Sunday, August 04, 2013

Nothing for something.

The photo above shows one of the commercial successes in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre - the Mambocino Coffee Shop - a cafe that really has formed the social nucleus of the much maligned shopping centre. It is well worth a visit if you are in the locality.

Air pollution in and around Erith has been a problem for years; at a point about ten years ago, it was deemed that several roads running adjacent to the River Thames at Erith had the highest particulate level in the whole of Greater London. Various efforts by Bexley Council Environmental Services, along with the Environment Agency have done much to improve this, through a strict regime of monitoring (which I have a personal involvement with) and very strict enforcement actions, when required. It would appear that whilst overall this has improved the air quality in Erith, there is still a way to go. As you may recall last year I reported about the terrible stench that turned out to be coming from the ADM Oils edible oil refinery off West Street; I reported the matter to Bexley Council, and the smell was gone within a couple of days. ADM are a very large and responsible local employer who at the time were replacing the filters on their factory exhaust system. They acted pretty quickly to curtail the sickly and poisonous smelling emissions. On the other hand, there is another local company that does not take care to comply with environmental laws. Metropolitan Waste Management, in Manor Road, were fined over fifty thousand pounds last week at Bromley Magistrate’s Court, for storing over twenty times the amount of rubbish on their site than they were permitted to do.  Metropolitan Waste Management (MWM) scrap wood (old pallets, door frames, planks  and wood off cuts) and convert it into a form suitable for burning in  waste to energy plants like that located in Lower Belvedere. They were visited on multiple occasions last year by the Environment Agency, who issued a number of warnings concerning MWM contravening the terms of their waste management licence. The company did little about the situation, and over the course of the year the amount of illegally held waste grew to twenty one times the volume permitted by law. When they appeared in court, MWM pleaded guilty and were fined £51,500 for the serious infraction; they were also ordered to pay costs of nearly £10,000, and to pay a victim surcharge of £15 (!) The problem with companies like MWM is that they think that as they are located in a part of Bexley Borough that is thought to be “the back of beyond” that they are exempt, or even unnoticed by the authorities. Manor Road has several recycling businesses of various types, most of whom are law abiding. Cheating the system and breaking the law has given MWM an unfair advantage, although I would think much of that has been eroded by the huge fine. At least  the message has been sent out by the Environment Agency, and hopefully any other local company thinking about testing the law will now be discouraged by the example that has now been set.

You may recall that a while back I featured a trailer for a forthcoming movie starring, starring Status Quo, playing themselves. The movie is called Bula Quo, and is described as “Think The Monkees meets On The Buses meets Tintin in the Congo.” Er – quite. The reviews for the movie are entertaining – here are a few genuine quotations from reviews:- "Whether or not the film is based on real events is unclear; I remain to be convinced that it is even based in our temporal plane. " "The whole thing is, somehow, even worse than you’d imagine" "the plot is more disposable than an airplane wet-wipe" "Not so much a movie, more a pub chat that got way out of hand" "directed with all the grace of a three-legged rhino head-ramming a broken beer cooler." "Unforgettable. Whether you want to or not" on a more positive note. "Amiable cobblers". It seems that nobody makes movies with bands playing themselves any more – so the Quo are back to save the day. Status Quo have never been fashionable; the upside of this is that in their fifty years of existence, they have never been unfashionable either – they just keep on rocking. The in joke of their musical limitations is legendary – what other band could have got away with calling an album “In search of the fourth chord”? in reality Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi are fine musicians, but their hard core audience want them to keep pumping out the 12 bar blues rock that they have proved so adept at for half a century. I reckon the movie will have the last laugh; it patently cost pennies to make, and with the amount of product placement in it has almost certainly broken even before it has gone on general release. By the time it has aired in the cinema, and made it onto DVD, I reckon it will have turned a tidy profit for the band. Critics may laugh now, but I think the Quo will have the last laugh.

