Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bexley Brewery opens.

On Thursday lunchtime I was invited to visit the Bexley Brewery, which is located in unit 18 of the Manford Industrial Estate, off the Eastern end of Manor Road in Erith. It was the occasion of the brewing of their very first production beer - BOB Pale Ale. I could smell the sweet malty aroma that is associated with brewing as I neared the site; and when I got into the brewery it was a scene of intense activity. I realised that I was going to be a bit of a "fifth wheel" so I made my visit brief and took some photos. I will be returning in a week or so to see the transfer of the finished real ale into casks and bottles. The photo above shows a general view of the brewery.

The photo above (click on it for a larger view) shows the hot mash steeping in the mash tun. I was standing on the mezzanine floor that you can see in the top photo, and looking down. A large amount of steam from the grist in the mash tun made the photo quite difficult to take, as the 18-200mm Nikon zoom lens was steaming up!

Here you can see the pile of brand new, still wrapped aluminium beer casks, complete with the customised "Bexley Brewery" logo on them. They will be unwrapped and sterilised before they are ready for use.

Here is the man himself, owner and brewer Clifford Murphy - the man behind the Bexley Brewery, and a very nice chap too. I think he will become an integral part of the Erith business community, and the "go to" person for the supply of quality real ale in the local area. 

In the two weeks since the Erith Fun Day, the feedback that I have had regarding the event has been overwhelmingly positive; people have been saying that contrary to popular opinion, Erith really does have a strong sense of community and cohesion. The turnout at the event was good, helped by the pleasant weather, and even the excruciatingly awful live band covering classic punk tracks could not put visitors off. The band made up for a lack of musical ability (the “singer” could not hold a tune in a bucket) with enthusiasm, but there was a collective sigh of relief when they finished. I lost count of the number of people that I bumped into during the course of the afternoon; it seemed like everyone visited the Fun Day at some point, or that is how it felt to me anyway. It just goes to show what an important resource Erith Riverside Gardens are; it is the centrepiece of the town, and the only place in the London Borough of Bexley where the public can get access to the River Thames. Personally I visit them at least once a week when the weather is nice; the Riverside Gardens and the nearby Erith Pier are two unique places that give visitors and locals alike a chance to see the ever changing Thames and the constant river traffic.

Collecting old computers is becoming a serious hobby for some people. You only have to look at YouTube video channels like “Lazy Game Reviews” to see that there are people who take the whole thing very seriously. Collecting old computers takes a great deal of space; one of the things that discourages me from getting involved – Pewty Acres is very short on storage capacity, which is just as well, as otherwise I might well end up with all sorts of beige tat (if you recall my article on the discolouration of 80’s home computer cases that I wrote about a while ago). In the USA classic computer collecting has already hit the big time; in fact on the 22nd October, auction house Bonhams will be holding a sale in New York City, where a mint, working Apple 1 computer that is one of the fifty earliest models hand built by Apple guru Steve Wozniak will go up for sale. The computer is a bare mother board (users were expected to build their own cases and supply a monitor and tape recorder as well as a keyboard input device). The machine has a very low specification by modern standards – 4Kb RAM, a one megahertz 8 bit 6502 processor and a screen display of 280 x 192 characters, in upper case only. The machine is estimated to sell for approximately half a million dollars. Like art, rare old computers will sell for what people are prepared to pay for them. In 2013, another pristine, early Apple 1 sold at auction by Christies for $387,750. I think this is all a tad excessive; the Apple 1 was not the first personal computer, though it was a very early one. The first computer actively designed for use by hobbyists in the home was actually the Altair 8800 – the computer made famous by the film “War Games” – the first Hollywood movie about hacking.

