Sunday, June 01, 2014

A closed door to open house.

The photo above shows the view from Erith looking West towards Lower Belvedere. You can see the bulk freighter the M.V Arklow Viking unloading a cargo of vegetable seeds ready to be converted into vegetable oil or low fat spread at the ADM Oils factory, which is the largest producer of cooking oils in Europe, and a very significant local employer. Most locals (unless they work there) are unaware of the giant production facility, only wondering about it on the occasions its' giant fume filters fail and a disgusting smell fills the air. To ADM's credit, this is a pretty rare event nowadays, and generally they do contribute a great deal to the local economy. 

I had a rather surreal and mildly worrying experience whilst queuing to pay for some groceries in Morrison’s earlier this week. There was a chap in front of me, and a couple behind. It turned out that they knew each other, and started up a friendly conversation. The individual in front of me said “I did not know that you two knew each other” to which, one of the couple responded “oh that’s easy – we share the same probation officer”. I must admit that this caused me to inwardly wince, but it got worse. “How are the family”? The guy in front of me asked. “Oh, young Martin has got himself into trouble again. He’s on remand in Belmarsh – he murdered his girlfriend. He says she had a fit and died, but he’s always beaten up his birds”. I could not make it up. What was more astonishing was the casual and matter of fact way that it was said. Names have been changed for obvious reasons.

Bexley Council are once again doing all that they possibly can to court unpopularity. Not only have they permanently cancelled the annual Danson Festival, but now they have also decided to withdraw from the London Open House Programme. This programme opens up some buildings that are not normally open to the public, for them to view for free; it also means that for one day public buildings such as Danson House and Hall Place that have an entrance fee are opened for nothing. One of my most reliable confidential informants tells me that the reason for the decision is straightforward. The council have tacitly admitted that both Danson House and Hall Place are normally so expensive to get into that on previous open house days, over five hundred visitors have toured both venues when it was free. The council does not want to host open house events, as it reckons it loses money. They seem to be ignorant to the fact that most if not all of the visitors on the free day would not pay to visit either of the sites due to the exorbitant entrance fees. Bexley is only one of three London boroughs that is not taking part in London Open House scheme. It strikes me as mean spirited and lacking in any form of creative vision. What do you think? Submit a comment below, or Email

I love Maplin electronics stores. I find it difficult to resist the temptation to pop in whenever I go past a shop. I invariably end up buying something too – even if it is only a small widget for a couple of quid. I have heard Maplin referred to as “a crèche for blokes”, and I have to say that I would not argue. Over the last year or so they have started selling 3D printers suitable for home and educational use. If you are not aware of what a 3D printer is, read on.  Unlike a conventional printer, which prints ink onto paper in two dimensions, a 3D printer uses a printing medium such as a coloured thermoplastic to slowly build up a solid object from tiny filaments which are extruded from a nozzle. The technical press have been very enthusiastic about 3D printing for a couple of years. Huge claims have been made as to what problems 3D printing can solve, and 3D printers are now cheap enough (entry level models are around a thousand pounds) that home users are now buying and using them. One area that 3D printing is well suited for is the production of small mechanical components, such as engine spares or plumbing parts. The problem with 3D printing is that it does not scale well. 3D printing speed is a cube function; a printer may be able to make a one inch cube in an hour. To make a cube that is in every way identical save that each cube face was two inches in size would take the same printer eight hours, and a four inch cube sixty four hours. Basically going from one inch in an hour to four inches in nearly three days is practically unworkable using current 3D printing technology. Unlike computers, where Moore’s Law dictates that computer processor power will double approximately every two years, the rate of 3D printer development is currently far slower. It is unlikely that 3D printing will become anything other than a novelty in anything other than very specialist sectors such as prototype engineering, where they have already proved to be invaluable. Unfortunately for general everyday use, 3D printing has yet to live up to the hype.

