Sunday, May 03, 2015

The flies have arrived.

The photo above shows the front of Christ Church Erith, and the newly laid gravel drive in the garden. As many regular readers may know,  the church is currently celebrating the centenary of the completion of the bell tower, which was constructed around forty years after the main church structure. The bell tower is open to the public during a series of open days, the next of which is Sunday the 17th of May between 3pm and 5pm. Visitors can climb up into the bell room and watch the bells being rung; if you find climbing steep and narrow steps a challenge, you can watch the process of bell ringing via a custom CCTV system which has view screens in the tower entrance hall. Entrance to the open day is free, though donations are welcome; hot and cold refreshments, including tea, coffee, soft drinks and home made fairy cakes will be on sale in the church. You can see photos of a recent open day by clicking here

Regular Maggot Sandwich readers will be familiar with my vocal support for the national “Scores on the Doors” food hygiene rating system; Erith at one stage had the worst ratings of any town in the united Kingdom, but due partly to work by Bexley Trading Standards Department, and partly by the food outlet owners themselves, the star ratings awarded to food outlets have been steadily improving over the last year, to the point where they are now getting to be pretty impressive. One area currently not covered by the “Scores on the Doors” system are factories where food is produced. It may not be obvious, but Erith, Slade Green and Thamesmead have a number of these. Manor Road Erith boasts a company that manufactures almost all of the Chinese pancakes used to accompany Crispy Aromatic Duck in restaurants around the country, which can also be purchased in Waitrose. Many other examples of factories producing chilled ready meals for sale in supermarkets and other types of food manufacture provide much needed local employment. The News Shopper reported earlier this week that a food factory in Hailey Road, Abbey Wood had been closed by food hygiene inspectors after an appallingly dirty and unregistered food factory was uncovered. The factory, called “Soy” made Asian foods, including Soya Bean Curd. Food safety officers from Bexley Council found the Hailey Road premises in a "filthy" condition with extensive mould growing, grime encrusted equipment, leaking drains, no hand washing facilities, inadequate and dirty protective clothing, and an active rodent infestation when they first visited them. The business was not registered with the council, despite this being a legal requirement, and had no systems in place to ensure foods produced on site were safe to eat. The disgusting place has now been closed down, and the owner fined £14,000 plus costs of £2,000 and a victim surcharge of £120. The problem for the authorities were that this factory was unregistered – an offence in itself. This must have made discovering the offending factory hard to investigate. It would be good if food factories could be included in the “Scores on the Doors” scheme – it would mean a more “joined up” approach to food cleanliness and hygiene. What do you think?

The onset of Spring has meant that on certain days it has been possible to open windows and back doors to enjoy the fresh air. The rear garden lawn at Pewty Acres is looking particularly lush now (possibly at least in part due to the fact it is professionally installed high quality synthetic turf that does not need watering or mowing) and things are looking good. The downside of opening the back door – apart from the very close encounter I had with a fox in my living room last summer – is that I got a number of flies in the house. I cannot abide flies of any description; they are nasty, disease ridden, irritating invaders of my personal space. A few days ago I found half a dozen of the little blighters seemingly practicing touch and go landings on my kitchen work surfaces. I got out the fly spray and gave them a decent blast. I’m not the kind of person to spray a burst in the air as per the usage instructions; I either wait until they have landed and give them both barrels at point blank range, or I use the spray can like a mobile Ack – Ack battery and squirt a stream of flit directly at the airborne insects. This task done, I left the flies to die. About twenty minutes later I went back into the kitchen to find nearly all of the flies blithely continuing their orbit of the room, as if nothing had happened. Frustrated I gave each of them another long blast of fly spray (by now the kitchen smelled like a chemistry lab on a bad day) but the flies just carried on flying. By now I was of the opinion that I would be better off swatting them with the can, as the spray seemed to have little or no effect on them. I went up to my home office and did some research. It turns out that the common house fly normally only lives for two to three weeks in the wild (or considerably less when I have my way). It would seem that the number of generations that are able to be produced each year is considerable, and that compared with the relatively long life span of the average human, flies are able to evolve quickly. It is becoming apparent that domestic flies are developing a resistance, and in some cases an immunity to insect killing fly sprays. I have come to the conclusion that a rolled up newspaper may be a messy, but still effective alternative. I may also invest in an electric bug swatter – a chemical – free high voltage alternative that is also fun to use. If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

