Sunday, September 08, 2013

Captain Tweed and the sofa from Hell.

My crime fighting alter ego, Captain Tweed is on a case; as you may have read last week, I caught a local company - Sofas4House, who are based at Unit 20 of the Manford Industrial Estate in Manor Road, red - handed, illegally fly tipping old sofas and furniture at the recycling facility at the rear of Morrison’s. The idea behind the facility is that rather than waiting for the bin men to collect, you can take your cans, glass bottles and jars, card, paper and plastic items around to the back of Morrison’s and deposit them in the relevant hopper, all ready for recycling. I don’t actually use the domestic garden wheelie bins at all – I take all of my suitable waste straight round to the recycling centre for responsible disposal – it cuts out the middle – man and is good for the environment. It suits me too – I don’t like having rubbish sitting round, potentially attracting rats and flies and getting smelly. I take any small quantity to be recycled on a daily basis. Because of this daily familiarity with the recycling facility, I get to see the ways in which it is being abused. After alerting the Police about what I witnessed – a local furniture supply company - Sofas4House - who offer to take away and dispose of your old sofa when you buy a new one from them. Instead of taking the old sofas to the Council tip at Thames Road in Crayford, they are illegally fly tipping them in Morrison’s car park, using the recycling facility as a cover. I spoke to Bexley Council Environmental Health Department about the situation. I was informed, that although the recycling facility (which is actually owned and operated by the Council) is amongst the smallest in the Borough, it has the worst by far problem with illegal fly tipping. It is not difficult to see why. Although it is owned by the Council, it is on Morrison’s land; I was told by a nice lady from the Environmental Health Department that Morrison’s “don’t give a hoot” about what happens regarding recycling and fly tipping, even though it is taking place on their land. I think the main reason that the facility is so badly abused is down to a number of key factors. 1) It is secluded and out of the way, round at the back of Morrison’s supermarket; the only traffic that ever goes past are delivery lorries heading for the supermarkets’ loading bay. 2) The legitimate use of the facility can easily be used as a cover for illicit activity. 3) There are currently no security video cameras covering the area, even though it is an integral part of the Fly Tipping Enforcement Zone. I believe that the camera issue is to be addressed by the Council, as Morrison’s really don’t seem to care as to what happens, even though the illegal dumping is taking place literally in their back yard. The dumping has spread from dry items like old furniture to now include old and contaminated engine oil. The containers are dumped at the base of the recycling hoppers, and then kids come along, open the containers and pour the filthy and stinking liquid over the ground; used engine oil is a carcinogen, and a hazard to the water table. If it finds its’ way into the water course, it is possible for it to end up in the drinking water, causing all sorts of serious problems; on top of this it is a vile, sticky mess – legitimate users of the recycling facility are in danger of getting the oil on their footwear if they are not very careful where they step – even the local rats have walked through it – when freshly spilled old oil is on the ground, tiny tracks of rat foot prints can be seen. Hopefully now that the Council have been supplied with the company details of Sofas4House and the vehicle registration number of the fly tipper that I caught red handed, they will be able to prosecute them and make an example to others thinking of doing the same; *Update*  Sofas4House are being given a formal warning by the Environmental Crime Team of Bexley Council. Sofas4House have a very slick and professional looking website, and anyone coming across it might assume that the company was well run and responsible. As you may recall, I am keen to promote and publicise independent local businesses; in this case I am unable to do this after personally witnessing Sofas4House staff illegally fly tipping materials that they should have properly disposed of at the Thames Road waste facility in Crayford. The reason that they don’t use the proper disposal facilities is that as a commercial organisation, they get charged to dump, whereas fly tipping is free – until you get caught. A small victory for Captain Tweed, I feel.