Above you can see a copy of the letter that has been delivered to all residents of Manor Road, concerning the complete closure to all through traffic for a period of ten weeks, whilst major re – engineering of the road is undertaken. It would appear that the council and engineering contractors have taken account of the large number of businesses that are located at the Eastern end of the road; fears that businesses would be unable to get their vehicles in and out would appear (at this point at least) to be unfounded. At no point is the entire road going to be closed as had been feared by many, as the closure is being broken down into a number of phases which will keep vehicular access open, albeit from a rather circuitous route.  Details on the letter – click for a larger view. You can also view more details on the Council's website by clicking here. How the whole project will work in reality is another question which only time will tell. Be assured I will be keeping a close eye on this story, and reporting accordingly.

Transport for London have taken a bit of a step backwards. Recently they have been running audio announcements, as well as a poster campaign the Underground, warning passengers to be careful of “card clash” when swiping in and out of the gate line barriers with an Oyster card. This is contrary to some of the statements made when Oyster was first rolled out, where TfL said that clashes between Oyster and other contactless card systems were simply not possible. I doubted this at the time, and my fears have proved to be grounded in reality.  The fact is that many people are getting penalty fares as they own more than one Oyster card, and keep them in the same wallet or purse – and they swipe the wallet or purse over the reader, rather than taking the specific card out. In these cases, one card gets debited on swipe in, and the other on swipe out – one could end up in a situation where one was penalised £8.50 for the card that swiped in but not out, and another £8.50 for the card that swiped out but not in. On top of this if one presents the wrong Oyster card when questioned by a revenue protection officer, you can be fined up to £80 for travelling without a ticket. This is all about to get even more complex, as Transport for London are heavily promoting “bonk n’ pay” –  the use of contactless bank debit cards to swipe into stations. They would rather passengers used their contactless debit cards, as it saves 2p per transaction in Oyster processing charges. Contactless debit card transaction costs are borne by the relevant bank. Back in February 2012, my bank sent me a new contactless debit card, which I returned to them in person. As I have written in the past, the whole contactless payment system is riddled with security holes and undocumented features. With hardware and software freely available online, it is possible to remotely interrogate a contactless card and to read certain data from it. The range is only about ten feet, but it is close enough for a crook with a card reader and a smart phone running illicit software. You only need to be standing in the same queue, or sharing a lift for the stealing of your card information to happen. Scary but true. One practical way to prevent this happening is to keep all of your cards in a specially RF shielded wallet or purse. Incidentally, London buses will stop accepting cash for fares on the 6th of July; they will only accept Oyster, contactless debit card and good, old fashioned paper travel cards (which I use, as they are the only non – hackable payment solution – sometimes the old ways are still the best). If you thought this apparent paranoia was taking things all a bit far, well, think again. More than a thousand “swipe and pay” and point of sale terminals worldwide have been compromised by a new strain of malware, results of a March 2014 probe have revealed. During a survey of compromised point of sale terminals, accounting systems and grocery management platforms, the Nemanja botnet was fingered as one of the biggest of the lot. After infiltrating various small businesses and grocery stores, the botnet then sets up a means to lift credit card and other sensitive data from compromised systems. Cyber-intelligence firm IntelCrawler said it had detected 1,478 hosts infected by Nemanja in countries as far apart as Australia, Israel and Zambia. Various systems in the UK, US and Germany have also been infected by the key logging malware. The latest malware is part of a larger trend of cybercrooks using it to target retailers’ office systems and cash registers. This malware is then used to lift sensitive information from compromised systems. For example, a variant of the BlackPOS was reportedly used in the final phase of the multi-stage attack against US retail giant Target. The estimated 40 million credit card records from the Target breach have subsequently been offered up for sale through underground hacking forums and the sheer volume of information has had the effect of pushing down the price of compromised details – a classic case of supply and demand. I have had practical, personal experience of malware infecting cashless payment systems; unfortunately I cannot detail the story here and now, as it could potentially help the bad guys. Suffice to say that they can be very difficult to detect, and even harder to successfully eradicate. 

