Sunday, July 26, 2015

Nine years of the Maggot Sandwich.

So, here we are; the Maggot Sandwich is officially nine years old. Every Sunday afternoon for the last nine years I have published my blog, and for some happily unknown reason, a large number of people, both locally and around the world have chosen to read it. The Blog is almost unrecognisable when compared to the start; it has transformed from a rather annoying and shouty rant at life, the universe and everything into what I hope is an entertaining and informative journal with a focus on local events. I must admit that I had absolutely no intention of the Maggot Sandwich turning into what I suppose could be viewed as part of the local online landscape – I suppose that this is mainly due to its’ longevity – throw enough stuff at the wall, and eventually something will stick. As some have suspected, I feel that I am really a frustrated amateur journalist; since I cannot do the real thing, I play at it online. Some readers have accused me of being a “proper” author, but I hold no such illusions. I write because I enjoy it, and some sixteen million words further along from when I started, it would seem that a sizable number of readers do too. Thanks to those who have stuck with me since the beginning, and also to those who have discovered the dubious maggoty delights more recently. I have had a number of messages of congratulations on the 9th birthday of the Maggot Sandwich; here are a selection:-

" The blog honours the past but embraces the future. It has become a firm fixture in everything Erith and long may it continue" Teresa Pearce MP.

"As the Maggot Sandwich celebrates its 9th birthday, I would like to congratulate Hugh Neal for his tireless efforts to make Erith safe. The Sandwich has become the Agenda Setter for the community. Hugh would always be the first to report or draw attention to issues that make Erith safe and healthy to live. He is non partisan in his reporting in the subject he covers. Policing - He has drawn attention to troubled spots on numerous occasions and this has always help the Police to follow up and minimise crime. Trading - He has reported about food safety and the unhygienic conditions of some shops. Public -  His coverage of the behaviour of some people in public has brought great changes. Politics - His coverage of political issues has always been followed by the MPS and Councillors in the area he covers. This has made the area a safer place. As a Councillor I have picked some of my cases in the community from his Blogs and benefited from his personal contacts and advice. One of his greatest achievement is the fight to keep Historical buildings and Archives safe. Thank you Hugh for your service to the community. I hope the Maggot Sandwich will celebrate many more years and I wish its publication Happy Birthday". Councillor Edward Boateng.

"I stumbled across the Maggot Sandwich early in 2010 and first met Hugh at a meeting of “hyper-local bloggers” called by OFCOM in the September of that year. I didn't have much of a clue what a hyper-local blogger was and felt totally out of my depth in such esteemed circles while trying to look inconspicuous so as not to be asked questions. The meeting was memorable for several reasons; firstly it was held in the very same room where back in 1967, when the building was brand new and owned by the General Post Office, I sat designing, or rather specifying the capacity of, telephone exchanges in the days when every unit was bespoke and hand built for its intended situation. BT just buys them off the shelf now, from Maplin's bargain range I shouldn't wonder if the software problems are anything to go by. Secondly Hugh sat next to me adorned by a new Nikon DSLR and me by my seven year old model. I had no idea that cameras had progressed that far and felt compelled to go out and buy a new one. That reawakening of my photographic interests has cost quite a lot of money since. Thanks Hugh. The following year Hugh had another major impact on my life, he used the now notorious ‘pitchforks and flaming torches’ metaphor about council leader Teresa O'Neill. She reported me to the police for a reference to Hugh’s penchant for literary quotations. Whenever I feel I might be being a little too harsh on the great lady I remind myself that she wanted me arrested for being “critical of councillors” and press on regardless. One thing I find rather nice about the local blogging scene is how three authors have never discussed their strategies, but everything has fallen into place naturally with very little overlap. Hugh reports news, fascinating historical facts, gossip and on the local criminal fraternity. The Thamesmead Grump is the place to go for bureaucratic idiocies, a wonderfully warped sense of humour and amazing photographs, and Bonkers digs the dirt. It all seems to work quite well. Long may it continue". Malcolm Knight - Bexley is Bonkers.

"My son is a keen blogger himself ( put me onto the Maggot Sandwich in 2012, I have looked in since. Hugh's varied topics touch on music, computing, real ale, what our council spends our money on..........or don't! ne'er do wells fly tipping, yobs illegally riding motorbikes, to hideous waste of money sculptures! He is on committees and has become a keen activist trying to preserve OUR Erith! Well done Hugh, keep it up!  I love the old photo's often shown, supplied by Ken a local historian. The Maggot Sandwich is archived so you may catch up at your leisure!  If you think you may be able to provide an interesting insight into our Erith past or present, Hugh invites guest writers to do this...........I have! Best Wishes for the next 9 years Hugh". Alan Magin.