I have noticed that several of the national energy companies are currently targeting local residents with letters asking them to make an appointment to get their current electricity and gas meters replaced with a smart meter. Personally I have received three such letters from my energy supplier, EDF. As I have mentioned before, Smart Meters send real – time power usage data back to the supplier via a 3G mobile phone signal. This means that the meter does not have to be connected to a home data network. This sounds all well and good; the power company can bill you without having to send a meter reader to your house, and you get the option to monitor your power usage in an almost real – time way. There are however, problems. The data sent from the Smart Meter to the supplier is sent unencrypted, and “in the clear”; it is possible to intercept the data stream, and also a malicious attacker can potentially send instructions to the meter remotely. Several Smart Meter companies do admit this, but they play the whole lack of security aspect down. Secondly if one discounts the security implications, the various energy companies all supply different Smart Meters, many of which are incompatible with each other. If you choose to change your energy supplier, you will need to have your Smart Meter changed again – with the associated additional cost that this implies. Tellingly on the EDF letter there are a series of frequently asked questions. EDF initially state in the letter that “your current meter is old and now needs to be replaced – you need to book an appointment for an engineer to carry out this work”. They then go on to stress how old meters can be inaccurate and possibly unsafe. There is a giveaway in the FAQ’s that follow though – and I quote verbatim:- “Occasionally we may be unable to install a Smart Meter, usually due to communications issues with signal strength. If this happens we will not replace your meter, but will contact you again when we believe the Smart Meter national infrastructure will be able to support a Smart Meter in your premises.” There is the smoking gun – they don't actually need to replace the meter for the accuracy and safety concerns expressed earlier –they purely want to do it to make you have a Smart Meter, with all the security, privacy and expense worries that they entail. I have a preferred technique for dealing with such unwanted attention – I ignore everything they send me until they eventually give up and go away. Smart meters primarily benefit the energy companies, because they no longer need to employ meter readers. The benefits to the consumer are minimal at best, and when allied to the security and compatibility concerns mentioned earlier, they don't add up for me. 

I was sent the photo above by a long - time reader. It shows the 229 and 99 buses parked in what was then, and is still now the bus halt in the old Erith Town Centre, along what appears to be a Ford Escort Mk1 van - almost certainly a bus mechanic's service vehicle. The photo would appear to have been taken in around 1973, and the original frontage of the White Hart can be seen in the background, many years before the criminals that later bought the place and illegally removed the locally listed frontage and installed the current hideous plate glass frontage. Hopefully a facsimile of that original Victorian pub frontage will be restored in the near future. Right now, quite honestly it is an eyesore. If you have any old photos of the local area, please feel free to send them to me - you will receive full credit, unlike the originator of this photo, who chooses to remain anonymous. *Update* Since I posted this, regular reader Steve commented "Re. the bus photo - most definitely taken between January and July 1975. I knows this 'cos the bus on the left (an 'MB' type) was one of those drafted in to supplement the ailing DMS fleet which were being withdrawn a few at a time so that necessary upgrades could be carried out. The red Ford Escort is an inspectors' van". Many thanks for the correction Steve!

You may recall that back in January I reported on the fact that Southeastern Trains had been found to have the lowest level of customer satisfaction of any rail operator in the United Kingdom. Not only that, but the level of train cancellations, short trains, overcrowding and breakdowns were also on the rise. It can therefore not really come as a surprise that Peter Hendy, the Head of Transport for London would express the sentiment that Southeastern do not live up to expectation in language I deem unsuitable to print here. After his foul language, he went on to say, in rather more temperate terms “'On Southeastern  the trains are like the Wild West. They are awful. And then every now and then some people who look like the Gestapo get on and fine everyone they can. It doesn't improve your day, does it? People hate the suburban rail service, they hate it. If you make a mistake on your oyster card on the tube, we’ll refund it. On South East Trains, they’ll fine you. That’s a big philosophical difference." Quite. Shortly after he made the statement, he withdrew it and apologised - I get the feeling that he had been nobbled by persons unknown. Personally I have no issue with the revenue protection officers checking that people have the correct Oyster card or paper ticket for their journey – readers with a long memory may recall that in the past I have been told by the revenue inspectors at Plumstead Station that in the early to mid-afternoons, up to a third of the passengers using the North Kent line did not have any form of valid ticket – something that law abiding passengers end up paying for indirectly. I do agree that the Southeastern services in general leave very much to be desired. As a regular commuter into London from Erith, you do become used to the problems the Southeastern Trains – the sudden, unexplained cancellations, the short trains, the filthy condition they are in when they eventually turn up, and the general “couldn't care less” attitude of a significant proportion of their staff.  Having said that, the person that normally runs the ticket office at Erith Station is a pleasant chap who seems to know his job well, so there are exceptions. The problem with Southeastern is that for many commuters there is no alternative service – you are stuck with the underperforming company with no other options. Unlike most of the rest of Greater London, the South East Thames corridor area does not have DLR coverage past Woolwich Arsenal,  or tube coverage of any kind, and the buses into central London involve at least one change, and an impractically long journey time. It will not be until 2018 when Crossrail comes to Abbey Wood that a viable alternative form of public transport will become easily available to locals needing to commute into London. I think that by this time Southeastern Trains will have probably been purchased and subsumed into another of the giant rail operators – they cannot limp on as they are forever. I for one will not be sad to see the back of them.

