Sunday, January 18, 2015

Captain Tweed versus the fly - tippers from Hell.

My imaginary crime - fighting alter - ego "Captain Tweed" has had an outing this week. As some long - term readers will know, I run "Erith Watch" - the largest, and one of the most successful Neighbourhood Watch groups in the London Borough of Bexley. The group has had a number of recent successes; unfortunately most of them cannot be recounted here for legal and other reasons. One event that happened back in September 2013 has finally come to fruition, and the story can now be told. One day I was walking from Pewty Acres to do some evening shopping in Morrison's supermarket. As I crossed James Watt Way, I could see a large van parked round the back of the recycling centre in Morrison's car park. A couple of figures were unloading some large wooden pallets - I could not make out exactly what was on the pallets, but the stench was awful - like a cross between strong ammonia and acetone; it was truly stomach churning. I stealthily approached the fly tippers from the blind side of the van - and was able to read and memorise the van's registration number. I saw them continue illegally dumping their stinking cargo, and realised that there was little more that I could do at that time. I quickly made my way to Morrison's and went to the customer services desk, where I got a piece of paper and a pen to write down the registration number before I forgot it. As soon as it got light the next morning I went back round to the recycling centre and took the photo you can see above - which shows two tonnes of rotten bananas on the dumped pallets, with the liquid they released as they decomposed clearly visible in the culvert to the right of the photograph (it had not rained for several days at that point), along with several others that I then passed along to a contact I have with Bexley Council Environmental Crimes Unit. For operational reasons the person is keen for me not to reveal their identity, as I understand that they occasionally undertake undercover surveillance of certain suspects. For a long time, nothing seemed to happen - I did make a statement regarding this incident, and another that occurred some time later involving the same individuals and van. The Environmental Crimes Unit placed a surveillance camera in the area surrounding the recycling facility, and caught the same perpetrators a number of other times, as well as a number of other people illegally dumping waste. I was on standby to attend court in September 2014, but the two individuals absconded and were reported to have returned to Romania. On Tuesday evening I got an Email from my contact, and it made my week, if not my year. You can read the full report on exactly what had transpired on the Erith Watch website here. Do feel free to leave a comment, or alternatively Email me at Suffice to say that Erith Watch will continue to covertly patrol the mean streets of Erith, helping the Police and other authorities to keep order, and also to try and foster a stronger sense of community amongst residents.  Neighbourhood Watch can really make a difference; I just wish I was able to tell you some of the other stories; maybe in time.

The changes to the North Kent railway line went into place this week; trains are now no longer running into Charing Cross, and from my understanding this is permanent, not just until 2018 when the works to update and refurbish London Bridge station are complete. The tracks that link London Bridge to Charing Cross are being removed permanently, so travellers from Slade Green, Erith, Belvedere and Abbey Wood will now have to use alternative routes if they wish to travel to the West End by public transport. On top of this, the promised twelve coach trains which were originally designed to compensate for the reduction in frequency of service are now not going to make an appearance. It appears that even though nearly two years of work was undertaken by contractors on behalf of Network Rail to extend the length of the platforms on most of the stations on the North Kent line specifically to allow them to take twelve coach trains, this will actually not be happening; the longest trains on the line will continue to consist of ten coaches. The reasons for this seem unclear and somewhat confused. I have heard two explanations. Firstly that South Eastern have been unable to source sufficient extra rolling stock from other sources, and secondly that they had forgotten that the platform at Woolwich Dockyard station is only long enough for a ten coach train, and cannot be extended due to tunnels at both ends of the station. This sounds like the issue that was discovered when Networker trains were due to replace the old “slam door” coaches. It was all fine and good until the Networkers got to Woolwich Dockyard, but they were too big to go through the tunnel between Woolwich Dockyard and Charlton. The old slam door trains had to be reintroduced whilst time consuming and expensive alterations were made to the tunnel. There are alternatives when only one station on the entire line is incapable of accommodating a full twelve coach train – you can either close the station outright (Woolwich Dockyard is apparently the least busy station between Dartford and Cannon Street) as was done during the Olympics and Paralympics (the cynics at the time said that it was really to prevent international visitors seeing what a dump Woolwich Dockyard was, but I digress). Alternatively they could stop the twelve car trains at Woolwich Dockyard, leaving the front and rear carriages still in the tunnel, and have an announcement that passengers wanting to get off the train would need to walk through to the next carriage. This is done on the Docklands Light Railway, where Cutty Sark for Greenwich station has exactly the same issue. Passengers have to walk along the train to get off – it is a bit confusing, especially for the large number of tourists who use the service, but overall it seems to get by.  I get the feeling that Network Rail and South Eastern are going to have a lot more problems over the next three and a half years whilst the complete reconstruction of London Bridge Station and the associated rail infrastructure is carried out. I am fortunate that much of the time when I have to use the North Kent Line to get into London, I am able to travel outside of the peak busy periods, but those less fortunate have my sincere sympathies.

