Sunday, January 04, 2015

Yesterday and today.

The photo above was taken on Friday; it shows one of the lower profile housing developments that is taking place in Erith. This new apartment block is located in James Watt Way; it is being built by Moat, and consists of six one bedroomed apartments, twenty nine two bedroomed apartments and five three bedroomed apartments, all for affordable rent. The development has been partly funded by Boris Johnson and the Mayor of London's Housing Office. Affordable rental housing is to be applauded - there is just not enough of it coming onto the market right now. The downside for the future residents of this particular block is that it is sandwiched between Morrison's petrol station on one side, and the KFC drive - through on the other. Residents will be assailed by vehicle fumes and the smell of fuel on one side, and the pong of frying chicken oil on the other, and constant noise from both sides. Still, overall the development is good for the town - I guess that beggars cannot be choosers when it comes to affordable housing - if the site had been more pleasant, a developer would have wanted to build expensive apartments to sell at a greater profit.

Not long ago I read an excellent book on the recent history of Kent by historian Bob Ogley which recounted an event that I had never even heard about, that happened quite locally back in 1968. In those days Chatham dockyard was still being operated by the Royal Navy as an active base. It employed hundreds of local civilian workers, as well as military personnel. As a side note, the location of the dockyard at Chatham is one of the main reasons the North Kent rail line was built as early as it was; whilst it did serve the then new phenomenon of commuters from South East London and North Kent into central London, the main impetus behind the creation of the rail line so soon after the invention of the steam engine was clear – it was to connect the dockyard with both the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, and the Admiralty buildings in central London. The whole of the military operation of Victorian Britain (and thus the Empire) was dependent on the North Kent railway line – something few people nowadays are aware of; I digress – back on August the 17th 1968, a fire broke out on HMS Valiant – a Royal Navy submarine that was in dry dock undergoing a refit. The specialised submarine dock had only been opened in June 1968, and the Valiant was its’ first customer. The submarine dock was constructed between numbers six and seven docks, and was designed for the refit and refuelling of the non-Polaris class nuclear attack submarines employed by the Royal Navy. The base had a huge cantilever crane for the removal of nuclear reactors, an office block, underground workshops and a health centre. The Valiant-class was the first fully British nuclear fleet submarine (the first British nuclear submarine, HMS Dreadnought, used an American nuclear reactor). There were only two boats of the class, HMS Valiant commissioned in 1966 and Warspite the following year. Both were built by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness, and based at Faslane during the sixties and seventies.. The class was based on Dreadnought but twenty feet longer and nine hundred tons greater submerged displacement (4900 tons). They also had a Paxman diesel-electric generator for emergencies. In 1967, Valiant set a then Royal Navy record of sailing 12,000 miles (19,312 km) submerged in twenty-eight days, from Singapore to the UK. Whilst in refit, a fire broke out aboard the Valiant, and extensive damage was caused. Both the dockyard fire department, and the civilian Chatham Fire Brigade attended the blaze; there were immediate concerns that a release of radiation could be resultant of the blaze, and nuclear contamination crews were summoned with protective clothing, respirators and Geiger counters. No release of radiation was found, despite intense speculation on the part of both local and national press at the time. The Valiant was successfully repaired, and later returned to active service. Valiant re-commissioned at Chatham in May 1972, later returning for a second refit in 1977. By 1975, Chatham Dockyard was the only Dockyard in Britain to undertake the refitting work of two nuclear submarines - Churchill and Dreadnought - at the same time. This was known as 'dual streaming'. In October 1975, the Dockyard even entered into 'triple streaming'; Churchill awaited re-commissioning at the end of the month; Dreadnought remained in refit and Conqueror entered refit for the first time at Chatham. The older nuclear-powered submarines of the Valiant / Churchill classes were prematurely withdrawn from service as a result of serious cracking in the primary cooling circuits of their nuclear reactors. The Swiftsure class had similar power plants and experienced the same problems. One, HMS Swiftsure, was decommissioned for this reason – if the components affected happen to be located in areas where high radioactivity is present, it is often too dangerous to make a repair - instead that have to be scrapped. HMS Valiant was finally paid off from naval service in 1994. Nowadays HMS Valiant has been decommissioned from the Royal Navy and is stored afloat at Devonport. The defuel (removal of the reactor and all radioactive materials) of HMS Valiant, which was docked in 14 Dock for Dock Down and Lay-up Preparations, was successfully completed and the submarine left 14 Dock on the 6 March 2003. It had been moored in 3 Basin along with other de-fuelled submarines. The problems encountered with the engineering works on the Valiant and other early nuclear submarines was not the one expected – no radiation was released, and no radioactive materials lost. The problem was far more prosaic, but arguably just as deadly. All of the submarines, and pretty much all of the surface vessels refitted at Chatham in the 1960’s and 1970’s used large quantities of Asbestos, both as pipe insulation, and for fire – proofing. Many of the civilian and military personnel were exposed to Asbestos dust during engineering works. As is now well known, exposure to Asbestos particles over time can cause Asbestosis, as well as several types of cancer. Nationwide there are nearly five thousand asbestos-related deaths a year (about half of which are from mesothelioma). The Medway area, which includes Chatham dockyard, is in the UK’s top four for asbestos related deaths. A total of 104 people died from mesothelioma in Medway between 2006 and 2010. This is way above the number one would expect from such as geographically small area. I understand that several legal cases have been lodged by former Chatham Dockyard workers with the Ministry of Defence over Asbestos related illnesses allegedly caused to people working there in the past.  I ought to make it abundantly clear that the dockyard (now a popular museum and film location – it is regularly used by the producers of “Call the Midwife” to stand in for 1950’s Poplar, and the producers of films including Sherlock Holmes – a Game of Shadows, Les Miserables, Children of Men, and The World is Not Enough have used the place as a location) is absolutely not now an asbestos or radiation risk. The dockyard makes for a fine family day out, with plenty to see and do for all ages. It even has an excellent pub / restaurant in the Ship and Trades, run by Shepherd Neame. You can read about the Chatham Historic Dockyard Museum here.

