Sunday, May 31, 2015

Will Hay and Uncle Horace.

The photo above (click on it for a larger view) shows the flats being constructed in James Watt Way, between the KFC Drive Through, and Morrison’s petrol station. The construction of the block of affordable flats for social rent has been suspended for nearly six months; this has been due to the contractor that was building the block going bust. The developer, who is backed by the Mayor of London’s office has taken an extremely long time to get building work going again, and much of the thanks for repeatedly asking for status updates from the developer must go to local Councillor Abena Oppong – Asare, who has effectively nagged the developer into getting work underway again. Hopefully the social housing will be finished and open for the first residents before Christmas. The area has a huge amount of house building going on – from Erith Park, which is a giant estate of mixed social and commercial housing, to Tower Hill – the new development by Barratt Homes on the old Bexley College site, and of course Erith Quarry, the brown field site that is set to be the location for the six hundred homes and a primary school development; planning permission has been granted, and the first phase of the construction on the former quarry site is due to be completed by September 2017. All of this new housing is going to attract roughly five thousand new people into the area. My concern is that local infrastructure (gas, water, drainage, electricity) will need to be substantially upgraded to cope, and public transport, health care and shops will need to be expanded for the additional residents. The opening of Crossrail in 2018 will mean that South East London / North Kent will be a lot more accessible than it has until now; one of the major factors in why house prices are less outrageous than in other London suburbs is the historical lack of public transport links into central London – with no tube or DLR connections, the only way to commute into town has been by overland rail on the North Kent Line. If there are any problems with the trains, you really have had little option. With the colossal Paramount theme park almost certain to get the green light, the development will transform an 872-acre brownfield site on the Swanscombe peninsula and be twice the size of the Olympic Park in East London. It will feature Europe’s largest indoor water park, theatres, live music venues, attractions, cinemas, restaurants, event space and hotels. Allied to the project will be a training academy for the entertainment and hospitality sectors, a new country park, a large science and education visitor complex and the biggest performing arts centre in Europe. It is almost inconceivable that the Crossrail project, which is currently set to terminate at Abbey Wood will not be extended down to Swanscombe to cater for visitors to the massive entertainment complex and new town. This would mean that Belvedere, Erith, and Slade Green would be prime commuting areas both into London and down to the Paramount Park – where something like 25,000 new, full time jobs will be required. This is almost certain to be a huge financial and social boost to the entire South East, and could well turn Erith into a new Hoxton. The downside of all this could well mean the end to affordable housing within easy reach of the capital. Many people who live in the local area and who work in central London do so in the service industries – engineering, cleaning, shop workers, facilities maintenance and the like. If they cannot afford to live within commuting distance of London, businesses are going to suffer, and jobs won't get done. There would seem to be a delicate balance to keep things ticking over and the lights lit in London.

Pac-Man, the biggest arcade game of all time, turned 35 years old last week. Released by the Japanese company Namco on May 22, 1980, Pac-Man was like nothing else at the time. At a time when Space Invaders and Asteroids and other games with abstracted, monochrome graphics ruled the arcade, Pac-Man offered a striking, cartoonish design with an appealing central character. It revolved around eating, not shooting; and it was designed to appeal to young women and couples, not spotty nerks in anoraks (although they all played it too). The colourful design and unique collect-the-dots maze gameplay—plus the wonderful tension of running away from those ghosts, then scrambling to eat them once you got a power pellet—made Pac-Man almost instantly addictive, eating ten pence pieces as rapaciously as its protagonist swallowed pixels. By one count, Namco sold 400,000 Pac-Man machines, head and shoulders above anything that had come before, or since. And it is still highly playable and popular in a way its contemporaries are not—few people are paying for Asteroids or Space Invaders updates today, but Namco Bandai still makes and sells variations on Pac-Man on every platform imaginable. Pac-Man’s ubiquity was our first indication that games were about to become the dominant entertainment medium of the information age. (It also arguably marked the beginning of Japan’s impending pop-cultural invasion of the rest of the world, even if players at the time didn't know where it came from.)

