Sunday, December 22, 2013

The ode to Old Erith.

The photo above shows a guide dog puppy and Police officer at the launch of Hound Watch, which took place at the Pets at Home store on the Tower Retail Park in Crayford last Friday. The photo was taken by Dana Whiffen. You can read more about the Hound Watch project by clicking here.

Earlier in the week, I was on the 99 bus, heading for Bexleyheath, for lunch at the incomparably excellent Robin Hood and Little John pub in Lion Road. Nowadays I don’t use the local buses nearly as much as I did when my Dad was still alive – I used to visit him in his nursing home daily, which involved multiple bus journeys. Nowadays I only take the bus a couple of times a week; In a way I am glad – I used to regularly encounter various breeds of undesirables, which whilst sometimes annoying or distressing, did make for entertaining writing. Over the last couple of months I have had a couple of readers comment that I don’t seem to recount the kind of public transport related incidents that I used to. Well that is about to change. I was sitting on the lower deck of the 99, minding my own business, when a couple of women got on; they were chatting animatedly, and sat directly in front of me. After a few moments I began to notice an incredibly powerful stench of filth and stale urine wafting from the direction of one of the two ladies in front of me. She appeared to be in her early sixties and was shabbily dressed, but clearly not a homeless person. She looked like she had been wearing the same clothes for literally months. What was clear was that she was not obviously mentally ill (she was engaged in a detailed conversation with her companion) but she had obviously not washed in a very long time indeed, probably several months. Her fellow traveller seemed oblivious to all of this, and they continued their conversation whilst my eyes began to water with the incredibly noxious pong. Why someone would let themselves get into such a condition is way beyond me. I was just grateful to make a swift exit when the bus arrived in Bexleyheath – never has the diesel exhaust fumes of the bus halt been as welcomed as it was on this journey.

If you are a person who partakes of the forthcoming yuletide festivities, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy Christmas. As I have written in previous years, I don’t send Christmas cards for a number of reasons. Primarily I think that the sending of cards nowadays has about as much relevance as the carrier pigeon – in Victorian times people used cards as a way of catching up with far flung friends and relatives during the festive season – something that is no longer relevant with instant worldwide communication and social media. Also, the manufacture and transportation of billions of cards worldwide is a huge waste of natural resources – they get looked at for a moment, then stuck on a table or shelf for a couple of weeks, then they are recycled, all of which uses valuable time and energy. I wonder how long it will be before the sending of physical Christmas cards becomes socially unacceptable? Your thoughts on this would be appreciated. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank all of the people who make the Maggot Sandwich possible – not only my occasional guest contributors, but the ladies and gents who feed me information relating to local issues and concerns, who by their very nature need to be anonymous. Happy festive season to one and all. See the video at the end of this weeks' update by means of a festive commemoration.

I have had many comments about the stunning fan - made "Wholock" Doctor Who / Sherlock video mashup I featured last week; It was done by a person who is amazingly proficient in the use of various video and CGI tools. This week I have found a video which shows exactly how the video clip was put together; which to my mind only increases my admiration for the creator - it truly is a work of extreme dedication and skill - see what you think below.

