Sunday, July 21, 2013

Seven years of the Maggot Sandwich.

This week marks the seventh birthday of the Maggot Sandwich The drawing above (done by best friend Ian) shows what he thinks the fictional Arthur Pewty would look like - comments below as always. When I started the blog back in 2006 I thought it would be something that would last a couple of months at most. I certainly had no intention of it becoming a regular part of my life. I have never missed publishing on a Sunday afternoon in all that time, even on the odd occasion where I had lost my Internet connection – I have been to my Mum’s house to use her computer to ensure that some content gets posted. Back in the day my posts were short, rather inconsistent and generally rather idiosyncratic. Nowadays the style has settled down into something rather more consistent and (hopefully) readable. I did not really realise until 2010 just how many people were reading the Maggot Sandwich, and the impact it was making, until I was one of London’s 50 top Bloggers who were invited to the OFCOM headquarters on The South Bank for a conference on hyper – local websites and how bloggers and the professional press can interact. It was there I met Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers (the single most dedicated and probing of local bloggers) and Darryl of the 853 Blog – who specialises in news on the area in and around Greenwich and Charlton. Darryl’s writing is consistently of very high quality (but then he is a “proper” journalist, whilst the rest of us are just enthusiastic amateurs).  When I started the blog, it was really nothing more than a place to have a whinge about things that annoyed me, and was generally a rather self indulgent piece. I soon realised that if I was going to make the Maggot Sandwich into a realistic, ongoing concern, then it was going to need a tighter structure and a wider degree of content to attract a regular readership. It was then that it took on its’ current form. Over the years I have had hundreds of comments and all sorts of feedback – most of it good, some of it not. The Maggot Sandwich now has a regular 23,500 unique visitors a month, and gets hits from all over the world – mainly English speaking countries, but pretty much every major country has visited the blog at some point or other. I have encountered many new and interesting people through the medium of the blog; none more so than Malcolm Knight, campaigner, citizen journalist and much needed pain in the backside to certain lazy, vindictive and incompetent members of our local government, via his excellent website - Bexley is Bonkers. Malcolm has kindly sent me the following piece:- Congratulations on the Sandwich getting to seven. I bet you didn't think about that when you wrote its first entry. I didn't consider the future when the first words crept on to 'Bonkers' nearly four years ago. Now it is a treadmill going too fast to allow escape. I first came across the Sandwich early in 2010 and we first met in the September of that year when you cost me a thousand pounds by letting me look at your camera and amply demonstrating that things had moved on since I had bought my digital SLR seven years previously. Replacement followed within a couple of weeks. We were at the OFCOM sponsored gathering of London bloggers and I felt very much the new boy and in your shadow. We have since taken very different paths. I particularly enjoy your inventive descriptions of the low lifes you encounter on your travels, particularly those you used to meet on the bus to Plumstead, sadly no longer on your itinery, and your regular forays into the world of antique computing. My memory of computing goes back to those you walked through and tried not to break the valves! (Tubes for your American readers.) I have even forgiven you for your 'Pitchforks and Flaming Torches' metaphor. No, forgiven is the wrong word, without it and the ensuing police involvement Bonkers might not have survived its childhood. So cheers Hugh for brightening up so many otherwise dreary Sundays. Long may the Sandwich continue. Thanks for your kind words Malcolm - very much appreciated.

I am pleased to see that local MP’s  Teresa Pearce and David Evennett have both spoken out over the proposed rise in MP’s pay. Teresa Pearce has said that she thinks a pay rise would be wrong when so many people are struggling financially, whilst David Evennett said that cost of running Parliament should be going down, not up. I have seen comments in a couple of local newspapers to the effect that civil servants have been subject to pay freezes for several years, which with the level of inflation has effectively meant that they have taken pay cuts in real terms, and if this is the case, why should MP’s be any different. The thing is, that MP’s are not civil servants. They are actually self employed contractors on a retainer, and as such able to independently negotiate their remuneration. I think it is reassuring that both our local representatives are speaking out about the situation; I just hope that they stick to their guns and refuse any pay rise should their colleagues vote it through.  The whole issue is contentious in the extreme. To be honest, the pay level of an MP is pretty low for what they do. The hours are long, and I suspect that much of the work is pretty tedious. If I look at a roughly equivalent role in the professional services field where I work, a person with a similar level of responsibility and power is on a package worth around £400,000 a year – when you compare this with an MP’s annual pay of £66,363, it is quite a difference. Even cabinet ministers earn relatively little when compared to their compatriots in the commercial world. Of course many ex ministers go on to very lucrative consultancies and director ships once they leave Parliament, so  I suppose that it is swings and roundabouts. One can also say that the pay alone should not be a subject that attracts a person to stand as an MP; a level of passion and belief should be the deciding factor. It will be interesting to see how things pan out with the whole MP pay situation – it is entirely possible that many constituency MP’s, fearful of their electorate, will vote against the pay rise, or the whole issue may get kicked into the long grass as being politically inexpedient, as the whole issue is so poisonous with the general public.

