Sunday, September 22, 2013

The sincerest form of flattery.

Erith Yacht Club had an open day today; normally the place is strictly members only, and secured behind large steel gates. This Sunday it was open as part of the UK wide "Open House" project, where buildings and structures normally closed to the public are open for people to have a nose around. Erith Yacht Club has a long and distinguished history, and for many years had its' HQ on an old Norwegian roll - on - roll - off car ferry called the Folgefonn. After a substantial lottery grant, and Olympic assistance, the new yacht club building (see above - click for a larger view) was constructed. There are facilities for teaching sailing to children, and the structure is fully wheelchair friendly (the glass box to the left of the photo is a dedicated wheelchair lift). 
Here you can see the yacht club control room, with computers linked to the Port of London Authority, the Thames Pilot, the River Police and others; there is a Marine VHF radio mounted in the console just to the left of the desktop PC. Did I mention that as well as having an advanced class Amateur Radio licence, I also hold a marine VHF ticket? You never know when it might come in handy.
The photo above shows the excellent view from the balcony outside of the members' bar. I was talking to a couple of the club officials, and they were really disheartened that the weather was so grey and humid; apparently you get to see amazing sunsets from the location.  My only disappointment with the yacht club is that they don't accept non yacht owning "dry" members. I would live to join and take part in the social activities, and help with the annual cleaning and maintenance duties. The club rules unfortunately don't permit this, which I feel is a real shame - they are missing a trick. You can see my Flickr photo album of other Erith Yacht Club photos here.

Because of the unusual weather patterns experienced this year, the forecast is for a bumper harvest of soft fruit and vegetables – something of a speciality in the South East, and especially Kent. The hop harvest is set to be exceptional too – something that would not surprise me. I was waiting for a train to Dartford at Belvedere station last Saturday afternoon, when I noticed that amongst the shrubs and weeds growing by the platform fence were a number of wild hop plants, enthusiastically climbing up the station name sign, and a couple of lamp posts. The aroma from the plants was nowhere near as strong as from commercial breeds, but it was distinctive and pleasant. I don’t think any amateur brewer  would be heading to the station to pick the crop, however. It just goes to show that given the right conditions, life will spring up pretty much anywhere.

I have on several occasions written in some depth about the burgeoning number of African churches that have been opened in South East London over the last few years; generally speaking, they tend to occupy abandoned industrial and office buildings, where the ground rent and overheads tend to be low, and the square footage of space is high. The Redeemed Christian Church of God is an excellent example of this; it is housed in a former car tyre warehouse adjacent to the hideous Fish roundabout that has now become a symbol of Erith. It would seem that as well as these African churches, certain parts of the country are experiencing a new phenomenon – The Sunday Assembly. This is a regular Sunday morning meeting of like – minded people who get together to hear talks on subjects of philosophical and moral importance, to raise money via donations for local charities and other good causes, and to sing the occasional communal uplifting song. It sounds like the normal activities of any church, mosque or temple; and in many ways it is almost identical – the only real difference is that there is no mention of any kind of higher being. The Sunday Assembly is basically a church without a god. The idea was created by a couple of humanists called Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, who started off by creating a FaceBook page, which soon turned into a regular monthly meeting in a disused and deconsecrated church in North London. It grew in size very quickly, and has now relocated to the much larger Conway Hall in central London. Other congregations for The Sunday Assembly are starting up all over the United Kingdom – the main mission of The Sunday Assembly is to help others, sponsor and take part in local community projects; echoing the sense of awe that Richard Dawkins has at the wonders of the natural world, the Assemblies’ motto is “Live better, help often and wonder more”. In October the Assembly plans to have a team in east London helping in a litter clean – up project. Plans are also afoot to start a pensioners tea dance club amongst a number of other community based projects. Ironically at present, the food donation brought in by The Sunday Assembly members are currently handed over to a couple of church based food banks for distribution to the needy. I think this is a laudable and worthwhile enterprise; it will be interesting to see how long it takes for a similar Sunday Assembly group to start up in the local area; it really goes to show that you don’t need to believe in a higher being in order to have morals and do good works. I think this concept could go a very long way. Do let me know what you think.

