Sunday, March 22, 2015

Farewell to the Tower.

The photo above was taken by one of my confidential informants - it shows the final stages of demolition of the main tower building on the old Bexley College campus in Tower Road. The building has been one of the landmarks of the Erith skyline for many years. It was also used on several occasions as a setting for E4's sci fi show "Misfits" which featured a group of teenage young offenders with super powers. On one occasion filming on the roof of the tower had to be halted when the Police turned up - a neighbour had reported suspicious activity on the top of the tower, and dialled 999. The producers of "Misfits" had neglected to inform either the authorities, or local residents that they would be filming at the location! The photo below was taken by the same person a while later - as you can see the tower has now all but gone. The brutalist architecture of the tower may have led some to term it an eyesore, but countless students passed through it - myself included. I spent many hours in the building in 1996 / 1997 as I studied for my RAE examinations, enabling me to become a licensed Radio Amateur. I have fond memories of the place.

The anticipated crackdown on criminal gang activity in Thamesmead seems to have begun in earnest; now that a new dedicated ten officer Police unit has been established in the town. The News Shopper have reported that the Police have made twenty four gang related arrests, with individuals being charged with drug and weapon possession, animal cruelty and immigration offences. Gang members were also charged with  growing cannabis, as well as possession of cocaine, cannabis and methamphetamine. It would seem that the demand by Thamesmead residents for concrete action against the crooks that have been blighting their lives has begun to be answered, and not a minute too soon.

I was surprised that web search giant Google have just opened their very first bricks and mortar shop in London. It is quite discreetly located inside the Curry’s PC World in Tottenham Court Road, as a “shop within a shop”. Google admit that the store is a bit of a gamble, but they realise that many customers want to try out Google devices such as the Chromebook or a Nexus mobile phone. The aim is not high-pressure salesmanship but a fun, relaxing environment where there is no guilt in popping in just to mess around on the phones and the tablets. (Just like an Apple Store.) The shop will also be a place where Google device users can seek expert advice, even attend classes. (Again, just like an Apple Store). I hope to visit the place soon and do a comparison with the Apple Store in Regent Street. It will be instructive to see the two tech rivals and their wildly different approaches to the online world. A bit of high street rivalry would be good for consumers. More on this subject in the future.

The problems resulting from the massive rebuilding and refurbishment programme currently being undertaken at London Bridge station have got so bad that they have now made the national news. It would appear that insufficient planning for eventualities such as signalling failure or loss of power had been made. Basically there is no “slack” in the current temporary passenger arrangements. This means that as soon as anything goes wrong, passengers suffer and the kind of massively overcrowded station concourse with travellers having to climb over the ticket barriers is the result. Rail Minister Claire Perry has now waded into the situation; she has demanded that Network Rail (who are responsible for the project management and engineering of the London Bridge works) introduce new measures to improve the rush-hour situation. These include more rapid-response engineering teams, a central control point for all London stations like that which was used during the 2012 Olympics, more highly visible customer service staff, and having some trains stop at fewer outlying stations to help with punctuality. Last week the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union said station staff had been threatened, had hot coffee thrown over them and been spat at by passengers caught up in delays and overcrowding – something I find completely indefensible and abhorrent. I would not want to be working in such conditions; however frustrating it is as a commuter (and I confess that I am indeed one) there can be no justification for such behaviour. On top of all this, the weekend closures of the Cannon Street via Greenwich and Dartford line at weekends due to the ongoing construction works at Abbey Wood and Plumstead for the Crossrail terminal, along with shorter than promised trains are causing all sorts of grief for commuters. Southeastern have managed to annoy a great many people by publishing a “traffic light” comparison, showing travellers how likely (or not) they are to be getting a seat when they travel during rush hour. According to a report in the News Shopper, Southeastern Managing Director David Statham said "We want to give passengers an easy way to see how busy different services are at their station. Those able to catch an earlier or later train can now see which is likely to have more space." Quite. I get the feeling that Mr. Statham does not quite grasp the nature of the average commuter. We don't do it because we want to, we do it as we have no other choice. The times we travel are dictated by the hours of business our employers set; personally I am quite fortunate in that I can work quite flexibly – I don't have to go into the office every single day, and can easily work from my very comfortable and convenient office at home. I am in the minority though, most travellers have no choice in the matter, and have to commute at the same time each day.  The obvious fix for the problem is to increase the length of each train – many on the comparison chart above are only eight carriages, when ten would be preferable; as previously mentioned, it is not possible to run twelve carriage trains on the line due to the restrictions at Woolwich Dockyard station – which has a tunnel at each end of the platform, limiting train length to ten rather than the potential twelve carriages that the extended platforms at other stations would support. I understand that apart from a lack of rolling stock to make all trains ten carriages long, there are concerns about the amount of extra traction current the additional carriages would consume. As with any consideration, Southeastern are primarily concerned with the bottom line on the spreadsheet.

