Sunday, March 16, 2014

Captain Tweed versus the mouldy underpants.

The photo above shows the bus halt at the front of Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. It is normally a pretty quiet place, save for the sound of school children larking about on the way to and from lessons. You do get the occasional boy racer coming round the corner way too fast from Erith High Street, and on occasion they have been known to lose control and hit a lamp post or bus shelter (fortunately nobody was there the last time), but usually it is pretty civilised.

Just after I had published last week’s Maggot Sandwich update, I decided to head into town to do some shopping. Matalan is not too bad a place to get clothes for everyday wear, I do however find their stores to be badly ventilated and very stuffy; the Erith shop is particularly bad in this respect. I have pity for the staff who have to work there in a hot summer – last year I recall one occasion during the heat wave that the place was unbearable – I walked in, then straight out again, as the place felt like a furnace. I digress. I was about to cross James Watt Way on my way towards Erith Riverside Shopping Centre when I began to smell acrid smoke. Just as I did so, a fire engine came around the bend at a fair old clip, heading towards the recycling centre behind Morrison’s. It made sense, only the day before I had caught two teenage boys red handed, trying to set light to an old sofa that had been illegally fly – tipped on the site. It looked like someone had been back for another, more successful attempt. I followed the fire engine around to the recycling facility, and got there in time to see the fire fighters very efficiently extinguish the small blaze that had taken hold in a dumped sofa, chairs and a number of soiled and noxious looking old mattresses. Once the blaze was out, I introduced myself to the senior officer, and explained that I ran Erith Watch - the local Neighbourhood Watch scheme. He said that the problem of arson gets worse as the weather improves, and the temperature goes up; the vandals and ne-er  do wells come out from their bedrooms and behind their X-Boxes and start to look around for mischief. He said that this small fire was a classic case. Just as the fire brigade began winding in their hoses and preparing to leave the site, two members of the Erith Safer Neighbourhood Police team turned up. A small child who had witnessed the whole incident then approached the officers and said that he had seen two older boys setting the fire a few minutes earlier. He said that he did not know their names, but the descriptions he gave matched exactly with the two 15-16 year olds I had seen the previous day.  Whilst I was explaining the history of the problems experienced by the recycling facility, and a specific company that had abused the site in the recent past, one of the two officers said “would the company have a large white van with their logo down the side and a registration number of XXX by any chance?” I was surprised, and commented that I was surprised that they would have access to such detailed and accurate records without resorting to checks with the Police National Computer system. The officer grinned – “No, it just parked behind you!” The driver and passenger of the vehicle concerned had turned up unaware of the furore of only a couple of minutes earlier. For some reason they missed the fire engine, which had just driven off, and did not see the two uniformed officers as I chatted with them. The two occupants of the van got out, opened the rear doors and prepared to dump the contents. At this point I thought that I had better let the Police do their stuff, and got out of the way. After a minute or so, the two people and the van drove off, their load un – dumped, after having received an unexpected verbal warning. I will be keeping an eye out for them, as I feel it is more than likely they will return when fewer eyes are around. I hope to be able to report a dramatic new development in the fight against local fly tipping in the near future, but for legal reasons I will have to keep my counsel for now. More on illegal fly tipping later.

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the forthcoming release of an updated version of the classic text only game version of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. Well, it has now been released, and can be played online here.  It was quite the most mind numbingly difficult text adventure I ever encountered back in the day – and believe me, I played a few in my time. It is very clever, witty and downright evil. When I fired up the online version a couple of days ago, I managed to make 34 moves before getting killed – something that surprised me, as I had not played the game since around 1987. Most players don’t manage more than three or four moves at a first attempt. The game is basically a computer based version of the first radio series / book, with a lot of very clever puzzles, word plays and dreadful new puns thrown in. You start the day as a very hung over Arthur Dent – the main "every man"protagonist of the story. Your first challenge is to get out of bed – something that is far more fraught with difficulties than you might imagine. Do give the game a go – let me know how you get on, and if you get very stuck, I might even give you a hint or two. An outright classic of a radio series that successfully migrated onto the computer screen. It may have helped that Douglas Adams, author of the radio series and subsequent book was also behind all of the text in the computer game, whilst the programming side of things were handled by the masters of the genre, Infocom.

