Sunday, December 08, 2013

Now and then.

A reminder that this years' Christmas Tree Festival kicks off on Friday lunch time at Christ Church. The event is a bit of a local landmark, and definitely marks the start of the festive season. The festival raises money for local charities, including the Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice. If you are in the local area, do give the event your support. You can see their website by clicking here.

The other piece of local community news this week, is that a new Neighbourhood Watch initiative is being launched. Hound Watch is designed to recruit people out walking their pet dogs. Dog walkers are often out and about at unusual times of the day and night, and may possibly be a witness to suspicious / criminal activity. The project aims to recruit dog walkers and get them to report anything out of the ordinary. Bexley Neighbourhood Watch Association made the following announcement:- "We together with Bexley Police are setting up “Hound Watch”. This is to recruit dog walkers and ask them to report anything suspicious they might see while walking their dog(s). We are inviting all dog owners to join our brand new scheme. Those joining at the launch will receive a membership pack and also a chance to win a painted portrait of your dog and other fantastic prizes. Come along on FRIDAY 13TH DECEMBER to Pets At Home, Tower Retail Park, Crayford Road, Crayford, DA1 4LD between 10am-2pm. For more information contact the Neighbourhood Watch office on 0208 284 5537 or email".
When I was photographing the repair work to the bridge across the railway at Bexley Road last week, I took a shot (see above - click for a larger view) which was taken in a very similar position to one which was taken back in the Autumn of 1973, almost exactly forty years ago; I thought that it might be instructive to post both shots for you to see the comparison. 
The most obvious difference in the photos is that back in 1973 the site now occupied by the hideous fish sculpture roundabout was then the location of the Wheatley Hotel - a Railway Hotel. A Railway Hotel was a combination of a pub downstairs, and a bed and breakfast upstairs; almost all railway stations at one stage or other had a railway hotel in close proximity - in this case, Erith Station was just across the road. In the time before the invention of the car, people travelling around the country would often need to break their train journey overnight. A room in a railway hotel was cheaper than a full hotel, as the features tended to be more basic, but they were convenient - they fulfilled the same function as  a modern Premier Inn - cheap and clean, at least in most cases. On top of this, local residents would use the pub located on the ground floor. I understand that the Wheatley Hotel was a pretty lively place on a Friday and Saturday night. One can also see the still working dock cranes in the background; they were located in the Erith Deep Water Wharf - what is now the site of Morrison's supermarket. The cranes were part of the pier, and were used to unload heavy cargo from moored vessels. Historically cargo which came on ships too large to make in to docklands or the Pool of London were unloaded at Erith. One of the regular cargoes landed at the Deep Water Wharf were the huge rolls of newsprint, which arrived from paper mills in Sweden. They were then taken by lorry to the Europa Industrial Estate in Fraser Road, where they were then stored before being taken by road to Fleet Street, where the national newspapers were primarily then still based.  To the left of the photo one can see Bosworth House - one of the high rise flats that had recently been built on the river front. If you click on the black and white image to enlarge it, you can make out the scaffolding still surrounding the then newly built block. Back then it was a council block; nowadays many of the flats in the tower are privately owned, and it is quite a desirable location, with amazing views across the River Thames. 

Talking of the area around the Bexley Road bridge, you may recall that I wrote extensively about the current repairs to the bridge, and the fact that Bexley Council were shortly going to replace the bridge with a new structure, which seemed like a waster of money and resources; well, I have had an Email from John Ferry, the Bexley Council Communications Manager. John writes"I am emailing to give you more information relevant to your recent post about the bridge works at the top of Bexley Road, which I read online yesterday. The plan to widen the road as it passes over the railway lines will involve adding a new bridge alongside the two separate bridges that currently carry the traffic. These two bridges sit next to one another: a brick arch bridge built in 1860 and a reinforced concrete structure added in 1927 when previous widening took place. The urgent refurbishment and strengthening work currently affects the reinforced concrete bridge. This bridge will be retained as part of the planned Queen’s Road Junction Improvement Scheme, so repairing it is both essential and an investment for the future. We are sorry that the works are causing delays and inconvenience to motorists, but it is essential to repair the cracks and weaknesses that have developed over the years. The Council has been proactive in seeking a solution to the problems at and around the roundabout by fighting for funds to improve the junction. We are currently consulting on a scheme and are discussing funding options with our partners. We would welcome your views and those of your readers. I hope this information helps to explain the current position and makes clear that we are doing our best to serve the interests of local residents". Many thanks John - your input has cleared up a lot of concerns. Readers - do feel free to chip in with your thoughts and suggestions. Please leave a comment below.