This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of Windows NT. You may not have heard of Windows NT, but you almost certainly use it in one form or another on a daily basis. Windows NT stands for New Technology, and was designed as the operating system that would replace the DOS based Windows 3.1 back in 1993. Up until this point, all Windows actually did was act as a rather unstable graphical user interface that sat on top of the Disk Operating System (DOS) - Windows itself did very little other than convert mouse clicks into commands to be sent to DOS, that actually did all of the leg work. The down side of this was that the DOS / Windows combination was very unstable, completely lacking in any form of security (you did not even need to log on with a password) it also lacked networking ability, or a properly structured file system - really not something suitable for "serious" computer use. All in all the DOS / Windows combination had little left to recommend it; the world had moved on, and the World Wide Web was beckoning. Since Windows XP, all home and business versions of Windows have converged, so that nowadays you have one desktop operating system for all uses. The original NT kernel (the engine that drives the underlying operating system) is still in (somewhat modified and updated) use nowadays. It forms the basis for Windows 8, Windows Server 2012, XBox 360, XBox One and Windows for mobile devices. It started off back in the summer of 1993 as a brand new, high end operating system for workstations and servers; the first version was called Windows NT 3.1, somewhat confusingly – this was to keep branding similar to the then existent Windows 3.1, the main DOS based version of Windows, which was then steadily gaining in popularity. Windows NT was designed at the outset to be far more scalable, secure and to offer features that earlier versions of Windows lacked. The team that developed Windows NT were the same people led by a very bright chap called Dave Cutler who were behind the incredibly successful and very influential VMS operating system used on DEC VAX mainframes and mini computers. Their brief was to bring something as powerful, secure and flexible to the PC desktop market. To be honest, they succeeded very well indeed. It was only when Microsoft wanted to make NT much more user friendly with Windows XP, based on the NT kernel that things started to fall apart. Functionality was given priority over security, and malware was able to dominate the operating system. Nowadays Windows 7 is the popular mainstay - Windows 8 has had a very poor reception, and really has turned into an "also ran". But what unites all these different products is that underneath they all use the same code - NT. Happy Birthday Windows NT; you are not my personal choice, but many seem to still like you, whatever your quirks and insecurities.

A local businessman seems to have hit on an excellent idea which benefits pretty much everybody involved. Abzar Ali, owner of the Aligor curry house in the Broadway, Bexleyheath, hosted a lunch for pupils of the Crook Log Primary school recently. The idea was to give the school children an exposure to Indian (actually Bangladeshi, but let’s not get picky) food. It seems to have been a great success – the kids got a lunch out, got to try food that they might not have eaten before, and could potentially turn into future restaurant customers. The owner also got some free publicity from the News Shopper. I think that this open house approach might well benefit other restaurants and food outlets in the area. As I have written in the past, the proliferation of African restaurants in Erith, Plumstead and Woolwich has been noted, but they seem to restrict their advertising and publicity to within the African community – they don’t seem to make any efforts to encourage other customers to try them out. Back in the early 1960’s a large number of men migrated to the UK from mainly Bangladesh and Pakistan. Initially they opened small cafes to cater for their desire from food from home. Never people to miss the main chance, some of the more entrepreneurial of them realised that they were sitting on a huge, untapped market of British people who were used to a fairly bland diet, and who might well find the novelty and diversity of a foreign cuisine a real attraction – as most definitely turned out to be the case. The food served in what became the high street curry house might not have resembled what you would be served in a respectable family abode in Lahore, as the dishes were tweaked both for the relatively untutored British palate, and were also made easier to make in large quantities with cheaper ingredients. By this clever tailoring of the food to appeal to the British, many curry house owners went on to earn vast fortunes, both from restaurant chains, and the later move into chilled ready meals, tinned curry sauces and a plethora of other “Indian” style comestibles. The market in the UK alone is now worth hundreds of millions of pounds per year. It strikes me that the African restaurants could take a similar approach – tweak the menu to appeal to the Brits (who nowadays are a lot more open to experimentation than back in the 1960’s) and welcome them in – the tills might then start ringing. To be honest, it may be difficult for the independent African food outlets to gain a toe in a more general market, as big business has already seen the gap. You might be wondering what chain already sells African food? Nando’s – it is marketed as “Piri Piri” style food, but it is basically a watered down version of Southern / West African cuisine. For example, what Nando’s call their “Spicy Rice” is called “Jollof Rice” in Nigeria and much of Africa in general. Nando’s has been an astonishing success in the UK – it is one of the fastest growing food brands, and it has an amazingly high brand value and level of recognition. Unlike many fast food outlets, it has fan sites and even has a UK wide website for reviewers.

Over the years I have recounted numerous brushes I have experienced with beggars, con – merchants and other scam artists whilst I travelled on London’s public transport system. Over the last couple of weeks I have come across a new technique for extracting unwary travellers from their hard earned cash. I have to say that it has got my grudging admiration for being inventive and quite clever. If you travel on the over ground trains in the afternoons, especially during the recent extremely hot weather, you will often find a man or woman quietly walking the length of the carriage, placing packets of tissues on any empty seats that are adjacent to a traveller. Attached to each packet is a begging note, saying the person is homeless and out of work and a “donation” for the tissues would be appreciated. The sheer brass necked cheek of it amazed me – along with the clever exploitation of the current intolerable travelling conditions on the overland trains. A few people do make a “donation”, others like me (who ensure we always go prepared) ignore the subtle begging.  I have reported it to South Eastern trains, who appeared to be unaware of the problem. It has been going on for some time now – I hope that the British Transport Police can get a handle on the problem – I somewhat doubt that the beggars have a valid ticket to travel.  What I also note with interest is that the level of begging on public transport overall seems to be well down on the levels of a couple of years ago; whether this is due to better policing, a low level of success (most travellers wisely don’t give the beggars anything) or a combination of factors, I really cannot say.
I was Emailed the photo above recently; originally I was of the opinion that it was a piece of satire - a spoof on the state of street crime in the local area; now I am somewhat less sure - it may well be a genuine "for sale" advertisement. What do you think? Leave a comment below.

