Sunday, January 11, 2015

YouTube - you fool.

The photo above was taken by me recently; it shows the traveller pony that lives on the parcel of land between Morrison's car park and the Thames side walk. Various ponies have been kept on the land for the last few years. They seem generally well looked after, and many parents with small children take them to visit, usually taking a couple of carrots or an apple for the pony. The area is adjacent to the recycling centre that has been the root of so many problems. When I have mentioned the recycling centre behind Morrison’s and next to the terminus of James Watt Way, it has usually been to bemoan the problem of commercial fly – tippers, who habitually dump materials which should really be taken to a proper tip like the one in Thames Road, Crayford. This time things are different; the Morrison’s recycling centre has been a victim of its own success over the Christmas period. It would seem that local people have been taking their Christmas wrapping materials, cardboard and plastic and disposing of them responsibly at the site. The problem has been that the dedicated waste hoppers in the recycling centre have not been emptied over the holiday period, and the place has become overloaded with waste material. This has been especially noticeable with regard to the bottle banks on the site – Christmas is always a time when more glass bottles get used than during the rest of the year, and it is easy to understand how the bottle banks could get overwhelmed. This situation got me thinking – recycling glass bottles is far better than making brand new ones from raw materials, but it is still a very energy intensive process – a hell of a lot of electricity gets used to melt down the glass and reform them into new bottles or other glass objects. Would it not be far preferable to return the bottles to the manufacturer to be stripped of labels, steam cleaned and then re – used? This was the old way of doing things, and I wonder why the practice was ever stopped? My feeling is that we should look to reintroduce a deposit charge on glass bottles to encourage them to be returned to the original supplier for sterilisation and re – use. I reckon  a 10 – 15p deposit charge would do the trick, and it might even encourage the old children’s trick of scouring the streets for old bottles to return to collect the deposit as a way of generating extra pocket money. This would have the secondary effect of partially clearing the streets of rubbish. It might be a long shot, but potentially I can see it working. What do you think? Is this too ambitious, misdirected, or is it the way to go? Do leave a comment below, or Email me at

I am aware that humour is a very personal thing, and what appeals to one person may not appeal to another. Nevertheless, I have been astonished at the success of one programme in particular, which I just cannot understand the appeal of, as it seems to hark back to early 1970’s sit coms like “Bless this House” and “On the Buses” whilst to my mind lacking the wit or charm of those shows. On top of all this, the show managed to rack up the highest viewing ratings of the Christmas period – so a lot of people must like it. What show am I talking about? “Mrs Browns Boys”. It really seems to be a Marmite show for a lot of viewers – you either love or loathe it, and I am firmly in the latter group. It does seem to be a “guilty pleasure” programme, as when I have mentioned it to people, all I have asked have said that they detest it, but some at least must be lying, as the viewing figures have been so high. I won't bother a critique of “Mrs Browns Boys” as others have done far better than I, and I know my personal views are extremely unlikely to sway the opinion of someone who actually likes the show. I am mystified.

You may recall that last week I had an article comparing Pier Road today with what it looked like back in 1972, just before the old Victorian row of shops were demolished on what is now the site of Farm Foods and the Erith Police Office. Local Historian Ken Chamberlain has kindly supplied the following two photographs; the upper one shows the Victorian shops in Pier Road when they had been stripped and were awaiting demolition. The shops, from left to right were:- Randall Press, Collins Dry Cleaners, H.M.L. Miles. Shoe shop, Penton and Deans Gents outfitters, Turntable Record shop, George Gilbert Photographers, A (name unknown) Dry Cleaners, Barclays Bank, then an alleyway. Two semi-detached Villas, Solicitors and Doctors Surgery, Then the two semis that faced towards Bexley Road.

