Saturday, March 29, 2014

Happy Birthday.

I don't normally feature photos of myself on the Maggot Sandwich. I feel that doing so normally would smack of ego mania. This week I am making an exception, even if it is nearly twenty four years out of date. You will have probably seen in the press that this weekend (OK – actually Friday just gone, if you really feel like being pedantic) marked the 50th anniversary of groundbreaking offshore station Radio Caroline. There has been much TV and press coverage of the birthday and the various events that have been held to commemorate the fact. The history of Radio Caroline is long and complex; several books have been written on the subject, with varying viewpoints on both the station and the people who worked on it. You can read the very detailed Wikipedia entry on the station by clicking here. Many people only know about the offshore radio stations in the 1960's, and don't realise that Caroline ran through most of the 1970's until the ship the Mi Amigo sank in 1980; after this they returned to the air in 1983 with a huge and very impressive ship - the former side trawler and ice breaker the Ross Revenge, which between 1983 and the hurricane of 1987 boasted a three hundred foot tall antenna mast, which was the highest free floating marine structure in the World. The Ross Revenge remained at sea until November 1991.  My time on board was towards the end of the station's time based at sea. Any semi clandestine organisation tends to attract eccentric characters, and Caroline was no different. In the greater scheme of things, my involvement with Radio Caroline was relatively brief – some people from the time, such as station manager Peter Moore are still hard at it today. My own time with Radio Caroline was between 1988 and 1992; You can see a handful of photos by clicking here. I have a couple of hundred others that are not yet digitised. Initially I was involved with a group of friends who helped run the shore side of the organisation, and arranged for secret supply deliveries to be made covertly to the Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge, which was anchored fifteen miles off the Kent Coast, opposite the North Foreland in an area of sea called the South Falls Head. I made several secret supply runs on a variety of vessels – invariably these would set out from places such as Strood Pier or Ramsgate Harbour at the dead of night, laden down with fresh drinking water, food, technical supplies, new records, letters from listeners and most importantly, magazines and newspapers for the crew to read. At the time I was working as a trainee quantity surveyor for a very prestigious London company. More and more of my time was being taken up with Radio Caroline activities, to the point where I realised that I was going to have to give up the day job – which was not such a big step, as I was struggling with my surveying exams, and had already realised that life on a building site was not for me. I jacked in the job, and six weeks later I found myself on board the Ross Revenge. I had a dual role. In the daytime I was to project manage the complete repainting of the ship from stem to stern (I had encountered a very wealthy Radio Caroline fan who owned a large commercial painting and decorating business West of London, who was happy to supply the organisation with roughly £10,000 worth of high quality marine paint), then at night I hosted a radio show featuring album tracks and various quirky news items. I was fortunate that this all happened in the long and glorious summer of 1990 – the weather was excellent, sea conditions for the most part were calm, and life was good. I have a host of stories from my time with the station – many of which sound decidedly far- fetched, though in those cases I have photos from the period for proof! Several people have suggested that I write a book about my experiences, and maybe sometime I will. To be honest, quite a few other Caroline staff have written books over the years, and I wonder whether I would actually contribute anything worthwhile to the genre. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at sea on the Ross Revenge, and still keep in contact with my old boss Peter Moore from time to time (being honest, working for Radio Caroline is a bit like working for the Mafia – you never really leave). Nowadays, though the station has retained and restored the historic Ross Revenge, it broadcasts mainly online from land based studios. You can hear the station live right now by clicking here. Happy birthday Radio Caroline – an organisation I am proud to say I worked for; I think you gave me far more than I was able to give you.

