Sunday, November 02, 2014

The Belvedere Splash Park.

The photo above was taken early on Saturday afternoon in the Christian Grey Hall in Albert Road, Upper Belvedere. It shows local residents setting out chairs in preparation for a somewhat heated public meeting that was called at very short notice; nearly ninety people turned up to make their opposition to the forced closure of the Belvedere Splash Park known to representatives of Bexley Council. More on this subject later in the update.

Following the victory against the kid illegally riding an unlicensed and uninsured motor bike that I detailed last week, I was of the opinion that we would have a period of peace and quiet in respect of scrotes riding dodgy bikes. Normally when one of the local low – lives gets nicked for an offence, the word quickly gets around their mates, and they keep their heads down for a couple of months. Not this time I am afraid to say. On Saturday evening I was waiting at a local bus stop. I had planned for a quick trip up to the Prince of Wales in Woolwich Road; word had got out that they were selling Red House Bitter from the Bexley Brewery, and I was keen to sample a pint. I waited for the 99 bus, minding my own business, when I saw a bike rocketing along the road at far in excess of the speed limit. This in itself was nothing unusual, but what got my attention was that neither the rider or the pillion passenger appeared to be wearing a helmet. As the bike rapidly approached, I noted that it was not some clunky low geared trail bike as the previous miscreant had been riding; this was a full – on sports bike along the lines of a Suzuki GSX-R 1000, although it was moving too quickly for me to be certain of the precise model. There were two youngsters on the bike – at a guess they were 14 or 15 years old, though both were wearing hooded tops and had bandannas over the lower halves of their faces. They shot past me so quickly that I was only able to get part of the registration plate details – I suspect that the bike was stolen; I have passed what information I did glean onto the Police. For obvious reasons I cannot describe much more of the encounter at present, but no doubt there will come a time when I can go into full detail. As if this was not enough, last Sunday, not long after I had published the last Maggot Sandwich update, I was talking to a friend on the footpath adjacent to Morrison’s car park in James Watt Way. A lad of maybe twelve or thirteen years old was riding an unlicensed “monkey bike” around the supermarket car park, and on occasion nearly colliding with moving vehicles. He too wore a hooded top and had his lower face obscured by a bandanna. It would seem that the recent arrest and charging of the youth who was caught on film when illegally riding a trail bike on the pavement in Manor Road may not have altered the behaviour of the local scumbags in the way we anticipated. Instead of the other illegal bike riders going to ground, they have started wearing disguises to try and beat the forces of law and order. I get the feeling that the couple riding the high powered sports bike will be getting some very close attention; such a very powerful and fast bike is a challenge for even a fully trained and experienced rider to control, let alone a couple of spotty nerks with more bravado than brain power. Unless they are stopped, it is quite likely that the two will end up losing control of the bike at high speed, and end up causing an accident that could prove fatal for themselves, and possibly innocent members of the public as well. As I have written before, if you see illegal activity of the type I have described, please don't put yourself into any danger, but if you can get a photo of the perpetrators and any vehicle that they are using, this would be extremely helpful in combatting local illegality. The photo should be sent either to the North End Safer Neighbourhood Police team, or to Erith Watch. Either way you would be helping the fight against crime.

I got passed the flyer you can see in the photo above – click on it for a larger view. These are currently being put through the letter boxes in roads around Erith and Belvedere. You may possibly have already received one yourself. What initially struck me was that the flyer breaks just about every rule that the Advertising Standards Authority have ever come up with. It makes wild and unsubstantiated claims, and presents superstition as supposed fact. I am reminded of the now retired stage magician and celebrated psychic debunker James Randi (who famously still offers one million US dollars to anyone who can successfully demonstrate genuine supernatural powers under laboratory conditions – a bounty that has gone unclaimed in over thirty years). The Mr. Jalloh of the leaflet states he can cure love and relationship problems, fertility, job and money issues and “to have good luck”. I am amazed he does not also say he can cure baldness, unblock drains, raise the dead and remove annoying driveway grease stains. The tragedy is that there are a lot of vulnerable and gullible people who will fall for this schtick. As soon as I see the words “psychic” and “black magic” the alarm bells start ringing. These people are all without exception either knowing frauds or suffering from serious psychological delusions. Mr Jalloh also makes the supreme error of using the term “Occult sciences” – an oxymoron of epic proportions. One definition of science is that it works whether you believe in it or not. Normally I don't comment on a person’s beliefs, as my personal libertarian philosophy of “if it works for you” takes precedence, but in this case local residents are in danger of being taken in by someone who is nothing other than a cynical con merchant out to deprive them of their hard earned cash. I could rant on about this, but I think you already get my point. Please feel free to comment below, or drop me a line to

