Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bad poetry.

The photo above (click for a larger view) shows the boarded up, abandoned and forlorn looking former Erith Pop - In Parlour, located in Cornelia Place, and adjacent to Queen Street, almost opposite the Baptist Church. It was taken back in February 2011, but since then very little has changed - except that it is even more run down and scruffy now. The building was sold to a developer a couple of years ago, and nothing had been heard since; this has very recently changed. One of my local sources has discovered that a planning application has been submitted to Bexley Council to demolish the old Pop - In Parlour and its' former car park, to make way for a four storey block of flats. The proposed block is to consist of six two bedroomed apartments. Whether these will be for rental or sale, I don't yet know, but the smart money would be on the rental market. I somewhat doubt permission will be granted in this form, as the block would both block the light and seriously overlook the houses in Cornelia Place, which are directly adjacent to the proposed development. Local residents would be unable to take a bath or sunbathe in their back gardens without being snooped on by the flat dwellers looking down on them.  The council planning officer has written to all of the house owners in Cornelia Place, and I am aware that their thoughts and opinions will be given due consideration. Hopefully some other design will be proposed. At present Erith is becoming a "dormitory town". Developers are crowding in as many properties into the area as they can; there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the London Borough of Bexley is currently the cheapest place to live in Greater London according to official figures, and it also has excellent road and rail links with the whole of the South East region and beyond. The problem is that so many people are moving into Erith, and so many new build properties are being constructed, that I worry how the local infrastructure is going to cope. The electricity, water, gas and drainage systems can only cope with so much - not to mention local schools, shops and health services. It would appear that the volume of construction is very soon going to exceed the capacity for supply of resources. Your thoughts and opinions on this thorny subject would be appreciated.

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago that I wrote about why people putting their feet on the seats of public transport was a health risk, as well as being anti social. I explained that the practice transferred harmful bacteria from dog mess (you don’t actually need to stand in a dog mess to get the bacteria on your shoes – it is spread all over the pavement from the turd as soon as it rains) onto the seat surface, and from the seat surface onto other travellers’ clothes. From there it gets onto their hands, and the rest is history. Back in January 2010, when I was still daily visiting my late Dad in the excellent Gallion’s View nursing home, not very far from Plumstead Bus Garage, I encountered a rather unruly teenager, and managed to teach him a valuable lesson. Many more people now read the Maggot Sandwich, so I don’t mind repeating the short  - and I think fairly amusing account now:- Every so often I encounter a situation where I find myself unable to let matters pass.  Earlier this week, Mum and I were on the bus from Plumstead after visiting Dad in his nursing home. We were sitting on the back seats on the right side of the 99 bus. A couple of stops later a scruffy  and unpleasant smelling kid of about fifteen got on and sat on the left side, putting his filthy trainer encased feet on the seat in front of him. Mum (being the former dinner lady with a reputation for a bellow worthy of a regimental sergeant major) pointedly looked over and asked him to remove his feet, which he grudgingly did. Later, when Mum got off the bus by the Cairngall Medical Centre in Upper Belvedere, the kid put his feet back on the seat. Discreetly, I got out my travel card wallet, and stuck one of my very official, and somewhat impressive looking work office access passes into it. As I got off the bus in Erith, I flashed the "ID" in his unsuspecting face, and told him that if I saw him put his feet on the seats again, there would truly be hell to pay, and that his actions were being recorded on CCTV for potential use in court. He looked genuinely horrified, and grovellingly apologised, then promised not to do it again. I think my point got through rather effectively.  On top of that, I had difficulty keeping a straight face! There is nothing like a small victory in life. Anyway, back to the matter in hand; the fundamental way to keep passing infection from faecal bacteria to people is to make sure that nobody puts their feet on the seat on any form of public transport. Bearing in mind the impossibility of absolutely enforcing this in a nominally free society, the next best prevention from infection is to use anti bacterial hand gel, or good old soap and water as soon as you get home. Where is this all going, you may ask? Well, I have been well and truly hoist by my own petard on this point. Let me explain. Normally one of the first things I do when I get home from work, after removing my coat and boots is to wash my hands with antibacterial hand wash under hot running water. No problems there. Last Friday evening at about 8pm I thought I would do a little bit of evening shopping, so I popped around to Morrison’s to pick up a few bits and pieces. As is my usual practice, I used a hand basket and was in and out of the store in around twenty minutes. Feeling quite happy that I had managed to avoid the Saturday throng, I went home to put my feet up in front of the television, and treated myself to a packet of cheese and onion crisps. In hindsight, this is where things started to go wrong. I had not washed my hands upon returning home. Within twenty four hours I had come down with a nasty case of Gastroenteritis – this was the stomach bug I made reference to last week. At that time I had hoped that it would clear up in a day or two, but suffice to say it lasted for a week. I won’t bother you with the symptoms (you have either had it yourself, and know how horrible it is, or you know someone who has had it). It knocked me completely for six. There are a number of different viruses and bacteria that can cause Gastroenteritis, and quite a few of these are passed on by touch. I am almost certain that this is what happened to me, having picked it up from the handle of the shopping basket. I have been informed that there is a particularly nasty strain currently doing the rounds, and that I was just another victim. Please be warned.

