Sunday, September 06, 2015

The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

The photos above were taken by me last Sunday evening from Erith Pier (more on the pier later); the yachts were competitors in The Clipper Round The World Yacht Race - the world's longest ocean race - began in London last Sunday evening, and featured 700 participants over its eight stages, covering 40,000 nautical miles. The first leg, which launched last Sunday at St Katharine Docks, saw teams travel 6,000 miles to Brazil's Rio De Janeiro. Each yacht is identical, with a professional skipper, but a crew of fee - paying volunteers who will travel part, or all of the journey around the world, stopping off at a number of locations, before returning to London in July 2016 when the race finishes. Unfortunately the weather was poor; it was misty and very overcast, which you can clearly see in the photographs. Nevertheless a crowd of around a hundred people, many of whom were parents bringing along small children to witness the historic event. This is the closest thing to "Formula One" in yacht racing, and it was a real thrill to see the competitors waving as they sailed by. It is sometimes said that Erith lacks a sense of community; I feel that this definitely not the case - many people were chatting with others who had turned up to watch the yachts, and people were united in the spectacle - even if the weather could have been a lot better. I suppose that you cannot have everything. Tragic news came later in the week, when it was announced that Andrew Ashman, 49, from Orpington, was adjusting the sail on his team’s boat, the IchorCoal, when he was knocked unconscious by the mainsheet. He was given immediate medical treatment, race organiser Clipper Ventures said, and resuscitation was attempted but he did not regain consciousness. Andrew Ashman was an experienced yachtsman and a full investigation into the tragic accident will be carried out. His boat was about 120 nautical miles off the coast of Portugal when the incident happened just after midnight on Friday. The boat was diverted to northern Portugal to a suitable marina in the Porto area and arrived in the early hours of Sunday morning. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, founder of the Clipper Race, said in an interview with the London Evening Standard: "This is extremely sad news and my heart goes out to his bereaved family and friends, and to his fellow crew who have come to know Andrew with great affection during his training and the early days of this race". The Clipper Race was established almost twenty years ago, and this is the first fatality in the history of the race.

One subject relating to travel crops up every couple of years, then seems to disappear as suddenly as it appeared. Boris Johnson and Transport for London have launched a news scheme to improve and expand on use of the River Thames for travelling into and out of London. The Mayor plans to turn the River Thames into a key transportation artery, serving up to a hundred thousand new homes being built in riverside districts over the next decade. The plan also includes proposed new river bus routes and marinas that will see river passengers double from the current six million a year to twelve million by 2020. The profile of the River Thames as a leisure and recreation destination will be improved by new promenades, pontoons, performance spaces, pleasure boat mooring and floating restaurants. The project will also see new, more fuel efficient river buses launched; the first of these is scheduled to enter service next month. Historically there has always been a premium to living in close proximity to the River Thames. Houses and apartments within approximately one hundred metres of the banks of the Thames are valued at around twenty one percent more than similarly sized homes in the vicinity. This certainly seem so apply as far East of London as Woolwich, and the recent Arsenal development, but thus far it has not proved the case further East and South. When the riverside development was under construction in West Street, Erith, the intent was to create a mini docklands series of luxury riverside apartments; it did not work out that way; the property crash, and the reluctance of potential buyers to make the trip out “into the sticks” to Erith – a town only linked to inner London by a sometimes unreliable overland rail service, mean that the apartments sold poorly, and ended up being used as mainly social housing – itself no bad thing, as there was a hereto untapped market, but it meant a real haircut for the developer, who had been anticipating a healthy profit. Times change, and the pace of new builds in and around Erith has picked up immensely, yet only the proposed housing development in Erith High Street, on the site of the old Riverside Swimming Baths will actually have close river views. Pewty Acres, a Victorian cottage well within a hundred metres of the Thames is most certainly not valued at a premium when compared with similar sized properties elsewhere. All of the upgrades to the river bus services and the other additional amenities would seem at present to only extend down to Woolwich; the plans I have seen don’t cover Erith, and I think it very unlikely that the river bus service will be extended to Erith Pier, as I covered some time ago. Erith Pier may well be the longest public pier on the River Thames, and it may be very well used by locals, whether it be for fishing, or taking the dog for a walk, but it is owned by Morrison’s – who from what I understand don’t want any commercial activity on the pier. Commuters would park in the supermarket car park, using up space otherwise available to shoppers, and it is doubtful if sufficient commuters would come out as far as Erith to make the service viable. Despite this, I know that I am far from being alone in wishing this would happen. One can but wish, even if the outcome is not very likely. It has been said by a couple of people very much equipped to be “in the know” that Erith is set to be “the next Hoxton” – if this is indeed the case, then transport aspirations could well change.