One thing I have always been very keen on in respect of the Maggot Sandwich, is the promotion of independent local companies. I am happy to say that I have some good experiences to share with you. As I recently mentioned, Pewty Acres has been undergoing a bit of a makeover, which has included the back garden, which has been looking a state for far longer than I care to admit. I decided late last years that I would be undertaking a “year zero” approach to the garden, and start it again from scratch. This has included killing off the old moss and weed infested lawn, having the top couple of inches containing the remaining turf stripped and prepared for a new surface. The biggest challenge has been to have a large fir tree removed. When I moved in, the tree was tiny – I think it was an ex Christmas tree that had been planted by the previous owners. Over the intervening years it grew until it was substantially taller than the house. The down side to this was that not only did it block much of the sunlight from the back of the house, especially affecting the kitchen, which could be very dingy in the winter. Not only that, but the other problem was something that also affected my neighbours – the tree shed prodigious quantities of needles, which were very good at clogging up guttering. I decided that enough was enough, and the tree had to go. I contacted Keven Watt Quality Tree Care (no it is not a typo, that’s how his name is spelled). Keven came round, took a careful look at the giant fir that was completely dominating my garden, took some measurements and gave me a very reasonable quotation. A couple of weeks later, a massive, purpose built lorry towing a large wood shredding machine appeared in the access road at the bottom of my garden. Three burly looking blokes got out and very quickly started work. One donned climbing gear and soon was tied to the top of the tree, where he started very scientifically removing the branches with a small but powerful chainsaw, which he then passed down to his two colleagues on the ground. They then put the branches into the shredder, which then sprayed the resulting wood chips into the back of the van. Their work was precisely choreographed and it was evident that they had all done this innumerable times before. Soon all that was left was the main trunk. The climber got down and made a couple of cuts in the base, then the trunk was carefully pulled down. Once it was on the ground, the trunk was chopped into manageable segments and loaded into the van. The team then spent quite some time cleaning up and making good.  A week later, another chap turned up with a second large van towing a stump grinding machine – something that looks like a cross between a rotavator and an oil rig drill. The chap put some steel spikes into the ground around the stump and exposed roots, then attached a flexible vinyl guard panel, to stop flying debris. Twenty minutes later, and the trunk base and roots were completely gone, leaving only the pleasant pine smell behind. Again the chap was assiduous in the way he cleaned up.  He told me that nothing goes to waste. The huge quantity of wood chippings that had been generated when the tree branches were shredded were recycled as biodiesel, and the large wooden logs from the trunk went to a mushroom farm (mushrooms usually grow on dead wood). Everything the company do is keyed to recycling and re – use, which was very reassuring to hear. All the staff at Keven Watt Quality Tree Care were polite, efficient and obviously well versed in the technicalities of their jobs. I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone requiring work done on their trees. It is nice to be able to report on a local company who excel in their field, and rightly deserve recognition for their work.

The photo above was sent to me by local historian Ken Chamberlain. It was taken in the early 1960's and shows both the Vox and Elizabethan Electronics factories, side by side, just off West Street. I am pretty certain the shot was taken prior to 1965, as Elizabethan moved their production facility to Romford then, and also in 1965, the research and development department of Vox, which was located on the top floor of their building was severely damaged by a fire. Fortunately the fire was extinguished before it could spread to the rest of the building. Whilst Vox still exist as a brand (now owned and operated by Japanese musical instrument maker Korg), Elizabethan Electronics have long ceased trading. There is still is a tenuous link to the Elizabethan brand in Erith. A commercial vehicle servicing and repair company called Elizabethan Motor Services, a small independent motor garage specialising in the maintenance and repair of cars and light commercial vehicles. They are located in the small industrial estate in Wheatley Terrace Road, almost opposite the excellent Abbey Car Breakers. I have no idea if there is any kind of connection between the two, if anyone knows, please inform me.

Here is a bit of a scoop. The first brewery in the London Borough of Bexley since Reffells was bought and closed down by Courage and Barclay Ltd in 1956 will shortly be going into production. Bexley Brewery, which is run by a chap called Cliff Murphy is currently in preparation for a late summer opening. You can see their website by clicking here. He’s secured an industrial unit in Erith which will house the brewery. The brewing equipment is due to be installed during the month of August, and the first brew is scheduled for September. I have been in Email contact with Cliff, and hope to have an exclusive feature, including photographs of the Bexley Brewery once brewing has got under way. Watch this space.

