Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Brick.

I took the photo above last Sunday afternoon, minutes after publishing last weeks’ Maggot Sandwich update. It shows the Bexley Council owned and operated recycling centre behind Morrison’s supermarket in Erith. Regular readers will know that I have been conducting a minor war against illegal fly tipping in and around Erith for some time.  I get the impression that many residents are unaware as to exactly how bad the fly tipping problem has now become.  The photograph above illustrates the problem very well. Fly tipping of this nature is becoming an almost daily occurrence. As I have previously written, there are a small number of local businesses who illegally dump waste, rather than taking stuff for proper disposal at the Council waste facility at Thames Road in Crayford. The reason that they dump rather than responsibly recycle is purely down to money. Commercial enterprises have to pay to dispose of waste at official disposal stations; I understand that a van load of mixed material would normally come to around £100. The crooks would rather skimp this and pollute the environment. When I was taking the photograph above, I was approached by a couple who readily identified themselves as scrap dealers. What was interesting was their approach – they run a local, ethical scrap recycling business. Unlike most “scrappies”, they will not take items without asking the owners’ permission first; they have full accreditation, insurance and registration, and they abhor fly tipping. It was instructive to see the other side of the coin – a scrap dealer who detests the fly tippers as much as most other people. They told me that nothing hurts their reputable business more than the illegal activities of less scrupulous operators. I was told that two years ago, their van insurance cost £500; this year it was £2000 and they have had no claims. They were told by their broker that merely operating a scrap business put their premiums up by this huge amount. They also told me that the legitimate companies in the scrap game will as of next year have to pay a £350 annual fee to the council to contribute towards the cost of clearing up fly tipping carried out by their criminal business competitors. Of course, the crooks won’t pay this, as they are not registered. This does put the legitimate operator at a distinct disadvantage, which I think is morally wrong. A properly regulated and responsibly run scrap and recycling industry is vital to the UK in many ways; recycling glass, for example, uses only around ten percent of the energy of making glass from raw materials, and of course it saves using raw materials in the first place. Recycled metal forms a vital contribution to the countries’ balance of payments, as much ferrous and non ferrous metal is exported after being recycled from scrap. The list could go on, but you get the idea. On top of all this, getting old appliances recycled saves a ton of stuff going to landfill; being the small island that Britain is, we would rapidly run out of space, as well as risking pollution on a massive scale. Scrap collectors / dealers may get a bad rap (and in quite a few cases, deservedly so), but the good ones perform an absolutely vital service which we would all be far worse off without.

I was watching a documentary on the Sky Arts channel the other night; it featured an international convention of Beatles tribute bands – there were South Korean and Ghanaian Beatles covers groups, amongst a huge number of others. I did not realise that there is a shop in Liverpool that specialises in selling costumes, wigs and boots to Beatle tribute bands, it is that much of a lucrative market. The programme was light hearted and warm and followed a few of the bands as they visited the locations featured in so many Beatles songs. This got me thinking; the Beatles have spawned a huge tourist industry in Liverpool, with Beatles themed tours, events and shows all over the city, all eager to being in the cash from the tourists eager to explore the place that the band called home. Their major contemporaries have fared less well. When you mention the Beatles, you immediately form an association with Liverpool. When you mention the Rolling Stones, you don’t immediately think of Dartford, do you? Yet the band had their roots in Dartford, even though their music had more in common with the Mississippi Delta than the Thames Estuary.  Apart from the excellent Mick Jagger performing arts centre, there is nothing to commemorate the band in Dartford – which is ironic, as unlike the Beatles, the Stones are still a (just about) going concern. I wonder if a lot of this is because the band abandoned the town to move to a house in West London as soon as they started to find success? There was a campaign to get a blue plaque installed on platform four of Dartford railway station a few years ago – where Mick and Keith first met after both visiting the West End to buy rare American blues records, where they discovered they shared the same musical passion, and the seeds of the band that would become the Rolling Stones were sown. Unfortunately nothing came of the campaign, which I think epitomises the rather ambivalent attitude some locals have to the group. The local area has been instrumental  (if you will excuse the pun) in being home to Kate Bush (Welling), John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin (Sidcup) and David Bowie (Bromley).  The musical influence this part of South East London / North Kent has had worldwide has had is huge; we just seem to be exceptionally poor at celebrating its’ success.  Going back to the Rolling Stones, one thing which has been unclear for years is the actual origin of their name. Some think it comes from the Muddy Waters song of the same name, which may indeed be the case. The thing is, what exactly is a rolling stone? Well, according to a source I read, it is nothing to do with a stone rolling down a hill. The “rolling stone that gathers no moss” actually refers to a 16th Century garden lawn carved stone roller; so the Rolling Stones, with all of their “bad boy” image are actually named after something you would find in a garden shed...