Bexley CAMRA have named The Penny Farthing in Waterside, Crayford, as its pub of the year for 2015. Another of the borough’s micropubs, The Door Hinge in Welling, was runner-up. The Penny Farthing only opened in September last year on the site of an old children’s craft shop and is run by couple Bob and Bev Baldwin. This is really good news for local real ale fans; the excellent Robin Hood and Little John in Lion Road, Bexleyheath won the CAMRA award for ten years running, and there really was very little in the way of competition until the micro pubs started appearing a couple of years ago. I am a great fan of micro pubs / ale houses, as they usually sell quality real ales from the local area; in this case, the Bexley Brewery in Erith. The Penny Farthing now goes forward to compete to be crowned the London region CAMRA Pub of the Year, competing against twelve other pubs including Petts Wood micropub One Inn The Wood. The Penny Farthing is also involved in the upcoming Crayford Fun Day on June 13th, hosting its own mini beer festival from June 11th to the 14th, with at least eight beers on sale. I will be paying the place a visit soon.

On Thursday afternoon I was alerted by one of my local informants that a couple of workers were installing metal anti burglar / vandal shuttering outside of the former Potion Bar / White Hart pub. I made my way to the venue and had a friendly chat with the two men; they knew absolutely nothing about the future plans for the building, and had just been hired to secure the place on behalf of the owners. My informant and I share the opinion that shuttered buildings tend to foster crime and anti - social behaviour in areas. I have been in contact with a couple of people who are in a position to find out exactly what the owners of the building intend for its future, and I will report back in due course.

The much anticipated soft play centre for children is now beginning to take shape in the former Blockbuster video hire store in the corner unit of Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. Builders are hard at work converting the store into a giant play area for small children. The windows have been whitewashed over, but it is still possible to peek inside to see what is going on. Lots of work still needs to be completed before the place is ready to open, but I reckon it should be ready by the middle of July, at the rate construction is running. The soft play area is going to be called the Kassiopi Cove, and will have a pirate theme. The company running it have been operating in the area for sixteen years, and have a well-established child-minding and after school group in Northumberland Heath called Jacqueline's Gems childcare services. It looks like they are very well qualified and experienced to run a new child – centric business in Erith; I will be contacting them once the soft play centre nears completion, and I hope to get some photos.  It is good to see the retail unit back in use; since Blockbuster went bankrupt early in 2013, it has been empty and unloved. There are lots of small children that need to be kept occupied and entertained in Erith – I think the soft play centre should do rather well. 

Some worrying statistics have been published earlier this week by Transport for London. There were 567 sexual offences reported on London Underground and on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) in 2014/15 compared with 429 in 2013/14. There were also more sexual offences reported on London buses, with 684 in 2014/15 compared with 513 in 2013/14. TfL attributed the rise in reporting of sex attacks to a joint initiative with police called Project Guardian. The project aims to raise public awareness of unwanted sexual behaviour and encourages victims to report these historically under-reported crimes. In other areas statistics showed improvement - there were 27,758 crimes on London’s public transport network overall, which is 8.3 percent fewer than in 2013/14. London mayor Boris Johnson said he was “very pleased that Londoners have been given greater confidence to report sexual offences following the launch of Project Guardian.” Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT transport union, had a different reaction to the year’s statistics. “We warned right from the off that cash-led cuts to station staffing would turn London Underground into a criminals’ paradise. “Those who ignored those warnings, and in particular Boris Johnson, should be hanging their heads in shame today, apologising to Londoners and reversing their lethal cuts programme” he said. Oh well, as normal the politicians and union leaders use people's misery to back up their political arguments. For the South East region, the overland trains and the bus service are the two areas of greatest local concern – there is not much call for the tube in Slade Green! The local buses are a big worry – especially late in the evening. I think more should be done to encourage the Police to travel around by bus whenever possible.

