Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Pride.

The photo above was taken by one of my confidential sources earlier this week. It shows the platforms and footbridge at Bexleyheath station. The reason that my informant took the photograph was that there is  construction work under way directly adjacent to the footbridge over the rails. From what can be seen, it is to install a passenger lift. This is excellent news for commuters from Bexleyheath, but it does beg the question, why is Bexleyheath getting a lift, when South Eastern have repeatedly refused requests to install a lift at Erith station, despite such a refusal being a contravention of the Equality Act 2010? I have contacted someone in a position to know about such matters, and I have been told that South Eastern and Network Rail are carrying out the lift construction as part of planned maintenance to the footbridge, as it is much cheaper to carry out such modifications whilst the bridge is being worked on anyway. A stand alone project would have been more expensive. It turns out that even Bexleyheath MP David Evennett was shocked that Bexleyheath was chosen over Erith, as Erith has a far worse accessibility problem. At Bexleyheath, there is a nearby bridge over the railway which can be easily used by those using wheelchairs or baby buggies – Erith has no such option. If you want to go to London, and cannot climb the footbridge steps, you have no option but to go to Dartford, two stops in the wrong direction, in order to use the lift there to change platforms to come back the other way. The reasons cited for choosing Bexleyheath over Erith also include a claim that the footfall at Erith is too low to justify a lift at this point. To my mind this is blatantly untrue. If you stand on the London bound platform (providing you can get to it) from around 6.30 on a weekday morning, you will see just how many people use the station. South Eastern’s usage figures are almost certainly distorted to read on the low side, as the only passenger data they will get on a daily basis will come from the Oyster card readers; many passengers, myself included, use paper tickets, and since there are no ticket barriers at Erith, there is no way to record the footfall accurately. The fact that Erith station has a car park that passengers are forbidden from using, and if you travel by car to the station, you end up being forced to park in nearby residential roads, though this is being stopped; there are already parking restrictions in Christ Church Avenue and Victoria Road. I am told that these restrictions are going to be widened to cover other roads around the station before the new Bexley College campus opens in September. Whatever the footfall for Erith station is now, it is inevitably going to increase. Not only will the new college attract passengers, but the massive increase in residential construction in the area will have an effect on commuting. Not only is Erith Park – currently the largest residential housing project in Europe – shortly coming to fruition, but, as mentioned last week, a further thousand houses and apartments may soon be built on the waste land, and former quarry located between Fraser and Bexley Roads. The residents are going to have jobs, and my guess is that many will need to travel to and from London. When these two large housing estates are factored in with all of the other smaller construction projects in the local area, it stands to reason that the demand for public transportation is going to explode. One does also wonder if the priority is being given to Bexleyheath station due to the demographic makeup of the passengers. Bexleyheath is generally regarded as being somewhat middle class, whilst Erith is regarded as working class. The North of the London Borough of Bexley is generally less favoured than the centre and South for this reason.

Some time ago I wrote describing how Tesco are shortly going to install display screens using facial recognition technology in their petrol station shops – the idea being that the screen will scan the shopper as they queue to pay for their fuel, and depending on the age and gender of the person, targeted adverts are played at the person. If this does not sound worrying enough, as the software improves and becomes more sophisticated,  it will be able to scan a database of previous customers to see if the shopper has used the outlet before. It can then check to see what the shopper previously bought and target adverts accordingly. There is a huge issue of invasion of privacy and lack of consent. If not only private companies, but government bodies employ facial recognition technology as a means of determining identity (which is already happening in the USA and China, for example), there are immediately problems when the system gets it wrong. At present, in ideal circumstances (good, even lighting, no rain or mist) the best facial recognition systems will be accurate about 97% of the time. That is a whole three per cent error rate. Unlike a PIN number or password, your face is not something you can change without resorting to surgery.  There have already been cases in the USA where mis – identification has had serious repercussions. In 2011 a blame free and conscientious driver called John Gass received a letter from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles informing him that he was ordered to stop driving immediately. After Gass made a series of concerned phone calls to the Registry, he eventually was able to determine that he had been incorrectly identified by a facial recognition system as a serial motoring offender, when in fact he had never had a driving ticket in his life. When he queried this, the Registry of Motor Vehicles official said that it was John Gass’s “burden” to prove his innocence, as the pros of protecting the public outweighed the inconvenience of the wrongly targeted few. I must admit that this made my eyebrows rise. The USA is often touted as a shining example of a country that espouses personal liberty; this example would seem to contradict that view. This kind of situation is going to become increasingly common; some bars and nightclubs are looking at introducing a facial recognition system called Scene Tap. This analyses high definition CCTV camera footage from within each establishment and can establish the gender ratios in the bar, it can also determine the age of patrons, and link their facial image with online social networking sites (in their words) to “determine the relationship status, intelligence, education and income.” Scary stuff. All this is done without the permission – or even knowledge of the patrons. You may think this is all rather “Minority Report”, but Scene Tap is already deployed and in operation in over four hundred bars and night clubs around the USA, and it is inevitable that it will be in the UK very soon, if it is not already here on the quiet. Even if you as an individual have no problems with facial recognition, it does raise the issue of identity. Once the technology becomes ubiquitous, cheap and interconnected, it will only take one system to mis – identify you for your entire online identity to become suspect; you may not even realise it for some time, and may have no way of even knowing why you suddenly get turned down for a loan, or barred from a nightclub where you have formerly been a regular visitor. At least where governments are involved with things like this, there are usually established processes to identify and rectify mistakes. When it comes to private businesses there are no such constraints.

