Sunday, November 09, 2014

It takes a tsunami to save a splash.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously once said “There is no such thing as society”. From practical recent experience I would beg to differ. You may recall that I recently wrote at some length about Erith Fun Day, when hundreds of local residents turned up in the Erith Riverside Gardens for a day socialising and visiting the various stalls and sideshows that were on offer. The event was a great success, and I hope that it will be repeated next year. The second incident that convinced me that we do have a strong local “society” happened last Saturday when nearly ninety local people packed The Christian Grey Hall in Albert Road, Upper Belvedere to take part in a heated and vociferous protest against the Council’s closure of the Belvedere Splash Park in Woolwich Road. The Facebook campaign in support of keeping the Splash Park open had only begun three days previously, yet within that period, nearly a thousand people a day had expressed support for the venture, and a substantial number “put their money where their mouth was” to turn up at the hastily convened public meeting. It is still too early to say exactly how things will pan out – it is abundantly clear that the mass community action has caught Bexley Council on the back foot; they had not expected the furore that erupted - at the time of writing, the Facebook campaign to Save Belvedere Splash Park has 4573 members, with more joining all of the time. Feelings on the subject are running high – this is a mixture of a number of associated elements. Firstly the Splash Park itself is something that has been very well used by parents with children – not just locally – I know of people who have come from as far as Eltham, Chislehurst and Dartford to use the very popular summer facility. There is also a contributory factor that many Erith, Belvedere and Abbey Wood locals feel disenfranchised with the current administration running Bexley Council. The North of the London Borough of Bexley has traditionally been where heavy industry, the services and warehousing has been undertaken – historically this was due to the location of the River Thames, which was a primary source of communication. The South of the borough was wealthier, with many of the factory owners and industrialists needing to be fairly close to their business empires without living cheek – by jowl with their employees. One exception to this was the community in Upper Belvedere, which was extremely upper middle class in Victorian Times. Nevertheless history has dictated that there has always been an economic and social divide within the London Borough of Bexley – the borough gets wealthier the further South one travels – one could almost liken it to a microcosm of the entire United Kingdom I suppose. The problem that currently vexes the Splash Park protesters is that a majority of the Bexley councillors don't really give a stuff about what happens in the North, since their mandate comes from voters in the South. The councillors feel that there are no votes to be won (or more importantly in the circumstances, no votes to be lost) in the North. They therefore invest little if any time, effort or attention in those areas. This may well be one of the reasons that the Danson Park splash park has not had the same closure threats – the councillors care about the wealthy voters in Danson, and want to keep them on side so that they can continue with their snouts in the trough. I must admit that back in time, when I first started to read Malcolm Knight’s “Bexley is Bonkers” blog, I did initially wonder if he was making up stories, or exaggerating for effect; with several years’ experience since, I can say for certain than Malcolm is straight on the money, and scrupulous in checking out the provenance and accuracy of his information. incidentally, the blog title this week - "it takes a tsunami to save a splash" is a direct quote from Malcolm Knight - I think he should have had a very successful career in advertising, as it is spot on. The next public meeting of the “Save Belvedere Splash Park” campaign will be held on Tuesday November the 11th at 7.30pm in the conservatory of the Royal Standard pub in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere. I will be in attendance as a local community journalist. Do come over and say “hello” if you happen to be in the area at the time. I know that Malcolm Knight is rather pessimistic in respect of the outcome of the protests, but personally I think that there is much that can be done, and I for one do not think that the Splash Park closure is a “done deal”. This story is moving very quickly indeed, and the local press have been keen to report on it. If you have any thoughts or feedback, please drop me a line to

Local resident Christine sent me the following story, which I think you may well find of interest. "Park Crescent (where I live) has a couple of claims to fame. I was walking up the road to the post box on 31st October, and noticed that there was a crowd on the front garden of No 118 including a photographer and then the Mayor's car drew up and he entered. On the wall by the front door was a small black cloth hanging, so I assumed the Mayor was there for some sort of "unveiling". I hurried home and went on the internet, and found the following:- Quote from Bexley Civic Society's webpage: A “Plaque” to commemorate James Leasor will be unveiled at his former home 118 Park Crescent Erith on Friday 31st October 2014 at 4:00pm. He was born 20 December 1923, the son of Richard, a teacher at Erith Grammar School and went on to become a well known Journalist and Thriller Writer. The ceremony will be performed by the Mayor, Councillor Howard Marriner. I then Googled James Leasor, and learnt that he had also been involved with many old famous films (starring people like David Niven etc). In addition, just a few doors away lives the ex-regimental Black Watch bagpiper Chic Mackie (you might well know him already, of course, as he played the bagpipes at the Erith Fun Day at the unveiling of the Alexander Selkirk signpost). I gather from Chic's wife that he will be playing "When duty calls" at the Albert Hall on 8th November, which is apparently going to be televised live". Thanks Christine - I rely on information from local sources such as yourself. The blog does not write itself; whilst the physical typing is always done by me, I do rely on sources of stories such as this. 