The second photo (click on it for a larger view) may look exceedingly unfamiliar to anyone who only knows the modern Erith – it was taken from the opposite end of Pier Road, where it met with Bexley Road, adjacent to Christ Church – which is just to the right of the scene, but out of the photograph. The building in the picture was the Wheatley Hotel – a popular pub that had overnight accommodation for travellers from the nearby Erith Station. The pub was located roughly where the hideous fish roundabout now resides. I can tell that the second photograph was taken at some point between 1964 and 1972, as the car at the turning of the road is a Morris 1800 mark one, better known colloquially as a “Land Crab” – a very popular model at the time. Since the premises in Pier Road were demolished in 1972 / 73, and the car only went on sale in 1964, hence the approximate ago of the image. Nevertheless it is quite difficult to visualise the location bearing in mind how much the basic geography of central Erith has changed since the horrendous 1970’s Brutalist Concrete shopping centre was built – the roads in and around the town centre were re – sited, renamed and in some cases totally ceased to exist. I have a couple of maps from the late 1940s’ that bear little resemblance to the town we see today. I suspect that much of the changes to the roads were quite necessary – the main aim of the work seems to be to permit far higher levels of motor traffic to pass through the town without causing a traffic jam – though the Bexley Road Bridge has historically always been a local choke point for traffic – an issue the Council have talked about addressing by widening the bridge to allow two lanes in each direction, instead of the current one lane. Whether it actually comes to pass is now debatable, as Bexley Council are cutting back their expenditure yet further. The only way I see the work now being done is if a body like Transport for London takes up the task.

This week is the thirtieth anniversary of the launch of the Sinclair C5 electric vehicle. As some may know, I had a very minor part in the history of the C5, as I used to know Adam Harper, Belvedere based inventor, engineer and businessman - the photo above (click for a larger view) shows him with his record breaking customised C5 at Silverstone race circuit in the summer of 1995, where he was able to open it up on the main circuit as part of a series of public demonstrations of the Guinness world record breaking machine. You can read more about Adam Harper in an interview here. More on him later. Sir Clive Sinclair dominated the home computer market in the UK and much of Europe in the early 1980’s. His ZX80 and subsequent ZX 81 barebones computers introduced many people into the world of computer programming, and the subsequent colour Sinclair ZX Spectrum became the computer of choice for untold millions of people – it was a simple computer with adequate, if not particularly outstanding specifications for the time. It was easy to program, and had very bright, colourful graphics. This, along with the relatively cheap retail price meant it was extremely popular, and there was a huge amount of software available for the ZX Spectrum, including thousands of games. Many of today’s programmers learned their first code on a ZX Spectrum. Emboldened by huge commercial success, Sir Clive Sinclair turned his attention to another of his areas of interest, personal transportation. In a project that illustrates how wild success in one realm can build over-confidence that leads to utter failure in another, the Sinclair C5 was to forever tarnish the Sinclair name. The C5 was a battery-assisted tricycle (not an electric car, as elements of the press kept saying) that was intended to revolutionise personal transportation. On paper it was able to drive up to twenty miles on a single battery charge for just a few pence,  the C5 was supposed to be the solution to urban congestion and the high cost of owning a car. Unfortunately the design fell short of the market requirements and the machine was savaged by the press following its launch. Among the issues:- The open concept and exposed driver position meant the C5 was only really practical in dry weather, although a wet weather kit including a fitted poncho for the driver was soon available. It had no reverse gear and was difficult to turn around in confined spaces. Even modest hills were too much for the C5’s battery to handle and the design meant that using the pedals to assist was hard to do effectively. There were quality control problems at the factory, and early reports of components failing further dented the machine’s reputation. Perhaps most importantly, the public did not feel safe driving such a small and open vehicle in real traffic. In the end 17,000 were sold, but this was far short of projections. To many, the C5 was seen as a novelty item rather than a serious mode of transportation and just eleven months after the failed launch, Sinclair Vehicles went bankrupt. As long term readers of the Maggot Sandwich will be aware, I had some involvement with the story of the C5; when Sinclair Vehicles went bust, the entire remaining stock of unsold C5’s, along with component parts and tooling was bought by a company based in Upper Belvedere called Harper Cycles, which was run by Adam Harper. He correctly realised that the C5 had been given a mauling by the press, which had effectively ended its chances of success, but nevertheless seventeen thousand of the vehicles had been sold. The owners would require spares, servicing and repairs. Harper also correctly surmised that the C5 would become a cult vehicle, and mint, unused vehicles would appreciate considerably in price. Adam Harper made a steady income supporting C5’s for many years, and supplied new vehicles to Princes William and Harry at Kensington Palace, and created a one – off solar powered model for science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke for use on his estate in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Many of the press “facts” about the Sinclair C5 were made up, and in many cases just plain wrong. It became an urban myth that the C5 used a washing machine motor – in reality the motor was built in a Hotpoint factory, but it was a specially designed, high efficiency unit that was even studied by NASA as it had such an impressive power to weight ratio. It was also said that the rider sat too low to the ground, making the machine dangerous – in fact one sat at the same height as if you were sitting in a Ford Capri MK III. The separate aluminium alloy chassis the C5 used was designed and built by Lotus Cars at their Hethel factory, and was capable of far more performance than the C5 had. The poor road speed of the C5 was not down to any technical limitation – it was restricted to fifteen miles an hour in order to comply with UK traffic law – any powered vehicle capable of more than this speed required a licence to use, which would have essentially killed the project before birth. This is not to say the C5 did not have problems – the short battery life being one of the biggest challenges – a rider would not get anything like the claimed twenty mile range, even when pedaling to assist the electric motor. Adam Harper invented an improved battery and power management system which cured this weakness, which was available as a retrofit to existing machines. Adam also sold considerable numbers of the powerful and efficient C5 motor to competitors in BBC 2’s series “Robot Wars”, and many of the winning robots were powered by his products. Because of this connection, Adam Harper ended up as one of the “Robot Wars” competition judges; I used to regularly accompany him to filming, which took place in an old warehouse next door to the Excel Centre in East London. As I have previously written in some detail, Adam Harper also set a Guinness World Record for the fastest electric three wheeled vehicle in a hugely modified Sinclair C5 that could hit 0-60 in under four seconds, and exceed 150 mph. The main reason for the creation of the C5 racing machine was to scotch the incorrect stories about the normal C5 and give the much maligned machine a bit of a publicity boost, though nowadays the C5 has a reputation as a gigantic white elephant. It was certainly not perfect, but it was  way ahead of its time, and nowhere near as bad as the press would have you believe. 