With all of the terrible news that has come from France in the last week or so, I have overheard conversations where people are wondering if something similar could happen in the UK. Unfortunately the answer is “yes”, and think it is a question of when, rather than if. It is then somewhat disturbing to discover that the current radio communications system that is used by the Police and emergency services is only a short time away from becoming redundant, when the current emergency services system, which uses TETRA (Terrestrial Trunked Radio) is switched off. TETRA is halfway between a mobile phone system and a walkie talkie. It is an ancient technology and very poor at mobile data, which runs at 7.2kbs. There is a standard upgrade to boost that to 700kbps but it has never been implemented. Instead the plan is to replace it with 4G. The replacement system should have been implemented back in 2009, but due to (alleged) political interference the project has not been rolled out. The cost of the new technology Airwave contract has spiralled to £1.2 billion at a time when public service budgets are being cut back. Each handset will effectively cost nearly £2,000, even though a decent Android phone handset equipped with nearly identical technology can be bought for less than £100. The plan to move to 4G sounds sensible but the people who actually use emergency communications have deep reservations. While Airwave does support full duplex (two way communication at the same time, as with a mobile phone), one of the most important features the emergency services want is push-to-talk, a walkie-talkie like service. And that is where the focus of making mobile fit for use by the emergency services has been. What is often not appreciated by the mobile community is the issue of latency. Anyone who has used a walkie-talkie knows that the instant you press the button the person at the other end can hear you. There is no delay other than the constraint of the speed of light. Mobile phone push-to-talk systems are rarely like this. You press the button, it switches to the right app, fires it up, makes an IP connection and then starts the communication. This is not instant. Indeed, using such a system where you can see and hear the other person is un-nerving, with a significant delay that is more than an echo. Even a traditional 2G or 3G voice call has a little latency which you can hear if both people are in the same room. Push-to-talk latency isn't a problem in the “it might replace SMS” scenario the mobile industry once envisaged for it, but it is in an emergency. The classic example the Armed Forces give is to imagine a commander who has a team of snipers on a roof pointing at a target. He gives the command: “Don't shoot”. Unfortunately, in a cellular, IP based device, it takes a fraction of a second for the app to fire up and make a connection – a fraction of a second which is just long enough for the word “Don’t” to fail to make it into the message. Obviously this is just not good enough in a critical situation such as a terrorist attack as we have just seen in Paris. The other problem with any emergency communication system using 4G technology is that coverage of the country is patchy and uneven, with some areas having no signal whatsoever. Even if the emergency service personnel can get a 4G signal, you can then add to this the problem that with 4G there are other users on the network: ordinary customers, who, given that they are in the middle of an emergency, will want to call their mum or post a video of the incident to YouTube. There are systems in place to give emergency services priority, but network congestion is still going to affect the ability of the backhaul infrastructure to cope. All in all the situation is a mess, and could not really have come at a worse time. Industry insiders say that as the contract signing for the new 4G system is not scheduled until after the general election, it will probably get "kicked into the long grass", the existing Tetra system will be retained under an extension clause in the contract for at least another three or four years, despite the huge technical limitations to the legacy system. All in all not an ideal situation. 

