Sunday, June 08, 2014

At long last - four out of five.

The photo above shows the progress in the construction of the new Bexley College campus in Walnut Tree Road, Erith. The place is now certainly coming together rapidly; it is due to open to its first students in September. I am hoping to get a sneak preview of the interior in the not too distant future, when I hope to publish a Bexley College Maggot Sandwich special edition. Keep watching this space.

Readers may recall how I have been involved with fighting illegal fly tippers in and around Erith for some time. There have been occasions when I have felt like I was fighting a losing battle, but recently the tide appears to have turned against the illegal rubbish dumpers. The worst site for fly tipping has for years been the council recycling centre at the end of James Watt Way, round the back of Morrison’s. It is small, out of the way and out of view, yet readily accessible by car or tipper van, making it an ideal place for nefarious activities. In the past I have discovered dumped loads of old furniture, bed mattresses, fridge freezers, and most surreally a massive load of batched and bound used men’s underpants and several huge pallets of putrid, rotten bananas. As a result of this, Bexley Council Environmental Crimes Unit installed a CCTV camera on the site, complete with a large warning sign. Predictably the level of fly tipping dropped noticeably. I understand that several prosecutions are planned, though currently I am unable to say more at this point regarding the specifics. This got me thinking. Why do certain individuals fly tip in the first place? I think that there are several factors involved. Firstly I think there is a degree of ignorance – some of the fly tippers do not have English as a first language, and may assume that since there are recycling bins and hoppers, that anything can be deposited there. Of course this precludes those who tip anywhere at any time – there can be no excuse for that. Other tippers may be lazy and not bothered to go to the official council tip in Thames Road, Crayford. I think the biggest reason is down to cost. Commercial operators (basically any person not in a private car) get charged heavily for legal tipping. A single Transit – type van full of waste can be charged over £100 for a single tipping visit. I have spoken to the Council about this. I understand that when illegally tipped waste is cleared up, it is done by a council subcontractor, who charges the council over £300 for the work. Basic arithmetic would dictate that it would be cheaper for the council to allow waste dumping to be carried out by traders for free, rather than to have to clear up the illegally tipped waste at a later stage. I would propose a six month trial period where commercial waste tippers were not charged for using the Crayford dump; in all other ways they would still have to comply with the existing waste disposal rules, and the content of their loads, the company name and vehicle registration number would still be recorded, but no money would change hands. If at the end of the trial, the amount of fly tipped waste had substantially reduced around the borough, then the scheme would be judged a success. I think a pragmatic approach may be worth trialling, as the current system does seem to be failing, and the amount of council tax payers money spent on clearing up after the illegal tippers could be far better spent elsewhere. Don’t think I am opting for a soft approach to criminal activity – I am still strongly of the opinion that catching and prosecuting fly tippers should be a high priority, but a mixture of both carrot and stick, rather than stick alone may deliver better results for both the environment and the council taxpayer.

Now that the light evenings are with us, an annual event takes place around Erith and Slade Green – something you can virtually set your watch to. The appearance of the illegal off – road bikers, who ride on the pavements, or pulling wheelies in the road, on their way to the Slade Green / Crayford Marshes. It seems to be a rite of passage that a certain subset of the local yobs come out pasty faced and blinking from their bedrooms and X-Boxes once the ambient air temperature rises above 20 degrees Celsius; they then dust down their unlicensed, uninsured and illegal two stroke trail bikes and proceed to annoy and endanger the local population with their activities. If this in itself was not so bad, the noise can be insufferable. Invariably the scrotes will remove part if not all of the exhaust system in the ill –founded belief that this will give their weedy bike engines a few extra horsepower. What actually happens is that the bike ends up sounding like an angry wasp trapped in a biscuit tin, causing sonic grief to those unfortunate to be in the vicinity. The police regularly chase these riders, and every so often a prosecution and subsequent judicial bike crushing will be the result.  The trouble then calms down for a while, before the whole sorry cycle begins again. The worst offenders really don’t care about bikes being crushed, as they have stolen them in the first place. I caught three under aged and scrawny chavs on a shared moped in Manor Road not too long ago; I managed to write down the number plate and report it to the police, only to subsequently discover that the bike had a false number plate on it. The whole problem waxes and wanes, but never really goes away. The only respite is when it rains – the scumbags hate wet weather, and I guess that return to their dank bedrooms and their video games consoles.