Bexley is Bonkers author Malcolm Knight wrote at length about the road and pavement works that took place in Bexleyheath a couple of years ago. He predicted that much would need to have significant repairs within a relatively short period. He was spot on the money. Last Monday work began in Arnsberg Way to replace the road surface, which had started to disintegrate, despite only being laid in 2013. I understand that Bexley Council are trying to get a refund from the contractors who undertook the work. Much dissatisfaction has been voiced over the whole concept of “shared space” which was rolled out in Bexleyheath, and has been insidiously rolled out in other Bexley towns since. The “shared space” concept is that the delineation between areas used by pedestrians, and areas used by vehicles is deliberately kept unclear; the thinking is that as neither party can tell where one finishes and the other begins, both vehicles and pedestrians will act more carefully, thus avoiding accidents. The brutal reality is however entirely different. The number of reported collisions and other accidents has increased since the changes were introduced, and many local residents are disgusted with the lack of clarity as to who goes where.

Last week I was walking along Picardy Road in Upper Belvedere, as I passed the Conservative Club, an unusual car came along the road. For a few seconds I was unable to identify it. It was similar to the Jaguar XF model, but sleeker and a little lower. What immediately struck me was that it was completely silent as it moved. I then realised that it was a Tesla S – Type; a true electric luxury sports saloon. Tesla cars are pretty scarce, and doubly so in the UK. The American made vehicles are not cheap – the Tesla S has a base cost of nearly £70,000, and most buyers opt for the range – topping P85D model, which with optional extras comes to the thick end of £95,000. I have to admit that the Tesla S is a very good looking vehicle, and looks better in the flesh than it does on paper or screen. Tesla claim an endurance in excess of three hundred miles for the top of the range P85D model, but rumours abound that the company are about to release a software update for the power management computer of the car to make this claim closer to reality. I understand that some owners have been stranded after the power reserve meter on the dashboard indicated plenty of spare battery charge, but the car ran out of juice. The update is meant to resolve this important flaw, and reassure owners who get “range anxiety”. The Tesla S is the first really serious purely electric powered vehicle – I don’t consider the G-Whiz to be anything other than an electric golf cart with pretentions – you certainly could not take one on a motorway, whereas a Tesla S is at home in exactly the same places as a conventionally powered vehicle. At present the Tesla is pretty much a niche car – a combination of the price and powertrain dictate that. A lot of Tesla owners have the vehicle as their third or fourth car, alongside a high end Mercedes, Bentley and Ferrari. The Tesla enables them to be able to claim “green” credentials, whilst still running a stable of gas guzzlers. The problem as previously mentioned with any purely electric vehicle is range and endurance. The claimed three hundred mile range of the P85D model (which has the largest battery capacity of any Tesla S model in the range) is – even when the software fix installed, something that only a drive with the lightest of throttle use with no passengers and the windows and air conditioning off could even approach. The Lithium Ion battery technology that the Tesla uses has a finite capacity. At present no battery technology gives even close to the energy density of a petrol or diesel powered engine. On top of this, whereas at a petrol station you can refuel a conventional vehicle in a couple of minutes, a battery powered car will take many hours to recharge, effectively making it useless in the meantime. There is no real way around this using current technology. The only options are instead to use hybrid technology, where the batteries are supplemented by a smaller conventional engine, usually fitted with a turbocharger to increase efficiency. Another approach would be to use a hydrogen fuel cell – powered drivetrain, as is currently employed in some commercial vehicles; currently there are no commercially available fuel – cell powered cars; again there is a problem with low fuel density and also the storage and transportation of liquid hydrogen (rocket fuel to you and me). I feel that only a really game – changing emergent technology has a chance to really change the way electric vehicles are both used and perceived. The problem with any battery powered vehicle is that it is not truly green – the electricity stored in the batteries is often generated by burning fossil fuels – all you are doing is moving the source of the pollution further up the chain. If LENR technology (see the previous update for details) comes good, this may be an ideal source of truly clean, green electricity with none of the risks of stored liquid hydrogen, or the range limiting use of batteries. Time will tell. There are other, rather less savoury alternative fuels available – mainly in this case for public service vehicles. Bio methane combustion technology is one of these technical solutions. This uses methane generated from organic waste to power the vehicle. This has led a bus that is currently on test in the West Country in and around Bristol to be termed the “Poo Bus”. It takes excrement from 32,000 households in the area and converts it into methane to power the vehicle. Once again, the trouble is energy density; petrol and diesel have been used as the primary fuel source for automobiles for over a hundred years for a very good reason – both fuels are densely packed with energy so that a given volume of fuel will give a predictable amount of motive energy. Most other fuels don’t have this level of energy density – especially so of bio methane. The company running the experimental bus do have a sense of humour though – the “poo bus” is running on route number 2. You could not make it up.

