Sunday, October 27, 2013

Rod - a true Halloween story.

The photo above shows the motor vessel the "Shetland Trader" moored on Erith Pier, that I took earlier this week. Click on the photo for a larger view. It is a bulk carrier which is being used to transport the spoil dug out of the ground from the Crossrail project tunnelling work. I hope to be able to say quite a bit more about the small fleet of ships that are carrying out this work, and mooring regularly on Erith Pier within the next week or two; watch this space.

As many Maggot Sandwich readers will be aware, Bexley Council seems to delight in making decisions which frustrate and annoy its’ residents. This perverse behaviour is especially mystifying when one considers that the local council elections are less than a year away, and people have long memories. Malcolm Knight of the excellent “Bexley is Bonkers” website is without doubt the best documenter of this. In addition, it seems that every time a bewildering or illogical decision is made by the council, it affects the Northern part of the borough – Lower Belvedere, Erith and Slade Green, for example. My pet theory behind this is that the people who run the council tend to live in the more prosperous centre or south – in places like Bexleyheath, Sidcup and Old Bexley. They tend to give the impression that they don’t give a stuff as to what happens in the North of Bexley Borough, as long as it does not happen on their doorsteps. A prime example of this behaviour is the decision the council have made to award the contract to manage the forthcoming new Howbury Centre development in Slade Green, not to the existing volunteer group, which has successfully and popularly run the existing centre for the last few years, but to an external organisation called Eco Communities, which is based in Lewisham. Slade Green has been allocated £8.5 million in redevelopment money; a chunk of this will be going into the new Howbury Centre building itself. It begs the question; why would you exclude a local group, which by all accounts has been doing a sterling job running the existing centre, and choose a new, untried organisation from out of the Borough? Now it well may be that there are good reasons for this, but the council’s lack of transparency means the information is not released into the public domain – and thus conjecture starts. Local resident Claire Price wrote the following on the Bexley Times website:- “The Howbury Centre is a community facility, offering a wide range of activities, groups and support to the local community. This means the people who live and work in the area. These are the people who should be running the centre- the people who know the community because they are part of it, who know the issues and needs because they are their issues and needs, and they see and talk to the local people every single day. Taking this out of Slade Green will be taking away the voice of the people who use these facilities. The petition shows what Slade Green wants for its future. A local group like Howbury Friends can meet the needs much more readily than a group which has no link to the area. Do the right thing. Give the residents and visitors what they want, what they need, and what they deserve”. I could not have put it better myself. I personally have already signed the petition, though I suspect in its’ usual manner, Bexley Council will steamroller their decision through however much local opposition there is. It is a classic “Do as we say, not as we do”. £8.5 million may not be a large sum of money by Bexley Council budgeting standards, but it is a huge boost to a deprived area like Slade Green, and if invested wisely can create long term jobs and resources for a lot of people who could really do with the help. Bringing an unknown outside organisation in to spend this money is worrying for many who care about the area – they don’t know local conditions or requirements, and may well try and use a “one size fits all” approach, which is unlikely to succeed. The vibes coming from Bexley Council make it sound very much like a done deal I am afraid. Many local people are campaigning to keep control of the centre; one such person is Carol, who sent me the following piece for publication. These are her own words:- "Ten years ago Slade Green was identified as a 'Hot Spot' under Bexley Councils Areas of Opportunities Programme. ASB and criminal damage being the main concerns, young people being the main identified culprits. An area of high deprivation, low incomes, a 'no go' area, isolated residents, fear of crime and low educational achievement. Just some of the problems the area faced, from the outside, this was the view of many. From the inside, a close knit community who were working hard to improve their community, not least of these residents, the groups who work from the Howbury Centre. Howbury Tumblers a carer and toddler group who provide support to parents and children and Howbury Friends who support everyone - not just those in Slade Green. They are involved in their community, they are volunteers who work tirelessly 6 days a week to provide for the needs of their community. They talk to their community and provide activities based on what their community tell them they need. They provide childcare, so kids are no longer left to see to themselves after school. they provide activities for teens, stopping most of the ASB and damage, they provide for older residents with activities and keep fit, they provide for families and it keeps going. They support the local schools by running literacy and numeracy classes, by providing work experience placements for local kids. They work in partnership with an amazing number of different organisations including Bexley Council. All of this and more they do with very little money, most of the money they spend goes on rent to the owner of the building. They raise it through funding applications to a variety of funders including Children in Need, by raising money themselves and all so they can give a deprived community with little money what it needs. So they can improve their community for all residents, improve their life chances and because they care. The Big Society has been modelled on Slade Green, they are the big society, they volunteer with no expectation of monetary reward and in any other council area would be celebrated. But they are Slade Green and it is in Bexley, there is no justice if the new facility is given to an outside organisation. These groups have worked hard over the last 9 years to fill the gaps in provision that the area suffers, they have succeeded in bringing this community together and they stand up and speak for their community. They have saved Bexley Council thousands of pounds by dealing with problems that would otherwise escalate and impact on council budgets. Their community trusts them, their users trust them, other groups trust them, Bexley Council? make your own mind up. If you would like to support this community sign their petition at and please pass on, Thank You".

