Sunday, August 31, 2014

Erith Fun Day.

Yesterday was the first Erith Fun Day; the event was held at Erith Riverside Gardens, and it was a great success. There were stalls from charitable groups like Thames 21, the Alzheimers Society, St. John Ambulance and other not for profit groups like FORGE (Friends Of Riverside Gardens Erith), Erith Town Forum, Bexley Afro Caribbean Community Association, the Rotary Club of Erith, Bexley College, and the Port of London Authority. Also present were commercial organisations such as the Nemesis Gym, and various stalls selling novelties and other items. There was also face painting, a mobile sweet shop, a fortune teller and an ice cream van. 

The photo above shows the Mayor of Bexley, Councillor Howard Marriner, accompanied by the Lady Mayoress, Dianne Marriner, and Councillor Edward Boateng. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Mayor is a regular Maggot Sandwich reader!

The photo above shows MP for Erith and Thamesmead, Teresa Pearce, along with "Alexander Selkirk" (who was looking remarkably fit and healthy for a chap who has not long celebrated his 338th birthday!) along with a representative from the Rotary Club of Erith. The centre piece for the Fun Day was the unveiling of a signpost, commemorating the coming ashore at Erith of Alexander Selkirk in 1711 after having been cast away on a desert island for eight years; Selkirk was the factual inspiration for the fictional character of Robinson Crusoe - one of the most popular characters in literary history.

The photo above (click for a larger view) shows Teresa Pearce MP unveiling the new signpost in Erith Riverside Gardens; the post can clearly be seen from the road. She was accompanied by a piper, whose playing was certainly enthusiastic. There are even further local connections; the sign was constructed by Erith based sign company WDS Signs, whose works are located less than one hundred metres from the Riverside Gardens.

Over the recent months there have been a steady stream of people throwing themselves into the River Thames at both Lower Belvedere and Erith. As I have previously mentioned, the rip tides and undercurrents on this stretch of the river make it the most dangerous sections of open waterway in the United Kingdom. Even in good weather the average survival time for anyone entering the river is something like eleven minutes. The River Police and the RNLI do an excellent job of keeping people safe on the River Thames, but bearing in mind that the nearest RNLI bases are at London Bridge and Gravesend, that still leaves a very long stretch of the river to be patrolled; it would seem to me that an extra base somewhere in the middle would be a very good idea. The former Erith River Police station building has been converted to office use, and is shared between marine engineering company Kort Propulsion, and the Erith Rowing Club. One alternative would be for the RNLI to renovate and occupy the former Port Of London Authority hut at the top of the jetty on the Riverside Gardens. I understand that the building has electricity and water and is fully plumbed in. The building is not very large, but I think it would be sufficient for a small team of three or four volunteers, and it would have the added advantage of being as physically close to the river as is possible to enable the quick launch of their rescue boat. What do you think? Does the Erith and Belvedere stretch of the River Thames need a lifeboat sub – station, or is the existing service good enough? You can leave a comment below, or email me at

The London Borough of Bexley stands out in a number of ways; we have the cheapest housing in Greater London, as was illustrated in the last Maggot Sandwich update, when I highlighted a large, modern two bedroomed apartment right on the river front at Erith. Such a riverside property would sell for a million pounds or more if it was located in Greenwich or in Canary Wharf, let alone somewhere in West London like Putney. The Erith post code means that the flat is offered for £180,000, which seems a relative bargain. One reason that may factor into the low property prices is that average wages in the borough are commensurately low; around one third of Bexley residents earn less than £8.80 per hour – the current London Living Wage. Bearing in mind the high cost of public transportation and the spiralling cost of rent compared with outright property purchase, this means that a large number of local people are being incredibly financially squeezed at present. The level of unemployment may be relatively low, but many of the jobs that are available don't pay very much. Historically Bexley has been a dormitory area for people working in London. One possible positive factor in the current low wage environment is that an increasingly large number of people are going self employed. These people don't show up on the low wage statistics, and they may well be a very positive contributor to the local economy over the forthcoming years. Traditionally small start-up companies run by sole traders are operated from home, or out of the back of a van.  Meeting with clients in a business environment can be challenging for such individuals – one of the ways in which the Cross Keys Centre will benefit local traders. Amongst the services it will shortly be offering is the use of private meeting rooms, hot desking / touchdown space and areas for networking and other formal and informal meetings. It is anticipated that small businesses that don’t have / need a full time office will be able to rent space by the day or even the hour when they require it. This kind of flexibility is something that should be a real benefit to the increasing number of self employed traders in the local area.

