Sunday, October 18, 2015

Operation Adgate.

There has been much discontent and confusion over the way that Bexley Council have handled the changeover of the brown plastic garden waste bins. In future the council will be operating a subscription scheme by which local residents will have to pay an annual fee if they want the bin lorries to take away grass cuttings, branches, dead flowers and other garden waste. Bexley Council have been collecting the old "free" bins and replacing them with the new fee - based model. Only in many cases they have collected the old bins, but then not replaced it with a new one. This mismanagement has been reported widely by Malcolm Knight of the excellent "Bexley is Bonkers" blog, and also in the local press. The News Shopper wrote "Opposition for the new garden and food waste scheme peaked as Bexley Labour slammed the rollout of the new programme. Residents across the borough have been without new bins despite the fact that collections for the old brown bins have stopped. Councillor Joe Ferreira, shadow cabinet member for community safety, environment and leisure said: "The rollout of the new service has been a mess. It has been poorly organised and poorly delivered. They are paying for a service they are not receiving. The old brown bins have been lying forgotten and discarded across the borough blocking pavements for pedestrians and the disabled. If the council can’t collect the old brown bins when they are empty, what hope do they have of them collecting the new brown bins when they are full? The council needs to get a grip on the rollout and deliver the effective and efficient service that local taxpayers deserve." Quite. What has also not been reported is that the bin men that collect the old brown garden waste bins are deliberately breaking the wheels off the bottom of the bins to stop people re - using them - I have personally witnessed this in the last week in and around Erith. Personally I am unaffected by the whole issue, as my garden is fully synthetic and as low maintenance as it is possible to get. Many of my friends and neighbours have been severely affected however, and my concern is both for them, and for the environment. We know that the London Borough of Bexley has a terrible record for illegal fly - tipping, and I am worried that this will get even worse when local residents have got no way of legally getting rid of garden waste if they are unable to visit the Thames Road Crayford Waste Transfer Site. They may be tempted by one of the less than reputable "man with a van" services who offer to take away their waste for disposal. Whilst many of these independent traders are scrupulously honest, there are a number who will cut corners and fly tip any waste that they collect. 

The video above shows the work currently being undertaken at Abbey Wood station as part of the massive Crossrail project. Anyone who regularly uses Southeastern Railways will know how much heavy engineering has been going on between Abbey Wood and Plumstead over the last few years. I am fully supportive of this major upgrade to the mass transit infrastructure in London and the South East. It will move large numbers of people around the region quickly and more importantly in a very green manner. It will mean fewer car journeys required to places such as Heathrow Airport; indeed one unintended spin - off of Crossrail may well be the reduction in the number of local cab companies. Many private hire taxi firms rely on the lucrative airport runs as their "bread and butter" work. If many locals start using Crossrail instead, due to the speed, convenience and lower price of the forthcoming Crossrail route, the requirement to use a cab for the journey will be severely curtailed. Time will no doubt tell. Another future transport infrastructure project is currently being debated, but that one I have a far more ambivalent feeling towards. Someone who has very strong feelings is local resident Tony Fairbairn, who writes the following:- "Bexley Against Road Crossings (BARC) have launched their web site at together with a Facebook page; so far the responses have been positive. We are expecting TFL to produce their traffic survey report within the next few weeks, although we do not know the results or what their recommendations will be, we do expect them to be comprehensive, controversial and will mainly affect Belvedere, Erith and Thamesmead; We do know however, they  will not be to everybody’s liking. Our next BARC meeting is on Tuesday 27 October at 7.15pm at Bexley Village Library, Bourne Road, Bexley. As we are at an early stage in developing our thoughts and strategy we welcome new people and ideas, please come along".

