Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Maggoty Man.

The photos above were taken on a very wet and windy Tuesday evening in the conservatory at the rear of the Royal Standard pub in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere. The second public meeting of the Save Belvedere Splash Park campaign was held. Nearly thirty people crowded into the conservatory. The main business of the evening was to elect a committee to actually run the protest campaign. Not long after I arrived at the venue accompanied by my camera, a lady came up to me and asked “Are you the maggoty man?” which left me slightly nonplussed. I knew what she meant, and wondered if she had also got it mixed up with The Matt Smith version of The Doctor, who was occasionally referred to as “the raggedy man”. I confirmed I was that person, which seemed to please her. I have been giving some thought to the whole terminology of online journals, and what the names imply. Personally I am forming the opinion that the term “blogger” may no longer be appropriate for the likes of Malcolm Knight, Darryl Chamberlain,  and indeed myself. In my opinion, blogging seems to denote the occasional postings of missives in a casual and inconsistent manner – a quick whinge about something to get it off your chest and into the world, whether the world is interested or not. Long term, regular postings in a consistent format that involves a considerable investment of time and effort, as well as a degree of subject research and accountability to the readership would seem to me to be more than mere blogging. I would suggest that a more suitable term should be "community journalism". What do you think? Does it sound pompous and self-serving, or do I have a  point? I would solicit your opinions and suggestions. Answers on a postcard please, or better still, leave a comment below, or Email me at

As I have commented recently, it does seem that the actions of Bexley Council Environmental Health Department are having a very positive effect. The “Scores on the Doors” ratings of many local food outlets have been steadily improving over the last few months. It has just come to my attention that traditional London Pie and Mash shop – Miller’s in Albert Road, Upper Belvedere has been awarded a five out of five star rating for food hygiene and kitchen cleanliness. This is excellent news; I know several friends who eat there on occasion, and the reports have always been that the pie and mash sold is of exceptionally high quality. In this time of fried chicken and dodgy mass produced burgers it is good to see that certain traditions are not about to die off. One friend has two primary school age daughters – they prefer pie and mash to McDonald’s or Burger King, and I know that Miller’s is their destination of choice. On a less salubrious note, I am pleased to see that the application made by African restaurant K’s Spice in Pier Road, Erith to open from 9am until 1.30 am the next morning, seven days a week has been rejected by Bexley Council planning department. The restaurant is located under a row of low – rise flats, many of which are occupied by people with small children. The level of noise and disruption that such long opening hours would cause are simply not acceptable. As if this was not enough, even though many “Scores on the Doors” ratings in the area are improving, as already mentioned, the K’s Spice has consistently had an unacceptable one star out of five for the last three inspections. Personally I think that the place should be compulsorily closed down until such time as it was able to meet or exceed a three out of five star rating – the level that is generally accepted as the minimum acceptable score. What do you think? 