I must admit that had I both more time and a larger garden, I would love to keep chickens (though I doubt my neighbours would be as keen). The thought of fresh eggs on a regular basis is something that a lot of people would like, but for most it remains an unfulfilled aspiration. The wholesomeness of garden produced chicken eggs is now being put into question; scientists in the USA have been studying the chemical composition of chicken eggs produced in urban gardens; they have discovered that in many suburban areas, the eggs contain a relatively high quantity of lead. Chickens love to root around in the ground, looking for worms and grubs which form part of their natural diet. In so doing, they ingest soil, and this soil in many occasions contains microscopic quantities of metallic lead, and lead salts. This comes from old buried lead water pipes, industrial waste and even from decades old car exhaust fumes – although lead additives in petrol has been banned for many years, the microscopic exhaust particulates still exist in the environment, as lead is a persistent pollutant that does not biodegrade. Interestingly, chicken eggs from commercial producers do not suffer this lead pollution, as they are farmed in a controlled environment, often in the countryside and further away from any potential source of pollution. The scientific study proved that the level of lead contamination in urban eggs closely tracked the level of lead found in the local environment. There is no accepted internationally agreed standard regarding contaminant levels in chicken eggs, but the researchers did discover that in the worst cases of contamination, the garden kept hens produced eggs with lead levels of 167 parts per billion, which roughly equates to the loss of one IQ point in a growing child who regularly consumes contaminated eggs. Cooking the eggs, or incorporating them in a recipe such as a cake will do nothing to remove lead contamination, unlike bugs like salmonella, which are killed by a couple of minutes of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Celsius.  The lead is always there; the only way to ensure that domestic chickens don’t ingest any environmental lead is to ensure that their run is filled with clean and uncontaminated earth and gravel, along with additional calcium supplements to encourage strong shell growth. It will be interesting to see if any UK or European study will be undertaken; I suspect that any results would be comparable to the American study.

Over the last four or five years, I have noticed that the number of local houses with ambitious and showy external Christmas decorations has markedly decreased. There used to be an escalating cold war between a number of home owners to see who could make the most extravagant and over the top lighting display. Now common sense (and perhaps better taste) have prevailed. Most displays nowadays are more discreet.  I think the reasons for this are multiple; the cost of electricity has increased markedly in the intervening time, and metal thefts have sky rocketed – and nothing attracts a metal thief more than electrical cable, packed to the gills as it is with high quality copper. On top of this I think that in these times of cutbacks and redundancies, people are reluctant to appear as a conspicuous consumer. On top of these factors, I think that technology has also had an influence. Modern Christmas lights are now LED rather than incandescent bulb based, and these LED lights seem to be more subtle and discreet – as well as using a hell of a lot less electricity.
The photo above shows the Wheatley Hotel, which was located on what is nowadays the hideous fish sculpture roundabout which joins Queens Road, Bexley Road, and Bronze Age Way. When I originally posted this photo, I did so in good faith; I had been sent it a couple of weeks ago by a regular reader. It transpires that the copyright of the photo is actually owned by a chap called David Bradley, who runs the Trolley Bus website - it would appear that I have inadvertently infringed on his copyright, for which I apologise. He's agreed to let me carry on using the shot with this explanation added. I hope to be picking David's brains on local transport very soon. In the foreground of the photo is a trolley bus; hopefully a reader can identify the make and model and give us some idea of roughly when the photo was taken. It has to be after 1935, as prior to this, trams were employed. The Wheatley Hotel was, as I have previously written, a railway hotel – a combination of pub and hotel in one. A contemporary advert for the place (thanks to my Mum for uncovering this) read thus:-

Wheatley Arms Hotel
Erith       ...... (Phone ERITH 2755)
Beasleys Light and Dark Ales and Stout
Best Quality Wines and Spirits
Board Residence             Luncheons
Trolley bus No.698}
 Bus               No.  99}  TO DOOR
 "                   No. 480}
Opposite Erith Railway Station
Hallam & Co ., (VICTUALLERS) LTD.
RGD. Office - "Red Barn" Barnehurst                    Phone : ERITH 3172

Last weeks’ guest writer Alan Magin has again turned up a gem. Just in time for Christmas, he’s uncovered a poem – “Ode to old Erith” which was written by Erith resident Pat Watson back in 1982.  When the poem was written, Erith was at an all – time low. The old Victorian town centre had been demolished, and the much hated late 1960’s brutalist concrete shopping centre had taken its’ place. Much of the heavy industry had moved away from the town, bringing unemployment, and none of the current investors (principally Morrison’s) had yet made an appearance. Any copyright belongs to Pat Watson  – I am reproducing it to bring the poem to a wider audience. It is not exactly Shakespeare, but it does make for entertaining and timely reading.