Nowadays most of the weekly Maggot Sandwich update get written during the week, and nailed together with photographs and video content on the weekend, prior to its’ publication on Sunday afternoon. This final fettling and formatting gets done on my bespoke Apple iMac in my home office. I often have the radio on whilst I am working away on the blog. Not that long ago I came across a radio station that may well be worth you trying out. KBC Radio is a Dutch radio station mainly aimed at truckers and other commercial travellers. In the week it broadcasts in Dutch, but at the weekend it switches into English, much in the same way the late and much lamented Arrow Classic Rock on 675 medium wave used to do. KBC Radio broadcasts between 8am and 4pm on Saturday and Sunday on 6095 kHz shortwave, with an absolutely massive signal here in the UK. The transmitter puts out a massive 150 kilowatts of RF power, which means it can be heard all over the world.  The station features classic DJ’s like The Emperor Rosko and Dave Mason and plays 50’s rock and roll, classic rock, rhythm and blues and 60’s soul. Their musical selection is far more eclectic and varied than most of the commercial “gold” stations, and they are certainly worth a listen. If you have an old radio that receives shortwave, put the band selector on the 49 metre band, and tune the radio up towards the top third of the band. If you do this when KBC Radio are on air, they will spring out of the speaker, their local signal is so strong. Do give them a try – they are a not for profit, licenced station that are really trying to do something  a little bit different. I have them set as one of the memory presets on my JRC NRD 345 desktop shortwave radio receiver, right next to the preset for Laser Hot Hits on 4026 kHz – my favourite shortwave broadcaster.  Perhaps I will write a full article on some of the lesser known specialist radio stations that are quietly broadcasting away, right under the noses of many people in the near future. Whilst the UK government continues to try and browbeat the population into migrating onto DAB, so that they can sell off the vacated frequencies to the highest bidder, a number of radio enthusiasts continue to make good and productive use of the analogue broadcasting bands. As I have said before, when all other forms of communication have failed, whether through natural disaster, war, or other calamity, analogue radio still works and will get through. You may recall the end of the movie “Independence Day” when Morse Code was used to co-ordinate the final battle against the invading aliens. Well, it may well have been the only factually accurate part of the (dreadful) movie. Radio will always get through.

Here is the trailer for the 50th anniversary of the start of Doctor Who; unusually for the BBC, they have not blocked embedding of the video in external websites - see what you think anyway.