Following my piece on the new central Erith location for the new Bexley College campus, I got several Emails regarding the development. They echoed something that I wrote about before the campus construction even got under way. I found it remarkable that the college did not propose to use the Andrew Carnegie gifted old Erith Library building directly opposite the campus in Walnut Tree Road as the college study centre / library. It is a beautiful, practical building that has stood empty since the library moved into its new, soulless building in Erith High Street a couple of years ago. Several college staff regularly read the Maggot Sandwich, and one of them is in pretty frequent Email contact with me. He tells me that they did look long and hard at the old library building, as it offered a lovely historic setting, literally across the road from the main college campus. The problem was, the Victorian building currently has no provision for disability access, and the cost of modifying it to allow wheelchair access would have been prohibitive. The library would have needed extensive modification to install lifts, ramps and other access tools, and it became evident that it was impractical to viably undertake the changes to the structure, so the idea was abandoned. I just hope that the library gets another use before too long; it is sitting abandoned and unloved, when it would make a great space for many new uses – including as a character office location. Bexley Council for Racial Equality did use a small part of the library for offices for quite a period, but they moved out some time ago, and it is now empty and forlorn. Personally I find it curious that the library did not stay in the Carnegie building. The new library is smaller and has far fewer facilities than the old one, not to mention it is anodyne and lacking in any kind of character. I guess that the new library is a more cost effective solution to ever dwindling library user numbers as it is undoubtedly cheaper to operate that the old building, which must have cost a fortune to heat. It just seems tragic to me that one of the most attractive historic buildings in the London Borough of Bexley is allowed to go empty and unused. Your thoughts and feedback would be welcomed, either by leaving a comment below, or by Emailing me directly at

This week marks yet another thirtieth anniversary in the field of computers and technology. This time the anniversary is unlikely to be celebrated by many in Europe or the USA, for reasons that will shortly become clear.  Back in 1982 Microsoft – who at the time were nothing like the continent bestriding behemoth that they are today – came up with what was then a revolutionary idea, and one that made a lot of sense both then and now. At the time, home computers were all entirely proprietary. You decided which model you wanted to purchase, and once you had done this, you were tied into buying peripherals, and more importantly software that would only work on that make, and usually model of that machine. BBC Micro software only worked on BBC’s, Spectrum software on Spectrums, and so forth. It even was true for early business programs like DBase,  WordStar, Electric Pencil and Visicalc. Not only would a version of the software have to be specially written for each brand of computer, but the files saved by the programs on each computer were not compatible with other systems. If you created a VisiCalc spreadsheet or WordStar document on an Apple II computer, you could not read those files on a Commodore 64 or vice versa. Some enterprising individuals did write conversion routines to enable sharing of documents between computers, but the results were often patchy and unreliable. Microsoft thought that what the computing world needed, was a standard to which computers would follow, which would mean that not only files could be shared between different machines, but programs and hardware peripherals such as disk drives and printers too. At this point the IBM PC was a very much newcomer to the market, and aimed strongly at business users. Microsoft saw a gap in the market for home and small business users which was not being satisfied by another supplier. Microsoft worked in conjunction with the Japanese ASCII Corporation to come up with the hardware and software standard, which they named MSX (Microsoft Extended). It was designed to utilise cheap and easily available off the shelf components and a proven 8-bit Z80 processor, the same as used in the already massively popular Sinclair ZX Spectrum. This would keep the price down and appeal to programmers already familiar with the Z80 processor assembly language instruction set.  Microsoft created a truly excellent version of the BASIC programming language for MSX – some say that this was actually the best BASIC implementation available at any price at the time. MSX computers reached the UK in March 1984. All looked rosy for this pioneer in computer standardisation, and Microsoft looked about to make a mint. A number of large hardware manufacturers signed up to make and sell machines to the MSX standard. In Japan, Sony, Toshiba and Panasonic all released MSX computers that sold very well in their home country , and in Europe Philips produced machines which initially sold well. All was not so good in the USA – a key market for any company wanting to establish an international business (and coincidentally Microsoft’s home market). Since around 1977 the Americans had expected even their home computers to use floppy disc drives – the big seller at the time was by far and away the Apple II. A cassette drive was available for the Apple II, but almost everyone spent the extra for a disk drive. Americans had larger disposable incomes that their European counterparts at the time, and this reflected on their computer choices. The problem was, the MSX standard initially had no provision for floppy disk support, which turned off potential American buyers. By the time the next generation of (still 8-bit) MSX computers with floppy drive support were released in late 1984, the first affordable 16 bit home computers such as the Atari ST range and the Commodore Amiga were on the horizon and almost the same price. The market started to realise that  8 bit was history, and whilst software might be compatible between MSX computers produced by different manufacturers, this was academic when almost no software houses were willing to write software for what they correctly perceived was a dying format. MSX machines continued to sell fairly respectably in Japan, but elsewhere the market collapsed. The subsequent release of a 16 bit MSX2 standard in 1985 was too little, too late. Microsoft and the ASCII Corporation parted company over disagreements relating to policy in the Japanese market – the only place that fully bought into the format, and MSX limped on until 1990, when Sony was the last company left producing MSX computers. By this time the aim of producing computers that were software and hardware compatible had come to pass – but not in the way that Microsoft had predicted at the outset. The IBM PC had unwittingly created a new and open standard, and by 1990 PC clones were commonplace. Microsoft made their mountain of cash by first creating DOS (Disk Operating System) for the PC, and subsequently the various incarnations of Windows and Microsoft Office which runs on top of Windows – the cornerstone of Microsoft’s business from then until the present day. Thus Microsoft snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, but in a way that they really had not planned for, or indeed expected.