You may recall that back in January 2013 I reported on the Pizza Hut delivery outlet in Northumberland Heath that was closed by health inspectors due to the unbelievably filthy conditions that they found both in the kitchen and throughout the building. The situation was deemed so bad that the story made it into the national papers and really reflected badly on both the area, and the Pizza Hut brand in general.  The place was forced to close for a deep clean and partial rebuild. It then re – opened. I thought little more on the matter until back this January I received an anonymous Email from a reader which read: “I work in this "disgusting" pizza hut you mentioned and let me just say, you have mentioned the fact that "Apparently the place has received a deep clean and its’ hygiene standards are improving". The shop was recently given a new shop front to improve the customer perception of the shop but this was as far as improvements actually went. The general conditions within the shop is probably in my opinion worse than ever. In November 2011 most Pizza Hut delivery units were franchised off to private companies and this is when the trouble started. The company that runs this and many other stores in the surrounding area presented managers with such unreachable targets that they soon all left. This then left it open for the company to get in their own managers. Just before Christmas 2013 conditions within the shop were so bad I was having to work in pools of water leaking from various fridges walls and ceilings. Toilet facilities at one point were completely non-existent, the toilet was in fact broken and laying on its side exposing the sewage pipe where rats were seen and making the whole inside of the shop smell of raw sewage. Dates on ingredients are changed to extend the shelf life rather than discarding then like they should be. Things like the can opener, vegetable slicer and oven are no cleaner really now than they ever were. Finally, Just to say that if any of your readers think that eating here may make you sick, believe me, even I won't eat from here”. I reported this information to the local authorities, and also to the News Shopper and to be honest, I thought little more about it. Whilst carrying out my periodic checks on the “Scores on the Doors” website to see what hygiene grades local food outlets were being awarded, I noticed something which indicated that things have now finally changed much for the better. Earlier this week, the Scores on the Doors rating has been updated once more. I am more than happy to announce that the Pizza Hut Delivery outlet in Bexley Road, Northumberland Heath now has a revised rating of four our of five stars, so something must at long last be going right. Whether it has been pressure from Bexley Environmental Health, or a change in franchise ownership I cannot at this point determine. Either way, it is a piece of good news for the consumer at long last. Personally I would still not use the place, but that is my individual choice. Any opinions / reviews on the place would be more than welcome. If the place really has pulled its boots up, then the good news needs to be shared. 

According to a leaked document that I have been privy to, Erith and Thamesmead MP Teresa Pearce has been putting her boot in this week. She’s been giving very short shrift to Councillor Don Massey over the council’s decision to not take part in the Open House project -  as mentioned last week, every year, for one day only, each London borough opens up some buildings not normally open to the public to visit for free; it also drops entrance charges to buildings for which there would normally be an entrance fee. This year, on top of abolishing the Danson Festival, Bexley Council have decided to withdraw from the scheme, citing the need to save money. The irony is that the Open House scheme normally encourages around five thousand visitors from outside of the borough to visit, and although they don’t have to pay an entrance fee for places such as Danson House or Hall Place, they invariably spend money on food and memorabilia whilst they are visiting. The visits also have the less tangible benefit of raising the profile of the borough, which generally does not have much of a presence in the consciousness of people not resident in the area. The costs of operating the scheme are minimal, and it strikes me  that Don Massey and his cohorts are fully aware of this; I get the impression that they are not trying to save money – they are trying to be seen to be saving money, which is a far different thing. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