I was on a largely empty train on my way home after a work visit to Watford Last week; sitting opposite me was a chap who spent most of his journey with his mobile telephone glued to his ear, engaged in a long and detailed conversation; usually I find this behaviour incredibly irritating, but this time I was fascinated. The chap was evidently an IT hardware salesman, who specialised in the education market. He was first talking to his boss, then later a couple of potential customers. It would seem that many schools are now getting rid of physical textbooks and are instead migrating to tablet computers with E-Book reading software installed. Some schools foot the bill themselves, whereas others charge the parents £10 a month in a shared ownership scheme. This has the advantage of meaning the tablet is insured against theft, loss or accidental damage (instead of “the dog ate my maths book” it will be “my dad sat on my tablet”).  What was the most interesting facet of this overheard, one sided conversation was that Apple and the iPad have a total domination of the educational tablet market; apparently school heads will not even consider Android powered devices, and Windows Surface machines are regarded as being beyond a joke. It will be instructive to see how this choice of platform affects the buying decisions of the school children when they become adults and are able to purchase their own technology. It has been said for the last couple of years that the desktop PC is dead (not quite yet, but it is starting to smell that way) and that laptop sales have dropped measurably. This is also true. Nowadays many people view and take part in online content via a tablet or smart phone. Personally I don’t see the death of devices with physical keyboards for a while yet – there is no way a three thousand words plus Maggot Sandwich update would ever get typed on a virtual screen keyboard – I would develop RSI way before the update was typed, and I am certainly not alone in this regard. The thing is, in all o f this future development, Microsoft have almost no presence. The only parts of Microsoft that make a (admittedly huge) profit are the desktop and server operating systems division, and the Office division. Both of these have been, and still are, dependant on their customers having desktop or laptop computers connected in a client / server environment. This is fundamental to their entire business model. Nowadays kids have mobile devices that connect via the cloud – the conventional client / server model is completely out of the window as far as they are concerned. Once these children become adults, the entire ground rock that Microsoft base themselves on will cease to have relevance. I feel that the direction that Microsoft are heading really needs a massive shakeup, with new top management. If they don’t do this, and soon, they will end up going the same way as Sun Microsystems – another former technological giant that could not change when it was required, and are now nothing more than a name plate owned by Oracle Corporation.
Well, it is now official; the A206 roundabout in the centre of Erith, adjacent to the council offices, Erith Station and the Redeemed Christian Church of God in the converted tyre warehouse is now officially named “The Fish Roundabout” – according to a letter from Bexley Council. Well, I suppose that has cleared it up for a lot of people. It has been known locally as the Fish Roundabout ever since the eyesore statue was installed. I have to concede that its’ local notoriety has now transformed into a kind of collective pride in that “it is so bad it is good”. At least it makes an easy landmark for people who are unfamiliar with the area. News reaches me that the Fish Roundabout, and the area adjacent to the station and Bexley Road is going to be even more of a bottle neck than ever during rush hour than normal. The long term plan is to build a brand new road bridge over the railway by Christ Church, but my understanding is that whilst this is on hold for budgetary reasons (a new, double width bridge would cost a fortune, cause even more disruption at what is a very bad bottleneck, and also cause problems for the Dartford to London via Greenwich railway line which runs underneath). From Monday the 28th October, works will be started to reinforce, refurbish and then resurface the existing bridge. This is going to mean disruption to the trains, which cannot use the line whilst engineering is being carried out over the track; it is also likely to cause traffic problems on the road. I understand that diversions to southbound traffic that wants to head towards Northumberland Heath and Bexleyheath will be made. This will most likely mean that locals will have to allow a little longer for their car journey times. The bridge will not be closed either way for pedestrian use, so commuters travelling to and from Erith railway station should not be too inconvenienced. How the trains will be affected by the works, I am unsure. I would imagine that works will be carried out overnight when the railway has stopped its’ scheduled passenger services for the night, though this will still be a problem for freight operations, which tend to run round the clock. The whole thing will be a pain for all concerned; though nothing compared with when (if) the Council eventually bite the bullet and completely replace the bridge with one twice the width, as they originally intended, which I first wrote about back in May 2011, which you can read by clicking here. The fact that the Council have given the green light to the refurbishment work almost certainly signals that the bridge replacement has been kicked into the long grass for the next few years. No surprise there then.
I thought that British electronics manufacturer Binatone had disappeared years ago; around the time of the end of Woolworth's - who were a major outlet for the discount goods produced by Binatone. I was wrong. Carphone Warehouse are selling a range of new mobile phones, one of which you can see above. The new phone is called "The Brick" and it is a retro design harking back to the mobile telephones of the late 1980's and early 1990's. By modern standards it might look bulky and cumbersome, but it has a hidden advantage over modern smart phones - a truly staggering battery life. One charge will keep The Brick on standby for an amazing three months! You may be aware that I am not a fan of mobile phones, and don't actually own one at all - I understand that they have certain uses, but they just leave me cold - it is also very entertaining to see the look on people's faces when they ask for my mobile number, and I tell them that I don't have one! Nevertheless The Brick does have a degree of retro charm, based as it is on the design of the 1992 Motorola International 3200 model. Do feel free to leave a comment, or Email me directly with your thoughts to