Ode to old Erith

It was always a shabby, funny town, when I was small:
It’s only claim to fame, I suppose, was the River,
which ebbed and flowed in muddy brown and grey regularity,
providing an ever changing picture of dreams for the eyes of the young and old,
or the idle, to dwell upon.

It was always a strange, little, sprawling town,
with nothing at all of importance to merit a place in the shape of things to come.
Here it nestled, like a favourite, comfortable, patchwork shawl, the fringes of which tapered towards the creeks of Slade Green and Crayford;
dwelling a moment at Bexley and Welling;
crossing to Bedonwell and Bostal.
Beneath the folds haphazardly tumbled Northumberland Heath, with upper and lower Belvedere here, and Barnehurst there;
in between glowing a patch or two of changing green, as the woods and parks filtered through the embroidery of stitches
that held it together with fields and ditches;
eventually sweeping around and down
past Abbey Wood marshes
and back to the river.

It was always a friendly, squat, little town,
with industry forming a warming collar
around its neck; the ribbon of water wandering by firmly held in its place,
loosely tieing a flexible knot of strength
against the fogs and mists
of all that threatened the pattern of sleeping security.

Quickly, quickly, write it down 
before those that remember have long been forgotten,
with nothing to show
and no-one to know how reshaping
and raping could possibly happen,
and why such a garment lies in tatters,
threadbare and worn, and all that matters
is sadly forlorn and desolate now,
abandoned, exhausted-
and those that permitted such devastation
have gone, long gone …
moved on.

Just for a moment indulge in nostalgia,
name a few names for memory to conjure
the magic that hustled and bustled under
the harlequin cloak, before the plunder
of planning and banning and closing
tore the patches asunder.

The Causeway of old, with convenient railings
on which you could lean to gossip, and yarn,
and gaze on a scene of rocks, and mud,
and pools of water in which you could paddle,
when the tide was out, with wagers to swim
to the other side of the river –
there was even sand
for children to dabble.
Piers and jetties, chains and things,
wet warm timbers, ropes and rings
which held the dinghies and yachts and boats
buoys and floats bobbing
when the tide was in.

The fat black barges gliding by
with ochre brown sails riding high in the water
like graceful swans;
the diligent tugs, tooting and fussy,
pushing and shoving, eternally busy.
Tramps and Cruisers and Men-O-War;
Coasters and Colliers and Steamers galore;
port and starboard, for and aft,
every conceivable waterway craft,
casting off and heaving to –
the Pilot’s Hut with the tide times on view.
Regattas and pennants and flags a –blowing,
never-endingly coming and going watermen,
merchantmen, rowing and rowing-
straining backs and muscles aquiver,
Doggett Men too-
the pride of the River.

The coal, the grain, and the flown mill;
Fraser’s Pond and Bunker’s Hill-
the Cinder Path, the Rec’. the Terries,
the Seamen’s Home; picking blackberries.
The Ritz, the Rialto, the Oxford, the Rex;
the Locomotive- Sunday School texts.
The Cobbler, the Smithie; the disinfect can;
the Sea Scouts, the Saw Mills; the School Board Man.
Frank’s Park fireworks, Callender’s Band
tightly packed in the small bandstand.
The betting slips; the Registrar;
the Library Museum; the four-ale-bar;
little boys fishing with tiddlers 
in jar. 

The ‘Rose and Crown’ and the ‘Wheatley Arms’ ;
gipsy weddings, the crossing of palms.
St. Fidelis; ‘Bob-the-Devil’ ;
running round tombstones in the
Old Church yard to ward off evil;
the wicket gates at the level crossings.

Swiftly, swiftly, paper and pen,
put down the words and
remember them ……..

