Sunday, October 11, 2015

Another nail in the coffin for Brick Lane?

I took the photo above recently - click on it for a larger view; it shows the Erith Riverside Gardens and the River Thames. The Riverside Gardens are the only place in the whole of the London Borough of Bexley where you can easily access the River Thames. It is one of the unique benefits of living in Erith, and a feature that I feel is still somewhat under - utilised. Unfortunately there has been another case reported of someone trying to throw themselves into the river this week; The News Shopper have described how the Gravesend Lifeboat was called to Erith on Thursday afternoon at around 5.20pm after a person was seen attempting to enter the river. Local Police were soon on the scene, and the lifeboat was released to return to normal duties. This once again reinforces the need for a more local lifeboat substation for Erith; the location of which I have suggested several times in the past, and which can just be seen to the right of the photo above. The grey side wall of the former Port of London Authority building can just be seen. It would make an excellent base for a small team of RNLI volunteers, and is currently standing empty and unused right next to Erith Jetty, an idea place for launching a small inshore boat. What do you think? Contact me at

In a move which is bound to court controversy and some very vocal opposition, Bexley Council has taken the decision to make savings on the amount it spends on electricity for the borough's street lights.  The Council is looking at various options for reducing these costs including part night lighting which would mean switching off some lights from midnight until 5.30am. Following a recent price increase, the energy bill for the 20,000 street lights the Council currently maintains is expected to reach £1 million a year. Following consultation with the emergency services and other key stakeholders the Council has selected a number of streets within the Welling area to be part of a pilot study for part night lighting. The work to convert the streets lights to part night lighting starts week commencing 12 October 2015. If it proves successful then the scheme will be extended across the Borough. The pilot will be left to operate for four to six months. Feedback is very important to the Council and those within the pilot area will be given the opportunity after this period to give us their views on the experience. My feeling is that it will not go well; I think that any cost savings in electricity will be offset by increased costs due to road accidents, burglaries, anti-social behaviour and general crime. The fact that these hidden costs would not come out of the same budget as that for street lighting does not escape me either. Still, I suppose the whole point of the pilot is to find out what works and what does not. I will be keeping an eye on developments with interest.