Back on the 19th October I posed a question relating to the demise of City Scrap – the once dominant local scrap collector dealer company that dramatically imploded in early June year after it was raided by the both the Police and the Benefits Agency. The company owners were charged with a total of 45 offences, including making a false statement to obtain insurance, perverting the course of justice and making a false statement to obtain a scrap metal licence. Police also seized an illegal can of CS tear gas during the raid. Following this, City Scrap were formally wound up and now no longer exist. I pondered why no other scrap company had emerged to fill the void left by the once dominant City Scrap, who I guesstimate had something like 85% of the scrap collecting resources in the Borough. I had a couple of Emails from readers on the subject, and have been taking some time to further research the background. It would appear that the reasons that no major replacement organisation has emerged to fill the void left by City Scrap are various and complex. Firstly, the raid on City Scrap was the culmination of many months investigation by the Waste and Metal Theft Taskforce, a dedicated multi-disciplinary unit based in Bexley. The task force have been raiding scrap dealers all round London – in some cases confiscating stock from the dodgy ones, and in other cases offering advice to the honest ones. There has been a crackdown on cash payments to people walking in off the street – all transactions are supposed to be by bank transfer between legally registered traders. Of course “under the counter” deals are still going on, but the scope for criminality has been narrowed by quite some margin, making the trade easier for honest traders to operate, albeit at a greater operating cost. On top of this, the market for scrap metal has dropped markedly in the last twelve months; prices have fallen – last year dry, bright copper wire has fallen from £7.40 a kilo to £4.20 a kilo – still a sizeable sum, but not nearly as attractive as it was. The reason for the drop is down to a drop in growth in China; their annual growth had been around ten percent per annum, but this has dropped in the last year to seven point five percent – still a huge amount in absolute terms, but more than enough to make a substantial dent in the international metal markets. On top of this, new, easy to mine metal deposits have been discovered in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa, making the recycling of existing metal waste less financially attractive. The bottom line is that the primary reason no new company has stepped in to fill the gap left by City Scrap is that there is just not enough money in it at present to make it worthwhile. If the international commodity markets pick up, this may well change.       

If you have a newly issued VISA debit card, you have reason to be concerned. Due to errors in the way that foreign currency transactions are authorised, a serious security flaw has been discovered. According to researchers at Newcastle University, the card system developed by VISA for use in the United Kingdom fails to recognise transactions made in non-UK foreign currencies and can therefore be tricked into approving any transaction up to £999,999.99. What’s more, because the cards allow for contactless transactions, wherein consumers need only to have the card in the vicinity of a reader without swiping it, a thief carrying a card reader designed to read a card that’s stored in a wallet or purse could conduct fraudulent transactions without the victim ever removing their card. Since the transaction is done offline without going through a retailer’s point-of-sale (POS) system, no other security checks are done. “With just a mobile phone we created a POS terminal that could read a card through a wallet,” Martin Emms, lead researcher of the project that uncovered the flaw, noted in a statement about the findings. “All the checks are carried out on the card rather than the terminal so at the point of transaction, there is nothing to raise suspicions. By pre-setting the amount you want to transfer, you can bump your mobile phone against someone’s pocket or swipe your phone over a wallet left on a table and approve a transaction.” In tests the researchers conducted, transactions took less than a second to be approved. The “Chip and Pin” system in the UK limits the maximum value for a contactless transaction to £20, requiring a PIN to be entered on the terminal for anything more than this amount, but the researchers found that the system doesn't recognise foreign currency transactions and therefore doesn't require a PIN for these. “This lends itself to multiple attackers across the world collecting small transactions of perhaps €200 at a time for a central rogue merchant who could be located anywhere in the world,” Emms notes. “This previously undocumented flaw around foreign currency, combined with the lack of point of sale terminal authentication and the ease of skimming contactless credit cards, makes the system more vulnerable to high-value attacks.” This one of the reasons why I don't have a “bonk and pay” debit card – the security around them has been suspect for some time, as I have described in the past; this is the first serious “real world” exploit that I have encountered that actually makes use of a known vulnerability. Any authentication token such as a smart card or smart phone application which interacts with a point of sale terminal will at some point in the transaction broadcast packets of data – this is the point at which any vulnerabilities in encryption or verification are most likely to occur.  All it takes is a crook with a smartphone app, and a small and easily purchased on EBay card reader to intercept this transaction for you suddenly find yourself a couple of hundred Euros lighter with no idea why. It is also likely that the bank would refuse to refund the loss, as they would say that you must have been present and authorised it as the amount exceeded the point where a PIN authorisation was required. The fact that this vulnerability is known would probably not sway the bank; the fact that PIN numbers are in place to transfer the burden of proof from the banks to the customers is little known outside of information security circles. PIN numbers provide very little in the way of security, but do enable the banks to side – swipe many genuine fraud claims.

