Sunday, May 17, 2015

A spring clean for Southeastern Trains?

I took the photo above last Sunday morning; it shows the shopping trollies and an old scooter that had been fished out of the River Thames mud during low tide by Erith Pier. The event was organised by the environmental charity Thames21 in conjunction with a troop of local army cadets. Every year Thames21 arrange a cleanup session at Erith - and they usually get quite a haul of stuff that has been thrown into the river by local scumbag low lives. Morrison's sponsor the cleanup event - which is rather appropriate when one considers that much of the recovered hardware originates from the adjacent supermarket. Thames21 might not be the most high profile or glamorous of charities, but they quietly go their own way, cleaning up the banks of the River Thames and making the place a much better place to be. 

Southeastern Trains have been making a lot of noise in the local press in the last couple of weeks; apart from the dire reliability they are already notorious for – once again this week signal failure at Lewisham has caused extensive cancellations and delays to trains on both the Greenwich and Lewisham lines. This is on top of the delays, cancellations and disruption caused by both the Crossrail building work being undertaken between Abbey Wood and Plumstead stations, which means regular closure of the line at weekends, and also the huge demolition and reconstruction project at London Bridge station which has also adversely affected local trains. All in all we have close to a “perfect storm” of problems for the rail operator. So what do Southeastern do? Launch a publicity drive to tell the great travelling public that their fleet of trains is being given a spring – clean. They have been very vocal in the press – even releasing a time – lapse video showing a team cleaning a Networker train at their Slade Green depot. Southeastern say that this is all part of a £5.7 million improvement plan to both rolling stock and stations between now and October next year. The Networker trains have now been in service for fifteen years, and are halfway through their designed service life. This is all very well, but as an almost daily commuter on the very trains that have been deep cleaned, I can state that in my opinion, they are just as filthy and uncared for as ever. I travel regularly on other suburban rail services such as London Midland from Euston to Watford Junction, and their trains are either brand spanking new Siemens models, or older rolling stock of comparable age to the Southeastern Networker trains – the difference is that the London Midland older rolling stock is very well maintained, clean and free of vandalism. I think this is in part due to the presence of a conductor / train manager who walks around the train keeping an eye on things, whereas Southeastern don't bother with such niceties. In contrast Southeastern trains have graffiti scratched windows, dirty seats, locked and out of order toilets (I have been told that on some occasions the toilets are not locked due to the actions of vandals, but so they don't have to pay for a cleaner), and something I have never seen on any other rail line – water in the gap between the two panes of glass in the odd window – which sloshes backwards and forwards with the motion of the train. None of this has changed since the alleged deep clean project has been under way. I wonder where all of the money and effort has actually gone? If you have any insight into this matter, please either leave a comment below, or Email me at

Regular readers may well recall that I have covered the issue of unlicensed riders illegally riding off – road and motocross bikes on the Slade Green Marshes, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a designated conservation zone. In my role as Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinator, I was aware that the Police were planning a series of operations against the illegal riders, but did not know the specifics – and in any case would not have published them had they become available, as there would always be the risk that one or more of the offenders could get tipped off by the news. I am delighted to publish the following announcement by the North End Safer Neighbourhood Police Team:- “As you may remember, at the recent North End Ward Panel meeting, one of the promises chosen was Off Road Bike issues. Last weekend (2/3 May) an Operation was carried out by ourselves along with several other officers from Bexleyheath including an off road bike officer. During the Operation on the Saturday, 4 bikes were stopped close to Erith Yacht club and Section 59 warnings given to the riders. It seems that word quickly spread as there were no more bikes seen on the Saturday and on the Sunday (always the busiest day) not one bike was seen riding at the location. We have carried on the operation on a smaller scale this weekend (5 officers) and another 6 Section 59 warnings have been given. Due to legislation, no bikes were seized at this time but the warning means the bikes are seized if caught again. We are now hoping that the word will spread among the Off road bike community that if anyone is caught at this location, warnings will be given and any repeat offenders or anyone riding along the footpath will have their bikes confiscated with a fine imposed. Patrols will be ongoing when the team is on shift. The landowner and partners responsible for access have also been in the hope that all access points will be made more secure in the future”. Good news indeed – hopefully the criminals who were illegally riding on this area which is a designated nature reserve will now realise the error of their ways. As I have said previously, I think it would be good to create a dedicated facility for off road bikers to use safely and legally, perhaps on one of the many brown field sites that litter the local area. Personally I am not anti-off – road biker, just anti the crooks who break the law with off – road bikes, which is a different thing altogether. We know that there is a problem with both off – road and on road bikes in Erith, Lower Belvedere and Thamesmead, as has been covered recently; both the News Shopper and the Bexley Times have covered the story in recent weeks. The problem is not going to go away.

