Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Scoop.

One of the most distinctive, and historically controversial landmarks in Erith is the fish roundabout which has variously been described as "hideous", "an eyesore" and "it looks like a passing giant space alien took a massive psychedelic 'Mister Whippy' style turd, and dumped it over Erith". Personally I have moderated my views on the giant mosaic sculpture since it was installed by artist Gary Drostle back in 2006. Yes it is still horrid to look at, but it does perform a valuable function; whenever someone from outside of the area wants directions, they can easily be told "when you see the fish roundabout, you are in Erith!" Thankfully no other town in the UK has anything quite so unique, and it does provide a unusual theme to the main roundabout in and out of town. What do you think? Have you got so used to the fish sculpture as part of the town's identity that Erith would be worse off without it, or do you still find it an unwelcome part of the local landscape? Let me know by leaving a comment below, or by Emailing me at

I had a very busy and also interesting day on Thursday. As well as being interviewed by a reporter from The Financial Times on a subject related to my day job, I was also contacted by investigative journalist and Sky News reporter Gerard Tubb about a story I featured on the Maggot Sandwich back in May of last year. Gerard Tubb had been undertaking some investigation online, and had discovered that I had information which he needed. He Emailed me, and I phoned him back. You may have seen a story about the use by the Metropolitan Police Service of Body Worn Video Cameras. Sky News discovered that whilst the Police had told the public that the video data was uploaded to secure Police video servers, it was actually being uploaded to an external commercial data storage company with a history of data security breaches. Gerard Tubb had already uncovered this story, but approached me for a copy of the Police announcement to interested parties. He had been assured by the Home Office that the document had never been published, but he suspected that it had. I was able to confirm that the document had indeed been published, and I supplied him with a copy, along with the associated Email trail, thus giving him the "smoking gun" proving the veracity of the story. Update:- Following publication of this article, Gerard Tubb updated me with the following correction:- "had found the document on the Met Police site through Google, but had no evidence it had been sent to anyone. By searching for a particularly phrase in the document I found your blog, proving it had been circulated. Proof if ever it were needed that publication of information by journalists, citizen or otherwise, is vital". Gerard Tubb was very complimentary about the Maggot Sandwich, and the quality of my writing (though I suspect that he was flattering me, as I was helping him break a very juicy scoop). It is not often that the Maggot Sandwich makes an impact on nationally important news - truth be said, this is actually the first time. I suspect that it will not be the last. Time will tell. 

Over the last handful of years I have been keeping a quiet eye on the personal computer industry to see how trends have played out. A quick look at iPad and tablet shipment data would show that things have slowed down in recent quarters. In reality, things are much worse than the figures would suggest. The seasonality found in the tablet segment makes it difficult to see these long-term problems. A much better way at understanding what has been taking place is to look at the year-over-year change in shipments on a trailing 12-month basis. This highlights that the iPad and Android tablet have been on the decline for years, and things continue to worsen with the overall tablet market hitting negative territory for the first time. All momentum has been lost. It is a pretty grim picture, but it is not actually surprising. After modern tablets burst onto the scene - led by the iPad - we were pummelled by hyperbole after hyperbole about the post-PC revolution and how the tablet would destroy the PC; and indeed, for a short while, the staggering sales numbers of the iPad (later overtaken by Android tablets) seemed to lend credence to these hyperboles, and then things stagnated. Google has never really taken tablets seriously, and with hindsight we can now say that was probably a good idea. Apple, too, has completely ignored and squandered the potential it saw for the iPad. Little to no tablet-specific work has been done on the iPad side of iOS, and as such, the iPad has never managed to grow beyond its status as a consumption-only device. Since the iPad's introduction, there've been only two groups of people claiming that the iPad was not strictly a consumption device: Apple employees and Apple bloggers/reporters. Everybody else has been fully aware of the iPad's (and other tablets') main use case from day one. And then there's the fact that few developers are willing to invest a lot of money into productive apps on the iPad. They are expensive to create, the market is small, and Apple's handling of how apps are sold on its devices does not instil confidence.  The thing that's preventing people from using the iPad productively is not the small screen, it's the operating system. All this is further made worse by how hard iPads are to deploy and manage in educational and corporate settings (compared to Windows laptops and Google Chromebooks). Do we need a larger iPad, as has been rumoured for so long now? Or do we just have to accept that no, tablets and touch just aren't going to work for anything but simple, consumption-focused computing tasks? Personally I have answered this myself in the past. I find that there is no substitute for a QWERTY keyboard if one is creating, rather than consuming online content. The Maggot Sandwich averages four thousand words a week, which is a lot of typing. A tablet with an on – screen virtual keyboard is just not going to cut the mustard when it comes to industrial levels of typing. On – screen keyboards have no “give” and this quickly leads to numb fingertips and typing fatigue. A traditional keyboard makes for a far more rewarding typing experience. What do you think? Do you disagree? Let me know by leaving a comment below, or emailing me at