The following press release was sent to me by Slade Green Town Forum:- Balmoral Land is bringing forward plans to set up 350 high quality new homes.  The plans are currently at the outline planning stage but would involve the regeneration of the vacant site off Richmer Road that once housed the LINPAC Packaging factory and Boots distribution depot. The proposal will deliver a range of new homes from one bedroom apartments to four bedroom family houses. Balmoral Land intends to submit an outline planning application for the development site to Bexley Council later this year. Before the application is submitted, Balmoral Land has invited members of the public and stakeholder groups to view the plans at a public exhibition. Richard Lewis, development director south at Balmoral Land, said: “Like much of London, Slade Green’s economy has changed over recent years. Demand for traditional industrial sites has declined and left a number of large vacant sites with no realistic chance of being occupied by industry. At the same time the need for new housing in the area has increased considerably as house prices have risen and people continue to move to the area to live.  Our site is well positioned to help meet the housing need in Slade Green. “It is currently unused and unattractive and our plans will transform the vacant site into a new high-quality housing development. Alongside a range of new homes, our proposals include new open areas, on-site parking and attractive landscaping.  “We're proposing a well-designed scheme that will make a positive contribution to Slade Green’s future and we're excited about what the site has to offer.”  Mr Lewis continued: “We always involve the local community in the planning of our new developments.  We would encourage Slade Green residents to visit our public exhibition to give us their comments on our outline proposals and ask questions directly to the development project team. Local feedback is invaluable to us.” The public exhibition took place on November 6 between 3pm and 8pm at the new Slade Green and Howbury Community Centre and Library, Chrome Road, Erith. The outline proposals were on display at the exhibition and all of the comments on the plans will be used by the development team to further inform the proposed development. More on this new housing development over the next couple of weeks - there is much to be considered.

The photo above was taken by me on Friday evening, just as it was getting dark; it shows a rainbow over Coldharbour Lane in Rainham, Essex, directly on the opposite side of the River Thames to Erith. I hope to go over to Rainham soon to get a series of photographs of Erith from the other side of the river. It will be interesting to see what the results turn out to be like. Watch this space.

Microsoft marketing executives must be livid. During the recent American mid – term elections, the team of political journalists and commentators that news station CNN employed to give minute by minute coverage of the election results as they came in from around the country. Microsoft had supplied each presenter with a shiny new Surface 3 laptop / tablet computer, and these were prominently displayed on the desk in front of the journalists. All fine and dandy then – Microsoft had paid a wad of cash to CNN in order to get the exposure on what was going to be the most watched American political event of the year. Unfortunately eagle – eyed viewers soon realised that all was not at all what it seemed. The Microsoft Surface computers were actually being used as impromptu stands for the presenters own Apple iPads! The product placement planned by Microsoft ended up being a real embarrassment for them – more so when one considers that a fat product placement fee would have changed hands. The intense rivalry between Microsoft and Apple is well known, and the placement of iPads in front of Surface machines will be seen as a direct slap in the face for Microsoft. To be honest, if I saw a Microsoft Surface computer on any television programme, I would straight off wonder whether it was a piece of product placement, as one normally never sees the devices. It is ironic, as the Surface 3 is actually a nice piece of kit, if rather overpriced. The trouble is that very few people have shown any interest in it – probably as the Surface version one and two were pretty poor for a number of reasons (high power consumption and running uncomfortably hot so you could not keep it on your lap were amongst them). Microsoft have resolved these shortcomings in the third incarnation of the Surface, but the PC buying public are just not interested. It is a familiar tale for the technology giant – the Xbox One launched in a great flurry of publicity, and a lot of units got shifted, but after a few months, gamers discovered that the Xbox One could not render certain games in full high definition as it lacked sufficient graphics processing power. As soon as this information leaked out, sales of the console dropped, and those of the rival Sony PlayStation 4 shot ahead, where they remain to this day. Microsoft does not have much luck when it comes to hardware, back in 2006 they launched the Zune range of portable music players as a rival to Apple’s iPod. The Zune range were capable enough devices, but failed to catch the public imagination. It did not help that early models had a serious firmware bug that meant that at midnight on December 31, 2008, many first generation Zune 30 models froze. Microsoft stated that the problem was caused by the internal clock driver written by Freescale and the way the device handles a leap year. It automatically fixed itself 24 hours later, but an intermediate "fix", for those who did not wish to wait, was to drain the device's battery and then recharge after 12 noon GMT on January 1, 2009. This issue hurt the credibility of the Zune, and even though Microsoft updated and improved the Zune range a total of four times, they ended up throwing in the towel in October 2011, saying that they were discontinuing both the hardware and the Zune online media store. The Zune never managed to get into the top five most popular portable media players in the USA. The market had moved away from stand – alone music players and towards players embedded in mobile phones, so the discontinuation made sense. Many consider the behemoth that is Microsoft to be universally successful – the truth is that they have at least as many misses as hits, but when they do have hits, they are so successful that it more than compensates for the failures.