"Whether it is for the whispers and rumours or reporting on local events, I read Hugh's blog religiously each week. It is great to see somebody keen to talk up Erith publicly as much as possible. Reading Arthur Pewty's Maggot Sandwich has become a part of Erith, just like the fish roundabout!Councillor Joe Ferreira.

"I can't believe its been 9 years that you have been producing the Maggot Sandwich.  I always look forward to reading it every Sunday.  For me the Maggot Sandwich is a way of keeping up with what is going on in Erith and surroundings.  You are doing a fantastic job, and it amazes me how you find the time to write and research all your input".  Betty, Maryland USA.

"WELL DONE AND CONGRATULATIONS TO THE MAGGOT SANDWICH FOR REACHING ITS 9TH BIRTHDAY. The  Maggot Sandwich is a valuable tool for fighting crime and providing an up to date insight into what is happening in and around Erith. Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association appreciates the support it gets from both Erith Watch and Maggot Sandwich and we are very happy to have Hugh Neal as one of our Coordinators. Keep up the superb and invaluable work you do for your community, we look forward to your 10th Birthday Celebrations." Dana Whiffen, Chairman Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association.

"Happy birthday Arthur - congrats on turning 9. We're still in short trousers here, and have just turned 8" - Harringay Online.

"I first discovered the Maggot Sandwich around two years ago, and it quickly became part of my Sunday routine. I don't remember how I came across it, I think it may have been a link from the Bexley is Bonkers site. 9 Years of continuous weekly publication is a considerable achievement as I know from personal experience. My blog is less than 2 years old and I have never been able to keep up anything like a weekly production. Here's looking forward to another 9 years.The Thamesmead Grump.

"Congratulations on the ninth anniversary of Arthur Pewty's Maggot Sandwich. As an ex-pat Brit, many miles and many years away from my childhood in "Erith on the Mud",  I really look forward to each new Sunday morning  post and I do appreciate the wide range of topics that you cover and your independent and fairly stated opinions. Very best wishes!"Avril Tyrrell (Expat) Ontario, Canada.

"Hi Hugh, I still read your blog each week even if I don't comment and I know many people who read it and don't give feedback. I like learning about your local area and enjoy the pictures. I would like to see a map of your main shopping area past and present so I can see who dominates the high street now and who has bit the dust in the years since your blog began. You often post new builds and developments so this snapshot of your high st would be of interest. Do you have any large shopping centres or malls? I don't mean on the scale of Bluewater or lakeside but still somewhere I could spend half a day at with lunch and coffee and a lighter pocket, lol. I like your features outside of your local blog interest like showing the old computers and stuff and the radio features both about you and other radio stations. I thought of two ideas that may appeal to you... 1. Have you thought of adding perhaps 5 mins of audio to your blog each week to give the headlines and a bit about each feature? 2. Have you thought of adding a twitter feed and embedding it into your blog? That way if there is something major going down that you would deem as breaking news, you could post something in an instant instead of us waiting for your next full blog update. You could still  include it in your usual update in much more detail after tweeting it. The point being to get it out there in real time. Finally I know you listen to Allan Wiener on WBCQ like me so maybe your UK audience would like to know more of it. I am in fact going to contact Allan and ask him if he has any plans to beam his shortwave into Europe. The 7490 transmitter would fare best here at night." Gary Drew, Laser Hot Hits.