We are now rapidly approaching TRP (Tweed Retirement Point), the time of year when my tweed sports jackets get put away in the wardrobe, to be replaced with somewhat warmer garb. For me, along with the first switching on of the central heating, this marks the first steps towards winter. It dies seem that after the bitterly cold spring, followed by the uncomfortably hot summer, we seem to be heading back to distinct seasons, after a few years of cool summers and mild winters. Not sure if this is a good thing from a personal viewpoint (I really don't do heat well - anything over around 22 degrees Celsius is too much for me), but it should at least temporarily shut up that group who every year trot out the same mantra "we don't get seasons like we used to" and blame it on global warming. As I featured some time ago, all of the data used to model potential climate change is inaccurate, and the predictions made by both the pro and the anti global warming theorists are now worthless. The reason for this is that nearly all weather stations that are used to collect temperature, precipitation, sunlight and wind data are located in towns and cities - wherever in the world you care to check. Some of these weather stations have been in continuous use for many years; quite often for more than a century. When the weather stations were first set up, they were often on farms and smallholdings in what were then the suburbs. Urban sprawl has now happened, and what were the suburbs are now in many cases a part of the city. Cities suffer from a condition known as Urban Heat Island - the concrete and metal that make up city tower blocks, and the tarmac that covers the ground acts like a giant storage heater, keeping the overnight air temperature artificially higher than it would otherwise actually be. When climate analysts compare the heat data, say from 1913 with 2013 they then see a marked hike in the overall temperature, which immediately gets blamed on increased Carbon Dioxide levels, due to pollution. Indeed this may also be happening, but the vast majority of the temperature increase is actually due to the heat leakage from air conditioning units and the buildings which house them. The overnight temperatures stay higher than expected, as the fabric of the buildings slowly leak the heat that they had built up during the day. What this means is that the historical meteorological records bear no relation to contemporary ones - it is a classic case of comparing apples and oranges. Both camps in the climate change discussion really need to go away and re - evaluate their computer models, as they are all based on fundamentally faulty data.  

The bitter last winter, and the blazingly hot summer this year have not been kind to Eriths' roads. Fraser Road is full of potholes and cracks, and Manor Road is again falling apart under the weight of the double deck 99 buses that pass along it. Bearing in mind that these are two of the busiest roads in the town, and both are vital both for local businesses and for local residents. Bexley Council highways department are fully aware that a number of roads in the area are rapidly falling apart; the question is if they have any budget to fix them? I have documented the problem before, and in at least one occasion the failure was due to the incorrect laying of both the road surface, and the foundation by the contractor when the road was last resurfaced. The problem was that the relevant people in the council took so long to complain about the sub standard workmanship that the surfaces' warranty had expired, and there was no comeback. 

There is a saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; if this is indeed the case, then I should be very flattered indeed. As I mentioned a little while ago, a chap in Bostall Heath has set up a local blog called "The Bostall News". He's been running it for a few months now. When I initially covered it, I was diplomatic about the terrible spelling and grammar, and the way in which he blatantly copied my stories and content. I felt that he deserved encouragement, and that over time he would no doubt develop his own style. Instead I find that he regurgitates stories I have covered the week after I publish them - even when I wrote about my (very brief) encounter with Sir Tim Berners - Lee at the Royal Society in June, The Bostall News manages to cover the story a week later. If you scroll through The Bostall News, and compare my content with it, you will see an uncanny duplication of stories, around a week after I have published them. I appreciate that any news or blogging service that covers local events will inevitably have a degree of cross - over, but even the wordings he uses are so obviously copied from the Maggot Sandwich. I don't want to discourage his online publishing, but he really needs to discover is own voice - and whilst nobody has perfect spelling, he's obviously ignoring the Blogger automated spell checker - his spelling is jaw droppingly appalling. Bostall News - if you would like some help and encouragement in developing your online writing skills, I am more than happy to help you - just get in contact - As it is, you are doing nobody, including yourself any favours.

I have been more than a little surprised over the last week or so. Apple have managed to secure a staggering amount of free publicity over the launch of their new iPhones. No other mobile telephone brand gets anything like the amount of press attention as Apple - it seems that TV, print and online media go into a frenzy as soon as a new Apple phone is rumoured to be on the way. I think the reason is that a lot of media types have Apple products and are predisposed to write favourably about them. I ought to declare an interest here; the Maggot Sandwich is wrangled on a customised Apple iMac 27" computer. I don't have an iPhone (or any kind of mobile phone, for that matter) though. Samsung, HTC, Sony, or any of the other mobile telephone manufacturers would love to get the amount of press coverage that Apple do. It does seem that the press do show a kind of unconscious bias towards anything produced by the Cupertino crew. Incidentally, the group of people who queued for days outside of Apple stores to be the first to get the Apple 5S (not the 5C, which initial reports say cannot be given away, at least in wealthy Western countries - and it is way too expensive for the developing world, who I understand it is primarily aimed for) are exactly the same type of people who queued outside of Game stores to be the first to purchase Grand Theft Auto 5. In any case, what did they do about going to the loo as they waited?

