Sunday, February 23, 2014

Poppies in the Riverside Gardens.

The photo above shows Erith Riverside Gardens at about quarter to five last Friday afternoon. The gardens are looking a little bleak and unloved at the moment, due to the wintery weather and huge amounts of rain that has fallen in the last couple of months. Garry "Tadge" Taylor, the chap behind the annual Erith Riverside Festival has come up with an original and very creative idea to commemorate the forthcoming centenary of the start of World War One. Tadge is recruiting a small band of volunteers (myself included) to help plant poppy seeds in the Riverside Gardens flower beds, so that later in the year the whole garden will be a sea of red poppies. Bexley Council had not planned to carry out anything to commemorate the centenary; it takes local residents to come up with ideas for such undertakings. The council once again show a shocking lack of both imagination and innovation.

James Watt Way, the road that runs around the outside of Morrison’s car park is never quiet for long. Recently a group of scrotes has taken to riding illegal, unlicenced and uninsured quad bikes in the road, pulling wheelies, setting up jumps made from old pallets in the middle of the road, and generally being antisocial. The Police are aware of the matter, but actually catching the criminals in the act will prove challenging. It will not take long for one of the bikers to collide with one of the scrap vans that patrol the road like vultures, waiting for people to illegally fly tip old fridges and the like round at the recycling centre at the end of the road, round by the back of Morrison’s.  On top of this, adjacent to the recycling facility, the patch of waste land that used to house a couple of traveller ponies, but has been empty for the last few months is now back in use. I am quite surprised that a new pony is now in residence on the little patch of land; I thought that once the last couple went, that would be the end of the matter. Ponies are now commercially worthless – an adult will now only fetch around £5 in a sale, as they are now regarded as nothing other than walking pet food. This is one of the reasons why so many ponies are being found abandoned on common land and in parks, not to mention the appalling way some have been dumped locally, where they were found dying or dead, as was recently reported by the News Shopper.

You may recall that last week I asked if any Maggot Sandwich readers had memories of Hedley Mitchells. I go the following very evocative reply from a lady called Pam:- “I lived in Avenue Road Erith from the age of 1 until 22 when I got married and now live on Bexleyheath / Crayford border. I am now 66.  I loved the town with all the little shops and as a school girl worked in a hairdressers up by the Post Office called Veronique as a Saturday girl for 3 years. I used to go into Mitchells with my mum, and yes, it was on a par with John Lewis. Must say the Ladies Toilets were very posh, had liquid soap which I had never seen before.  I also went to the Dancing School over Burtons and learnt Ballroom and the Jive .  Bill Hayley's Rock around the Clock was the record for that Jive.  I think I was about 8/9.  I think the lady teacher was called Lesley but I could be wrong, she was tall, slim and her hair was in a French Pleat, very elegant. My silver dancing shoes were bought in Mitchells and a while later as I was going to a Dance I was bought a rather pretty but expensive dress to wear from Mitchells. As everyone says, Erith was ruined when they built the concrete jungle, it was a lovely place to shop, catered for everyone and everything.  Erith was such a big part of my life when I was growing up. Pre school years I went every day except Sunday because our mum shopped on a daily basis for fresh meat and veg for our dinners. There was a lovely large man called George who had a fish stall on a Friday at the side of Burtons and the large blocks of ice fascinated me on his display, so he used to cut me off a chunk, wrap it in newspaper for me to take home. So many lovely memories from my childhood. School friends and I often go down memory lane about the Erith we loved”. Thanks very much Pam – a fascinating recollection of a much missed time.