I am not quite sure what to make of the following piece; it will be interesting to see what kind of feedback I get from you, dear reader. A campaign has started in America to discourage hand shaking as a form of greeting. The campaign organisers have a logically argued set of reasons. In essence, eighty percent of all infectious diseases are passed from person to person by hand contact, and according to the American Centre for Disease Control, the single greatest threat to human health is the transmission of harmful bacteria by human touch. The Mayo Clinic recently wrote “Why are most people offended when you don’t want to shake their hand? You are not rejecting them or calling their personal hygiene into question. You are simply reducing your exposure to germs that they unknowingly carry. Germs live everywhere. You can find germs in the air, on food, plants and animals, in the soil, in the water, and on just about every other surface — including your own body. Most germs won’t harm you. Your immune system protects you against a multitude of infectious agents. However, some germs are formidable adversaries because they’re constantly mutating to breach your immune system’s defences”. This has been scientifically supported by research carried out by the American Society for Microbiology “While 92% of adults say they wash their hands in public restrooms observational studies say otherwise. In an observational study of 6,076 adults, sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), only 66% of men actually washed their hands in public restrooms. The women did much better with 88% taking to the sinks. The study was conducted in 2005, but before you think times are different because of H1N1 flu scares, think again. A more recent survey conducted July 28 – 31, 2009 by the Bradley Corporation said a full 54% of the 1,020 respondents “wash their hands no more or less frequently” in a public toilet as a result of the H1N1 virus. The ASM found similar results in 2003, despite public concerns of the SARS virus”. According to the Centre for Disease Control scientists estimate that people who are not washing their hands often or well enough may transmit up to 80% of all infections by their hands. From doorknobs to animals to food, harmful germs can live on almost everything. Hand washing may be your single most important act to help stop the spread of infection and stay healthy. As a reminder, hand hygiene requires soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs. Antibacterial soaps provide no advantage”. The practical result of this is that you cannot rely on the person you shake hands with as having clean hands. I can appreciate this from my own recent personal experience. You may recall that I suffered a terrible bout of Gastroenteritis a couple of months ago as the direct result of forgetting to wash my hands after a supermarket trip, then eating a packet of crisps. I was out of action for nearly two weeks as a result. The stop hand shaking campaign may well have a valid point, though my own opinion is that the risk of unintentionally offending someone is probably currently greater than the risk of catching something nasty. Personally I am fastidious about hand hygiene, but unsure how well others observe it. Your thoughts would be welcomed. You can either leave a comment below, or Email

I make an apology to Darryl Chamberlain of the excellent 853 blog, who was the original person to post the video below. Whilst I know quite a number of Maggot Sandwich readers also follow the 853 blog (link to the right hand side of the screen), some may not. Darryl uncovered the video, which shows a short public information film describing the work to rebuild London Bridge Station back in 1974 / 75. The station is now being rebuilt again. One of the changes made in 2015 will be that passengers on the Dartford to London via Greenwich line (that includes travellers from Slade Green, Erith, Belvedere and Abbey Wood) will no longer be able to get off at London Bridge or Charing Cross. All trains on our line will not stop at London Bridge, but will go straight through to Cannon Street only. This may be OK in the week, as most commuters on the line end up in the city anyway, but at evenings and weekends it will be a real pain, as Cannon Street and the City are pretty much dead then. If you want to go to the West End, you will need to use the tube from Cannon Street station. You can read more about the changes, along with a schedule of when they will be taking place by clicking here. I don't know how many local people will be aware exactly how far reaching the changes will actually be.

1 comment:

  1. Bexley Brewerys claims are not strictly accurate. Bexley bough had a very good brewery for part of the 1980s, the Fenman Brewery st the Jolly Fenman public house Blackfen road was a fuly blown brewery. Beers were Blackfen bitter, Heath special, Fenman fortune and Dynamite. It was brewing for nearly 5 years, early 84 to late 88 the beers where great spent plenty of time drinking them.