Sunday, January 26, 2014

Worse than ever?

You may recall that back, almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a feature on the Pizza Hut franchise in Northumberland Heath, and how appalling dirty and unhygienic the place was. The News Shopper also had it as their headline story at the time. The scandal ended up being covered by several national newspapers, the conditions were so bad. The shop ended up being closed for emergency remedial cleaning work; I had thought that the story was now closed; On Friday morning an anonymous person uploaded the following comment onto my original blog posting. I am reproducing it here, as it is shocking, and if true (and I have no reason to believe it is not), then the public needs to know. I work in this "disgusting" pizza hut you mentioned and let me just say, you have mentioned the fact that "Apparently the place has received a deep clean and its’ hygiene standards are improving". The shop was recently given a new shop front to improve the customer perception of the shop but this was as far as improvements actually went. The general conditions within the shop is probably in my opinion worse than ever. In November 2011 most Pizza Hut delivery units were franchised off to private companies and this is when the trouble started. The company that runs this and many other stores in the surrounding area presented managers with such unreachable targets that they soon all left. This then left it open for the company to get in their own managers. Just before Christmas 2013 conditions within the shop were so bad I was having to work in pools of water leaking from various fridges walls and ceilings. Toilet facilities at one point were completely non-existent, the toilet was in fact broken and laying on its side exposing the sewage pipe where rats were seen and making the whole inside of the shop smell of raw sewage. Dates on ingredients are changed to extend the shelf life rather than discarding then like they should be. Things like the can opener, vegetable slicer and oven are no cleaner really now than they ever were. Finally, Just to say that if any of your readers think that eating here may make you sick, believe me, even I won't eat from here. I have passed the information onto reporters at the News Shopper, as they have the resources to carry out a full investigation, and I do not. It will be interesting to see what they discover.

During my enforced period of quarantine whilst I suffered with Gastroenteritis recently (fortunately not caused by eating from Pizza Hut, as I don't eat takeaway pizza), I decided that I would grow a beard. Actually I was so unwell that I could not be bothered to shave, but that is another story. Once I recovered, I decided that it was high time for the beard to go, as it was getting itchy and anyway, I don’t think a beard particularly suits me. I am one of those individuals who uses a Gillette Fusion wet shaving razor. It is claimed by Gillette (actually a company in name only, as they are 100% owned by Procter and Gamble) that each fusion blade will give many comfortable shaves before they need to be replaced. The number of shaves varies between adverts and promotional material, but nevertheless they do cite multiple uses. In my own experience I am lucky to get three shaves out of a single blade unit before it is too blunt to use, and in the case of the beard removal, a single use was enough to completely knacker a brand new blade head. Bearing in mind that a four blade pack of Fusion blades costs £9.95, this is no small expense. I have read research which states that each blade head costs the manufacturer around 5p per unit to manufacture – which, by the time the supermarkets have taken their cut is a total mark up of 4,750%. Nice work if you can get it. If you search around online, and even look for buying these type of blades in bulk, there are surprisingly few discounts of substance to be had. One would have thought with such a huge profit margin, some savvy retailer would have bought a few lorry – loads and set up a discount service. I can find no evidence of this. I then got to doing some thinking. Why has no savvy business person seen the gap in the market, and gone to some manufacturing supplier in somewhere like China where high quality, well engineered kit can be made to a customers’ specification in fairly short order, and got them to make huge numbers of “own brand” blades that are compatible with the popular razor hand units, then sell them online at a fraction of the outrageous prices charged by Gillette / Procter and Gamble. I got so taken up with this idea that I contacted a very good friend, who just happens to be MD of one of Britain’s’ most highly respected market research / market analysis companies, and asked his professional opinion on the matter. He said that a couple of the big supermarket chains tried this very approach a few years ago, but soon found that it was a bigger problem than they had initially expected. Procter and Gamble, owners of the Gillette brand, supply something like 25% of all the goods sold in most UK supermarkets. As soon as Procter and Gamble heard of this endeavour, they rolled out their heavyweight lawyers and started muttering about copyright infringement. The supermarkets backed down, unwilling to cause potential disruption to other goods in their supply chain. Thus the whole “own brand” razor blade project withered on the vine. My business contact did say that he could see a potential way an entrepreneur could challenge the current corporate razor blade monopoly – but it would need someone like a modern day Richard Branson to attempt it. In essence, the entrepreneur would need to set up a business in somewhere like the British Virgin Isles, and conduct all business from there (a place where it is very difficult for third parties to carry out malicious prosecutions). They would need to hire a Gillette product manager – someone who knows how the company works and how they think. The blades could be made in China, then shipped in bulk all over the world; all ordering would have to be done via an online shop located outside of the European Union. If this could be kept up for a year or so, to the point where the blades had got a degree of market penetration as a viable alternative to the much more expensive “big name” versions, you might well end up in a situation where Gillette / Procter and Gamble would be forced to lower their exorbitant prices due to the newly introduced competition in the market place. To be honest, this is all a bit of a pipe dream; the idea of selling lower cost, high quality razor blades to compete with the big producers is such an obvious business opportunity that if there was any viable way to do it, someone would have done it by now. The fact that they have not really goes to show how tightly the market is already tied up. Please leave a comment below.