The photo above (click on it for a larger view) shows the Pipeline Under The Ocean (PLUTO) control room during operations in late 1944. Much of the multiple PLUTO pipe infrastructure was constructed in and around Erith in the middle to late phases of World War II. The technology developed was later put to very good effect and made the United Kingdom one of the world centres for oil and gas engineering, something that is still true to this day. There is a lot of history in the local area relating to this stunning feat of military and civil engineering, and a handful of those involved in the project are still alive now. PLUTO, the WW2 Pipeline Under the Ocean, was designed to supply petrol from storage tanks in southern England to the advancing Allied armies in France in the months following D-Day. A reliable supply of petrol for the advancing Allied forces following the D-Day landings was of the highest priority. Planners knew that the future invasion of Europe would be the largest amphibious landing in history, and without adequate and reliable supplies of petrol any advance would at best slow down and at worst grind to a halt. A loss of momentum could jeopardise the whole operation as German forces would have time to regroup and counter-attack. Conventional tankers and 'ship to shore' pipelines were in danger of cluttering up the beaches, obstructing the movement of men, armaments and materials and, in all circumstances, were subject to the vagaries of the weather and sea conditions and they were easy targets for the Luftwaffe. The idea of a pipeline under the ocean, (the English Channel), was an innovative solution. Oil storage facilities located near the English Channel were vulnerable to attack by the Luftwaffe. To reduce the risk of losses, a network of pipelines was, during early discussions about PLUTO, already under construction. The network was designed to carry fuel from less vulnerable storage and port facilities around Bristol and Liverpool to the English Channel. This network would later be linked to the planned pipeline at Shanklin on the Isle of Wight and Dungeness further to the west. (see map below). The terminals and pumping stations were heavily disguised as bungalows, gravel pits, garages and even an ice cream shop! The Combined Operations Experimental Establishment (COXE) was involved in many diverse top-secret projects including the waterproofing vehicles, the removal of underwater obstacles on landing beaches and the testing of landing craft under a variety of sea and beach conditions. To this formidable list was added the supply of petrol to France using underwater pipelines. All these challenges were borne out of a culture that encouraged bold and imaginative solutions to intractable problems. Such a  culture was encouraged at the highest level when Winston Churchill ordered Roger Keyes, the then Director of Combined Operations, and his successors, to think offensively when many were at the time rightly concerned with the defence of the country. In the early part of 1942 Geoffrey Lloyd MP, who was in charge of the UK's fuel policy, met with Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations (CCO) and others to consider the fuel supply issue. There was no 'off the shelf' solution that did not invite the Luftwaffe to attack shore installations or slow pipe-laying and support vessels. Lloyd approached Sir William Fraser CBE, Chairman of the Anglo-Iranian Petroleum Corporation.- They picked up on an idea of Mr Hartley, the Chief Engineer of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., to use existing submarine cable technology, minus the core, as the basic building block of a petrol pipeline. Siemens Brothers and Co Ltd., of Woolwich, London, who were experienced in the design and manufacture of such cables, eagerly took up the challenge. Other design work was undertaken by Henlys, Pirelli, Johnson and Phillips, the National Physical Laboratory and the Post Office. It was a complex task, and there were many failures arising from twists, kinks, bursts and collapse due to external water pressure and other powerful forces. One of the major companies involved in the production of the highly specialised pipeline was British Insulated Callender's Cables (BICC) of Erith, but even this was not enough to meet the volume of demand, so American firms - General Electric, Phelps-Dodge, Okonite Callenders and General Cable were drafted in. Of the 710 miles of PLUTO pipeline manufactured in total, 140 miles came from the USA.  The first pipeline to France was laid on 12th August 1944, over the 130 km (70 nautical miles) from Shanklin Chine on the Isle of Wight across the English Channel to Cherbourg. A further three pipelines soon followed. As the fighting moved closer to Germany, seventeen other lines were laid from Dungeness to Ambleteuse in the Pas-de-Calais. The PLUTO Pipelines were linked to pumping stations on the English coast, housed in various inconspicuous buildings including cottages and garages. Though uninhabited, these were intended to cloak the real purpose of the buildings. Pluto Cottage at Dungeness, a pumping station built to look like a small house, is now a Bed and Breakfast. In England, the PLUTO pipelines were supplied by a 1,609 km (1,000 mi) network of pipelines (constructed at night to prevent detection by aerial reconnaissance) to transport fuel from ports including Liverpool and Bristol. In Europe, the pipelines were extended as the troops moved forward and eventually reached as far as the Rhine. In January 1945, 305 tonnes of fuel was pumped to France per day, which increased tenfold to 3,048 tonnes per day in March, and eventually to 4,000 tons (almost 1,000,000 Imperial gallons) per day. In total, over 781 000 m³ of gasoline had been pumped to the Allied forces in Europe by VE day, providing a critical supply of fuel until a more permanent arrangement was made, although the pipeline remained in operation for some time after Along with the Mulberry Harbours that were constructed immediately after D-Day, Operation Pluto is considered one of history's greatest feats of military engineering. The pipelines are also the forerunners of all flexible pipes used in the development of offshore oil fields. Much of the development and construction of this amazing war - winning engineering effort is down to the direct involvement of BICC in Erith, and their highly specialised engineers, something that local residents can be justly proud of. 