A reader sent me details of a fascinating story that until now I had been completely unaware of. Nearly sixty years ago, one of the most widely witnessed and studied UFO sightings of the 1950’s occurred locally. On the 17th of July 1955 at around midday an incident was reported in King Harold's Way between Upper Belvedere and Bexleyheath; a 30-foot-wide saucer-shaped object was seen to hover a few feet above a street in broad daylight by local resident Margaret Fry and her doctor on a very hot cloudless day. Car engines located nearby were said to have cut out. It was seen by around thirty people; the craft made a humming noise and landed at the junction of Ashbourne Road and Whitfield Road. It hovered over Bedonwell Primary School (now Bedonwell Junior School) for around one minute. It finally shot off into the sky. Another UFO had allegedly landed a few streets away at the same time. A similar object had been seen in Bexleyheath in 1952, and had been reported in the popular press of the time. Surprisingly for such an incident, it has not received the coverage of other sightings such as the famous multiple sighting at Rendlesham Forest in December 1980. I can note that both incidents occurred at times of high cold war paranoia, which may possibly have contributed to misinterpretation of events. I must say that I have personally seen an unidentified flying object in bright daylight – I am not saying that it was of extra-terrestrial origin, just that it was flying and did not resemble any kind of craft I had seen before. It all happened in the spring of 1994; I was walking along Picardy Road in Upper Belvedere, heading towards Belvedere Station. I had just passed Venmead Court when I saw something in the sky; I looked up and saw an object that initially I took to be a dark grey hot air balloon. Upon closer examination, I soon realised that the object was far bigger than a balloon and higher up in the sky, and was actually triangular shaped. It was flying slowly Northward, towards London City Airport. The object was visible to me for over ten minutes – long enough for me to reach the station and point out the object to others. It turned out that hundreds of people in the area saw the craft, and many reports were made – the story made the London Evening Standard. I am now of the opinion that the UFO may possibly have been an American B2 “Spirit” Stealth Bomber flying to RAF Lakenheath from a training mission – I doubt that I will ever know for sure. If you have a story to tell, Email me at

The photo above was taken by be yesterday morning; it shows the first opening of the Bexley Brewery for customer off - sales. The brewery is licenced for both trade sales to pubs, clubs and restaurants, and also for retail sales to the general public. I got to the brewery a few minutes after the 11am opening time, and fully expected to be the first customer - but as you can see there was already a small queue of customers waiting to be served. The place is proving very popular, just as I had hoped.

The end video this week is linked to the story about the Bexley Brewery; the short documentary features the recently opened "The Penny Farthing" micro pub in Crayford, that I have featured in the past. I have yet to visit the place, though I have to say that it does look very inviting indeed. The place is located a 3, Waterside, Crayford, right next to the Crayford Tandoori Restaurant. This excellent location with an adjacent curry house for a post pint meal is great; the only problem is that when the Crayford Tandoori was last checked by the health inspectors from Bexley Council back in June of this year, the place only scored a one out of a possible five stars on the "Scores on the Doors" food hygiene rating system. It really needs to drastically improve if it is going to attract discerning customers - just the sort of people who would visit the Penny Farthing next door. Anyway, give the video a watch and do let me know what you think. Leave a message below, or alternatively Email me at

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