Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Erith Arboretum.

Worryingly, Charlton and Greenwich blogger Darryl Chamberlain of the excellent 853 Blog (853 was the old telephone dialling code for the area) is reporting that “contrary to what library staff were telling customers, the old East Greenwich Library is also set for sale to the highest bidder. At the last full council meeting, regeneration councillor Danny Thorpe confirmed that the building - donated to the community in 1905 by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie - was not protected by a covenant”.  As mentioned recently, this sounds very similar to the also Andrew Carnegie gifted Erith Library in the photo above (click on it for a larger picture), which was opened in 1907 and closed in 2010, and has stood empty and unused since. I sincerely hope that the sale of the old East Greenwich Library does not become a blueprint for the old Erith Library in Walnut Tree Road. In my opinion it is one of the best looking buildings in the town, and it deserves to be restored and returned to productive use. It is certainly one of, if not the most important buildings in the town, and should be treated as such. 

The News Shopper is reporting on a subject close to my heart – illegal fly tipping; something that the Maggot Sandwich has covered in some considerable detail over the last couple of years. The paper writes that a poll has been carried out by a furniture company into the public’s attitude towards fly tipping; the results, if accurate, are quite surprising. An astonishing seventeen percent of the people surveyed admitted having fly tipped on at least one occasion. Of that seventeen percent, the reasons they stated for their fly tipping broke down as follows:-

1. There is nowhere else to take rubbish (38 per cent)

2. Unaware it was illegal (30 per cent)

3. It was the easiest option available (28 per cent)

4. The cost of disposing properly was too high (20 per cent)

5. Because they didn’t realise they were fly-tipping at the time (16 per cent)

I find this utterly staggering, and frankly somewhat hard to believe; for a start, if the respondents were only allowed to pick one response, how come it adds up to 132 per cent?. According to Government statistics, local authorities reported 852,000 cases of fly-tipping last year, and almost 98 per cent of fly-tipping prosecutions resulted in a conviction. I feel that the responses listed above are actually covering the real truth. From my own experiences investigating fly – tipping, the proponents are well aware of what they are doing is illegal – but they just don't care, as they think the chances of them being caught are minimal at best. It is a cynical and exploitative attitude from criminals who should (and indeed sometimes do) get jailed for their activities. Your thoughts would be appreciated; either post a comment below, or Email me at

Wikipedia has launched an anti-copyright campaign – but it is one that experts say is bogus and misleading. Thousands of pages on the online encyclopaedia site have been  plastered with an appeal to "Save the Freedom of Panorama", a crusade started by copyright activist and Europe's only Pirate Party MEP, Julia Reda to make the copyright rules the same throughout Europe seem to have backfired. Europe likes "harmonising" things, and one of the things Reda said she wanted to harmonise was an exception to copyright that most European countries already have in place, allowing you to take pictures of (say) buildings in public places. ” Freedom of Panorama” is in essence an exception to copyright that most European countries already have in place, allowing you to take pictures of (for example) buildings and objects such as statues and artwork located in public places; it is a provision in the copyright laws of various jurisdictions that permits taking photographs and video footage and creating other images (such as paintings) of buildings and sometimes sculptures and other art works which are permanently located in a public place, without infringing on any copyright that may otherwise subsist in such works, and to publish such images. Wikipedia issued an announcement saying “Photos of modern buildings must remain on Wikipedia. A proposal in the European Parliament puts thousands of images on Wikipedia in danger” Several newspapers, including the Guardian have jumped on the bandwagon, assuming the story is accurate; actually it is not. Reda’s proposal in a report to the European Parliament prompted an intemperate reaction from a Dutch MEP, who feared its ambiguity would have unintended consequences, and tabled an amendment wishing that French-style Panorama copyright should apply to the whole of Europe. However, neither proposal nor the counter-amendment have any legislative weight. The European Parliament cannot write legislation, and most of its resolutions are thrown in the bin by the European Commission anyway. Wikipedia are now saying “we saved the Internet” – not the first time that the site has created a non – story, then later claimed victory for a battle that actually never existed. This is a great pity – it tarnishes their reputation and makes them appear as self-publicists. What do you think? Please leave a comment below, or Email me at