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece about the Erith Odeon cinema. Local historian Ken Chamberlain sent me the photos you can see above, which show the cinema when it opened on the 26th of February 1938, showing the Hollywood movie "Stella Dallas". By the looks of it, the Odeon was a very grand building inside, and a landmark piece of Art Deco architecture outside. I can recall that even when it was empty and abandoned in the late 1990's, it still had a real presence. The current block of flats with offices underneath does have some echoes of the original structural design, but it is not a patch on the original. It is ironic that now Art Deco is very much back in vogue, if the cinema building had survived until today, it would most likely have been preserved. The Odeon showed a wide variety of films during its existence as a cinema, in the years before it declined and became a Bingo hall - the fate of many cinemas around the UK. One film star whose movies were shown at the Odeon Erith was Will Hay - a name largely forgotten today, but a comic actor whose best work influenced the likes of the Goon Show, and Monty Python, and his most famous film "Oh, Mister Porter!" was a direct influence on "Dad's Army". I have to declare a family connection with Will Hay; my Great Uncle Horace (whom I have written about previously) was a very close friend of Will Hay for many years. This week marks the 80th anniversary of Will Hay having his first starring role in a British film. Born in Stockton in 1888, Hay’s family moved him south to Suffolk before his first birthday. As his father became a jobbing engineer so the family’s mobility quickly increased – moving next to Hemel Hempstead then to London and finally to Manchester where Hay Senior established his own firm. Wanting independence, Will refused to join the family company and started instead as an apprentice engineer for Westinghouse. Yet Hay was no typical engineer and his humour hid by the fact that, by the age of 19, he had learnt German, French and Italian to such a high level that he was able to leave engineering and became an interpreter. His nineteenth year also saw him married to fellow teenager Gladys Perkins and when his daughter Gladys Elspeth was born some eighteen months later Hay decided he could make a better living for his new family in the pre-Great War music halls. Stealing some of his sister Eppie’s staff room reminiscences – she was a full time teacher – Hay began to develop his pompous, bumbling schoolmaster act. After working for over three years with the Fred Karno troupe, where Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin had developed their craft, Hay swiftly found himself the talk of the town: selling out Britain’s biggest music halls, playing sets for the Prince of Wales and successfully touring America, South Africa and Canada. Then came Boys Will Be Boys (1935) his first starring film role with a screenplay written by Hay himself. The story wasn't overly deep – a prison teacher cons his way into a boarding school job and helps stop a diamond theft – but it did have its moments. And it was the perfect frame for Hay’s idiot teacher routines…Then, in 1937,  Graham Moffat joined Moore Marriott as Hay’s two sidekicks in the finest comic film any of them would ever be involved with, Oh, Mr Porter! wherein Hay discovers the (Northern) Irish railway station he’s been sent to run, Buggleskelly, is actually a run-down mess. Gun-runners, ghosts, secret windmills and missing trains – Hay and his two stooges come out on top in a film that is, even now, genuinely funny, at times hilarious. Oh, Mister Porter! (1937) was a deserved box office smash in its day, taking some £500,000 in British cinemas alone – the equivalent now would be over £15 million. In the immediate pre - war years, Will Hay was the second highest paid entertainer in Britain, earning a reputed £800 per week - narrowly pipped in the earnings stakes by George Formby. Outside of show business, Will Hay was a dedicated and respected amateur astronomer. He constructed a personal observatory in his garden in Mill Hill and built a glider in 1909. He became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1932 and is noted for having discovered a Great White Spot on the planet Saturn in 1933. The spot lasted for a few months and then faded away. He also measured the positions of comets with a micrometer he built himself, and designed and built a blink comparator. He wrote the book Through My Telescope in 1935, which had a foreword by Sir Richard Gregory, formerly Emeritus Professor of Astronomy at Queen's College, London. When Hay died, a few items of his equipment were bequeathed to the British Astronomical Association. Some years ago I came across a long out of print book on the life of Will Hay, and it had some photos taken of his garden and his private observatory; in one of the early shots, the construction of his observatory is shown; several people are helping with the digging. One chap is seen stripped to his string vest and leaning on a shovel - it was my late Great Uncle Horace on what must have been a very hot day for manual labour. I wish I had a copy of the book. In 1947, Hay suffered a stroke which left him physically disabled. He died at his flat in Chelsea, London after a further stroke in 1949, and is buried in Streatham Park Cemetery, London SW16. Will Hay's films are now out of copyright, and have been released into the public domain. Below you can see Will Hay's greatest work - one of the best British comedy films of all time, the excellent "Oh, Mister Porter!" in full. Click to make the video window full screen, sit back and enjoy the movie.

