Sunday, June 28, 2015

The launch of the London Titan.

Visitors to the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre may have noticed recent activity on the former Blockbuster video hire store, which has been empty and unused since the video hire chain went bust back in September 2013. The large retail unit is being converted into a soft play area for small children. The builders have been at work for nearly six weeks now, and the change in use of the store is now becoming apparent. When completed, the place will be called Kassiopi Cove, a pirate themed multi level play area, including a super fast four lane slide, a spiral slide, ball pool with interactive ball lifter, pirate climbing tower and dedicated baby and toddler play areas. The website mentioned on the poster above is not active at present - though the domain is registered. I will be contacting the business owners in the hope to run a more detailed feature on them in the coming weeks.

As I wrote back in November last year, the new toll collection system at the Dartford River Crossing is still receiving a large number of complaints. The new scheme - called Dart Charge - has been in place since November 29th last year. Motorists have no longer had to stop at toll booths to pay for the crossing. Instead, they can pay remotely, either online, on the phone, in certain shops or by post. The idea behind this is that free flowing traffic should move more quickly, as overhead cameras using number plate recognition technology are in place to catch any toll-dodgers who will be issued a fine for non-payment. While the majority of users have a smooth experience, some users have suffered problems with being double charged, or having a payment query, and not being able to get through to the call centre. I am also aware that a considerable number of "ghost journeys" have been reported - where a vehicle is charged for travelling over the crossing, when it was in fact not in the area at the time. There is already a serious problem around the country with false, stolen or cloned vehicle number plates in use by crooks trying to avoid both toll charges and fines for other traffic offences. I know for a fact that in the local area vehicles are illegally on the roads with suspect plates - and the Police are actively investigating those involved; from my understanding, the kind of person who fits false registration plates to a vehicle is the sort of person who is very likely to be involved with other kinds of criminality as well. The Dart Charge system has problems differentiating between "0" and "O", and there have been multiple instances of the wrong person being sent a fine notice. One commenter on the story on the Kent Messenger website wrote:- "My Dad (who lives in Yorkshire and who has never been anywhere near Dartford) just had a penalty notice through. He drives a Volvo V70 yet the car in the photo was a Renault! He rang up to complain but they said he would have to appeal against it! What a waste of time and money!" It is apparent that the Dart Charge system is deeply flawed, and the public are rapidly losing faith in it. Please feel free to leave a comment below; alternatively you can Email me at

It looks like the UK National Health Service could finally be getting a much needed shake – up in respect to its current public support for homeopathy. At present the NHS spends approximately £4 million a year on homeopathic “medicines”, and £20 million a year on the maintenance and running of the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine. Homeopathy is a two hundred year old pre-scientific system of medicine based upon magical thinking. It is mostly based on two notions, the first of which is that like cures like. In other words, a substance that causes a symptom can cure that symptom in extremely low doses. The NHS Choices website defies homeopathy as “Homeopathy is a complementary or alternative medicine (CAM). This means that homeopathy is different in important ways from treatments that are part of conventional Western medicine. It is based on a series of ideas developed in the 1790s by a German doctor called Samuel Hahnemann.  A central principle of the "treatment" is that "like cures like" – that a substance that causes certain symptoms can also help to remove those symptoms. A second central principle is based around a process of dilution and shaking, called succussion. Practitioners believe that the more a substance is diluted in this way, the greater its power to treat symptoms. Many homeopathic remedies consist of substances that have been diluted many times in water until there is none or almost none of the original substance left. Homeopathy is used to "treat" an extremely wide range of conditions, including physical conditions such as asthma and psychological conditions such as depression.” There is no scientific basis for this, despite the desperate attempts by homeopaths to invoke vaccine-like analogies. The second notion is that you make a remedy more powerful by diluting it to extreme degrees. People have fun making comparisons, such as the need to drink a solar-system’s worth of water to have a 50% chance of getting a single molecule of active ingredient. No problem, say the homeopaths, homeopathic potions contain the magical “essence” of what was previously diluted in them. Homeopaths are also hoist with their own petard when it comes to the evidence. Rigorous clinical trials of homeopathy are frustratingly (but not surprisingly) negative. Homeopaths explain this away by saying that double-blind placebo controlled trials are not really appropriate for homeopathic treatments. Such studies take a cookie-cutter approach to treatment, while real homeopathy individualizes the treatment to the patient. This argument, however, just creates two even more serious problems. The first is that whenever homeopaths use this argument they throw the entire homeopathic industry under the bus. They are essentially saying that all over the counter homeopathic products are useless, and even fraudulent. I would be happy to stipulate to this, and erase the entire over the counter homeopathic product industry. We can then deal with homeopathic practitioners separately. The second problem is the manner in which homeopathic treatments are individualized. This also is not based on any scientific principle or set of reliable empirical data. It’s all magic and witchcraft. Quirky traits, like whether someone is emotionally disturbed, are used to determine their optimal treatment. There is also no consistency among homeopaths – see ten different homeopaths and you may get ten different treatments. This has more in common with an astrological reading than medicine. It is an elaborate system of utter nonsense. Word that homeopathy is complete moonshine is starting to get out. In 2010 the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee completed a full report on homeopathy in which they concluded it is witchcraft – that it cannot work, it does not work, and support for homeopathy in the national health service should be completely eliminated. In 2015 the Australian government completed its own review, concluding that there is no evidence that homeopathy works for anything. Homeopathy is a placebo. The sooner the NHS stop paying for it, and use the money for real, scientifically proven medical treatments, the better for us all.