News that Gravesend RNLI rescued a man who had somehow fallen off Erith Pier early last Saturday morning has been published by the News Shopper. Apparently passers by saw a man clinging to one of the pier legs just before 7am; he was rescued by the Gravesend life boat. If the tide had been ebbing or flowing strongly there is a good chance that the man would have been pulled from the pier leg and out into the main stream; the undertow would have quite probably sucked him under. All of this can happen in a few minutes. The excellent men and women of the RNLI did a sterling job; my concern is that even by very fast launch, the response times of a rescue vessel to the stretch of the Thames off Erith is still considerable. A vessel has to come from London Bridge or Gravesend, unless by happy chance it happens to be on patrol in the local vicinity. My comments over the last couple of weeks recommending that a RNLI sub station be set up in Erith have been further underlined by recent events. Unless a small Erith based crew are set up, sooner or later the rescue boat from Gravesend or London Bridge is going to take too long to arrive, and there will be a death. The history of river based deaths off Erith would support this. I strongly feel that the old, former Port of London Authority hut by the wooden causeway on the river front would be an ideal location for a small RNLI team. I think that it is only a matter of time before we have a fatality unless something concrete is done. What do you think? Leave a message below, or contact me directly at

The final cosmetic work to complete Bexley College has been under way this week; tons of topsoil have been delivered to the site, and have been laid ready to take grass. It has amazed me just how quickly the site has gone from a series of holes in the ground to a fully functioning building. The first students were able to enter the new building as of last Monday morning, though at this point this is only to enrol on a course. Actual classes will commence shortly. London Mayor Boris Johnson is due to open the new campus on the 7th October, and I have an invitation to the event. I am unsure of when Bexley Council will be clearing the piece of rat infested wasteland at the South end of the site; it really needs to be done soon, as otherwise the rats will migrate into the college building on the lookout for food. My eco friendly “Kentucky fried rat” solution that I outlined last week has not met with widespread approval, though for the life of me I cannot understand why?

Malcolm Knight of the Bexley is Bonkers blog has been keeping a close eye on the work being carried out on the rail lines between Abbey Wood and Plumstead, in preparation for the forthcoming Crossrail development. He notes something that I had suspected for a month or so – the work is running seriously behind schedule. According to the timeline on the Crossrail website, the new temporary station should be finished, and the new footbridge opened. Neither has been done – in fact the station building shows scant evidence of even having been started. I understand that there have been a number of problems – stormy weather making the footbridge sway around so much when it was due to be fitted that a decision was made to abandon the work on safety grounds. On top of this, Malcolm reports that much of the prefabricated components that have been delivered to site don't actually fit – something I thought was nigh impossible in the age of AutoCAD and computer controlled milling machines. I have to say that I have seen much bashing of bits of construction with large lump hammers when I do my twice daily commute past the site, which gives credence to the observations of others. Just when the temporary station will appear is still a mystery.

Following my piece on the hidden waiting room at Erith Station, I got the following comment from regular reader Mrs B:- Yes I do remember the waiting room on the London bound platform at Erith Station.  It became an eyesore and was vandalised quite often and quite a scary place.  I must say that when the station had its makeover some years ago, it was a bit of a relief to find it boarded over and cosmetically it was a good idea.  It is too much to hope that a nice, comfortable, warm waiting room would stay in that condition for very long once the mindless yobs had got their hands on it. The communication system needs improving at Erith Station - if you are up the end of the London bound platform waiting for a train, it is impossible to hear announcements, or to see the one illuminated indicator board which is down the other endAnd of course it is ridiculous in this day and age that there is no lift.  I am not sure what is directly underneath the hidden waiting room - but would there be access for a lift shaft there? Some very valid points, though I think the waiting room concept could do with being revisited - possibly with some very visible CCTV to discourage the yobs and vandals? What do you think?