In 1842 a wooden pier was built on the riverfront at Erith (well, there would not be much point in building it anywhere else). Alongside the pier, a pier hotel was constructed; to add to the attraction a large formal garden, complete with an Arboretum (a tree garden) was also created. For a period it was a popular holiday destination You can see the pier and hotel in the photo above, which was taken in around 1860; click on it for a larger version. Some locals were more than a little impressed with the place. A certain James Barnard of Erith was a watchmaker and occasional, very bad poet. He wrote the following poem about the Erith Arboretum, for which I can only apologise in advance - (for long term readers, you may have seen this once before - look on the bright side - you can cheerfully skip it - I don't see why newer readers should get away with suffering as you did!). It is one of the most excruciatingly awful poems ever put to paper. You have been warned!

Upon my life, my dearest wife,
The children we must treat ‘em,
So dress them gay, and we’ll away
To the Erith Arboretum.

We’re now afloat in this fast steamboat,
(There go two more – we’ll beat ‘em),
As with the tide we swiftly glide,
To the Erith Arboretum.

A day like this is health and bliss,
The doctors, how we cheat ‘em,
When we take the air in the region fair
Of the Erith Arboretum.

Now mark the flowers and the shady bowers,
Where lovers fondly seat ‘em,
Or laugh and talk as they take their walk
In the Erith Arboretum.

At the Pier Hotel they’ll serve them well –
No other house can beat ‘em –
So we will dine and take our wine
At the Erith Arboretum.

‘Tis time, I see, to take some tea,
(The shrimps by scores we’ll eat ‘em),
And then away, at the close of day,
From the Erith Arboretum.

Now if my song has been too long,
The strains I’ll ne’er repeat ‘em,
But nevertheless I’ll drink success
To the Erith Arboretum.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote at some length about why I felt the rumours of the old Potion / White Hart pub would not get converted into an Indian Restaurant, and went  on to explain some of the trade secrets of the experienced British Indian restaurant curry chef, and how they were able to whip up a tasty meal in only few minutes from a stock of pre – prepared ingredients. Basically the chefs mix spices into a pre – made base curry gravy – the meat and vegetables are pre – cooked and just need to be heated through – all very clever stuff. And when done well, the results are excellent. This highlighted a problem which has been getting worse over the last decade, and has now got to the point that restaurants have become unable to recruit sufficient kitchen staff.  The government has tightened immigration rules, making it almost impossible to hire chefs from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The restrictions may be popular with the swelling ranks of the unemployed in Britain, but it seems that very few Brits want to learn the curry trade and work in a British Indian restaurant kitchen. Younger generations of Bangladeshi and Pakistani cultural background are now more likely to seek an education and careers outside the kitchen. They understandably don't want to spend nine hours a day slaving over a hot tandoori oven for little pay – they would rather use their education and become a doctor, architect or accountant. It is all happening at a time when interest in Indian cuisine in Britain seems to be growing, after somewhat of a lull. Many new “mid-range” curry houses are opening, and they are struggling to recruit staff. Whilst high - end chefs are still available from the Indian subcontinent – those with fluent English, lots of experience, and the talents to earn around £30,000 a year in an upmarket establishment, the less skilled and experienced chefs are rejected by UK Immigration as they are regarded as having low employability and little English. The government have established a policy of advising restaurant owners to stop recruiting from abroad, and instead to train UK staff to carry out the skilled work. A new scheme has been set up to address this shortage –the Mastara Chef Apprenticeship Programme. Mastara Chef financially supports trainees through a Culinary Arts degree at the University of West London, with a specialism in Asian cuisine. Upon completion of the course, graduates are given an apprenticeship at some of the country’s best Asian and Oriental restaurants. Thus far the Mastara Chef programme has had fourteen successful candidates pass through and get full – time paid work in a curry house restaurant. Candidates have come from a number of backgrounds – including Morocco, the Caribbean and the UK have all passed the programme. Not all British Indian restaurant owners agree that this is the way forward; when interviewed by Public Radio International, restaurateur Sachin Mulane said “I really don't think that’s a very good idea, to become an Indian chef you have to work really hard. It’s not like a one day, one year or two year job. It is an ongoing process and it should be within you for years. That’s where you become perfect. In years past, many curry houses were true family operations and cooks learned the craft at their parent’s side. Nowadays younger generations are now more likely to seek an education and careers outside the kitchen. It is all happening at a time when interest in Indian cuisine in Britain seems to be growing. It is going to produce a problem, because a lot of these restaurant owners go to India because they know they can get staff. Maybe they're friends of families or they know they can get these guys in. They're going to come into a kitchen environment where everybody speaks the same language and these guys will work hard, they will work hard for very little pay, something I believe most British workers will not do”.