I have had quite a lot of positive feedback regarding the photo of the flooding at Erith Riverside Gardens that was taken by local resident Paul Thomas last week; Paul actually sent me a number of photos, and I was limited to only using one due to the other content I needed to publish (sometimes it is not easy being both the author and the editor). You can see another of Paul’s photos above, which really give a good idea who high the water came, though compared with some other parts of the country, we got off very lightly indeed. One of my contacts has suggested that Paul should send copies of the photos to Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre for preservation for the future. Whilst the intent is great, I think that until a final decision is made as to whether it is to be moved to Bromley, which would most certainly be the death of it. Instead I would recommend that anyone with photos that they wish to preserve for posterity upload them onto the web. I know this sounds counter – intuitive, as once they are uploaded one has less direct control over them. On the other side, whilst individual web hosting companies may come and go, and physical web servers may fail, the cross referencing nature of the web, and the huge automated web crawlers used by the search engines (OK – Google; there are others like Bing, but almost nobody uses them) which catalogue and archive online content within hours of it being uploaded; this basically gives the data digital immortality, as it is copied onto multiple server farms located around the world. I predict that it will not be very long before a new profession is started – cyber archaeologist. I think that there will be a need for professional web researchers to chase specific data and content – however good a search engine is (and Google is stunningly good, whatever you think of their policies, their technology is amazing). Thus uploading photos for posterity may be the most expedient measure.

Since the closure of my favourite community restaurant – Sweet and Spicy in Brick Lane (the only place worth visiting in that otherwise total tourist trap), I have been looking for an alternative, reasonably priced Asian cafe cum restaurant, and hopefully something a little closer to hand. One of my small band of irregular informers has told me that he has a number of Indian friends; when in the pub recently, he asked them where in the local area they would go for authentic Desi (Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi) cuisine. To a person they all said “the Punjabi Dhaba” – a little cafe / takeaway that is located in White Hart Road, a side street just off Plumstead High Street, close to the location of Barclay’s Bank. Obviously in my current condition I am in no position to carry out a review on the place right now, but my source is going to give the place a try and give his opinions. Unfortunately the Punjabi Dhaba has not received any inspection in order to be rated for the “Scores on the Doors” system, so the place is a bit of a mystery. I am hoping to discover good things in due course.  I was secretly pleased this week that the BBC investigative programme “Inside Out” covered the scandal of “Scores on the Doors” rating stickers not being compulsorily displayed in England (in Wales it is now the law). I have been banging on about the issue for well over a year, and I have probably bored a few loyal readers on the subject; it is something that I feel very strongly about – more so that I have now spent the best part of the last week riding the porcelain pony – albeit from a different cause. Anyway, a short video report above basically says everything I have - but with the authority of the BBC.