Erith Town Forum will hold its 100th public meeting on January 28th 2015. The following guest article was written by the chair of the Forum, Doreen Ives. In 1998 the Government introduced “Capital Challenge” an initiative seeking to promote wider community involvement in decision making.  Under this umbrella the Erith Consultative Group run by local residents, was changed into Erith Town Forum In the early days we had some young people from the Ocean Park Estate joining the meeting to let us know what they felt was lacking in Erith and the seeds were sown for the Youth and Family Centre in West Street.  A supermarket in the town was high on the Forum’s agenda and when Morrison decided to build their southern flagship store here, a great cheer was heard, although very few of us knew what Morrison’s stores were like since they were mostly sited in the north of England.  There is no doubt that this was the kick-start for the Town’s regeneration with the refurbished pier taking pride of place. Unfortunately it took a long time and many heated meetings before the rest of the Town was brought back to life.  Much time and effort was put in to ensure the new Health Centre was built but with the loss of the market, a valuable retail attraction, all the remaining shops suffered.  Whilst Forum continued to press for overall regeneration, we looked for smaller benefits too, like better security and things to brighten up the town. We succeeded in getting CCTV, some tree planting, hanging baskets throughout the year and lights and community events at Christmas time.  We even had our own skating rink to brighten one Christmas. The Forum joined in celebrating when the first blow was struck on the concrete car park and Carey’s began their transformation project to produce Riverside Shopping Centre and of course we buried our Time Capsule in the walkway.  We worked with the Shopping Centre’s Public Relations Company in planning the “Jumping for Joy” opening celebrations, with members of the Erith Playhouse representing characters from Erith’s proud history.   When for the first time, fears that Erith Museum might be closed we were there to support the volunteers in their effort to make sure this didn’t happen. Erith has much history and the Town Forum decided that particular buildings should have identifying plaques.  We had the plaques put up and with the help of local historians we compiled a Town Trail leaflet and placed an information board on the Riverside Gardens with a map identifying those special buildings. The information Board was partly funded by Erith Rotary to mark their centenary year.  (The leaflet is available in the library, pick one up and do the walk).  We also ensured that the mural on the old swimming pool was not lost to the town. The need to engage with young people and promote positive behaviour was discussed many times and out of this came the TriForum which was a combination of Erith, Slade Green and Belvedere Forums all wanting to offer free sport and entertainment during school holidays.  Whilst the Council provided us with some funding, we continued to provide these activities free of charge to local children. Addressing ourselves to the older members of the community, Erith Forum organised free Christmas afternoons of entertainment, high tea and bingo for 140 senior citizens. We also joined with the embryo Bexley Accessible Transport scheme to take 40 seniors to the seaside for the day.  Again free of charge.   Sadly once regular funding was withdrawn by Bexley Council all these community activities had to stop. A major role for the Forum is to keep residents informed about new initiatives that will impact on their lives.  Initially this was done by speakers coming to our meetings, and our quarterly newsletter “TOWN AND AROUND” We had a circulation of 4000 copies. With improved communication methods, so the internet is now used to pass on information.  Our close working with Council officers during the early years meant we were part of decisions on  artworks in the town, we are particularly proud of the improvements to the Theatre, the Mural on the White Hart, the Fish, and the repositioning of the Erith Swimming Pool Mural, more recent additions to those previously mentioned. Once the Council funding was withdrawn, we looked towards charities to keep us going and were lucky to get grants from the William Kendall Wax Chandlers and the Awards For All Scheme. However Town and Around finally became unviable and so the internet had to take over. We were fortunate to get funding from the Riverside Shopping Centre on a regular basis which helped pay for our administration and the cost of holding regular meetings and finally for the last three years we have been fortunate to have funding from Cory Environmental.  We helped to promote and support FORGE who have made significant improvements to the Riverside Gardens and the foreshore, demonstrating to Bexley Council how valuable this green area is to our community. We have continued to promote Erith whenever possible with events, mainly using the River front.  We re-enacted the arrival of Alexander Selkirk at Erith Pier to celebrate the 300th anniversary of this event. In 2013 the last Thames Barge Race finish at the Erith causeway was marked by an afternoon of fun and games on the Riverside Gardens.  It was so successful that in 2014 we decided to do it all again. We called it ERITH FUN DAY and invited charities and small businesses to participate.  It was a great success, and Rotary Club Erith have agreed to take primary responsibility for organising this event in 2015.  Of course Erith Forum will take part and help to get in funding for the event.  Our Town and surrounding area has changed beyond all recognition since the first meeting of Erith Town Forum and the makeup of our community is very different. Therefore Erith Town Forum continues to have an important part to play in promoting community cohesion, by providing, an opportunity for the exchange of views, and information about local developments, together with social activities. Thanks Doreen - fascinating stuff. If you wish to become involved with Erith Town Forum, you can get more information from visiting their website here.

