Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Odeon.

The photograph above shows what was for many years a prime cinema site in the middle of Erith, that is now a residential housing block. The site historically hosted a custom made cinema, built for the chain of Odeon Theatres; the original Erith Odeon Theatre was opened on 26th February 1938 with Barbara Stanwyck in the film "Stella Dallas". Located on the corner of High Street and Avenue Road, the huge frontage was entirely covered in high quality tiles, broken only by long narrow window, just above the canopy. To the left of the facade was a striking swept back 65 foot high fin-tower, which became a landmark in the town centre (see the photo below). Inside the streamlined Art Deco style auditorium, seating was provided for 826 in the stalls and 420 in the circle. On each side of the proscenium arch were panels with horizontal glass bands that were back-lit. There were a series of decorative plaster bands along the ceiling towards the proscenium, which were broken only by a daylight fitting in the centre of the ceiling.  The Odeon was taken over by the independent Classic Cinemas Ltd. chain on 10th December 1967, and was re-named the Classic Cinema. The Classic Cinema was twinned from 16th September 1973, with a 1,000 seat Mecca Bingo Club operating in the former stalls area, and a 400 seat cinema in the former circle, which opened with Glenda Jackson in "A Touch of Class". Later, Classic Cinemas leased the entire building to Mecca Ltd. from January 1974, and the cinema was re-named Mecca Cinema. The Mecca Cinema was closed on 25th September 1976 with the last film being the exceedingly mediocre Robin Askwith in "Confessions of a Driving Instructor" and Anthony Sharp in "House of Mortal Sin". The building was de-twinned and the Mecca Bingo Club took over the stalls and circle levels from November 1976. In 1995, it was taken over by the independent Jasmine Bingo Club chain, and was closed on 4th February 1996. The building was boarded-up and lay unused until late 2002, when it was demolished. The building was a grade 2* listed structure (which basically means it is half way to grade 1 status), but ended up being bulldozed as the surveyors claimed that the place was chock - full of blue asbestos, which was very convenient for them, as they wanted a new build on the site all along. The site is now residential flats and some offices on the ground floor. A sorry loss. Below you can see a photo of what it looked like when it was first open, and in its' prime.

Much has been written both in the local press and on social media websites about the tragic death of Erith man Kyle Rich at the hands of a drunken driver. Kyle was hit by a Land Rover in Thames Road, Crayford at 5am on the 21st June. I had not realised how popular and well regarded Kyle was, until the incident on the jetty at Erith river front last Wednesday, that I wrote about on last weeks’ Maggot Sandwich update. Whilst I was in the Riverside Gardens with my camera, a number of teenagers approached me, asking if I was with the News Shopper. I said no, I was not, but the News Shopper did on occasion use my photographs with my permission. They did not look happy, and started to complain about how the story of Kyle’s death had been misreported in the local press. I explained that I had no connection with either the News Shopper or the Bexley Times, and that I was an amateur photographer who occasionally got lucky with a few shots of news worthy events. It was clearly evident that they were very unhappy with the treatment of the story, and felt frustrated that they could not seem to do anything about it. I suggested contacting the paper directly and explaining what they felt had been misreported. From conversations I have had over the last few years with local journalists, they are generally over – stretched and under staffed. Any error or omission in a story may be due to a lack of time, rather than a desire to alter the truth of the situation reported. I have to admit that the Kyle Rich story affected me, as I met him on several occasions when he accompanied his Dad Gary to various local venues where Gary played guitar in an amateur band. I don’t really want to say any more on the matter, as it is in the hands of the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service. It will be down to them and the court to decide what happens next.

On a much brighter note, information reaches me about next years' Erith Riverside Festival; it turns out that planning for the event is already under way. Gary "Tadge" Taylor, the principal organiser of the annual event has been in contact with me. Next year's event will be bigger and more colourful than 2013, and it will return to having a theme - unlike this year. Next years' theme will be the 1950's. Gary is keen to get 50's fans on board - anyone who can dress up in authentic period costume will be welcomed. I know that Gary is also keen to contact anyone who is in a retro 50's band to get in contact with him; he's also keen to have a 50's style coffee bar at the festival; there has even been some wishful thinking about having a "Wall of Death" motorbike stunt feature, but Gary is of the opinion it is unlikely to happen, as much as the audience might like it. If you can help in any way with next years' festival, do drop me a line to and I will pass your details onto Gary and his team of festival organisers. It should be a return to form after the last couple of rather low key years, and anything you can do to help this would be great.
What is a photograph of two beer bottles doing on the Maggot Sandwich? Well, it is an example of regressive design. Fuller's ESB is my favourite bottled ale. The bottle on the left of the picture is the traditional "waisted" design that has been around for fifteen or sixteen years. The bottle on the right is the new design which is currently finding its' way into our supermarkets and off - licences. Personally I much prefer the old design - it is easy to hold and pour, and is very steady in the hand, as well as looking distinctive. The new bottle design is much more anonymous and bland. The main difference is that the new design is made of much thinner and lighter glass. It is cheaper to make, uses less energy to recycle, and saves fuel and air pollution when it is being delivered. I don't like the looks, but I have to give the sentiment a grudging thumbs up anyway. The beer inside still tastes as wonderful as ever, so at least we have that to be grateful for. 