I will be attending Erith Fun Day on the 18th July - look out for me, and do come over to say hello. Apart from meeting Maggot Sandwich readers, I will also be promoting the Friends of Christ Church Erith - the secular organisation that raises funds for, and cares for the historic landmark building. I sit on the committee of the organisation; we are looking to recruit new members. You can have a chat with me about what the Friends are doing, and maybe pick up a leaflet.

My article on the possible future of the Potion Bar / former White Hart has provoked some reader Emails. The general consensus seems to be that the Email authors would quite like a decent local "eat in" curry house, but agree that it is probably wishful thinking at the moment; the investment required on the very down at heel site would just be too high to make it a viable business. I must admit that I have been giving quite a bit of thought, and some online research on the subject of the British Indian Restaurant. There were six 'Indian' restaurants in the whole of Britain in 1939 - three in London (one of which, the Halal in St Mark Street E1, is a former haunt of mine), and one each in Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester. In 2015 there are roughly 8,500. Eighty five percent are Bangladeshi-owned and with mainly Bangladeshi personnel. They have an annual market turnover of £2.5bn, representing a little over ten percent of all restaurant business in UK. There is direct employment at the curry restaurant of over 100,000 personnel. with an indirect additional employment in supply and related industries for a further 50,000 plus. The Bangladeshi run “Indian” restaurant has become a well – loved feature of many British high street - they offer their diners a large and comprehensive range of curries, many of which are of Indian origin, if somewhat modified over time, and engineered to suit local tastes. You will find a number of ‘restaurant favourites’ such as Samosas, Onion Bhaji, Kebabs, Chicken Tikka and its popular derivative Chicken Tikka Masala curry. Other famous curries included Korma, Bhuna, Pasanda, Jalfrezi, Biriani and Pilaf. The have developed a rapid production method for serving their food.  The authentic curries and accompaniments of Bangladesh have much in common with those of Bengal, and indeed the whole of India, the spicing is distinctive and subtle. Beef is the prevalent meat, and duck is popular. Tropical fish and exotic vegetables (now available in the UK from many supermarkets, as well as specialist stores) form an indispensable part of the Bengali/Bangladeshi diet. They use mustard and poppy seed extensively. Their important five spice mixture, Panch Phoron, has differences as subtle as their spelling. For example, in Calcutta, Bengal’s capital, it will include white cumin, fennel, fenugreek, mustard or celery seed and wild onion. In Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, celery seed would not be used, but black cumin and aniseed would replace wild onion and fennel. Bangladeshi Garam Masala will, like as not, contain chilli. Surprisingly perhaps, Bangladeshis adore the chilli, and it appears in many forms, in many recipes, not so as to swamp the delicacy of the spicing - rather to punctuate it. Some curries may use as little as three of four spices, and the effect is remarkable. Coriander, turmeric and cassia , for example, are all that is needed to produce the Bangladeshi version of that old favourite, Bhuna, whilst their versions of Korma are creamy and mild. Yet the results are neither tame or bland. Bangladesh has a unique range of curry cooking. Nowhere else on the subcontinent has such an array of tastes - sour, bitter, sweet, hot, savoury, mild, pungent and fragrant. Bangladeshis adore all of these tastes, which they achieve by using tamarind and sour fruits, bitter vegetables, molasses, chillies and uniquely subtle blends of spices. Creamy curries, contrast with dry stir-fries, fluffy rice, with chewy breads. Sometimes cooked with nothing more than garlic with, a sprinkling of whole spice seeds and chilli, these recipes achieve great culinary heights, and are ideal for the health-conscious cook. Many British 'Indian' restaurants operate to a formula which was pioneered in the late 1940s. In those early restaurants, a way had to be found to deliver a variety of curries, without an unreasonable delay, from order to table. Since all authentic Indian recipes require hours of cooking in individual pots, there was no guarantee that they would even be ordered. So cubed meat, chicken or potatoes, dhal and some vegetables