Sunday, October 25, 2015

Horizon to Horizon.

The photo above was taken by local resident and occasional Maggot Sandwich restaurant critic Brian Silk. It shows the Sun rising over the River Thames at Erith. It is a beautiful shot, and proves that the riverside at Erith can be stunningly attractive when the weather and light are right. You can clearly see the classic Erith "Big Sky" - the town is the only place in the whole of the London Borough of Bexley where one can see from horizon to horizon with a completely unobstructed view - something I feel we ought to make much more of. Erith is undersold as a place to live - something I am keen to remedy. Brian has also written a short review on a long - standing Erith institution that has recently changed hands. "I recently checked out Dilz Café in West Street, ‘under new management’, having previously been West Street Café. I have to say I didn’t notice too much of a difference from this long-standing institution’s previous incarnation, but that’s no bad thing. Still the same kind of range of set breakfasts, snacks and sandwiches, and lunches and dinners. There were perhaps one or two additional menu items, but I can’t be sure. Still pay with your order at the counter and the food is freshly prepared. I suppose the new management thought, ‘Why change a successful formula?’ I chose the spaghetti bolognese for £4.95. I was not disappointed. A decent-sized meal arrived and it was really tasty. In fact, I had it again just a few days ago and it was every bit as substantial and good as the first time. Decent food at a reasonable price could describe all the Erith food outlets I use again and again (the others being The Running Horses, Yildiran and West Street Fish Bar) and that very much applies to Dilz. I look forward to trying out more of their menu before long. Dilz is at 115 West Street (opposite The Ship pub), phone 01322 446726". Excellent reporting Brian. If anyone else has content that they would like to supply me with, you can Email

There is much controversy about the various proposed schemes to add extra crossings across the River Thames to the East of London. As I featured last week, a group called Bexley Against Road Crossings (BARC) have formed to campaign against new river crossings. The next BARC meeting is on Tuesday 27 October at 7.15pm at Bexley Village Library, Bourne Road, Bexley. Personally I have no strong feelings either pro or anti additional crossings. Whilst the population of the UK is continuing to rise, and the London and South East region is particularly affected in this respect, I am also aware that the more roads you build, statistically the more traffic will use them. Malcolm Knight of the excellent Bexley is Bonkers blog does some detailed analysis of the BARC claims which you can read here. It makes for interesting consideration. One cross - Thames link that nobody seems to be disputing is the long established and well loved Woolwich Ferry. It is currently coming to the end of a £10 million improvement as part of a two-year upgrade programme, due to be completed at the end of this month. Over the course of a year the three ferries make around 50,000 crossings in total, carrying on average 1.1 million vehicles and 2.2 million passengers. The improvement works on the piers, loading bridges and vessels aim to extend the crossing's operational life and deliver a more reliable service over a period estimated to be around fifteen years.  The current three vessels were built in Dundee in 1963 by The Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, and were each named after prominent local politicians: John Burns, Ernest Bevin and James Newman (Newman was mayor of Woolwich, 1923–25). These vessels are now over fifty years old, and a considerable degree of engineering work has had to be carried out to extend their operational life to cover the new expected service period. 

