Sunday, September 20, 2015

The "Wear it Pink" Campaign.


This weekend marks the first anniversary of the opening of Bexley Brewery, which is based in Unit 18 of the Manford Industrial Estate, at the Slade Green end of Manor Road, right at the foot of the Erith Wind Turbine. Brewers Cliff and Jane Murphy are helped by various friends and family, and in their first year of operation have already won multiple awards for their high quality real ales. They have also won the 2015 award for Best New Business from Bexley Council. The virtual birthday card shown above (click on it for a larger version) was created by local musician / artist and man about town The rEV. The Bexley Brewery is the first brewery to operate in the borough since Reffells Brewery ceased independent trading in July 1956, after being sold to what eventually became Courage. Bexley Brewery held an open day and tasting bar yesterday, to celebrate their official first birthday. Unfortunately I was unable to attend, as I had to go to work (I work in I.T and quite regularly have to work during evenings and weekends - system upgrades and maintenance cannot often be done during office hours). Below shows a wide angle photo of the birthday event; I just wish I could have been there to share the experience.


I have been writing about Erith and the surrounding areas for over nine years now. One former local resident who looms large in the public perception of the town is the late comedian Linda Smith. Smith was born in Erith  in 1958 and was educated at Erith College of Technology (now Bexley College) and at the University of Sheffield where she graduated in English and Drama. She joined a professional theatre company before turning to comedy. In 1987, she won the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year, then known as the New London Comic Award, and performed on the Edinburgh Fringe before breaking into radio comedy. Many of her early stand-up appearances were benefit concerts staged in solidarity with the British miners during the Miners' Strike in the 1980s. She was a lifelong socialist. Her first appearances on national radio were on Radio 5's The Treatment in 1997. She was subsequently a regular panellist on The News Quiz and Just a Minute and appeared frequently on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (from June 2001 onwards), Have I Got News for You, Mock the Week, Countdown and QI. She wrote and starred in her own Radio 4 sitcom, Linda Smith's A Brief History of Timewasting. After appearing on Radio 4's Devout Sceptics to discuss her beliefs she was asked by the British Humanist Association (BHA) to become president of the society – a role that she occupied with commitment from 2004 until her death. In 2002, she was voted 'Wittiest Living Person' by listeners to BBC Radio 4's Word of Mouth. On 17 November 2003, Smith appeared on the BBC television show Room 101, where she successfully managed to put in "adults who read Harry Potter books", Tim Henman, "Back to School signs that appear in shops" and "posh people". However, she failed to put in Bow ties after host Paul Merton pointed out that Stan Laurel regularly wore a bow tie. On 27 February 2006, Smith died as a consequence of ovarian cancer at the age of 48. She had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer three and a half years earlier but, not wanting to be thought of as a patient or a victim, she did not want people to know. Before she died she chose that her funeral be humanist, and her memorial at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, on 10 March, was dedicated to the BHA. Her life and work were honoured at the British Academy Television Awards in 2006. The first episode of Dawn French's Girls Who Do: Comedy was dedicated to the memory of Linda Smith. Two tribute gigs were held in her memory. The first took place on 14 May 2006 at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, In Praise of an English Radical, the second on 4 June 2006 at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London entitled Tippy Top: An Evening of Linda Smith's Favourite Things. In August 2006, Andy Hamilton presented a BBC Radio 4 tribute entitled Linda Smith: A Modern Radio Star. An anthology on CD, entitled I Think the Nurses Are Stealing My Clothes: The Very Best of Linda Smith, was released in November 2006 as was a book with the same name. A tribute show of the same name was aired on BBC Radio 4 on 10 November 2006. Linda Smith was an amazing entertainer and observer of the human condition; unfortunately her most famous one - liner has come to haunt the local area, and to (in my mind, anyway) give an unfair impression. She said "Erith isn't twinned with anywhere, but it does have a mutual suicide pact with Dagenham". More on Linda Smith and her impact on the local area next week.