were lightly curried and chilled, and a large pot of thick curry gravy, a kind of master stock, was brewed to medium-heat strength. To this day, portion by portion, on demand, these ingredients are reheated by pan-frying them with further spices and flavourings. At its simplest, a Medium Chicken Curry, that benchmark of middle ground, is still on many menus, though sometimes disguised as Masala, and requires no more than a reheat of some gravy with some chicken. For instance, take a typical mixed order for a couple at a table for two. She wants Chicken Korma (fry a little turmeric, coriander and cumin, add six pieces of chicken, add a ladleful of curry gravy, plenty of creamed coconut, almonds maybe and a little cream – result, the additions make it mild and creamy-golden in colour), and with it she'll have Vegetable Dhansak (fry some cumin seeds, dry methi leaves, chopped onions, tomato, red and green bell pepper with the gravy, add dhal and some cooked veg – result, colourful, and still medium-strength). He wants Lamb Korma (as for the chicken recipe, instead using pre – cooked Lamb), and he wants Prawn Vindaloo (fry spices and chilli powder, add the gravy which at once goes red and piquant, then cooked peeled prawns, fresh tomato and potato, simmer and serve). Maybe they will also take a Sag Paneer (fry cumin seeds, some thawed creamed spinach and premade crumbled paneer together, add fresh coriander – and that is it). One cook can knock all these up, simultaneously, in five pans, within minutes. Rice is precooked, breads and tandoori items made to order by a different, usually junior chef.  The order is thus successfully completed.  Thus the menu can be very long, with an almost unlimited variety of dishes, sometimes numbered, sometimes heat-graded, mild, medium and hot, hottest, and any dish is available in lamb, chicken, prawn, king prawn, and most vegetables, too. That is the formula, and its perpetrator is the standard curry house. Just because this is not authentic as you would find in an Indian or Bangladeshi household does not make it bad. It can be, and variously is, done well. If you consult YouTube you will find dozens of videos showing you how to prepare both authentic Indian curries, and also BIR (British Indian Restaurant) curries. Personally I prefer cooking my curries from scratch, using individual spices – I certainly don’t use any pre – prepared cooking sauces, as making it the authentic way is not just a lot tastier, it is also far cheaper too. Below you can see a video showing you how to cook a Chicken Jalfrezi in the British Indian Restaurant style by YouTube curry expert Al in his kitchen.

Since my article last week on the old Erith Library, a little more information has come to light. My informant expanded on their original statement to say that rather than buying the old library, Bexley College had intended to make a joint bid with Resources Plus and the Learning Centre Bexley (formerly Bexley Adult Education) so Bexley College would not have owned the building but they were hoping to be one of the partners delivering training in the newly refurbished centre. Unfortunately the deal came to nothing, and the old library remains empty and unused. I have heard concerns voiced that the old library building is decaying, and that is has severe problems with damp. I still struggle with the reasoning which saw the library move to its new location in the High Street. For me the only reason which seems to hold water is that the old library cost a fortune to heat and light, as it was very energy inefficient. Aside from that, the argument that the location of the old library in Walnut Tree Road was too far from the town centre makes little sense – it is no more than a couple of minutes’ walk at most, and the place was always busy. The new library is also busy, mainly with Bexley College students using the free Wi-Fi to research their studies. As with the empty and closed Potion / White Hart, local rumours regarding the old Library abound. Feedback that I have heard has varied from the site being sold off for housing, turned into a Wetherspoon's pub (not at all impossible, as the pub company specialise in converting large, listed public buildings into pub / restaurant outlets), or that it might be converted into a hotel. All I know for certain is that nothing is set in stone at this time. Some low level maintenance is being undertaken on the empty building - mainly with an aim to prevent any further material degradation. It will be instructive to see what happens to the lovely and historic building. More news as it becomes available.