Mobile phone usage has increased so much it has led to the invention of the term Nomophobia – the fear of being denied mobile phone contact. A study found that half of British people suffer anxiety if they lose their phone, run out of battery or credit, or lose coverage. Nine percent actually suffer stress when their phone is off. 3G mobile phone technology is also employed in many so - called Smart Meters, that various energy companies are currently plugging hard. These meters are part of the "internet of things". I have noticed that several of the national energy companies are currently targeting local residents with letters asking them to make an appointment to get their current electricity and gas meters replaced with a smart meter. Personally I have received three such letters from my energy supplier, EDF. As I have mentioned before, Smart Meters send real – time power usage data back to the supplier via a 3G mobile phone signal. This means that the meter does not have to be connected to a home data network. This sounds all well and good; the power company can bill you without having to send a meter reader to your house, and you get the option to monitor your power usage in an almost real – time way. There are however, problems. The data sent from the Smart Meter to the supplier is sent unencrypted, and “in the clear”; it is possible to intercept the data stream, and also a malicious attacker can potentially send instructions to the meter remotely. Several Smart Meter companies do tacitly admit this, but they play the whole lack of security aspect down. Secondly if one discounts the security implications, the various energy companies all supply different Smart Meters, many of which are incompatible with each other. If you choose to change your energy supplier, you will need to have your Smart Meter changed again – with the associated additional cost to you that this implies. Tellingly on the EDF letter there are a series of frequently asked questions. EDF initially state in the letter that “your current meter is old and now needs to be replaced – you need to book an appointment for an engineer to carry out this work”. They then go on to stress how old meters can be inaccurate and possibly unsafe. There is a giveaway in the FAQ’s that follow though – and I quote verbatim:- “Occasionally we may be unable to install a Smart Meter, usually due to communications issues with signal strength. If this happens we will not replace your meter, but will contact you again when we believe the Smart Meter national infrastructure will be able to support a Smart Meter in your premises.” There is the smoking gun – they don't actually need to replace the meter for the accuracy and safety concerns expressed earlier – they purely want to do it to make you have a Smart Meter, with all the security, privacy and expense worries that they entail. I have a preferred technique for dealing with such unwanted attention – I ignore everything they send me until they eventually give up and go away. Smart Meters primarily benefit the energy companies, because they no longer need to employ meter readers. The benefits to the consumer are minimal at best, and when allied to the security and compatibility concerns mentioned earlier, they don't add up for me. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Doreen Ives, Chair of the Erith Town Forum has released the following announcement:- "The next meeting of Erith Town Forum will take place on Thursday 29th October 2015, 7pm – 9pm at BEXLEY COLLEGE, Walnut Tree Road, Erith, Kent. Yes we have moved to Bexley College and to a Thursday evening.  The hall we use is normally the students’ lounge/restaurant. We have access to excellent computer facilities for presentations, and coffee or tea will be available. There is a security procedure we must follow so you should arrive five/ten minutes early to sign in. Obviously we only have access to the hall and toilets which are close by. Unfortunately as most of you will be aware, there is no car park specifically for the College but there is on street parking nearby. Richard Green, Bexley Town Centres Manager will give us updates on issues raised at our meeting in July. Tom Brown Director of Adult Social Care and Kevin Murphy Head of Housing Services will give a presentation including information about to the present use of the old Homeleigh site in Avenue Road. A second presentation will be given by Deniece Williams, a member of the Bexley Fostering Recruitment and Assessment Team. As you can see it should be a very informative meeting so I hope you will be able to come along".

The News Shopper have given extensive coverage this week to a story I featured on the Maggot Sandwich last week, about the launch of Operation Adgate, and also the new Neighbourhood Watch scheme called Bike Watch. The photo above was supplied to me by Dana Whiffen, the Chairman of Bexley Neighbourhood Watch Association. The problem is one of illegal bikers riding stolen, unlicenced, unregistered, uninsured bikes around the local area whilst not wearing helmets and pulling wheelies and other dangerous stunts on the public highway, then filming the results of their criminal activity and posting them on the Bike Life TV UK Facebook page, and also on to their YouTube channel. There has been a massive crackdown on these criminals led by Bexley Neighbourhood Watch Association and Bexley Police. Officers from Bexley borough have joined forces with the Met's roads and transport policing command, Bexley Neighbourhood Watch Association and the Gallions/Peabody Housing Association – in a bid to crack down on bike crime and anti-social behaviour across Thamesmead and elsewhere. Six illegal vehicles were seized and nineteen drivers reported for various traffic offences on the operation's launch day, Thursday the 16th October. In addition to this, legal action is being taken against an illegal biker that I recently had a personal encounter with. I hope to be able to report the full story after the 20th November, when the case will reach court. Until then I can say no more, though I know some readers are aware of the story. More on Neighbourhood Watch at the end of this update, with a video originally shot for a Russian TV news and current affairs show!