As a matter of Maggot Sandwich policy, I don't usually comment on stories that make the national news; they are outside the remit of the blog, which is to provide news and comment on local issues, along with a bit of technology information, and an aimless ramble every so often when the feeling takes me. This week the policy has taken a bit of a bashing, as a story that broke at the beginning of the week has got bigger as the week has progressed, to the point where politicians have been asked their opinion on national radio. Not only that, but it has happened in respect of two stories - something I cannot recall ever occurring before. The first of the two is below.

There is a story doing the rounds at the moment that seems to have hit a nerve with a number of people, initially just in the local region, and later all over the United Kingdom. It started off as a bit of fluff in The News Shopper, who reported that a local woman, who was shopping in the giant Sainsbury’s superstore in Crayford made a complaint over the way she was treated by the checkout assistant. The story got such a level of traction midweek that it came to the attention of the London Evening Standard - you can read their take on it here and both the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, who are revelling in it. The encounter between the lady and the Sainsbury’s employee raises a number of questions relating both to customer service and to individual manners and courtesy.  The reason for all this was that the customer was talking on her mobile phone when she was at the checkout; the checkout assistant waited for the customer to finish her call before she started to scan and bag the customers’ purchases. The checkout assistant told the customer that this was Sainsbury’s policy, but when the customer later checked with the store management, she was told that it was not company policy, and was offered an apology.  The talkback on the News Shopper website has been alive with activity – responses to the story vary wildly, with the usual trolls trying to stir up feelings, and also a few rather more thoughtful replies like this:- "I was at the check-out in Marks and Spencer this week and very stupidly answered my phone whilst unloading the trolley. When I came to pay I apologised for ignoring her and ended the call. The lady serving me (very politely) commented "It always goes off when you least need it to doesn't it?" End of.  Lady serving me had every right to comment. And I had every need to apologise. Cannot believe Sainsbury's don't back their staff. And no, the customer is not always right. As someone commented above, I'm sure Waitrose in Dartford will welcome this customer with open arms." Whilst Sainsbury’s might not have an actual “no service whilst you are on a mobile phone” policy, quite a few local shops do. The first one I know of that banned shoppers from using phones was Harrison’s Pharmacy in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. I can completely understand this; quite often if one is going to collect a prescription, the pharmacist will need to give the customer instructions on taking the medicine, and a warning of any possible side effects to be on the lookout for. If the customer has a mobile telephone glued to their ear, they are hardly going to be capable of understanding and acting on any professional instruction. It has been scientifically proved that a person on a phone call has a reduced situational awareness – hence the ban on using mobile phones whilst driving – an regulation that is ignored almost as much as the no smoking in public places rule. Personally I also find the attitude of a small minority of mobile phone users to be rude and self centred in the extreme. You can be in the middle of  a conversation with them; their mobile rings, and suddenly it is as if you ceased to exist – they answer the phone and completely ignore the fact that you are standing in front of them. Once the call is over, you suddenly re – appear in their eyes, and they continue as if nothing had happened. When this happens, I just walk away – if ignoring someone is good enough for the other party, it is good enough for me. I really think there ought to be some kind of formalised etiquette, as currently there seems to be a bit of a free – for – all. The trouble is, the kind of person who is rude in phone use is the kind of person who would not give a stuff about phone manners anyway.  I know that my attitude towards mobile phones in general is at variance with most people’s experiences (as in I don’t have one and have no desire or indeed need for one) – something that might strike you as strange, but trust me, life can be fine without being tethered to a phone and all of the intrusion and hassle that entails. Whilst researching this piece I came across a very well written and intelligent article that you can read here on the subject.  The concept of always on connectivity and “threat creep”, along with the  changing definition of what qualifies as an emergency are all subjects worthy of their own debate. Do cast your eye over the piece – it makes fascinating, if controversial reading. It appears to me, as an outside observer, that the use of mobile phones has done the reverse of what one would have expected – they increase the feelings of insecurity, rather than reducing them as one would think. Issues that in the past might be considered of minor importance now seem far more pressing and serious. This was first recognised back in 2006, when Dr David Sheffield, of the University of Staffordshire, found problem behaviour linked to using a mobile phone in a specimen group of 106 users who were studied. Some 16% were found to have problem behaviour linked to using their phone - either lying about how much they used them, becoming irritable after using them or being overly pre-occupied with them. The result of this was to cause the user stress,  The theory was reinforced by tests carried out on 20 mobile phone users before and while giving up their mobile phones. The results showed once people had started cutting down their mobile phone use, their blood pressure was lower when talking about them than before. There is an identifiable condition that psychiatrists have labelled “NoMoPhobia” - fear or anxiety of being out of mobile phone contact! This apparently affects 53% of mobile phone users – 20% saying such a scenario would be as stressful as moving house or breaking up with a partner. But anyway, I (slightly) digress;  I feel that those irresponsible mobile phone users who are guilty of the aforementioned anti social behaviour are really sending out a negative message about themselves – in that they feel they are more important, and answering a call is preferable to interaction with the person in front of them. I realise that this is a somewhat contentious matter, and would be interested in your thoughts on it – please leave your comments below.