Some really great news for crime fighting in the London Borough of Bexley. The Police have recently published the following announcement:- "The Metropolitan Police Service are currently issuing their own branded SmartWater® forensic marking packs to residents of Bexley, as part of the MetTrace initiative, over the next three years. They are concentrating on high burglary hotspot areas. London Neighbourhood Watch Association have agreed a special discount, so local residents can buy the SmartWater Home Security Pack at a significantly reduced rate. Police routinely check for SmartWater, if your marked items are stolen but later recovered, the police can see you have used SmartWater, by checking with UV light. Any property marked with SmartWater can be identified and traced back to you, whilst the thief can be prosecuted. When you buy a pack online, your details are automatically associated with the unique forensic code in the SmartWater that is sent to you. Prevention is always the first line of defence when protecting your home, so please make sure you display SmartWater’s THIEVES BEWARE® window stickers clearly, they are an important deterrent to would-be thieves. There have been many SmartWater projects deployed by the UK Police service, including the deployment of 1,000 SmartWater packs to homes in the London Boroughs of Brent and Islington in 2013. Six months after the launch, police reported an eighty five percent reduction in domestic burglary in Brent and a sixty three percent reduction in Islington. The London Borough of Bexley is often targeted by burglars and would benefit greatly for the crime reduction successes experienced in Brent and Islington. What criminals fear most is being caught, and SmartWater puts that fear in the thief’s mind. With SmartWater’s 100% conviction rate, thieves know that if they are caught with SmartWater they have nowhere to turn. Independent research amongst offenders even shows that SmartWater is the top deterrent amongst thieves, beating burglar alarms, CCTV and even police patrols. This special offer is a great opportunity for you to take an active part in that reduction. To order your five year (minimum) SmartWater pack for £25.00, including free delivery log into and enter promotional code: L3RY25NW. These kits normally retail for £75.00". I will be taking up the offer myself.

