Sunday, March 02, 2014

Epilogue for Potion.

One of my confidential informants has come across some interesting background into the forced closure of the late, and very much unlamented Potion Bar. As I have previously written, the erstwhile owners of Potion were in deep trouble with both Bexley Council even before the place opened to the paying public. The building had previously been a pub called the White Hart, and not only was it fitted with a green, salt glazed tile exterior (the green tiles were made locally – the green colouring was a characteristic of Erith tiles) and ornate, acid etched windows, both dating from Victorian times, but it also had a pretty pub sign hanging from a bracket. When Potion took over, these features were all ripped out and destroyed, even though the Council specifically prohibited them from doing so. Not only was the White Hart a grade II listed building, but it is located in a designated conservation area. The new owners then installed a hideously inappropriate plate glass frontage which nowadays looks completely out of place. My informant has provided evidence that Bexley Council did go to great lengths to prosecute the owners of Potion. Initially they issued an enforcement order, which instructed Potion to install a replica of the original Victorian pub frontage - above you can see a photo taken last week of the glass frontage of Potion as it is today; beneath it is an architect's drawing of the proposed restored Victorian style frontage. Potion appealed against this, but the appeal was dismissed by Magistrates. Potion was then given a period of six months to comply with the order, which ended on the 8th April 2010. They did not undertake any work to restore the appearance of the building, and in the first hearing at Bexley Magistrates Court on the 16th July 2012, neither defendant appeared. Arrest warrants were then issued by the court for the owners. A new trial was set on the 18th December 2012 at Bromley Magistrates Court. The owners of Potion pleaded guilty to all charges, to which they were fined a paltry £350, plus £500 in court costs, along with a £15 victim surcharge. Bexley Council Legal Services were then authorised to commence injunction proceedings against Potion, and the ownership of Potion was subsequently taken over by the freeholders of the building. It was then closed down some months later, which it remains to date. I suspect that the freeholders of the building will have a challenge in finding a new occupant; any business wanting to use the former pub will face a huge bill to both replace the hideous plate glass fascia with a replica of the original frontage, and to refurbish the interior, which was run pretty much into the ground - currently the interior resembles a building site. If hot food was to be served, a ventilation and fume extraction system would also need to be installed. I reckon that even if someone was to take this on, they would need to spend a minimum of £100,000 to get the building into an acceptable state to be able to open for the paying public. In the current economic climate, I think this is highly unlikely, although I would love to be proved wrong. Long time readers may recall that I predicted that Potion would be a disaster for Erith even before it originally opened. I was right on multiple levels, though I am certainly not gloating about it. The place was a haven for drug dealers and crooks of every persuasion; it flouted health and safety law, employed unqualified and unregistered staff in positions of responsibility, and wilfully disobeyed planning regulations. At least the criminals that both ran Potion and drank in the repulsive dive are no longer able to do so. On a brighter note, I hope to be able to feature a story I have been following closely for over a year which concerns relative newcomers to the town who are the polar opposites of the people behind Potion, and who are undertaking the largest sympathetic architectural renovation / conservation project that Erith has seen in the last couple of decades. More positive news on this subject soon, I hope.

A story has got a lot of local people annoyed this week. Fourteen traveller caravans recently moved onto a piece of land adjacent to the Tesco delivery warehouse in Church Manor Way, Erith. They left after a week or thereabouts; this sounds fair enough. The problem is that they left behind over half a tonne of rubbish, which they dumped on the site prior to departure. I think a certain demographic resent the traveller community because they see a group of people who seemingly live outside of the law, and the strictures that apply the majority, such as paying income and council tax. The fact remains many travellers do comply, but they all get tarred as scumbags that exploit the system, and scream “discrimination” as soon as something happens that they disagree with. In this case, the behaviour of the traveller families involved has not done their cause any favours. The irresponsible dumping of rubbish will have to be cleaned up at the expense of the land owner. I feel that if travellers want to be treated as equal members of society, (as indeed they should be), they need to address the resentment felt by many – and this occurs on their own caravan step. I have recently witnessed what could be classed as unconscious bias on the part of staff in Erith Morrison’s, when a mother, adult daughter and several children entered the store. They were ignored for a minute or so, but as soon as the adult daughter called out to her small children in the very distinctive traveller accent, the security guard started to follow them around the store. From my observations, the family only came in to buy some milk and nappies, but there seemed to be a presupposition of criminality which had no basis in reality. The actions of fellow travellers in illegally dumping large quantities of rubbish can only reinforce prejudice and give fuel to that minority who would discriminate against any group that they feel is different. Your thoughts and comments are welcome below, or Email me directly at The Bexley Times are reporting that Bexley Council have formally dropped plans to move the Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre to Bromley, after a high level of protest from local residents. Councillor Don Massey, the cabinet member for community safety and leisure made the statement last Wednesday. Councillor Massey said “He said: “It is clear that many residents want to keep the Local Studies and Archives Service where it is. We have listened to them. Various options have been worked through and we can achieve this and make savings through staff changes.” Hmm; from investigations undertaken by Malcolm Knight of “Bexley is Bonkers” and others, it would appear that Bexley Council did not even approach Bromley Council about the possibility of relocating the service. As Malcolm surmised, it looks likely that the whole thing was engineered as an “Aunt Sally” – a scheme that actually was never going to happen, but which would make those council members involved look good to the electorate when they “dropped “ the project, that in reality had never actually existed. Either way, it would seem that the Archive and Study Centre is safe – at least for this financial year. A lot of local people put effort into making their feelings known in respect of the centre; there is clearly strong support for local studies and history. I suspect that any further attempts to relocate the unit will meet with a similar fate.