The News Shopper reported that earlier in the week, the Fire Brigade had to rescue a horse that was trapped in a water filled ditch on Ray Lamb Way.  This is a road that leads onto the Wallhouse Road Industrial Estate, on the Slade Green Marshes. Very few people are familiar with the Marshes – even though they are an area of outstanding natural beauty only fifteen minutes’ walk from Erith town centre. The marshes are home to Erith Yacht club, as I featured a little while ago, and also to a number of industries, including specialist vehicle maintenance shops and a couple of breakers yards. For the most part, the marsh is composed of reed beds and grassland, and is popular with dog walkers (and unfortunately, to a number of unlicenced and illegal off – road motorbikes).  Slade Green Marshes are protected, and cannot be built upon for the most part; they still have a number of wartime pill boxes and gun emplacements as relics of the preparations against invasion – though to be honest, tough as these structures look, they were very isolated and surrounded by open marshland – a German tank or bazooka squad would have made mincemeat of the occupants in short order. A good friend  of mine who is sadly no longer with us used to work as a civilian in Bexleyheath Police Station; he was also a keen mountain biker and fellow radio ham. He used to regularly cycle on and around Ray Lamb Way. One day  he was minding his own business, cycling along when he saw what looked like a pair of wellington boots sticking out from the very ditch that the horse was recently found in. Curiosity piqued, he dismounted his bike to investigate. What he found was what in emergency services slang they call a “deep purple” – a dead body that is not only deceased, but bloated and smelly. He phoned his boss at Bexleyheath nick, and the Police were on the scene in short order. This was all well over ten years ago, and I do recall that the deceased was known to the Police as being involved in the drugs trade; I don’t know if a killer was ever arrested and charged. The marshes still keep a few secrets. They are well worth a visit on a warm day – they are one of the best ways of seeing Erith’s “Big Sky” that I have recently written about.

The News Shopper have been running an opinion piece on a subject that much vexes me. They are asking for readers’ opinions on self service checkouts in supermarkets and other stores. This old chestnut comes up around once per year, and I have made my own views on the subject clear in the past – I am vehemently opposed to self service for a number of reasons; firstly it has been demonstrated that the average time to complete a supermarket self service transaction is up to three times as long as one carried out by a staffed till – and that is without allowing for system errors. Secondly, why would you have a dog and bark yourself? Quite often the checkout person adds to the whole retail experience, and can problem solve on the go. Elderly people, or customers with small children can also find self service stressful. On top of this, the supermarkets only introduce self service as they think it will reduce their staffing overheads. This has proved to be a false economy, as although  the number of checkout staff is reduced, the number of supervisors and security operatives has to increase – who tend to be paid a higher rate than the checkout staff. This particular matter has caused Wilkinson’s to remove them, as they discovered that the self service tills actually cost more by the time all the overhead costs were factored in; they were also finding the incidence of thefts and under age purchasing were on the rise. If you are comfortable using self service checkouts, fine – as always my philosophy is “if it works for you”. Personally I will steer clear of them, as they serve the shop, not the shopper.