Mark Backhouse, the leader of the Christ Church Erith bell ringing group (he's the chap in the blue jumper in the photo above) has written the following fascinating article on local bell ringing history. "In 1552 a survey of all the possessions of the English church was carried out following the formation of the Church of England under Henry VIII, and St. John the Baptist church in Erith (West Street) was recorded as having 3 bells. These bells would have been rung singly for specific church uses, and would have been swung through a small arc by the action of a rope attached to a simple lever. One of the timbers supporting the spire at St John's still shows the bearing location of such a bell. During the late 1500s and the early 1600s bells were being rung for more secular functions including celebrations for weddings etc. and teams of ringers would ring all the bells at once to make a cheerful noise, but different sized bells would swing at different speeds and the old bells in a tower were not necessarily in tune with each other. By the 1600s techniques for hanging bells to give greater control had evolved, with bells being swung through a greater arc with the rope attached to a half wheel, developed eventually to a full wheel with the bell turning full circle, giving total control of when the bell would strike. Once the bells could be fully controlled it was found possible to change the order of the bells at any stroke, changing the “tune” being rung and opening up possibilities for increased numbers of bells and more complicated sequences. In 1703 a brand new peal of 6 change ringing bells was installed in a new bell frame in St John’s church tower, the earliest such installation in the local area, following the fashion developed in major cities and university towns during the late 1600s. One of these bells still exists in use within the peal of bells at St John’s, and the outside perimeter of the old frame is still in use in situ for the present frame. Three of the bells were recast in 1763 and a further bell recast in 1882 when two extra bells were added to make the peal up to eight. At this time the frame was modified to accommodate the two extra bells on the same level as the originals and many of the old frame timbers were re-used in different locations, evidenced by old empty mortice joints in odd places. This peal of eight bells enabled the ringers to extend the complexity and length of their ringing as far as they would ever need, and they began ringing regular full peals of over 5000 different changes performed over a time period of about three hours of continuous ringing. Local ringing became very active, with a great number of peals being rung at St John’s. The bells were so popular that they had been rung to 241 peals by 1914, when the First World War caused a pause. Christchurch Erith did not even have a tower at this time, but a new tower, spire, clock and a peal of eight bells was added in 1915, with a band being trained by local ringers. Following re-hanging of the largest bell on ball bearings in 1921 Christchurch’s bells were perfectly manageable, but few peals seem to have been rung there. Only 61 peals had been rung by 1939, with a mere 20 being added since the Second World War, giving a total of just 81 to date. In 1925 one more of the original bells at St John’s was recast and all the bells were hung on single row ball bearings, making ringing easier and the bells more musical. Peals continued to be rung at a great rate, increasing the total to 403 by 1939, when the Second World War stopped ringing for a while. This total was almost certainly the highest at any tower in the country, making Erith famous among ringers. The bells continued to be heavily used for peal ringing right up to 1977, when the total was 727, with St John’s still one of the most prolific peal ringing towers in the country. Ringing at St John’s seems to have then gone into decline, with only 8 peals added to date, making the current total 735. The local band at St John’s has dwindled in recent years, with lack of numbers meaning that only a few bells can be rung for Sunday service, the main duty of bellringers everywhere. Conversely, the band at Christchurch has strengthened over the years, with several attempts to train new ringers for St John’s and to help maintain the old worn out equipment there. Regular support is still given at practices and for special services when the two bands ring together. The local band at Christchurch re-hung all eight of their bells on modern double row ball bearings in 2003 as the old plain bearings had become very hard work, and replaced other worn out fittings, making the bells some of the nicest to ring in the area. St John’s band too have overhauled their worn out fittings and their bells are now reasonably manageable. Both bands would welcome new members (particularly St John’s), with tuition available for all ages from 12 upwards (no top limit!) for those interested in learning this historic English art and supporting a local tradition. If you would like to find out more about bell ringing at Christ Church Erith, you can find out more by clicking here. Alternatively if you come along at 3pm on Sunday the 20th September for the final 100th anniversary Christ Church bell tower open day. You can climb up into the bell tower and see a demonstration of bell ringing. Normally the bell tower is not open to the public, so this is a great (and final for this year anyway) chance to see an important part of Erith that the general public rarely get the chance to see. You can also join the Friends of Christ Church Erith, to help support the maintenance of the historic local landmark. 