Don't forget that next Saturday is Erith Fun Day. It takes place between 12pm and 5pm in Erith Riverside Gardens, opposite the Running Horses pub. I would strongly recommend that if at all possible you come along; last years event was excellent, and all the indications are that this year will be even better. I will be along for the whole day - so look out for me and my trusty camera. Do come over and say hello - you all know who I am, but I don't know who all of you are. It would be nice to put some faces to names. Fingers crossed for some nice weather, and I look forward to seeing you there. 

My prediction about the bike gangs which have taken to congregating around Lower Belvedere and Thamesmead has proved true. I recently wrote about “Bike Life TV UK” and other groups of irresponsible individuals who ride around illegally without helmets, some with unregistered and uninsured bikes, and many pulling stunts such as wheelies, standing on the seat and other illegal activities on public roads. They film videos of themselves, which get posted onto YouTube and other media websites. One of the riders got killed on Thursday last week, when he lost control of his bike and collided with a lamp post at the roundabout which joins Eastern Way junction with Yarnton Way, opposite the Morgan carvery restaurant /  Pub. The London Air Ambulance attended the scene to take the critically injured motorcyclist by air to the Royal London Hospital where he later died. If the Air Ambulance attends an accident scene, then one can generally be sure that it is a serious case. What is also disturbing is the group of around twenty bikers with whom it is said the accident victim was racing did not stop to help; they continued riding around pulling wheelies whilst two witnesses have stated that one rider in particular used a hand held video camera to film the accident scene and the emergency workers trying to save the man’s life. So much for comradeship. No doubt further details of the incident will come out with time. Looking at the Bike Life UK Facebook page, it seems that whilst they claim to be a UK wide group, many of their illegal activities seem to be focused on Thamesmead and Lower Belvedere. The group are fully aware of the antisocial and illegal nature of what they do, and actually seem to revel in it. Quite what the Police will do in response is currently unclear. Whilst attempts are made in various Bike Life TV UK online videos to digitally obscure the vehicle number plates, as I have written before, there are many occasions where the number plates can be clearly read (of course, this assumes that the bikes in question are legally registered, and not on false plates, or stolen, both of which are strong possibilities). The group are also aware of Police surveillance on them – their website even has a news story which reads “Brimsdown Feds filming riders - to all uk bikelife  riders .looks like the police are filming  the riders   mostly on the crossers . then putting names to the faces the paying you a visit at a later time so just  be careful  and be aware that you being filmed . keep stuntin uk bikelife.” Apart from the dreadful English, and quite why they refer to the Police as “the Feds”, the picture is one of  a group who are deliberately going out of the way to break multiple laws. 