Many clubs and organisations, and all companies are required to have staff or volunteers qualified to administer first aid in the case of a medical emergency. Properly administered and professionally recognised first aid training can be expensive, so I am pleased to say that a professionally run course is shortly to take place in Erith, and local residents can take part, and get a substantial discount on the normal course price. The one day course will be taking place on Friday the 27th November in The Cross Keys Centre on Erith High Street. You can read more about the course, and how to book a place online by clicking here. I hope to cover this story in future, as it is a very welcome local addition.

You may recall that on a few occasions in the past I have written in some detail about an odious individual by the name of Joshua Bonehill. He is a self – professed racist, misogynist homophobic anti Semitic bigot. He targeted me with a threatening Email last year, which I published in full here. Bonehill has been in and out of court on numerous charges, and is currently on remand in jail on a charge of Inciting Racial Hatred. He managed the astonishing feat of being called back to court on a separate charge whilst actually already being in prison. Last week he appeared at Stevenage Magistrates Court charged with misusing a public computer network to propagate grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing material. He had written on his website that babies with conditions like Downs Syndrome should be killed at birth for the good of the nation. He accompanied the story, on a site describing itself as 'Britain's number one nationalist newspaper' with a picture of a Tesco worker with Downs Syndrome.  He was also charged over another article in which he claimed food sold by Tesco that had been imported from Africa contained the deadly Ebola virus. District Judge Carolyn Mellanby dismissed both charges, saying that his right to free speech protected him from being punished over the stories. Tesco said that they were alerted to Bonehill's article, and were contacted by almost two hundred customers concerned that the story was true; I share the opinion with Richard of “The Thamesmead Grump” fame, that I find it worrying that so many people are prepared to believe anything they read, “because it is on Facebook”) . Despite accepting that Bonehill was behind the stories, district judge Mellanby said he was protected by the Human Rights Act, which guarantees free speech. She said: 'Freedom of speech has a very high threshold and I would have breached Article 10 of the Human Rights Act if I had found you guilty. You have a right to express your opinions. You came close, but not close enough. I therefore dismiss the case.' Joshua Bonehill, of Yeovil, Somerset, who also goes by the name of Joshua Bonehill – Paine was returned to custody after the hearing ahead of a trial he faces at Southwark Crown Court in December. He is accused of inciting racial hatred before a neo-Nazi rally in London in July. Whatever happens in the December trial, I feel that Bonehill will be encouraged by the court judgement, and will make much of it whenever he eventually gets out of prison.