Next Saturday the Royal Artillery Firepower Museum in Woolwich is holding a free open day. The press release for the event says “On Saturday 14 September, Firepower, The Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich will be opening its doors free of charge for the local community and all visitors for its Community Day. A fascinating fun and activity-packed day is on offer at the popular museum located in the historic riverside Royal Arsenal. The day will start at 10.00am with a 30-minute visit from the world-famous King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery. Up to fifty horses will trot to the Museum from their nearby Woolwich Barracks base to give visitors a rare, informal opportunity to meet the horses of the King’s Troop and witness the spectacle of fifty horses out for their regular exercise.  A new permanent audio-visual exhibition will open on the day showcasing the Museum’s Fighting Talk oral history project. Visitors can see and hear extracts of the many interviews with Royal Artillery veterans of major conflicts in the Falklands, Northern Ireland, the Gulf, Bosnia and Afghanistan. The project’s Memory Boxes will also be launched on 14 September, giving visitors the opportunity to try on genuine camouflage dress and handle full-sized replica campaign medals of each of these conflicts. A range of activities and experiences will be on offer at different times of the day. Visitors can also hear some of the remarkable stories behind some of the Museum’s renowned Royal Artillery Gunner’s medal collection in Marvellous Medals sessions hosted by the Museum’s Curator. Since its formation in the early 18th Century, over 2 million men and women have served in the Royal Artillery so this means literally millions of people in Britain and around the world are descended from Gunners. Firepower’s expert team have helped a number of celebrities with their family tree research on BBC TV’sWho Do You Think You Are? and the same team will be running a three hour advice session to help answer the question Is There A Gunner in Your Family Tree? for visitors.  “Our Community Day has been developed to showcase the many aspects of the Museum’s activities and collection.” says Firepower’s Director Joanna Ruddock “This exciting event is being offered free of charge for all visitors and we hope this may also encourage local residents who may not have visited recently to return and see the more recent additions to the Firepower visitor experience.” Younger visitors can take part in regular sessions firing toy rockets at a fort to find out more about the Royal Artillery use of rockets during the Napoleonic Wars. Visitors can also meet Firepower’s Second World War Air Raid Warden who will be telling visitors about Woolwich at war and reminding all visitors to “Put That Light Out!”  In addition the Museum’s Second World War Living History Team will be in wartime uniform, giving kit demonstrations and firing the Museum’s historic 2-Pounder Anti Tank Gun during the day.  Visitors will also be offered exclusive behind-the-scenes tours of the Museum’s Cold War exhibit collection Firepower’s Community Day will take place on Saturday 14 September from 10.00am to 5.00pm and admission will be free of charge. For details of timings of the different activities please visit For more information on the Firepower Community Day visit, email or call 020 8855 7755”. This sounds like an excellent day out; I will be making an appearance in the morning, so look out for me with my trusty camera.
Following my recent article on the 50th birthday of the compact audio cassette, there have been a few articles about analogue cassettes in the popular press; it is unfortunate that most of them have been written in a manner which suggests that cassettes are a dead and buried media format. Indeed in most cases this is true, but places such as Police custody suites still use them as they are regarded as less susceptible to tampering than other storage formats. Specialist audio electronics companies such as Teac do still manufacture cassette recorder / players in small batches, mainly for people who want to archive treasured old recordings from cassette onto a digital format. The problem that many are unaware of is that magnetic tape has a finite life – recordings start to deteriorate from the moment they are made. Many the time has someone dug  out their old wedding video from fifteen years ago, only to fine the picture is full of snow and the sound is muffled. This is also a problem with computer data backup tapes. One reason for the deterioration is a phenomenon known as “print through”; this happens where the magnetic signal from one layer of tape starts to imprint itself on the layers above and below it whilst wound around the spindle. Ironically print through seems to affect high quality tapes more seriously than lower quality tapes – the reason for this is high quality tape such as Chrome or Metal suffering more seriously is that these tape compositions can store recordings with stronger magnetic fields, which in turn tend to print through more easily. If you have any historic or valuable video or audio recordings on analogue tape, I would urge you to get them backed up as soon as possible, as  they will have already begun to deteriorate. Tape in all formats is really coming to the end of its’ life cycle. The last major use for magnetic tape has been for archive storage of bulk computer data. Even this is now slowly phasing out. Former recording media giant – TDK, who pulled out of making audio tape several years ago, announced this week that they were ceasing production of their data storage tape range; the last of their data tapes will roll off the production line in early 2014, leaving only Fujifilm, Maxell and Sony as the final three tape producing companies.