The aerial photo above was taken back in 1938; it shows what Erith looked like just prior to World War 2. The only readily recognisable building that is still in existence today is Erith Town Hall, in the bottom left of the photograph, which apart from having a third storey fitted to the building in the 1990's, looks remarkably unchanged. The building to the right of the Town Hall is the original Erith Fire Station, which was destroyed on the night of 21st/22nd January 1944. Local historian Ken Chamberlain wrote about it, saying: "the Bexley Road station suffered a direct hit by a delayed action bomb. Several years ago I spoke to a survivor of the incident he recounted how they were in the engine room when they heard a loud crash and debris started falling about them. They ran out to see where the bomb had fallen. This action undoubtedly saved their lives as at that moment the bomb exploded. He claimed not to have heard a bang, but was stone deaf for six weeks afterwards. He did however suffer injuries. He was taken to Erith Hospital, treated and was back on duty in two hours. There were no fatalities. The 1907 building was demolished and a temporary structure was put in its place. The wartime control room remains as does a part of the entrance doorway. The temporary station remained until 12th July 1961 when it was replaced by the station that is now located in Erith Road, Belvedere".

When I was at school my tastes in music were very rigidly defined; I liked certain bands and detested pretty much everything else. If it had been on “Top of the Pops” I would automatically detest it without consideration; I liked album rock from bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen and early Genesis and to hell with anything else. To be fair, when you were a kid in the 80’s, music was very compartmented and tribal – the heavy metal fans hated the new romantics, the indie fans hated pop fans, and everybody hated the Goths. Nowadays my musical tastes are far more diverse; I listen to pretty much every genre of music, with one notable exception. I, like many others, utterly detest Country and Western music. I find it maudlin, sentimental, clich├ęd and treacly. Its followers appear to consist mainly of the under educated and over fed. Anyway, I have found myself on the horns of a dilemma with the news that Erith based singer / songwriter Wayne Jacobs whose music has been played on BBC Radio Kent and Essex, was delighted to be awarded the ukcountryradio.com’s Listeners song Club award with his 9/11 tribute song, "May We Never Forget". This is now the fourth year in a row that Wayne Jacobs has won this award. I really don’t want to promote Country and Western music – on the grounds that if we ignore it for long enough, it might go away, but at the same time, with my personal libertarian philosophy of “if it works for you” I feel that I should offer Wayne my full support – after all, he’s out, making a new career in show business – and Erith’s only other showbiz personality of note was the late comedienne Linda Smith, as previously mentioned. Who says I don't plan these things?

The rules over smoking in public are just about to get a whole lot more complex. From October 1st, 2015, it will be illegal for retailers to sell e-cigarettes or e-liquids to someone under 18, for adults to buy (or attempt to buy) tobacco or e-cigarettes for someone under 18 and to smoke in a car or other vehicle when someone under the age of 18 is present. All private vehicles (including hire cars) must be smoke free if they are enclosed, there is more than one person present and one of them is under 18. It will be an offence for a person of any age to smoke in a car (or other private vehicle) with anyone under 18 present. And for a driver - including those aged 17 and people with a provisional licence -not to stop someone smoking in these circumstances.The fixed penalty notice fine for both offences is £50 and both the driver and the smoker could be fined, whatever their age. Somebody who commits both offences could get two fines. All this sounds fine and laudable, but if it is enforced in a similar way to the rules on the use of mobile phones when driving, it will be yet another toothless law.

Citizen Smith, the 1977 to 1980 sitcom starring Robert Lindsay, is the subject of revival rumours - several national newspapers have been printing stories that the programme is shortly to be remade with many members of the original cast. The classic BBC comedy followed the adventures of 'Wolfie' Smith, a young Marxist "urban guerrilla" living in Tooting, south London. With his slogan "Power to the People", Wolfie attempted to emulate his hero Che Guevara through his own Tooting Popular Front - with little success due to disorganisation, laziness, and general fecklessness. Citizen Smith was written by John Sullivan, the writer of Only Fools And Horses, who died in 2011.Jim Sullivan, one of John's sons who wrote for Only Fools And Horses sequel The Green Green Grass with his father, appears to have put an end to the proposals. Jim said: "The stories are news to us - and we own the rights to the series. It's not the first time that people have suggested bringing the series back but that is not something we would want to do. Every episode of Citizen Smith was written by Dad - all the lines, ideas and plots were his. As we have said about Only Fools And Horses, the show only ever had one writer and it is going to stay that way."