Long term Maggot Sandwich readers will know that I have been banging on ad nauseum about supermarket self – service checkouts for years. To be brief, I utterly despise the things, and it would appear that I am not alone in this respect. On Wednesday, Morrison’s supermarket announced the following on from extensive public consultation, they were scrapping all their self-service tills and instead installing “Ten Items or Less” checkouts. I applaud the sentiment, but not the appalling mangling of the grammar – it should be “Ten Items or Fewer”. From my understanding, when Morrison’s surveyed their customers, 96% of them said that they preferred dealing  with a real person, whilst 66% said that they were worried about holding up people in the queue whilst they waited for a member of staff to override machines spouting warnings, or being unable to scan a product. This development comes only a month or so since Morrison’s dumped their much derided computerised queue management system that told staff when to open extra checkout lanes – which instead left long queues and lots of unstaffed checkouts, causing delays and stress to customers. Instead they are allowing staff to determine when extra checkouts need to be opened or closed, which is a far more sensible option. The problems with self – service checkouts are well – known; the level of shoplifting escalates when they are in use, as does the level of checkout fraud. I have always felt that goods purchased via a self-service till out to be a few pence cheaper than those purchased via a traditionally staffed checkout – after all, you are doing the supermarket’s work for them – and “why have a dog and bark yourself”. I think that Morrison’s are trying to re – position themselves in the supermarket hierarchy. Certainly the Erith store has suffered since the Asda store opened in Lower Belvedere; Morrison’s staff tell me that they have lost something in the region of thirty percent of the customers that they had before the local competition opened for business. It would seem that not just locally, but across the UK, Morrison’s are feeling the pinch, and are trying to create ways in which their stores differ from the opposition. How successful it will be will take time to ascertain, but I for one think they are heading in the right direction. The restoration of tills staffed by real people offering personal service has to be a good thing. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Here is an unusual view of Erith, looking over to Lower Belvedere. Just for a bit of fun, can you work out where the photo was taken from? It is a somewhat unconventional view. Answers on a postcard (or better still, either leave a comment below, or Email if you know the answer).