Every day when I walk to Erith Station, I pass by the piece of overgrown wasteland behind the new Bexley College campus. Bexley Council have undertaken to clear the land once the final phase of construction of the college have been completed. This can only be a good thing, as the area is absolutely teeming with rats. They often come out of the undergrowth and run along the path, and they seem unafraid of people. I realise that destroying their habitat next to the college will only move the vermin elsewhere, but if they are not dealt with, I could see a situation with the new college getting rat infested within days of opening, which would be awful. I was reading an article on the BBC News website earlier in the week which got me thinking. People in Cambodia and Vietnam regularly catch rats to be eaten – indeed there is a thriving cottage industry to supply the demand for rat meat. You can read the story here.  Bearing in mind the profusion of rats locally, could an ecologically sound solution to the problem be to trap and kill the rats and then sell the meat on to the various fast food places in the area? It is most definitely organic and free range, after all? People already eat Grey Squirrel, which is also defined as vermin, yet they are treated as a minor delicacy – and what is a squirrel? A rat with better P.R. I reckon that once seasoned , battered and deep fried, most people would not realise what they were eating was anything other than poultry – Kentucky Fried Rat, anyone? Rat Vindaloo? Shish Rat kebab with chilli sauce, salad and a pitta bread? The options are endless. Bearing in mind that it is said that you are never more than four metres away from a rat when you are in Greater London, it does seem that we could be on the verge of both a culinary and pest control revolution. Do leave a comment below, or Email me at

The advert above dates back to 1901, so the "20th Century Cycle co." would have been an extremely futuristic brand at the time. I think it strange that it does not give an address for callers though. An eye catching design, nevertheless.

I don't think I have ever mentioned that I got a joke I wrote used on BBC Radio 4's excellent "The Now Show" some years ago. I was in the audience for the recording of an episode and I was asked to complete a questionnaire - and this is the result. Let me know what you think.

This week marks the twenty third birthday of the free and open source Linux operating system. I have been using Linux since back in 1997, when it was very much the purview of IT professionals; it was lacking features, incompatible with a lot of hardware (getting online with Linux back in the day was an exercise in frustration – even very common hardware such as the then ubiquitous U.S Robotics 56K modem could be an utter bugger to get working).  I recall the hours I spent trying to get my Red Hat 5.1 Linux installation to do what it should do. Back then Linux was far more stable than Windows 98SE or Windows ME (oh the horror!) but conversely you had to be a real guru to get things done. I think this is where the negative image of Linux being unsuitable for the desktop came from. Nowadays things are far better – device support is superb – in many cases better than Windows and Linux now “just works”.  Very few people ever install a computer operating system from scratch – they buy a machine with a preinstalled OS and it stays on the machine for its life. Tinkerers like me do OS installs on a regular basis. It really is straightforward whether you are talking Windows 7, Ubuntu or Apple OS X. You just follow the onscreen prompts and it pretty much does it for you. Personally I think that Linux has made far more of an impact in ways that few people realise – Google, FaceBook, Gmail and 497 out of the 500 most powerful computers in the world all run a version of Linux; it would be true to say that the Internet runs on Linux. If you have a smartphone that is not made by Apple, or a flat screen television, a set top box, whether it be a Sky satellite TV receiver, Virgin cable box or a Freeview receiver, they all run embedded Linux – it is the only operating system that powers devices from a toaster to a supercomputer with everything in between. Android, as used in smart phones and tablets is actually Linux with a whizzy interface suitable for touch operation. You can see from this that whilst Windows has for decades dominated the computer desktop, it has had little influence on the infrastructure and underlying technology of the modern world. As society moves away from large desktop PC’s, (and to a lesser extent away from the traditional laptop) and relies for online connectivity from smart phones and tablet devices, the underlying operating system has less significance than the applications that users wish to run – indeed, many applications are nowadays run online in a browser window – sites such as FaceBook, Instagram, Flickr and Twitter don't require a locally installed application, just a browser with connection to the web. Google grasped this early on with their excellent Google Docs application suite and its close integration with both Gmail and Google Drive storage. The Google Chromebook range of computers embraces this – they are cheap, relatively low powered laptops that just run a the Chrome web browser and enable cloud based storage. I have heard many arguments saying that web based storage is no good without a web connection. Chromebooks are clever in this respect. I can give a recent example. Last Saturday I was in my favourite corner of The Robin Hood and Little John pub in Lion Road, Bexleyheath (by far the best pub in the area by a very long chalk). I was sending a few Emails and writing some content for the Maggot Sandwich on my Samsung Chromebook. The pub had an electrical fault, and the power cut on four separate occasions in the space of an hour or so; this had the unfortunate result of resetting the pubs’ Wifi router. Each time the power died, I lost my web connection. In the end I gave up and powered the device down. When I got home I switched it back on; it detected the Pewty Acres Wifi and connected automatically. It had cached all of the content I had created and it automagically uploaded it all into the cloud as if there had been no interruption at all. I lost nothing whatsoever. All very clever stuff. Google Chrome OS is another iteration of Linux, by the way – you cannot get away from it.

