Sunday, June 07, 2015

Kung Fury.

The photo above shows a Police helicopter taken from the back garden of Pewty Acres on Thursday evening. The helicopter flew around for around half an hour, taking particular interest in the river front area, before it flew away – I suspect as it was running low on fuel. At the time I wondered of it was tracking the two youths on the stolen high – powered motorbike that I reported last week. It turns out that there had been a report of a “despondent” person on Erith Pier who was threatening to throw themselves in the river. The RNLI also attended from Gravesend, but nothing was found, and no person identified. This is the third such incident in as many weeks; apart from my recent thoughts on having an RNLI resource based in Erith, I am not sure how the pier could be made less attractive to those contemplating suicide. There was an unfortunate case back in 2011 when a young man did jump to his death from the pier – and a small metal plaque on the small white building at the far end of the pier now commemorates the event. I understand that the currents and undertow in the Anchor Bay portion of the river (where the pier is located) are some of the strongest and most deadly of any on the entire length of the River Thames. It has been said that even a very strong swimmer who fell in accidentally would only have a life expectancy of eleven minutes without aid.

If you walk around Erith fairly early on a weekday morning, amongst the heavy traffic coming along Queen’s Road heading North West over the hideous fish roundabout and into Bronze Age Way in the direction of Thamesmead and Woolwich, one can see a procession of white vans with dark windows in the sides. These are the Serco prison transport vehicles, which are ferrying prisoners on remand to both Woolwich Crown Court at Belmarsh Prison, and to The Central Criminal Court (better known as the Old Bailey). The vans start appearing a few minutes before 7am each weekday, and usually have gone by around 7.15. It strikes me that as one can generally set one’s watch by the regular appearance of the vans, their location must be known by many. Bearing in mind that the accused only gets detained on remand in the most serious of cases, and those on remand tend to be prisoners with previous convictions, or are accused of serious crimes such as murder or terrorism, there may be those close to the prisoners who wish to see them free. Erith seems to be an ideal choke point to hijack a Serco van to free a prisoner on their way to or from court. The predictable behaviour of the vans would make setting up an ambush relatively straightforward, and there are multiple escape routes by car – you can head through Northumberland Heath down onto the A2 for the coast, or back along Bronze Age Way to head into London – the options are legion. I wonder if Serco (a commercial organisation) have given this aspect of security any real consideration? I am concerned that Erith is going to be getting press attention for all of the wrong reasons if something is not done. I have been in contact with Serco in respect of the matter, and will let you know when (if?)  they get back to me.

It is not often that I celebrate the closure of a shop, especially one in the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, where there are unfortunately still units un-let since the place opened. In this case I will make an exception. The Money Shop has closed down and a notice in the window indicates that it has “relocated” to Woolwich. I am glad to see the back of the place, which exploited down on their luck locals. The money shop charge a basic 1305% APR on cash loans – an utterly extortionate amount for people who are often at a very low and vulnerable point in their lives. As I have stated before, it is very expensive to be poor nowadays – whether it be by using pre – pay utility meters, payday lenders or buying goods on the “never-never” from exploitative stores like Brighthouse, who I have written about extensively in the past. Suffice to say that all of these legal, but to my way of thinking, immoral organisations prey on the poor. Seeing the back of one of them can only be to the long term benefit of local people. I am told that a credit union may be on  the way – though the talks seem to have been going on interminably; hopefully we will get something in place before too much longer. Now that The Money Shop are no longer in the shopping centre, I wonder how long it will be before another retailer moves into the space? Nearby neighbour Mambocino have made a great success – what started out as little more than yet another coffee shop has metamorphosed into a lovely cafĂ© cum informal restaurant that always seems to be buzzing with visitors. Some time ago I reported on a rumour that I had heard that Mambocino were going to expand into the large corner unit that takes up the space to the left of the large precinct gates at the front of the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. Currently this unit is still empty with a “To Let” sign in the window, but I am hopeful of developments soon.