Talking of done deals. I found it amusing to read a report in the News Shopper that  both Greenwich and Bexley councils have given the go – ahead for the construction of the new Crossrail station terminus at Abbey Wood. This is a bit of a surprise, as building work has been under way at the site for ages! Talk about the horse before the cart! Not only has work to build the temporary new station building begun, but the heavy engineering to create the tunnel, and the lines for where the tunnel emerges from underground just to the East of Plumstead station have been well under way for the last couple of years. The thought that either Bexley or Greenwich councils could have blocked the construction of the South Eastern end of the largest mass transit project in Europe is laughable in the extreme. It smacks of “box ticking” by those responsible. The fact that Bexley has made some rather half - hearted objections to the platform canopy design, complaining that it is too small. The whole Crossrail project is an engineering feat that comes close to rivalling some of the ambitious Victorian projects, and should make access to West London from our local area much easier. I look forward to being able to go to Southall for a curry and get back in less than a couple of hours.

Although what I do for a living has some quite technical aspects, one of the skills I have developed over the years is to be able to take quite an advanced technical idea and translate it for anyone to be able to understand. I thought I was pretty good at this, but having watched the video below, I am in awe of this chap. He takes a couple of quite esoteric concepts behind how the World Wide Web works, and explains them in very straightforward language. In this short video he explains what cross site scripting is, and how it is very useful when using interactive websites like Gmail and FaceBook, but also illustrates how it can be used to carry out all sorts of nasty things like stealing people's account details and passwords from their online bank, if the web page is not properly constructed to prevent it. Trust me, it is fascinating and easy to understand, even if you have little or no knowledge of how a website works.

The News Shopper have reported this week that Crayford pub The One Bell has had a plaque installed outside to commemorate the fact that back on the 21st June 1844, the pub was the location of the founding of the Chartist movement. The chartists were a group of men (no women’s suffrage back then) who wanted electoral rights for the working classes. The central tenets of the Chartist movement were:- 1) a vote for every man over the age of 21 who was of sound mind and not undergoing punishment for a crime. 2) All ballots to be held in secret. 3) No requirement to be a property holder for members of Parliament, thus enabling rich or poor to stand for election equally. 4) MP’s to receive a living wage – meaning rich or poor could represent a constituency. 5) Equal constituency sizes – enabling the same amount of representation for the same number of electors. 6) Annually elected parliaments – the theory being that a rich man might be able to win an election through bribery if elections were held every five or seven years, but if it was held every year, even those with the deepest pockets could not keep paying bribes to throw the result in their favour. Chartists were pioneers of social justice and equal rights for all; they were also opposed to any form of state sponsored religion. In many ways their aims were predecessors of the Labour movement, though Chartists and their policies were widely opposed by the ruling classes – in some cases leading chartist campaigners were arrested for treason after organising strikes and marches against what they saw as unfair treatment by big business owners and the government. The Chartist movement lost a lot of credibility in 1848 when leaders of the Chartist movement organised a petition to hand in to Parliament urging them to change electoral laws to bring in changes to comply with the six points on their charter. The problem was, they had said that they had gained over five million signatures, when in fact they had actually only got around a million. If this was not a big enough dent in their image, when the petition was examined, it was found that a large proportion of the signatures were forged. Names like “Queen Victoria” and “Mister Punch” cropped up with regularity. Shortly thereafter the group fizzled out. In the end, they achieved none of their original aims; they did however, lay much of the groundwork for the later trade union movement.
The photo above was kindly loaned by local photographer John King - it was taken in August 1971, and shows the place when it was still a busy centre of law enforcement. Nowadays it is a shoddy and not very nice flat conversion - I think an opportunity was missed; it could have been converted into upmarket riverside apartments when it ceased to be a Police station back in 1996. Instead it was left empty for a couple of years before being rather shoddily converted into some very ordinary flats. You can see John's Flickr photo stream here.