This week I have been digging around in some of the dustier, almost forgotten corners of the web; old multimedia technology fascinates me, and it never ceases to amaze me how many different audio and video formats have been invented, only to fall by the wayside. One of the most unusual and one might even say eccentric inventions that fits this category is one that very few will have even heard of. It was available in the UK for a short time, but never gained the popularity of competing systems such as VHS. The video player system was called The Capacitance Electronic Disc system (CED) was an analogue video disc playback system developed by RCA, in which video and audio could be played back on a TV set using a special needle and high-density groove system similar to phonograph records. The format was commonly known as "videodisc", leading to much confusion with the contemporary LaserDisc format. LaserDiscs were read optically with a laser beam, whereas CED videodiscs were read physically with a stylus, rather like a conventional gramophone record. The two systems were mutually incompatible. RCA began videodisc research in 1964, in an attempt to produce a phonograph-like method of reproducing video. Research and development was slow in the early years, as the development team originally comprised only four men, but by 1972, the CED team at RCA had produced a disc capable of holding ten minutes of colour video (a portion of the Get Smart episode entitled "Lum Fong"). Later, when the disc format was simplified to reduce the cost of mass production, it led to a big problem. Because they were an analogue format, CEDs were susceptible to all sorts of interference. As the CED record grooves got tinier and finer, the discs became incredibly delicate. They were easily scratched, and any specks of dust that got into the grooves could cause the stylus to skip and stick. CEDs were originally going to be released like regular vinyl records in paper sleeves, but they proved much too delicate. Thus they were encased in thin plastic caddies so that the discs themselves would be protected. The resulting movies looked not unlike wide, thin eight-track cassettes. Finally, after over seventeen years in development, flying in the face of evolving trends in home video technology, the first CED machine, the RCA SFT100W VideoDisc player, branded as SelectaVision, was released in March of 1981. Alongside the release of the machine were an initial 50 titles, the very first of which was the cartoon Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown. VHS, which offered a longer run time in a smaller package, was already well on its way to being the standard video technology in most homes, and when the ungainly, labour intensive (the movie discs had to be manually taken out and turned over halfway through) CED system was released, it was met with a resounding “So what?” by consumers. The video quality was as good as VHS at the time, if not better, but the CED still seemed like a strangely archaic alternative to the videocassette and Laserdisc. They did have some advantages over VHS however; CED players were intended to be "low-cost". Because they have fewer precision parts than a VCR, a CED player cost, at most, about half as much to manufacture. The discs themselves could be inexpensively duplicated, stamped out on slightly-modified audio gramophone record presses. Like VCRs, CED videodisc players had features like rapid forward/reverse and visual search forward/reverse. They also had a pause feature, though it blanked the screen rather than displaying a still image; many players featured a 'page mode' during which the current block of four successive frames would be repeatedly displayed. Since CEDs were a disc-based system, they did not require rewinding. Early discs were generally monaural, but later discs included stereo sound. (Monaural CED disks were packaged in white protective caddies while stereo disks were packaged in blue protective caddies.) Other discs could be switched between two separate mono audio tracks, providing features such as bilingual audio capability. Like the LaserDisc and DVD, some CEDs featured random access and that users can quickly move to certain parts of the movie. Each side of a CED disc could be split into up to 63 "chapters", or bands. Two late RCA players could access these bands in any given order. Unlike its laser-based counterparts, the chapters in a CED are based on minutes of the film, not scenes. Novelty discs and CED-based games were produced whereby accessing the chapters in a specified order would string together a different story each time. However, only a few were produced before the halt of CED player manufacturing. In addition to the advantages over VHS came the disadvantages. The discs would deteriorate fairly rapidly with consecutive plays. RCA said you could get around 500 spins out of one disc, but the quality fell with each play. RCA ended up selling only around 100,000 players in the first year—half of what the company had ambitiously projected—but they didn’t give up the ghost. CED players continued to be sold over the next few years, even though sales of the machine continued to be dire. In addition to RCA, Toshiba and Hitachi hedged their bets and tried selling CED players as well, but they did no better. The number of titles also continued to grow in the face of the public’s disinterest. Big box office movies of the time like Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and Jaws all made it to CED, but not even these familiar titles could get people into vinyl video. In 1984, RCA finally admitted defeat. Fewer than 500,000 CED machines had been sold in total, a figure well short of the company’s prediction that half of American homes would have one within 10 years. Hitachi and Toshiba did release various PAL versions of their CED players in Europe and the UK, but the public acceptance of the format was almost zero - VHS had already won the video format wars - after all, you could also record on it, unlike either CED or LaserDisk which were both replay only. In April 1984, RCA officially announced the discontinuation of its CED players, soothing the few people who had invested in a machine with the assurance that it would continue to release discs for three more years. They only did so for two. The only local retailer that sold CED video players and video disks that I am aware of was Whomes HiFi and TV shop in Bexleyheath Broadway, and that was only for a very brief period indeed. An ultimately doomed video format that nowadays few people have even heard about. 

The Metropolitan Police are finally getting tough with illegal bikers. As regular readers will already be fully aware, a criminal gang called Bike Life TV UK have been operating locally with apparent impunity over the last couple of years. Now the Police are starting a new operation called "Bike Watch" as part of the wider "Operation Adgate" which was officially launched last Thursday. Here is an extract from the official Police announcement of the scheme:- "Bikes and quads on public roads or gaining unauthorised access to land and riding around in dangerous / ASB manner. This has been an ongoing problem for some time. However, this has escalated somewhat and recently an influx of UK Bike Life members have resulted in ride outs around the Thamesmead environs. Some of these are filmed and uploaded to YouTube. Videos show these vehicles being driven at speed and in a dangerous manner on public land and roads. It is a usual occurrence for vehicles including vans to attend this area, drop of the off road bikes to one of the many entrances where the rider then illegally enters the land and proceeds to ride illegally off road. This area is described as an ‘easy touch’ and disruption to their activities is very limited due to the large area involved and the many entrances and exits. They have a complete disregard for public safety. Machines consist of road bikes using public roads as a racetrack, burnouts, off-road dirt bikes, mini moto’s, scooters (many of which are lost or stolen). Apart from the road bikes, the vast majority of the other machines are ridden by unlicensed, uninsured persons. The main areas for concern are:-

THAMESMEAD GOLF COURSE - abandoned land. Numerous fences have been broken or
removed to allow access from various different locations.