Bexley Brewery has been doing very well; I have been trying to sample the draught versions of their two beers - Red House Bitter and BOB Pale Ale. The trouble has been that every pub I visit to sample the ales has sold out when I have got there, as I mentioned a little earlier. My frustration will soon pass though, as next Saturday, the Bexley Brewery is opening to the public - one will be able to go along and buy their ales from their retail shop. Both current brews will be available both in bottled form, and soon also in draught. I am fortunate that Pewty Acres is only a short walk to the brewery (I have briefly discussed with Head Brewer Cliff if we could fit an extra long garden hose between the brewery and my kitchen, and have a "pay by pint" beer meter installed - somehow I don't think this is going to happen unfortunately). Bexley Brewery will be open between 11am and 2pm on Saturday 8th November. The address of the brewery is:- 

Bexley Brewery Limited
18 Manford Industrial Estate
Manor Road

Following my analysis of the current situation in respect of the proposals for the redevelopment of the Erith Quarry site, I have been passed a very detailed document that a concerned local resident has submitted to the Anderson’s the property developer. The person asks a series of very well considered and detailed questions which cover concerns relating to drainage, planning permission, building standards, traffic levels, the possible return of the dreaded Japanese Knotweed, and also addresses specific concerns relating to Bexley Council and their duties of oversight. I quote the following from their letter; the writer begins with “I have a number of concerns to register, but would first wish to commend those members of your Project Team that manned the exhibition for their openness in trying to address the concerns that visitors to the exhibition raised with them”. They then go on to ask:- “I was told that your planning process would involve you making two separate although related applications to the Council. The area of the site comprising the school, apartments and, main access onto Fraser Road will be a detailed application, whereas the remainder (and larger part of the development) will be more of an outline application seeking general approval to the main development, but allowing the detail of future development to be dealt with under the Reserved Matters process. Will you confirm that this is actually the case? My main concern over the latter process is that it will leave the door open for alterations, particularly under the Planning Officers delegated powers - unless, of course, that the Councils’ Reserved Matters tied you into doing exactly as initially promised. Unfortunately, I doubt whether anyone will have any confidence that the Council will carry out their responsibilities in a manner that we (the public) should expect from their Local Authority. I say this given the Council’s tacit support for the development and its abysmal record when dealing with other developments in the north of the borough – referred to in my earlier note.  However, by way of a further example of my concern over the Council’s operations - what Planning Department, aware of the pre-existing traffic congestion issues at Northumberland Heath, would allow Tesco to open a shop without placing a planning condition on the development that there should be no deliveries to the store between the hours of 7am to 7pm? It beggars belief! Is it really just incompetence or, is it something else? While you may consider this has little to do with your development of the Quarry site, it is another example why the public have so little confidence in the Council carrying out is statutory duties to ensure that those in the immediate vicinity of the quarry do not suffer adversary as a result of its development. Indeed, if anything, the Council should ensure that the development of the Quarry will result in some planning gains for both the Council and the local residents”. It seems to me that the underlying insecurity is not so much in the form of antipathy to the developer, but concerns about the competence (or lack thereof) of Bexley Council in their duty to conduct proper oversight of the development  – a theme that crops up repeatedly in respect of any matter involving local bureaucracy, and you will also see in respect of Belvedere Splash Park, as you read on.

Work finally seems to be speeding up on the Crossrail terminus at Abbey Wood station. The temporary station building has now opened – it will be in use until around 2017, when all construction work on the new multi-level terminus building should be completed. You notice that I qualify the timing? Well that is because at present the development is lagging behind schedule. I have heard from a couple of sources that elements such as the new passenger foot bridges which were prefabricated off – site simply did not fit when they arrived. Because such work can only be carried out during the weekend rail closure periods, the remedial works have been much delayed.  The temporary ticket office also boasts passenger lifts to enable step – free access to both platforms for wheelchair and baby buggy users. We are starting to see a pattern here- high profile infrastructure projects like Crossrail, and places like Bexleyheath station (which had absolutely no need for a passenger lift – even local MP David Evennett agreed no lift was required) get passenger lifts, but then very popular and well used stations like Erith still have no lift, and no current likelihood of getting one. I raised the matter with the developers of Erith Quarry at the recent second public consultation day at Trinity School; I explained that it was in everybody’s interest to get step – free access at Erith station, as it would add value to their development (the main part of Erith Quarry will be targeted at second or third time house buyers, many of which may well have young families and the need for pushchair use; in addition, as the population continues to age, a greater number of wheelchair and mobility scooter users will live in the local area and will need to get around). It would seem that a station lift would be a win / win for the community as a whole. The chap (who was very senior, and I had better not mention his name at this point) agreed that the estimated cost of installing a simple lift system at the station would be something that subject to further investigation might well be something that they would look into. This might not count as a very big step forward, but when you take into account the flat refusal of Network Rail to carry out any accessibility modifications at Erith, it is a start in the right direction.  Local MP Teresa Pearce, who started the campaign for a lift at Erith Station is aware of the situation with the Quarry development; hopefully it can be brought to a mutual advantage.

The photo above shows Upper Belvedere paddling pool back shortly after it opened (though I cannot be absolutely specific as to the precise date the shot was taken - although it has to be between 1908 and 1914). This was the precursor to the current splash park, which certain elements of Bexley Council are keen to do away with. In another "then and now" photo comparison, you can see what the place looks like in the photo below. Click on either shot for a larger view. 