Twenty six years ago last Wednesday, two events happened that made an impact on British history, for two very different reasons. The first and best known event was the tragic sinking of the Thames pleasure cruiser the Marchioness by the dredger the Bowbelle. The Marchioness collided with the dredger Bowbelle in the early hours of 20th August 1989. In the initial instant of collision the anchor of the dredger cut through the side of the Marchioness, which rolled over and quickly filled with water, while being pushed under by the Bowbelle. As the Marchioness capsized, her entire superstructure became detached. The formal investigation put the time elapsed, from the instant of collision at 1:46 a.m. to complete immersion, at close to 30 seconds. Witnesses quoted in that investigation described the Bowbelle as "hitting it [the Marchioness] in about its centre then (mounting) it, pushing it under the water like a toy boat." Of the dead, 24 were recovered from the sunken hull. Most of the survivors had been on the upper decks at the time of the collision. The dead included Francesca Dallaglio, older sister of future England national rugby union captain Lawrence Dallaglio, and the skipper of the Marchioness, Stephen Faldo, father of Lee Faldo and reality TV star Jeff Brazier. The disaster was found by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch to have been caused by the poor visibility from each ship's wheelhouse, the fact that both vessels were using the centre of the river and the lack of clear instructions to the lookout at the bow of the Bowbelle. In 1991, the skipper of the Bowbelle, Douglas Henderson, was tried for failing to keep a proper look-out but, after two juries were deadlocked, he was formally acquitted. A Coroner's inquest on 7 April 1995 found the victims had been unlawfully killed. Following pressure from the Marchioness Action Group, whose publicity front had been handled by photographer and party attendee Ian Philpott, on 14 February 2000, John Prescott as Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions ordered a formal investigation into the circumstances of the collision, to be chaired by Lord Justice Clarke. Lord Clarke's report blamed poor lookouts on both vessels for the collision and criticised the owners and managers of both vessels for failing to instruct and monitor their crews in proper fashion. In 2001 an inquiry by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency into the competence and behaviour of Captain Henderson concluded that he should be allowed to keep his master's certificate as he met all the service and medical fitness requirements. However, they "strongly deprecated" his conduct in drinking five pints of strong lager in the afternoon prior to the accident, and for his admission that he had forged some signatures on certificates and testimonials to obtain his master mariner certificate of competency in 1988. Also in 2001, The Royal Humane Society made nineteen bravery awards to people involved in rescues at the Marchioness sinking. Subsequent to recommendations made in the Clarke report relating to the improvement of river safety, the Government asked the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Port of London Authority and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) to work together to set up a dedicated Search and Rescue service for the tidal River Thames. Consequently, on 2 January 2002, the RNLI set up four lifeboat stations, at Gravesend, Tower Pier, Chiswick Pier and Teddington. The Gravesend RNLI station is the one which has supplied the personnel to attend several recent emergencies on the River off Erith that I have described in previous updates. Some good did come from the tragedy, although nobody knew this at the time. I was in London at the time the accident happened, but did not know anything about it until hearing the story on the breakfast news on Sunday morning. The reason for the late night trip into London was because of the other event that happened earlier that day; On Saturday the 19th August 1989, I had been on a shopping trip to Bexleyheath, and I clearly recall walking along Nuxley Road in Upper Belvedere, back home to my parents’ house nearby. I got indoors and found my sister highly distressed. She had been recording the output of Radio Caroline over the course of the morning, as it became increasingly clear that the authorities were raiding the iconic offshore radio station. My sister had made a tape which covered the last ninety minutes of broadcasts from the Ross Revenge. The ship had been boarded (illegally, as was later proved) by officials from the Dutch PTT and the British DTI. The Dutch officials were armed with handguns, and several of the party were drinking beer during the raid. The transmitter valves were smashed, the studios ripped out, and at one earlier point the raiders intended to use a fire hose to spray salt water over the antenna system to short out the transmitter, when it was pointed out to them that in doing so the people holding the hose would certainly be fried by the high power RF field. In any case, the station was silenced, the huge on board record collection was seized, and the station taken off the air. Ironically the British and Dutch governments engaged in a genuine (legally defined) act of piracy against a group of defenceless people whose only “crime” had been playing good music to millions of listeners around Europe. I had been on board the Ross Revenge only two weeks previously, on a tender supply trip. I was slowly becoming involved in the organisation, mainly though helping in the “back office” – buying food and supplies, and arranging covert tender delivery runs from a number of ports around the River Medway and South East coast. After the raid, the Caroline Movement (which was pretty much a cover for the shore side organisation) organised a formal protest march in central London. Caroline fans were encouraged to bring along food and records as “presents” for the crew, many of whom stayed aboard after the raid to keep the ship safe in international waters. Listeners correctly interpreted this to mean “bring along your record collection so that we can re – stock the record library”. Also in the background, several well – known radio stations quietly donated studio equipment to rebuild the Caroline studio. The engineering team were able to rebuild one of the AM broadcast transmitters from components that had been hidden before the illegal raiding party came on board. The station was back on air, albeit on somewhat reduced power within six weeks. How that happened, and my small part in the events that followed is a story for another time. Below is a contemporary news report on the raid, courtesy of YouTube. Feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