Guest writer Dana Whiffen has written an outline on Bexley's own stately home - Hall Place. "Hall Place House dates back to 1540, and was once the home of wealthy merchant Sir John Champneys. There were alterations made in 1560 and a second wing added by the house's second owner Sir Robert Austen who was the Sheriff of Kent in 1724 and MP for New Romney from 1728 to 1734. The main 16th century building is built from recycled stone taken from a nearby Lesnes Abbey (yet another monastery demolished by Henry V111), while the rest is built from 17th century red brick. The house remained with the Austen family until 1772 when Sir Francis Dashwood purchased it and it remained with the Dashwood family until 1926 even though it was used as a boarding school for much of the 19th century and later leased to various tenants, which included from 1917 The Countess of Limerick whose social gatherings at Hall Place, included George V1. Bexley Council took over the house and gardens in 1935 complete with Lady Limerick as sitting tenant until she died in 1943, in 1944 the building was used by The American Army as a intercepting wing of Beltchley Park and post-war the house became an annex for a local girls school. The house was later restored by Bexley Council and used by them between 1968-1995, although the gardens were open to the public. Now with both the house and gardens fully restored from a £2M lottery grant in 2005, both are now open to the public and the boast the following for visitors to see, Hothouse Gardens including Lemon and Banana trees and fish, a Butterfly garden and Owl house as well as a gallery (named the Limerick Gallery), plant shop, wonderful gardens that sit either side of the River Cray and a riverside cafĂ©. There are often exhibitions on in the main house that does charge an admission fee though. This is one of the few historic and picturesque jewels in Bexley and is well worth a visit for more information visit:'. Hall Place has the River Cray running through its gardens. The River Cray is an important freshwater river in the borough; it used to be the home for a large population of water voles, but these indigenous wild creatures are under threat from a number of sources. A recent report by the Canal and River Trust analysed water vole sightings dating back as far as 1970, and found that they were seen in only half as many locations in the past fifteen years as they were in the thirty years before that date. Between 1970 and 1999 water voles were spotted at 53 locations along nearly 270 miles of waterways managed by the trust; between 2000 and 2015 there were water vole sightings at 38 locations covering 141 miles. The decline in water vole population has continued, despite an investment of £500,000 since 1980 in forty projects designed to protect them from predation by American Mink, who were introduced into the British countryside when animal rights protesters illegally released them from fur farms. Water voles are one of the most endangered species in the country, and are fast becoming a rare sight on Britain’s canals and rivers. Non – indigenous mink are one threat, but another, less well known creature is an even greater threat to British Water Voles. In the last twenty years, the American Signal Crayfish has spread like wildfire in British waterways. The creatures, which look like mini lobsters, and are typically 6–9 centimetres (2.4–3.5 in) long, although sizes up to 16–18 cm (6.3–7.1 in) are possible. They are bluish-brown to reddish-brown in colour with robust, large, smooth claws. They have a white to pale blue-green patch near the claw hinge, like the white flags that signalmen used for directing trains—hence the name. The Crayfish burrow into the banks of the river, destroying Water Vole homes and causing the banks to crumble. The infestation of American Signal Crayfish has affected many of the fresh water courses in the UK. The little critters are very difficult to eradicate, as they breed quickly and produce around 200–400 eggs  after mating in the autumn, and are carried under the female's tail until they are ready to hatch the following spring. The eggs hatch into juveniles, which pass through three moults before leaving their mother. Sexual maturity is reached after two to three years, and the life span can be up to 20 years. You have the worst combination – the creatures are quick to breed, long lived, and have no native predator. The American Signal Crayfish does have one key weakness however – once boiled, they are delicious to eat. It is quite legal to hunt wild American Signal Crayfish – all you need to do is to apply for a hunting licence from the Environment Agency. Most licences to hunt wild animals are quite expensive, and limit the size of the hunters bag to only a few animals, in order to limit the impact on the population of that animal. Tellingly, the Environment Agency website has an unlimited bag size and a free licence when it comes to hunting invasive crayfish. Once you have your hunting licence and officially approved design of trap (designed specifically not to trap Water Voles or Otters), you only need the permission of the land owner (who will almost certainly be more than glad that someone is willing to rid them of the infestation of the destructive species).  You can then trap American Signal Crayfish for your table – and you can feel that not only are you going to have a fine feed, but you will be doing the environment some real good in the process. Watch the video clip below to understand just what a plague the American Signal Crayfish has become in the UK.

