Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunset over Erith.

There are times when Erith can look vaguely exotic – such as when I took the photo above at around 8pm last Sunday evening - click on the picture for a larger version. It was taken from the Thames side path that runs behind the riverside apartments and town houses at the end of James Watt Way. I had walked along the path earlier in the day, but at that time the tide was out and the light was nothing like as interesting. Once the tide returned, covering up the unsightly (and somewhat whiffy when the wind is blowing the wrong way) Thames mud, and the sun began setting, the whole scene got a lot more interesting. Whilst I would be hard pressed to describe the Erith river front as glamorous, there are scant moments when conditions are just right when it can look utterly stunning. The reason for my walk along the riverfront that evening was twofold; firstly to try and catch the sunset with my camera on a lovely, calm evening, and on a less creative and more practical level, to see if I could photograph any of the scooter – riding scrotes who illegally race around the local area, and often ride along the riverfront walk. I had heard the “wasp in a biscuit tin” whine of scooter engines from home for much of the afternoon – there seemed to be more of the scumbags around than normal – and let me make it clear, I have absolutely nothing against the normal young lads (it is always guys, I have yet to see a girl riding a moped or scooter locally) whose first taste of independent motorised transport is a 50cc scooter. What annoys me and many other local people are the illegal riders who ride frequently stolen bikes on false plates with no helmets, insurance or consideration for either other road or pavement users. I don't know if these illegal riders are part of the Bike Life TV UK group who congregate around Thamesmead, Lower Belvedere and Erith, and one of whose members was recently killed outside The Morgan pub in Picardy Manorway. Whether they are or not, they pose a real threat to local road users and pedestrians alike. I soon encountered two illegal scooter riders, one of whom came zooming along the riverside walk, straight past me; he met up with another illegal rider on James Watt Way, where they both proceeded to pull wheelies on the public road. I managed to photograph them doing this, and the evidence has been passed to the Police for investigation - with the following result. Why the illegal riders all have to pull wheelies utterly escapes me; if you visit the Bike Life TV UK YouTube channel or Facebook page, all of the videos and seemingly most of the photographs show youths doing wheelies on mopeds and quad bikes – what really is the point of it? – It would be cheaper to have “I am an utter dickhead” tattooed over their foreheads, and the end result would be the same. Talking of Facebook; I needed to carry out some research on a couple of stories I will be featuring in a future edition of the Maggot Sandwich. In order to undertake the research, I had to create a Facebook account. As many readers will already know, I don't use Facebook or any form of social media, and I very tightly control the information that is available to the public outside of this blog. Pundits complain about the data they suppose that GCHQ and the NSA glean about the general public, not realising the irony that the biggest collector of personal data in the world is actually Facebook. Nevertheless I created an entirely fictional account (which has now been deleted – you will not find any reference to me via a Facebook search). I used it to check a number of pages for my research. I have to say that I am astounded at how Facebook has become so popular; it is clunky, the user interface is inconsistent and very dated, and even the search functionality returns wildly unreliable and illogical results. Bearing in mind the size and wealth of the site, it astounds me at just how poor the implementation is. Despite this, people obviously seem to like it – the sheer amount and detail of personal information that many Facebook users publish for anyone to see is staggering. I actually am surprised that more people are not victims of identity theft and other forms of fraud, as it seems that a sizable portion of the British public don't give two hoots for any form of online security. The fact is, once you publish something online, it is out there for the world to see – you cannot “un-publish” – once the information is out, it is out for good, whatever the consequences. Facebook would seem to be the ideal outlet for those who don’t mind self-publicity.