Last week I posted an image of an advert from Groom’s bakery from back in 1903. Subsequently I have been in contact with local historian Ken Chamberlain, who sent me the photo above (click on it for a larger view) and gave me some valuable background information. I must admit that until Ken contacted me,  I had no idea how Grooms “the hygienic bakery” became so successful and known all around the country.  After starting off with the West Street bakery, the business rapidly expanded; eventually they ended up building the large bakery in Belmont Road, Northumberland Heath. The site had a stables for the horses that pulled their vans, plus workshops for the company mechanics, farriers and coach builders. The most famous product created by Grooms was “Mother’s Pride” – bread that ended up being sold all over the country, and is still a favourite today. The horse drawn vans were still in use until the late 1950’s – more I think as an advertising and publicity tool, than as a practical means of delivery. My late Dad would often hitch a lift with a van when he was a boy – he knew several of the drivers; if the were not following a route he wanted to go on, he would then roller skate the rest of the way. By 1957 this was to change though. Grooms merged with the Rank, Hovis McDougall Group, although the family continued to run the Northumberland Heath bakery until 1959. The bakery is still on the same site today, and is now owned by British Bakeries; it produces a substantial amount of the bread eaten by Londoners and those further afield.

On Friday night I went out for a curry with an old friend. Nothing unusual there then. It did get me thinking; whilst the contents of the menu in most high street Indian restaurants are usually fairly similar, depending on the chef and the target market, the same is almost always not true of the drink available. It is almost without exception going to include three or four varieties of lager.  Apart from my personal preferences not including lager (too cold, too gassy, too tasteless) it strikes me as an opportunity for a curry house owner to do something to stand out from the crowd. Personally I think that real ale is a far better accompaniment to curry than lager is ; real ale does not fill you up with gas, for one thing. It tends to have a more robust, malty and hoppy flavour which works well with the strong flavours Indian spices create. I think the only down side with serving real ale in a curry house is one of shelf life. Once a cask has been opened, it needs to be used within three or four days before it goes off; I doubt that many curry houses would serve enough to justify it. I would like to hear your views on the subject – either leave a comment below, or Email me More on ale later.

It would appear from what I can gather that Bexley Council have effectively pulled the plug on the Danson Festival permanently. It has been known for some time that the festival was being called off this year, due, so the council said to drainage problems made worse by the terribly wet conditions last Autumn and Winter. It was originally intimated that the festival would be back as normal next year. Now Councillor Don Massey has announced that substantial engineering work is required to fix the problems, and that the council currently does not have the money to carry out the work. Bearing in mind over 60,000 people visited the festival last year, to drop it completely is quite a brave move, especially in the light of the forthcoming council elections. My understanding was that the festival was pretty much self funding, and usually turned a modest profit. It showcased local clubs and not for profit groups, and gave a lot of good causes the opportunity to both raise awareness and also fund raise. Several readers have left comments on the News Shopper website stating that the real reason for the cancellation of the Danson Festival is that the wealthy people who live in the big houses around Danson Park do not want the noise and disruption that the festival brings. Compared with other boroughs in the area, Bexley does very little if anything in terms of public festivities or events; it seems to be very keen to be able to continue to boast that they have kept council tax rates the same as last year, which seems to involve making more cuts upon cuts. The same cannot be said of the wage bill of the council leaders, which, as Malcolm Knight of “Bexley is Bonkers” has repeatedly pointed out, are amongst the highest in Greater London.

I find that whenever I check the BBC News website for the weather, it is wrong. It might not be out by that much, but at around this time of year when the air temperature can vary quite widely, the difference of a couple of degrees can strongly influence your choice of clothing. Quite some time ago I found the answer to this quandary. Local resident Bob Hewitt has an amazing automated, digital weather station, which is internet enabled. The station has a website that can be accessed by anyone wanting to know what the weather is like in the Erith and Northumberland Heath area. I consult the site several times per day – the information available is very detailed – not only temperature, but wind strength and direction, rain level, humidity, barometric pressure and so on. Weather Display Live is an excellent web resource that I visit every day, and would highly recommend to you.  