What responsible and legal bike clubs and organisations like the Gravesend Motorcycle Club - (photo above taken by the Rev at their annual bike and music show at The Railway Inn, Sole Street, Meopham yesterday) make of all this I don't know, but I would guess that they would view Bike Life TV UK in a rather poor light. If you are a biker, please get in contact; I am keen to hear your opinion on this group who seem to be hell – bent on causing trouble locally – even to the extent of the death of one of their own members. One local I talked to about the problem referred to Bike Life TV UK as "Chavs on mopeds" - and I was hard pressed to argue. 

Since my musings on the future of the drive through McDonald’s at Plumstead last week, I have been contacted by a fellow local blogger, who specialises in detailing and analysing the planning applications and development in South East London. From the Murky Depths brought the matter to my attention; it looks like the McDonald’s and the adjacent postal sorting office are to be demolished to make way for a new housing development by the Peabody Trust. Their announcement states:- “350 new homes plus shops, workspaces and community facilities by 2020; and a further 520 homes and new park by 2024”. You can read the full text here. Whilst it is a fair time in the future, it is good to see that a very run down and unwelcoming part of Plumstead is finally going to get some much needed attention. I used to pass through the area daily when visiting my late Dad in the Gallions Reach nursing home, so I am more than familiar with the challenges in the very scruffy industrial area that is only around the corner from Belmarsh Prison. How this timing will affect the reputedly poorly performing McDonald’s I don't know. If the franchise owner can hold out long enough for the site to be compulsorily purchased, they could come out of the arrangement with a substantial pile of cash. Whether they would wish for this I really don't know. What do you think? Either leave a comment below, or Email me at

Pretty much anyone who works in an office, runs their own business, or who works with figures to any extent will be familiar with using a computer spreadsheet – most commonly Microsoft Excel. Many will curse at them from time to time, but would also find working with numbers far more difficult without a spreadsheet. It was not always the case. The term “Spreadsheet” has been in use for several hundred years; originally. In the realm of accounting jargon a "spread sheet" or spreadsheet was, and is a large sheet of paper with columns and rows that organises data about transactions for a business person to examine. It spreads or shows all of the costs, income, taxes, and other related data on a single sheet of paper for a manager to examine when making a decision. The problem with this is that if a value on the sheet changes – for example if the rate of tax was to increase, then the business person had to erase the related values in the relevant column, manually recalculate the new value, and write it onto the sheet – this could be a complex and time consuming business. Accountants and business owners would spend frustrating hours wrestling with figures in this way. In the early 1960’s several electronic versions of spreadsheets were created, which needed to be run on complex (for the time) and hugely expensive mainframe computers. Thirty six years ago this week, the first spreadsheet application was published for use on a personal computer, and it became the first “killer app” – a piece of software so powerful and groundbreaking that many businesses bought a computer just to be able to run it. The program was called Visicalc, and it is debatably the most important piece of software for business ever written. In 1979, personal computing was very much in its infancy; outside of large companies and universities, computers were really only used by hobbyists and engineers who wanted to learn about the new technology, and how to program. The Apple II had just been released in the USA, which was arguably the first computer for home use that did not require a high level of technical expertise to run. It was a perfect storm –the first widely available and (relatively) easy to use personal computer, along with an incredibly powerful spreadsheet program in Visicalc. Consequently both flew off the shelves; business people bought an Apple II purely to run Visicalc, which greatly pleased Apple, and ultimately led to their giant size and influence nowadays. Visicalc was ported onto a wide variety of other computers in the early 1980’s, and without a doubt it led to the adoption of computers in many companies that had previously done without. Once Visicalc became available for the then new IBM 5150 (what we now refer to as the PC mark one) the future was assured. By this time many other software companies had produced their own versions of an electronic spreadsheet – often with more functions, and Visicalc fell by the wayside. The creators of Visicalc had made one decision which benefitted many in the long run, but led to the demise of their own product – they did not patent or copyright it.  What I find fascinating is that whilst most software has changed beyond recognition over the years, the computer spreadsheet has stayed pretty much the same. If you were to time travel a Visicalc user from 1979 and put them in front of a Windows PC running Microsoft Excel now, they would find that the basic operation was exactly the same, albeit with many more functions and options. The principle has not changed at all. You can see a short video about Visicalc, and the impact it had on businesses large and small below.