This week Kensington Olympia has been the venue for the 2015 CAMRA Great British Beer Festival; I have to admit that as a real ale fan, I have never been to this, the largest festival in the UK’s real ale calendar. I was at Olympia last month for a somewhat different kind of event – the Alzheimer’s Show, in connection with part of my day job. Over the years I have gone to Olympia on numerous occasions, and the standard way to get to the large venue is to go to Earl’s Court on the District Line, then get the one stop train to Kensington Olympia. But not nowadays. I stood on the West bound platform at Earl’s Court tube station, waiting for an Olympia train to pull in for around twenty minutes – the colleague I was with decided to ask a member of staff when the next Olympia special was due in. She was told “oh, those trains don't run anymore” and that we would need to either get a bus from outside of the station, or alternatively walk the mile and a bit to the venue. This was news to me. This means that the biggest problem for the Great British Beer Festival has just got worse. This problem is what I have described as “Wee Mileage” – the range one can travel on public transport before needing to empty one's bladder. A combination of factors create an artificial boundary as to how far one can travel from home, if intending to indulge in a tipple whilst out and about. Once you have left the hostelry or beer festival at the end of the evening, there is a finite amount of time available for travelling before one will be compelled to pump ones' bilges. Obviously this will vary between individuals and their personal bladder capacity / ability to hold on, the amount of liquid they have imbibed, and the ambient air temperature.  I am presupposing that one does not cheat and avail oneself of a convenient bush or dark alley. Wee mileages seem to be higher when employing a cab, mainly due to the fact one can take a last minute leak before starting the journey home, and the cab will take you door to door with no waiting around at a chilly bus stop or draughty railway platform with the bladder clock ticking. Bearing in mind the worrying lack of public toilets in and around Greater London nowadays, it means that if you wish to go to an event like a beer festival, you have to have your route and your stop – off points planned with military efficiency. Southeastern trains have a worrying habit of locking the on board loos, which again makes the situation even worse. Personally the whole thing puts me off attending the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival, as it is just more hassle than it is worth in my opinion. What do you think? Is there an alternative that I have overlooked? Let me know - Email me at

Smash hit and cult classic 1975 comedy film Monty Python And The Holy Grail is to be re-released in cinemas to mark its 40th anniversary. For one night only, on Wednesday 14th October 2015, the film will screen in 500 UK cinemas, in both its original and a brand new sing-a-long format. The screening will be accompanied by a specially filmed, exclusive introduction from surviving Pythons Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and John Cleese. The film companies behind the re-release say: "We want to make this a fun event and are encouraging audiences to come along dressed up as their favourite character,"  A brand new 40th anniversary special edition Blu-ray will also be released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Cyber-crooks have latched on to online scams that exploit direct-to-bill payment options. Security company Malwarebytes warns that crooks are tricking users into visiting mobile sites containing malicious code that charges users via their mobile phone number. Victims are corralled through a complex series of pop-up adverts to a fly-by-night web address with a hidden payment button that charges a fee. Fraud victims only discover they've been fleeced after receiving a text saying "you've paid £5 for one entry for visiting our website" or similar. Direct-to-bill online services have been around for some years, offering consumers a means to pay for services using their mobile phones without relying on a credit or debit card. The facility has numerous legitimate uses (charity donations, for example) but in cases highlighted by Malwarebytes, fraudsters have abused the system to suit their own nefarious purposes. The scam illustrates the hidden danger from pop-ups, adverts and mobile redirects. In some cases, victims may be convinced they've not even interacted with the page in terms of clicking on buttons, filling in forms or signing up to something before receiving a text message stating they've been charged. Sites related to rogue charges place paid advertising on ad networks. These links go through a series of redirects before eventually landing at “one-time use” URLs – i.e. if you went back and visited one again, nothing would happen: you would simply see a blank page. This makes it difficult to determine the precise mechanism of the scam, though security analysts suspect hidden payment buttons. Frauds along this line have been a constant source of complaints on online forums and other websites for a number of years, according to Malwarebytes, in one of the first objective assessments of the impact of the apparently wide-ranging scam. Some of the thread posters will state that they did indeed click on things or download something, but the majority are firm in their belief that they didn’t interact with pages in any way, shape or form. Many of them mention having seen rogue pop-up ads before being billed (sometimes with content on them, sometimes not) and they are also understandably a touch worried. There are multiple complaints regarding repeat billing over time. Getting charges refunded can be difficult, according to the security analysts, who advise users to take advantage of mobile ad-blocker software. The main UK mobile network operators work hard to minimise abuse of services such as Payforit, an operator-run direct-to-bill payment service. The service is regulated by PhonepayPlus, the UK's premium rate phone-paid services regulator. PhonepayPlus is yet to respond to Malwarebytes' research, or on the extent of direct-to-bill payment fraud. This is a growing area of criminal activity, and something that the general public now need to be increasingly vigilant about.