Not many local people are aware that the Erith / Belvedere area was once subject to one of the largest non – nuclear explosions in history You can see a contemporary account above - click for a larger view. Back in 1864 there were two commercial gunpowder factories – that of John Hall and Son and the Elterwater and Lowood Gunpowder company situated on the marsh land that at that time existed parallel to the River Thames between Slade Green in the East and Plumstead in the West. Both factories were physically isolated from residential areas, and many precautions were taken to prevent any kind of fire; workers had to wear felt slippers, and all equipment was made of wood, or lined with copper to prevent sparks; understandably smoking was strictly prohibited. At about 6.40 am on Saturday the first of October 1864 all these precautions proved worthless, when there was a massive explosion which totally destroyed both gunpowder factories, their store magazines and a couple of barges that were being loaded with barrels of gunpowder at the time. No contemporary account exists of exactly what caused the accident, as the eyewitnesses were instantly vapourised. The explosion was heard as far away as Cambridge, and the shock wave was so intense that people in central London were convinced that there had been an earthquake. One report at the time said that as rescuers hurried to the site they found a massive crater and absolutely no signs of any buildings were left “it was if the place had been swept clean by a broom”. Surprisingly there were only around twenty casualties, as though the explosion was huge, the remote location prevented greater loss of life. Witnesses said that a huge pall of black smoke, shaped like a mushroom hung in the air for an hour afterwards. Five of the victims were classed as “missing” as nothing remained of them to bury. Others whose bodies remained intact to some degree or other were taken to the Belvedere Hotel in Picardy Road, which was converted into a temporary morgue. The injured were taken to Guy’s Hospital at London Bridge, where some then succumbed to their injuries. The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times (the story made world headlines) also curiously reported that a man escaped serious injury, but did have “his right whisker blown off, and he has not been seen since”. The unknown reporter then comments “The damage done to property extends to a radius of over twenty miles; the effect upon domestic animals is said to have been very remarkable. Thousands of pets succumbed with fright – the mortality to Canaries being particularly great”. The army was called from the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich to assist with emergency repairs to the river wall, which had been destroyed to a length of three hundred yards from the epicentre of the blast. Fortunately the tide was low at the time, and the Royal Engineers assisted by civilian navvies and some volunteers barely managed to temporarily block the gap before the tide rose. Had they not, much of Lower Belvedere would have been flooded as later happened in 1953. Considering the size of the explosion – it is estimated that something between 45 and 100 tons of gunpowder were detonated, the long term damage was pretty light, though the superintendent of Crossness Sewage Works did put in a grumpy claim for £150 for plate glass that had been damaged by the blast – this sounds like some very creative accounting on his part, as the works was still being constructed at the time, and did not actually go into operation until nearly a year later.

Have you noticed how movies seem to appear on video on demand services like Netflix and iTunes almost as soon as they are released at the cinema? Indeed there have been cases where films have actually been released to video on demand before they have had a theatrical release. The general marketing format of a Hollywood movie is to release to cinemas, then video on demand, then sold or rented on DVD or Blu – Ray, then to satellite or cable like Sky / Virgin, then finally sold to conventional broadcast television. Now that very few Hollywood movies are shot on 35mm cine film, nearly everything is made digitally. This saves a fortune on film stock and duplication, and also enables much easier compositing of special effects – and also means that the cinema projectionist can just download the movie from the film company website. You would have thought that this would mean the big studios would be raking in even more cash than ever, but quite the reverse is actually the case. In recent years the main studios have concentrated on what they term “tent pole” movies – mega budget films filled with special effects, and generally aimed at teenagers. The release of these films at certain times of the year, such as Christmas and the Summer holiday period drives the studios’ entire schedule. In 2013 the major Hollywood studios took a terrible drubbing – they lost a total of eleven billion dollars; the reason for this was a series of mega budget “tentpole” films that were meant to be blockbusters, but which turned out to be turkeys. White House Down, The Lone Ranger, After Earth and a handful of other movies tanked at the box office, virtually bankrupting their producers. Studio bosses got so cautious and conservative in relation to the films that they commissioned in the light of these financial disasters that even when Steven Spielberg, the most respected and commercially successful film director of modern times pitched “Lincoln” at the studios he initially got turned down; the reasons being that the protagonist dies at the end, and as such there is no possibility of a sequel (!) Hollywood seems to be shying away from adult, thought provoking movies in favour of noisy movies featuring superheroes and franchises that offer seemingly endless sequels – such as the Fast and Furious series, or the Expendables. In 2012 Nineteen were based on some other property, eight were sequels, four were comic-book franchises, two were remakes, two were prequels, and seven were originals. Films such as “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” tend to be made by European studios such as Canal Plus with far smaller budgets, but arguably making far more interesting motion pictures. What is interesting is how conversely America is producing some excellent, very high quality shows, but they are for television rather than the big screen. The U.S remake of “The House of Cards” is a prime example – not only did stage and screen actor Kevin Spacey make the transition to the small screen, the entire run of the show was first broadcast via Netflix. This model seems to be becoming the norm – fewer adults want to sit in a cinema surrounded by noisy kids chatting with their mates during the film; with the advent of big screen televisions, HD and shortly 4K resolution there is no longer a compelling reason to get in the car or on the bus to go and see a movie, when nowadays you can actually get a superior experience in the comfort of your own home. Nowadays the content is the king, not the delivery method. I foresee that the studios will continue to make “blockbuster” type films – the type that tend to catch the headlines, but more attention will go to the creation of multi episode dramas with a high quality cast, script and production values – as the audience vote with their feet and stay watching paid for content on their own big screens. The art of cinema will not die – but the way it is delivered to their audience will change markedly.

