Sunday, April 28, 2013

Comedy at the Running Horses.

A photo I took a while back of the Running Horses pub, next to Erith Riverside Gardens. The pub used to be excellent back in the late 1980's, having a superb carvery / restaurant on the upper floor, which used to be packed with diners in the evening and weekends. In fact, you used to have to book two weeks in advance on a Sunday lunch time. Things unfortunately went down hill, and the place has been somewhat sad and unloved for the last few years. Hopefully this situation may be changing, as the pub is now holding a monthly stand up comedy club, which is featuring some quite big names in modern British comedy. The next comedy evening hosted by the Runaway Comedy Club is being held on the 5th May. You can see details of the event by clicking here. I wish them every success - this is just the kind of imaginative creativity the town needs; they just need to publicise it more. 

The Cross Street Law Centre in the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre is taking part in the London Legal Walk again this year. The aim of the walk is to raise much needed funds for law advice and legal advice groups around London. The Cross Street Law Centre has already been forced to cut back on its’ free legal advice services to local residents due to both funding cuts and changes in the law regarding free legal advice.  The law centre provides free legal and housing advice to local people who are unable to afford to go to a commercial lawyer. Their mission statement reads “Cross Street Law Centre is a professional, not for profit organisation committed to the delivery of free and quality legal advice, assistance, information and representation to the local community in specialist areas. Our aim is to actively tackle social exclusion by empowering and educating individuals to assert their legal rights and work alongside other community groups and service providers to improve access to social justice. Underpinning our work is a commitment to promote equality and justice and challenge discrimination”. It has been living a hand to mouth existence for several years, scrabbling around for scraps of funding from all the sources it can locate. An area such as Erith really needs the kind of service that the Cross Street Law Centre provides, and it is worrying to see it struggling to make ends meet, and to continue to serve the local population. With the scope and services of Erith Citizen’s Advice Bureau also severely constrained (and their website non – existent) there really is very little advice or support for local people who cannot afford the fees a law firm or planning consultancy would charge. I fear that the situation is going to get worse rather than better. Let’s hope that the Cross Street Law Centre manage to raise enough much needed funding to keep going for now. I think that a long term fix will have to involve either a wealthy donor, or more likely some commercial sponsorship from a prominent local company such as, for example ADM Oils or the Erith Construction Group. It would be a great piece of corporate social responsibility, and would really benefit the people of the town.
London seems to be getting quite a lot of media exposure at present; I reckon  that this may well be a spin – off from last years’ Olympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. The sequel to the Marvel superhero film Thor is mostly set in South East London (parts were filmed in Greenwich, at the old Naval College building, and on what remains of the Kidbrook Park Estate). From what is shown in the trailer, the capital does get more than a bit of exposure. London was a central part of Skyfall – arguably the best Bond movie to date, and London is also central to the forthcoming Star Trek movie, though from what I have seen thus far, the London of the 23rd Century is pretty much unrecognisable, with the exception of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Hopefully this exposure of London in the movies will lead to an upsurge in tourism to the capital, after the drop in visits caused (ironically) by the Olympics. Coincidentally I was in London last Saturday; initially for work, but later for some relaxation. It was instructive to be in the city as a tourist rather than a worker, as one then can see the place more with the eyes of a visitor. I had met up with friend Ian and after finishing the task I travelled into town for, we decided to go for a quiet drink on a lovely, sunny afternoon. We ended up in The Old Cheshire Cheese, just off Fleet Street, a pub rebuilt after the Great Fire of London, which boasts of being one of the oldest pubs in town. It is an astonishing place – fairly nondescript on the outside, but a warren of dark and musty rooms inside, like something out of a DiskWorld novel, or a Harry Potter film set. There is a small bar with an open fire as you enter the front door, and to the left is the chop house – basically a small restaurant with high backed benches looking like dark and foreboding church pews. There is also a tiny rickety staircase leading downwards – you need to bend almost double to descend this if you are anything other than jockey – sized. At the bottom of the staircase there are a number of bars and seating areas that are fashioned out of the ancient buildings’ cellars. It is all dimly lit and very atmospheric. The Old Cheshire Cheese features heavily in several prominent London tourist guide books, and when we visited (late on a Saturday afternoon) the place was full of foreign visitors. This seemed to me to be the crux of the problem. The pub almost exclusively caters for the tourist trade, to visitors who will perhaps visit the place once or twice in their lives. It would appear that the pub management understand this, and they have definitely let things slide. I understand from a work colleague that the place was very good until around four years ago when the place was bought by Sam Smith’s and a new landlord was brought in; at this point several long serving staff members left, and their replacements were not of the same calibre – the food initially began to suffer, and the drinks somewhat later. The single real ale on tap (Sam Smith’s Bitter) was soapy and lifeless; the food we saw (but did not order) looked overcooked