Last weekend local drivers had a new challenge. Bexley Road, from the roundabout by the railway bridge and Fraser Road, as far up as Park Crescent, was blocked off from very early on Saturday morning to midday on Monday. I went for a snoop when I heard the news; The News Shopper is reporting that a Mini Cooper crashed into a parked Mercedes saloon in the early hours of Saturday morning, and this left a mixture of Diesel and engine / transmission oil on the road. Apparently the driver of the Cooper was badly hurt, but his passenger did a runner – which sounds very suspicious indeed. The Police had blocked off the road for a stretch of several hundred metres, and the Fire Brigade had spread some kind of moisture absorbing granules over the leaked fluid. I am unsure why the section of main road was closed for quite so long; all I can assume is that there was damage to the road surface – which would not be surprising – petro chemicals eat away at tarmac like acid eats away at metal. It may well have been that the Borough Surveyor needed to check the damage before the road could be re – opened. Residents in the adjoining side streets have been most put out, as drivers have been using diversions to skirt around the normally very busy closed section of Bexley Road.

The photo above was kindly sent to me by local history expert Ken Chamberlain; it is my current favourite shot of old Erith, as it shows so much life and activity, and is not a posed photograph. It shows the view looking Northwards along the High Street, towards the River Thames. Unfortunately it is impossible to take a modern equivalent photograph from the same location as the historic one, as the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre is now in the way, and the road layouts in and around the centre of Erith have drastically changed in the intervening years. The one thing we do know for certain is that the photograph was taken in 1910. By the looks of it, the shot was taken late on a Saturday morning in Spring or Summer - there are a lot of adult men in the photo, most of whom would be at work if the photo was taken during the week; secondly the shadows are very short, indicating the photo was taken around midday. Quite why so many people are standing around in the street is unclear. There are no apparent indications of preparations for a parade or other festival; it just appears to be a very busy street scene. The one building that is still readily recognisable in modern Erith is the Cross Keys pub, which is shown in the distance in the old photograph. Nowadays it is being renovated and converted into offices and meeting rooms for management consultancy the Aleff Group. They are making sure that the external appearance of the building is as close as possible to the original, as they are keen to preserve the building, which is located in Erith’s conservation area. They take the preservation of the historic building very seriously, unlike the people who ran the nearby White Hart, and who ripped out the listed frontage to install hideous plate glass. I don’t normally like seeing empty premises, but the Potion Bar that replaced the White Hart was definitely a bad move, and I have to say that many locals are glad to see the back of it, now that the business has failed. I may be a tad on the optimistic side, but it would be nice to see the building housing a proper sit – down restaurant. The trouble is, the work required to bring the building up to a decent standard in order to open such a restaurant would almost certainly be prohibitively expensive.