I read this week of a new invention that will make travelling by train even more of an arduous event than it is already (I speak from experience as a daily train commuter). Sky TV's advertising agency have been working with an audio / visual developer and have come up with the following. This is not a hoax or a spoof.

Bone conduction is not a new technology, as the advert claims; it has been around for years. Even the (in)famous Google Glass wearable computer uses it. I understand that the advert was actually commissioned by Sky Germany, rather than the UK branch of the company. It does strike me as being a very intrusive and annoying potential product, and something I feel is likely to backfire on the company. When people want to rest on the train, the last thing they need is what appear to be voices in their heads - and as for the harm that could befall anyone with a mental illness, it beggars belief. Hopefully it is heading for the bin of ideas that never made it past the prototype. Anyway, you saw it here (almost) first.

Erith's Cross Street Law Centre have been surviving on a hand to mouth basis for quite some time. Their offices in Cross Street have been operating on reduced hours in an effort to keep overheads down for some time. Much of the services they used to offer in the past (advice on redundancy, housing legal issues, child custody disputes etc.) have been drastically cut back due to the cessation of government funding. There is a glimmer of light on the horizon though. An online petition has been started by a woman named Rachel Bentley; she’s trying to get over 100,000 e-signatures, supporting her proposal that “The Ministry of Justice should not proceed with their plans to reduce access to justice by depriving citizens of legal aid or the right to representation by the solicitor of their choice”. If the 100,000 signature point can be reached (and I understand that it is already getting quite close) it will be considered for debate by the Back Bench Business Committee in Parliament. Personally I think this is a laudable effort, but I do wonder whether it will have any tangible effect on government policy. It seems to me that the relatively minor cash saving that the government are making by slashing the legal aid budget is already causing a disproportionate effect in those who are in most need of help – the vulnerable. If you would like to sign up for the E-Petition, you can find it by clicking here.

The second local story that has gone national is that related to the story I reported last week about Bexley Council banning the recording of public council meetings. The story has been reported in many publications, and Councillor Colin Campbell appeared on the Andrew Marr show this morning. I think the council will eventually bow to public opinion, and the influence of Eric Pickles, and permit recording; they just don't seem to want to do it with any amount of good grace. You can read an account here of the broadcast from Malcolm Knight, who is far better placed to analyse the interview than I. As you will see, it would appear that the council have once again whitewashed the whole incident and are trying to lie their way out of an embarrassing situation.

Fellow Blogger, Daryl of the Charlton and Greenwich based 853 blog has pointed out something just before I had intended to - one of the perils of my sticking to a once a week update schedule - it does mean that some events can overtake publication, or scoops can be missed; unfortunately I just don't have the time to publish more frequently. If I did the quality (ha! I hear you say) would suffer due to my other commitments. It is the official first birthday of the Arabfly Dangleway. Better known as the Emirates Air Line cable car. To be absolutely truthful, I am astonished that the white elephant has managed to last a whole year. It gets so little use that it is losing money hand over fist. I am unsure whether Transport for London is propping it up financially. The people behind the ill - fated cable car just don't seem to be able to realise that it was constructed in entirely the wrong place. It goes from nowhere to nowhere and travels over scrap yards, old warehouses and a truck park - hardly the most appealing parts of the capital. I have personally seen times when the cable car has been switched off during the day - there have been no passengers whatsoever on it, and they decided to save some electricity until a punter or two came along. I just don't think the situation is sustainable for very much longer - the cable car was touted as an addition to London's transport network, but in reality it is no such thing.

On a lighter note, here is a decent sized clip of Nile Rogers and Chic performing "Good Times" at this years' Glastonbury Festival. Comments below as always.

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