After local resident Pam recounted her memories of the Hedley Mitchell department store in Erith last week, historian Ken Chamberlain has once more been in contact with some additional information about what used to be Erith’s most upmarket shop. Ken writes:- As a matter of interest Hedley Mitchell (Senior) died in South Africa in 1942 as he married late in life, you may not be surprised to know that his son Hedley is still alive and well as are his two daughters. I have a catalogue of the store which contains a photos of the various departments. A Mrs. Hancock  was in charge of the travel and theatre ticket department. She is the mother of Sheila Hancock the actress. Some time ago I sent the photo to Sheila  reminding her of her mother. I received a very nice reply thanking me for the thought. I didn't ask her but "young " Hedley had told me  Sheila  was a for a while a "Saturday girl" in the store. Another gentleman I knew started work at Mitchell's  in the 1920's. He served his apprenticeship there.(If you served your apprenticeship at Mitchell you could get a job in any of the London Stores) He was told " The next person that walks through that door is the most important person in your life". In those days For 5 shillings a week  he worked until 10 pm for five days. He was supposed to have a half day Thursday, but he was always asked to" just sweep up before you go".  Closing time meant the sales manager going out into the street just to ensure there wasn't another customer that might come in. There are still several members of the Mitchell family around including in Erith”. Excellent stuff, Ken. It would seem that Hedley Mitchell’s had quite a strong history of fostering the arts, as I recall you telling me previously that another one time member of staff is highly respected poet Wendy Cope OBE, who was considered for the role of poet laureate on two occasions in the late nineties; it is thought she was not actually asked as she disagrees with the whole poet laureate role, which sounds pretty reasonable.

The News Shopper are currently reporting a story regarding waste disposal company Serco, and the alleged abuse some of their operatives (what used to be called bin men in less politically correct times) are receiving at the hands of certain members of the general public. The problems seem to stem from Bexley Council’s policy of only allowing collection of waste from one main bin per household per week. Local residents who have more waste than this are up in arms that Serco will not take the excess, even though Serco have been given explicit instructions by the Council not to take any additional waste. The issue has led to threats of violence against Serco operatives on a number of recent occasions, most notably in The Nursery, Erith. I think the policy is probably led by Bexley Council’s aims to further increase their level of waste that is recycled. Currently the volume of waste that the Council are able to recycle is quoted as 54%, which in my opinion is not too bad, though it could always be better. I think the strictures on only one bin of unrecyclable waste per household is somewhat inflexible. A large family with seven members is going to generate a lot more waste than a single person living alone. It seems to me that if the council, via their contractor refuse to take additional waste, it will end up getting fly tipped elsewhere – a problem that is very serious in and around the local area, as I have reported before.