Overall PC sales have plummeted over the last couple of years. This can be attributed to a number of factors; businesses have held back from renewing their desktop and laptop fleets as they struggle to keep their overheads down in the middle of the recession; Personal users have switched their spending to smart phones and tablet devices running iOS and Android instead of Windows, and the days of needing a bulky and unattractive desktop or tower system to run a web browser or other piece of relatively simple software are now long gone.  What is interesting is that certain types of devices have seen massive increases in sales, bucking the overall downwards trend. Amazon report very strong sales of Google Chromebooks, citing them as being the surprise sales hit of the year. I must admit that I bought one last Christmas, and I have been extremely impressed with it. A Chromebook is basically a device that runs the Google Chrome web browser. It is not a full PC, as it is not capable of running other applications - it is the modern equivalent of a VT100 terminal. This might sound like a bit of a disadvantage, but when one considers that most general computer users spend around 90% of their time using a web browser, it starts to make more sense. Chromebooks run a cut down version of the Linux operating system that has been optimised and tuned for the Chromebook system architecture. I have found that even though on paper the hardware specification is nothing to write home about, in reality, the machine flies along. It is robust, reliable and very secure. The other upside of the Chromebook is that most models are very reasonably priced. My model, built by Samsung, was only £229. A bargain. In contrast (and as I correctly predicted a couple of weeks ago) Microsoft have dropped the retail price of the Surface RT tablet (the cut – down ARM processor version that cannot run conventional Windows software) by around thirty percent in all worldwide markets. It is rumoured that they are selling the RT in America only to schools and colleges for $199, and to attendees at certain software conferences for only $99.  This is most definitely selling at a large loss; industry rumours say that Microsoft have taken a $900 million hit on their balance sheet this financial quarter, on the Surface RT alone. The rumour is also that Microsoft have realised that the Surface is not selling as they had quite optimistically predicted, and they are trying to offload their warehouses full of unsold stock at bargain basement prices. Apparently they are still undeterred by the lukewarm reception the Surface has received, and they plan a new Surface 2.0 device for early next year. You may recall a comment I made last week, when I said that the first thing you should do when you find yourself in a hole is stop digging. I think that perhaps someone ought to impart this advice to Steve Ballmer of Microsoft.

The recent spate of unspeakably hot weather has had some unexpected consequences. Places like the Belvedere Splash Park have been extremely busy indeed – with many parents finding it an ideal place to take small children where they can both play with others and keep cool at the same time. It is amazing to think that it is only a few months ago that Bexley Council had planned to severely curtail, or possibly permanently close the splash park as a cost saving measure. It was only the result of a concerted web based campaign that prevented it from happening. It is debatable as to how much cash the closure would have actually saved. Another activity which seems to have been encouraged by the ultra warm weather is the resurgence in traditional pub games – not dominoes, cribbage or bar billiards, however, but the more elaborate and old fashioned games that used to be played in the pub garden or on the local village green. Dwyle Flunking is a very traditional but rarely played pub game that is almost exclusively played in Kent.  At the Red Lion in Snargate, a pub that has a long tradition with unusual pub games, they manage to find enough volunteers for two teams of 8 players on a regular basis. The game was played thus:- Having tossed up to see who ‘went in’ first, the fielding side holds hands and dances around the member of the batting side who moves in the opposite direction. Next to him is a small bucket of beer slops with a rag ‘the dwyle’ and holding a broom handle ‘the swadge’. When the music stops the batter is allowed to make a throw or ‘flunk’ by launching the beer soaked rag at a member of the fielding side. A direct hit on the head scores ‘3’; a hit on the body ‘2’; and a hit on a limb (arm or leg) scores ‘1’. The batter has 3 strikes then he or she was handed a half pint of beer and had to drink it in 5 seconds flat – if not all the beer was consumed you are obliged to pour the rest ‘over you head’!  Sounds like a candidate sport for the next Olympic Games I think. Talking of Olympics, whilst I was photographing the 150th annual Thames Barge Race, which finished on Erith Pier last weekend, another illustrious event was happening in central London. The 2013 Chap Olympics. You can see some excellent photographs of the competition by clicking here.