I think many people are now a lot more cautious when using cash machines; we have all heard horror stories of criminal gangs fitting devices to “skim” bank card details from customers, so that the crooks can later empty their bank accounts. There have also been rather less subtle approaches, with rather dim criminals trying to haul cash machines out of walls with JCB’s or other industrial equipment. All this has now inevitably become a lot more sophisticated.  Cash machines are actually not much more than a common or garden PC running Windows, which is hooked up to some custom hardware. The very clever bad guys have discovered that it is possible to discreetly cut a small hole in the customer facing case of the machine, and to then insert a bootable USB memory stick, which contains malware which partially rewrites the cash machine software. Once the software is thus compromised, the crooks remove the USB drive, seal up the hole in the case so that there appears to have been no tampering, and they go on their way. Some time later a “foot soldier” will be sent to the cash machine when it is quiet and few people are around. The low level crook will phone the mastermind to be given a one – off twelve digit code to punch into the cash machines’ keypad. This will open a secret menu and allow the foot soldier to empty the machine at will. The reason for the one time code is that the masterminds behind this offence don’t want any of their foot soldiers “going self employed” and emptying machines at will; on top of this, there is more than one gang employing these techniques, and the bosses want to protect their investments. This security loophole in several makes of cash machine hardware – principally machines manufactured by Tranax Technologies and Triton Systems have been known since July 2010, but quite a few banks and financial institutions have taken no measures to prevent the exploit. What is even more astonishing is exactly how easy the scam is to block. All the bank cash machine technicians need to do is make sure the “Boot from USB” option is disabled; personally I am astonished that all USB and other non essential communications ports are not disabled by default on all cash machines; it is a fundamental security measure that any IT security auditor should have picked up instantly. Fortunately for people in the UK and Europe, this exploit first showed up in South America, and with any luck lessons will have been learned. A worrying story, nevertheless.

It might seem hard to believe now, but there was a (relatively brief) period when Erith had a reputation as a desirable holiday resort. Stop sniggering at the back! In 1842 a wooden pier was built on the river front (well, there would not be much point in building it anywhere else). Alongside the pier, a pier hotel was constructed; to add to the attraction a large formal garden, complete with an Arboretum (a tree garden) was also created. For a period it was a popular holiday destination. Some locals were more than a little impressed with the place. A certain James Barnard of Erith was a watchmaker and occasional, very bad poet. He wrote the following poem about the Erith Arboretum, for which I can only apologise in advance. It is one of the most excruciatingly awful poems ever put to paper. You have been warned!

Upon my life, my dearest wife,
The children we must treat ‘em,
So dress them gay, and we’ll away
To the Erith Arboretum.

We’re now afloat in this fast steamboat,
(There go two more – we’ll beat ‘em),
As with the tide we swiftly glide,
To the Erith Arboretum.

A day like this is health and bliss,
The doctors, how we cheat ‘em,
When we take the air in the region fair
Of the Erith Arboretum.

Now mark the flowers and the shady bowers,
Where lovers fondly seat ‘em,
Or laugh and talk as they take their walk
In the Erith Arboretum.

At the Pier Hotel they’ll serve them well –
No other house can beat ‘em –
So we will dine and take our wine
At the Erith Arboretum.

‘Tis time, I see, to take some tea,
(The shrimps by scores we’ll eat ‘em),
And then away, at the close of day,
From the Erith Arboretum.

Now if my song has been too long,
The strains I’ll ne’er repeat ‘em,
But nevertheless I’ll drink success
To the Erith Arboretum.