There is another tech birthday this week, but it is not thirty years old as so many seem to have been over this year. This piece of technology celebrates its tenth birthday – the Firefox web browser. If you have been around for a while, you will no doubt record the 1990’s when the web first started to make an appearance. I can recall the heady days of 1996 and browsing the infant web on a PC running Windows 95 and Internet Explorer 3 over a corporate leased line. Even then, it was not a pleasant experience. Private users who were fortunate to have  dial up internet access preferred the Netscape Navigator web browser, which offered a more complete, if somewhat slow and buggy experience. As has been well documented elsewhere, back at this time web browsers were sold in boxes at computer stores. Netscape Navigator was around £35 in PC World – at this time web download speeds were far too slow to download an application, which might be several hundred megabytes in size. Netscape Corporation made a fortune, and for a couple of years they utterly dominated the web browser market. Microsoft came late to the web, but when they did they were ruthless. Microsoft immediately broke the near Netscape monopoly by bundling their rival browser called Internet Explorer free with new Windows PC’s, and by giving away Internet Explorer CD’s on the front of popular computer magazines at the time. Overnight the Netscape market share plummeted, their market capitalisation crumbled, and the company was all but ruined. For the next roughly seven years, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer had a virtual monopoly on the web browser market. By the time they had released version six, so confident that the opposition had been crushed that Microsoft publicly announced that they were not going to release a further version, as there was nothing left to do with the product Apple mac users were even further unsupported in that the Mac version of Internet Explorer was never developed past version 5. This stunning piece of arrogance soon came back to bite them squarely on the bottom. The Mozilla Firefox project was created by Dave Hyatt and Blake Ross as an experimental branch of the Mozilla browser – an early open source update of the by then abandoned Netscape Navigator software suite, which consisted of a web browser, an Email client, an Internet Relay Chat tool and a basic “what you see is what you get” web page authoring tool. Hyatt and Ross felt that the Mozilla browser was too large, complex and bloated – very few people really wanted or used anything except the web browser element of the suite; instead they decided to branch out on their own in order to create a much lighter, faster and more efficient stand – alone web browser. Initially this was called Phoenix, but this had to be changed as a company had already go the name registered. The change was then made to Firebird, but again copyright issues were raised. Finally the name became Firefox – named after a breed of Red Panda. Version 1.0 of Firefox was released on the 9th November 2004. The rest as they say is history. I have a small involvement in the early days of Firefox – I was a volunteer tester – I would download the nightly builds for both Windows and Linux and see how long it took me to find the bugs – which I would then report to the development team. It was quite a big commitment, but the team in those days was only about 25 people in total, and the actual software development team less than half of that, so one soon got to recognise names. Since then, Firefox has been instrumental in removing the dominance of Microsoft – who soon realised that they could not ignore the browser market after all; nevertheless they steadily lost market share, not only to Firefox, but also to the excellent Google Chrome web browser, and to a much lesser extent the rather clunky Apple Safari browser, and the very idiosyncratic Opera web browser (yes, it is still going – just!) If Firefox have done anything, it is to democratise web surfing – they are also the only major web browser company whose products are not tied to a large company, and whose programming code is truly free and open source, Happy Birthday Firefox – you deserve it!

Some readers are surprised at the amount of time I spend working on each weekly update of the Maggot Sandwich; on average each update takes around ten hours of work to research, write, edit, create web links and metadata for. Much of the time is spent in research – I try to ensure that I report on facts, not suppositions, and bearing in mind I am both reporter and editor this can on occasions be extremely difficult. This week I have what would have been a couple of local scoops, but the Save Belvedere Splash Park team accidentally blew the stories before I had a chance to properly get the details. I had mentioned the stories to them in passing, and they unwittingly passed them on. Such is the nature of online media. I am constrained by only publishing once a week on a Sunday. Nevertheless I did uncover the following two news stories, one of which is solid fact, and the other at present is still a rumour that has yet to have been properly corroborated, but does come from a previously reliable anonymous source. The first, solidly confirmed story is that there are plans by giant brewing and hospitality company Marston’s to construct a large pub, restaurant and hotel on the North side of the Belvedere flyover at the junction of Picardy Manor Way and Eastern Way in Lower Belvedere. If approved, it could mean some much needed jobs for the area, as any such new operation will be rather labour intensive and will require a certain amount of staffing 24 hours a day. Marston’s are known for their quality real ale (they are the largest brewer of cask ales in the World), but they also run a very sizable estate of hotels and restaurants on top of the nearly two thousand pubs they operate around the country. Marston’s to my knowledge don't have any pubs in the local area; all I can find is one in the City of London (the Pitcher and Piano in Cornhill), and one in Braintree in Essex(Bailey’s CafĂ© Bar). Other than that there is nothing Marston’s – wise in the region, let alone the local area. The site, if it gets planning approval, will be very sensibly situated, close to the A2016 Eastern Way to Plumstead and Woolwich and the A 2016 Bronze Age Way to Erith, Crayford and Dartford, with its link to the M25 and the A2 / M2. I think the business planners at Marston’s have been one step ahead of almost everyone, and I can see the benefitting because of it. As I have covered recently, it is quite probable that a bridge or tunnel will be built at some point to link Lower Belvedere with Rainham in Essex; the proposed new hotel / restaurant and pub would be smack bang on the South side of any connection, and in a prime spot for business travellers needing a bed for the night. It is highly likely that any bridge or tunnel connection across the River Thames would require drastically improved local public transport, thus making the pub and restaurant accessible for any locals wanting to leave the car at home when they went out for a couple of pints, or a meal and a glass of wine. The fact that the newly built Belvedere Park residential estate is within a couple of minute leisurely walk would also be a great advantage. A new facility of this nature really has no local competition – the nearest rough analogue would to my mind be the Harvester outlets in Crayford and Dartford, though they are really too far away. The only place I can see that has anything to fear from a pub / restaurant combination is the Running Horses in Erith High Street. A few months ago when it had a previous health inspection, it only merited a woeful one out of five stars on the “Scores on the Doors “ rating system. Back in October it was re – inspected and I am pleased to say that it has seriously upped its’ game and now rates four out of five stars, an excellent improvement. The bottom line is that the pub does not attract anything like the number of customers it used to. Back in the late 1980’s the upstairs carvery was booked weeks in advance, and packed out every Saturday and Sunday. The food was plentiful, well cooked and reasonably priced; The Running Horses was synonymous with family lunches out, and for good reason indeed. Nowadays the reports of the food have been woeful – cold gristly meat, grey vegetables, congealed gravy and sullen service. As I have said before, I don't see the current owners have the financial clout and experience to pull what could be an excellent pub out of the mire. Currently it seems to be living a hand to mouth existence by supplying the lager needs of a handful of regulars who seem to spend much of their time in the smoking shelter outside of the front of the pub, come rain or shine. The Running Horses would seem to need a large injection of capital, both to upgrade the building and facilities, and also to publicise it to the larger area. I am pretty certain that it is not anything like an impossibility to return the hostelry to the glory days of the 1980’s, but in my opinion it requires new management and a pot of money. The only way I can realistically see this happening is if the owners of the Running Horses sell the pub to a pub management company like Spirit, who own brands like Chef and Brewer, John Barras and Taylor Walker. Alternatively I am sure that Wetherspoon’s would be more than interested in getting a foothold in Erith, as they have nothing in Belvedere, Erith, Crayford or Barnehurst, and their outlets in Bexleyheath are very busy. Personally I would rather see a regional brewer / pub owner such as Shepherd Neame or Fuller’s taking on the pub, as they both have excellent records of turning around failing pubs and moving them slightly upmarket with better quality food and drink. I am probably dreaming in vain; it is evident that Erith town centre really misses a quality pub, and there does not seem to be any likelihood of the Running Horses getting significantly better without third party intervention. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or drop me an Email to