For what seems quite a long time now, Erith has been very much of a dormitory town. Once the sun goes down, the place seems to go to sleep until the next morning. A lot of people commute into London. You only have to use Erith Station to know how busy it gets in the morning and evening peak periods – the term “rush hour” seems to me to be inappropriate, as the period last several hours twice a day. Even the relatively recent arrival of Erith Riverside Shopping Centre has not altered this; the centre closes its huge steel gates at 6pm sharp, and the centre of Erith is thus closed. The only pub in the vicinity of the town centre is the Running Horses – a hostelry that is way past its golden years of the late 80’s / early 90’s when it was a venue of choice with an excellent first floor carvery with an amazing view across the River Thames, which made the venue extremely popular with whole families. The place still serves food, but it is pretty indifferent and far less well patronised than of yore, and it has an appearance of being rather tired and run down. Other than this, the town centre basically closes at 6pm. Much has been said of encouraging local residents to eat or socialise locally, as to do this currently one really needs to go to Northumberland Heath, Upper Belvedere or Bexleyheath to find any half decent pubs or restaurants. The only post 6pm eating options are fast food outlets like KFC and McDonald’s, or opting for a takeaway, and taking your life in your hands in respect of the risk of food poisoning. Besides which, a takeaway really does not fulfil the idea of eating out. Plans are afoot for a new restaurant smack bang in the town centre, but outside of the Riverside Shopping Centre gates. I am sworn to secrecy at the moment, but once the moratorium ends I will have an exciting announcement to make on a venue that should regenerate Erith as a night time venue. Watch this space.

News reaches me that the long established local business Crayford Citroen, which has been located in London Road, Crayford for the last thirty years, and owned by the Waller family during all of that period has been sold to the Wilmoths Group – the largest Citroen dealer in Kent. The reason for the sale was that the Waller brothers wanted to retire, and felt that selling the business on as a going concern would be their best option. I understand that all warranties and service contracts will transfer seamlessly between the two companies – so customers should experience a continuity of service. It is a pity that yet another family run company is no more, but that seems to be the way of things nowadays.

Here is a new track from Chap Hop pioneer Professor Elemental, who says "I'm British". Quite.

Contrary to the expectations of certain media pundits, global sales of televisions are actually falling. Many expected sales to increase as countries such as China and India become more wealthy, and more of their huge populations can afford to buy a TV set. Worldwide TV sales are currently around seventy million units per quarter, likely to drop to around fifty million by the end of 2014. Some of the drop can be attributed to the fact that most Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) television sets have now been replaced by flat screens (mostly LCD flat screen technology) and that the market in Europe, the Americas and the Far East is now saturated. Strangely, the purchasing figures in developing countries are not rising as had been predicted; the uptake of new TV sets has not risen as the GDP of each developing nation rises. On top of this, the manufacturing giants of the 1980’s and 1990’s – the likes of Sony and Panasonic are now being eclipsed by newer, more agile companies in Taiwan, China and South Korea, the largest of these being Samsung, who are now the market leader in mid price televisions. The bottom line is not as many people are buying televisions as had been predicted. The reason for this is that we may now be entering the very beginning of the “post television” world. Viewers no longer wish to sit in a specific place to watch a programme – the concept of the TV as the heart of the living room is something that may have less importance in future. Viewers want content on mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets – and it is noticeable that there has been a massive surge in iOS and Android tablet sales, which seems to mirror the drop in television sales. It seems that people all over the world, but especially in developing areas are bypassing TV and going directly to viewing TV content online via iPad and Android tablets. If this was not bad enough for the manufacturers, not only have sales slowed, but those of the lucrative “Smart Television” sector have positively stalled. Speaking from my own experience, I can see why. I have a Samsung 46ES8000 smart television, and don’t use any of the smart features at all. After the initial novelty of having a web browser, on demand content from BBC iPlayer, and basic computer through the television, I found that everything apart from showing TV content could be done better by other, dedicated devices. Basically smart televisions are good at being televisions, and pretty poor at everything else. Word seems to be getting around that you are better off buying a cheaper non smart TV and spending the difference on a laptop or tablet device, or indeed do what those in the developing world appear to be doing, and dispense with the TV for good. I know that the BBC are very aware of this change in viewing habits; this is one of the main reasons that they are spending so much money and effort to upgrade and expand BBC iPlayer with extra features and increased levels of content – they know that they have to compete with the likes of Netflix and LoveFilm with users viewing content on multiple platforms. The dominance of the goggle box in the corner of the living room is ending, and I foresee the funding model will also have to change –doing away with the licence fee and replacing it with a subscription. How the BBC radio network would fare if this was to happen is open to debate, but I think it will end up coming to pass in the end, and probably sooner than many anticipate.