It seems that something good may actually come of the recent fatal stabbing of Olamide Fasima in Wolvercote Road, Thamesmead on the 14th October. The News Shopper have reported that the Metropolitan Police are creating a new dedicated, ten officer strong unit to patrol the whole of Thamesmead. As both I and Malcolm Knight of the Bexley is Bonkers website wrote at the time, the two wards Thamesmead East and West will be no more – instead Thamesmead will become one ward overseen by the new policing team, whose remit will concentrate on drug and gang related violence – often one and the same thing. This is excellent news; I for one could never understand why for policing issues Thamesmead was divided in two, with the Western side falling under the control of Greenwich, and the Eastern half falling under the remit of Bexley Council. This to me always seemed like the worst of all possible worlds, as whenever an issue in respect of policing arose, doubts would spring to mind as to which of the two wards were responsible, and in the event of uncertainty or dispute, inevitably the two boroughs would point the finger at the other. Revising the ward boundaries to make Thamesmead one single, large police district makes eminent sense, and I wonder why it was not done before? With ten officers dedicated to the ward, I think there is a very good chance to fight back against the drug dealers and muggers who up until now have felt that they had free reign over the town. The only fly in the ointment is that it apparently took a murder before the new police squad was set up. Thamesmead has a lot of potential to transform from a rather mixed area of high – rise flats and low rise housing that has been dogged by crime, deprivation and poverty issues for the last forty – odd years into a desirable town with the arrival of Crossrail; juggling the maintenance of affordable accommodation with the inevitable forces of gentrification will be a challenge, but with luck many of the residents of Thamesmead will benefit in the long run. It would seem that the hope that the new housing in Abbey Wood and Thamesmead would be a sustainable mix of affordable social accommodation, alongside properties for outright sale is probably not going to be reflected in reality. A story broke this week, initially in The London Evening Standard, and shortly thereafter in The News Shopper. The Abbey Tower – a part of the forthcoming Close Quarter development which will be adjacent to Abbey Wood Station, is being advertised to investment buyers in Hong Kong. The estate agents who are commissioned with selling the thirty flats in the nine story block are making a special feature of the fact that the development is “a fully private block with no social housing”. They are selling the flats on the basis that in a few  short years the Abbey Wood Crossrail terminus will be open, making the area more attractive to London commuters. There are a number of problems in promoting the Abbey Tower abroad – not least of which is it is likely that a significant number of the flats will be purchased but not lived in – effectively “land banked” by wealthy foreign investors who expect the prices to go up so that they can sell at a profit later. Other apartments in the block will be rented out to wealthy tenants from outside of the area, meaning that locals with more modest means would will not stand a chance. I think that a degree of “gentrification” (a phrase I detest) is inevitable, and in itself not necessarily a bad thing – wealthy new residents need to shop, and some of their money should filter into the local economy. This has however not proved to be the case to much of an extent in the Woolwich Royal Arsenal Development in Woolwich however; very few of the wealthy residents ever venture into Woolwich Town Centre, even though it is only across the road from the gated development. Instead they shop for groceries online, and catch the ferry over to Canary Wharf to do their shopping. It seems to be a sad fact that the wealthy seem not to wish to integrate with normal local people – I presume they worry that they will be mugged or stabbed, or both. Unfortunately recent activity in Abbey Wood / Thamesmead would seem to support this concern. I am sure of one thing though – Bexley Council will encourage as many high net worth people to move into the area as possible – they want the council tax money, and encouraging developers to build high density accommodation in the area is one of the most effective methods of the Council generating extra revenue – this may well be the reason why they did not insist on any social accommodation in the Abbey Tower development. They seem to be keen to turn the area into the most intensive cash - cow possible, to the detriment of the local residents - a good example of this is the closure of the Belvedere Splash Park; sources indicate that Bexley Council will also close Belvedere Library, and the adjacent recreation park in Woolwich Road in order to sell off the land for property development - again so that they can rake in thousands in council tax to feed their supporters in the wealthier South of the borough. You can join the campaign to save Belvedere Splash Park by clicking here.