Quite a few readers bumped into me at the Erith Fun Day last Saturday; one lady came all of the way from Croydon to attend the event, she said purely from what I had written about it on the Maggot Sandwich previously, which was pleasantly surprising. As you may have seen, I spent quite a bit of time helping out on the Erith Town Forum stand. The Forum have been running a petition to try and encourage Bexley Council to preserve and protect both the former Potion / White Hart pub, and the historic Andrew Carnegie gifted old Erith Library in Walnut Tree Road. The remit of the campaign by the forum may need to be widened, as there are strong rumours reaching me that another historic Erith building may be under threat. I have been told by an impeccable source that Bexley Council are considering terminating their outsourcing contract with Capita – the private company that runs housing benefit payments from Erith Town Hall, also in Walnut Tree Road. The contract with Capita is due to run until 2019, but I am led to believe that an early break point option exists in 2015. The contract, worth £14 million was planned to extend the partnership by three years to June 2019, and has seen the Council’s financial assessment team transfer to Capita Local Government Services. Capita’s original contract with Bexley began in 1996 and today the breadth of services being delivered to the Council includes; council tax and business rates administration; cashiering services; benefits administration, and the financial assessment service. The financial assessments team is responsible for the administration of applications for assistance towards residential care costs and costs for care packages delivered to residents in their homes. There are currently just over 3,700 active assessment cases in Bexley. It would seem that Bexley may be about to enter into a money saving joint contract with the London Borough of Bromley in preference to their individual one with Capita. No other council functions are housed at Erith; the question remains – what would happen to the old Council Offices? It does not take a business genius to see where Bexley’s planning Councillors are heading with their thinking. With Capita no longer in the picture, and pretty much all of the rest of the council functions now being centralised in Bexleyheath, the Erith office building will be ripe for sale and redevelopment. As we have seen on several occasions, Bexley Council will stop at nothing to sell off the family silver just as fast as they can. If the Erith Town Hall is sold, it would be quite probable that the old Carnegie Library next door would also be included in the sale. Now that the economy is beginning to pick up, it would not be at all surprising to me if a property company came along with a proposal to develop the site into “Yuppie Flats” – the evidence is there. The Walnut Tree Road site is large, it has a view out across the River Thames, it is literally two minutes’ walk from Erith Station, and is also very close to the bus halts in front of the Riverside Shopping Centre. With Crossrail coming to Abbey Wood (and strong indications it will later be extended through to Ebbsfleet to connect with the forthcoming Paramount theme park) train connections to Erith from London are set to improve. Already one can get to Cannon Street from Erith in around thirty five minutes – delays and cancellations notwithstanding. It strikes me as pretty much a no – brainer that Erith is set for a further property boom over and above that which I have described in detail in recent blog postings. I have said before that it is entirely possible that Erith will undergo “gentrification” – a term I dislike. Nevertheless, as property prices in Bexley mean that the borough is now officially the most attractive place for first time buyers to move into, does mean that more attention from developers and property investors is bound to come.  I have spoken to two professional economists with strong connections with Erith; they are of the opinion that “Erith is set to be the next Dalston”.  The indications tend to confirm this. Whether we will be able to preserve and maintain historic buildings like the White Hart and the old Carnegie Library will remain to be seen. I can reveal that developments in relation to the Potion / White Hart site are looking promising - but that is all I am able to say for now. More later.

When Oyster was first rolled out, where TfL said that clashes between Oyster and other contactless card systems were simply not possible. I doubted this at the time, and my fears have proved to be grounded in reality.  The fact is that many people are getting penalty fares as they own more than one Oyster card, and keep them in the same wallet or purse – and they swipe the wallet or purse over the reader, rather than taking the specific card out. In these cases, one card gets debited on swipe in, and the other on swipe out – one could end up in a situation where one was penalised £8.50 for the card that swiped in but not out, and another £8.50 for the card that swiped out but not in. On top of this if one presents the wrong Oyster card when questioned by a revenue protection officer, you can be fined up to £80 for travelling without a ticket. This is all about to get even more complex, as Transport for London are heavily promoting “bonk n’ pay” –  the use of contactless bank debit cards to swipe into stations. They would rather passengers used their contactless debit cards, as it saves 2p per transaction in Oyster processing charges. Contactless debit card transaction costs are borne by the relevant bank. Some time ago, my bank sent me a new contactless debit card, which I returned to them in person. As I wrote way back in January 2012, the whole contactless payment system is riddled with security holes and undocumented features. With hardware and software freely available online, it is possible to remotely interrogate a contactless card and to read certain data from it. The range is only about ten feet, but it is close enough for a crook with a card reader and a smartphone running illicit software. You only need to be standing in the same queue, or sharing a lift for the stealing of your card information to happen. I note with astonishment that the popular press has taken until the last week to pick up on this important story, with the Daily Mail and other papers running articles on how contactless “bonk and pay” card security can be compromised. I have to say – I told you so – over three years ago. It is not that I have some mega – amazing level of insight into IT  security matters (though working in the industry does mean I have a better than average awareness), it is more that the banking and retail industries want to play down such security loopholes, as it is bad for their corporate images. To those who say “it is not such a big deal, you can only lose up to £20 on a transaction, and after nine swipes you will be asked for your pass code” really miss the point – the card details can be used as verification when setting up an identity theft; on top of this, the current £20 maximum limit for swipe payment (due to increase to £30 later this year) only applies to pounds sterling. Due to a little – reported bug in the UK implementation, payments made in Euros have an upper limit of £999,999.99 – not something that the banks are keen on their customers knowing about. You have been warned.