I think pretty much everyone in the UK gets a lot of unsolicited mail through their letter boxes. It seems to be a curse of modern life. I have whinged at length about this at length in the past, and I am not going to repeat myself now. The worst part of the problem seems to be what is called “letter box stuffing” – the posting of advertising flyers and leaflets through the door from dedicated delivery people. In the last week I have had a handful of leaflets advertising take – away pizzas and kebabs. There is nothing unusual with this, but the problem is, they are for food outlets in Dartford; one is even from a place in the Brent, which is pretty much halfway to Greenhithe, and according to Google Maps, over six miles from Erith. There is no way that these places would deliver a meal over that kind of distance, and there is no way that any sane person would want to – whatever you did order would be a greasy cold and congealed mess by the time it eventually arrived. Rather than just ranting on about the pointlessness and waste of money on the part of the companies that leaflet places way outside of their catchment area, I have decided to do something positive about it. It just happens that two of the places involved in this practice are part of a franchise. I looked up the website of the parent company in each case, found the contact details, and Emailed a complaint to them. I pointed out that it did not make business sense for their outlets to leaflet areas over six miles away – at least twice the maximum delivery distance quoted on the leaflets themselves. It is either local poor management, or the outlets are employing unscrupulous door to door leaflet delivery agents.

The two photos above were sent to me by regular reader, and sometime contributor, the Rev. The upper black and white shot (judging from the cars) looks to have been taken in around 1968, and shows Wilton Road and the old original Abbey Wood Station, complete with level crossing and signal box. I have no idea what the mobile crane in the photo is up to, but not very much later the old station building and signal box were demolished to make way for the current station building, which is in turn scheduled for demolition in the next few months to make way for a much larger terminus for the Eastern end of the Crossrail project. The lower photograph shows the same location, but taken from the opposite side of the road. The photo is also from the late 1960's and does not show the results of the 1953 flood as some people have commented - the cars are all from 1966 onwards, with the exception of the white Jaguar Mk II, which is a 1961 / 62 model, judging by the bumper design. Quite what the Doctor was doing visiting Abbey Wood I do not know - perhaps he had popped into the pub for a swift pint and a game of darts? Either way, the Tardis could end up getting a parking ticket if it stayed too long on the pavement.

The ongoing saga of industrial waste being illegally fly – tipped at the council recycling point behind Erith Morrison’s supermarket took a somewhat surreal turn earlier this week, following the events that happened last weekend that I recounted earlier in this weeks update. On Tuesday evening I popped around there to drop off some cardboard food packaging for recycling, and also to have a quick check on the state of the place, as I suspected that some more fly tipping had taken place; some locals joke that I have a crime fighting alter - ego called Captain Tweed. My suspicions were indeed correct. I found a large number of batched and bound together men’s underpants in piles on the ground. They were all covered in white mould. There must have been close to half a tonne of mouldy underpants! It would appear that one of the local second hand clothing collection / resale companies had collected the pants, graded them, then bound them together with plastic binding tape ready for export sale, and the underpants had then for some reason got attacked by mould, and the unscrupulous clothing dealer decided to offload the noxious knickers on the sly. The lengths that unscrupulous operators will go to in order to avoid commercial waste dumping charges is unbelievable. I know that Bexley Council Environmental Crimes Unit are very much on the case; unfortunately I cannot say anything else on this matter of high local interest at the moment, as there is every chance the miscreants are reading the Maggot Sandwich – suffice to say that actions are being taken and the bad guys will have every cause to regret their illegal and anti social actions in future.

The News Shopper are currently running an article about queuing – or the lack thereof in many places nowadays. When I used the local bus service on a daily basis back when I was visiting my late Dad in his nursing home, I used to witness disgraceful behaviour at bus stops on an almost daily basis. I recall on one particular occasion I was standing in General Gordon Place in Woolwich, preparing to board a 380 bus. As the doors opened, and I got ready to alight, a small hoody wearing Chinese bloke (whom I had earlier seen selling pirate DVD’s)  elbowed me hard in the ribs and pushed in front of me. He most definitely picked the wrong person – I grabbed the hood of his top and physically hauled him off the bus before giving him a good shouting at. I don’t think he spoke much English, but the tone of my raised voice, plus the fact I was twice his size and was wearing my trademark size 13 steel toe capped boots got the message through. I subsequently saw him pushing into bus queues in the future, but he made sure never to get near me again. Lesser versions of this kind of selfish and unthinking behaviour can be seen in public places all of the time. People just seem to have no manners whatsoever.

The end video this week shows a short explanatory film on why the number 42 is just so important; most people already know that 42 is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

1 comment:

  1. Hugh, the two Abbey Wood photos were taken by an old friend of mine, John King, an ex Abbey Wood bus conductor. He has several photos of local interest on his Flickr pages.

    best wishes,