Thirty years ago this month, Dire Straits released their fifth album, “Brothers in Arms". It went on to become one of the best-selling albums of all time, it revolutionised the music industry. For the first time, an album sold more on compact disc than on vinyl, and passed the one million units sold  mark. Three years after the first silver discs had appeared in record shops,”Brothers in Arms” was the symbolic milestone that marked the true beginning of the CD era. “Brothers in Arms was the first flag in the ground that made the industry and the wider public aware of the CD’s potential,” says the British Phonographic Industry spokesperson Gennaro Castaldo, who began a long career in retail that year. “It was clear this was a format whose time had come.” CD sales overtook vinyl in 1988 and cassettes in 1991. The 12 centimetre optical disc became the biggest money-spinner the music industry had ever seen, or will ever be likely to see. In 1974, 28-year-old electronic engineer Kees Schouhamer Immink was assigned to the Optics Group of Philips Research in Eindhoven, Holland. His team’s task was to create a 30 centimetre videodisc called Laservision (Laserdisk in Europe), but that flopped (the quality was pretty poor, and the disks were notorious for skipping and stopping dead for no apparent reason) and the focus shifted to designing a smaller audio-only disc. “There were 101 problems to be solved,” Immink says. Meanwhile, in Japan, Sony engineers were working on a similar project. In 1979, Sony and Philips made an unprecedented agreement to pool resources. For example, Sony engineers perfected the error correction code, CIRC, while Immink himself developed the channel code, EFM, which struck a workable balance between reliability and playing time. “We never had people from other companies in our experimental premises,” Immink says. “It was unheard of. Usually you become foes, but in this case we really became good friends, and we're still friends after so many years. It was remarkable, actually.” In June 1980, after complicated negotiations in Tokyo and Eindhoven, the so-called Red Book set standard specifications for the compact disc digital audio format. The story goes that the size (12 cm) and length (74 minutes, 33 seconds) were changed at the eleventh hour when Sony’s executive vice president Norio Ohga insisted that the disc should have enough space for the longest recorded performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, his wife’s favourite piece of music, but I and others suspect that is an urban myth. There were so many technical and financial considerations that it is unlikely such a key decision came down to one woman’s love of Beethoven – there were simply too many other factors.  The CD was introduced to the British public in a 1981 episode of the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World, in which Kieran Prendeville famously mauled a test disc of the Bee Gees’ Living Eyes to demonstrate the format’s alleged indestructibility – the spreading of jam on the test disc is something that has passed into popular legend.  It caught the public imagination, but Immink found the claim puzzling and embarrassing because it was clearly untrue. “We should not put emphasis on the fact it will last for ever because it will not last forever,” he says. “We should put emphasis on the quality of sound and ease of handling.” (I read an article recently where Paul McCartney recalled the first time George Martin showed him a CD. George said, ‘This will change the world.’ He told us it was indestructible, you can’t smash it. Look! And – whack – it broke in half.”) Dire StraitsMark Knopfler was an early convert (the second track on Pure, Perfect Sound Forever, the promotional 1982 compilation that came free with early CD players, was Dire Straits’ Once Upon a Time in the West). Knopfler insisted on recording Brothers in Arms on state-of-the-art digital equipment, so a promotional partnership was a natural fit. Philips sponsored Dire Straits’ world tour and featured the band in TV commercials with the slogan, attributed to Knopfler: “I want the best. How about you?” Brothers in Arms was an iconic release, the CD came to symbolise the so-called yuppie generation, representing new material success and aspiration. If you owned a CD player it showed you were upwardly mobile. Its significance seemed to go beyond music to a lifestyle statement. CD’s still sell nowadays, but the emphasis on convenience and ease of use of digital download services such as Apple’s ITunes have reduced the demand for physical recordings – it was It was the 2001 launch of the iPod, an aspirational premium product which made MP3s portable, that turned the tide. Before that the MP3 was an inferior good; Once you had the iPod, the CD was an inferior good. It could get cracked or lost, whereas MP3 files lasted.  Not pure, not perfect, but sound for ever. It is just a pity that unless recorded at very high bit rates, MP3 files sound inferior to CD, and way worse that vinyl – my own format of choice to this day. What do you think? Are CD’s on the way out for you? Do you still have a much loved collection of vinyl? Please make a comment below, or Email me at