You may recall that I wrote extensively about a widespread online scam purporting to “give away” iPhones to competition entrants a while back. The “Funky Clock” scam has become the most widely read individual weekly blog entry in over nine years of publishing the Maggot Sandwich. It helps that for some obscure reason that Google has ranked the entry on the first page of results if you search for “Funky Clock” on the search engine. For some unknown reason, a lot of people are convinced that all and sundry kinds of organisations are giving away iPhones and iPads with gay abandon. I am afraid that this is simply not the case. If you want to see the article for yourself, you can see above an image of a website which purports to be from the CNN website;  the URL is - which is your first clue that something is up. If CNN really did have a legitimate shopping section, would you expect the home page of that section to show one individual article rather than the traditional carousel of recent and 'most popular' stories? (On some browsers, the domain-name part of the URL is the only bit that is shown, which can help to hide this.) Other parts of the page give clues that the scammers are a little out of date. The 'advert' on the right refers to iOS 8 rather than 9, and the offer itself is for the iPhone 6 rather than the 6s or 6s Plus (granted, one could assume that these are being offered at bargain prices precisely because the next generation is about to go on sale, but it doesn't really make sense for Apple to give away year-old phones for the stated purpose of winning 'repeat customers' who will evangelise about its products). Needless to say, none of the 'proof' that that the offer is legit (the testimonials from satisfied customers, the photo of an unboxed iPhone) are anything of the sort. And as a further indication of dodginess, the domain name was only registered last month. If you click on one of the links on the original page (even the sidebar story about an eagle destroying a drone!), you will be taken to a page that asks for your credit card details.  I am not sure what the organisation plans to do with this information, but I strongly advise against giving out details of your financial security to such obvious criminal con artists; whatever the site is, there's no evidence that it's anything to do with CNN. I strongly advise you to steer clear of this type of offer, and if anyone you know forwards you the link, it would be a kindness to give them the same warning. Once again, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In a similar manner, you will often see adverts at the foot of web pages with titles such as “This crazy loophole is something that retailers don’t want you to know about” or “This incredible trick will get you an iPad for next to nothing”. You will see links to stories similar to these around the web, claiming that there is a loophole that retailers don't want you to know about that means you can get an iPad for free. These stories tend to direct readers to a bidding system suggesting that they can bid money for an iPad, and get their hands on the iPad they bid for. For example, a "Megabargains24" story suggests readers use the MadBid auction site - please note that though "Megabargains24" purports to be a bargains news site, in the small print it does admit to being an "Advertorial" site. However, a forum post on MoneySavingExpert suggests that Madbid will take your money: charging you for bid packages. One post complains that the site started bidding on their behalf without their knowledge. There is also an auction site called Swoggi that other 'free iPad' stories will promote. To use that auction site you have to purchase credits to bid in an auction. Research shows that these are fake auctions, and when the bidders don't win the product they are unable to get their money back. These sites are said to use BidRobots, or fake bots, to drive up the prices. All in all these are all scams and not a way to get new technology for free. If you want an iPhone or iPad you will need to save up and buy one just like the rest of us – there is no quick “trick” to a free one – these sites are just traps for the gullible. In a nutshell, nobody, Apple included, gives away iPhones or iPads for free - it is all a con. Pass it on. 

Southeastern trains have just announced changes to their Autumn timetables. In essence the changes mainly involve starting some morning services a few minutes earlier than normal and adding a couple of minutes to overall journey times. The main reason for this is due to the problem of fallen leaves on the line. The North Kent Line is particularly vulnerable to fallen leaves, as much of the line runs in a cutting with tree on both sides of the track. The main reason for this was when the line was built, it was done through areas that already had quite a high concentration of residential housing. The cuttings, and indeed the trees helped to reduce the amount of noise from the passing steam trains. It also kept the impact of the engineering work to a minimum. The down side of this is that during the autumn period any falling leaves are effectively funnelled onto the tracks, where they get crushed by the passing train wheels, mixed with rainwater, and then form a mushy paste which causes a lack of grip for the trains. Delays are caused as drivers must brake early to ensure they stop in time and accelerate more gently than normal to avoid wheel spin. In their defence, Southeastern do have a number of specialist “de – gunging” trains which clean the rails of the crushed mix of dead leaves and rainwater, and spread a sticky film containing fine sand onto the rails to aid grip. Unless all of the trees are removed from the railway cuttings (something that is very unlikely to happen as they provide and aesthetic and environmental shielding) – not to mention looking pleasing.