If you are a big coffee fan, and use the Starbucks chain, you may well have a Starbucks loyalty / gift card. To date there have been no reports of problems in the UK, but there have been serious problems with these cards in both the USA and Australia. have been stung by scammers through their Starbucks accounts. Those at risk are Starbucks customers who have linked either a payment card or PayPal to their online account, which can be used to send gift cards to others with a preloaded balance. Fraudsters have been taking aim at Starbucks accounts for at least a couple of years. The card itself can be used to pay for items in a store, and the online account can be used to send someone an e-gift certificate by email. It’s also a loyalty tool, with Starbucks offering free food and drink rewards and other discounts. Like many online services, Starbucks requires a username and password to access it, which means cyber criminals who obtain those credentials can get in. It appears that hackers have obtained large numbers of Starbucks account credentials, according to a forum post on the shady  Evolution marketplace. Evolution, which went offline for unknown reasons in March, was a website for illegal goods along the lines of the Silk Road online drugs bazaar. A scan of archived posts showed a thriving marketplace in hacked and stolen Starbucks ID's. Shortly before Evolution shut down, one vendor wrote that “we are in the process of sifting through thousands and thousands of possible logins for Starbucks with balance.” Since people often reuse login credentials on many different web services, hackers will try to see if the details unlock another service. That’s especially dangerous for Starbucks accounts since customers can set their cards to auto top-up with funds from a payment card or PayPal. The cards can hold up to a $500 balance in the USA. As mentioned, no security breaches have yet been reported in the UK, but from the sound of it, this will be only a matter of time. I expect this story to be published in the general press very soon. At present very few people outside of the specialist IT security industry are aware of it.

Another Erith based criminal gang has been busted and sentenced this week; an organised group of teenaged crooks; Their arrests were part of a two-year operation to dismantle organised criminal networks suspected of committing hundreds of offences including burglary, theft, fraud, motor vehicle crime, drug dealing, money laundering and violent crime.  A total of seventy people were arrested in connection with the operation - code-named Belmont - in March this year.  The teenagers sentenced committed a string of crimes in Erith, where they stole a computer, a satellite navigation system, power tools and cycles, sold class B drugs and even stole medicines from the back of an ambulance. The criminals were aged between fifteen and nineteen, with many too young to be named publicly. What struck me was that despite the severity of the offences, none of the scrotes was sent down for a proper custodial sentence – and it was clear that for many of them it was far from their first offence. Of those old enough to be named and shamed were Mark Tworek, 18, of Birling Road, Erith, was charged with two counts of theft, after he stole power tools and jewellery. He was given a 12-month community order with a 12-week curfew and electronically tagged. Connor Smith, 19, of Brook Vale, Erith, was charged with one count of theft, one count of sell/supply prescription-only medicine and one count of possessing a controlled drug of class B.  He was given a 12-month community order, issued with an eight-week curfew and fined £325. Quite why they did not go to prison is beyond me. Please don’t get me wrong; I am far from a “hang them and flog them” advocate, but at the same time a message needs to be sent to the scumbags that make our streets unsafe. I have on several occasions overheard conversations between convicted criminals, and they regard tags as a badge of honour.