Not too long before Christmas I was walking through Soho on my way to a meeting at an office just off Berwick Street. It had been some time since I had passed that way, and I was pleasantly surprised at how the area has been cleaned up and made a lot more visitor friendly. I had cut through St. Anne’s Court – once a very seedy and run down area, but now a pleasant and very up market office and residential location I really did not need to walk the route that I did, but there were personal reasons, as the area holds some memories for me. Back in the mid 1980’s St. Anne’s Court was the home to Shades Record Shop. This was a basement shop over which was built a structure that somewhat resembled a large garden shed that was plastered in posters advertising bands and films. Alice’s Restaurant was a pirate radio station operating out of East London, which played an esoteric mix of mainly rock based music – the record shop was allegedly nothing to do with the radio station, but pretty much everyone knew the opposite. To enter the shop you had to go through a slightly forbidding (at least to a thirteen year old) doorway and down a flight of stairs to the shop itself. The first thing one noticed about the shop was the huge number of rock and heavy metal albums the place contained – albums from bands I had never heard of, and exotic imports from Japan and elsewhere; the second thing was the fact the ceiling of the shop was covered in black bin liners held in place with drawing pins. Initially I thought this was some kind of post punk arty design, but I soon found out that they were there for a far more prosaic reason; they stopped the rain from leaking through from the upstairs. It was that kind of place – initially it appeared quite intimidating, but the staff were knowledgeable and friendly, and every so often a rock star would pay a visit – Lemmy from Motorhead was a regular, and many rock and heavy metal bands would hold album signings in the shop. When I was working for Radio Caroline I did not have time to visit, and by the time I turned up in St. Anne's Court a couple of years later, I was only to find it boarded up and empty. Their lease had run out and the landlord had decided to sell the site to a property developer; shortly thereafter the shed was demolished and a new office building constructed on the site.  To be honest the area needed improvement, but nevertheless it was a shame to see the shop  disappear. Not long afterwards the radio station closed down, with some of the staff going on to form the excellent and ground breaking RFM Rock Radio, a station that nearly got a commercial licence, but ended up losing out to KISS FM. Shades record shop was a one - off place. You can read more about it here.