We have another new African church in Erith – the Household of Faith Ministry, City of Truth church which you can see details of above. Personally I would have thought that the market would now be completely saturated, bearing in mind that we already have  the Gateway Chapel on Kennet Road, next to the Thames Road Industrial Estate, the Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministry in the Manford Industrial Estate off Manor Road, The Redeemed Christian Church of God, which occupies the “Praise Ministry” at 33, Bexley Road - the former tyre warehouse behind the kebab shop and close to the hideous fish roundabout. They tend to have very noisy services, and have been in trouble with the council over exceeding their permitted car parking quota. The Celestial Church of Christ shares the same building, though I am unsure of the precise mechanics of their co-operative arrangement, but it seems to work for them anyway. There is also a church apparently using one of the industrial units located just off Birch Walk, though details of it remain hazy – and their web domain seems to have a lapsed registration, so they may well have moved on. Nevertheless it would seem that Erith is extremely well provided for if you wish to visit an African church. I just wonder how they compete for parishioners? Do people visit more than one, or is there a degree of “brand loyalty”? I know if I walk around Erith on a Sunday morning you can hear the singing and drumming from the Redeemed Christian Church of God – they seem a very cheerful and enthusiastic lot. I have been told in the past by a close friend who knows about such things that in general, the more flowery and impressive sounding wording an African church has in its’ title, the smaller and less impressive it turns out to be in reality. Nevertheless, they all seem to fulfil a local need, and it definitely comes under my personal libertarian philosophy of “if it works for you”.

Mobile phone maker Blackberry are becoming less and less relevant with business as well as casual users. The days of the firm being able to tout their “end to end secure” Email infrastructure as a unique selling point are now just a distant memory. What Blackberry pioneered in their proprietary hardware back in the day is now done in software on all the major smartphone platforms. Blackberry are now looking for new niche markets to exploit – they are realistic enough to understand that they are no longer in a position to go head to head with the likes of Apple and Samsung. Their latest foray is into the tablet marketplace – somewhere they famously (and very publicly) exited a couple of years ago, when they abruptly discontinued it. Early reviews were mixed, saying that although the hardware was good, several features were missing. Shipments totalled approximately 500,000 units during the first quarter of sales and 200,000 in the following quarter. Many of the 700,000 units shipped to retailers allegedly remained on the shelves for months, prompting BlackBerry to introduce dramatic price reductions in November 2011 to increase sales. Sales rebounded following the price cuts, with BlackBerry shipping approximately 2.5 million BlackBerry PlayBooks by June 1, 2013. Now Blackberry are back in the marketplace with a tablet that is primarily aimed at government and businesses, rather than private individuals. The new tablet is actually a re – badged Samsung Galaxy S10 that has additional cryptographic features. Samsung’s Knox secure boot technology ensures that the OS on the tablet has not been tampered with, while IBM’s contribution to the security chain is to “wrap” certain apps in an additional layer of code that intercepts and encrypts key data flows using the Secusmart hardware. All this means that the tablet meets with the security standards mandated by the U.S Government – possibly a big customer for the Canadian company. Each tablet will retail at $2,300 – though I would estimate that government or corporate bulk orders would get s substantial discount. Whether this approach will be enough to enable Blackberry to survive, I personally doubt. The company has been struggling for the last couple of years, and I would not be surprised that in 2015 Blackberry goes the same way as Nokia, who were once the dominant force in mobile phone technology, but now no longer exist.

The mystery of the halt in construction works to the new affordable rented flats being built in James Watt Way has been solved by some detective work by Erith Councillor Abena Oppong Asare. She has found out that the contractor being used to build the flats has got into financial difficulty, and the developer is currently looking for a new form of builders to complete the outstanding work. The good news is that this will only be a temporary delay to the construction of the much needed flats for affordable rent. Hopefully I will be able to report a re-start in the work very soon. 

