Sunday, July 14, 2013

The 150th Thames Sailing Barge Race.

Saturday saw the 150th annual Thames sailing barge race, which ended at Erith. The weather was scorching hot and very sunny (incidentally my method of dealing with the sun is quite traditional. I don't believe in smearing on noxious sun creams and other such potions on any exposed portions of skin. My tactic is not to expose any skin at all. I find a good quality tweed, or on the day, moleskin blazer with a stout, wide - brimmed cricket umpire's hat, which gives a sun protection factor of something like 10,000 - far better protection from the sun's rays that anything else less civilised that I can think of). Anyway, a surprisingly large crowd of onlookers turned up, both on Erith Pier, and in the Riverside Gardens, where a small fair had been set up. See the photos below (click for a larger view).
There was a periodic explosion from the judges' cannon that was moored on a small launch next to the pier, which marked a barge completing the race - something was a rather leisurely affair, due to the almost windless conditions. This did not seem to deter the competitors one bit. The whole affair finished very amicably about four thirty on Saturday afternoon.  You can see some more photos of the day by visiting my Flickr photo site here. Do leave comments below, as always.
On Tuesday I had occasion to travel up to Watford for a couple of meetings. On my return I decided that rather than staying on the underground all the way to London Bridge from Euston, I would break my journey at Bank and get the Docklands Light Railway to Woolwich Arsenal, then pick up an overland train to complete my journey to Erith. It takes a little longer this way, but when the weather is nice, it is a pleasant alternative travel route, and the DLR route through East London is an interesting one – probably due to the novelty that I only travel that way a couple of times per month. One thing that I share with Darryl of the excellent Greenwich and Charlton based 853 Blog is a fascination with the continuing saga of the Emirates Airline cable car system, better known locally as the “Arabfly Dangleway”, which reached its’ first birthday last week, as I wrote at the time. The DLR trains run directly underneath the path of the cable cars, and one can clearly see any occupants of the cars as the train passes underneath. At around 4.45pm on Tuesday afternoon – a bright, sunny and warm afternoon there were precisely zero passengers in any of the ten or so cars I could clearly see from the DLR carriage. According to Transport For London, only sixteen people regularly use the Arabfly Dangleway to journey across the river (bearing in mind that the system was originally touted as a new addition to London’s main transport infrastructure, this does not bode well).  In my opinion, the problems of the cable car are twofold. 1) It was built in the wrong location; there is no need for an additional cross – river link at that point in the Thames. The Jubilee line connects the North side of the river with North Greenwich (which confusingly is located on the South bank of the river). You can use Oyster card or travel card on the tube, and the journey takes only around three minutes. If you elect to go via cable car, you have to pay an additional fee and it takes either five, or ten minutes, depending on the time of day of your travel. The service is also problematic for travellers in that it is closed in the evening – if you go to a show at the O2 Arena, you cannot use the cable car, as it closes to passengers at 9pm. The thing has really been set up as a limited service tourist attraction, disguised as an integral part of London’s transport infrastructure. The only way this would have worked and attracted a large enough user base to have been financially viable would have been to have located it in central London, near other tourist traps like the Tower of London or the London Eye. Most novelty travel systems like a Ferris Wheel or cable car find it difficult to make a profit in any large city; even the London Eye  - the most successful and most visited big wheel in the world does not run at anything like full capacity, and it is located smack bang in the centre of London – the greatest tourist city in the World.
There has been a lot of press interest over the last few weeks in the burgeoning trend for high quality burgers. Almost every day I read press reviews and articles about new up market burger chains opening in and around the capital. The latest one to join the ranks is Five Guys Burgers, which opened in Covent Garden last week. I am not about to debate the relative merits of one brand of minced beef pattie in a bun with salad and relish over another – in general it really comes down to personal preference. It got me thinking though. We have such an amazingly wide selection of food available via takeaways and home delivery (though around the London Borough of Bexley, you really need to be careful if you are not to get food poisoning, as I have banged about repeatedly in the recent past); I would guess that London probably has the greatest variety of food on sale of any major city in the World, with the possible exception of New York city (though not having been there, I cannot be certain). I notice that one very traditional London fare is not very well represented at present; the Pie and Mash shop.  A few high streets locally still have a Pie and Mash shop – Upper Belvedere has a long established shop in Albert Road, and Bexleyheath has one in the middle of the Broadway. They are not exactly “destination” eating places, and tend to be frequented mainly by pensioners. Wouldn’t it be a good idea if some kind of promotion of Pie and Mash shops took place? Before you counter with “what about the Square Pie chain?” I don’t regard those as “proper” Pie and Mash shops, as they don’t have the ambience or character of the real thing, and in general Square Pie shops only reheat pies made offsite in a large factory; all real pie and mash shops make the pies and mashed potato from scratch in the shop – something that gives each one its’ own unique character. I am a great fan of exotic, unusual and somewhat challenging food – and we have this in many high streets in spades. What we seem to be doing nowadays is ignoring our own traditional cuisine, which is a real pity. One thing I don’t think we will be seeing in any future pie and mash shops is a food that was once a staple – the steamed or jellied eel. Very few pie and mash shops serve eel any more, as they have become scarce and the price of eel has rocketed accordingly. Erith was one of the main homes for eel fishing on the River Thames.  Nowadays the trade is almost completely dead. Coincidentally when I took the photos of the Air Ambulance landing on the site of the old swimming baths site on Erith River Front back in April, I was in Email and telephone contact with journalist Tim McFarlan of the News Shopper about human interest stories in and around Erith that he might like to write. It would appear that he made good on this; there is a story about one of the last eel fishermen on the River Thames, who plies his trade from the jetty on Erith river front that was the cause of much consternation two weeks ago when the fugitive from justice jumped off the jetty and had to be rescued by the RNLI.  You can read all about Erith’s history of eel fishing and how it has gone from a pretty important local industry to little more than a hobby for a handful of people by clicking here.