You may recall that some time ago I complained about the large numbers of flies that plague the local area, and for some inexplicable reason they seem to particularly target Pewty Acres. I have found that modern fly sprays have very little effect, as house flies and gnats seem to have evolved a level of resistance to the neurotoxins in the fly spray. I am also a bit wary of using such chemicals in the home, as they can easily end up in food and drink, however carefully one covers things up prior to spraying. instead I invested in a Vermatik electric insect controller, as seen in the photo above; it is a version of the classic "Insectocutor" seen in so many public buildings and food outlets. It uses two Ultraviolet flourescent tubes to lure insects onto a high voltage grid, where they are instantly destroyed. It works very well - and apart from the occasional fizz and crackle as a house fly or gnat gets zapped, it gets on with things very efficiently. Vermatik are actually a British company who manufacture a whole range of pest controllers. I bought mine from Amazon for £30. I can highly recommend them. 

Whilst attending Erith Fun Day last Saturday, many of the visitors could see a large pall of smoke coming from the direction of the Slade Green Marshes. The sound of the PA and the piped music covered the sirens from the emergency service vehicles that rushed down to Dayton Drive on the marshes; London Fire Brigade sent six fire engines to the scene and 35 firefighters and officers, who spent more than three hours bringing the grass fire under control. The area burnt was reportedly the size of four football pitches. The blaze is thought to be the result of a carelessly discarded cigarette butt. Whilst most of the traffic on the Slade Green Marshes travels to and from the businesses located in the Darent Industrial Estate, there are still quite a large number of walkers and nature enthusiasts who enjoy spending time on the Bronze Age site of special scientific interest.

Bexley Councillor Peter Craske has landed himself in even more hot water. On Tuesday evening Bexley Council held a meeting in which the future of Belvedere Splash Park was discussed (the photo above shows what the Splash Park looked like back in 1950, when it was known as "The Belvedere Pond and Gardens" - click on it for a larger view). A group from the “Save Belvedere Splash Park” were present at the meeting. As was expected, the technical report on the work required to restore the Splash Park to running order was nodded through. The Council have stated, as expected that a private investor will have to be found if the Splash Park is to have any chance of staying open, as they will not finance it from public funds. Nothing we did not expect; however one thing which was totally unexpected, was Councillor Peter Craske, who described the campaigning group as “complainers and moaners. Apart from being very rude, it is not surprising that the campaigners are indeed complaining – after all, it seems to me that they have every reason to complain at the way a small cabal of the leadership of Bexley Council are acting like a tin – pot dictatorship in some obscure banana republic. As Malcolm Knight of the excellent “Bexley is Bonkers” blog has analysed, the council could easily have managed its’ finances in a way which would have made the proposed sell – off of much public land in the borough unnecessary. They have historically preferred to cut services, or outsource operations rather than introduce mild rises in the rate of council tax. The latest cut may be Erith Town Hall, as previously mentioned. Compared with the glory days, the number of (outsourced) staff working in the building nowadays is relatively small, but nevertheless significant. If Bexley Council were run like a business, with the Councillors as directors, and the residents the shareholders, I feel that we might well be in a far better position. The trouble is, there are a handful of councillors who currently are in positions of power who would not last five minutes in a real company. In local government it is far easier for them to hide behind layers of bureaucracy and obscure rules which protect them from the kind of pressures that “real” businesses have to endure.

I mentioned some weeks ago that I was glad that the Money Shop in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre had closed down. I am strongly opposed to the very high interest charges which such payday lenders impose, and am really glad that the government has encouraged the industry regulators to crack down on them recently. Short-term lending has been cut by sixty eight percent in two years as regulators imposed price caps, according to the Consumer Finance Association (CFA). In a report to MPs, the trade body said that eighty percent of loan applications were rejected. Of these, four percent have borrowed from illegal lenders instead, the CFA claimed. Citizens Advice said it had seen a fifty three percent drop in the number of payday loan problems it recorded in April to June compared with the same period a year earlier. In many cases payday lenders were lending to people to who could not afford to repay. The fifty three percent decrease in payday loan issues reported to Citizens Advice shows the new regulations are having a positive effect for consumers.  The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) set a cap on the cost of payday loans of zero point eight percent of the amount borrowed per day, which came into force in January. There is also there is a £15 cap on default charges. No borrower has to pay back more than twice the amount they initially borrowed, lenders can no longer roll over a loan more than twice, nor can they attempt to reclaim payment from a borrower's account more than twice. The CFA report suggests that, as result of the new regulations, the number of firms operating in the market has dropped from 240 in 2013 to about 30 to 40 offering a short-term loan within the price cap in 2015. Many payday lenders in smaller towns and villages have already closed down, as the operators have consolidated their operations into larger conurbations in the hope of surviving. The only downside to this is some really impoverished people are now resorting to illegal back – street lenders, who operate in the shadows, and have absolutely no regulation whatsoever. The ethical alternative is a  credit union; unfortunately these have not proved a great success in the UK so far. Across the UK, just two percent of the adult population is a member of a credit union. In the United States they are used by forty six percent of consumers. There is one key reason for this;  although they offer good value loans, most of them offer a very poor deal to savers. Unless more people can be persuaded to save with them, credit unions will never get more cash to lend to needy borrowers. It is, as I have said repeatedly before, very expensive to be poor in the UK nowadays. Let me know what you think - you can Email me at