I took the photo above as part of a series on Thursday night; a traveller caravan had parked illegally in Morrison's car park by James Watt Way and it was clear that they were setting up to stay the night. A petrol generator was running and it looked like at least another vehicle would shortly be joining them - the car in the photo does not possess a tow - hitch, so it was not the vehicle that brought the caravan to the location. Whilst I was on site, two Morrison's staff served a legal notice to quit on the occupants of the caravan. One told me that whilst one caravan in the corner of the car park was really no problem to anyone, where one appeared, forty could show up within twenty four hours. I have a libertarian attitude to life - "if it works for you". Which basically means I think that people should be free to do as they wish, as long as their actions do not cause harm, distress or inconvenience to others. Unfortunately the experiences of many locals with the travelling community have not been good. I will not paint them all with the same brush, but it would seem to me that the travellers need to police their own community members more thoroughly. There is good and bad in every social group, but it seems to me that the bad have the upper hand at present; this needs to change. 

The following guest article was kindly written by international broadcaster, soul music expert, and radio personality Gary Drew. "WBCQ is a free speech radio station broadcasting from the United States of America on shortwave using the C.Q. call sign recognised by radio amateurs around the world derived from the meaning 'pay attention'. A station operator calling C.Q. is asking for listeners to respond by seeing who is out there. WBCQ started broadcasting in 1998 after being granted a licence by the F.C.C. Federal Communications Commission. The idea for the station came from its manager and founder Allan H Weiner. Allan is a long time free radio enthusiast and engineer who has operated other radio stations in the past but his most famous and well known radio station followed on from the offshore radio era when he launched a boat off Jones Beach, Long Island New York called the MV Sarah (named after his ex wife) and began transmitting as Radio New York international from international waters in fact. The station lasted a very short time - only 5 days in Summer 1987 - on 4 frequencies AM, FM, Shortwave and even long wave. The station was meant to be a protest about restrictions on what could be played on radio at the time and being 4 miles off the coast, Allan was unaware of breaking any laws but he owned a station in Presque Isle Maine as well and by putting out broadcasts from RNI ended up costing him his licence on the Presque Isle station. Please note: Followers of offshore pirate radio in the United Kingdom should not confuse the RNI title with the Dutch / English radio station 'Radio North Sea International' which broadcast from 1970 - 1974 from the MV Mebo 2. You can see a rather poor quality news clip about Radio New York International here. You can hear some recordings from the AZanorak website  or directly from links here and here. The idea for 'WBCQ the planet' came from the ashes of Radio New York International and it has gained a very popular and loyal following over the past 17 years on the air. The station is on the internet 24 hours a day at and also uses four shortwave frequencies quite legally to this day. They are 5510, 7490, 9330 and 15420 KHz. The 5110 transmitter is used mainly for pirate radio themed output and the 9330 frequency in the 31 meter band is probably the one most likely to propagate into Europe. They hire airtime with very reasonable rates to other stations and for people who want to put out shows promoting free speech or free radio type themed programs. They even have a pirate pizza night most Saturday nights from around 8pm Eastern standard time - (01.00 UTC Sundays) and Friday nights at 8pm Eastern is the most popular show Allan Weiner Worldwide. This is where Allan gives out station information, gets the WBCQ family together and invites listeners both new and regular to call in. I find it very interesting myself but due to the time of the broadcast I have to download a copy of the shows from the archive so I can listen on demand from here. Allan has pirate links to the past including involvement with the falling star network and the world famous Radio Caroline. In fact when the Ross Revenge was grounded and nearly sank on the Goodwin Sands off the Kent coast in 1991 ending the offshore radio era for Radio Caroline, a recording was made the day after the event by Steve Conway and Neil Gates for a station called Radio New York International which I don't seem to be able to find now but I think it is on the AZanorak site somewhere. I think then the RNI name was used again on this occasion as part of a selection of programmes for a shortwave station called Radio Fax.  which Steve Conway also appeared on. Radio Fax was an 'unofficial' radio station testing the law by broadcasting on frequencies that had not been officially allocated by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) meaning (in theory) if the channels weren't allocated anyone could use them until they were. This was another law that was tested and there is lots of information about it on the internet talking in particular about the 75 meter band and the frequencies between 3950 - 4000 KHz being spare and usable for all - or not so it seems. Anyway I hope you get a chance to sample Allan's show or listen to WBCQ as it is most different from anything we have here in the UK". Thanks Gary - a fascinating article on a radio station that has certainly ploughed its' own furrow. I think a number of my readers will wish to tune in to the station. I certainly do on a regular basis.