I have written in the past about former local resident, and prolific inventor and businessman Hiram Maxim – inventor of the Maxim Machine Gun, the first person to fly a heavier than air craft, several years prior to the Wright Brothers (he, along with his technical team can be seen with the Maxim flyer in the photo above - click on it for a larger view - Maxim is the chap in the middle with the white hair and bushy beard) and the man that invented both the fire sprinkler and the sprung mouse trap. Maxim also invented the car exhaust silencer, and as an off – shoot (if you will excuse the pun) his son, the American inventor Hiram Percy Maxim, is usually credited with inventing and selling the first commercially successful model of gun suppressor circa 1902 (patented 30 March 1909). Maxim gave his device the trademarked name Maxim Silencer, and they were regularly advertised in sporting goods magazines. The muffler for internal combustion engines was developed in parallel with the firearm suppressor by Maxim in the early 20th century, using many of the same techniques to provide quieter-running engines (in many English-speaking countries automobile mufflers are still called silencers). Former president of the United States Theodore Roosevelt was known to purchase and use Maxim Silencers. So, it is not too much of a stretch to say that many inventions that we all take for granted were either invented in Erith or Crayford at the two Maxim / Vickers factories, or by people also living in the same area. We for example also had the first petrol – powered tricycle, several years before the Benz automobile, which was tested along Manor Road, and the first submarine capable of firing a torpedo whilst submerged was created by the Nordenfeldt works, also located in Erith. The end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century were a real hot house of inventive talent in the local area – some of the most cutting edge engineering took place in and around Erith. I don't feel that we do enough to celebrate our strong links to key moments in the history of Britain. What do you think? Would you like to see Erith Museum resurrected in a more complete form than the current token couple of cabinets in the new Erith Library? Should the old museum in the upper floor of the old Andrew Carnegie gifted library in Walnut Tree Road be refurbished and re-opened as a more fitting tribute to all of the accomplishments that have happened locally? Let me know your views. Hiram Maxim had a rival in a chap called William Cantelo, who allegedly was the original inventor of the recoil operated machine gun. Cantelo was a Southampton pub landlord with a flair for mechanical engineering whose experiments with firearms in the extended cellar of his pub often caused consternation to both his regulars and his neighbours, though Cantelo was highly secretive, as he realised the engineer who could invent an automatic, repeat firing rifle would make a fortune. Once he was confident that his machine gun was ready for the world, he packed several prototypes up and went off to market the weapon. That was the last anyone ever saw of him. Not long afterwards, Erith's own Hiram Maxim (born in America, but a naturalised Briton) started producing his range of Maxim Guns - touted as the first recoil operated machine gun, which were made at his large factory in Fraser Road, Erith - to this day the area is known locally as "The Pom Pom" - after the noise of the guns being tested on the range to the rear of the factory. Investigators have noticed that Cantelo and Maxim looked remarkably similar - and certain conspiracy theorists have had a field day in supposing what the connection between the two men was. The thing is, back in the late Edwardian period, most men over the age of thirty had large bushy beards - as did both Cantelo and Maxim, and a lot of their physical similarity would seem to be due to the beard element. Later, Hiram Maxim claimed that he had a double who was impersonating him, but this was never independently confirmed (Maxim was a bit of a showman, and fond of making sweeping statements, so this was nothing remarkable or at all unusual). Maxim was already a wealthy man, having the patents for the aforementioned fire extinguishing water sprinkler and the sprung mousetrap, amongst others. Personally I feel that the whole Cantelo / Maxim conspiracy is a fictional construct – Cantelo probably did what many adventurous entrepreneurs did in Victorian times, and emigrated to America (ironically the direct opposite of what Maxim did a few years earlier) – and then disappeared from history. The story makes a good yarn however. An episode of Punt PI, a BBC Radio 4 light – hearted investigative series, covered the Cantelo story with Steve Punt investigating Cantelo's disappearance. He discovered that Maxim had complained about a man who was impersonating him in America. He also showed a photograph of Cantelo next to his machine gun to the Royal Armouries, who stated that the weapon appeared to be the same as the Maxim gun. A facial expert who compared the images of Cantelo and Maxim highlighted that there were visible differences between the two men. Punt cast doubt on the idea that Cantelo and Maxim were the same person but noted the coincidences.