Some time ago I wrote about Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) and how 2013 was going to be a landmark year for this little understood, emerging technology. Well, it would appear to be the case. The first LENR production power plant has been manufactured and is now under test in the USA. Low Energy Nuclear Reaction used to erroneously be called Cold Fusion, and was debunked in the late 1980’s / early 1990’s. It is now looking increasingly like there is something behind the reaction after all, even if it is not what the discoverers originally thought. The originator of the new process is a chap called Andrea Rossi, and Italian scientist and engineer, who has been working on LENR for many years; he’s not done himself many favours in the past by making some pretty outrageous claims about his work, and to be honest he’s annoyed much of the scientific community at one point or another. It would appear that after several years of appearing to be a big mouthed fraud to many, he’s actually come good. His LENR generator has now been independently tested by a group of very well respected, reputable scientists and the results were overwhelmingly positive. You can read the details of the tests by clicking here. I am generally very suspicious of anything that appears to be too good to be true – as usually it is too good to be true. If this is a fraud, it is one of the biggest and most elaborate cons of all time; I feel that too many experts with internationally acclaimed reputations have been involved in the testing for it to be fake – their good names would be in tatters if they had been duped into believing the generator was doing something that it was actually not.  I suppose that we can only judge the veracity of the technology when commercial LENR generators start being offered on the retail market. It is a very strange way for what could be a completely ground breaking energy generation technology to come to market. One way or another it is going to be a headline grabber – either as the beginning of a cheap, pollution free and unlimited source of energy for all, or as the one of the biggest cons of all time. We should know soon, one way or another.

I am known for not being very fond of Tesco. Like many, I find the supermarket chain to be the epitome of all that is wrong with big business.  Just for once I am pleased to say that they are doing something constructive which is going to bring something in the region of 650 jobs to the local area. Tesco are opening a distribution centre for their online delivery service in Church Manorway, Erith in October, but prior to the new venture actually going live, there will be a period of training and familiarisation for the new recruits. I understand that job applications are already being accepted for the outlet. Very pleasingly, of the 650 positions that will be created, well over 100 will be offered specifically to local people who have been unemployed for six months or more. Job openings include drivers, stock pickers, warehouse personnel, administrative staff, team managers and several types of support personnel. There will be part time as well as full time jobs available, something to be applauded. I am not actually surprised that Tesco have chosen to open a distribution centre in Erith. It makes economic and operational sense. Firstly, commercial land and property is plentiful and relatively cheap in the area; secondly Erith has excellent road communications with the whole of London and the South East – you have the M25, A2 , M20 and South Circular all in relatively close proximity, and thirdly you have a local population in a relatively deprived and generally overlooked area who are crying out for work opportunities. It would seem to be a win / win for all parties. Coincidentally, there is another  supermarket related story in the news; Asda are opening their rather more controversial store in Lower Belvedere, in what was half of B and Q on the 5th of August. This seems to have divided local opinion fairly sharply. Some welcome the fact that the residents of Belvedere will be getting a proper supermarket, rather than just having the existing small Tesco Express which seems to combine having a very small stock range with also being out of anything you happen to want. Until now, to go to  a “proper” supermarket meant a trip to Morrison’s at Erith, not always easy if you are old or infirm. Arguments against the new B and Q store seem to focus on two areas – the potential increase in traffic, and the effect on existing local shops. The traffic issue may well turn out to have some substance. Picardy Road (often incorrectly called Picardy Hill) is steep and rather narrow in places, especially near to the bottom, very close to the Asda entrance. It is quite possible that traffic jams may occur, especially when the double deck 401 bus comes along. You only need to get a couple of cars parked on the bend by the Methodist Church / Church hall for the road to gridlock. I can see this being a real problem, though I understand that Asda’s planning team have run traffic simulations which indicate very little change in flow up and down Picardy Road. As with many of these situations, time will tell.  I think the second main point raised by objectors is a little less clear cut; that the opening of an Asda store will adversely affect the independent traders in the block adjacent to Belvedere Station. There is a dry cleaners, bakers, cafe, pharmacy and a newsagent. With the possible exception of the baker, I think it unlikely that the Asda will adversely affect their trade. To use a real life example, the Londis store on the corner of Appold Street and Manor Road in Erith was thought to be doomed when the giant Morrison’s super store opened literally around the corner from it, back in 1999. Instead of going out of business within a few months as many people (I have to say, including myself) thought at the time, the Londis flourished and is still in very rude health to this day. The reason being that the store caters for passing trade – a lot of lorry drivers coming to and from the Slade Green Industrial Estate stop off to buy a paper, a cup of tea and a filled roll. Locals also use it for single items – prices are broadly comparable with Morrison’s, and you don’t have the fuss of queuing. I anticipate that something similar may happen to the parade of shops in Lower Belvedere.

Here is something different. A full length Superman film made by fans. It is a bit creaky, and has a few fairly large plot and logic holes, but overall it is great fun, and has obviously been made with love; see what you think by clicking below to make it full screen.  Comments at the bottom of the page, as always.

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