Prospective new Blackfen micro publican Andy Wheeler of The Broken Drum dropped me a line this week; this is what he had to say:- Hi, my name is Andy Wheeler; I have submitted planning and licensing applications to open a micropub or a traditional ale house or micropub (as is more commonly known) in the Blackfen area, at 308 Westwood Lane, opposite the COOP entrance. There are many micropubs opening in and around the Kent area and the rest of the country, they mainly sell cask conditioned ale (real ale) and encourage conversation. A good definition of a micropub can be found by clicking here. I’m an active member of the Bexley CAMRA, the CAMpaign for Real Ale and I have found the best real ale being served is from micropubs, and I want to emulate that and the culture of micropubs. The London Borough of Bexley already has a micro pub called The Door Hinge in Welling run by Ray Hurley. He has been a great help and an inspiration to me. Another ale house has received planning approval in Crayford, and will be opening soon. My pub is to be called ‘The Broken Drum’. If you want to know why I chose that name then come and ask me when I opened, (someone people know or may have guessed). I propose to sell real ale, a small amount of wine and real cider, traditional locally resourced pub food (pork pies, scotch eggs, crisps and alike). I won’t be selling lager, alcohol pops or spirits. There will be no music, fruit machines or arcade games, and the use of mobile phones is discouraged. Excellent stuff; I will be covering The Broken Drum in the future - watch this space.

You may well have heard about a scam that has been going on for seemingly years. It astonishes me that it still seems to work, as by now you would have thought that enough people would be aware of it to deter the fraudsters, but for whatever reason, it would appear not. The scam involves a phone call from a person purporting to be working either for Microsoft, or a Microsoft affiliate company. The person tells the victim that their PC has been infected by a number of viruses, and that they can talk them through fixing the problem. If the victim is unconvinced, the scammer talks the victim through opening a Windows command line prompt and inputting a series of text commands. The commands produce a series of error messages and a long code string which the scammer tells the victim are proof that their PC is infected; in reality this is not the case – the codes produced are generated by the Windows activity monitor, and actually show perfectly benign computer operations that are normally run in the background, unbeknownst to the average user. After this the scammer tells the victim that they can take remote assistance of their PC to remove the “viruses”. If the victim gives control, the scammer opens a web browser session and asks the victim to input their Pay Pal details to pay for the virus cleaning service. If the victim does this, their account details are stolen and their account is later hoovered clean of cash. If the victim refuses, perhaps after realising the whole operation is a con, the scammer will delete personal files and configuration folders if the remote connection is not terminated by the victim. Over the last six or so year, thousands of people have been targeted by gangs posing as legitimate companies – usually working out of India or South Africa in “boiler room” operations. I would advise anyone receiving a phone call of this nature to just put the phone down – arguing with them is pointless, and they will just move onto a new victim. I had such a call a few years ago; I realised pretty much straight away exactly what was going on, and thought I would play dumb and go along with things for a laugh – also, the longer I tied up the scammer, the less time he would have to hit another innocent victim. After the person asked me to log into my computer and open a command prompt and input a series of Windows specific commands. When I answered that I was not getting the responses he described, he got increasingly annoyed, asking “what version of Windows are you using?” to which I replied “I am using Solaris 9 Unix on a Sun Ultra 60 workstation” he then realised he was the one who had been had – Sun (now Oracle) kit is generally only used by those in the IT trade, as it is very powerful, but not very user friendly. Not much of a victory in the greater scheme of things, but it made me feel better. You can read about the scam in more detail by clicking here.

The end video is something I mentioned a couple of weeks ago; it is a new TV commercial for the Royal British Legion entitled "Every Man Remembered". It was shot recently in a number of locations in Erith, Thamesmead and Upper Belvedere - see how many places you can identify. A very worthwhile cause, and I think the area can be proud to have been part of it.

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