Sunday, September 15, 2013

What have the Romans ever done for us?

The photo above shows the former Cross Keys pub on Erith High Street; the scaffolding that has cocooned the building for a number of months has now been mostly removed. A large scale, very sympathetic restoration of the Grade II listed building is under way. The place is being converted from its’ original use as a pub, into a combined office space with presentation and meeting rooms for international management consultancy The Aleff Group. The work has taken quite a bit longer than originally thought, as I understand the last owners of the building had neglected it for years; much damage has had to be repaired, on top of the work needed during the conversion process. I am hoping to get some photos of the freshly restored and refitted interior once the work is completed, as the new owners have promised me a guided tour of the place. I will post the results online in due course. It is good to see the Cross Keys getting a new lease of life, and also that it is being restored in a proper way, unlike its’ near neighbour, Potion Bar – more on Potion later down this post.

Not long ago I was talking to a group of pensioners sitting on one of the benches on Erith Pier. They were all locals of many years’ standing; indeed a couple of them had lived in the town all of their lives. During our conversation, it struck me that they were universally negative about Erith and did not have a single good word to say about the place. I was surprised by this, as much has been done to improve the town in the last few years; when I pointed out all of the improvements and new facilities that Erith has acquired over the last decade or so, it seemed to be an almost exact re – run of the classic “What have the Romans ever done for us?” scene from Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian”. After all, we have a new and well – run shopping centre, a large supermarket that employs over five hundred local people, a large number of modern, well designed flats in the town centre, the longest pier on the River Thames, easy public transport both into London and out into Kent, relatively affordable housing prices, the only access to the River Thames in the whole of the London Borough of Bexley, an excellent, volunteer run annual festival, a number of active community groups, and shortly we will also have a brand new further education college and the most modern public housing scheme in Europe. I agree the place is far from perfect (no decent restaurants or pubs, problems with fly tipping, metal theft and general anti social behaviour), but where is nowadays? If one thinks back only a relatively short time ago, the old Erith town centre was a bleak concrete monstrosity that smelled of Jeyes Fluid and impatience. It was dark and menacing, and not somewhere you would want to walk through, let alone do your shopping. Morrison’s did not exist – it was a disused deep water wharf, and what is now a pleasant private housing estate in Britannia Close was then abandoned and vandalised warehousing. The Odeon cinema was long closed, and the Art Deco building was ruined. All in all not a pleasant place to be. How things have changed for the (mostly) better. One of the things that has most definitely not got better though, is Potion bar on the High Street; it has been in on and off trouble with the Police (drug dealing and consumption going on in the bar) and with the Council planning department (blatant violation of the original buildings’ Grade II listed status after they ripped out the original acid etched glass and tiled frontage to be replaced with plate glass). To add insult to injury, the Potion bar website is currently hosting some pretty serious computer malware – I have not embedded a link as is my normal practice for obvious reasons. I have heard rumours that the bar is losing money hand over fist, and may be up for sale shortly, but I have heard nothing concrete. If any reader has more information, please drop me a line to

It does not seem to matter what web browser you use, and what measures you take to prevent the appearance of unwanted browser windows, you will still get the occasional “pop under” – an annoying window that appears underneath the browser window you are looking at, which only becomes apparent when you minimise the browser. It would appear that the company behind these pop unders has found a way to circumvent to the pop up / under blocking technology used by the Chrome and Firefox web browsers – and before anyone says, I know about various ad blocking plugins that one can employ. What is interesting is that the content in the unwanted messages comes from only one company at present – 888Casino. It would seem that their malware developers are currently one step ahead of the browser security people. What puzzles me is the motivation behind it; surely anyone who gets malicious windows appearing on their computer screen is going to take note of the company behind them, and actively boycott them? I would have thought it commercial suicide. Personally I would like to see far stricter regulation of both online and high street gambling; I think that it is the “elephant in the corner” – nobody seems to pay it any attention at present, but the deleterious social and economic effects of unfettered gambling benefit only the online casinos and high street betting shop chains. As well as the aforementioned online gambling, it worries me that one of the fastest growing presence on the high street are betting shops. I know that some local authorities are now refusing planning permission for further gambling outlets; I can only hope that the London Borough of Bexley follow suit.