Gone are the Cobbles, the alleys,
the paths, the trams, the prams,
the open air baths.
Bye-Brothers; Linwood’s the Salvation Army
on Burton’s corner every Sunday.
The gutters, the shutters, the Home-and-Colonial;
the World Stores, the Maypole, the neatly professional 
patting of butter with spatulas wooden;
kippers for tea, faggots, pease pudding.
the Fibro; Selfe’s; Penton-and-Deans;
shrimps and cockles and coffee beans.
Starkey’s, and Randal’s printing presses;
the local paper done on the spot;
gammon from Davis; the wet-fish shop.

The hub of it all was Mitchell’s Store,
the very core of the town, with personal
assistants, yards of material measured
with care, the buttons, the cottons,
the crimping of hair; second hand furniture
round the corner; three brass balls if you 
wanted to pawn a thing on two;
the Knackers’ Yard; the Late Night Final;
the Laundry; the Dairy; the Men’s Urinal.
checks of tin from the Co-op Stores;
Mence Smith’s; Dales; and pails
of manure yours for the taking;
barber’s poles; Groom’s and the smell
of baking.

It was always an honourable, vulnerable town ….
that could be the reason for knocking it down!
Tear out its character, flatten its face-
we’ll soon think of something to put in its place.
Never mind what, and never mind where …..
move it around a bit- up in the air!
Let’s have some changes- let’s have some ‘go’-
What were we putting here? Someone must know!

And so it went on, and on, and on …….
until all that we knew of Old Erith had gone
It took them some time to take it apart;
dying by stages, a work of ‘art’ you might say,
in a way –
All that was good was whittled away, and all
that was bad was left to decay
of its own accord.

I could write more but I’ve gone on too long,
progress, we know, has got to go on- but
why did it happen and where did it start?
We’re left with a town without a heart,
not better but worse than we had before!

There’s very few left who remember it now,
the new generation could not really care
about something they never would know or share.

Sadly, sadly, read it through,
the ones who recall it all-
you, and you …….
the ones who grew up with me
when I was small – born here,
and taught here, and worked here-
you know what I’m writing of-
you understand and,
if you’ve a moment or two in hand,
go down by the River …….
yes, it’s still there- and stand
and share with me dog-eared regrets
for the ‘used to be’-
of the rough little, gruff little
Erith we knew, and read to yourself
this Obituary.


Written by Pat Watson
March, 1982.

Erith has for several years been plagued by youths on illegal, unlicensed motorbikes and scooters; the problem appears to be worst around the Frobisher Road and Manor Road area. The scrotes ride their illegal vehicles along the pavements, very close to pedestrians, and also weave in and out of the traffic on the road. They usually end up heading East, and onto the Slade Green Marshes where they cause a nuisance to walkers and legitimate users of the protected area. Local residents have been complaining about this behaviour, and Erith Watch have been active in working with the Police to get something done about the matter. Last Saturday the Police caught two of the offenders red handed. The Police had a van with a number of officers, and collared the scumbags  outside of the Bilton Road Industrial Estate. The general procedure the Police carry out when arresting illegal, unlicensed and uninsured riders is that their bikes or scooters are confiscated and crushed. One can only hope that this will be the case in this instance. The only thing is the offenders will probably just go out and steal another bike and carry out their anti social and criminal acts as before. I feel that it will take another death before they realise how dangerous their activities are. Back in 2006, when the 469 single decker bus still ran on a route that included Manor Road, a young scooter rider came roaring West along the road; a West bound 469 was stationary at the Frobisher Road bus stop, and an East bound 469 bus was coming the other way; rather than waiting for the Eastbound bus to pass, the young rider raced for the gap; he was crushed between the two buses. The ambulance crew were able to stabilise him for long enough to get him to hospital, and his family to get to his bedside to say goodbye. I can see this terrible state of affairs happening again unless the illegal riders do something drastic about their behaviour.

