for the latest Bond film “Skyfall” seems to have been the elephant in the corner. OK, Adele got to sing the title song from “Skyfall”, and the appearance of Dame Shirley Bassey singing “Goldfinger”, but the movie itself was award – free. Bearing in mind the huge critical and financial success of the film – by most counts now the most successful Bond film of the entire series, you would have thought all the fans would be delighted, but not a bit of it. Back in 2005 when Daniel Craig was announced as the next actor to take on the iconic role of the secret agent, a small group of extremely vociferous people banded together to set up the protest site Fair enough, people are entitled to their opinions; I thought that prior to Casino Royale being released, that maybe they knew something the general public did not, and the first Craig film would turn out to be a turkey. Of course is wasn’t – most critics regard the re-boot of the Bond franchise as an excellent film, and liking the fact that Craig brought a grittier, more realistic interpretation to the role. I thought that the nay – sayers would gradually be won over, but when researching the subject for this weeks’ entry, I found that the site is still up and running. Many critics (and fans) agree that Skyfall is in the top three Bond movies of all time, with a clever plot, intelligent script, great acting and some cracking explosions (and what would a Bond film be without explosions?) Yet just like the members of the Flat Earth Society, the members have continued in their protests about the choice of actor have continued despite all of the evidence to the contrary that he was an inspired choice for the role. They are either so pig headed that they will never change their entrenched views, or they are completely divorced from reality. I bet they are secretly seething after the news that Skyfall is not only the most successful Bond movie ever, but it is now also the most successful British film of all time. 

Recently I described the shocking state of Bexleyheath Broadway, which has nearly a third of all shops empty and unused; I mentioned that even the venerable company Kimberley Hifi, which has been in the Broadway for as long as I can recall is now no more. It would appear that not all nearby towns have been so affected. It has been pointed out to me that places such as Woolwich have thus far been almost totally immune to the closures that have blighted Bexleyheath and Welling, for example. The theory that has been expounded for this is that in relatively prosperous places such as Bexleyheath, local shoppers have money, but limited time and inclination to traipse around the shops. Shop rents and other overheads are high, meaning profit margins are very slim. Locals are likely to compare retail prices and then purchase goods online. In more deprived towns like Woolwich, many locals have all day to wander around the shops, and tend not to buy online, but to purchase in a traditional manner. Because such towns are less attractive to prosperous shoppers, rents and overheads are lower, offsetting the lower average spend by the shopper. This is just a theory, but it does seem to be held out by local events. In any case Woolwich has experienced fewer shop closures, though the shops it does have do tend to be of the Pound Land and discount store variety. I don’t personally feel that high street retail is dying completely – but it is definitely changing.

Some good news for a change, especially if (unlike me, possibly the most un-sporty person in town) you are a football fan. Local club Bexley Invicta have just come runners up in the Bristol Challenge Cup, a competition for amateur teams. Bexley Invicta lost in the final to home team Bristol Panthers. Bearing in mind that this was Bexley Invicta’s first season in existence, I think it is a very creditable showing indeed. The club Chairman is Brian Silk, a Maggot Sandwich reader and occasional contributor (he wrote the review on The Ark cafe and Christian bookshop recently). Bexley Invicta are the first mixed gay / straight football team in Kent; they are off to Lyon in March to take part in their first ever international competition. It looks like it won’t be long before Brian will be ready for the Chairmanship of Charlton.