Over the last couple of years, it seemed that wherever you went in South East London or North Kent, about every fifth vehicle on the road would be an open backed lorry from City Scrap. So ubiquitous was their fleet that I can recall on many occasions seeing four or five of their vans in convoy; they also habitually congregated around the Londis corner shop and convenience store in Manor Road, before returning to their depot on the Darent Industrial Park on the Slade Green Marshes. I noticed a couple of weeks ago that their vehicles were suddenly absent from our highways, and although I had heard vague rumours, I had nothing substantiated or verified to report. Now the News Shopper has published the story as to how a lengthy Police investigation into City Scrap has led to the arrest of the owners, the removal of their scrap trading licence and the forced permanent closure of the company. It turns out that the claims on the City Scrap website that their operators and drivers were fully CRB checked and with UK driving licences were only one of a mass of lies the company told.  It transpires that City Scrap were allegedly engaged in a large insurance scam involving around £30,000, along with another forty five other offences including:- perverting the course of justice, making a false statement to obtain insurance, and making a false statement to obtain a scrap metal licence. An illegal CS tear gas canister was also discovered during the Police raid, which was part of Operation Ferrous – a project to target, prosecute and jail bent scrap dealers and metal thieves, which I have detailed in the on the Maggot Sandwich back in December 2011. Bexley has been one of the London boroughs worst hit by metal theft and criminal scrap dealing, and it has been the heart of the London – wide Operation Ferrous. Metal theft costs the UK economy an estimated £700 million a year – enough to build and run two major teaching hospitals. The British Transport Police say that theft of power and signalling cables is second only to terrorist threat as their priority. Bexley is very hard hit by metal crime as the borough has a higher concentration of scrap yards than anywhere else in Greater London – which it has to be said are not all crooked, but substantial number have sailed rather closer to the legal wind than would be desirable. It would appear that although trade prices for non ferrous scrap (copper / brass / zinc / gunmetal / bronze) have dropped somewhat in the last year – mainly due to a drop in demand from China, prices are still pretty high, and there are enough crooked dealers prepared to break the laws concerning the ban on paying cash for scrap and keeping proper records to keep the illicit trade in pretty rude health. Hopefully the taking down of the largest scrap dealer in the region for multiple counts of illegal activity will send a message to others doing the same, though I am not holding my breath.

You may recall that recently I have written about the heavy engineering company Fraser and Chalmers that were based in Erith for many years. They made mining equipment, pumps, boilers and ore separation machines, many of which were exported to the gold and diamond mines in South Africa. The photo above was taken back in 1907, and shows the main foundry and many of the men that worked there - click on it for a larger version. Notice the lack of safety equipment, and the huge amount of manpower available - by World War 1 there were 4,000 employees. It was hot, backbreaking work, and the average labourer worked a 54 hour week - including Saturday mornings. This is one of the reasons that football matches traditionally start at 3pm; historically this was to allow the men to get home, have a wash and some lunch, before heading out to the game. 

Over the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest in real ale. When I first joined CAMRA, the popular image of a real ale drinker was a bearded bloke in a woolly jumper and open toed sandals, complete with darned socks. He would be listening to folk music and writing down each beer that he quaffed in his “ticker book”. Whilst there are a small minority of such individuals who usually only come out in public at Beer Festivals, the vast majority of real ale enthusiasts look just like everyone else. Indeed, if you take a stroll around somewhere like Hoxton, real ale is now seen to be cool and trendy, and being drunk by the Hipsters. Did you know that there are now more breweries in the United Kingdom than at any time it its history? Many small breweries are taking advantage of the resurgent interest in the product (ale is the oldest manufactured product known – it predates bread by several centuries). As I mentioned last week, a new brewery is opening in Erith in September, though preparations are already under way.  The Bexley Brewery will be the latest in a line of breweries in the borough. One reader with a very good memory corrected a statement I made last week, when I said that the last brewery to operate in the London Borough of Bexley was Reffells in Bexley Village. I was wrong, and to be honest I should have known better. The last brewery in the borough was the Fenman Brewery which was located at the rear of the Jolly Fenman pub in Blackfen Road, Sidcup. The micro brewery brewed beers for sale in the pub, and at events in the local area; it operated between 1984 and 1988, and I visited it on a number of occasions. I recall that there was a glass window at the back of the pub which looked into the brewery area so that you could see the brewery in action. Regular reader Martin reminded me of this when he wrote” The Fenman brewery at the Jolly Fenman Blackfen road was in operation from 1984 to 1988, up to 4 beers were brewed on the premises for sale in the pub. The beers also found their way into local south east London beer festival held at the old Greenwich town hall. From memory the Jolly Fenman was at that time part of Clifton Inns, itself part of Grand met. It produced 4 regular beers, Blackfen Bitter, Heath Special, Fenman Fortune and Dynamite which was sometimes branded as Exploder. There were probably others but that's what I remember at the moment, it was 30 years ago! It seems the idea was that all of the Clifton Inns would have their own brewery installed on the premises, rather like the Firkin pubs of David Bruce but plusher, this didn't happen only around 5 did. Probably the most well know of these was the Orange Brewery in Pimlico SW1, they were still brewing around 2001. There was also the Greyhound brewery in Streatham. My memory fails me on the others in the chain and there is very little on the internet about the chain. The plant at the Jolly Fenman was a 5 barrel one and after it stopped brewing was relocated to another Clifton inn, the Duke of Norfolk, Notting Hill around 1989.” Interesting recollections from Martin, who knows, we may even have visited the pub at the same time without knowing; I have to admit that had he not jogged my memory, I would have completely overlooked the Fenman Brewery. Hopefully the forthcoming Bexley Brewery will last far longer than the four years the Fenman was around. More on this soon.