Bexley Council have sneaked out a decision very much on the quiet; it had certainly passed under my own radar; it was only the vigilance of one of my occasional informants that brought the situation to light.  On the 15th October, the council met to discuss “potential service adjustments”. One of the changes they considered was to “provide a shared local studies and archives service run out of Bromley Central Library as part of the shared service library offer across the two boroughs”. What this in effect would mean is the closure of the local studies and archive centre at Bexleyheath Library, and to transfer it to Bromley Library. Bexley Council have a very poor record when it comes to preserving local history resources. When Erith Library moved from the excellent Andrew Carnegie donated building in Walnut Tree Road into the new (and to my mind soulless) building in Erith High Street, the excellent Erith Museum – which had existed for years on the upper floor of the old building, was relegated to a couple of glass display cabinets in the new library – and now even those have gone. No trace remains of the museum dedicated to the local area, despite many protests. I fear that the same will happen if Bexley local studies is forcibly relocated to Bromley Library. Many of the people who use the local history archive at Bexleyheath library would find it very difficult to travel to Bromley – they are often elderly and have to rely on public transport. Travel to Bromley can be time consuming, and to be honest I doubt much effort would be made by Bromley to accommodate Bexley Library, or indeed its’ residents, as they don’t pay council tax in Bromley, and there would be little or no incentive for them to provide much in the way of service. I predict if the archive moves, it will actually be the end of it in all practical senses. Bexley Historical Society is organising a campaign to save Bexleyheath local studies and archive centre. At this point the final decision on the fate of the centre has not been made; Bexley Council will make the final decision in March 2014. You can read more about the situation, and find out what you can do to make you views known to those responsible by visiting the Bexley Historical Society website here

The local (and to some extent, the national) press have gone into a bit of a feeding frenzy in relation to arachnids and insects over the last couple of weeks; there have been over wrought stories about the “plague of foreign killer spiders” and other hysterical claims. It turns out that the so called “killer” spiders are false widows, and the false widow is not a newcomer to these shores as has been variously claimed; the spider was first reported in the UK over a hundred years ago. I also have doubts over some of the claims from people that have been bitten by the false widow – limbs being hours away from amputation and other dire symptoms are more likely as the result of venom allergy, or a secondary infection. The false widow bite is similar in damage to that of a common wasp – painful, but not normally life changing. Of course, someone with an allergy can be killed by a single sting or bite if their reaction is severe enough, but the vast majority of people have no such adverse reaction. I feel that the whole story has been blown out of proportion, and sensationalised. As the cold winter weather sets in, and the creepy crawlies die off, the press will have to move onto other subjects, and in my opinion, not before time. 