The Arboretum closed down shortly thereafter, and was converted into a coal yard, and the adjacent hotel became its offices. The problem had partly been that the hotel and gardens were poorly built and not well maintained. They looked very impressive for the first few years, but soon wear and tear took its toll. On top of this, steam ferries started running trips from central London to places like Southend, enabling many low income families to travel further from home, and Erith then got overlooked. The outfall from Crossness Sewage Works, the Lower Belvedere Artificial Manure Works, and the nearby Thames Fish Guano Company must have made summer holidays in Erith a somewhat pungent experience as well! Nowadays locals complain about the occasional nasty pong from the ADM Oils factory in Church Manorway; I think we have got off relatively lightly compared with back in James Barnard’s time.

Bexley Council do a lot of things badly – as Malcolm Knight of the Bexley is Bonkers website more than ably documents on a virtual daily basis. Occasionally they do things well. The London Borough of Bexley is by far the best performing borough in relation to recycling domestic waste than any other in Greater London. Not that this absolves them from the catalogue of management and public relations disasters, such as their long time and illegal ban on recording council sessions, which has only recently, and very grudgingly been dropped. What will prove interesting is the next set of local council elections. I understand that a number of Bexley residents are considering standing as independent councillors for various wards. The idea behind this is to break up the current regime, based pretty much along party politics lines, and also to force the council to become more honest and open in its work, and the way in which in communicates with local residents. This looks like it should be a good deal – as long as a couple of independents can get elected, which is a different story altogether. No doubt more will develop on this story over the coming months.

The end video this week is a brand new, feature – length episode of the web based TV series “Star Trek – Phase Two”. There are tons of fan made films available on YouTube and elsewhere, and many are absolutely dreadful, albeit with good intentions. ST:PII (as it is referred to in the abbreviated form) is indeed made by a not – for – profit group, including a number of Star Trek fans. In pretty much every other way the group is fundamentally different from the normal fan film. The reasons are that the show runner, writers, special effects team and a number of the actors are people who have worked on “real” Star Trek. The Consulting Producer is Eugene Roddenberry Jr – the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and the writing team is led by David Gerrold and D.C Fontana – both multiple award winning sci fi writers who wrote some of the best episodes of the original Star Trek series. The premise behind Star Trek: Phase Two is that Star Trek did not get cancelled at the end of the third series in 1969, but carried onto a successful fourth series. Show creator Gene Roddenberry had intended on adding new cast members, and making some subtle updates to the shows’ look and feel for the fourth series. These were never originally implemented because of the shows’ cancellation. Phase two undertakes this. Several episodes which were written, but never filmed back then have been given an overhaul and have now been made and released. So “official” is ST:PII that all of the main actors had minor roles in the recent Star Trek reboot movie made by J.J Abrams. On top of this, there are guest appearances by a number of very familiar faces. When it is all said and done, the bottom line is, are they any good? I have to say yes, very good indeed. The production values are exceedingly high, as you will see if you watch the newly released episode “Kitumba” below. The Enterprise is ordered to violate the neutral zone and voyage directly to the Klingon home world Qo'nos on a virtual suicide mission, in order to prevent a galactic war. It is great stuff – well written, convincingly played and there are some lovely touches and subtle in – jokes too. If the Admiral at the start looks strangely familiar, it is because he is played by Gil Gerard, star of the early eighties TV Series “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”. Look out also for a “blink and you will miss it” cameo by Christopher Lloyd – most famously known for his role as Emmett “Doc” Brown in the Back to the Future films. Give it a try and leave a comment below, or Email me directly at


  1. I am sure that you will enjoy the curry house in White Hart Road. I have been eating there for the past three years and regard it as highly as most good places around Commercial Rd. If you are looking for somewhere that looks clean and sparkly then I would advise you to go elsewhere but, the food is cooked in an open kitchen, has a wonderful freshness and is sold at a bargain price. I have nothing but praise for the place.

  2. "The Arboretum closed down shortly thereafter, and was converted into a coal yard" - a reflection on the quality of the poem?

    I saw this in the news today about Food Safety Checks - interesting to note where Bexley ranks...