The news that Bexley Council have now signed a deal with Tesco which will allow the supermarket giant to demolish the current Council offices in Bexleyheath (see the photo above - click for a larger view) to create a superstore on the site; at the same time the Council will move into the old Woolwich Equitable offices around the corner in Watling Street, which will be refurbished. Council Leader Teresa O’Neill is quoted as saying that "The fact that we are re-using the Woolwich building is further justification for our position as London’s number one borough for recycling.”. I could not have put it more cheesily. The move does make sense – the Woolwich building is relatively modern, and certainly looks distinctive enough, with its’ unique Chinese Pagoda styling. I understand that a number of houses are also going to be built (though who will be able to afford them in this credit crunch? Answers on a postcard please..) Tesco say that the deal will mean that they will be creating 400 local jobs, which is always good news. I must admit that I must strike a note of caution; firstly, whenever I see anything to do with Tesco, I am always suspicious. I have a deep and abiding dislike for the company – and yes, before you point it out, they would not be the massive retail behemoth that they are if they were no good at what they do; it just seems to me (and many others) that they want to take over the world. One suburb at a time. It also concerns me that Tesco are one of the worst companies in the UK for “Land Banking” – that is, buying up land when it is cheap, then sitting on it for years without doing anything with it (and preventing any other development by a potential rival) until the market picks up and they either sell it at a profit, or then build a supermarket on the site. Tesco have been guilty of this in Dartford; the site on Lowfield Street has been the property of Tesco for the last ten years, but they have held off building for this entire period, which has caused planning blight – the area has become run down, which has put off shoppers to the other businesses in the road, which has led to further dilapidation. It has got so bad that several shopkeepers in Lowfield Street call the area “liked bombed out Beirut”. Local opinion seems to be that Tesco bought the site to prevent a rival supermarket chain from getting it, rather than because they actually wanted to build a store on the site. Dartford Council have issued a “get building, or get out” order to Tesco, but I think they would be hard pressed to enforce it, as possession is nine tenths of the law – and Tesco can afford the very best lawyers. I just hope that history does not repeat itself in Bexleyheath.

Malcolm Knight of the Bexley is Bonkers blog has discovered something of interest – I don’t cover his ins and outs with Bexley Council, as he does such an admirable job himself, but one thing he has recently uncovered during a visit he made to the Lower Belvedere B and Q (blogger does not like ampersands, as they are used as a database control character, and it throws a bit of a tizzy if you use them). Next to the B and Q part of the structure is being converted into an Asda. Malcolm saw warning signs posted in the car park, stating that the maximum stay in the car park was three hours, and any over – stayers would have their vehicles clamped. As Malcolm correctly points out, clamping on private land was made illegal in the UK since the 1st of October 2012. As Malcolm says, it will be instructive to follow what happens when someone is clamped. Anyone with a clue as to the law could have an absolute field day; unfortunately most people will not realise that the law has been changed , and will probably pay the fine. Personally I would call the Police if I found a vehicle I owned that had been clamped whilst on private land. After all, a criminal act would have been carried out.

The Arabfly Dangleway fiasco flounders on; we now find out that Boris has been forced to go cap in hand to the European Union for a hand out of £8 million in order to keep the Emirates cable car running. So few people are using it – Transport for London’s own figures show that only sixteen people use it for a regular daily commute, despite Boris selling the scheme as a vital part of London’s public transport infrastructure. It is painfully obvious he knows little of South East / East London, as any resident could have told him you can cross the river via the Jubilee line from North Greenwich to Canning Town in around two minutes for half the cost of the cable car. Speed, convenience and reliability (not to mention cost) are far more important to the commuter than a pretty view (and even that I would question – who wants to look at old warehouses, a scrap yard and a lorry park?) The DLR offers another way of getting across the River that is pretty reliable, and you can use your Oyster card or travel card without paying an additional fare. The fact is, that over and above the sponsorship money shelled out by Emirates Airline, London’s council tax payers have been paying for the service, which is bleeding cash to the tune of £50,000 a week, which is why Boris has had to go with his begging bowl to the EU. What happens if they decline is anyone’s guess.

You may recall that last June I featured a story about poet Luke Wright who had written a 1,700 word poem called the Ballad of Larner Road, about the community that live on the notorious Larner Road housing estate that is soon to be demolished and replaced with modern low level apartments and some shared ownership housing. The poem has now been made into a short film that has been uploaded to YouTube. You can see it below. I was pretty cynical, thinking that it would be a propaganda piece for the housing association, but it is actually not bad at all. Let me know what you think of it.

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