Have you heard of a new condition called Nomophobia? It is defined as “ the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. The term, an abbreviation for "no-mobile-phone phobia", was coined during a 2010 study by the UK Post Office who commissioned YouGov, a UK-based research organization to look at anxieties suffered by mobile phone users. The study found that nearly 53% of mobile phone users in Britain tend to be anxious when they "lose their mobile phone, run out of battery or credit, or have no network coverage". The study found that about 58% of men and 47% of women suffer from the phobia, and an additional 9% feel stressed when their mobile phones are off. The study sampled 2,163 people. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed cited keeping in touch with friends or family as the main reason that they got anxious when they could not use their mobile phones. The study compared stress levels induced by the average case of nomophobia to be on-par with those of "wedding day jitters" and trips to the dentists.  Ten percent of those questioned said they needed to be contactable at all times because of work. It is, however, arguable that the word 'phobia' is misused and that in the majority of cases it is only a normal anxiety. More than one in two nomophobes never switch off their mobile phones. The study and subsequent coverage of the phobia resulted in two editorial columns authored by those who minimize their mobile phone use or choose not to own one at all, treating the condition with light undertones of or outright disbelief and amusement”. The sad fact is that many people feel that they cannot live a meaningful and fulfilling life without a mobile phone. When one thinks it is only really in the last twenty years or so that mobile phone has become widespread, and only the last ten or so years when they have become ubiquitous. How did people get on before then? Absolutely fine. In fact if anything people were better organised and disciplined – there was no phoning to say that you were running late for a meeting or a dinner date, you had to make it or face looking bad. Nowadays people can call ahead and warn their friends and colleagues, which to my mind rather encourages a less rigorous approach to timekeeping. On top of all this are the serious privacy issues. A lot of smart phone owners think that as long as they have GPS logging switched off, they cannot be traced; nothing could be further from the truth I am afraid. If you watch the short explanatory video below, all will become clear. Please leave a comment below, or Email me at

1 comment:

  1. I’m tempted to take bets on how long the new college building will last.
    I know I’ve not been round it but it just looks like a cheap and nasty modern build. I recon’ within 10 years it’ll need a huge refit. Hey, maybe by then City Scrap will have been rehabilitated and they can sort it out!
    Talking of them, I’m really happy that City Scrap have been busted, I’m sure it was them who last year nicked my spare wheel from my drive (that I’d hidden behind my wheelie bin). They were always driving round my area (usually badly) and scouting stuff out. It obviously wasn’t for the taking and it had only been there for about a day, it was theft pure and simple. Was surprised at how much stuff they got done for, it seems it was basically just a huge criminal enterprise.
    I like your idea of allowing traders to dump waste for free, makes sense if it manages to keep the cost of Fly Tipping down. Would mean a massive increase in the use of the Tip though which would mean needing more staff and considering Bexley Council cancel things like the Open House doubt they’d consider it plus what’s to stop traders from outside the borough taking advantage of it?