I mentioned in the last update that I had recently paid a visit to one of the UK’s top advertising agencies – Grey London in Hatton Garden. The agency handle accounts from pretty much every high street brand, and are seen as one of the prime “go to” creative companies in the business. One advert that they are particularly famous for is the Vinny Jones mobster character doing CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) to the Bee GeesStaying Alive” which the agency created for the British Heart Foundation a couple of years ago - you can see the advert below.  The very successful advertising campaign led to forty six lives being saved by people who carried out the lifesaving procedure on people who had collapsed. Now local MP Teresa Pearce is campaigning for CPR to be taught in schools. This, in conjunction with the provision of defibrillators in public places (they are already installed on larger railway stations) should hopefully cut the number of deaths due to heart attacks in the UK. Personally I was surprised that CPR is not currently taught in schools. I can recall lessons in basic first aid when I was at school, and I was surprised to learn that this is not something that all schools have on their curriculum. Teresa Pearce MP took part in a debate with the Department of Education in Westminster Hall; she said in the debate: “There is currently no mandatory requirement of teaching about CPR—first aid—or public access defibrillators in the national curriculum in England. That is denying generations of young people the opportunity to develop life-saving skills that would benefit everyone. Many people say that even if it was for a loved one, they would be reluctant to get involved because they would not know what to do. Teaching people CPR and defibrillator awareness in secondary schools would alleviate that fear. Young people would leave school with knowledge that could save a friend, a loved one or a stranger. I urge the Minister to take on board all the comments that have been made today and to take affirmative action to ensure that CPR and defibrillator awareness are a mandatory part of the national curriculum for the benefit of us all.”

Another local MP has been given a new responsibility; MP for Bexleyheath and Crayford, David Evennett has been promoted to the Privy Council. This is apparently a highly prestigious position usually given to senior politicians. The Privy Council give advice to the Queen on matters of state. Somehow I guess that the Queen is more likely to be the one giving advice to her councillors, given her years of diplomatic experience. The Sovereign may appoint anyone to become a Privy Counsellor, but in practice appointments are made only on the advice of the Government, and generally consist only of senior members of parliament, the church and judiciary. There is no limit to the numbers sworn in as members. As of January 2012 there were about six hundred members. However, the members have no right to attend all meetings of the Privy Council, and only some are summoned to each meeting (in practice at the Prime Minister's discretion). David Evennett is not a senior MP, but he has been around for a while, and has the additional role of Parliamentary Private Secretary to Nicola Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education. All in all he’s done well; Evennett has not got caught with his fingers in the till, or bed hopping, so I guess that the Privy Council appointment is a reward for good behaviour. It certainly gives him more clout in his role as a local MP, which can only be a good thing for his constituents. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

The end video this week is charming - an excerpt from a new episode of The Clangers. As a small child I used to absolutely love The Clangers. I was quite concerned when I heard that the BBC were making a new series of the classic show for small (and not so small) children, and was worried that they would "modernise" it and make it with sterile CGI. I should not have worried - the programme is still made with real models and stop - motion animation. Michael Palin narrates, and it is an utter joy to watch. This clip shows the Clanger family preparing to watch a solar eclipse. At least they can see what is going on, unlike the real thing that happened on Friday morning - the skies around Erith were so cloudy and overcast that almost no indication that an eclipse was taking place was evident - I noticed a few cars switching on their headlights for a few minutes, but that was about that. 


  1. The Clangers was the best show on TV. I always watched it which caused me to get some funny looks as I was about 20 years old at the time. One thing though, I always thought the Clangers lived on the Moon. Seems I have been wrong all that time.

  2. On the subject of CPR. I was once told by a work colleague whose Son worked for the Fire Service that they use Nellie the Elephant. Might appeal more to children, certainly does to me.

  3. 'Shared space' is a good idea for the museums in South Kensington, where the masses of pedestrians trump the cars, but a lousy and usafe idea for a busy suburban street (where the cars rule). It's interesting to see how people feel they still have to run across the road, even when cars slow down (and it's mostly buses that slow down, I find). As with the block paving, I reckon only a matter of time until Bexley admit failure and realise that pedestrian crossings are actually a good idea for pedestrians to cross the road... With the present work at Asda, there is now no safe crossing on the Broadway from Church Road up.