The launch of the “Dart Charge” at the Dartford River Crossing seems to have gone relatively smoothly. The scheme went live on the evening of the 30th November. Charges apply to any vehicle crossing the bridge / going through one of the tunnels between 6am and 10pm – overnight the journey is free. The Highways Agency have stated that eighty five percent of the vehicles transiting the crossing during chargeable periods have paid up. That still leaves a whole lot of drivers who have not paid. Bearing in mind the Dartford Crossing gets roughly a million transits a month, that would mean that something in the region of 300,000 vehicle crossings have been made but not paid for. The new system uses Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) to identify vehicles as they cross the River Thames. Drivers are supposed to prepay online, or to pay later within twenty four hours of using the service. Anyone not doing so will be sent a penalty charge notice costing £70, reduced to £35 if paid within fourteen days, and rises to £105 if left unpaid for twenty eight days. I suspect, as I have written before, a substantial number of fees will remain unpaid; ANPR technology is useful, but unreliable in anything other than perfect conditions. Some number plates will not be recognised, or will be misread – it only requires rain, mist, dust or a flurry of snow to disrupt the computer linked camera system. On top of this I suspect that a substantial number of regularly evading users will be using cloned number plates – a problem that is growing over time. Over all of this, there is the continuing resentment that local people have over the whole charging system; when the crossing was paid for, it was meant to be free – though how anyone actually believed this was going to happen, I do not understand. The Dartford Crossing is such as cash cow that any operator would be stupid to cut off such a lucrative money generator.

The photo above was taken from an old 8mm colour amateur movie shot in Erith in and around the town centre in 1972 / 1973. The shot is an interesting one as it shows the old and the new. To the right of the image you can see the then new concrete shopping centre, which had only just been constructed. To the left of the photo you can see the old Victorian shops in Pier Road, shortly before they were demolished to make way for the building that nowadays houses both Farmfoods and the Erith Police Office. Local Historian Ken Chamberlain has kindly supplied me with some information and photos of this old row of shops, and I will be covering this in more detail next week.

The photo above was taken on Friday afternoon in Pier Road, as close as possible to the site of the original shot - unfortunately the positioning is not exactly the same, but it does give you an idea as to how much the town centre has changed over the last half century. One of the few businesses to make the transition is Howells and Harrison the Pharmacist - which you can see in the right hand side of the upper photo, and also again now, renamed simply as Harrison's Pharmacy. An excellent shop then and now. Whilst the shopping centre now looks much better clad in brick, rather than the hideous Brutalist concrete, it is actually a very clever refit - the original concrete skeleton is still there, but now looks better than it ever used to. 