You may have heard a number of adverts on various commercial radio stations promoting digital radio over the last few weeks. The current version is read by TV presenter Suzie Perry.  The fact is that DAB digital radio - in the UK at least - has been a bit of a disaster. There are some great stations broadcasting on DAB (one of my personal favourites is the excellent Radio 4 Extra). There are some pretty horrible problems with the way that digital radio has been deployed in this country however; the real challenge isn't coverage, even if that does need improving. That is a well understood issue and the solution is obvious enough. The main problem is bandwidth. And it's an issue that came up once again today because Norway has recently announced plans to kill FM broadcasting and switch everything to digital by 2017. Did you know, for instance, that many DAB radio stations in the UK are broadcast at just 64 kbps mono using the venerable MP2 codec?  That really is mono not stereo. That really is MP2 and not MP3. To put that into context, MP2 is a less efficient codec than MP3, so that 64 kbps figure is more like equivalent to 48 kbps in MP3. Opinions vary on what makes for decent music quality in the MP3 codec. That's especially true if the context is in-car radio where background noise is prevalent. the tolerable minimum for most people who remotely care about sound quality tends to be in the 128 to 192 kbps range for the MP3 codec. In other words, far, far more than many current DAB stations. Actual bit rates will vary depending on where you are in the country. But stations that broadcast at 64kbps - at least from some transmitters - include Absolute Radio 80s, Amazing Radio, BBC Radio 5 Live, Jazz FM, Rainbow Radio and many more. All the rest broadcast at 80 kbps to 128 kbps with a single, solitary exception, namely BBC Radio 3 which is 160 kbps to 190 kbps. Those are all MP2 bit rates. Even Radio 3 is scraping the barrel for tolerable sound quality. The problem is bandwidth. The best way to think about DAB is as a single data stream carrying all available stations. And the single data stream has a fixed data rate. For the sake of argument, imagine that data rate in 1Mbps. All your radio stations have to fit inside that 1Mbps budget. With, say, four stations, you have a healthy 256 kbps per channel. Every time you add a station, something somewhere has to give. Immediately, you realise DAB is fundamentally at conflict with itself. It is supposed to offer better quality and more stations, but the more it does the latter, the less it can deliver the former. There is limited bandwidth available - the more stations, the lower the audio quality becomes. Early DAB adopters may even remember how good the technology was at launch. Some stations were broadcast at 256 kbps back when it was essentially a test technology for the BBC. But as stations were added, bit rates fell off and quality worsened. Essentially the UK has paid the price in being one of the first countries in the world to roll out digital radio. The DAB technology is now very old and no longer up to the job - and it shows. As for what is to be done, part of the answer is simple. Switch the UK to the newer and far more bandwidth efficient DAB+. That is the follow up to DAB that supports the AAC codec which is more efficient even than MP3. Most recent DAB radios either already support DAB+ or can with a firmware upgrade. It will be somewhat painful for owners of older DAB radios that are not capable of receiving DAB+. The simple fact is the UK jumped too fast into DAB. The fundamental idea is sound, it is just that the current implementation is not now fit for purpose. Other broadcast technologies such as internet streaming via 3G or 4G do not have the country - wide coverage to rival DAB+ (yet), but it may well be that rolling out DAB+ may be too little, too late. What do you think? Drop me a line to hugh.neal@gmail.com with your thoughts.

MP for Erith and Thamesmead Teresa Pearce has been promoting the charity Breast Cancer Now, and their "Wear it Pink" campaign which is asking people to wear something pink on Friday the 23rd of October. Teresa is encouraging people in the constituency to get involved and raise money for research into the disease. She said: “Breast cancer affects so many people’s lives. Sadly, nearly 12,000 women a year still lose their lives to the disease. Breast Cancer Now wants to ensure that no-one dies from the disease by 2050. We need to make sure that they receive the funding to carry out the cutting-edge research necessary to make this goal a reality.” This is excellent stuff; I think however that there is a wasted opportunity here. Men can and do get breast cancer too - though the numbers are far smaller than women, but it is actually a condition that can affect both sexes - and very few people appear to realise this.  In men, breast cancer is very rare. There are between 350 and 400 men diagnosed each year in the UK, compared with around 50,000 cases of breast cancer in women. Because so many cases of breast cancer occur in women and it is very rare in men, a lot of the information is directed specifically towards women, but much of the information that men with breast cancer need is the same.  The symptoms, diagnosis and treatment are all very similar to women with breast cancer. The risks and causes do vary slightly. There are some areas where men need different information to women, such as types of breast surgery. The most common symptom for men with breast cancer is a lump in the breast area. This is nearly always painless. Other symptoms can include:-

Oozing from the nipple (a discharge) that may be blood stained
Swelling of the breast
A sore (ulcer) in the skin of the breast
A nipple that is pulled into the breast (called nipple retraction)
Lumps under the arm

If you have any of these symptoms it is important to go to your GP straight away. Finding a cancer early gives the best chance of successful treatment. Because breast cancer is relatively rare in men, getting an accurate diagnosis as early as possible is imperative. The outlook for breast cancer is not as good in men as in women. This is because there is a reduced awareness of the condition and it may take longer to diagnose. The survival rates for breast cancer in men largely depend on how far the cancer has spread before it is diagnosed. Breast cancer diagnosed at an early stage can often be treated successfully, but effective treatment is more difficult if the cancer has spread beyond the breast tissue. Unfortunately, many cases are diagnosed after the cancer has already started to spread. It may be rare in men, but it can and does occur, and more men need to be aware of this.