The list of beers for next weeks' 9th Bexley Beer Festival has now been published - see the image above, and click on it for a larger view. The festival will run from the evening of Thursday 15th May at 5pm until Saturday the 17th May. You can see more details by clicking here. I plan on attending on Friday evening - usually the most popular day of the event. A full report will be published next week.

I have been passed some documentation regarding Bexley Council and the refurbishment work that they propose to undertake in Northumberland Heath. It is only right and fair that the area gets some money and attention, as both Erith and Bexleyheath, which border the town have both had considerable regeneration efforts in the last couple of years, but Northumberland Heath has until now been missed out. The council propose some fairly dramatic changes, quite a few of which may not actually be necessary or indeed desirable. The Northumberland Heath Community Forum have analysed the council proposals and countered with their own proposal document, which actually would involve significantly less council expenditure. Most of the proposed works will centre around Bexley Road, and the main shopping area. The council propose replacing the existing powder coated steel park benches with stone ones. There are concerns that this is not necessary; the existing benches are in pretty good condition, and only require a coat of enamel paint every couple of years. They also have the advantage of having a back, allowing people to lounge, whereas the proposed stone benches will not. Much of the weekday population of Northumberland Heath is elderly, and are those most likely to use the benches, and back support is a definite requirement, and the feedback from the forum is that a lick of paint on the current benches is all that is really required. Similarly, the council propose replacing much of the existing block paving and granite kerbs, when the existing paving is not in bad order at all. It would seem that a decent regime of weeding and some re-pointing would be sufficient – and would also save a wad of council (our) cash. The money saved by abandoning these works could be better spent on resurfacing the Mill Road car park, which currently is so cratered that it resembles the surface of the moon. The council also propose replacing many of the dented metal roadside barriers with new ones. This is laudable, but the feedback from the forum members is that this would only be practical if bollards were used to protect the barriers; otherwise passing lorries tend to clip and bend them within months of them being replaced. All in all, the works required to enhance Northumberland Heath shopping area are not that extensive, and a proportion of the money the council propose to spend could better employed, say in refurbishing the library, which is looking quite tatty at present. The counter proposal document from the Northumberland Heath Community Forum is well argued and presents what I consider to be a strong case. Whether the council choose to abide by their findings is something we will have to wait and see. More on this when new information becomes available.

Are you a FaceBook user? Chances are that most Maggot Sandwich readers will be, as it would seem to be the most pervasive social network round. If so, have you ever wondered just how much your personal data is worth to FaceBook? If you are interested in what can be done with your information, and who would want to buy access to it, there is a new web service called Digital Shadow. The website scrapes your FaceBook profile (after you grant access), creating its own profile of you that focuses on vulnerabilities. The access granted is similar to the access offered to cameras, location services, apps and other websites that users commonly associate with FaceBook. Digital Shadow spells out exactly what they have access to: "Watch Dogs Digital Shadow will receive the following info: your public profile, friend list, News Feed, relationships, birthday, work history, status updates, education history, groups, hometown, interests, current city, photos, religious and political views, follows and followers, personal description and likes and your friends' status updates and photos." So, pretty much anything and everything you've ever put on the Internet. The website also predicts your location if you have geotagging or location services turned on. It also estimates your salary and produces a very well educated guess of your passwords. The password generator pulls from your friends, pet names, interests, frequently used words, and more to auto formulate potential passwords. It then estimates the time it would take for the passwords to be tested against FaceBook's log in by a hacking program: over a million can be tested in about two minutes. After you have finished being scanned by Digital Shadow, you can easily remove the app from your FaceBook settings by logging into your account, selecting Settings, then Apps, and pressing the X next to Digital Shadow. While you're there, you should check out what other apps have permissions to use your data, because they're likely to be turning a profit on your digital presence. Unless you stop using social media completely, and delete — not just deactivate — your profiles, your data can always be mined. While Digital Shadow won't make that disappear, it will bring attention to the pieces of your personal life that are most useful as data points, offering you a chance to adjust privacy settings. I have had several people querying why I am not on FaceBook, or indeed any similar website. Now perhaps you can better understand why.

The World Wide Web is 25 years old this week. Many people think the World Wide Web and the Internet are one and the same, but they are not. The video below gives a little background explanation and history - watch and enjoy.


  1. As a regular user of Bexleyheath station (long time commuter), I was amazed when I saw we were getting lifts. There are two perfectly good road bridges (with pavements) at either end of the station. To go from one platform to another using these existing bridges (rather than the station footbridge) takes but a few minutes. To my knowledge, no work was being done on the footbridge prior to the installation of the lifts began.

    Paul B

  2. Only your readers from the good old US of A will be able to try the Digital Shadow service out as that is the only country it is currently available in.