It seems quite ironic, following all of the issues I have recounted in relation to illegal fly tipping, and the actions of unscrupulous scrap collectors, that the News Shopper has reported this week, that the level of metal thefts reported in Kent have dropped for the second year running.  This is indeed good news. Reported thefts have more than halved; this seems to be due to a combination of factors – scrap dealers are now prohibited by law from offering cash for scrap metal – all transactions have to be made via a recognised bank account. Dealers also have to request photo identification such as a passport or driving licence from anyone wanting to sell them scrap. Whilst this has undoubtedly cut down the criminal metal theft, one other factor that may be an even bigger influence is the recent drop in scrap metal prices. For example, bright copper has dropped from £440 per tonne a year ago to £370 a tonne today – a still substantial amount, but when the drop in price is coupled with the stricter scrappage rules and the recent Police crackdown on unlicensed scrap dealers, it all adds up to an enterprise that is becoming less attractive to crooks.
Some time ago I featured Welling based beer house “The Door Hinge”. The place, a real ale only licenced premises located in a converted shop in Welling High Street has recently launched a new website which you can see here. A beer house, sometimes referred to as a micro pub, is a recently reintroduced phenomenon; they are generally converted from empty shop units, offer real ales and maybe a cider, along with soft drinks. They almost never offer spirits, and food other than snacks like crisps is usually not on offer. Beer houses are a return to a very old and traditional method of serving ale – historically beer houses were often operated from a room in a private house, and as such the licensing criteria were less strict than that required for a full public house. Modern beer houses are usually run as a hobby, or as an adjunct to another business, and as such are only open for a few hours each day, and tend to attract real ale enthusiasts. Most micro pubs are in Kent, for some unknown reason - there is a directory of them which you can see by clicking here. I will be making an updated report on The Door Hinge when I visit the place again in a couple of weeks.

Whilst travelling around the local area, I have encountered a couple of examples of technical archaeology, in the form of BSB "Squarials" - antennas used to receive the long defunct British Satellite Broadcasting Service, that was beaten in business by the technologically simpler, but cheaper and more reliable service from Sky. Much in the way that VHS beat the superior Betamax video recorder format a few years earlier. Twenty four years or so later, a very few people still have the defunct antennas attached to the outside of their houses - there is one I have seen in Northumberland Heath, and one in Barnehurst. They are now of some minor historical importance. Here is a video clip from "Tomorrow's World" from 1989, featuring Maggie Philbin comparing the two rival systems. Little was anyone to know that BSB would be beaten by Sky, and taken over by them not much more than a year later. It all looks horribly dated now, but back then this was cutting edge stuff. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice read this week Mr.P'!

    I don't think Fly-tipping is a recent thing.
    I've lived back in the local area for 15 years and I must be honest I think it has improved hugely with illegally dumped stuff. It used to be you would see stuff dumped in alleyway openings and derelict plots of land but this seems to have mostly stopped. I know the law changed at some point and the penalties became a lot stronger. The Morrisons recycling bit is a magnet though as it's not policed, it's in a relatively quiet spot and it has easy parking.
    Keep up the good work!

    I totally agree with you about the sad lack of trumpet fanfares being done over the areas rich local musical heritage.
    I actually looked into getting a Blue Plaque installed at Dartford Station about 2 years ago but the problem is that the place it really needs to be sited has to be open to the public (check!) but also visible from the road (which Platform 2 isn't). I also have a vague memory that the person has to be dead for at least 10 years, although some may argue Keith Richards has been since the mid-70's...
    There were also problems in the fact the new Railway Station was about to be built so the Rail Company weren't interested.
    I do think you're wrong, no that’s too strong, "incorrect" about saying a Rolling Stone is a garden roller. Yes it probably is/was but in music especially Blues and Folk a "rolling stone" is meant as someone with no fixed roots. The wanderer.
    Don't forget Dartford also had the original Vox amp factory which was The Beatles amp of choice (even though they were hideously underpowered for what they needed) as well as the first wave of the 1960's British Music Explosion in America like The Moody Blues.
    David Bowie is sort of remembered in Bromley, the sadly now defunct Railway Tavern (opposite Bromley North station) had a plaque above the door commemorating the fact both Bowie and Ernest Hemmingway used to drink in there but it wasn't a Blue Plaque or anything. The pub was a live music venue for 40+ years on and off until it closed last year. Great venue, great crowd, terrible landlords.
    I keep trying to get a commerative shrub planted in Welling to honour the 1st lady of quirk, a "Kate's Bush" if you will..BOOM! BOOM! I'll get me coat…

    Loving The Brick mobile phone! I would NEVER buy anything Binatone though.
    You mention the Squaerial and I must admit I've seen a couple still around but some of the foreign programme satellites use a similar design so might be those. A Cypriote friend of mine has one. I also think a German friend of mine has one.

    RE: The Hinge Door. WOW! Sausage-Fest or what?! HAHAHA! Do women have a separate bar or is "Ale house" another term of a men only shed?!