Concerns over the possible fate of both the former Potion / White Hart pub and the Andrew Carnegie gifted old Erith Library building may have been slightly mollified by the news this week that in a landmark decision that may have direct bearing on the demolition and / or change of use of historic premises by developers. Last week, Wandsworth Council rejected an application for retrospective planning permission from Udhyam Amin following his decision last month to demolish the Alchemist pub in Battersea. The Victorian pub, near Clapham Junction station, was open for more than 100 years before it closed in 2013 and fell derelict. It was pulled down in May by Mr Amin who had plans to extend it and build a block of flats. The council responded to this unlawful demolition by launching enforcement action requiring the developer to rebuild it with original materials. Council Planners ruled that the developer’s application should be refused because the loss of a local landmark and prominent historic building in a conservation area would be against the public interest. The developer will now be required to start work on rebuilding the pub in St John’s Hill and restoring it to its original condition. This really is a landmark case; even if the developer declares his company bankrupt in order to avoid carrying out the rebuilding work, it still sends out a very strong message to unscrupulous developers looking to make a quick buck by illegally knocking down historic buildings. I hope that anyone looking at either the old Erith Library or Potion / The White Hart will take notice. From the evidence from last Saturday’s Erith Fun Day, and the number of signatures gathered on the Erith Town Forum petition, it is clear that many other people feel as strongly about the conservation and appreciation of these historic buildings as I do.

Finally, an ending video that I have been holding back for a special occasion. Long time readers will know that every so often I will feature a fan - made video,  usually of a sci - fi nature. Fans of franchises such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars have been making their own amateur films of varying quality for years. Charitably one could say that most of them were probably fun for the participants to make, but that they are not very polished or well put together. This is particularly true of Star Trek fan films, many of which are pretty awful, to be honest. This is where the video below is radically different. Star Trek: Axanar is the first independent, professionally shot movie set in the Star Trek Universe. It is set in the period between Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: The Original Series and features the back story of Garth of Izar. The production crew of the independent film are all professionals - including staff who worked on Star Trek: Enterprise, and the two recent JJ Abrams alternate universe Star Trek big screen movies; indeed the makeup and CGI leads both have won Oscars for their previous work. The cast are also all professional actors who have either previously worked on Star Trek, or other big budget science fiction shows. The film is currently being shot - it is crowd funded and will be not for profit; it is due for release next year. It will be a full two and a half hour theatrical production, which will be released online and also on Blu - Ray. To give an idea what the film will be like, the production team have already made a twenty one minute short video called "Prelude to Axanar" which you can watch below. It is a sort of "History Channel" documentary look back at the events portrayed in the forthcoming film, with interviews from the main protagonists. Believe me, this is not some shabby fan movie made with cardboard sets and CGI done on an old laptop - this is the first professional Hollywood movie produced using a completely new crowd funded business model. Already the movie exceeds the recent JJ Abrams efforts - a better story, better acting and a real understanding of the Star Trek "history". I highly recommend that you crank the definition as high as your internet connection speed will allow, make the video window full screen, and sit back and enjoy something truly remarkable.

1 comment:

  1. Well done Hugh - a cracking 9 years of challenging, nostalgic and lively debate and information. You should be very proud of all that you have achieved and reported (without missing a single week - despite the other challenges that life has thrown at you along the way). I still can't forgive you for revealing my secret trip to London to the blog readers all those years ago (not to mention a few photos of the morning after the night before) - but the party at the Robin Hood quickly made up for it! Well done 'The Retired Gunner'