When you can buy a 4K ultra high definition television at the supermarket, along with your bangers and mash, you know Ultra HD has entered the mainstream. Retail giant Asda is now stocking the Polaroid-branded P55D600, a 55-inch Ultra HD screen for just £699. If you want to really push the boat out, you can heft the 65-inch version into your shopping cart, for only £300 more. Even without readily available 4K content (as I have written about before), the TV industry has seen an inexorable shift in panel production from 1080p to 2160p. In 2014 there were 235 million UHD TVs, worth an estimated $94 billion, which went into retail. Industry researchers are forecasting that UHD TV shipments will grow 147 per cent this year. You can bet on even bigger numbers to come, as first generation flat screen adopters prepare to re-enter the market, as part of the traditional (replacement) cycle of life. By November the choice in low cost 4K screens might well have mushroomed. Chinese TV maker Hisense has a wide range of UHD televisions ready to march. The brand may not ring bells with the average UK shopper, but it is a formidable operation. The company is the fourth largest TV set manufacturer in the world and has been market leader on its own territory for years. Exactly how affordable remains to be seen. Recent devaluations of the Chinese yuan could see the cost of models plummeting.  Hisense has been exporting low cost screens into Germany, Italy, Spain, and to a lesser extent the UK, but is saving its real muscle flexing for the autumn, when it will introduce 4K UHD screens in 40-, 43-, 50-, 55-, 58- and 65-inch screen sizes. Most will be flat, but there are also 55 and 65-inch curved options due too - though personally I cannot see the point of a curved screen. This formidable line-up will be unveiled at IFA, the Berlin technology showcase extravaganza which runs in early September. The quality should be high. Hisense provides 4K screen displays to high end German TV maker Loewe. What we don’t know yet is just how compelling its user interface and Smart offerings will be (I have a Samsung Smart HD TV, but would not buy one again - even high end Smart TV's are no match for a laptop when it comes to the computer side of operation). We do know though that Hisense’s pockets are enviably deep. To help build brand awareness, the company has signed a long term sponsorship deal with the F1 Infiniti Red Bull racing team.  It has also acquired Sharp America in a deal said to be worth $23.7million. The move grants Hisense rights to use the Sharp name in both North and South America, as well as the Sharp TV factory in Mexico. Given the UK's current broadband infrastructure, it’s difficult to imagine high-frame 4K is actually going to be commercially viable over the Internet. BT will almost certainly drop its crippling speed requirement once the service beds in, but will fibre come anywhere close to being as practical as satellite delivery? I doubt it. Rival Sky continues to play its cards close to its chest, although its next-generation satellite box, widely referenced as SkyQ, is now probably only a few months away from launch. SkyQ is 4K capable and will offer a raft of new network functionality along with a prettier user interface. If neither streaming service appeals to the potential customer, there's always physical media. Expected to be seen for the first time at IFA Berlin technology showcase, Ultra HD Blu-ray remains on course for a pre - Christmas launch. One way or another, we'll all be much closer to a 4K reality by the end of the year, than we were at the start. People who have bought 4K will finally have ultra high definition that they can actually watch. I still think that most people are better off waiting until roughly this time next year before making the upgrade. My motto when considering technology purchasing is "never buy version 1.0 of anything".

Progress with The Crossrail Project has been extensive; you can watch a short video below showing the work that has been undertaken between Plumstead and Abbey Wood over the last few months. The tunnel and rail network infrastructure are really starting to take shape now, and one can get an idea of what the finished engineering development will look like. 

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