The protests against the KFC Erith drive through application to effectively open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week continue. It would appear that the complaint web page that I directed people to in good faith is incorrect; the messages that were left on the Bexley Council Licensing Complaints Website have not been recorded.  Councillor Chris Ball has kindly been investigating. Instead complaints about the fast food drive through extending the hours it opens can be addressed to Best to act quickly if you wish your views to be known. Objections to KFC’s request for vastly longer opening hours must be made before the end of the month. I logged an Email of protest, and got a very full and detailed response from the Council. Part of their Email reads as follows:- “You should be aware that the licensing process requires the Council to provide the applicant with the details of any representations received. This means that a copy of your correspondence will be sent to the applicant.  Furthermore, a copy of your correspondence will be included in the report prepared for the licensing hearing.  This report is a public document. You will be invited to attend the licensing hearing to support your representations, at which time a copy of the Council’s procedure and hearing regulations will be sent to you. If, however, you require these documents sooner please contact me and I will be happy to provide you with copies straight away. You may represent yourself at the licensing hearing alternatively, you may wish to be represented by a Solicitor or Barrister or any other person. Your local Ward Councillor may be prepared to represent you, but you will have to contact them direct to enquire. If you do not know who your Ward Councillors are, you can contact this office and we will supply you with the names and contact details. Alternatively, you can find out who your local Ward Councillors are by visiting If you are making representations on behalf of a "body". i.e. representing persons who live or are involved in businesses within the vicinity of the premises, you may be asked by the applicant or Sub-Committee for the following information: The area covered by the body and the detail of the members who live or have a business in the vicinity of the applicant premises; and Evidence that the representations reflect the view of the members of the body. This may be achieved by having available a copy of the minutes of the meeting of the body where it's members decided to make representations to the application. However, it is a matter for the body to decide how it would best respond to any request for this information. Please be aware that should your representations be challenged, and you do not have the information available, there is a risk that your representations will not carry the maximum weight, or in certain circumstances not taken into account. In preparing for the licensing hearing you should bear in mind that all decisions made by the Sub Committee have, as a matter of law, to be based upon one or more of the licensing objectives, which are the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm. Therefore for the evidence you give at the meeting to have an influence upon the Sub -Committee it must relate to one of these objectives, and can only relate to matters you have raised in your letter making representations.  In other words if your letter is about noise from the premises you cannot at the hearing give evidence about the danger to which children may be exposed to at the premises”. This is all very informative stuff, but even reading it back now, it is worded in a way that could be construed as somewhat hostile to the complainant. I fully appreciate that the council need to operate in a way that is seen as being fair and even handed to all parties involved in the dispute, but for a private individual making a one – off objection, it does seem quite an intimidating and onerous process. Time will tell how this will all pan out, but I suspect that KFC will have an uphill battle to obtain round the clock opening rights, located as it is, opposite Sherwood House, a residential care home and sheltered housing scheme for elderly and disabled people, and surrounded on three sides by residential property, plus the vociferous protests of long time Erith residents.

Last Tuesday Mayor Boris announced that a project to link the CCTV cameras that form part of the London congestion charge and low emission zone monitoring system to the Police Automatic Number Plate Recognition system (ANPR). The ANPR system does what it says on the tin – car number plates are automatically identified, recorded and checked against a database of known criminals and stolen cars. The system is going under a period of public consultation as to how appropriate a “joined up” system of ANPR enabled cameras over the whole of Greater London would be. The Police already have access to a number of ANPR cameras, principally those which form a cordon around central London, and those on the M25 and A2 which already monitor all vehicles travelling on those roads. Adding the transport for London Cameras to the ANPR system will bring the total number of “intelligent” cameras to 1,300 – effectively tripling the number in service. Boris and the Police both give a great amount of exposure to a number of crimes that were solved by the use of ANPR evidence. Some examples they quoted were:- “The rape of a 14 year old girl, in June 2013. She alleged that she was raped by two males in their twenties. The vehicle registration number was placed on the ANPR system and four hours later, the vehicle was stopped by uniform officers and both suspects arrested. In June 2013, the ANPR system was instrumental in locating a vehicle belonging to a suspect who had allegedly assaulted his partner. After making enquiries to locate the suspect, his vehicle details were placed onto the Police National Computer in order that he could be arrested. Within 5 hours, the suspect was stopped in another police area and arrested for the offence. A male was slashed across the chest with a Stanley knife in Ilford during an argument about money. The suspect was believed to live in Manchester but his address was not known. His vehicle registration number was placed onto the Police National Computer system and just over a day later, the suspect was stopped and arrested for the offence by officers from Greater Manchester Police after his vehicle triggered an ANPR camera. At court he was convicted and received a 40 month sentence. A known burglar whose vehicle details were put into the ANPR system was stopped with two other males in Romford. One of three occupants was found to be wanted for a drugs offence, he was arrested remanded in custody and subsequently found guilty at court.” This is excellent stuff, but unfortunately it does not address the flipside of the issue. ANPR cameras don’t like rain, road spray, fog or dirt, as this impedes their ability to recognise number plates. There are already a slow but steady stream of “false positives” where innocent drivers are targeted by traffic police for offences they did not commit – and the default presumption is guilt; you have to prove yourself innocent, rather than the Police or courts prove you guilty. There was a case featured in the Telegraph last Saturday where a man was accused of some traffic offences after being caught by an ANPR camera on the M25 in Kent. The chap had proof that he was actually visiting his wife in hospital in Surrey at the time. It transpired that his car number plate had been cloned by crooks – something that is increasingly common nowadays. The more ANPR cameras are deployed, the more the real crooks are going to find ways to circumvent them, and in the meantime innocent members of the public may be presumed guilty of crimes they did not commit. It is a difficult balance – keeping the public safe versus accusations of bringing about a Police state. ANPR cameras are also – with suitable software, capable of facial recognition, though again, it is relatively easy to fool the system – some facial recognition applications can be fooled by the simple expedient of tilting the head at an angle of fifteen degrees or greater from the vertical. Both ANPR and facial recognition technologies are not as mature and error resistant as the Mayor and the Met would have the public believe. I am not going to bang on about the implications to civil liberties that such technologies may bring; time and again it has been shown that if a new technology enables something to happen, it will, whatever the philosophical or moral reservations the public may have. The whole NSA / GCHQ monitoring saga is a good recent example – if something can technically be done, it will be done, irrespective of legality / morality.