I have had a bit of a whinge about certain credit card companies, and the way they treat people on low incomes before. I am about to do so again, as I feel that one company in particular have really gone out of their way to target those least able to repay credit at high interest levels. Capital One are a huge American banking corporation with total assets exceeding $297 billion worldwide. Their UK headquarters is in Nottingham, and the basis of their business is the provision of very high interest credit cards to people with a poor credit history and a low income. On occasion representatives from Capital One set up a stall in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre in order to sell their dubious services to local people. I have noticed that you don’t see them doing the same kind of thing in more affluent areas. Capital One are known for their extensive use of demographic profiling to target potential customers.  A demographic profile is a term used in marketing and broadcasting, to describe a demographic grouping or a market segment. This typically involves age bands, social class, income and gender. Capital One target low income people who may well also use pay day lenders and other high risk, high interest forms of credit. Whilst a standard high street bank credit card will charge an APR of as low as 18.9 percent, Capital One typically charge 34.9 percent. Their argument is that their customers often have a poor credit history, and Capital One will lend to them when other lenders won’t take the risk. As I have written before, being poor in the UK is actually very expensive. Capital One have also been targeting Erith residents by post over the last couple of weeks. This is a classic case of demographic profiling in action. Erith is regarded as a town with a high concentration of potential Capital One customers – I received an “invitation” to apply for a credit card myself, even though I don’t fit their demographic profile of what they consider to be their target customer type. Capital One have wrongly assumed that people in certain post codes will have a specific financial circumstance, which patently is quite often not the case. Erith has an incredibly diverse and dynamic population, and labelling of any type is not only unhelpful, it is inaccurate and to be honest, a bit of a waste of time. I am pleased to see that many of the payday lender companies have wound down their operations after the government placed strong restrictions on how they operated. I think that high interest, exploitive credit cards ought to be the next target of regulation. What do you think? Do you agree with me, or do you think the market can regulate itself? Let me know by either leaving a comment below, or by Emailing

An armed robber has been on a crime spree over the last month, and some of his targets have been in the local area; the bookmakers Betfred, in McLeod Road, Abbey Wood, was raided at approximately 12:40hrs on Friday, August the 7th. Other armed raids have taken place in  Lewisham, Greenwich, Bromley and Bexley. Police believe the same man is responsible for all thirteen offences. His method of operation would appear to be that during each of the robberies, the suspect loitered outside or inside the premises, seemingly waiting for it to become less busy. He then walked up to the counter and pointed what appeared to be a black, self-loading pistol at the cashier's, before demanding money. In some cases he threatened to shoot staff. During a robbery at HSBC in Lewisham, he grabbed an employee, pointed the gun at them and demanded cash from the victim’s colleagues. The suspect is described as black with close cropped hair, a moustache and a small scar or marks on the right hand side of his face. He is described as being in his late twenties or early thirties,  and has a London accent. He is believed to have stolen a total of approximately £4,000 during the robberies. Hopefully Police will catch the criminal scumbag soon.

Although car manufacturers  are spending billions to put cutting-edge technologies into motor vehicles, a new report shows many owners don't use them. According to J.D. Power's 2015 Driver Interactive Vehicle Experience (DrIVE) Report, twenty percent of new-vehicle owners have never used sixteen out of thirty three of the latest technology features. The 2015 DrIVE Report measures driver experiences with in-vehicle technology features during the first ninety days of ownership. The five features owners most commonly report that they "never use" are in-vehicle concierge (43 percent); mobile routers (38 percent); automatic parking systems (35 percent); heads-up display (33 percent); and built-in apps (32 percent). Additionally, there are fourteen technology features that twenty percent or more of owners don't even  want in their next vehicle. Those features include Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto, in-vehicle concierge services and in-vehicle voice texting.  In many cases, owners simply prefer to use their smartphone or tablet because it meets their needs; they're familiar with the device and it's accurate, In-vehicle connectivity technology that's not used results in millions of pounds of lost value for both consumers and the manufacturers.  About the technology now offered in new cars, vehicle owners said they simply "did not find it useful," adding that it "came as part of a package on my current vehicle and I did not want it." Vehicle owners who said their dealer did not explain a tech feature also had a higher likelihood of never using it, the survey found. J.D. Power built its report on responses from more than 4,200 vehicle owners and lessees after 90 days of ownership. The report was conducted between April and June 2015. Those surveyed said the technology they most often do want are those that enhance  driving and safety, which are only available as a built-in features. The in-vehicle technologies most owners want include vehicle health diagnostics, blind-spot warning and detection, and adaptive cruise control. The first thirty days are critical. That first-time experience with the technology is the make-it-or-break-it stage; Car makers need to get it right the first time, or owners will simply use their own mobile device instead of the in-vehicle technology. Drivers' decisions to ignore the technology in their vehicles has implications beyond the automotive industry. For example, insurance firms are closely tracking automotive technology for safety and financial reasons. Insurers are concerned that difficult-to-use technology may distract drivers and cause an accident – they also use the tracking information to refuse insurance claims when the driver had been driving illegally / irresponsibly. Using smartphones instead of in-vehicle technology also creates safety issues, with the driver being distracted by the mobile device. Additionally, in-vehicle technology can significantly increase claims costs for vehicles damaged in an accident. While some technologies, such as lane-departure warning, are making vehicles safer, the insurance industry is very concerned about the driver-distraction hazards caused by some of the other technologies In addition, technology drives up the repair and replacement costs. A slight bumper scrape that would normally cost a few hundred pounds to repair can catapult a claim into thousands of pounds when a park assist camera or other sensors are damaged and also need to be replaced.