The Google Glass project has provoked a huge amount of interest from all over the world; It would appear that some people think the spectacle shaped computer and eye level display in on general release; in fact a limited number of prototypes have been available for purchase by US citizens only. The finished, commercially released product is not due for some time yet – the road map for release in the UK has yet to be published, but my best guess would be probably in around a year. This long lead time has not deterred the Department for Transport, who it is reported are already mulling over their legal position in regard to motorists using the technology on the UK roads. They have already stated that it will be illegal to use Google Glass whilst driving in Britain. This may well not please the car companies; Mercedes Benz are in the middle of developing an app specifically designed to use the Glass headset to provide a “head up display” featuring speed, distance to the vehicle in front, and integration with the cars’ GPS navigation system. Other manufacturers are planning similar software for their own vehicle fleets. I am unsure about the whole idea; on one hand, anything that detracts the driver from concentrating on the road ahead is automatically a bad thing, yet a heads up display may be the very thing to help them keep concentrating. Some cars already have HUD type displays (thinking the Citroen C6 for example), and they are legal to use in the UK. I think there may need to some clarification of the precise legal details – my thoughts are that once Glass is available in the UK, the Police will try and make a few arrests as an example. Having said that, the huge publicity surrounding the supposed crackdown on the illegal use of mobile phones whilst driving has had little discernible impact on the number of drivers who continue to drive and phone. A Google Glass headset is almost impossible to distinguish from a conventional set of spectacles at more than a few paces away; I think the Police may have an uphill battle on their hands.

Councillor Sharon Massey, the new Mayor of Bexley has made an announcement of such jaw dropping irony this week, that I find it hard to express in sensible prose. She has told the world, (well, OK, the Bexley Times) that she has embraced social media, and will be using both Twitter and Facebook to highlight her work, and to publicise the charities she supports. This is a laudable move, and much to be approved in a move to make the council more transparent and accountable to council tax payers. The irony is that Councillor Massey is the head of the Council which prohibits filming or audio recording of the events that take place in public meetings - contrary to the instructions of Eric Pickles, the Local Government Minister. Malcolm Knight, the writer of the excellent "Bexley is Bonkers" blog has written much on this topic; I too have made a few observations on the subject. Bexley Council is stunningly hypocritical - it is very much as case of "do as we say, not as we do". They are keen to censor and disparage anyone who tries to take them to account over their actions, but they are very keen to be able to express themselves on their own account. 

My television watching habits are fairly well established. I spend most of my time watching factual programmes – documentaries and history are two of my preferred topics. A few weeks ago the local press was agog with a story about an actor who used to appear in EastEnders, who recently bought the Royal Standard pub in Lion Road, Bexleyheath, and is attempting to turn it around from its’ current, threadbare and run – down state. Stuart Antony is taking on what appears to be an up – hill struggle. The Royal Standard has suffered from neglect and a lack of investment for years. I went in there a while back whilst I was waiting for the nearby Robin Hood and Little John to open, and the Royal Standard felt like it was in a time warp from 1985. Hopefully Mr. Antony will be able reverse the fortunes of the pub, which if properly managed, could be very successful. He's made what could prove to be a very astute business decision by turning the pub into Bexleyheath's only bar for LGBT people. Since the Ship in Erith changed hands a few years ago, there has not been a gay bar in the area - I think that as it has no competition, the former actor turned publican could well soon be coining it in. He's catering for a comparatively well - heeled niche market. The Robin Hood and Little John is not a competitor – they serve two completely different groups of customers, and I cannot see why the two establishments could not successfully co – exist, with The Royal Standard catering for the lager and alco – pop brigade, and the Robin Hood and Little John continuing in serving superbly kept real ales and high quality home cooked food in a peaceful and convivial environment.

The ending video this week is a bit unusual - it was filmed in Ravenswood School, Bromley. It is a tribute to former pupil David Bowie, who attended the place when it was known as Bromley Technical School. Anyway, it is a very professionally produced piece of video - just don't hang around watching the end credits - they last even longer than the film itself.  Do leave a comment below. 

1 comment:

  1. The photo above shows one of the commercial successes in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre - the Mambocino Coffee Shop - a cafe that really has formed the social nucleus of the much maligned shopping centre. It is well worth a visit if you are in the locality.
    When you walk past the coffee shop you can be sure to get a full blast of smoke from someone's cigarette, (In a no smoking area) that no one does anything about.