Another thirtieth anniversary for a well known technology is now upon us, though the press have been remarkably silent on the matter - though they did pick up on Back to the Future Day on Wednesday last week. The undocumented birthday was that for Microsoft Excel. The now dominant spreadsheet was originally released for the Apple Mac in September 1985 (and in the UK in October of the same year). Microsoft originally marketed a spreadsheet program called Multiplan in 1982, which was very popular on text based CP/M systems, but on MS-DOS systems it lost popularity to Lotus 1-2-3. This promoted development of a new spreadsheet called Excel which started with the intention to, in the words of Microsoft's Doug Klunder, 'do everything 1-2-3 does and do it better'. The first version of Excel was released for the Mac in 1985 and the first Windows version (numbered 2.0 to line-up with the Mac and bundled with a run-time Windows environment) was released in November 1987. Lotus was slow to bring 1-2-3 to Windows and by 1988 Excel had started to outsell 1-2-3 and helped Microsoft achieve the position of leading PC software developer. This accomplishment, dethroning the king of the software world, solidified Microsoft as a valid competitor and showed its future of developing graphical software. Microsoft pushed its advantage with regular new releases, every two years or so. Early in its life Excel became the target of a trademark lawsuit by another company already selling a software package named "Excel" in the finance industry. As the result of the dispute Microsoft was required to refer to the program as "Microsoft Excel" in all of its formal press releases and legal documents. However, over time this practice has been ignored, and Microsoft cleared up the issue permanently when they purchased the trademark to the other program. Microsoft also encouraged the use of the letters XL as shorthand for the program; while this is no longer common, the program's icon still consists of a stylised combination of the two letters, and the file extension of the default Excel format is .xls. Excel offers many user interface tweaks over the earliest electronic spreadsheets; however, the essence remains the same as in the original spreadsheet, VisiCalc: the cells are organised in rows and columns, and contain data or formulas with relative or absolute references to other cells. Excel was the first spreadsheet that allowed the user to define the appearance of spreadsheets (fonts, character attributes and cell appearance). It also introduced intelligent cell recomputation, where only cells dependent on the cell being modified are updated (previous spreadsheet programs recomputed everything all the time or waited for a specific user command). Excel has extensive graphing capabilities. When first bundled into Microsoft Office in 1993, Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint had their GUIs redesigned for consistency with Excel, the killer app on the PC at the time. Since 1993, Excel has included Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), a programming language based on Visual Basic which adds the ability to automate tasks in Excel and to provide user defined functions (UDF) for use in worksheets. VBA is a powerful addition to the application which, in later versions, includes a fully featured integrated development environment (IDE). Macro recording can produce VBA code replicating user actions, thus allowing simple automation of regular tasks. VBA allows the creation of forms and in-worksheet controls to communicate with the user. The automation functionality provided by VBA has caused Excel to become a target for macro viruses. This was a serious problem in the corporate world until antivirus products began to detect these viruses. Microsoft belatedly took steps to prevent the misuse by adding the ability to disable macros completely, to enable macros when opening a workbook or to trust all macros signed using a trusted certificate.  Many of us use Excel as part of our jobs nowadays - and I reckon that many are not aware of the long and rich history the application has. Whilst in very widespread use, it is not the only spreadsheet available, despite what Microsoft might have you believe. Happy 30th birthday Excel.

Here is an announcement that you may well find of interest. "THE FRIENDS OF CHRIST CHURCH ERITH ask you to a QUIZ NIGHT on Saturday 14th November 2015. Doors open at 7pm for a 7:15pm start in Christchurch Hall, Victoria Road, Erith, Kent, DA8 3AN (vehicular access via Glebe Way).  Maximum of 6 people to a team - £3 a person.  Form your own team or join one on the night.   Please bring your own drinks and nibbles.  There will also be a raffle.  A fun fund-raising event for the upkeep of the listed Church building.  Thank you if you have already bought tickets for the Quiz Night, but if not, then now’s your chance!  Tickets in advance only please:  Contact the Friends of Christ Church Erith at".