Talking of web browsers,  I was talking to a couple of colleagues at work earlier this week. Pretty much everyone now uses Chrome,  Firefox or Internet Explorer for web browsing nowadays. Both of my colleagues were reminiscing about the days of Netscape Navigator – which comprised a suite of applications all rolled into one program – web browser, Email client, newsgroup reader and basic web page authoring tool. Netscape is now long dead and gone. Some of the Netscape team went on to form the Mozilla Organisation, the creators of Firefox. One other, lesser known product they created is called SeaMonkey, which is essentially a reworked version of the Netscape application suite, written with modern code. If you yearn for the late nineties Netscape flavoured web browsing experience, but with a safer, modern technical environment, you may wish to download and give SeaMonkey a try – it is free and open source, and available for Windows, OS X and Linux. See what you think.

The video below is currently going viral; it is a spoof reworking of the classic Marc Cohn track "Walking in Memphis" retitled "Shopping in Lidl". It is spot on; very funny and quite clever too - see what you think and feel free to leave a comment. As I have previously mentioned, you may have problems with certain Maggot Sandwich features if you use the Chrome or Firefox web browsers. There is a bug in the Blogger template I use which causes the "About me" and other pop out functions on the right hand side of the screen to disappear, and the comments box at the foot of each entry, and the location metadata to not show. It renders fine in Internet Explorer, most embarrassingly. I have logged the issue with Google, but cannot do anything else about the problem, except change the template I use, which I do not want to do, as it took a lot of work to tweak it to what you normally see. Blogger is a free to use service, and it would appear that Google give it a very low priority when it comes to bug fixes. I suppose that I will have to just grin and bear it for now. If you cannot access the comments functionality, you can still contact me as previously mentioned at 

Maggot Sandwich reader and local activist Doreen passed me the following story. Bexley Police are holding a public engagement event on Sunday 22nd September, between 10am - 4pm, in the Broadway, Bexleyheath. The event will give members of the public a chance to see some of the specialist units, equipment and resources that the Metropolitan Police has at its disposal; residents will also be able to talk to local Senior Police Officers about policing in their area. Partnership organisations will also be joining police in the main shopping area of Bexleyheath Broadway, including the London Fire Brigade, London Ambulance Service and Bexley Council. There will be a wide range of activities and a chance to see some of the vehicles, specialist units, equipment and resources that the Police have at its disposal. Visitors and residents will also be able to talk to local Senior Police Officers about policing in their area and officers will be on hand to give out crime prevention advice and material. The Safer Transport Teams carrying out free cycle security marking of bicycles and registering the details on BikeRegister to help tackle and prevent cycle crime. There is no requirement to register for the event or the cycle marking, simply turn up on the day. It should be a worthwhile event. Hopefully I will pop along for a look, and maybe to take a few photos at the same time.