The occasional Maggot Sandwich restaurant critic Brian Silk has written the following review on the restaurant in the Running Horses in Erith High Street, opposite the Riverside Gardens.  "I recently returned to the Running Horses pub for yet another meal before going to see a production at the Playhouse. I've been doing this, with the same group of friends, for a few years now. We go there for the reliable menu and the ability to buy a chilled bottle (or two) of white wine – this sets us up nicely for short stroll up the hill to enjoy the rest of our evening at Erith's fine theatre. The menus at The Horses are well worn. That's not a criticism, but rather to say that the pub has been serving the same extensive menu for quite a few years now. So it's tried and tested and they are very good at what they do. And what they do is serve up freshly-prepared large, and very tasty, pub grub. It never fails to hit the spot and it's accompanied by friendly efficient service. There's every dish you might imagine would be available in a pub and there are some excellent meal deals. A final plus point is to say that the Running Horses is a pleasant place to eat with friends – it's nicely decorated and, best of all, there is no blaring music or sports TV to get in the way of having a conversation".

The photo above shows the second freight train derailment at the Charlton Junction, which happened this Wednesday afternoon, once again meaning that no train services to and from London were able to run on the North Kent Line. The photo above is the copyright of Daniel Rudge. Part of the problem is that the UK is unusual in allowing freight and passenger trains to run on the same lines - most other countries have separate train lines for each service. After years of griping about the poor service, high ticket prices, and general “couldn't care less” attitude of Southeastern Trains, a possible development has appeared on the horizon. Following last week’s Transport for London (TFL) takeover of rail services out of Liverpool Street and between Romford and Upminster, which were previously run by the operator Greater Anglia. London Mayor Boris Johnson has said that he wants to extent TFL’s influence to include Southeastern – their franchise is not due for renegotiation until 2018, but their poor level of service, late trains and high levels of sudden cancellations mean that Boris may well force the issue. TFL took over running the North London Line and Silverlink, which meant that all of their stations were staffed all of the time they are open, they also became part of the Oyster card system, rather than the national “pay as you go” scheme, and this has on average reduced journey costs to passengers by a little over fifteen percent. The plan would seem to be to include all over ground train networks within Greater London under the control of Transport for London, and remove the franchised companies altogether. At a press event in Enfield last week, Boris Johnson said “Since TFL took over underused rail lines and created London Over ground there have been massive improvements – with delays down and passengers giving the network their vote of confidence in huge numbers. Now that London’s population growing at a phenomenal rate, it is the perfect time for these new routes to pass to TFL so that they can be brought up to the same high standard. Beyond this important addition to London’s integrated transport network, I will be urging government colleagues to look at how Southeastern services could operate when this franchise ends in 2018”. Personally I don’t see this coming a moment too soon – especially as the existing rail operators have once again been held ransom by their staff – the much anticipated national rail strike was called off at the start of last week – until the union members decide they want to line their pockets still further, and make another threat. The railways form an integral part of the communication infrastructure of the country, and as such I feel that they should be treated in a similar way to the Police or Armed Forces. It is not like we in the South East are exactly unfamiliar with a lack of train service anyway – what with both the rebuilding and expansion of London Bridge station, and the even closer Crossrail Terminus project at Abbey Wood, the trains are out of service most, if not all weekends, which restricts people's leisure travel into places such as Greenwich and central London. I think that when Crossrail opens in 2018, the Southeastern franchise will transfer to TFL, and the real start of London transport integration will have begun. For me I don't think it can some soon enough.