As you may recall if you read last weeks’ update, prior to the current Erith Riverside Shopping Centre being created, the previous incarnation was hideous – a brutalist concrete monstrosity full of dark corners, broken class and stale urine. Many local people hated the old shopping centre from the moment it was opened, and felt that the previous Victorian development was superior. The only part of the original Victorian Erith town centre that now survives is the stretch from Erith Rowing Club to Potion Bar in Erith High Street. The stretch of road is a designated conservation area, and all of the buildings (with the exception of Erith Playhouse) are listed. Not that this stopped the owners of Potion from ruining the former White Hart pub, and I have banged on about ad infinitum in the past. The Riverside Gardens, which are to the west of the conservation area, date back to 1937, when they were created to replace a former Cannon and Gaze flour mill, which was built on the site in 1903. Another firm that was established on the river front at Erith was Herbert W. Clarke and Sons, which was set up in 1890. They started out as barge owners and lightermen, but by 1911 they took over Anchor Bay Wharf, which until then had been owned by Eastern and Anderson. As soon as Herbert W. Clarke and Sons took possession of the wharf, they formed a new import and export business, which mainly exported coal to Holland and Belgium.  Nearby was a company called Mayer Newman and Co. who were engaged in the scrap metal business – the scrap yard still exists today. It is now called European Metal Recycling, but is still in the same location in Manor Road. Further East along Manor Road was a truly massive factory and works owned by Turner’s Asbestos Cement Co. Ltd. The site covered a little over forty three acres; by 1912 the company pioneered the development of asbestos roofing material, and also produced a wide range of guttering, piping and fireproof insulation material, as well as a lot of other components for the building industry. We are still living with the legacy of this today; many old buildings need to have specialist demolition contractors to remove Turner’s asbestos building products, as the dust asbestos produces when cut or abraded is severely poisonous. I think if the company was still around today, they would have been sued into bankruptcy – but of course, around a century ago, nobody was any the wiser. Another world renowned company that had a base in Erith were Royal Doulton, who had an extensive factory located just off Church Manorway. They made salt glazed piping and tiling (I wonder if the lovely green salt glazed tiles that used to adorn the exterior of the former White Hart, before they were illegally removed when Potion bought the place came from the Royal Doulton works? We will never know). Royal Doulton also made their fine china in Erith, when experimental designs were produced that depicted local scenes as their decoration. These pieces are now rare and extremely collectible. I recall seeing one piece featured on “Antiques Roadshow” some years ago.  Erith has been the historical home to many other manufacturers over the years, some of which are still in existence. One such company is ADM Oils (whom I featured in detail last     , which has a huge processing facility in Church Manorway, which employs nearly 1,200 local people. It originally started up in 1908, when it was known as Erith Oil Works – the business then was similar to now; they crush and process all kinds of seeds, to extract their natural oils, which are used in foodstuffs, cooking oils and animal feeds. The seeds, then as now are brought upriver in large bulk freighter ships. The distinctive huge concrete silos that are still present on the ADM site were constructed in 1916, where they were some of the earliest surviving examples of reinforced concrete construction in the UK. They were constructed by Danish structural engineering company Christiani and Neilsen, who invented reinforced concrete construction techniques. The earliest recorded industrial company established in Erith was a timber importing business called W.R Crow and Son, which was set up way back in 1795! I will feature more on the history of Erith and the surrounding area in the future. The best reference work on the local history of the town was the four part “A History of Erith”, written by John A. Pritchard, which is now out of print. It was originally written in 1965, and substantially updated and revised in 1989, when it was reprinted. I have not seen a work since which is a patch on this venerable publication.

Changing tack completely, I have come across a fascinating not for profit project that has some pretty lofty aims. The team are running an ambitious project to restore and upgrade the bridge set of the USS Enterprise D, as featured in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. The set, which was disassembled for scrap, was stored in an open back  lot at the Paramount Studios, and was in pretty poor repair. The project aims to fully restore the bridge set, and to upgrade all of the control panels and displays from the original static geometric plastic covered with glass into full touch screen operational computers, which will run custom written software, making the whole bridge feel “real” and working. The idea behind this is that once complete, the bridge set could be used to teach children about space, astronomy, navigation, conservation, ethics, physics and creative writing, amongst a host of other potential subjects. The main view screen will be replaced by a giant plasma display which will be able to generate star fields as if you were actually in space; alternatively it will be able to act as a planetarium, showing visitors views of the Solar System and beyond. All of the control panels will be fully interactive, with educational content. A secondary role for the restored Enterprise D bridge will be to act as a location for weddings and civil partnerships. A substantial number of Trekkers (not Trekkies – that is a derogatory term) are keen to get hitched on the bridge. Another use will be for groups making not for profit Star Trek fan films. CBS (who now own the Star Trek rights) are happy to allow all of this, with the proviso that nobody makes any money out of the venture, which I think is fair enough. Incidentally the bridge set is not the original one used for filming – that was destroyed during the filming of the movie “Star Trek – Generations”. Ironically it is probably just as well, as the original was mostly made of wood and plaster, and if it had not already been destroyed, it would not have survived, stored in the open. The version being restored is a later version made of tubular steel and fibreglass, which are far more robust construction materials, and which also lend themselves far better for repair. It was originally built in 1996 to be a centre part of the Star Trek Experience – an interactive attraction that exhibited in the UK and Germany in 1997.  The restoration project is well under way now, and has the support and endorsement of a large number of former and current Star Trek production staff. Watch the video below and see what you think. 

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