I have a question to pose, and I would be grateful if you could help by providing an answer. The Maggot Sandwich has been updated every Sunday afternoon for well over seven years – a total of 460 entries averaging three thousand words per entry (that’s roughly 1,380,000 words, and no, I am not going through it all to get a precise count; in this case near enough is good enough).  The Maggot Sandwich has become a bit of a brand now, but one very loyal reader has suggested to me that the name is holding the blog back – that the rather surreal and silly name does not represent the content. He suggests that the name should be changed to something more representative of what the blog is nowadays. I am not sure – it is the first comment of this nature I have received. Are the readers just being polite and putting up with the title, or do they find it part of the charm? Many may not be aware that the name originates from a radio show I used to have on South East London / North Kent station Radio Lumberjack back in the late 1980’s; when I started the blog, I thought I could re – use the old name for my Saturday night radio show. I do recall back in 2010 when I was a delegate at the London Bloggers conference at the OFCOM headquarters on the South Bank that ”Arthur Pewty’s Maggot Sandwich” was informally voted as the most unusual and memorable blog title of the attendees. What do you think? Do you like the name, or is it due for a change? If you think it is overdue for a revamp what would you like to see it called in future? You can Email me at or leave a comment below.

The photo I published last Sunday of William Gilder on a shrimp fishing boat on the River Thames has sparked considerable interest. Gilder ran a successful fishmongers shop on the river front at Erith, directly opposite the wooden jetty that is still there today. The shop was in business for many years between the wars, and was only demolished in 1937. Maggot Sandwich reader and local historian Ken Chamberlain sent me the photo of Gilder’s Fishmongers which you can see above. He tells me that the Gilder family were heavily involved in trade in and around Erith for many years, and indeed several members of the family still live locally. I had commented on how William Gilder looked considerably younger in the photo that Ken had sent, to which he responded that although there was a distinct family resemblance, it was possible that the figure in the doorway was not the same person as pictured in the fishing boat last week. Either way it is a real slice of Erith’s long and varied history. The more I consider the state of pollution of the River Thames before WWII, the more I am amazed not only that a successful fishing business could generate income from the murky waters, but that people were apparently not routinely poisoned. In addition to the aforementioned sewage outfall from Crossness, back before the war Erith Pier was frequented by heavy cargo freighters and ships that were judged as too large to navigate further upriver to the docks, or the Pool of London. The output sewage and waste oil into the river, along with leaving traces of chemicals from their anti fouling paint (which used to contain large amounts of poisonous tin or copper compounds to inhibit weed and barnacle growth on the hulls of ships). It is a wonder that anything managed to live in the Thames off Erith at all. The water nowadays is far cleaner than it has been for years – the reason it looks brown and murky is mainly due to the large levels of silt that is suspended in the water, rather than to high pollution levels.