Local TV star backs the campaign to Save Belvedere Splash Park! Young actress Isabelle Doherty from the recent Sainsbury's Halloween TV advertisement (on the left of the photo, looking very despondent) is backing the campaign to preserve the vital local amenity for young residents and their parents. It helps that her Dad Ian is the driving force behind the whole "Save the Splash Park" enterprise. Since I last mentioned the Splash Park and the campaign to keep it open, I have come into quite a lot of new information, much of which makes me slightly more optimistic that the park can indeed be saved. Suffice to say much of what I have been told is currently in confidence, so I cannot divulge specific details. What I am able to say is that there are engineering details why the park has been shut – it was not just a ploy by the council to save a few pounds. The splash park uses water that is recycled and filtered before being stored in a large underground tank, which is located underneath the centre of the park  for re – use through the various jets and sprays around the facility. The tank has developed a series of faults which mean it needs to be dug up and removed for repair by a specialist contractor. The refurbishment work is estimated to cost in the region of £350 - £500K. Thus far Bexley Council have only approached one supplier for a quotation. The council don't want to pay this – and I have had off the record confirmation that certain key council members don’t want to spend a penny on the North of the borough, instead concentrating their efforts on the wealthier South, where the people are more likely to vote for the incumbents. All is not lost however, as a couple of alternative funding options may have become open. It also became apparent at yesterday's public meeting that the council had not taken out a warranty  or service contract on the splash park when it was originally commissioned. This, along with only getting one quotation for the repair work is contrary to all guidelines in respect of due diligence and proper oversight that I have ever encountered. That’s about as far as I can say for now; it seems that there is a huge amount of negotiation and horse trading going on behind closed doors, and the splash park may not be the dead duck that some thought. There is going to be a huge fight, and certain council members may be surprised at the resistance to the proposed closure - a Facebook campaign group has already been set up, and currently it is gaining new members at approximately a thousand people a day. Hopefully I will be able to report more next week.

During the week I got asked a question that really made me think. The question was “If price was no object, what three classic computers would you most like to own, and why?” After a bit of mulling, my response was:- 1) Xerox Alto – the most revolutionary computer since Colossus. More on it in a moment. 2) Xerox Star – the development of the Alto, and the first commercially available computer to use a graphical user interface. 3) NeXT Cube Colour – the great granddaddy of all modern Apple Macs, and the platform used by Sir Tim Berners – Lee to create the World Wide Web. So why did I pick the Xerox Alto as my most desired classic computer? Well, bear in mind that the Alto was never actually available for commercial purchase, and only around fifteen hundred Alto units were hand constructed by Xerox, mainly for internal use, though a handful made it into academia for study purposes, and one made it into the White House. The Alto was the first computer anywhere that had a GUI – a Graphical User Interface, that used the still common desktop paradigm. It had a mouse, used icons, it was able to talk to other Alto computers over an early form of Ethernet data networking. It had a "what you see is what you get" word processing program, it could send and receive Emails with attachments, it could output page set documents to a laser printer and had the world’s first high resolution bitmapped screen. All of this was available in 1973! It was at least fifteen years ahead of anything else in the world, but Xerox did not think there would be a market for such a computer, and eventually wound the project down. This business decision made Decca turning down the Beatles look small change in comparison. Later, the GUI computer project was restarted, and in the very early 1980’s Xerox released the Star – a high end workstation based on the earlier Alto concepts. Bexley Council had a couple of Star units in their typing pool for several years, but they were never really used for anything other than word processing – with their distinctive portrait oriented display screens. Their powerful networking and graphical features were pretty much not used. A couple of years ago, before Bexley Council moved out of their old offices in Bexleyheath Broadway, I tried to find out if any of the Xerox Star units were still being stored on site. I had heard rumours that at least one was stored in the basement nuclear fallout shelter. I had hoped to persuade the council to donate it to The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. Unfortunately my investigation drew a blank – nobody I contacted at the council knew anything about the computers, and they were actually not very interested. Many phone messages and Emails to them went without response, to the point where I got fed up and gave in. Anyone with a Xerox Star, or even more enticingly an Alto stuck in the corner of their basement (it would not have gone in the loft – it was so heavy it would have come through the ceiling) is sitting on not only a very important piece of computer history, but a small fortune. Collectors will pay substantial sums of money for rare and important computers – as was recently seen when an immaculate and completely original Apple 1 was purchased at auction for $905,0000. Personally I think this was a tad over-valued. The Apple 1 was not the first home computer by some way, it was not revolutionary and it was merely one of a number of kit type computers then available. The later fame of the brand has put quite an image boost over the machine that started it all for the Apple brand, and I will not be at all surprised if the next Apple 1 to go on auction breaks the million dollar mark. The ending video this week is  a short commercial for the Xerox Alto - though why they made a commercial for a product that never actually went on sale escapes me. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

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