One less well known than it should be local landmark is the Victorian pumping station at Crossness. It opens occasionally to the public, but for much of the year it is closed, except to those volunteers who are working to restore and maintain the Grade 1 listed building and the giant steam powered pumping engines that it contains. The whole Crossness project began in the long hot summer of 1858 and the infamous “Great Stink”; at the time, toilets flushed into sewers that fed directly into the River Thames; consequently the smell that came off the river was awful , and the summer of 1858 made it even worse, to the point where questions were asked in the House of Commons (which, of course is right next to the banks of the Thames). With a river soaked in effluent, the stench back then came from outside the House of Commons rather than inside. Cholera raged across London, killing three times as many as in areas with cleaner water. While pioneering epidemiologist John Snow had traced an outbreak in Soho to a water pump, many still believed in theories about miasma – that the source of illness was in the air. Against this background, engineer and businessman Joseph Bazalgette was given the go-ahead to build the sewer system that finally made London a really modern city. With a system of interconnecting sewers both North and South of the river connecting to the growing suburbs, the Thames was finally tamed. In fact, the system had been planned four years previously, in response to the cholera crisis, but it was the Great Stink that gave the impetus to pass an enabling Act. Bazalgette’s system was really two separate ones, with the separate branches of each converging, before ultimately the sewage was still dumped into the river – just not where it would bother anyone who really mattered. In the north, the sewers converge at Abbey Mills, where a pumping station linked them to the Northern Outfall Sewer. In the south, sewage was originally dumped into Deptford Creek. By 1860 work had begun on the Southern Outfall Sewer, which was to take the waste all the way to Crossness, adjacent to what is now Thamesmead, but at the time was an uninhabited area of marsh land. In 1865 – 150 years ago this year – the Crossness Pumping Station was opened. At Crossness, a huge covered reservoir stored everything that came from the sewers South of the river. Covering over six acres, and capable of holding 27 million gallons, it was filled by the engines in the pump house raising the sewage up, and then opened at high tide, to allow the contents to flow out to sea as the waters ebb. In 1865, sewage treatment as we know it had not been developed, so the aim was simply to dump the muck as far away from where it mattered as possible. It just goes to show that little has changed – politicians at both national and local level (Teresa Pearce, the MP for Erith and Thamesmead excepted) want as little as possible to do with the area even nowadays. Anyway, The Victorians, of course, did things in style. Just as two years before, a banquet had been held at Farringdon Station to mark the opening of the world’s first underground railway, so Crossness was opened with pomp and circumstance, with the Prince of Wales starting the engines in the company of two other princes, a Duke and a pair of Archbishops. As you might expect, given the spirit of the age, the four engines – built by James Watt – were given suitably regal names: Victoria, Prince Consort, Albert Edward and Alexandra. Another four engines were added in 1897 to provide additional capacity. A few years later, the original steam engines were upgraded with additional cylinders, before the four additional engines were replaced by diesel in 1913. By 1956, all the steam-powered machines had been decommissioned, with the last major use of the Prince Consort engine being to help pump water after the great floods of 1953. Like much old Victorian machinery, their story would have ended with rot and decay, were it not for The Crossness Engines Trust. In 1985, a group was formed with the aim of preserving the engines and ultimately restoring them. Converted into a Trust to give it legal standing in 1988, it was granted a lease in 1993. The Trust’s aim is to restore the buildings and engines to their 1899 condition, and create an exhibition to accompany them. Despite delays, work is proceeding thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and it is hoped that a new access route to an exhibition – avoiding the still-working sections of the Thames Water plant – will be complete next year. The giant pump called Prince Consort has been fully restored and work continues on Victoria. At open days several times each year, Prince Consort is steamed and visitors can see the engine in action, as well as admiring the interior of the pumping station. The Crossness Engines Trust are currently looking for more volunteers. Many of those in the past have been active in the areas immediately useful to the project – working on the restoration of engines, painting the ironwork, and so on. But with work progressing on the new visitor facilities, they will also need more customer service volunteers, tour guides, people to keep the garden in order and much more. Ultimately, to enable the engines to work more often, there’s likely to be a need for more people who can work them, too. The venue will be open on the following occasions in 2015:- June 21st, July 26th, August 23rd and October 11th. Admission Fee: Adults £6, Children £2, under 5 free.