There has been an interesting, if rather one – sided debate on the News Shopper website recently. Transport for London are considering removing the option of paying for bus fares in cash, leaving using an Oyster card contactless debit card, or season ticket as the only options. TfL say that less than one percent of travellers pay by cash nowadays, and it costs them a fortune to collect the money. Lets’ look at this fact by fact. Firstly, it is true that many commercial organisations and retailers don’t like cash; for that matter, banks don’t like cash either. It is bulky, hard to track and a continual security risk. From the standpoint of TfL, I can understand the drive – cash for them is a pain in the neck. Let’s turn this on its’ head for a minute though. TfL is tasked with providing a transportation service for London. The key word here is service. Whilst bus drivers may huff and puff about taking cash, the root of the issue is that not every Londoner has an Oyster card, or a contactless payment card (the insecurities of which I have written about in detail in the past). What about those who only occasionally use the bus, or perhaps more importantly, the large number of overseas tourists that use public transport whilst exploring the capital. I don’t think that they can be expected to understand the complexities of the rather arcane Oyster ordering and updating system when they may only be in London for a couple of days. On top of this, complaints that people paying bus fares with cash slow down the boarding of a large number of people behind them in the queue (queuing – what’s that nowadays?) The thing is, how many times have you got on a bus to find the person in front of you has either forgotten to get their Oyster card out of their handbag, and is then engaged in a furious hunt through the detritus in the bottom of the bag, or has it to hand, and then repeatedly swipes the out of credit card against the reader, in the vain hope that some credit will miraculously appear on the card. I don’t think that abolishing cash payments on buses is currently a viable option, however much TfL might like to think otherwise.

I am sorry to report that one of my heroes died this week; Wing Commander Ken Wallis MBE, DEng, CEng, FRaS, FSETP, PhD, RAF (Retired) died in his sleep at his home in Ely, Cambridgeshire, aged 97. Who was Ken Wallis? Well, he was an engineer, pilot, inventor and somewhat eccentric daredevil who piloted James Bond’s armed autogyro “Little Nellie” in the film “You Only Live Twice”. He did much to promote and publicise the use of autogyros and became synonymous with the little aircraft. What is an autogyro? Well, although it looks a bit like a helicopter, an autogyro is fundamentally different – for  a start an autogyro is a hell of a lot easier to fly than a helicopter, as its’ rotor blade is not powered – it spins under the forwards air flow generated by the pusher propeller. Autogyros cannot hover as their lift is entirely dependent on forward momentum. The upside of this is that they are very much simpler both to build and maintain than a helicopter. Most autogyros are home built. Ken Wallis promoted their use for civilian work such as inspecting overhead power cables and for Police searches; for some reason autogyros have never really caught on in the way that he hoped – ironically this may have at least in part be due to their close association with him, and being one of the most famous Bond gadgets. Nowadays the role of both helicopters and autogyros is at least partly being supplanted by remotely piloted vehicles, which are cheaper to operate, quieter, and don’t require much space to take off and land. As you may recall, Erith was the location of some remotely piloted vehicle activity a while back, when a company called Aerosight carried out some tests just off Manor Road, which I was happy to be invited to witness. You can see a short video below of Ken Wallis flying one of his eponymous autogyros below; it is a credit to his incredible constitution that he continued to fly regularly until only months before his death.
I travel regularly on the Docklands Light Railway; I have to say that it is usually a very well run and efficient service, and could teach South Eastern Trains a thing or two about reliability and customer service. The DLR is used by a lot of tourists travelling from central London out to Greenwich, though in my experience around half of them end up getting off at the wrong DLR station. Cutty Sark for Greenwich is the station actually in  Greenwich Town Centre; a lot of tourists don’t realise this, and stay on the train to Greenwich station itself – which is quite a way from the main tourist attractions. I digress; on Wednesday I was on the DLR from Bank station heading towards Woolwich Arsenal station. Sat adjacent to me were a group of students who, from their conversation were from Austria, Hungary, Italy, Spain and China. What was interesting  was that they were all speaking to each other in fluent English. It was apparent that whatever native language they spoke, they regarded it as natural to converse in English when dealing with foreign language speakers. Quite frequently one sees in the media articles bemoaning the average British persons’ lack of foreign language skills. The trouble is, there is little incentive to do so when it seems like the whole world already speaks English.