One local Maggot Sandwich reader made the following observations regarding my piece on the long unused and empty former Port of London Authority building adjacent to the Erith Riverfront Gardens that I published last week; I have to say that I was aware of some of the points he raised, as I too am a Shoreline member of the RNLI, and have been since I was working at sea for Radio Caroline, back in the late 1980's / early 1990's. Anyone who has spent any length of time at sea will have nothing but immense respect and admiration for the men and women volunteers for the organisation. "I noted your comments regarding a possible RNLI station at Erith. As a basic member/supporter of the RNLI I can say that it would be very unlikely to happen for a number of reasons. Firstly the RNLI is currently reviewing the number of stations it has and the number and type of call outs it gets. Some stations have already been reviewed and the type of cover and vessel stationed changed. The North East and East Coast of Scotland around recently underwent changes of this type. Reviews of this type are regularly taken by all of the emergency services too. Generally speaking the crews are all volunteers who are 'on call' while doing their usual employment, not at a station. So volunteers from the local area would have to be sought and trained, not easy as their jobs must allow them to drop everything at a moments notice.  I personally do not feel that there is a need for any sub-station at Erith as the regular river users from the rowing and yacht clubs are experienced sailors and are always watching out for each other, and while the RNLI is there for everyone who needs them I just don't see any justification for a station at Erith with the attendant expense of a boat, security etc when events you mentioned are relatively rare. Problems like where to moor a vessel given the silting around Erith, security of the vessel when not in use etc. Like all charities the RNLI has limited funds as has to allocate where the most benefit can be accrued, and setting up a station, buying a boat, training crew members is a massive expense that at this time is probably not feasible A list of the call outs of all boats can be found on the RNLI website and gives an excellent picture of the reasons they are deployed ". Excellent and very informative stuff. My original piece was designed to encourage discussion, debate and positive feedback; in that case it appears to have been successful. The riverfront building definitely needs to be put back into productive use sooner rather than later. If you have any observations or opinions on what it could be used for, I would be more than interested to hear from you on the subject. The building is one of those unusual ones that seems to "hide in plain sight" - people pass it all of the time, but nobody ever seems to pay it the slightest bit of attention. I think this is a waste of what could be a very useful structure, bang on the riverfront. I think we are collectively missing a trick.

With all of the attention the Police have been giving the illegal bikers who have been tearing up Slade Green Marshes, you would have thought that the bikers would have got the message at least for a while and gone to ground until the heat was off. Not a bit of it, I am afraid. One of the main offenders has been caught on camera on the A2 near the Dartford River Crossing – as you can see in the photo above, he’s pulling wheelies on his quad bike on a motorway. Personally if he wants to kill himself with acts of stupidity, that is his lookout, but he’s likely to injure or potentially even kill others in the process. I recognise the distinctive design of the bike as being one that has frequently been ridden illegally in and around Erith – of course, the scumbag does not have the bike registered, so no number plate to give the game away. I know that the local Police are aware who a majority of the offenders are. This guy needs to be collared as soon as possible, especially after the news last week that another biker called Ernest Miller, known as "Della" to his friends, died after his motorbike collided with a car in Beckenham at around 8am on May 13th.  Witnesses described seeing the 26-year-old thrown from his motorbike over the top of a car and into the road. He died shortly thereafter. Ernest Miller was a member of Bike Life TV UK (probably more accurately described as "Chavs on mopeds"), linked to groups known for haring along Lower Belvedere and Thamesmead’s roads and pavements on motorcycles performing tricks. I have featured them in a previous update. It is ironic that on this occasion he was not riding irresponsibly. Nevertheless groups like Bike Life TV foster and encourage illegal and dangerous riding – and if more deaths are to be avoided, they need to be reined in by the authorities. On top of all this, several serious incidents have been reported this week, involving the two 13 / 14 year old youths on a high powered sports bike that I have remarked upon before. On Thursday afternoon they raced their stolen bike along James Watt Way; A Police patrol car was parked in the road, as the officers were dealing with an incident. The rider of the high powered motorbike slowed down, allowing the passenger to kick off the wing mirror of the Police car - they then rode off at speed. An even more serious incident happened some time later. A local resident was walking his dog along the riverside pathway close to the far end of James Watt Way, near where the traveller pony lives on a small piece of wasteland. The two young crooks came racing along the pathway on the bike, and narrowly missed hitting the man and his dog in the process. The skid marks from the frantic braking can still be clearly seen on the paving slabs. The bike is huge and very powerful - it may be a Suzuki GSX-R 1000, or something similar. The Police know the number plate, and have confirmed to me that the vehicle is indeed stolen. The two youths need to be caught soon; they are a danger both to themselves and others. From what I have been told by a very reliable source, the Police think that the two scumbags are deliberately trying to provoke a chase with them. My own thoughts are that they probably have a couple of GoPro cameras mounted on the stolen super bike, so that they can later upload videos of their exploits onto YouTube to gain bragging rights from their criminal mates. I would imagine that law abiding bikers are getting heartily sick of the antics of a small group of criminals, who don’t do anything to enhance the image of the responsible bike rider. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

The ending video this week show the work of the Lesnes Abbey Conservation Volunteers (LACV). It is a fascinating insight into the work of this little - known local volunteer group who do such good work for the area in and around Lesnes Abbey Wood and Lesnes Abbey Ruins. Give it a watch - you might learn something (I know that I certainly did).

No comments:

Post a Comment