TV manufacturers are preparing for the commercial launch of 4K television – that is, screens with a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels. Basically this will be the next step up in picture quality from HD, which in turn was a step up from the old 625 line standard definition.  I have seen a couple of early 4K televisions, and the picture quality is stunning – especially when showing still images. They still have a way to go with fast moving images, and do exhibit some level of motion blur – although this may have been down to the level of image compression used. Overall the screen displays are impressive, but I have a few concerns. At normal viewing distances, the human eye resolution is approximately 15 megapixels (this includes everything in view, not just the item you are focussing on), then 4K television could be said to be reaching the human eye saturation point on a conventional screen size.  One thing that is also apparent from the early models is that content is a problem – no UK terrestrial or satellite broadcaster currently transmits 4K content, as the bandwidth to do so is so great; it seems that the television manufacturers have taken this into account, and have launched “YouTube” style 4K digital content channels, which can stream proper 4K imagery from their own proprietary servers. My feeling is that with LG, Samsung and Sony all competing to produce their own content channels, at least a couple of them will end up falling by the wayside, probably to be scooped up by the real YouTube – after all, Google have money to burn. The other thing that also is evident is that the early 4K televisions lack one thing – none of them come with 3D capability. Technically 3D is pretty straightforward to implement on 4K, but I understand that it is for business, rather than technical reasons – 3D has been a failure. As I have written before, people buy 3D capable HD televisions, but they don’t use them for 3D. After the initial novelty has worn off, the 3D glasses go into a cupboard (or in my case, the cabinet under my Smart TV) and get forgotten about until friends come round to visit, when the glasses may get briefly pulled out for a few minutes showing off. The real telling proof that 3D is not popular is that take up of Sky’s 3D HD television channel has been woefully low, even though Sky are the foremost proponent of 3D content in the UK. Sky have now started bundling the 3D channel (which used to be a stand – alone £10 a month extra) with other channels in an effort to try and increase take-up.  I predict this will fail, and that sooner or later the current 3D channel will be “re – launched” as something more mainstream and profitable, like an extra sports channel, that Sky know will be a guaranteed revenue generator.

Next week the developers of the Crossrail terminus next to the existing Abbey Wood overland station are taking compulsory possession of a strip of land that runs from Church Manor Way to Abbey Wood Station, running parallel with Mottisfont Road on the North side of the railway track, and Abbey Grove on the South. The strip of land is being taken from the bottom of the gardens of a number of houses that back onto the existing overland railway line adjacent to Abbey Grove. The trouble is, the residents have apparently not been kept in the loop over the progress of the work, and they claim that they have not been told of any compensation to be paid to them. This is rather strange, as from my contacts with Malcolm Knight of the Bexley is Bonkers website, who lives close to the location of the huge infrastructure project, I understand that overall, the Crossrail project team have been very good at keeping local residents informed as to what is going on, and when things are going to happen. Losing a quarter of your garden must be nasty, but bearing in mind the absolutely huge overall cost of the Crossrail Project, a few thousand quid to each householder is hardly going to break the bank of the development. From the sound of it, Crossrail have tried to contact affected residents, but it does sound like communications have gone a bit wrong in a few instances. Personally I would not want to live in that area, as the noise from existing passing overland trains will be increased when the Crossrail locomotives emerge from the underground tunnel just outside of Plumstead Station and head towards the South East terminus of the new system at Abbey Wood. In the longer term, even though their back gardens will be somewhat foreshortened, the proximity of the regional transport hub may ironically end up putting up house prices, so some good may come out of the situation for those affected.

Well, he has done it again! Congratulations to Erith resident Wayne Jacobs, who for the second year running has won an award at the annual British Country Music Awards, which were held in Derby last Saturday. His song “I want my daddy” – based on a true story about a Kentucky fireman has already been a finalist in the 2012 Great American Song Writing Contest, and has had a number one record on the Nashville chart. Jacobs is currently looking round for an established country music star to cover the song, and hopefully make it a sales hit. It would be nice to see someone local make it big, even if it is in the field of Country Music. As I mentioned when Wayne Jacobs won his first award last year, I am happy for him, and glad that someone from Erith is putting the town on the Country Music map. Personally I cannot abide the genre, or really understand why non Americans would be attracted to a form of music that is so specifically American. Personally I find it droning, maudlin, self absorbed and extremely formulaic. As I always say, however, “if it works for you”.