This week I have a guest writer, who for reasons best known to themselves, has asked to remain anonymous. He's one of a small team behind a very influential online publication that has its' roots in the local area:- One little known aspect of the north of Bexley borough is that it saw the birth of a science fiction venture that still continues today. The Science Fact and Fiction Concatenation began in 1987 as an annual fanzine produced by a group of local scientists and engineers reviewing the SF genre. The editorial team has since now largely dispersed across the UK but the zine still continues, including with some editorial support from those still within what was the old Erith borough (now Belvedere, Erith, Slade Green and Northumberland Heath), in an on-line largely text-only webzine. Over the 1990s interest expanded and SF enthusiasts from overseas began to take interest including from Eastern Europe with the Iron Curtain coming down. This led to SF2 Concatenation appearing at Eurocons and a trilingual edition (English, German and Romanian) in 1994. This edition saw Concatenation's first of, to date, 4  European SF Society Eurocon Award wins for 'Best Fanzine' and other categories: all  Concatenation's European Award wins have been when the Eurocon that year was in another country than Britain, and this is a small matter of pride for the team garnering such attention away from their home turf. In addition to running the zine, the team have engaged in a number of allied projects. These have included a number of Eastern European (Romania and Hungary) cultural exchanges in the late 1990s to early 2000s. In addition to members of the team going to Eastern Europe and staying with local fans there (including  to see the eclipse of the Sun in 1999, the team sponsored Eastern Europeans to visit Britain. Among the many things they did included a welcome by Bexley's Deputy Mayor, visiting Dartford Groundwork, seeing the Crossness Engines in Thamesmead, and broadcasting back to Eastern Europe via the BBC World Service. Another of the projects was to catalogue all the SF works up to 2004 that have won SF enthusiast popular voted awards and publish this as a book called Essential Science Fiction A Concise Guide. Today the Concatenation site is still maintained by a couple of locals to the north of the borough. Others who have left the area (and are now elsewhere in Britain) do still contribute. This summer will see a reunion as many of the team will join a few thousand of SF enthusiasts, writers and professionals at the annual World SF Society Worldcon which, (called Loncon) for the first time in many decades, will be in London! Indeed it is arguably worth passing this news along to anyone locally you know with a penchant for science fiction as this year the SF World is coming to our door step. So you can see from all of this that there are those in the north of Bexley borough who have an eye on the future and the far horizons of other worlds.

As I have mentioned in the past, there are weeks when writing the content for the Maggot Sandwich is a real uphill struggle, and other weeks when it pretty much writes itself. This week I have had an embarrassment of content, which makes nailing the update together very straightforward. Reader Stephen dropped me a line midweek to ask if I had heard of a new online service called which takes feeds from web cams and network connected CCTV systems and enables groups of people and communities to be able to share the video feeds, irrespective of geographical location. This somewhat coincided with a story in the News Shopper which relates to an Erith resident who has installed four CCTV cameras on the outside of his house in order to monitor and record any criminal activity occurring on his private property. The Council have decreed that he will have to apply for planning permission for the cameras, as apparently under the Town and Country Planning Act, cameras on private dwellings have to be located a minimum of ten metres apart, otherwise they need planning permission. When this law was passed, I could understand this; back in the 1980’s CCTV cameras were large, bulky and unsightly items which definitely could adversely affect the looks of a property. Nowadays modern cameras are tiny and extremely discreet, and any requirement for planning permission now seems utterly superfluous. It seems to me to be a classic case of the law not keeping track of technology. It also seems that the house owner – a chap called Michael Hix, has been unfairly targeted. There are a large number of local structures that have multiple CCTV cameras mounted on them, all of which are very unlikely to have requested planning permission. My understanding of the position the Police take regarding private CCTV is that they are not really bothered, just as long as the cameras are only pointing onto the owners’ property – they (quite rightly) take a dim view of CCTV cameras pointing out into the public street. This seems to be a more enlightened view than that taken by Bexley Council. The fact is, a mobile phone can be used as a portable CCTV recorder just by downloading a suitable app. This video can be shared worldwide with services such as Jabbakam, and the council are living in the Stone Age if they think they are able to control such actions by using a blunt force such as the planning rules. The game has changed, but the Council are unaware of it.