The detailed architects drawings for the new Abbey Wood station have now been published. The new, two level building will combine both the overland conventional rail service and the forthcoming Crossrail services in one large structure. The existing station building will be demolished and replaced by a temporary station by summer 2014, which will be located in the current station car park – preparatory work has recently been started - a number of shipping container shaped site offices have already been delivered and set up. In addition, two tracks for Crossrail services are currently being installed next to the existing North Kent lines and work will be carried out to raise and lengthen a number of bridges along the track so they can accommodate the overhead electric wires that will be used by Crossrail trains. Tunnelling work is well under way between Abbey Wood and Plumstead stations – the route will be underground between Plumstead and Woolwich, then back underground through Custom House to Canary Wharf station. Travel time from Abbey Wood to Canary Wharf will be only eleven minutes. Keep this in mind, as I will come back to it later. The whole travel infrastructure for the South East will be radically improved by Crossrail; the journey time from Abbey Wood to Heathrow airport, terminals 1, 2 and 3 will be slashed from over two hours down to fifty one minutes! This may well have an adverse effect on local mini cab companies, who rely on airport pick-ups and drop – offs for a substantial part of their business. Overall though I think it will be beneficial for the local area; travel time to Tottenham Court Road for the West End will be only 23 minutes, Whitechapel in 15 minutes and even Southall will be accessible in only 41 minutes – quick enough to venture there for a lunchtime curry on a weekend. One thing that will no doubt occupy the minds of many Abbey Wood, and to a lesser extent, Thamesmead residents is that property prices are bound to be affected by the improvement to the transport links. The fact that the Crossrail station in Canary Wharf will be only eleven minutes will be extremely attractive to many Wharf workers (and here I have to express a personal interest, as the new station is currently being built right next to the office where I spend a majority of my working time). Currently it takes my around seventy minutes travelling door to door to go from Pewty Acres to the Canary Wharf office – I get the overland train from Erith to Greenwich station, where I then pick up the Docklands Light Railway to Canary Wharf. At a rough guesstimate I will be able to get from my front door to the office in about 25 – 30 minutes via the forthcoming Crossrail route – not counting service interruptions due to signal failures, mechanical breakdowns, bodies on the line and cable theft, of course. How much a ticket will cost will also factor into what route commuters decide to take, though if the area around Abbey Wood station attracts a lot of people working in Canary Wharf, house prices may well shoot up. From talking to (an admittedly unrepresentative group) of Canary Wharf workers recently, I got some very interesting feedback about what they thought Abbey Wood residents would be like. The general feeling was that the outer London suburbs are the home of white van men, black cab drivers, and the kind of people that keep central London businesses ticking over (maintenance, construction, admin support and the like). I think there is an element of truth in this; certainly if you look at the cross section of passengers who travel from stations such as Erith, Belvedere and Abbey Wood at present, you get some people obviously dressed for the office, but you also get facilities maintenance engineers (usually easy to spot, as they invariably wear company branded sweatshirts), builders and other people involved in physical work. How this demographic may change if the more wealthy city and wharf workers decide to move into the area is something that only time will tell.