The devastating fire at The New Cross Turnpike in Bellegrove Road, Welling last holiday weekend came as a bit of a shock to many, myself included. I had planned a trip with my Mum to the pub for lunch on Saturday, but for one reason or another we decided to make other arrangements. I am told that the damage to the building has been extensive, with the trademark mezzanine floor completely destroyed, and much of the roof has collapsed. Insurance claims assessors have been examining the damage, but it is too early to say what will happen to the structure. Historically Wetherspoon’s have a good record of rebuilding pubs that have been gutted by fire. The Great Harry pub in Wellington Street, Woolwich was almost completely destroyed in the 2011 riots, but it was rebuilt and re- opened within just under a year. I would hope that the same thing will be true for the New Cross Turnpike. The pub is popular and always very busy; commercially I would expect that Wetherspoon’s would want to get it back into operation as quickly as possible.  This got me thinking; As you will see from the letter above, the Erith Town Forum have been very active in working to preserve both the White Hart / former Potion building in the conservation area of Erith High Street, and also in ensuring the old Andrew Carnegie gifted Erith Library is preserved for future generations. From the little I have been able to ascertain, works to restore the White Hart will shortly be under way. As far as the old Erith Library building in Walnut Tree Road is concerned, the future is even less clear. I have been told by a reliable source that the building has some serious leaks, and that the brickwork under the windows at the front of the building has become porous. These problems will only get worse with time and continued neglect. Originally Bexley College had wanted to occupy the building and to use it for hotel and hospitality training centre, but they were unable to secure the finance to do so, and the deal ended up falling through. I think in order to secure the future for the historic building, it is going to need to get a new purpose. Historically, Wetherspoon’s have always been extremely good in taking over large, municipal buildings and sympathetically converting the interiors into pub / restaurants. I think that the old Erith Library would be a suitable candidate for such a new role. It is close to both Erith railway station and the bus halts at the front of Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. It does not have much in the way of local parking, other than the bays in Erith High Street, adjacent to the Riverside Gardens, but that has not ever been an issue with Wetherspoon’s pubs – they don’t seem to be concerned over locations with little or no car parking. As far as the number of potential customers, with the opening of the first phase of Erith Park, the imminent start of work on Erith Quarry (the “upmarket” housing development looking to attract wealthier middle class people to the area) and the housing / flats planned for the old Riverside Swimming Baths site, there will be no shortage of local customers. Currently central Erith has only one pub – the Running Horses, further along Erith High Street. It used to be a lively, popular place which ran an extremely high quality carvery upstairs – during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s it was the “go to” place for whole family dining – on Sundays you would often have to book in advance, it was so popular. In the last decade and a half or so it has really declined, despite a superficial makeover some time ago. Nowadays it would seem to be what accountants and business analysts call a “zombie company” – one that is dead, but has yet to stop moving. Their website has been nothing but a placeholder for the last couple of years at least. I would love to see the riverside pub get a solid investment and refurbishment, but I just don’t see it happening any time soon. I think that it would be better for the town for a well – run and properly funded Wetherspoon’s to satisfy the undoubted need for a reasonably priced pub / restaurant in the area – currently there is nothing to fit the bill. It would also finally kill off the Running Horses, which to be honest would be a mercy – the place is a shadow of its’ former self, and unless the pub gets taken over and a large investment made in the place, it will just stumble on with a small handful of loyal locals propping it up, despite the poor food, sometimes sour beer and scruffy appearance. What do you think? Would the transformation of the old and unused Erith Library into a Wetherspoon’s be a good idea? If not, what would you like to happen to the building, which has now stood empty for a little over five years? Any use has to be practical and affordable. I don’t think anyone would like to see it demolished to make way for yet more flats. Drop me a line with your thoughts to