Unfortunately I was unable to get down to Erith Pier to see the tall ships when they visited London; a bit of a flap at work meant my time was taken up elsewhere. On Friday I had an Email out of the blue from blog reader Rosemary Thomas, who wrote:- "I took a couple of photos from my flat in Erith of the flotilla of Tall ships on Tuesday. I am unsure if you managed to get to see them yourself so please use my photos in your weekly blog if you so desire. I have to say I haven't seen so many people on the pier since the Olympic Flame". Thanks ever so much for thinking of the Maggot Sandwich and forwarding the photos above - click on either of them for a larger view.
Much has been written in both the local and regional press about the plans for various new river crossings over the Thames; the Gallions Reach, Lower Belvedere and possible Silvertown bridges. Depending on the point of view of the author, the new river crossings are either going to be a very strong economic stimulus for the entire region, or a massive threat to the environment.  One thing that seems to be clear is that the bridges will almost certainly follow the toll model as used by the existing Dartford River Crossing. It is furthermore mooted that the Blackwall tunnel will start charging tolls at some point in the future. I think that in order to finance the crossings something of this nature is pretty much inevitable. Once again I can see the law of unintended consequences coming into play; now that vehicle excise disks are being phased out to be replaced by an automated vehicle number plate recognition system. The Police would be able to instantly check the licensing database to confirm that a vehicle was properly covered. The problem is that there are already a large number of vehicles on Britain’s roads which are using cloned registration plates. If, as is mooted, the new river crossing tolls will also use automatic number plate recognition technology, it may well result in an upsurge in plate cloning; traders who cross the river on a regular basis may well find the temptation too much. The trouble with recognition systems is that they shift the burden of proof to the accused – you have to actively prove that your car was not in the area where the transgression took place, as the assumption will be that no cloning had taken place. This is a disturbing shift; previously other factors were also taken into account, but whether this will be the case in the future is currently unclear. On another tack, I am still convinced that a relatively shallow tunnel under the Thames between Rainham in Essex and Lower Belvedere in Kent would be a far superior engineering and transportation technology solution than a conventional bridge. You may recall that I wrote at some length about it here.

I work for a large multinational company; staff were recently asked to bring in their passports as it is now a legal requirement that companies can legally confirm the identity of their staff – apparently the UK Border Agency is upping the ante and insisting that companies can verify the identity of their employees. In my case this was a bit of a problem, as I don't have a passport. I contacted the HR team carrying out the checks and asked what other forms of identification were accepted; there was much ooing and umming and scratching of heads before I got two different answers from three different people. It would seem that this issue will be coming up all over the country as companies struggle to comply with the law. I am still waiting to get a definitive answer in respect of other documentation that can be used to satisfy the UK Border Agency

There has been much press and television coverage of the hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War. Understandably much of this has focused on the huge loss of life and the virtual elimination of a whole generation of young men. What has had almost no coverage is the positive things that came out of the first truly modern war. Sadly, large scale conflict seems to have a stimulus to science and technology – and not just in finding new and yet more devastating ways to kill people. A chap called Doctor Harold Gillies – a New Zealand born surgeon, who earned the title of “The father of plastic surgery” pioneered reconstructive surgery on wounded soldiers who had been injured in the trenches, and who had a remarkable local connection. Harold Gillies initially opened a small unit in the Cambridge Hospital at Aldershot which had beds for two hundred injured men. He pioneered the use of skin grafting – a technique he adapted from one first used by professor Hippolyte – Morestin in France, he employed dental reconstruction techniques invented by Charles Valadier, coupled with the use of X-Rays, and photographs to detail the injuries of his patients; he was also fastidious about cleanliness and the use of antiseptics (a very important point, as antibiotics were yet to be discovered, and deaths from sepsis or blood poisoning were still common). Gillies also came up with the simple but effective policy of ensuring that all patients were attached to a luggage label listing their injuries, and where the injured soldier needed to be sent for treatment – many of the men were unable to speak through injury, or otherwise rendered unconscious. Once the Battle of the Somme took place, the two hundred bed unit in Aldershot was drastically overcrowded – at one point there were ten patients for every bed. A new home needed to be found for the plastic surgery unit, and one was found at Queen’s Hospital at Sidcup (what is nowadays Queen Mary’s).  The unit took up much of the hospital, and it was conveniently close to the Royal Artillery barracks at Woolwich, where a small number of patients were located during their convalescence. Doctor Gillies was an interesting man – on top of being a very early pioneer of plastic surgery, he was a great golfer, a professional standard violin player, rowed in a winning team for Cambridge University in the boat race, and created a comedic alter – ego called Doctor Scroggy which he used to entertain his patients. He would walk around the wards of Queen’s Hospital at night, dispensing champagne and oysters to the injured soldiers, despite the strict ban on alcohol within the hospital grounds. He encouraged the recovering men to perform theatrical productions and shorter skits, which often involved the recuperating soldiers dressing in drag. Gillies was aware of the emotional as well as physical trauma he was treating – and his solution was to make recovery fun. His influence was such that later, in the Second World War, he was able to rebuild the burned faces and hands of airmen, alongside his better known cousin, Archibald Mcindoe, whose disfigured pilot patients later formed The Guinea Pig Club. Harold Gillies also performed the first gender reassignment operations, and became a leader in the field of sex change surgery. Between the 14th of October 2014 and the 14th February 2015 there will be an exhibition on the life and extraordinary work of Dr. Harold Gillies at the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons in London WC2. He was ahead of his time in so many ways, and much of his work first undertaken at Sidcup has been used as the foundation for modern reconstructive surgery.