I found out this week that the 150th Thames Sailing Barge Race, held off Erith Pier on the 12th of July this year, will actually be the last time the historic race will be held. The only consolation regarding this, is that it has been cancelled "for good" on a number of previous occasions, so there is every chance the race will be resurrected again in a couple of years; we can only hope that this will be the case, as it was a superb, and very well attended local event. You can see some photos taken on the day by clicking here.

Well, there seems to be some drastic back pedalling and driving in a U-turn going on in the chambers of Bexley Council. Malcolm Knight of the Bexley is Bonkers website attended a meeting on Tuesday night at the Council offices in Bexleyheath. The meeting was an extraordinary one – it was the first gathering of the Constitutional Review Panel for two years; they were spurred into meeting by the comments of Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, who has said on a number of occasions that local councils need to be more open and accountable to their council tax payers. As Malcolm Knight has written on many occasions, and I have repeated occasionally, the current policy of the council is that filming or recording the council when sitting in session is prohibited. They use weasel words in their current policy, saying that filming or audio recording is only permitted if written application in advance is made. The thing is, permission is never, ever given. It sounds like Teresa O’Neill and her cohorts have taken a real slippering from central government, and at Tuesday’s meeting the members of the Constitutional Review Panel unanimously agreed to recommend to the next full meeting of Bexley Council on November the 6th that recording and webcasting should be permitted. From what Malcolm says, it would appear that the decision of the panel was pre – arranged, and that many of the representations from panel members were rehearsed in advance. Whatever the circumstances, the fact that the panel (and almost certainly the full council when they meet in November) have come about face on their policy. This is great news for local democracy and transparency; I am of the opinion that when the full council next meet, the new policy will get rubber stamped with little or no further discussion, in the normal, mid 1950’s Soviet manner. Personally I doubt that many people will actually be interested in the filming or audio recordings made inside the council chamber – most proceedings seem to make watching paint dry look thrill –a – minute in comparison, but the principle of openness is fundamentally important.

Local professional film makers Amrit and Leonora Fox-Bharry of Splice Media have made a short movie that you may find of interest; it is a horror film with an unexpected twist. The film was recently shown at the Film 4 sponsored Fright Fest in London. Chicken curry will never be quite the same again. Watch below and see what you think.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Neal.

    I decided to do a bit of digging around Sofas4House and I have a few bits of intel you may find interesting.

    Sofas4House isn't a 'local' company at all, by the looks of it.

    Sofas4House is the trading name of a company called D & O Solutions Ltd, based at a residential address in Ramsgate, Kent. There are two directors, including one Daniel Gluch who appears to be the man in charge. Mr Gluch, at least based on the information publicly available, appears to be living at the residential address in Ramsgate and, until 2012 at the very least (when a bulk of their trading was done on eBay) advertised Sofas4House address at an address in Dagenham, RM9. It appears that the Erith connection, as well as being quite slim, is also quite recent.

    The company's account don't make for overly pleasant reading - quite a few liabilities, not much trade.

    I thought I'd share this with you.

    Best and keep up the good work.