The owners of the New Beijing City Chinese takeaway (rated a poor two out of five stars for food hygiene in the Bexley Scores on the Doors website) in Brook Street, Northumberland Heath are in a lot of hot water right now; they were raided by the Police and immigration officials and found to be employing two illegal immigrants. If found guilty by a court, they could face fines of up to £10,000 per illegal employee. I think it is an open secret that takeaways and restaurants around the country employ a lot of illegals. To be honest, it is not much of a surprise; most people want food from these establishments, they want it served quickly, and most importantly they want it to be cheap. Employing illegals has attractions for many food outlets, especially those serving ethnic food. If you are running a Chinese or Indian takeaway, for example, you may feel more comfortable with an employee who shares your mother language and culture, and is likely to know the food, and how best to prepare it  to a greater or lesser extent. Illegals also don’t get minimum wage – they are often grateful for a roof over their heads and regular meals, and can be easy to exploit due to their immigration status – something that can be used as a threat if any complaint about employment conditions is made. I think that as long as we have takeaways, we are going to have problems with illegal immigrants – and don’t think I support the likes of the BNP, EDF or other neo Nazi groups, who would want to shut the UK borders, and “chuck them all out” – historically Britain has always been a melting pot; something that has done much to strengthen both our culture and our economy. The cliché about immigrants doing jobs that native Brits don’t want to do has more than an element of truth in it. Anyway, whilst researching some of the views and policies of the far right, I came across something rather interesting; The name “Nazi” was meant as an insult when it was first coined. If someone called Hitler a Nazi, he would have been offended (admittedly briefly, before the name caller was taken away and shot). Hitler was the head of the catchily named “Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeitpartei” – which translates as the National Socialist German Workers Party. When Hitler invented this name, he apparently did not think it through very thoroughly. Hitler’s political and moral opponents soon caught on to the fact you could shorten Nationalsozialistiche to Nazi. Why would they do this? Well, because Nazi was a very old and unrelated term of abuse in the German language. The standard butt of German jokes at the beginning of the twentieth century were stupid Bavarian peasants; just as Irish jokes always involved a man called Paddy, so Bavarian jokes always involved a peasant called Nazi. The reason for this is just as Paddy is a shortened form of Patrick, Nazi was a shortened form of the very common Bavarian name of Ignatius. This meant that Hitler’s many opponents had an open goal; He had an extreme right wing party that was filled with Bavarian hicks, and the name of that party could be shortened to the standard German joke name for Bavarian hicks. At first, Hitler did not know what to do about the derogatory nickname “Nazi”, and it was a source of embarrassment – at least until he got into power, when he and his evil cohorts persecuted their opponents. Those that managed to avoid the concentration camps ended up fleeing Germany; refugees started to turn up all over Europe in the pre WWII years, where they understandably started complaining loudly about the Nazis, and pretty much everyone who was not German got the erroneous idea that this was their official name. To this day most people go round believing that Nazis went around calling themselves Nazis, when in reality they would have probably beaten you up, or worse for saying the word!

When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging. This seems to be something that has completely eluded the deputy head of Bexley Council, Colin Campbell when he appeared on the BBC1 Politics Show last Sunday morning. He was defending the council against the accusation that they wasted Police time when a chap called Nicholas Dowling requested permission to film the public realm, community safety, economic development and regeneration overview and scrutiny committee meeting on June the 19th, as I have covered previously.  Campbell made several statements that were in direct contradiction of factual reality, and did so on one of the most prominent stages in the United Kingdom. You can read more about the story here – if you scroll down the News Shopper article, and read the comments, you will note that “Bexley is Bonkers” makes a couple of relevant points. Local activist Malcolm Knight runs the popular Bexley is Bonkers website and daily blog – he was actually present at the incident reported, and was witness to the events in question. I note that another person who has used the screen name “Sleazebuster” comments on the article: “The Deputy Leader of Bexley Council, Councillor Colin Campbell, appeared on national television on Sunday 7th July, to defend the council's decision to call the police to remove a member of the public who was attempting to film the proceedings, in accordance with instructions issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government. When asked why Bexley Council does not allow meetings to be filmed, Mr Campbell responded "If you want to film you simply call us on the day to say you would want to film, you don't even have to give a reason." Accordingly, I emailed Bexley Council to seek permission to film the Cabinet Meeting on 9th July. I have just received a response from Mr Nick Hollier, Deputy Director of Human Resources at Bexley Council, refusing to grant me permission. A complaint is on way to Bexley Council, alleging prevarication against Councillor Campbell. I am also forwarding a copy of the email to the Sunday Politics programme for their information. Mr Pickles will also get a copy of the email, asking him what he intends to do about having two fingers put up to him by his friends and colleagues at Bexley Council.” Well said, Sleazebuster! Let us see what happens now. 

And now, for the first time ever, you can watch excerpts from the original manuscript of "Star Wars" by William Shakespeare in his original folio form from 1617. This was apparently lost for many years until discovered by a little known writer and film director called George Lucas, and the rest they say, is history....

1 comment:

  1. Hi Hugh. As a Pie and Mash appreciator from around the Borough, I think it is worth mention the other two P&M outfits around LB Bexley - the Pie and Mash Shop on Upper Wickham Road, Welling (the quality of which I can happily vouch for,) and a recent addition, in Blackfen opposite what used to be Woolworths. Millers in Upper Belvedere is in the opinion of many, me included, very close to the likes of Manzes (Tower Bridge Rd and Peckham) and Arments off the Walworth Road - the real pie houses in London. And although it is fair to say that this Cockney fare may be popular with the older generation, it is still very popular with the younger generation too.