The second piece of information is still classified as a rumour, as at the time of writing I have been unable to get any documentary proof, though I am still digging through various sources. The rumour does come from a previously impeccable source though, and I have no reason to doubt its veracity. I am told that the now long empty Potion building (formerly the White Hart pub shown in the photo above - click on the picture for a larger view) is being studied by Subway as a possible sandwich outlet / restaurant. This would be a logical move by the fast food retailer; Erith does not have any equivalent sandwich shop (Greggs is the nearest thing, I concede), and recently a large influx of potential new customers are present in the town – the students from the newly opened Bexley College Campus in Walnut Tree Road. They are already a noticeable presence in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, and have definitely increased the takings of many shops. If the rumour has substance (and I believe I may have found a smoking gun - a company called Malthouse Retail that operates a variety of fast food franchises from as far away as Cardiff to as near as Epping in Essex is recruiting shop staff locally). If this is indeed correct, them Malthouse Retail behind the Subway franchise will have an uphill battle on their hands. The White Hart building is in a poor state of repair, and the kitchens need to be completely stripped out and replaced; the structure also needs a totally new ventilation and fume extraction system (don't forget that all Subway outlets bake their own bread on the premises, and need ovens with suitable flues and smell filtering, all of which costs a lot of money).  I am unsure if any new owner would be legally obliged to undertake the remedial works mandated to the operators of Potion – who infamously ripped out the acid etched glass and green, salt glazed Erith Pattern tiles on the exterior of the old pub. Bearing in mind that the building sits in the middle of a conservation area, it may be a condition of trade that a facsimile frontage is installed. Having said that, I know the Council planning department backed away from that idea a while back. At present the whole thing is pure supposition, with only minimal evidence at present. I will publish more news as it comes to me.  I am always reliant on you the reader for my stories – even if you don't want a name check, any story you send can be published in anonymity if you so choose; alternatively I have regular guest writers, and if you have something that you feel would be of interest to people, get in contact with me and we can discuss it. I don't have many rules, but there are a few guidelines I request that guests adhere to – nothing very arduous, just common sense behaviour.