It strikes me as ironic that only weeks after the Erith Cross Street Law Centre was forced to close its doors due to the withdrawal of public funding, that a major local story breaks which has led to substantial custodial sentences to two individuals that almost certainly would not have happened had it not been for the actions of the aforementioned law centre. Two individuals  - Anthony Okoh and Victor Chiazor have been convicted to four and a half years and eighteen months in prison respectively, after having been found guilty of conspiracy to facilitate a breach of immigration law, contrary to the Criminal Law Act 1977, and using unlicensed security operatives contrary to the Private Security Industry Act 2001. The two crooks had been running a private security firm called Blue Feathers Guarding, which formed part of a scam which netted the duo around six million pounds. The fraud was simple. They hired in security staff – many of whom were both unlicensed and untrained, along with some being illegal immigrants. The firm charged clients the regular market rate for security guards, but only paid the guards £3 per hour – less than half the legal minimum wage. One exploited worker who was a legal UK resident contacted the Cross Street Law Centre, and was advised on their legal position; subsequently the Home Office criminal investigation team, and a task group from the Security Industry Authority investigated the activities of Blue Feather Guarding. They found that in addition to paying illegally low wages to their staff, they were deliberately targeting illegal immigrants and turning away legally resident applicants for guarding positions, as they knew that illegal immigrant employees would not report the low wages to the authorities for fear of being deported. It was a classic example of ensnarement – the company could treat guards as virtual slaves, and by all accounts, this is indeed what happened. If the case had happened now, the chances are it would not have been stopped, as there is no local recourse to anyone requiring free employment legal advice. The law centre is no more, and I feel sure that a number of similarly criminal employers are now breathing a sigh o f relief. I know that Erith and Thamesmead MP Teresa Pearce was also very active in getting this case to court; something that does not surprise me at all. As many readers will know, I have a very jaundiced view of party politics, and have a default view that “you know a politician is lying because their lips are moving”. I make a notable exception in the case of Ms Pearce, who I know quite well. She sincerely cares about the local area, has lived here for years, and does a hell of a lot of great stuff that never gets into the press. Personally, I would support her whichever of the mainstream parties she represented, as she puts local people and issues before all of the Westminster claptrap; something I feel is very unusual nowadays.

A question. Why do modern computer keyboards have CAPS LOCK keys? Who ever (apart from deranged people ranting on discussion forums) uses block capitals anyway? The key seems completely redundant. Personally I think that they are included out of a misplaced sense of tradition. An old mechanical typewriter might have need of a caps lock key, but I really am at a loss on their continued existence. Answers please on a postcard, or better still leave a comment below.

The on / off situation with the Thames Gateway river crossing has been brought to the attention of the press once again by Lord Adonis (a name reminiscent of a minor character from He – Man and the Masters of the Universe). The peer, who is shadow minister for infrastructure is keen for the project to be restarted after it was kicked into the long grass by London mayor Boris, back in 2008. Lord Adonis is backing the “Bridge East London” campaign, which is highlighting the fact that there are currently twenty two river crossings West of Tower Bridge, and only two to the East of it. This is a bit ingenuous – part of the reason for fewer crossings West of Tower Bridge is that the River Thames gets dramatically wider, the further east it goes, along with this, the geology of the underlying river bed changes, becoming harder to work , making both bridge building and tunnelling substantially more challenging. The project that was abandoned back in 2008 will be back on track if Lord Adonis gets his way. A connection between Beckton on the North bank of the Thames, and Gallions Reach on the South bank was backed by 68% of local residents when they were polled. The problem with this is that many of those polled don’t live in the area around the Southern side of the proposed river crossing in and around the Gallions Reach Nursing Home. The home, which is now situated in a very sleepy and quiet residential neighbourhood, would be a next door neighbour to a crammed dual carriage way. Imagine living in the middle of the Sun in the Sands Roundabout on the Blackwall tunnel approach road, and this will give you an idea of the noise an disruption. On the flip side, the Gallions crossing would reduce the dreadful bottle – neck that happens twice every day at rush hour (more like several hours) and it would also open up the deprived and poorly used area in and around Beckton to development and investment. It might also encourage the wealthy residents of the private Woolwich Arsenal residential development to venture into East London from their gated community once in a while.  One comment that occurs time and again is that a majority of people are in favour of new river crossings, be they tunnels or bridges, just as long as they are not on their own doorstep. One place that could conceivably make an ideal location for a new tunnel would be from Ferry Lane in Rainham across to the A2016 Bronze Age Way in Lower Belvedere. It could potentially link buses run from Rainham railway station to Belvedere Station,  and motor vehicles from the A13 through to the South Circular via Eastern Way, and the A2 via Bronze Age Way and Northumberland Heath. This crossing would have to be over and above the much more ambitious crossing that would be required at Northfleet or Ebbsfleet to connect the proposed new garden city discussed last week with Essex and the Eastern approach to London. I know that there is a school of thought that the more roads you build, the more traffic you will get; this may be true to some extent, but there are a finite number of drivers in the area, and they won't all be using their vehicles all of the time. Personally I think the benefits to the region from having vastly improved cross – river connectivity would greatly exceed any increase in pollution levels; in any case, by the time any of these new crossings actually come to pass, the numbers of very low or zero emissions vehicles will be far higher than now, so the pollution issue may to some extent actually be moot.