The photo above shows the old Cannon and Gaze flour mill on Erith High Street; it was taken in (I think) around 1934, as the mill was demolished shortly thereafter in 1936, and in time the Erith Riverside Gardens were constructed on the site. The mill ground flour mainly from imported American wheat, which arrived by freighter - having a river side mill made a lot of sense at the time. I don't think any part of Erith has changed more over the years. Whilst the general feeling is that the 1960's concrete town centre redevelopment was a step backwards from the Victorian old town, I think that nobody would argue that the modern Erith Riverside Gardens is a vast improvement to the heavy industrial scene in the photo above. In fact, if you scroll back up to the contemporary photo of the Riverside Gardens which I took on Friday afternoon, you will see that it was taken from as close as I could get to the same position as the 1934 black and white photo above. The old flour mill was located where the open grass area in the Gardens is now. The road layout has changed slightly, and of course the row of shops to the right of the photo are no longer there, but nevertheless it gives you a pretty good impression of the changes that have taken place over the years. Who says I don't plan the Maggot Sandwich?

Back in October 2012 I originally wrote that London Resort Company Holdings (LRCH) propose to build the World’s fourth largest theme park for Paramount Entertainment on the site of the derelict quarry site at Swanscombe. This has got to be excellent news for the entire region, if not the country as a whole. The proposed site features Europe’s largest indoor water park, theatres, hotels, restaurants and all manner of themed rides, all in a site spread over approximately 872 acres. The bill (at least now, but it is bound to escalate) is estimated to be in the region of £2 billion, and the park will employ 27,000 people, many of them from the local area. If this plan gets the green light (and I seriously doubt it won’t) it will be a massive boost for the economy for the whole of North Kent and South East London. Much of this story is detailed on the News Shopper website here. What amazes me (quite apart from my usual misgivings about the quality of talkbacks and lack of moderation on their website) is the naysayers who are already moaning about the increase in traffic and likely disruption that the construction work will undoubtedly cause. These small minded people seem to completely miss the fact that the park will be a complete economic game changer for an area that will stretch from around Woolwich to down well past Gillingham. Once the park is built and running there will be all sorts of permanent jobs needed to keep the place ticking over – electricians, security, engineers, cleaners, administrators – the list is as long as your imagination. Ironically the brown field site in Swanscombe was the location of the destruction of Top Gear’s old “reasonably priced car” when local company Erith Construction blew up the old LaFarge factory chimney onto the hapless vehicle, as part of a stunt for the show. Since the announcement of the theme park project, much has happened, though until this week it has all been kept very quiet by those involved. Independent economic think tank The Centre for London has published a paper which proposes the construction of a new town near Ebbsfleet which would be of a similar size to Milton Keynes, and as such, the first new town in Britain since the late 1960’s. The proposed new town would have around 35,000 houses and flats, and would be linked to the high speed rail link to enable commuting into central London in around twenty minutes or so. The whole new town would be close to the Paramount theme park, and I would surmise that a fair percentage of the staff would live locally. The proposal document also strongly recommends the formation of a development corporation that would resolve any conflicting planning issues, fund the required upgrades to local infrastructure, and possibly most importantly having the power to build new bridges or tunnels across the lower stretches of the River Thames; at present many economists say that the whole North Kent area is being held back financially by the fact that there is only the Dartford River Crossing East of Tower Bridge, and nothing whatsoever further down river. A new town to accompany the giant theme park would have other benefits; the hard pressed housing market in South East London and North Kent would get a boost, and finally the Thames Estuary would get the development that has been promised for at least the last twenty years. The area also has the benefit that it is mostly brown field, rather than green belt land, and the report also identifies that a new town in North Kent would be far more attractive to prospective new residents than a garden city or development on green belt land in another part of the country. For better or worse, London and the South East of England are the most attractive parts of the United Kingdom, and it is where people want to live.