Yet another technology 30th anniversary is upon us.  This time it falls to the notoriously convoluted, not to say fiendishly clever Infocom text adventure game version of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, the game was probably the most difficult text only adventure ever produced. The words were produced by HHGTTG author Douglas Adams, and the programming code by legendary adventure game company Infocom. It was produced for a wide variety of eight bit home computers of the period – the Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit series, the Apple II and DOS PC’s. It only came on floppy disk, which limited it to wealthier computer owners of the time. I played it extensively, but to be honest, never got very far with it, much to my frustration. The BBC are releasing a new, web based version of the game for online play. The updated version, will, unlike the original have graphics and illustrations. The BBC have stated in a recent announcement "Players can take the game on the move as it will be compatible with tablets and other internet enabled devices." The game is part of the global multi-media success story that is The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Created by Douglas Adams, the sci-fi comedy started life as a BBC Radio 4 series in March 1978. The show told the story of average every-man Arthur Dent, who ends up travelling around space after Earth is demolished to make way for an intergalactic hyperspace bypass. The format went on to spawn a series of novels, a TV series, a (not very good) Hollywood feature film, multiple stage shows, a collection of comic books, and merchandise including towels. The new game will be published on the BBC website on Saturday 8th March 2014, 36 years to the day since The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy was first broadcast on the radio. BBC Radio 4 Extra will also repeat the first two series of the radio show (The Primary Phase and The Secondary Phase) from this date. The BBC says: "It has been over 10 years since these programmes were last heard on BBC Radio and they perfectly accompany the game. Actions within the game follow the plot of the radio series and some puzzles are only solvable by players with knowledge of the programmes and story." Radio 4 Extra's Caroline Raphael was quoted "Douglas was a true visionary and in his own glorious way foresaw all the technology we now take for granted. Radio 4 Extra is delighted to host this game alongside the first two series. Hitchhiker's fans will be rewarded for their loyalty over the years and newer fans have a real, but fiendish, treat in store. March 8 is a special day for the galaxy, so help us celebrate it in the unique way that only BBC Radio 4 Extra can." This all sounds very promising; all I can wonder about is obtaining the Babel Fish at the start of the game as mind numbingly convoluted as it used to be? Answers on a postcard please.

I have come across a new word – triboluminescence. It describes the tiny flashes of blue / white light that are given off when certain substances are snapped or crushed. I first came across this strange phenomenon many years ago whilst at school on a sixth form Geography field trip. A small group of my fellow pupils had heard of triboluminescence and we determined to put it to the test one evening. We switched off all the lights in the dormitory of the study centre where we were staying (think along the lines of the huts in “The Great Escape” and you won’t be too far wide of the mark). After a few minutes of allowing our eyes to adjust to the pitch black, a packet of Polo mints was handed round, and we each took one. If you held the mint in front of your eyes and snapped it into pieces, it did indeed give out little flashes of blue white light! What we discovered in our experiments was that the effect only worked on standard Polo mints – sugar free ones did not show the flash of light. It turns out that it is a little observed physical phenomenon that occurs when certain crystal structures such as sugar are put under stress, quite similar to the piezo electric effect. I must admit that I was a little disappointed by this news, as I was certain that I had just split the Polo atom...

A new scam has been detected by the Metropolitan Police; Bexley Neighbourhood Watch Association have made the following public announcement:- Without your knowledge, an account is opened in your name at the Jacamo website and an order placed for goods. The next day, a parcel is delivered to your home.  Your reaction is to call the company, deny all knowledge of the order and arrange for it to be returned. There are various ways of doing this but, later the same day, someone arrives at your home to collect the parcel but the caller is an imposter and will suggest he or she takes the erroneous delivery from you. This is the last you see of the package but you will still be billed for the purchase. All it takes to open an account at Jacamo is a date of birth, name and address. Goods are invoiced after dispatch. Please ensure that, if a courier calls to collect an unwanted parcel, he or she is a legitimate representative of the company. Sounds to me like Jacamo have a very lax credit control system that has been exploited by the crooks. Hopefully awareness of the scam, allied to tighter ID controls at Jacamo should see an end to this scam.

Here is a video that I stumbled across whilst searching through YouTube. You may recall that I wrote in some depth about the construction of the Erith wind turbine, back in September 2012. My views on the structure have not changed; I think it is entirely appropriate - it is located in Anchor Bay Wharf, at the Eastern End of Manor Road, well away from most residential property, and in the middle of an industrial estate. It captures free energy in the form of the relatively steady wind that blows along the Thames corridor, and basically makes use of a resource - wind - that Erith has a steady surfeit of. I also think it looks a hell of a lot better than the hideous fish sculpture on the roundabout by the town centre, and at least it performs a useful purpose. The video below shows a time lapse film of construction of the wind turbine. Even though the structure is 288 feet tall, the erection of the whole wind turbine only took two days, though it was a couple of weeks before all of the electrical connections were completed, and the structure was signed off, enabling it to go into use. See what you think, and please leave a comment below.

1 comment:

  1. Wendy Cope's father Fred Cope was the manager of Hedley Mitchell up until its closure - see her book 'Life, love and the Archers'.