One worrying trend is now coming to light; homeowners are deliberately failing to report minor crimes in their area, because they fear that doing so could damage the value of their property. Now that there are several online services featuring interactive online crime maps, homeowners are turning a blind eye to minor crimes, raising fears that the interactive maps are actually distorting official crime statistics. A recent survey found that half of households had been the victim of minor property crime, such as vandalism or theft from a garden shed. Two thirds of the people surveyed said that they did not report the incident to the Police. One in twelve said that their motivation for not reporting the crime was the worry that it might adversely affect local house prices. Official statistics show that the crime rate in England and Wales fell by seven percent last year, to the lowest figures since 1981. Studies in the U.S.A show that higher crime rates depress house prices. Since 2011 the Police have mapped every incident of recorded crime online, where users can see exactly how many crimes and the type of offence committed on every street in Britain. More than half of prospective house owners check the website before they buy, and almost two thirds said that they would not buy a property in an area with a crime rate that was higher than average. The study was undertaken by the property maintenance company The figures have raised concerns that crime mapping may be encouraging criminals and distorting crime statistics.  What do you think? Have you encountered this kind of behaviour?

A story in the News Shopper this week has reinforced my opinion on two subjects. Firstly,  they recount yet another incident involving the Gravesend RNLI lifeboat being called to an incident at Erith Pier. Apparently a couple of teenage lads were messing around on the wrong side of the railings on the pier; as anyone familiar with the pier will know, if you fell off it, you would end up in deep, very fast flowing tidal water with a very thick layer of glutinous mud beneath. If you fell in, even in summer, your chances of survival would be slim. The kids were hanging off the railings in some kind of game of dare. An RNLI statement regarding the incident reads "The lifeboat was tasked to Erith Jetty today at 6.08pm to a group of teenagers hanging off the wrong side of the railings on the pier. A crewman was put up the ladder on to the pier but when he was at the top the group of teenagers was seen to be running off the pier. A gentleman who was on the pier confirmed that this was the group hanging off the railings and that there were no more of them left." I have to say I have seen this behaviour myself in the past – sooner or later one of the idiots is going to end up in the drink. Whilst the Gravesend lifeboat is relatively fast, it has to cover a huge amount of river – and can only be in one place at a time. An RNLI sub – station at Erith would be an ideal solution – and could be housed in the former Port of London Authority building adjacent to Erith Jetty, as featured in the photo above - click on it for a larger view. Which brings me on to my second point; the News Shopper reporter refers to both Erith Pier and Erith Jetty. It would seem that she interchanges the two names, apparently not realising that they are two entirely separate structures which are located a good couple of hundred metres from each other. This is not actually surprising to me; the so called “local” reporters are not local at all; the parent company of the News Shopper is an organisation called NewsQuest, who have closed down the News Shopper offices in Pett’s Wood, and moved the remaining staff over to their HQ in High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. How reporters assigned to cover a geographical area which stretches from Bromley to Gravesend can operate from the opposite side of the region and still have sufficient levels of local knowledge, I do not know.