Malcolm Knight of the Bexley is Bonkers website has reported that, just as he correctly predicted, Bexley Council are in the process of halting the move of Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre from Bexleyheath Library to Bromley. Indeed, his sources indicate that Bexley Council never formally approached Bromley Council regarding the project, and that the whole thing could well be something he describes as an “Aunt Sally” – something set up to make the council look good, as if they have actually been listening to the views of the local population, and amended their plans accordingly, when in fact they had never seriously intended on moving the Archive in the first place. The wording on the Bexley Conservative Party website is currently very vague and non – committal, but it does begin to sound like the Local Studies and Archive Centre may well be safe – for now, at least.

Things are looking even bleaker for the Arabfly Dangleway – otherwise known as the Emirates Airline Cable Car. As I have said in the past, the service gets very little use, and it has been losing money hand over fist since it originally opened just prior to the 2012 London Olympics. Figures have recently been released, which, according to the Evening Standard, show that for the second quarter of the 2013/14 financial year, the income from the cable car was thirty five percent lower than budgeted.  The Mayor’s office had predicted that the £60 million cable car would generate £8.3 million in tickets for the period, but in reality it only took £5.4 million. Transport for London are still in denial, publicly stating that the service is not making a loss, but this can only be because of the quarterly £3.6 million sponsorship package supplied by Emirates Airline, which is effectively propping up the entire enterprise.  As I have previously wondered, once the sponsorship deal comes to its’ first potential break point, I feel that it would be unlikely for Emirates to continue, as the whole cable car issue has become a farce – Boris is reluctant to intervene to improve the ticketing structure, and pretty much anyone who has any familiarity with the service is aware that it is a vanity project which was built in entirely the wrong part of London. It goes to nowhere from nowhere, and over a warehouse, truck park and a couple of derelict factories – all in all, not a very enticing prospect. The fact is, the current exclusion of Oyster card, London Travel Card and Freedom Pass users from the cable car has done nothing to encourage commuters to use the service – which in any case is far quicker by tube. I regularly pass underneath the cable car when I use the Docklands Light Railway, and it is quite usual to see nobody in a cable car at all; indeed there have been occasions where the operators have switched the system off until a customer turned up – just to save on the electricity bill! Whatever does happen, I seriously doubt that it can carry on in the current manner for very much longer – it is haemorrhaging money. Boris needs to pull his finger out.

I read with disgust that Thamesmead resident Michelle Roberts, who was found guilty by Basildon Crown Court of a number of cases of theft - including from her own family members at a wake after the death of her Uncle; she is to be sentenced in March - you can read the full story on the News Shopper website here. Apart from anyone's normal sense of affronted decency after hearing of the crimes against innocent and often vulnerable victims, what makes it worse for me is that I used to know her. She was a care assistant at my late Dad's nursing home. We don't think she ever managed to steal anything from him, but we have no way of knowing what she may have stolen from others. She's thieving scumbag and a nasty piece of work; she deserves to be locked up for a very long time indeed.

I am afraid the ending video this week is somewhat predictable. Pretty much every media outlet has been banging on about how we are at the 30th anniversary of the launch of the original Apple Macintosh computer; I decided not to give the event as much coverage as I otherwise might, due to the fact the story has been so widely reported elsewhere. Anyway, here is a short video summary of the history of the Mac range. Please feel free to either leave a comment below, or Email me at


  1. Our son - seriously disabled and on benefits - uses the fusion blades as they seem to be the only ones which cope with his facial hair. The blades are far too dear for anyone, but on a limited income it is a huge amount to pay out.

    Regarding the Erith photo, my cousin used to work in Mitchell's in the 50's and 60's - she seemed very glamorous to us younger relatives. In the early 80's my husband was in charge of a group of young people who helped renovate a local church. During this time period the church had also sorted out a lot of 'rubbish' to be thrown away and my husband rescued a small brass plaque dedicated to Mr Hedley Mitchell.