Malcolm Knight of the excellent "Bexley is Bonkers" blog has been covering the Crossrail development work that has been going on between Abbey Wood and Plumstead in great detail over the last couple of years. He lives virtually on top of the main works, which makes it convenient to take late night / early hours of the morning photographs of the engineering works that have to be done when the North Kent rail line is not running. The whole Crossrail Project is a massively ambitious piece of extremely large scale civil engineering. At peak time, twelve Crossrail trains an hour will make it significantly quicker and easier to get to a range of destinations across London and the South East. More than a mile of new track has been laid by Network Rail, representing the first section of dedicated Crossrail track to be installed anywhere along the route. The Crossrail route will pass through forty stations and run more than a hundred kilometres from Reading to Heathrow. Work has included the realignment of the existing North Kent Line, which serves trains between London and Kent, and the replacement of the Church Manor Way footbridge. Once fully open in 2018, the new tracks will link Abbey Wood to the rest of London like never before, providing local people with a dramatically improved rail service. From 2018 there will be a train every five minutes during peak times from Abbey Wood and Woolwich, allowing residents to travel through the capital without having to change to the tube or bus. The journey from Abbey Wood to Canary Wharf and Bond Street will be twenty minutes quicker and passengers travelling to Heathrow will be able to cut 40 minutes off their journey. The brand new Crossrail station at Abbey Wood will also be connected to North Kent line. A new station will also be built in Woolwich, with two portals at North Woolwich and Plumstead where Crossrail trains will surface. On top of this, a residential development is planned; The Armourer's Court will be a  394-unit residential development, which is to be built above Crossrail's Woolwich Station. To be located at the eastern end of the station, the residential development will consist of five buildings of varying heights. The Royal Borough of Greenwich gave planning permission to the Crossrail station and approved the plan for The Armourer's Court in September 2014. My concern is that these apartments will be designed and constructed to appeal to absentee foreign investors, rather than existing local residents. This has already happened with the similar but smaller residential tower being constructed outside of Abbey Wood station. The development has been heavily promoted in the Far East, and much made of the fact that it will not contain any provision for "affordable housing" - estate agent speak for "don't worry, you won't actually come into contact with any of the unwashed locals". Not that the new foreign buyers are likely to actually live in either the Woolwich or Abbey Wood developments - they are merely investments, as the UK is regarded as having a stable, largely incorrupt and dependable government and judiciary. Wealthy oligarchs would not dream of venturing outside of Kensington and Chelsea when they visit the UK. They do want somewhere they can invest their cash so that the likes of Vladimir Putin cannot get their hands on it, should they fall out of favour, or forget to pay the right bribes. Anyway, to end this edition, here is a video I found on YouTube which shows the engineering work that is currently being undertaken between Abbey Wood and Plumstead as part of the greater Crossrail project. Leave a comment below, or Email

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