If you ask a number of retired people who have lived locally for any length of time about Beasley’s Beer, you will get a number of responses – not all of them good. Beasley’s Brewery was located in Plumstead, in Brewery road, off Lakedale Road.  Before the Second World War,  it was owned by Harry Geoffrey Beasley, who had inherited the brewery. The income from this made him wealthy, and enabled him to spend much of his life engaged in his passion for anthropology; he travelled the world studying various tribes and peoples, and wrote many academic papers on the subject. He was considered to be a leader in his field of study, and in 1932 he became president of the Royal Anthropological Institute, a post he held until 1937, when ill – health in the form of Diabetes meant he had to stand down from the office. For most of his married life he lived in Cranmore House in Chislehurst, where he set up the Cranmore Ethnographical Museum, which housed six thousand exhibits that Beasley had collected during his travels. He died in 1939, when his collection was moved to the British Museum – just in time, as the house was destroyed during the Blitz. From the records I have read, Harry Beasley had a pretty hands – off relationship with the brewery from which he derived his not inconsiderable income. Local resident Roger Jewiss recalls the following story about day to day life for the average working man in Beasley’s Brewery: "My Grandfather was a blacksmith and during the depression found work a bit hard to find. He was pleased to get two days work to do a repair in the brewery. All employees were given two brass tokens a day which they could exchange for a pint of beer. My grandfather, very hot at his temporary forge, had used his tokens and was indeed very pleased when a brewery worker called down to him, “ Fancy a pint blacky?” “ Not 'arf,” replied my grandfather. Soon after, a copper vessel came slowly down from the vat above, on a long wire, and my grandfather gratefully quenched his thirst. “ Thanks”, he shouted back to his new friend, “that certainly was a long pint.”  “PINT!” came the reply, “that vessel held a gallon!”. The account was originally published on the Plumstead Stories website that you can see here. My Grandfather on my Mum’s side (and indeed my Mum) called the output of the brewery “Beasley’s beastly beer” as they both heartily loathed it. Apparently this was a not uncommon opinion at the time, thought for a period I understand that their beers had a royal warrant – if anyone has any details, I would love to hear from them. Beasley’s Brewery was taken over by the much larger Courage in 1963; not much later it was closed down. You can see a collection of Beasley Brewery photographs and beer mats which have been framed and hung on the wall of the excellent Robin Hood and Little John pub in Lion Road, Bexleyheath.

The ending vide this week is a hoot. A German chap by the name of Jeorg Sprave, who makes incredible devices powered by industrial strength rubber bands; the chap is quite a character and his YouTube channel is well worth a visit if you want to admire some high quality German engineering along with a laugh. Do give it a try. Here he constructs a revolving anti Zombie gun, which fires high energy toilet brushes at the evil undead. You could not make it up. Comments below, or Email me at

1 comment:

  1. Thank you ever so much for the photo of Beasley Brewery, been trying to locate these for some time, really grateful.

    Best Wishes