  2. I suspect the pic of old Erith was probably taken on a spring or summer public holiday. Under a magnifying glass, most of the men seem to be working class by dress, and Saturday morning was - even at late as the early 1950's seen as a working day. Most Saturdays finished at 1.00 pm - a reminder of that survives in the 3.00 pm kick off for most professional football games, and as you say the shadows indicate the pic was taken was probably around midday. It is also worth saying that up until the post WW2 years street life was the norm - put bluntly most houses were small (think of the terraces around West Street or Manor Road) and families were enormous, the womenfolk needed space to do cooking and washing and quite often a lodger or two was common so as to augment the household income. Any census at the time would illustrate that vividly.

  3. Hi David - your observations ring very true. I live in Manor Road in one of the old Victorian cottages that were built in 1866. The 1871 census had a man, his wife and SIX children living in it - and that is years before the kitchen and bathroom were added as a rear extension. I can well understand that people would live far more outside - no computers, radio or television to keep them indoors either.

  4. May I recomend a safety razor. Cheap to buy and the blades are about 10p each / £1 a pack. After a while you will find that you stop cutting yourself as you learn to shave with more care.
    Either that or you will die from blood loss but, hey ho. Can't win all the time.

  5. Hmmm…
    Remind me not to use Pizza Hut.
    To be honest I prefer Papa John's anyway plus their kitchens open plan so you can see what condition it's in.
    It's great that people feel that can send stuff to you. Your Erith's very own Lois Lane or Roger Cook…er…you know what I mean! Be interesting to see if this blows up in the press again.

    I thought a beard quite suited you, okay you look like a Mirror Universe version of you but a change is as good as a rest!
    Talking of razors did you know you can sharpen razors by running them 10-15 times up and down a pair of jeans? Obviously just don't wear them at the time! Even just a square of denim is okay.
    Lay the jeans on a hard surface and with a with a dry razor point it in the direction you are rubbing. In other words, don’t “shave” the jeans, point the razor the other way so that the blades glide over the surface of the jeans and don’t try to cut. This doubles the life of my razors and I make a 5 pack of Gillette Sensor blades last about a year.
    You can also APPARENTLY sharpen razors by placing them under a small pyramid, allegedly.

    Fascinating stuff about the Sci-Fi Fanzine with local roots. Never heard of it before, I'll have a proper look when I get a chance.

    You mention the story about the gentleman who's run foul of the council over his CCTV camera's.
    I have to say I'm torn, on the one hand I think it IS his house and if he feels he needs CCTV due to crime prevention then it's his property but at the same time I'm against people plastering their homes and garages with camera's. To me having CCTV is saying "You are being watched" but it when it's a lot of camera's it also screams "I am insecure and want to do something about it". I think it would be a sad time when every house has CCTV, let's just say I'm undecided on the matter. The main thing is it's only set to record what's on your property.

    Good news on the Bexley Archive (hopefully!), I found out last week that a photo of me when I was 9 years old dressed as a Victorian is being used as an educational aid. I hadn't seen the photo in something like 30 years and my daughter was given it in class and thought it was me. Felt very strange to see it again.

    I think it's high time you had a go on the Dangelway.
    It's very picturesque in a apocalyptic, post dystopian kind of way what with the scrap dealer right underneath it (Hell, when it finally goes under it wouldn't have to go far to be chopped into bite sized chunks LOL!), it is worth a trip actually but it does go to nowhere but it's good fun, reminds me of a large ski lift.

  6. I was so thrilled to find this blog. I used to live in Belvedere for a short period in the 1970s and was sat surfing on Google Earth to look up our old hangout The Cross Keys on the map. Then i tried to remember the name of the pub next door, as we also went there on occation the Keys was packed. But as i cammed around I only saw this hideous glassfront build, not the old building i remembered. Then i found your blog quite randomly and read this post, and there it was - White Heart - but replaced by something called Potion Bar, quite hideous I agree. But wandering further down on google earth i was relieved to see that The Running Horses and The Ship are still there. There was a forth pub up in Belvedere we used to hang out too but I have forgotten the name - think it had something to do with pirates LOL but i was wasted a lot when i was there so who knows. All i remember is it was very friendly and lively on a sat night. But i <3 the pic of old Erith - and I have bookmarked your blog. TY for a great post!