Enough already; some time ago I wrote a piece about LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reaction) and how it possibly might be a revolution in the way were generate power. LENR used to be called “Cold Fusion” in the late 1980’s / early 1990’s, and the public perception is now that it was a discredited field, and basically all of the claims made by researchers about LENR and the ability to generate boundless amounts of clean, cheap energy were little more than outright fraud. The court of public opinion – fuelled mainly by the tabloid press – was keen to expose the researchers as confidence tricksters. More sober minds have revisited the experiments carried out all of those years ago, and the results astonished them. Over the last five or so years, LENR technology has gone from being regarded as at best a fringe area of esoteric science to now developing slowly in the mainstream. An Italian inventor called Andrea Rossi has developed a generator which he calls the E-Cat (short for Energy Catalyser) which it has been claimed generates hundreds of kilowatts of power from a generator roughly the size of a shipping container. Rossi has gone into partnership with an undisclosed U.S industrial partner, who has insisted on a comprehensive confidentiality agreement, effectively muzzling Rossi from talking to the press. Others have been less secretive about their research – an American company called Brillouin Energy Corporation have signed a multimillion dollar licensing deal with a South Korean manufacturing company; they intend to manufacture LENR reactors to replace existing gas or coal powered boilers in conventional power stations. Bob George, the CEO of Brillouin, says that the new LENR reactors will produce electricity at a cost of two U.S cents per kilowatt hour – about a third of the cost of generating power using advanced, high efficiency gas boilers, and more importantly with no greenhouse gas emissions. The big breakthrough that Brillouin claim is that they have found a way to control the reaction process - effectively giving them the ability to "throttle up and down" the reaction on command - something that at present no other experimenter has been able to do - you can see a video of a lab experiment that shows this here. On top of this, the U.S Government is now funding LENR research in a big way.  The U.S Department of Energy is now accepting funding requests from organisations undertaking LENR research, in the hope that they can then commercialise the results. I still have some doubts; anything that sounds too good to be true generally is. If LENR technology is as good as the proponents say, it will still take a lot of testing and engineering development to make it commercially viable, and more importantly safe. The public detest any mention of “radiation” and would be understandably suspicious of a technology that was dismissed as fraudulent within many lifetimes. Having said that, the early aeronautic research work carried out by Hiram Maxim, and later the Wright brothers was poo – pooed by many at the time as being as an impossible dream, yet today our skies are filled by aeroplanes. We may be on the verge of a clean, cheap and safe energy revolution – I sincerely hope so.

I have not featured a music video for many weeks; I thought I would remedy that now. Below is the video for the latest track from a group called “Sound of Contact”. If the singer in the video looks vaguely familiar, and his voice sounds very familiar, that is with good reason. His name is Simon Collins, and he’s the son of Phil Collins. I bought Sound of Contact’s debut album “Dimensionaut” last year, and I am very fond of it. The band sound like Genesis circa 1976, if they had been produced by Steve Hillage or Dave Brock using today's state of the art recording techniques. Not everybody’s cup of tea, I guess, but if you like melodic, slightly spacey prog rock, you are in for a bit of a treat. The track below is called “Pale Blue Dot”. Give it a watch; you might even like it. Feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

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