Long – time Maggot Sandwich readers may well recall that I have commented on several occasions in the past that I could foresee the time when previously every day and relatively ubiquitous pieces of electronic equipment could become modern antiques. This has now happened. You may recall that last year I reported how the Henry Ford Museum stumped up a whopping $905,000 for a working model of the Apple 1 computer. Contrary to the popular press, the Apple 1 was not the first home computer, or indeed very much of a success when it was first released in July 1976, when they sold for $666.66 with no case, keyboard, monitor or storage media. Nevertheless, it was a very early computer that could be used in the home or office by a knowledgeable enthusiast, but it certainly was not operable by the average person. Anyway, the small number of Apple 1’s sold back in the day, coupled with the huge fan base the company has nowadays means that the few surviving Apple 1’s in the world are now worth a mint – working or not. Last week, the specialist IT press reported that a Californian electronics recycling company came across something that they were not expecting.  The company - CleanBayArea said the "anonymous lady around 60-70 years of age" left a couple of boxes of electronic waste at its Silicon Valley warehouse in Milpitas last month, explaining that "her husband had passed away and that she had decided to clean up their garage". According to CleanBayArea vice president Victor Gichun, the woman declined to get a receipt or leave her name. A couple of weeks later, a trawl of the boxes revealed an immaculate 8-bit Apple 1, complete with the sales receipt and supporting documentation, which the company subsequently sold to a private collector for nearly a quarter of a million dollars. CleanBayArea policy is to split sales profits 50-50 with the donor, and to claim her $100,000 prize, the mystery woman "just needs to show up at the company's warehouse". Victor Gichun said: "To prove who she is, I just need to look at her." This story sounds like an urban myth, but it checks out. I think the message is, if you don’t know if something is valuable, speak to someone who knows before you throw it out. Since only two hundred Apple 1 computers were ever made, it is doubtful that this kind of incident will happen very frequently, although I do understand that in addition to genuine replicas of the Apple 1, there are a number of dubious motherboards purporting to be the real thing, but which are actually modern fakes. The huge sums of money that Apple 1’s sell for has inevitably attracted forgers and other crooks.

The ending video this week is in my opinion a work of utter genius. The short, thirty minute film has already been viewed on YouTube over thirteen and a half million times in the one week since it was released. It is called “Kung Fury”, and it is rather difficult to describe. It is a Kung Fu cop movie set in 1985 that contains Laser firing dinosaurs, Wolf riding Valkyries armed with chain guns, Hitler and a horde of Nazis, a sentient and psychopathic video games machine, a computer hacker so skilled that he can hack time itself, and the Norse God Thor. Imagine “Avengers Assemble” if it has been made in 1985 as a low budget, straight to VHS video “B” movie and you will be halfway there.  It is hysterically over the top, and parodies the low budget action movies made by production companies such as Cannon Films back in the 80’s perfectly. You even get a guest appearance by David Hasselhoff – what more could you ask? You can see him performing the title song for the movie above. You can watch the movie in full HD below (only it’s actually in VHS quality, complete with the occasional tape tracking error and drop – out of a typical 80’s well-worn VHS rental cassette!) It is an affectionate and spot – on love letter to cheesy 80’s low budget films that used to make up the bulk of the stock of the thousands of independent video rental stores that were found in every town and village in the U.K in the 1980’s. The film was actually produced in Sweden and was financed by a crowd – funding venture. I have just heard that a full length Hollywood feature movie is to be made of Kung Fury, with the director and star in overall charge. It absolutely hits the spot – see what you think, and feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

1 comment:

  1. Crossness Engine House is a fantastic example of Victorian engineering and decoration- the building is for industrial use and miles from anything else but the attention to detail is amazing. Well worth a visit.