A story that utterly astounded me has been reported on ITV News this week; Ebbsfleet Academy’s principal Alison Colwell. when interviewed for the news programme said that "mobile phones are the nightmare of our time and should be banned in classrooms". Mrs Colwell told ITV News the school’s ban, and the threat of confiscating a phone for a month or half a term, has been a successful deterrent and has stopped mobiles going off in class. The school is now a phone-free zone, with all mobiles switched off and in the bottom of pupils' bags – meaning teachers hardly ever have to make the dreaded confiscations. "The success of the ban is it’s a very rare occasion we have to confiscate a phone. It’s a very clear rule that we enforce. The students know that if their phone is seen, if their phone goes off, they will lose it. So they are cautious and they are wise. I can’t see the place for phones in the classroom - to me they are a distraction." Mrs Colwell said she is teaching the kids "not to be phone dependent, and to communicate better with their peers". What astonished me was that this story made both the national and local news. Surely all schools ban the use of mobile phones during teaching time? If so why not? Why have school pupils ever been allowed to use a mobile phone during school time?

Back in May I wrote about how Bexley Council were debating converting the former Homeleigh Care Home into temporary accommodation for homeless people. Bearing in mind that Avenue Road and the adjacent Park Crescent are the two roads in the town with the best addresses, I have already heard some concern from residents about the plan. Worries regarding possible criminal activity and drug taking / dealing have been the principal concerns. Bexley Council have now gone forward with the plans, and after refurbishment, the building will be able to provide accommodation for up to fifteen families and ten individuals. The council has stressed using Homeleigh for temporary housing is not a permanent use for the currently empty building, and the use will last a maximum of two years. My personal view is that nobody chooses to be homeless, and a vast majority of those likely to be housed in the former nursing home will be “nice” people who are down on their luck. Being homeless does not make you a criminal. The fact that Bexley Council are (uncharacteristically in my opinion) acting in a pragmatic and practical way to address the serious problem of a local lack of affordable housing by recycling a currently empty building seems eminently sensible and, dare I say it, a very good idea. As with anything of this nature, the devil is in the detail; if the Homeleigh centre was used as a halfway house for a large number of people with dependency problems, then I could see a good deal of reason for local concern. I can also appreciate worries about the effect such a centre could have on house prices (for non - local readers, Avenue Road and Park Crescent are the two “upmarket” roads in Erith, with some lovely 1930’s era detached and semi-detached houses in quiet, tree – lined surroundings, making a very desirable and quite expensive environment).

In March I wrote about the Apple iWatch, and why it was a really bad idea to buy one then. You may recall that I said that Apple would have a new, improved model out within a scant few months. In fact version two of the iWatch was due out this Wednesday, but it has been unexpectedly delayed due to a bug in the operating system. Apple has not let slip anything further about the nature of that bug or just when it will be able to deliver the update to Apple Watch owners. The watchOS 2 release has been touted by Apple as a major overhaul to its smartwatch firmware. The update will bring the first support for native watchOS applications, rather than those built through iOS. The addition of native applications promises to give developers greater access to the hardware components in the Apple Watch (such as the microphone and speaker) and can interact with Apple's HealthKit and HomeKit application programming interfaces. Apple has also added a number of its own new features, including a "Time Travel" option to view upcoming appointments and the addition of customization options to set the default screen to a watch face, photo, or one of several time-lapse photo collections. Personally I feel that smart watches of all types - the iWatch included - are a solution in need of a problem. What do you think? Drop me an Email to hugh.neal@gmail.com.

The ending video this week is quite relaxing; it shows a bicycle journey from Dartford to Erith via Crayford Ness and the Slade Green Marshes, which are an ancient wetland and an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is very peaceful and relaxing to watch when the rider gets onto the marshes - somewhere that even many local people are completely unaware of.

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