Some very professional and nasty scammers have been targeting local residents recently; one of my best local informants had encountered an issue reported by a retired chap who had been the unwitting victim of a fraud. I am going to recount the story, but leave out all of the personal details, for obvious reasons. The scam works like this; The victim will get a phone call out of the blue; the person on the other end will say that they are calling from Microsoft (or sometimes from MacAfee or Norton antivirus). They say that the victim’s PC is either infected with a very serious computer virus, or that their software licence has expired and that it needs to be revalidated and registered. They tell the victim that they can do this if they can obtain remote access to the PC in question “to save you the bother of doing it yourself”. Whilst this may sound obvious, and that only a mug would fall for it, the scammers are highly professional and plausible. The victim can hear that the scammer is working in a call centre from the background sounds, and all does appear to be genuine. Once the scammers gain control of the victims’ computer, they often install Cryptolocker ransom ware – software that sits on the PC like a time bomb, until a certain date, or predetermined set of actions are carried out by the victim, upon which it encrypts the victims files and stored data, and then demands a payment – usually of around five hundred Euros for the files to be decrypted – and there is no guarantee that they will be decrypted. On top of this, the scammers will siphon off passwords and user names for online bank accounts and other things like Email accounts – which they then sell on to other criminals for use in identity theft. Victims of this scam also get added to a “white list” by the bad guys; this is a very valuable list of people who are judged to be vulnerable to being conned. This information is also posted online to be purchased by other criminals. Basically if you are hit once, you are likely to be hit again, time after time – a scammer crew called “Windows PC Care” have been operating locally – on top of the malware they infect on your computer, they demand £195 to remove the fictional “infection” that they initially warned the victim about. These scammers are not single people; they form part of organised gangs known as “crews”. If you, or a friend or relative gets a phone call from an organisation purporting to be a huge software or services company, just put the phone down. Don’t bother arguing or remonstrating with them – they are not interested,; they will just move on to the next target – to them it is all about money. The scams are run just like a company – albeit one employing illegal methods.  The chances of catching the perpetrators is vanishingly small; the usually operate out of countries in Eastern Europe and South Asia; they employ hundreds of people in what are called “boiler rooms” – call centres for illegal activities. The large IT companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Google do investigate them, on the grounds that not only do they cause damage to reputation, but they are also compromising  their products. To be honest, the scamming has turned into a major industry. The chances of getting caught and prosecuted are small at most – the scammer bosses often have the local police and government in their pocket. In the unlikely event of a prosecution, the sentences are small – a fine and probation in most cases. Why risk getting murdered by a rival, or spending the rest of your life in a rat infested jail after being caught smuggling drugs, when you can sit in an air conditioned office and make just as much money by ripping off people's computers? So, what can you do to avoid these criminal scumbags? Firstly, and most obviously, as previously mentioned, just put the phone down – the big IT companies do not make personal calls – ever. If you get a call, a pound to a bent penny it is a scammer trying to take you for a ride. As far as your computer is concerned, make sure that whatever operating system you use, that it is up to date with all security patches and that the firewall is switched on. If you want to test the security of your computer to external attacks, I can recommend a website that benignly simulates a hacker port scanning your computer, looking for a vulnerability. The harmless scan takes a minute or so, and will give you an accurate idea as to how well locked down (or otherwise) your computer is. Shields Up! Is a great resource. You can see the results of an in - depth Shields Up! Port scan on the computer network at Pewty Acres in the screen shot below - the network does not exist as far as hackers are concerned. I take my security very seriously. Do run the same check on your systems and see what results you come up with. You may notice that I have intentionally blurred most of my I.P address. I did this using Apple's Aperture image manipulation software. Just in case some clever dick thinks that they can import the image below into Aperture and reverse the blurring function to get the rest of the address, I would not waste your time. The image is actually a screen capture of the original blurred picture - this removes all the image metadata, and make un - blurring impossible. Me - paranoid? No, just very careful.
In years past I would have advised against using Microsoft Windows if you wanted a secure computing experience; I have to say that Microsoft have taken security very seriously indeed over the last few years, and both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 are now actually pretty damn good. Not for me personally, but as always, if it works for you. So far the remote access scams have been targeted mainly at Windows PC’s, but it is only a matter of time before OS X, iOS and Android also get targeted. Whilst Apple Macs are less common than Windows PC’s, Apple users tend to have higher disposable incomes, and thus make attractive targets. For the ultra paranoid computer user, I would recommend the free and open source OpenBSD version of Unix; it is designed from the ground up for security and robustness against malicious attack. It has lots of software ported onto it, and if you have an old computer sitting round, you can give the operating system a try for free – details by clicking here. OpenBSD is used in many areas where reliability and uptime are paramount – and I can guarantee that a remote scammer would be utterly defeated if they tried to take over an OpenBSD box.

The ending video this week is a new festive short film from Simon's Cat. As always, it is excellent - well observed, cleverly animated and very funny - give it a watch and leave a comment below. 

1 comment:

  1. Hugh

    I vote to keep the blog name as it is. I think it was the unusual, quirky name that prompted me to first visit your blog and it is certainly memorable. In any case, whatever you call it I enjoy the blog, so keep up the good work!