Following the revelation that classic seventies sit com "Citizen Smith" will most definitely not be returning to our screens, it has been reported that "Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em" could be set to return to screens next year. According to a report by The Mirror, stars Michael Crawford and Michele Dotrice have talked about reviving the show, potentially for BBC One's Landmark Sitcom Season. In an interview, the paper asked Dotrice if she planned to work with Crawford again. The response was: "Well, I can't really say, but yes. Possibly next year - but I can't really say anything about it." The BBC confirmed to the paper: "It's one of several shows being considered for BBC One's Landmark Sitcom Season, but nothing is confirmed as yet and none of the original cast has been approached by us." It is not known whether any revival of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em would be for a one-off, multiple specials, or a full series. Many sitcoms have been revived in recent years, with mixed results. To The Manor Born returned for a single Christmas special in 2007; Birds Of A Feather has had three brand new series broadcast by ITV; and following a 2013 Christmas special revival of Open All Hours, a second new series of Still Open All Hours is now filming. Written by Raymond Allen, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em originally ran for 22 episodes over three series from 1973 to 1978, following the hapless, disaster-prone Frank Spencer (Crawford), as he met, eventually married, and had a child with with next-door neighbour Betty (Dotrice), much to her mother's horror. Seemingly unable to complete even the simplest of tasks without bringing chaos, former RAF man Frank was seen ever in search of a job he could keep, and a home set-up he could not destroy.

Erith has been the home to many boxers of note in its history. None more so than Len Harvey. although not Erith born (he originated from Stoke Climsland in Cornwall) he moved to Erith on his retirement to be landlord of the Nordenfeldt Tavern in Fraser Road during the late 1940's. He was one of the best boxers in British history. Len Harvey started out as a flyweight at 12. By the time he was 18 he was ready to fight for the British welterweight title. He was held to a draw though by Harry Mason on 29 April 1926. His next British title shot came 2 years later on 16 May 1929. This time at middleweight against Alex Ireland. Harvey knocked out his opponent in the seventh round to become British champion. He made six defences between 1929 and 1933. He also fought Marcel Thil of France for the world middleweight championship.On 10 April 1933, he defended his title against Jock McAvoy. This ended in defeat for Harvey but two months later he was in the ring again challenging Eddie Phillips and won on points to become British Light Heavyweight champion. On 30 November that year he beat the then unbeaten Jack Petersen to become the British Heavyweight champion. He then went on to beat Canada's Larry Gains to become British Empire champion, but lost both titles in a rematch with Petersen being stopped in the 12th round on cuts. Harvey then went on to fight for the world title on 9 November 1936, but was beaten on points by John Henry Lewis. He then regained the British Heavyweight title by disqualification against old foe Eddie Phillips. In 1938 John Henry Lewis retired after developing eye problems, Harvey was then matched with another old foe, Jock McAvoy for British recognition of the world championship at Harringay Arena. This time he won on points on 10 July 1939. During World War II Harvey joined the Royal Air Force. By this time he was a national sporting idol, and was given an officer rank. During this time he was persuaded to defend his titles against Freddie Mills on 20 June 1942. By this time Harvey was a veteran of over a hundred bouts and was 35 years old. He was knocked out in two rounds, only the second time he was stopped and the first by K.O. He retired after this bout. He had an official record of 133 fights, 111 wins, 9 draws and 13 defeats: he claimed to have had 418 fights,but they probably included booth fights. His four fights with Jock McAvoy were legendary; he won three and lost one. He later died in Erith on 28 November 1976. Such was his legend that he was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008.  Until I was informed of Len Harvey, I was not aware of the prestige in which he was held. A truly great adopted son of the area. If you have any memories of Len Harvey, do get in contact with me in order to share them. 