The photo above has been displayed on several locally themed websites recently. It shows the old level crossing that used to join Pembroke Road, at the corner by the working men's club with West Street. There was also an adjacent manual signal box and signaller's house, which would have been to the right of the picture. I can dimly recall it as a small child. It is of course now long gone. The level crossing was removed and a metal footbridge over the railway tracks replaced it. The photo is displayed courtesy of local historian Ken Chamberlain. The original was quite badly damaged, with many heavy scratches, which I have digitally removed, and generally cleaned up the image. 

You may have seen in the press this week that the limit for cashless payment “bonk and pay” cards which don’t require the input of a PIN has been upped from £20 to £30. I have previously warned of the security and identity theft dangers of contactless debit cards of the type being issued by many banks at present. I was issued with one last year, which I returned unused. I requested a conventional chip and PIN card with no wireless connectivity, and was issued with one. Banks will still supply the conventional cards on request, but they are not keen on their customers knowing this. Contactless cards can be read at a distance by a smartphone or laptop running software readily downloaded, and using a reader head unit which can be purchased from Maplin or Amazon. It is possible for crooks to then capture the transaction data and extract information from it; a scenario in which this could happen would involve a victim boarding a double decker bus. The current model used in most of South East London is the Alexander Dennis Enviro 400 (as in the photo above - click on it for a larger version). This bus has a single passenger seat located directly behind the driver's cab. A hacker sat in this seat equipped with a smart phone and remote card reader could easily capture the transaction data as the passenger swiped their debit card to pay for the journey. It can also work in any other instance where a crook can get within a few feet of a victim and a contactless reader unit during the transaction period. In addition to this, some contactless card readers have been compromised with malware. More than a thousand “swipe and pay” and point of sale terminals worldwide were compromised a strain of malware back in 2014. During a survey of compromised point of sale terminals, accounting systems and grocery management platforms, the Nemanja botnet was fingered as one of the biggest of the lot. After infiltrating various small businesses and grocery stores, the botnet then sets up a means to lift credit card and other sensitive data from compromised systems. Cyber-intelligence firm IntelCrawler said it had detected 1,478 hosts infected by Nemanja in countries as far apart as Australia, Israel and Zambia. Various systems in the UK, US and Germany have also been infected by the key logging malware. Whilst this infection was detected and stopped, the crooks are normally one step ahead of the network security people. The latest malware is part of a larger trend of cyber crooks using it to target retailers’ office systems and cash registers. This malware is then used to lift sensitive information from compromised systems. Cashless payment cards may be convenient, but they are far less secure than the card suppliers and banks would have you believe. You have been warned.

A local blogger who has been off the scene for what seems like ages has recently reappeared; Doctor Pangloss has been writing about events in and around Plumstead, and especially Plumstead Common for the last ten years in his blog called Plumsteadshire, but he disappeared seemingly without trace back in April. His posts, whilst always entertaining and very informative had become rather sporadic. I am glad to see that he is back on form. Doctor Pangloss writes about how Plumstead seems to be slowly moving upmarket, especially in the area around Plumstead Common (something I predicted a good few years ago). Doctor Pangloss writes “New folk have started moving into The Shire. Folk who have moved from very smart parts of London. In the many years I've lived here, this is a new phenomena to me. Maybe they're here for the Crossrail effect and sell up and move on once Crossrail opens, I don't know, but the ones I've chatted to are very nice folk, so that's fine by me”. House prices in and around Plumstead Common are rising markedly – I recall once predicting that the area would become a mini Blackheath Common in time, and it would seem that it is indeed heading in that direction. Abbey Wood is experiencing a similar house price inflation – which may be good news for existing, long term residents, but it makes things even more difficult for those trying to climb the property ladder, and those on low incomes.

Apologies if you have already seen the short local documentary film below; fellow local blogger Darryl Chamberlain of the excellent 853 blog (which covers Woolwich, Charlton and Greenwich) featured it at the start of the week. I know that quite a number of my readers also read 853, but not all. The film stars a chap called David Watkins, who is the captain of one of the Woolwich free ferries. If you have not already seen it, do give it a watch - it makes for fascinating viewing. 

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