I am not a fan of Microsoft; whilst they might be a giant of a company, I feel that their products are quite often not as good as some of their smaller competitors. They also have a history of dubious business practices that I will not expand on here – you can always do a web search if you wish to learn more on the subject. Nevertheless they do form a major part of most people’s lives – a majority still use Windows based computers (though now the move is more to accessing content via mobile devices such as tablets and phones). Pretty much anybody who works in an office environment uses Microsoft Office. There has been much controversy in the last couple of years over Microsoft and their apparent inability to listen to their customers. This was epitomised in the row over the user interface for Windows 8. Windows 8 was primarily designed to work in a touch – screen environment, and few if any concessions were made to users who were still using a keyboard and mouse. Many private users, along with businesses complained, but Microsoft did nothing. Online forums and platforms such as Twitter were filled by the moans of dissatisfied techies and ordinary users alike. Microsoft did nothing until the sales figures started coming through – people were “voting with their feet” and buying PC’s with Windows 7; businesses were opting for “downgrade” packages which would enable a Windows 7 installation to replace the Windows 8 build that the machine shipped from the factory with. Eventually and with some pretty bad grace, Microsoft published Windows 8.1 – an update to the operating system which reintroduced most of the keyboard and mouse specific features that consumers and businesses so wanted. So far so good. The trouble has been that Windows 8 / 8.1 has now a tarnished reputation, and the sales have never recovered to the levels that Microsoft expected. Rather than continue digging when already in a hole, Microsoft have to their credit taken a step back and engaged with their customers. The end result of this is that the next version of Windows will not be called Windows 9; in order to underline how not like Windows 8 / 8.1 the next operating system will be, they are skipping the number nine and going directly to Windows 10. Early pre – release builds of Windows 10 have been available to developers and other IT professionals for a little while now – the screen capture above (click for a larger view) shows Windows 10 and the return of the Start menu that so many users wanted back. For those technically minded Maggot Sandwich readers, Windows 10 64 bit Preview Edition is running on my Apple iMac in a virtual PC environment using Oracle VirtualBox – there is no way I would allow any pre – Beta version of an operating system direct access to my hardware by actually installing it – virtualisation means if the OS goes bang, it cannot take any data on my hard disk or backups with it. To be honest, Windows 10 seems like it will be fine – and a big improvement over the last debacle. No doubt time will tell – the final complete version of Windows 10 is due to ship sometime in the Summer of 2015. Feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

The end video this week is a bit of fun; it features the Cosmotron - a retro - sci-fi designed car. What is not made clear in the short film is that the chap that owns this one of a kind vehicle lives in Bexleyheath. If you watch closely, you will see them drive it past the rear of the Bexleyheath Broadway Shopping Centre, along Albion Road. Look out for it - I am sure it will appear on the odd occasion.


  1. Good to hear that some fly tippers have been taken to task. Morrisons at Thamesmead have remedied their problem by having the recycling centre taken away. At least Bexley Council are trying a different approach.

  2. I think you must be wrong about the line from London Bridge to Charing Cross being permanently removed. This would completely isolate both Charing Cross and Waterloo East stations as all trains from there have to go through London Bridge. Actually Charing Cross trains could still get to London Bridge via the loop to Cannon Street but Waterloo East would become completely redundant. I think I'm right anyway.