For some reason the launch of the latest version of Apple’s OS X 10.9 "Mavericks" operating system gets a lot more press coverage than the recent release of Windows 8.1. I get the feeling that the underlying cause of this is that a majority of journalists use Apple products and have an unconscious bias towards them. Whatever the cause, there has been a degree of hype over the release this week of OS X 10.9 “Mavericks”. I downloaded it on the day of release, half expecting problems as millions of other Mac owners would be doing the same thing. My fears were unfounded – the 5.29Gb installation file downloaded smoothly and quickly. The installation was painless, and all of my existing files and settings were preserved (and yes, I do have a full external backup in case of problems). Once I was up and running with the new operating system, things started getting more disappointing. Apple claim that there are over two hundred changes and improvements in Mavericks. I have found it very hard to find many of them – the whole experience is very similar to the older OS version. Apple are once again trying to encourage their users to “go cloud” and store their data on Apple’s own servers – not something I use, as Apple and online storage have a long and not very glorious history. Apple have revised the OS to make cloud storage more user friendly and reliable; unfortunately for them, Google have long ago captured the home market for cloud storage. One other new function built into Mavericks is Apple’s own maps service – something that has been available on the iPad and iPhone for some time. There was controversy when Maps was launched, as it was found to be inaccurate and misleading. I thought that all of this time later, Apple would have learned from their mistakes, and would have polished Map for the iMac to create a reliable solution. Wrong. Apple Map is dreadful. As a test I input the post code for Pewty Acres, only to discover that according to Apple, it was two blocks to the West of its’ actual location. On top of this, my local fish and chip shop was nearly a mile from where it really is; and to add insult to injury, Woolworths was still showing in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. Very poor. Google Maps is light years ahead in accuracy and functionality – even now Apple Maps lacks a “street view” option – something of a unique selling point for Google. All in all, OS X Mavericks feels like a point upgrade, rather than a completely new version of OS X. Had I paid money for it, I would feel somewhat deflated by the experience, which (for me at least) offers very little that I did not have before. Apple’s decision to offer Mavericks for free to all Apple owners who have machines built in 2007 or later means that I cannot really nit pick with it. Overall OS X remains a stable, reliable and easy to use platform; it is just getting a bit staid and boring.
Now that we are upon Halloween, I have a story to tell you. I have never told this in public before. Unlike most Halloween horror stories, this one is absolutely true and totally verifiable. The photo above was taken by me in the summer of 1992. It shows the Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge, moored in the old Dover Western Commercial Dock - click on the photo for a larger view. The ship had broken its' anchor chain during a heavy storm some months earlier and had drifted onto the Goodwin Sands, from where she was only the second ship in history to be successfully salvaged. She was taken to Dover, where a crew of Caroline staff and a lot of volunteers attempted to restore the ship after being continuously at sea for around nine years. She was cosmetically rough, but basically sound. I was still working for Radio Caroline at the time, and spent much of my time living on board. One gloriously sunny day, a magnificent seventy foot ocean going yacht sailed into the dock and moored, stern in, behind the Ross Revenge (to the right of the photo). The yacht was skippered by a young and very good looking chap who introduced himself as Rod. We invited him on board the Ross Revenge, and gave him a guided tour of the ship, compete with studios, transmitter room and the mess. Over the next week or so, we saw a lot of Rod; he had just sailed up from the Falkland Islands, where he had been chartering for a group from the National Geographic, making a documentary on the penguin population of the islands - he showed us some photos from the expedition, and they were very impressive. Opposite the dock was a local pub, used by the sailors and dock workers. The Caroline crew were regulars - the landlord was a big fan, and would invariably put "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond on the Karaoke, then sing the track - unfortunately he could not hold a tune in a bucket, and the end result was painful. The upside was we got lots of free drinks, and there were lock - ins several times a week. I recall several occasions when we returned to the ship as the sun rose over the ships' antenna masts, and on one particularly memorable occasion having the rather refreshed station manager in a wheelbarrow to get him back on board and into his bunk. Rod joined in with all this with vigour. We found out he was an ex army officer who had inherited a substantial amount of money upon the death of his parents, and he was making a living, travelling the world and hiring out his yacht for all sorts of adventures. This was nothing unusual for Radio Caroline - we tended to attract colourful and larger than life characters, and Rod was just the latest in a long line of individualists. One Sunday evening, we returned from the pub at about 11pm; Rod had promised to treat us to a traditional Sunday Roast, complete with all of the trimmings - he had spend hours preparing it, and we were all licking our lips in anticipation. We all followed him down the steps into the luxuriously appointed main cabin on his yacht - the vessel was obviously worth a fortune, but it was a seaworthy, working ship, not a rich playboy's toy. True to his word, Rod excelled himself, producing a very large and succulent joint of medium rare roast beef, which he carefully worked on with a large and very sharp carving knife, whilst we helped ourselves to roast potatoes, cabbage, shallots, carrots and home made gravy. The meal was a great success, and a really great shared memory of our time moored in Dover. The next day Rod popped over for a cup of coffee and a chat. He said he had plans to sail down to Gibraltar for a fashion photo shoot - the yacht was to be the backdrop. He asked me and a couple of the other Caroline crew if we would like a working holiday to help him crew the yacht on its' passage. There would be no pay as such, but he would buy each of us a return air flight. Myself and one other (who shall remain nameless, as he's reading this now) seriously considered it, but for various reasons had to regretfully decline. He said "no hard feelings - see you around". The next day his yacht was gone - he had left on the early morning tide. We were all a bit sad to see Rod go - he fitted in well with the Caroline crowd - we were all a bit eccentric and most definitely ploughed our own furrow. I recall a couple of days later, sitting in the Ross Revenge mess room eating my lunch (a cold roast beef, mustard and onion salad sandwich made from the leftovers of Sunday dinner, which Rod had generously given us) and watching the BBC lunchtime news. The headline story was a feature on how the Royal Navy had stopped a British ship in international waters and arrested the skipper; the video footage showed our very own Rod and his yacht - Rod was being manhandled and handcuffed by some very efficient and burly Royal Marines. The story went on to say the man, whose full name was Roderick Newall, was wanted by the Jersey Police for the murder of his mother and father! It came out in court that he and his brother had killed their parents in order to obtain a very large inheritance - you can read more about the case here. Rod served thirteen years in prison for the double murder. What made it even worse was that there were very strong forensic indicators that the carving knife Rod had used to slice our delicious roast beef joint was the very same weapon used to dismember the corpses of his Mum and Dad. I could not make it up. 