Readers may recall that back in August 2013 I wrote about my fears that Brick Lane was becoming gentrified, and that the long tradition of the road being home to a multitude of curry houses was coming to an end. In my opinion the rot began back when a restaurant called Sweet and Spicy closed down after operating in Brick Lane continuously since 1969. Of all the curry houses in the lane, Sweet and Spicy was the only one that catered for the Bangladeshi and Pakistani locals – it was manifestly not there to tempt in tourists. I was a regular there for a very long time when I worked for a company based in the East End, and became friends with the owner. The food was nothing whatsoever like British Indian Restaurant style – it was slow cooked curries with simple, natural ingredients, meat on the bone in the traditional manner, and no food colouring, much as you would be served in someone’s home. It was a place of pilgrimage for many food enthusiasts. The d├ęcor in Sweet and Spicy was basic – old school McDonald's style tables with fixed chairs, lino on the floor and old advertising posters on the walls. The place was clean, the food excellent, portions huge, and the bill very small indeed. In 2013 the place was forced to close after 44 years as the lease came up for renewal, and the price went through the roof. Landlords in Brick Lane realised that the buildings housing Indian restaurants could generate much more cash if they were converted for other uses, such as housing for the hipsters who were moving into the area, following the business model already deployed in areas such as Dalston. That was then; now things have taken a further turn. Two of the multitude of “tourist trap” curry houses in Brick Lane have got themselves into some very hot water with the local authority. The London Evening Standard reported “Brick Lane’s premier curry house faces being shut down after a diner who complained about a hair in the mango chutney was allegedly set upon by six waiters in an “extraordinary” attack. Aladin, an award-winning restaurant which has been visited by Prince Charles, could be stripped of its licence after police recorded a series of “violent incidents”. The Met has applied to Tower Hamlets council saying it has “no confidence whatsoever” in the four brothers who run Aladin and its next-door restaurant Nazrul. Police have investigated more than a dozen incidents over the past two years at the two venues with claims of customers being attacked or abused and of fights with staff at rival restaurants over “touting”.   According to police evidence submitted to the council, the mango chutney incident happened on May 24 at 10pm after a group of diners complained about their £12.95-a-head two-course meal. Licensing officer Pc Alan Cruickshank wrote: “The victim was touted outside the Aladin restaurant and entered with his partner and two friends. They found what looked like a hair in the mango chutney and the staff refused to change it.  “At this, they decided to leave and asked for the bill as they had eaten some papadums. On being told it was £9, they queried this, but paid it. “When he got up to leave he was told to ‘shut up’ at which point he was... assaulted and spilled (sic) from the premises into Brick Lane.  “The assault escalated with 15 to 20 males joining in, punching and kicking him repeatedly. Two more in the party received injuries.” Pc Cruickshank added: “At one point six waiters from Aladin/Nazrul are seen to beat up one man. The level of violence is extraordinary. Passers-by become involved to try and separate the group, but are assaulted themselves.” Other alleged incidents include a woman diner being hit in the face and threatened with a knife over a bill dispute. Sabir Ahmed, who runs the restaurants with his brothers Raju, Suhal and Juhal, said they would be challenging the police application. Mr Ahmed added: “The incidents the police say my staff are involved in happened outside the restaurant and there is no proof any of my staff were involved otherwise someone would have been charged and prosecuted.” It is as near as certain that the two restaurants will have their licences revoked. I have eaten in both in the past, and their cuisine was okay – British Indian Restaurant standard. There has even been some conjecture that they both share a common kitchen located in the basement of the Nazrul building, around the corner from the Aladin. The whole controversy plays right into the hands of the developers and the council members who would like to be rid of the curry houses so that they can redevelop the shop spaces into far more lucrative high – end housing. I feel that the reported violent disturbances highlighted by the Evening Standard will be used as evidence whenever a restaurant licence comes up for renewal – this may well be the final nail in the coffin for Brick Lane, as many people know it. What do you think? Is this a natural progression for the formerly run down East End area, or should the area be preserved? Drop me a line to and let me know your opinion.

If you would rather make a British Indian Restaurant style curry at home, I can highly recommend the YouTube channel "Al's Kitchen" where Al shows you the step by step methods to make a very wide range of authentic restaurant style curries. A vast majority of his recipes are suitable for any person who enjoys high street curry house food. The possible exception is the recipe below, which at the request of many of his YouTube viewers, Al creates an ultra spicy "Hellfire" Chilli chicken curry, which should satisfy even the most ardent chilli - head. See what you think.

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