I took the above photo a while back in August when the rumour first surfaced that Electricity House was possibly going to the the subject of a redevelopment plan; thus far nothing has happened, and the story has gone cold. Nevertheless, the site is being allowed to fall slowly into rack and ruin, and no money has been invested in the building in a very long time indeed. It is only a matter of time before the property owner takes action. It would be great to see it undergoing a complete, but sympathetic restoration. Somehow I just don't see this actually happening. If any reader has heard any new stories or rumours about the future plans for Electricity House, please Email me and let me know - I rely on my informers.

Microsoft are pitching their forthcoming Windows 10 operating system heavily towards the education sector; they will be rolling out tools to enable remote administration of laptops running the new OS to make it more attractive to non – technical staff to administer. Meanwhile Google is making a dent on this lucrative market with Chromebooks. The internet giant has been promoting the use of the Linux based Chrome OS with specific tools for schools to manage the devices, their apps and users. Its Chromebooks for Education programme is helping schools deploy large numbers of devices with an easy management system. While it is possible to purchase a small Windows laptop for about the same price of a basic Chromebook, the associated management and support costs (not to mention the expense of a Windows licence for each user) are enormous in comparison. In addition,  Chromebooks are pre-loaded with apps such as Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, with similar functionality to Microsoft's Office suite. Schools can easily provision each Chromebook with specific educational apps, remotely wipe the entire device in seconds, and reuse the laptop for a new class without purchasing any more licenses. There is no manual setup for different users and the machines are administered throughout the school, no matter how many Chrome devices they have, or where they're being used. Google claims that there is no manual maintenance, security patching, or time-consuming support. Since Chromebooks are specifically designed to work online with cloud storage there is no risk that students could lose their work and applications. Each student receives an unique Google account and cloud drive where all documents, preferences, and apps are installed, allowing them to work on the school provided Chrome OS device or any other computer, tablet or smartphone able to run Google Drive. If a Chromebook is lost or compromised it can be wiped out remotely with the "power wash" feature. Despite this, the use of Chromebooks outside of the USA is still somewhat limited in schools; Apple have very cleverly marketed the iPad at the educational sector in the UK, and in many places it has now become the de facto standard. Apple has always been a strong player in the education market. While other PC vendors were mostly focused on the corporate and government sectors Apple was cultivating niche markets such as education, press and design. The effort is paying off, and Apple can claim leadership in the education market. Many schools offer “£10 a month” leasing schemes, which enable pupils to have a centrally managed iPad complete with technical support should it break, and full replacement insurance if it is lost or stolen for a relatively reasonable monthly fee. This generates a reliable monthly revenue stream for the specialist educational resellers who operate the schemes. Microsoft need to simplify their offering for education empowering schools and teachers to manage devices, licenses, and content easily – the tools within Windows 10 partly address this, but it may well be too little, too late. They also need to provide free development tools for educators so they can create unique content;  otherwise the current trend of schools moving to iPads and Chromebooks will continue and the professionals of tomorrow won't be used to Windows anymore. This more than any other single reason is why I feel that the once dominance Microsoft and Windows had on the PC is now coming to an end.

The ending video this week is from a relatively new YouTube channel called "Harry's Garage". It is put together by motoring journalist and former Evo Magazine publisher Harry Metcalfe. Harry is fabulously wealthy (but not in the Jay Leno league), and has a fantastic private collection of vehicles which he stores at his family pile in West Sussex. Unlike Top Gear or some of the other motoring channels on TV and online, Harry's presentation style is laid back and thoughtful - he obviously knows and cares a great deal for his vehicles. Many of the cars featured are exotic supercars from the 1980's to the present day, but Harry has a particular soft spot for his 1954 Series 1 Land Rover, which you can see in the video below. Please feel free to leave a comment or Email me at

1 comment:

  1. I do like the way you slag the running horses off, and now say you think the owner's should sell to a pub chain - this being the only way the pub can be rescued and turn back the clock to the 80's when it was great.
    When was the last time you visited tthe pub? 1989 maybe?

    You state you only report on truth, but any time after read your article and it mentions the pub, any reports are second hand opinions.

    Pop in for a pint and a bite to eat, then you can make an informed report.