Some news that really ought not to surprise many, Apple’s shiny (relatively) new iPhone 6 can be spoofed with the same fake fingerprints that tricked its older sibling, the iPhone 5S. According to mobile security firm Lookout, which said it discovered that it is possible to create a fake fingerprint that is capable of fooling the TouchID fingerprint security sensor of the latest iPhones (6 and 6 Plus are apparently equally vulnerable). Despite the addition of secure payment app Apple Pay to the iPhone 6, the in-built security has not evolved enough over the last year, the security experts warn. iPhone users are still vulnerable to the exact same security flaw as a year ago. The main difference is that now, with Apple Pay, the bad guys have more incentive to abuse access to an iPhone. The central problem is that the TouchID fingerprint scanner on both the iPhone 5S and iPhone 6 can be fooled with a cloned fingerprint lifted from a shiny surface and recreated using easily available PVA wood glue. Germany's Chaos Computer Club was the first to crack Apple's TouchID fingerprint lock, a trick replicated by Lookout last September and replicated recently on the  newly iPhone 6. "Sadly there has been little in the way of measurable improvement in the sensor between these two devices," explained Lookout researcher Marc Rogers in a blog post. "Fake fingerprints created using my previous technique were able to readily fool both devices." In the future it may not even require hackers to have physical access to a potential victims’ fingerprints; a further report, also originating in Germany states that it is possible to recreate fingerprints from hi resolution digital photographs. Security researchers claim to have cloned the thumbprint of the German Defence Minister by photographing her hand at a press conference. In a presentation at the annual Chaos Computer Club hacker gathering in Berlin, biometrics specialist Jan Krisller – known in the hacker community as "Starbug" – explained how he'd taken a variety of photographs of Ursula von der Leyen when she gave a press briefing in October. Krisller used a telephoto lens with a focal length of 200mm and took the photographs from six feet away, he said. He then used commercial fingerprint software from Verifinger to map out the contours of the Minister's thumbprint. To get that into something that could be used on a biometric scanner, Krisller employed the same technique he demonstrated at the conference last year, where he successfully defeated Apple's TouchID fingerprint lock. The technique employs digital photographs, flexible materials, and laser printers to create false fingerprints. Krisller said the research inspired him to look at other ways photography might be used to defeat biometric security – for example, to copy the unique iris print of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Using high-resolution images from her election campaign materials, he said, it was possible to print out an image that might fool a basic iris security scanner. This issue will only become more serious and widespread as very high resolution digital cameras become more widely available. Both market leaders in high end digital photography Canon and Nikon have models with image sensors with 36.3 million pixels in a single image. At this level of potential detail, if a very high quality lens is used, a huge amount of biometric information can be extracted from the image. This is one of those classic laws of unintended consequences. I get a feeling this issue will run and run.

On New Year's Eve afternoon, I was queueing at one of the checkouts in Morrison's. The man in front of me had around a dozen jars of various varieties of pre - made pasta sauce in his trolley. I had to bite my tongue and not say anything. Mass produced pasta sauces are both a culinary abomination and a waste of money - not to say that they also contain a large number of additives. Fresh pasta sauce is so cheap and easy to make that I really cannot understand why someone would pay more for a vastly inferior alternative. Every so often I publish the occasional recipe, and this week is no exception. This is how to make a very basic pasta sauce - I have been using this for years, with very successful results.

Hugh's basic pasta sauce recipe.


1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 large onion, finely diced
3 - 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 teaspoons of dried mixed herbs
1 teaspoon of dried Oregano
3 small Bay leaves
Dash of Worcestershire Sauce.


Heat the olive oil in a frying pan or wok; add the finely diced onion and cook until it starts to soften, then add the garlic and fry until the onions are translucent. You can then add a generous dash of Worcestershire sauce (it will initially smell overpowering, but will mellow remarkably as it cooks), followed by the tin of chopped tomatoes and the bay leaves. Cook for around ten minutes when the sauce starts to reduce, then add the dried mixed herbs and Oregano, and cook for another five minutes, adding a dash of water if the sauce becomes too dry. Serve with cooked pasta of your choice. You can add chopped mushrooms, sweet peppers, finely chopped carrots or celery to this basic sauce to make it a little more interesting, or even add minced beef before the chopped tomatoes to make a basic Bolognese sauce (I don't subscribe to the theory that Bolognese meat should be a mixture of minced Pork and Beef - firstly this seems too complex for what is essentially an Italian peasant dish, and secondly I am Pork intolerant, and have to avoid all Pig related products). Nevertheless, the basic recipe can be modified as you see fit. It tastes infinitely superior to the shop bought jars, and is far better for you. The raw ingredients also cost a fraction of the factory bought stuff, so what is there not to like? If you would like more details on my recipes, do feel free to drop me a line to - let me know what you think.

Another long running story is that of the Emirates Air Line cable car, (locally nicknamed the Arabfly Dangleway) which Greenwich and Charlton blogger Darryl Chamberlain of the 853 Blog picked up on a couple of weeks ago, when he submitted a Freedom of Information Request to Transport for London in order to discover how many commuters were using the cable car to commute across the River Thames. When the answer came back as “none” he wrote a rather pithy blog posting about the subject that you can read here. Later both the London Evening Standard and now the Daily Mail have picked up on Darryl’s research. The Mail sent a reporter down to the cable car to interview the few hardy souls who were using it, and discovered that with one notable exception the riders were tourists, or people out for a joy ride, rather than people commuting to or from work. This makes sense – the cable car journey is slower and more expensive that using the Jubilee Line tube which is a far more time efficient method of making the same journey – when you are a regular commuter, you want the most painless travel method possible.