I think the local papers do an adequate job of reporting issues and local events, but they sometimes seem to get only half of a story. For example, the story that Sidcup chef and restaurant owner Sayful Alom has won the Curry Chef of the Year award, for his cooking at the Curry Mahal in Station Road, Sidcup. He was presented with the award at a ceremony held at the Lancaster Gate Hotel. This is great news – someone from the area being recognised for excellence in a given field. What the local papers failed to pick up on was that the Curry Mahal was last visited by Environmental Health inspectors on the 19th of August this year, when it scored only one out of a possible five stars for its’ "Scores on the Doors" food hygiene standards. As was mentioned recently, some local residents have justifiable doubts as to how the “Scores on the Doors” hygiene ratings are carried out. It strikes me that there are three possible reasons for this disparity between the curry chef award, and the poor hygiene score. 1) The Curry Chef award is a con, and it has little or nothing to do with the restaurant or the chefs’ culinary abilities. 2) The “Scores on the Doors” rating is wrong, for whatever reason. 3) The Curry Chef award is genuine, but takes no notice of hygiene conditions, and thus to my mind is invalid as an award. I have no idea which of these possible reasons is true, but I cannot reconcile poor food hygiene with good cookery – the things are interlinked. Your thoughts would be appreciated. The bug in the Blogger template I use persists – if you cannot see a comment box at the foot of this entry, click on any embedded photograph, then click on your browser “back” button – the dialogue box should then appear. It is a kludge, but all I can offer until Google fix the ongoing template fault, which is entirely outside of my control.

Here is the latest "Simon's Cat" video - always a pleasure. Comments for anything covered this week either below, or Email as you see fit.

1 comment:

  1. Wow - I 've just read the story of Roast Beef Rod. The moral of the story is that killing someone is not the difficult part; living with the guilt of committing such a terrible act is. I never did agree with boarding school....