Several readers have asked me to write in more detail about Edward Butler, the true inventor of the modern motor car. He was the first modern motorist, he invented several automotive components that are still in common use today, and his wife Kitty, also known as Kate Gildersleeves – is thought to be the World’s first lady motorcyclist. When Edward Butler was developing his petrol cycle (photo above - click on it for a larger view), he used Manor Road in Erith for testing purposes. The reason for this was (unlike today) the road was relatively quiet with little traffic; it also benefitted by being a very long road and mostly straight. It can therefore be said that Manor Road in Erith was the World’s very first car test track. It still gets used by would – be boy racers nowadays, despite a twenty miles per hour speed limit on the residential stretch of the road. The Butler Petrol Cycle is accepted by many automotive historians as the very first British motor car, although as it never went into production. Although Karl Benz is recognised as the inventor of the modern motor car, the aforementioned Edward Butler was said to have exhibited plans for a 3-wheeled vehicle two years earlier than Benz in 1884 at the Stanley Cycle Show, London, and it was also the first design shown at the 1885 Inventions Exhibition, London. Butler however did not patent his vehicle until 1887 due to British laws on experiments.  On the vehicle the patent read “Butlers Petrol-Cycle Syndicate Limited Patent”.  It also referred to “F.B. Shuttleworth, Erith, London.” as Butler built the Petrol Cycle in the engineering works of F.B. Shuttleworth who was an engineer who built naval torpedo ships and civilian yachts, and additionally was a steam boiler manufacturer.  In 1890 Butler finished his design which was a vehicle powered by an engine that combusted mineral hydrocarbons. The respected publication Scientific American published an article on the Butler Petrol Cycle in the February 14th 1891 edition of the magazine. This stated that one gallon of petroleum or benzolene was enough to “furnish sufficient power” to achieve a journey of forty miles at a speed ranging from 3 - 10 mph. Edward Butler is credited with first using the word “Petrol” and inventing the spark plug, magneto, coil ignition and spray jet carburettor.  The speed of the vehicle was regulated by a throttle valve lever  whilst over heating was prevented by water circulating through a radiator over the rear driving wheel. Butler was continually frustrated in his automotive experiments by the law. The Red Flag Act of 1885 was a major source of exasperation; the act restricted automotive vehicles to a maximum speed of 2 mph in the city and 4 mph in the countryside.  In addition each vehicle had to be attended by three people, of which one had to walk in front of the vehicle waving a red flag (The 1865 Red Flag Act) to warn other road users and help control horses. This act had originally appeared as a result of the growing number of steam powered vehicles in the UK. The restrictive nature of the Red Flag Act meant that inventors and engineers could only test their creations on private land, something which proved instrumental in holding back British car development, and allowing Karl Benz in Germany not only to gain a technological lead in car development, but more importantly to register a whole series of patents under his name. Butler became increasingly frustrated and disillusioned; In 1900 Butler penned a letter to “The Autocar” magazine of which they published on April 7th 1900. The letter read:- “Now that public attention is being drawn to the early attempts of the two German pioneers, Benz and Daimler, I trust that you may find space in your journal for an illustration of a small petrol vehicle, which I believe was absolutely the first made in this country, and if I could have interested any one to finance it when the drawings were exhibited at the Stanley Show in 1884, and the following year at the Inventions Exhibition, I should have been contemporaneous, if not earlier than either of them. Although I cannot claim to have done very much in the light of the present enormous development of the automotor trade, it may have been forgotten that I carried out a series of experiments in the perfecting of a motor vehicle at a time when progress was much hindered by the prejudice and want of interest - the motor part of which has been since used in many types of engines for industrial purposes.” By this time Edward Butler had already give up further work on his Petrol Cycle, realising that due to the restrictive traffic laws of the time, he was never going to win the race to build the World’s first commercially available motor car. He wrote “..the authorities do not countenance its use on the roads, and I have abandoned in consequence any further development of it.” Butler broke his Petrol Cycle up for scrap in 1896 where upon the patent rights were sold to H.J. Lawson and the engine continued to be produced for motor boats.  Shortly afterwards the Locomotive on Highways Act of 1896 was passed that allowed speeds of up to 14 mph and opened up the highways to motor vehicles, but this was too late for Edward Butler. He died in 1940, largely unrecognised for his pioneering work in automotive design. If things had turned out differently, instead of driving around in Mercedes Benzes, we could have been driving a Butler motor car.

The ending video is surprisingly timely; it shows an interview carried out by Russian television channel 1TV for their news and current affairs programme. This is an excerpt of the longer, Russian language piece which shows a member of Bexley Neighbourhood Watch explaining what the watch is, and how it operates for the benefit of the Russian audience who I understand currently don't operate anything similar at present. This version is in English, minus Russian language dubbing, which was added later by the producers. As a fellow Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator, I am pleased to see that we are getting some well deserved international recognition. Thanks to Dana Whiffen, the Chairman of Bexley Neighbourhood Watch Association for supplying the video clip.  

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