and greasy, and the staff seemed indifferent in general. This was a real shame, as the bonkers, ancient architecture and spooky retro atmosphere really lent itself to a really fine classic London pub. Instead what you get is a theme park ride of a faux “olde worlde” pub, where the building is the real thing, but the stuff it serves and the people who serve it are a pale imitation of what one should expect. It was a real disappointment. I wonder what the tourists think? They in the main part probably don’t know any better, and thing it is the best you will get in a pub, which to my mind is doing our visitors a real disservice. To counter this poor experience, I can offer one that was diametrically opposite. Later the same afternoon we headed into Covent Garden – probably the biggest tourist trap in the West End. We headed for another famous, very old pub, this time The Lamb and Flag in Rose Street. This pub has recently been purchased by Fuller’s and given a gentle update and refresh without losing any of its’ period charm. The place was packed, and the crowd spread out into the alley the pub faces onto. A quality pub serving superb Fuller’s real ales and some pretty decent food too. You can read more about the pub by clicking here. I was introduced to The Lamb and Flag by my Dad. He had a friend who was the general manager of Stanfords – the world’s leading map and travel guide shop in Long Acre, just around the corner from the pub. Dad would occasionally take me along when he met his friend for lunch. I can recall sitting in The Lamb and Flag’s smoky upstairs restaurant (no smoking ban back then) and tucking into a steaming great Shepherd’s Pie with mixed veggies. Bliss. I recall on one occasion that Dad’s mate was telling us that he was rather mystified; some chap in the MOD had first phoned him, then turned up in person at the shop. The chap had been very secretive, and would only speak when he was safely inside a private office. It turned out that he wanted to know how many maps of some obscure place called the Falkland Islands Stamford’s had, and how quickly they would be able to print a whole lot more. Weeks later Britain was at war, and the mystery of the maps was public knowledge. That was the last time I visited the Lamb and Flag until last Saturday. I definitely left the visit far too long.
Following the stabbing incident in West Street last week, and the photos I took of the subsequent arrival of the Air Ambulance, the News Shopper not only published six of my photos on their website (see here and also here), but they also published one on the front page of the print edition - click on the image above for a larger version. Not that you would realise – it was hacked around and butchered to such an extent that the final image they printed looked like it had been taken with a box brownie rather than a Nikon D300. Oh well, the story is the main thing I suppose.  The good news is that the 16 year old stabbing victim was not as badly hurt as originally feared. At the time of writing, nobody has been arrested for the crime. The original photo sent to the News Shopper is below, before they hacked it around. See the difference in quality?
Some Erith residents have been complaining to Bexley Council, our two local Members of Parliament, and to pretty anyone else who will listen (myself included) regarding their perception that the levels of airborne dust have increased since demolition work on the Larner Road Estate began; I contacted Bexley Environmental Health Department earlier this week with a query regarding what level of air quality monitoring was being carried out on the redevelopment site, and this is the (edited for content) response I got:- "There is no air quality monitoring directly in and around the Colyers/ Larner estate, however, there are three automatic air quality monitoring stations (AQMS) in the area, all of which monitor fine and ultra fine particulates/dust as PM10 and PM2.5 microgram levels.  The first is located to the north-east of the Larner Road demolition site at Manor Road (identified as BX4) at the NCC premises.  The second AQMS is to the south-east at Whitehall Lane (BX1) and the third to the north in Belvedere (BX2). There  are also two dust/Particulate PM10 monitors, one (identified as Manor Road West  Gravimetric/ BQ5), the other beside BX4 station (Manor Rd East Gravimetric/BQ6). All the air quality monitoring results from these air quality stations are available on the live LondonAir website, from which you can interrogate the data. The gravimetric has a delay to the results as the lab conditioning and weighing takes time to be completed and ratified, the website is always behind by some time.” So there you have it, the local air pollution levels are freely available for the public to monitor online at any time.  You can visit the LondonAir website here for more details.

A Maggot sandwich reader called Paul has very kindly provided me with some details about the bulk cargo vessel the M.V Willeke that currently seems to spend a lot of its’ time moored on Erith Pier, as I have previously shown in the photos I have taken of it.  Paul wrote:- “Hi Hugh, just a quick note regarding the Willeke ship that is a frequent visitor to Erith pier. Wandering along this morning we saw a plastic covered notice attached to the railings next to said vessel. It was a little description of the Willeke and its cargo and current work load. The cargo is spoil from the London sewer project and is discharged at mucking near Gravesend. Nice to get some knowledge of what these ships are doing. While on the pier we were delighted to get a brief glimpse of two Harbour porpoises slowly making their way downstream, frequent visitors to this part of the river I believe and often seen feeding near the RSPB site over at Rainham Marshes”. Thanks to Paul for the fascinating and useful information. If you come across any stories or information that you feel would be  of interest to Maggot Sandwich readers, do drop me a line to . I rely on people telling me things – I investigate any leads I get given, and do my best to check the veracity of the facts before publishing. At present I am sitting on two potential scoop stories, as the facts cannot currently be confirmed, but in time I hope to publish them.