This week I have a guest writer who you may recall from the "Selfie" image that was at the start of the last Maggot Sandwich update. Ian "The rEV" Doherty - local musician, activist and history fan has written a piece on Lesnes Abbey Ruins. See what you think. "Did you know that as of mid September 2014 work started on the Lesnes Abbey Woods Enhancement Project? As a local who grew up playing in the woods and ruins doing stuff like riding bikes with mates, making camps and generally mucking about from sunrise to sunset, I knew nothing about it as I sadly don't get down there as much as I’d like now I'm a 40+ year old family man (and would soon be locked away running about with a stick shouting “ACK!-ACK!-ACK!-BRRRRRRR!” whilst pretending to shoot imaginary bad guys and diving behind the Abbey walls) but one bright sunny Spring day last week myself, my wife and our two kids took a walk from our house to the woods as my wife has a yearly almost supernatural urge to see Bluebells so off we strolled and that’s how I came across the changes happening at the almost 900 year old site. For those not in the know, first a bit of history. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, the area of Lesnes (Lesness seems to be modern a corruption of the original spelling) passed into the possession of Bishop Odo and is mentioned in the Domesday Survey. The year 1178 saw the foundation of the Abbey of St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr or Lesnes Abbey, as it became to be known was founded by Richard de Luci, Chief Justiciar of England, in 1178. It is speculated this may have been in penance for the murder of Thomas Becket in which he was involved. The ancient but long-managed Lesnes Abbey Woods are named after the Abbey and the area below the site would have been nothing but marshland. The Abbot of Lesnes Abbey was an important local landlord and took a leading part in arranging and maintaining drainage of the marshland. However, this and the cost of maintaining river embankments was one of the reasons given for the Abbey's apparent chronic financial difficulties. It never became a large community and was closed by Cardinal Wolsey in 1525, under a licence to suppress monasteries of less than seven inmates. It was one of the first monasteries to be closed after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1524 and the monastic buildings were all pulled down except for the Abbot's Lodging. Some of the stone is said to have been used in the construction of Hall Place. The abbey was effectively lost for 350 years and the area became farmland with the abbots house forming part of a farmhouse. Just over 100 years ago the site was excavated by Woolwich & District Antiquarian Society and the former London County Council purchased the site of the ruins in 1930 and it was finally open to the public as a park in 1931. Since 1986, the site has been the property of the London Borough of Bexley. Which lets be honest have done practically nothing with it ever since! Its always cried out for a tea hut or SOMETHING, well as of this year a £4.2m project part funded by Bexley Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund (which is investing £3.5m) has started and because the area is a site of specific interest an independent ecologist reviewed all the main proposals and their recommendations have apparently helped shape the programme of work by minimizing potential environmental or wildlife impacts. At 88 hectares the site is London Borough of Bexley’s second largest park. It is made up of open parkland and a semi-ancient woodland of 65 hectares. To compare, a football pitch is about 1 hectare long. According to the official blurb the project is primarily to make the park more accessible whilst highlighting its rich natural and human history. So there’s going to be new Information boards, Directional and distance signs, Trails and walks signage as well as bigger building works, the largest of these will be new park building called ‘Lesnes Lodge’ that the Council state “will be a community hub for park-based learning and volunteering activities for schools and community groups, as well as providing enhanced facilities for visitors. The new Lodge will provide upgraded public conveniences and will have a provision for serving refreshments onto a beautiful landscaped terrace. It will also provide a base for 2 new full-time Park Staff who will work with Local People to deliver a quality 21st century Park.” Eight new feature entrances will also be installed around the boundary of the park - each one telling its own part of the lengthy timeline of Lesnes. For the recreation ground the younger children’s play area will be retained and remain dog free other new facilities will include an Outdoor gym, a Parkour zone, a “Pump track” (nope, no idea what that is!) a Picnic area, an Outdoor table tennis table and a Trim trail. At the heart of the park will be an “outdoor learning space”, the Lesnes Abbey Woods Enhancement Project is a project linking various strategies, one of which is to establish a number of outdoor classrooms. Not classrooms, as you would find in traditional settings such as in a school but “inventive, creative spaces for exploration and learning about the human and natural history of the park”. The heathland classroom is an informal area for groups to visit, sit and learn about the natural history of this rare urban heathland and the wildlife that depends on it. There will be six outdoor classrooms:  the heathland, a new Dipping platform (at Abbey Ponds next to Abbey Road. The platform and its new footpath will enable visitors and especially school groups to engage with local wildlife and learn about the historic use of the ponds by the Monks of Lesnes Abbey), another space at the Lesnes Lodge courtyard, one at the Fossil bed (which contains many types of fossils from the Eocene epoch of about 54.5 million years ago. The main evidence found today is sharks’ teeth and seashells. This scheme will bring an improved footpath to the fossil bed along with signage to the feature and “interpretive information”. As well a small dinosaur models) , another classroom at the new Skyline view-point (which according to the website its “London’s history framed in one spectacular view in a naturally elevated position with views to the horizon, Abbey ruins and London skyline, the viewing-point will include a raised platform where visitors can sit, relax and enjoy the moving panorama. The viewing-point will feature information and signage about the landscape beyond and the interpretive abbey windows will help frame the views across Thamesmead, Woolwich, Dagenham and all the way to South East and Central London”) and finally a Monk’s garden (a contemporary design of a medieval garden, Monastery gardens were cultivated for multiple purposes; a method of providing food, herbs, fruit and vegetables for reflection, as well as for medicinal and cultural uses. A monk’s garden enriched the lives of those who lived, worked and visited at the Abbey. The Lesnes Monk’s garden will be set out as a series of three distinct spaces: The Sensory Garden - Scents that fill the air and can be smelt without touching these plants. The Contemplative Garden - The typical abbey cloister or contemplative space was very important in monastic life. The garden symbolised a sacred space of personal growth and spiritual tradition. The Productive Garden - In most monasteries, garden work is revered as sacred. This in-turn enabled the Abbey to be nearly self-sufficient in many food and medicines). Sitting adjacent to the Abbey ruin is the striking mulberry tree which is reputed to have been commissioned to be planted by King James I. The King wanted to set up his own English silk industry. However, silk moth caterpillars feed on white mulberries - the trees the King was sold, were black and so the project failed. Never the less, this story is going to be interpreted in the new knee high fence which will encircle the Lesnes Mulberry and roots and will enable it to live on for visitors to enjoy". Wow! What an epic piece of writing - many thanks Ian. Please feel free to comment below, or Email If you would like to be a guest Maggot Sandwich contributor, please get in contact with me.

The end video this week features some of the very oldest moving picture footage of London, alongside some modern video taken from the same locations now. It is a fascinating insight into how the capital has changed over the last century or so, and how in many ways it has stayed the same. 


  1. Hi, Hugh,

    Re. the bus photo - most definitely taken between January and July 1975. I knows this 'cos the bus on the left (an 'MB' type) was one of those drafted in to supplement the ailing DMS fleet which were being withdrawn a few at a time so that necessary upgrades could be carried out. The red Ford Escort is an inspectors' van.

    Hope you're keeping well,

    Steve T

  2. Hi Hugh,

    I assume the 'unusual view of Erith' was taken from Christ Church's bell tower.

    I hope I win a cuddly toy now!

    Belvedere (I loathe the division of Belvedere into 'Upper' and 'Lower' and just call it Belvedere)

  3. Have you seen this? I know you are a fan.