In 2014 medical institutions and healthcare providers made up nearly a third of all hacking attacks and other data breaches, according to records from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse campaign group. While attacks on financial services are slightly more prevalent, consumers should be much more concerned with getting their medical insurance or NHS health records ripped off. In the first place, banks tend to cover consumers in instances of fraud. If someone steals your Visa card number and uses it to buy a round-trip ticket to Kazakhstan, and you will easily get those charges reversed — plus the bank will issue you a new card. But even in the worst case scenario, your personal well being isn't threatened. Not so with medical fraud. As the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance points out in its report on medical fraud, the patient often doesn’t find out their identity has been stolen until they notice a discrepancy in their own records. For instance, a man goes into to a hospital to get treated for a back injury. Upon being X-rayed the doctor also notices that the man has a swollen lymph node, for which he prescribes penicillin. The man says he is allergic to penicillin. The doctor asks, then why did you come into this hospital a week ago for penicillin? The man says, I didn't come into the hospital a week ago for penicillin. Now imagine that same scenario except the patient is unconscious and his/her record has been altered to remove the reference to his penicillin allergy. Now we are talking about a scenario where the patient’s life is potentially in danger. In addition, it can be really hard to prove that you didn't receive the medical services indicated on your record, which can cause all sort of confusion to GP’s and their practice administrators. Medical identities can sell for as little as $50 U.S, according to a report issued earlier this year by the FBI. With more and more hospitals moving to electronic health records and healthcare breaches on the rise, it is hard to see how this problem won’t become more widespread in the coming year. When I received a notification from my G.P that they were moving to electronic records, I completed and returned the denial of request form; whilst my medical records are very boring, I really don't want to see them being bandied about for sale online by some Bulgarian hacker collective. The threat is not just to your records from a medical perspective, but that they also may be used in identity theft, or even for blackmail purposes.

Just as the Maggot Sandwich was about to go to press, one of my occasional contributors, Brian, dropped me the following story concerning Erith and Belvedere Football Club, which local football fans may well find of interest. "The Deres are at home to Yaxley FC on Sunday 18 January in the fourth round of the FA Vase.  Both teams are thus four wins from Wembley! - where the Vase final will be played on 9 May.  The game kicks off at 3pm at Park View Road, where the Deres groundshare with Welling United. The FA Vase is for teams below step 4 of the non-league Pyramid, and Erith & Belvedere's league (Southern Counties East) is the best represented at this stage, with 5 teams in the last 32.  Near neighbours Phoenix Sports, based in Crayford, have a long trip to Bodmin Town, and have decided to make a weekend of it with an overnight stay in Newquay.  Another Kent-Cornwall clash sees Greenwich Borough host St Austell, while further down into Kent Ashford United host Norwich United and Tunbridge Wells (Vase finalists in 2013) visit Highworth Town."

You may recall that I have mentioned the fight against illegal bike riders in and around the local area; some months ago Erith Watch announced a success against one such rider who was photographed carrying out an offence, and subsequently identified and dealt with by the Police. This has not stopped a gang of illegal riders who regularly terrorise pedestrians and motorists around Northumberland Heath, Erith and Belvedere. The gang have made a major tactical error however - they have posted a video to YouTube which clearly identifies one of the ringleaders of the group that you can see in the screen capture above. One would think that a balding thirty - something would have better things to do than pull wheelies on an asthmatic 50cc scooter with a puny engine that sounds like an angry wasp in a biscuit tin, but it would appear not. Below you can see the entire video of the gang illegally riding their bikes in what would appear to be the Northern end of Norman Road / Mulberry Way in Lower Belvedere. If any of the gang are reading this - don't bother taking the video down from YouTube. It has already been downloaded and sent to the Police as evidence - oh, and by the way, I know you knew what you were doing was illegal - as you have digitally obscured the number plates on the bikes in the clip. You did not do a very good job however - and the owner of one bike in particular will be having his fat and sweaty collar felt before very long. How anyone can be so stupid as to film themselves carrying out illegal acts, and then publish them to the world on YouTube amazes me. See for yourself, and leave a comment below, or Email me at

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