Another link with the local area and the First World War has come via transport specialist Dana Whiffen who writes:- "B2737-B-Type Bus honours those transport workers that lost their lives during the 1st World War. A bus will be en route to France as part of the museum’s centenary programme later this month. At the outbreak of the war in August 1914, buses were commandeered for the war effort. Many mechanics and drivers were recruited along with their vehicles. The resulting staff shortages meant women were employed for the first time as bus conductors to keep the city moving. During the war over 1,000 LGOC buses, one third of their fleet, were sent to the front. Most served in France or Belgium but some went as far as Greece.  The buses were fitted with protective boarding and painted khaki. Most were used to transport troops to and from the front lines. Each vehicle could carry 24 soldiers and their equipment, compared to 34 seated passengers in London. The buses also had other uses, some were converted into lorries, others served as ambulances or even pigeon lofts. After the war buses that could be repaired returned to the streets of London. The B2737 began service in January 1914 and served route 9 between Barnes and Liverpool Street. B-Type buses also ran around the Erith and surrounding areas there are photos of them running into Eltham from central London. When war broke out B2737 along with many others were commandeered by the war department. B2737 was luck enough to return to London service after the war many did not as they were destroyed.. Then B2737, served as a Traffic Emergency bus – ‘no frills’ solution to relieving pressure on congested routes. In 1922 it was finally sold to the National Omnibus & Transport Company for use outside London. Few buses have survived the hundred years to tell their tale. The B2737 has been restored using original parts from all over the world, some coming from as far afield as Australia. It will make its emotional journey to both Belgium and France later this month". 

Wherever you look at the moment you will see coverage of Smart Watches, principally the Apple Watch. For some reason Apple always get blanket coverage in the UK press whenever event the most trivial of new products is launched. I have a theory regarding this; even when Apple were in the doldrums both technically and financially, with cheaper Windows PC’s taking much of their market share in the mid 1990’s to the mid 2000’s, one sector stayed loyal to the Mac – the print and publishing industry. Historically this has always meant that journalists tend to be very well disposed to Apple kit. They definitely seem to have a pronounced unconscious bias towards Apple when writing about technical matters. To anyone considering a smart watch from any supplier, I would urge you to wait; they have terrible power consumption problems (you can only expect around 12 – 14 hours between charges), are currently very limited in their functionality, and new, improved models will inevitably be launched  within a few months – look at what happened when the first iPad was released – the public went loopy for it, only to have the iPad 2 released scant months later. The same will happen with smart watches. Personally I think that they are a solution looking for a problem, but it is entirely possible that someone may develop a “killer app” that changes this perception. In the meantime I suspect that many may stump up for one, only to be bitterly disappointed when the reality fails to live up to the hype.

The evenings are now noticeably drawing in and it is pretty much dark by 8pm. The temperature is still pretty reasonable, but this won’t be the case for very much longer. There comes a time in the year where I reach what I like to call the “Tweed Retirement Point (TRP)” this is when it becomes too cold to just wear a tweed sports jacket when out and about. This is my personal signifier for the true onset of winter, and it does tend to be somewhat variable. I think that the annual retrieving of heavier overcoats from the wardrobe is one of the things I least look forward to in the course of the annual cycle, but one that unfortunately cannot be avoided, just like the first appearance of a pale and scrawny, bare chested youth seems to signify the beginning of spring in Erith. It won't be very long before the trouble makers are happily ensconced back in their darkened and noxiously smelly bedrooms, playing their X-Boxes and awaiting the Spring.

It has been a long time since I featured any dark humour on the blog, so here is a video featuring a number of popular cartoon characters from the 1980's and what they are up to now, years after they lost their popularity and high incomes. See what you think and please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

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