You may recall that I have been covering events in respect of the closure of Britain's largest dedicated water play park - the Belvedere Splash Park by Bexley Council. There has been a large and dedicated campaign by local residents to keep the park open; over the last few weeks things have gone very quiet, and I have had messages from several Maggot Sandwich readers asking me if the campaign organisers had given up. This is far from the case, as campaign lead Ian Doherty explained in a recent Email to me:- "The Save Our Splash Park campaign was started in mid-October to fight the decision of the ruling Tory Council to close the 100 year old beloved water park in Belvedere Village. Unfortunately due to work commitments and a rash of family bereavements I've been unable to devote time to the campaign recently but with a New Year it’s a new push. We will be aggressively courting local councillors to try and get them on our side and possibly linking up with the organisation that wants to save the local libraries and well as other interested community groups. For more information please see our Facebook page". Well, that clears up that uncertainty. More on the campaign next week.

Over the last couple of years I have been highlighting technological anniversaries, and this week it is a big one. The first of January 2015 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the first commercial telephone call made on a UK cellular mobile telephone network. The companies we know as Vodafone and O2 today were Racal-Vodafone and Securicor-Cellnet back then; phones were the size of a small suitcase and only did voice calls - no text or apps, let alone any kind of camera or GPS. The two companies had spent the months up to the 1st January launch deadline fighting for cell sites and testing coverage, particularly in London. There was no hint of site-sharing. The services used analogue TACS (Total Access Control System), and later ETACS (Enhanced TACS), as more frequencies became necessary. As mentioned last week, the analogue calls could easily be monitored using a radio scanner - as in the infamous Princess Diana "Squidgygate" tapes. The cellular service was not actually the first mobile phone system available - there was a Carphone Radio service called Band 3, but that was push-to-talk and all calls had to go through an operator to be connected. Calls were limited as was the number of users. You had to go on a waiting list and wait for a subscriber to close an account before you could buy one. It was complex, limited in coverage and extremely expensive. The first modern, cellular call was undertaken by Vodafone's Michael Harrison, the son of former Vodafone Chairman Sir Ernest Harrison, who was the first to test the system, calling his father at midnight on 1 January, 1985. Michael Harrison secretly left his family’s New Year’s Eve party at their home in Surrey in the UK to surprise his father, calling him from London’s Parliament Square. Harrison made the historic call from one of the first mobile devices – a Transportable Vodafone VT1, which weighed 11lb (5kg) and had around 30 minutes of talk time - more on this groundbreaking device in a bit. Harrison recalls that the line was crystal clear, although the excited shouting of New Year’s Eve revellers in London created considerable background noise. As Sir Ernest Harrison answered the phone, Michael said: “Hi Dad. It’s Mike. This is the first-ever call made on a UK commercial mobile network”. Which isn't quite “one small step” but is better than, “Watson come here I want to see you". The official press launch was held days later at St Katherine’s Dock in London where Vodafone had hired comedian Ernie Wise make the first public mobile phone call. Wise brought the same transportable device to St Katherine’s Dock in London in a 19th century mail coach, using one of the oldest forms of communications – sending a letter – to highlight the speed and convenience of these new mobile phones. Ernie Wise’s call was received at the original Vodafone headquarters, where a handful of employees were based in an office above an Indian restaurant in Newbury, Berkshire. Heavy and cumbersome, the first generation of mobile phones were sold in the UK from 1984 – before the first products were even available and before the network was officially live. Such was the demand for a fully portable, cellular phone that more than two thousand orders had been taken by the Vodafone sales team before Michael Harrison made his call from Parliament Square. By the end of 1985, over twelve thousand devices had been sold. Very soon afterwards a good friend of mine got given a VT1 portable TACS phone by his then employer, British Telecom. The phone was so powerful that when he made trips to the Carrefour Hypermarket in Calais, he could call his Mum to find out what she wanted him to buy, connecting via the British mobile phone cell in Dover (there was no international mobile roaming back in those days). The video below is a modern take on a period commercial that has been made by Vodafone to commemorate their 30th anniversary as a mobile phone service provider. See if you can spot the mistake - the girl walking a dog and using a VT1 unit would not have been able to make or receive a call, as there is no antenna connected to the bulky transceiver unit! Feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

1 comment:

  1. Apropos asbestos release at Chatham, what tests were done after the Manor Road plant run by Turner and Newalls closed ? Granted the finished product were asbestos cement pipes which sealed in the material, but there must have been some raw asbestos flying about at the beginning of the process ?