The Government are making rumbles about legislating on E-Cigarettes. Currently they are available “over the counter” but the Government are making noises about certifying them as medical devices designed to aid in quitting smoking. It is likely that they would also want to put a level of tax (other than VAT, which they are already subject to) on the nicotine solution cartridges, as there is nothing the government hates more than an untaxed revenue stream. On top of all this, rumours abound that drug dealers have been working to produce cannabis based E-Cigarette cartridges filled with THC (the active ingredient in Cannabis) in solution. It seems as their consumers become more sophisticated in their habits, the criminals are being forced to follow suit. I understand that the concentration of THC in the E-Cigarette liquid reservoir can potentially be 30 to 50 times stronger than in a conventional joint – which raises the possibility of people keeling over in the street. I would imagine just like any other drug, the pushers will dilute it as far as they can get away with in order to maximise their illicit profits. It would be very difficult for a police officer to detect an E-Cigarette being used to consume THC, as there is no discernible odour, and until the user started behaving strangely, one would otherwise have no clue.

Just as recently I have highlighted the nefarious activities of Sofas4House, and their illegal fly tipping, I have discovered another company also based on the Manford Industrial Estate, off Manor Road in Erith that could not be more different, and highly worth of supporting their works. The organisation in question is Tuck by Truck, a company that supplies snack and nibble trays to organisations and companies in the South East region. What is different about Tuck by Truck is that their work force consists of people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health problems. It provides them with a proper paid job, helps them develop work related skills, and helps them to socialise. Tuck by Truck is a division of MCCH – an industrial and provident society with charitable status. It is nice to be able to report on a socially responsible and constructive local endeavour. Do give them your support.
I have on occasion been accused of overlooking the arts on the Maggot Sandwich; well, here I put that right; last night I went to the Mick Jagger Centre at Dartford to a performance of early Genesis tribute band Los Endos - photo above - click for a larger view - apologies for the digital noise, it was taken on a mobile phone by best friend Ian. It does not matter how good the camera on a smart phone is, it is no substitute for even a cheap and basic dedicated camera. The Mick Jagger Centre is a really nice venue - it is suited to acts that are too big to play in pubs, but not big enough to fill a theatre. The main hall seats about 350 people, and there is a second, smaller hall that seats about 200. It does not seem to get much local attention, but it is a really nice place, and you get a wide variety of acts performing there. Recommended.

As I am typing this, I can look out of the window of my home office (converted from the back bedroom in Pewty Acres) and see the Dartford River Crossing, no more than a couple of miles away, Eastwards over the River Thames. As you may have read in the local press, Dartford residents are being offered unlimited car journeys over the crossing for a fee of just £20. The scheme covers all privately owned vehicles up to a weight limit of three and a half tons. Currently Dartford residents do already have the option of buying 50 cross – river journeys for £10. I must admit that this was news to me. As I have mentioned on a number of occasions in the past, when the Dartford River Crossing was first opened, it was widely stated by the operators that the crossing would be free to use once the construction costs had been repaid; unsurprisingly this never happened – the crossing is too much of a cash cow for anyone to wish to give up. It would seem, however that these special offers are only available to people who actually in Dartford itself – others who live in close proximity, but who have the wrong postcode are arbitrarily excluded. I doubt whinging about it will be effective; it would seem to me that a more equitable way of allocating discount crossing vouchers would have been to designate a catchment area on each side of the River Thames, rather than using postcodes. It would be more transparent and much fairer to all concerned.  What do you think?

I stumbled by chance on the ending video this week. Popular history gives the impression that the final NASA Apollo mission was that of Apollo 17 - indeed there was a horror movie released a couple of years ago featuring a supposed additional Apollo 18 mission. The thing is, there was indeed an 18th Apollo mission, but it was not called Apollo 18 and it did not go to the moon. Back in 1975, at the height of the Cold War, the Russians and Americans worked together to launch a spacecraft from their respective countries, which would meet and dock in Earth orbit. This might not sound that much of a feat now, but back then it was stunning stuff, both from a technological and a political viewpoint. Here is a thirty minute contemporary documentary on the Apollo / Soyuz space mission. Do give it a watch - it is fascinating, and now sadly almost forgotten.

1 comment:

  1. Are you 'aving a larf Hugh?

    There is no way that Bexley council is likely to actively clamp down on gambling outlets. Bexley councillor Peter Craske is the Association of British Bookmakers' principal Public Relations man tirelessly preaching the case for more gambling to councils across the country.