Finally the long - awaited report on the Belvedere Splash Park has been published, and not before time. The report, by consultants Waterman Building Services, says closing the park could actually end up costing the council more than fixing it. These are some quotes taken from the report " Soiling from smaller children and babies has resulted in the closing of the facilities for an emergency clean and replacement of the water. The filters lack the efficiency to remove cryptosporidium (an organism which causes stomach upsets), which is resistant to chlorine. There are no ultraviolet filters, which would provide effective control of both legionella and cryptosporidium. The shallow pool for babies and younger children provides an area where standing water can be trapped all day, providing a breeding ground for bacteria, with dirt, debris and whatever else comes into contact with it exposed to high temperatures on hot sunny days". The first option is to update the park’s water treatment system, which would improve water quality and reduce maintenance. This would cost between £230,000 and £380,000, with an additional £42,000 each year for maintenance. The second is to scrap the water treatment and recirculation system and feed the park from the mains water instead. This would involve getting rid of the toddlers’ pool – which the report recommends anyway – and removing some of the features to limit the amount of water used. It would be cheaper than the former option, costing between £175,000 and £330,000, with an additional £35,000 annually for maintenance. The third option is to remove the park and replace it with new play equipment – but even this would cost between £150,000 and £200,000, with annual maintenance costs of £10,000. Many locals suspect that Bexley Council have always favoured the third option; the thinking behind this is that if the Splash Park was fitted out with the swings and roundabouts transferred from the recreation park on the opposite side of Woolwich Road, it would enable the council to sell off the whole plot of land, including the adjacent library to developers - not only would it rake in a lot of cash, but the inevitable blocks of flats that would be built would themselves bring in long term steady revenue in the form of Council Tax. The fate of the Splash Park is now to be decided at the council’s budget meeting on Tuesday, July 21 at 7.30pm in the council chamber. Faye Ockelford, secretary of the Save Belvedere Splash Park campaign, said the report had been “the biggest complete and utter waste of money. They have only looked at three options, The mains-fed solution will never be a viable option because it is a highly residential area and the environmental impact would be horrendous. With no recycling of the water, there isn’t the capacity in the water mains in the area. We want a safe, sustainable splash park, and if the council can't afford to run it we would be happy to look at private alternatives. We have spoken to someone who has offered to take over the running of it. But when we asked Cllr Craske if we could have a meeting, he said no. It seems to me that it has been a cut and dried decision – Old Manor Way is in a Conservative ward, so that has been saved, but the splash park is in a Labour ward, so it’s gone.”

The ending video this week is a little unusual; popular YouTube car review channel XCAR carry out a retrospective review on the Bristol Fighter - a 200mph supercar that many car enthusiasts may not even have heard of. Bristol Cars are a tiny bespoke car manufacturer who have a single showroom in Kensington High Street in London. The make very exclusive, eye wateringly expensive, but very discreet cars - I suppose that you could say that they are the automotive equivalent of a Savile Row tailor. The company make vehicles for extremely wealthy people who consider Ferrari, Aston Martin or Bentley to be too indiscreet and vulgar, or indeed just too commonly seen. Bristol Cars went the way of so many small volume British car manufacturers and went bust in 2011; they were subsequently bought, and have had a large investment made in new premises and machine tools. The company plan to launch a brand new model later this year.  Below is a rare road test of the Bristol Fighter - a car that is rumoured to be one of only fourteen ever built. You can visit the Bristol Cars website by clicking here.

1 comment:

  1. I think its only a matter of when and not if the Erith Library & Town Hall are redeveloped. Unfortunately i can not see any other option for them. If the Town Hall loses its current resident Capita and the revenue it generates its options for the future would be very limited.