The promise of much reduced East / West journey times when the Crossrail project is completed are affecting house prices all along the route. Crossrail is set to add £5.5 billion to house values. The latest prediction comes as twenty six miles of tunnelling beneath the capital is completed, along with the first homes above a Crossrail station. The line, from Reading in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, will cut journey times to London significantly and increase the capacity of the Tube by ten per cent. For the first time in Britain, regeneration is happening in tandem with the construction of a new transport system, with 3.3 million square feet of residential, office and retail space planned above Crossrail stations. A total of 57,000 new homes will be built along the route, while councils are upgrading town centres and forward-thinking home buyers and savvy investors are starting to focus on the neighbourhoods being thrown into the spotlight. Woolwich is set to become a major transport hub. Woolwich Crossrail station is being built within 88-acre Royal Arsenal Riverside, a Berkeley Homes development that will have 5,000 new homes when complete in 2030.  More than a thousand of these homes will be above the station, and the first phase has been built on the east side. Ninety percent of the 631 apartments at Cannon Square have already been sold off-plan, many to absentee purchasers in Russia, China or the far East. The remaining three-bedroom, two-bathroom flats start at £647,500 and rise to £875,000 for a duplex penthouse. Not exactly affordable housing for local people. I worry that key workers will be priced out of commuting distance of the capital by foreign investors looking to relocate their cash into a stable economic environment outside of their unreliable / unstable totalitarian homelands. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Recently the LibreOffice project released version 5.0 of their free, Microsoft Office compatible cross-platform office suite. The new release brings together a raft of features for a comprehensive office suite that runs across Linux, Windows, Mac, and increasingly the mobile space. Saying LibreOffice or Openoffice to people can lead to interesting reactions. For some people, LibreOffice is the darling of the open source software world, and for others, it is an unsatisfactory Microsoft Office alternative that they look down on. I believe that LibreOffice plays an important function in the world, and one that spans beyond the mere function of an office suite. Before we get to that though, I think looking back through the tremendous journey that led to the LibreOffice project we know today is important. Back in 1985 when a software developer called Marco Börries created StarWriter for the Zilog Z80. He later formed StarDivision and started building what we now consider to be a modern office suite. The fruits of this effort was Staroffice, which featured a word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, database, drawing, formula, and other tools. Back in the early days of Linux, Staroffice was the only serious office suite available for the burgeoning free operating system. It was true that Star Office was clunky and ugly, but it worked and filled an important role for new Linux users, who did not have access to Microsoft Office. In 1999, Sun Microsystems bought StarDivision for $73.5 million, and according to the press, buying the company was cheaper than buying Microsoft Office licenses for Sun employees. This naturally came with a key benefit: Sun Microsystems now owned an office suite. Sun made the formerly proprietary software code for Star Office open source, enabling third party software developers to add to and improve the office suites’ code. To reflect the change in status, the suite was re – named Openoffice. In early 2010, Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems. This sent shock waves throughout the open source software world, and later that year, The Document Foundation was announced as a new host for a new derivative of called LibreOffice. This new project would be the open source project that many users had lobbied for so long. Since those early days, the LibreOffice project has gone from strength to strength. The huge, monolithic codebase has been modularized, updated, and refined. The cross-platform support for Windows, Apple OS X and Linux has been expanded, new features added, bugs removed, and a revised sense of simplicity and usability has been applied. In addition to this, a new community was born, developer summits and conferences were founded, sponsors sourced, and sub-communities—such as documentation writers, translators, artists, designers, and more—created. To look at LibreOffice today and compare it to Microsoft Office can be tempting. Certainly LibreOffice does not provide the same level of features and finesse Microsoft's suite may boast (having said that eighty percent of MS Office users only use twenty percent of its capabilities and features), but what the free software engineering community has accomplished is phenomenal. Developing LibreOffice has been hard, technically challenging, and at times de-motivating work, and contributors' efforts can be seen by millions of users across the world, proving that Microsoft Office is not the only office suite available – and LibreOffice is completely free to download and use. You can find the download website for Windows, Apple OS X and Linux here.

It is always difficult when a film or TV producer re - visits a franchise that is regarded as a national institution; Eon Productions were slated by many fans when they cast Daniel Craig as James Bond "we cannot have a blonde Bond" and the website "Craigsnotbond" was created. Suffice to say that the critics were roundly silenced. In many cases the re - booting of an old and much loved show does not work - the new actors don't have the same chemistry with each other, or the premise is changed from the original. I am keeping an open mind about the forthcoming new "Dad's Army" movie. It has a stellar cast, all of whom bear more than a passing resemblance to the original actors who starred in the much beloved original TV series. Whether the film turns out to be any good, we will have to wait and see. You can watch the trailer below, and see for yourself. 

1 comment:

  1. According to the "Dad's Army" trailer, Britain was on the "brink of defeat" in 1944. I don't think so. Who on Earth thought we were on the brink of defeat in 1944? As I recall, the original TV series took place in the early years of the war from 1939 when we really were on the brink of defeat. By 1944, we were definitely on the offensive and the Home Guard was actually stood down in December 1944 as it was decided that there was no possibility of invasion. Someone ought to get their history right.