As previously mentioned on the Maggot Sandwich, it has become clear that Windows 8 has been an unmitigated disaster for Microsoft; sales figures are even worse that for the widely derided Windows Vista – an OS that even its’ creators now admit was dreadful – slow, buggy and bloated. The trouble with Windows 8 is that it wants to be all things to all users, and in doing so, fails to all. The uneasy mix of a touch oriented interface onto a conventional desktop user space has garnered criticism from pretty much all corners, to the extent that some retailers are now offering Windows 7 “downgrade” disks to customers in order to make a sale. Microsoft must now really be feeling the pressure, as they have leaked to the IT press that the next version of Windows – currently code named “Blue” (and termed Windows 8.1 in the trade) is to have the option to boot to a conventional desktop interface, complete with the Windows “Start” button (which has been present since way back in the days of Windows 95). This has been greeted with great relief by many technology writers. Whilst no fan of Microsoft in general, I would readily concede that Windows 7 was the best OS ever released by the giant software company, and it would seem if they can build on “Blue”, they may well carry on with their tradition of every other update of the desktop version of Windows being good – think about it:- Win 95=Good, Win 98/SE=Bad, Win ME = Abysmal (OK, the theory does break down a little at this point, but bear with me). Win XP=Good (by SP2, anyway), Win Vista = Bad, Win 7=Good, Win 8=Bad. Hopefully blue will be good, but Microsoft really need to go back to listening to their grass roots customers, otherwise their market share will slide. One telling fact is that many entry level laptop and netbook makers are now starting to ship their devices, not with Windows 8, but with the Android operating system instead. Android was designed from the ground up to operate snappily on low powered mobile devices, it is based on the mature, stable and reliable Linux kernel, with a smooth and tasteful interface grafted on top. Going back a few years, the first netbooks were often offered with a Linux distribution installed, but these proved unpopular with all but techies like me – the lack of availability of popular Windows applications was a step too far for the general consumer.  Things have changed dramatically – Android is now the most popular operating system for mobile phones, tablets and other small devices like media players, not only because it was created by search giants Google, and championed by cutting edge hardware makers like Samsung, but also as it is free of any licencing fees. Every time a computer maker produces a laptop and installs Windows on it, they pay a fee to Microsoft for the right so to do; Android is free and open source, and can be installed and sold with no licencing fee whatsoever. Google were very clever when they launched Android, and were most definitely playing a long game – they have managed to dominate the mobile OS market place in less than five years, and are now chipping away at Microsoft on the desktop. Windows 8 mobile is so far in fourth place in the mobile OS sales league that they might as well take their ball and go home.  Google now have the danger of becoming complacent, and sitting on their laurels; somehow I feel that this unlikely – as one of the biggest other contributors to Android is Samsung, who are hungry to dominate the OS, and will eclipse Google if given half a chance.  Either way, the consumer benefits from the aggressive competition.
Another reader contacted me this week; she's only just discovered the dubious joys of the Maggot Sandwich, thanks to someone who has posted my musings on FaceBook. As you may know, I don't "do" social networking, for a number of personal reasons; I am not against it per se, just that it is not something that I have any interest in. I also will not join any web service that demands you sign up before you can view the content. I digress.  New reader Anna Collins took the photo above (click for a larger view) last week; it shows a film crew preparing for a take of a scene for an episode from Season Five of "Misfits". The crew were filming beside Southmere Lake in Thamesmead, as they have done on many occasions in the past. Rumours persist that any future continuation of "Misfits" will need to be done soon, as most of their key locations are due for demolition over the next few months; unless the story writers and producers come up with a plausible reason for the show to relocate, it may mean the end of production - though rumours of a low budget movie persist. Anyway, you can see all of Anna's photos of the filming, and indeed her other Flickr photos by clicking here.

The ending video this week is something from the National Geographic; it is a behind the scenes look at Google - their history, aims and background. It also asks questions about privacy and accountability which the search and services giant have provoked. The result is a balanced and fascinating look at the famously secretive organisation with comments from Google staff and former employees. It is certainly worth a watch. Let me know what you think be posting a comment below. 

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