Earlier in the week I received the following message:- "As undoubtedly one of your farthest-flung readers (long-time resident of Tokyo but born and brought up in DA8), I just wanted to add my support for retaining the Maggot Sandwich name. I stumbled upon your excellent blog five or so years ago due I think to the distinctive name and look forward to reading your blog and catching up on Erith news every Monday morning here in Japan". Thanks to Stephen, and please be assured, as I wrote last week, after the massive positive feedback, the Maggot Sandwich name is definitely here to stay.

As correctly predicted by the Maggot Sandwich last month, the Culture and Communications Minister Ed Vaizey has kicked the whole DAB radio switchover project into the long grass. He was speaking at the “Go Digital” conference last week that had been hailed as the “D-Day” for the phasing out of analogue FM and AM radio in the UK. The conference was organised by several of the largest companies who have an interest in digital radio. Ed Vaizey set no new date for a digital switchover, or a threshold of uptake of DAB. Several stations that have historically broadcast nationwide on DAB have now reduced their coverage to London only – this includes Jazz FM and Absolute Radio’s classic rock and 1960’s stations, which can now only be heard on DAB in and around London. The reason for this is simple. Cost and lack of listeners. A UK wide DAB channel costs £1.2 million a year, and that is before a single programme is broadcast – and not forgetting that DAB reception is patchy at best, with large black spots peppered all over the country. The cost of improving DAB coverage to around 97% of the UK landmass is estimated to be somewhere between £100 million and a billion pounds, of which a vast majority would have to be picked up by the tax payer, although this might well be contested by the European Court, as it is likely to contravene EU laws restricting state subsidies.  Industry insiders say that a 128Kb/sec MP2 data stream (how DAB is transmitted) costs sixteen times more than broadcasting the same content by analogue FM (and the analogue sound quality will be far superior to the 128k DAB audio). The problem for broadcasters is that OFCOM structures its’ licences so that if a radio station does not commit to DAB, they will lose their FM licence. The only European countries that have rolled out DAB broadcasting are the UK and Denmark; the first country to experiment with DAB was Germany, but they switched off their multiplex back in 2008 after only 200,000 DAB receivers were sold in ten years. The problem is that DAB has never been an ideal technological solution, and it has now been soundly overtaken by internet broadcasting via DSL and also 3G / 4G phone, set top satellite and cable boxes and the fact that analogue FM is more than good enough. So where does this leave DAB? It is much more expensive, has worse coverage, sounds inferior, and only gets used by 23% of the radio listening public. DAB has been a solution in need of a problem, and I feel that the government have now sent out a message that they are not going to do anything until after the next general election; if at all.

The ending video is by way of a virtual Christmas card - a bit of holiday fun. A CGI feast for fans of the Chuck Norris legend (for those of you not in the know, there has been a long running Internet story how Chuck Norris is some kind of superhero - you can read some outrageous but very entertaining statements here. Anyway, here is a little bit of Christmas fun for you. Comments below, or Email as always.

1 comment:

  1. The local trolley buses which i rode as a kid were the meat in the sandwich between the bottom slice of the old trams and the upper slice of the motor bus. I remember them as being very quiet compared to to the trams (which I can't really remember, but I was always told of how noisy they were) and pretty vibration-less. Their only problem was that they really could not cope with heavy overtaking or cutting in traffic, as their ability to swerve was limited by the slew and the length of the pick up arms which sometimes just fell off the cable. The conductors were issued with long insulated poles to hook them back up if this happened. The routes were the 696 from Dartford to Woolwich (the present 96 - the clue is in the number) and the 698 which run from Woolwich to Bexleyheath Clock Tower on the route which later got taken over by the 229 (and since renumbered many times) via Plumstead, Lower Belvedre, Northumberland Heath and Barnehurst, The main trolleybus makers were British United Traction, a joint company run by Leyland Motors and AEC to produce trolley buses and buses for the UK and European Market. My guess is that the picture dates from the mid to late 1950's judging by the dress of the couple in the foreground. More info can be got from a local bus hobbyist website centred on SE London - Toby and John's Transport History