British Telecom is asking Ofcom to be freed from its obligation to provide ordinary copper wire voice telephone connections across the UK. The telecoms giant would prefer to provide only internet services, and let customers use them for voice calls. The Telegraph reported that BT wants to move "all domestic and business customers to internet-based voice calls within a decade," but is prevented from doing so by Ofcom, which requires it to offer basic voice connections alongside internet ones. Expecting customers to eventually migrate to a portfolio of "all IP" services, including broadband, television, and voice, BT is upping the pressure on Ofcom in anticipation of its once-a-decade review, due later this year. "BT believes all IP services will be used nationwide by 2025 and we think Ofcom's review is an opportunity to roll back obsolete rules in this area to create a level playing field," A spokesperson told the Telegraph. The problem with using I.P connectivity for voice calls is that there are so many competing and incompatible systems - such as WhatsApp, Google Video Chat, Skype, Apple Facetime, Facebook etc are not required to connect their users to rival networks. If BT go ahead with their scheme in its current form, it would lead to the mass fragmentation of Internet Protocol (I.P) based voice systems if the various providers could not be persuaded to allow their proprietary systems to interconnect and share data packets. This story feels like it has some way still to run before a resolution is reached.

Bexley Brewery, based in the Manford Industrial Estate at the Slade Green end of Manor Road is going from strength to strength. They recently released the following announcement:- “Not only did we have a busy brewery shop on Saturday (and thanks to all of you who bought our beers for your dads!), but we also had a visit from East London and City Camra who organise the Pig's Ear Festival in Hackney. We were over the moon to be told earlier in the year that BOB won beer of the festival! There were loads of great beers there so being newbies we were really honoured!” The Bexley Brewery have not been open for a year, yet they already have a clutch of awards on their mantelpiece, and the business seems to be growing already. The brewery regularly opens to the public; you can find details on their website here and their Facebook page here. The Bexley Brewery are very easy to find, even if you are not familiar with the area; their industrial unit is at the base of the famous Erith Wind Turbine, which is a very visible local landmark.

A very interesting series of Emails popped into my inbox earlier this week; they were from David Parsons, the Managing Director of local marine engineering company Kort Propulsion, who are based in the Old Boat House in Erith High Street. David wrote “ I Just thought would give you some news of the PLA VESSEL "London TITAN" - Kort Propulsion has been a major supplier to the new vessel. We have supplied the complete propulsion package for this vessel including stern tubes, shafting, steering gear, nozzles, propellers along with engine cooling box covers, and a  Kort tunnel thruster. It has cost £7M for the new vessel which is 36M in length. It's massive”. The new ship, which has been custom built over the last three years by Manor Marine in Portland, Dorset is designed as a mooring maintenance vessel. Titan will do much more than just maintain moorings.  She will be equipped to: 1) lay and recover navigation buoys; 2) haul wreckage from the bottom of the river; 3) support diving operations; and 4) to undertake small scale plough dredging operations. On a river that is getting busier with passengers and freight, that capability is essential. Already there are over eight million passenger trips on the Thames every year – the Mayor wants to increase that to 12 million by 2020.  A multi-function vessel, London Titan will be much better equipped than the nearly 50-year old vessel she will replace. She has been specially designed for the Thames by UK-based naval architects MacDuff Ship Design, working in close collaboration with PLA marine engineers, masters and crews. The Titan is a vessel able to work along virtually all of the PLA’s 95 miles of the tidal Thames for which the PLA is responsible.  She is squat and shallow enough to negotiate bridges as far upriver as Richmond, and robust enough to operate in the outer estuary. A sizable chunk of the £7 million cost of the custom – designed ship will have been in the propulsion and steering work that Kort Propulsion undertook. Great news to see that a specialist local firm is not only contributing to the safety of navigation on the River Thames, but is bringing much needed money into the local economy. One hears so often of work of this nature being won by Chinese or other far Eastern suppliers; what great news to find out this time it was from on our own doorstep. You can see a video about the creation of the London Titan below. Contact me at

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