BELVEDERE ROAD - Dead end road with no houses. People go here to perform tricks and to speed. However the noise carries.

WOLVERCOTE ROAD - easy for riders to go into Maran Way or go on the footpaths to Coralline Walk or Lensbury Way.

LESNES TO CROSSNESS PATH - access via numerous locations. A path set up high which is used by families (play park), dog walkers and local residents.

SOUTHMERE PARK / LAKE – accessible via several road. Riders have different paths and green area to us. This park is used by families and dog walkers.

YARNTON WAY & CROSSWAY - dual carriageway with a couple of roundabouts. Residents state speeding is an issue.

The objectives is to reduce collisions and all problems associated with the unlawful and anti social use of powered two wheeled vehicles in the borough by:-

Providing a high visibility police presence to all road users and residents

To identify and prosecute offenders concerned in Antisocial behaviour, illegal and dangerous


To detect offences being committed connected with the THINK campaign

To identify drink/drug driving

Increase public confidence, reassurance and awareness in police activity regarding these offences.

To seize uninsured/unlicensed vehicles.

To engage with younger riders identifying poor riding skills and promoting ‘Bikesafe’ scheme

as an opportunity for improvement.

To detect and reduce offences involving stolen vehicles in the area.

To identify main entrances and exits used by riders. Assess these areas with a view of installing new gates and fences to drastically reduce access".

I am led to understand that the Police officers involved in the operation have been instructed not to issue informal warnings, but to seize the offending vehicles under the Section 59 legislation of the Police Reform Act 2002.  In the case of stolen or unregistered vehicles, this would mean immediate confiscation and potential crushing of the vehicle. It certainly looks like the gloves have come off in regard to illegal riders, and not before time. Some readers may be aware of my own issues with illegal riders which I am unfortunately unable to discuss at present. More in due course.

I had a surprisingly enthusiastic response to the article I published last week about former champion boxer Len Harvey, who was a resident of Erith for some years following WWII. I have been sent a story by a well respected local figure who wishes to remain anonymous, which follows up on my original story with a tragic tale that to my knowledge has not been published before.  My informant writes:- "Len Harvey as you so rightly say was the guvnor of the Nordenfeldt public house the "Pom Pom" for a few years. The local vicar at the time one George Bennett was a regular visitor to the Pom Pom. Len would remind the locals of their language in the presence of the vicar! Ken  used to come to up to North Heath School in the late 40s to coach the boys in boxing. There are examples of how successful was. However there was dark side, he had a son, who in turn had a friend who lived in Pembroke Road. One day the son took the gun, which was a War Trophy of Len's) to his friends house, and "playing about" the gun went off. The end result was the boy died some time later.  I am sure that is why he moved out of the area and died in West London. NOT Erith". Fascinating stuff and a tragic story. I can fully understand why Len Harvey would have wanted to move away from the area that must have had such painful memories for him. If any other reader has memories or stories about Len Harvey, then please contact me at

This week has been National Curry Week, a fact that almost passed me by, which is surprising when one considers that a well made curry is my utter favourite kind of food. Winner of the National Curry Week poem was someone called S Wiseman, who penned the following ditty:-

I'll never forget my first vindaloo
Innocuously slopped on my plate
Perfumed and brown and scooped with my spoon
Into my mouth - it was too late.

First came a tingle like a tiny hot coal
Dancing on my tongue
Flipping and pirouetting with fiery feet
But soon it wouldn't be long 'til....

Fire! Fire! Call the brigade
It's an oral 999!
Sweating and squawking and fanning my face to try and get rid of the shine.

Although it burnt and blazed and scalded no end
I'll never forget that first vindaloo.
It was the tastiest meal that I ever ate
Even if I'm still sat on the loo.

Google have a number of development projects on the go. One fascinating endeavour they have recently announced is called the Soli Project works on the basis using a simple, intuitive hand gesture vocabulary to replace familiar interface archetypes of the past; like the volume knob, or the button. It works using the technology of radar to read hand gestures at the rate of 10,000 frames per second. What is amazing is that the radar has been condensed into a chip that has no moving parts, and is basically the size of an SD memory card. By making certain movements like emulating the push of a button, or turning a volume knob you are able to interface with your smart phone, wearable or laptop. According to Ivan Poupyrev, Project Soli Founder, “What makes this project so promising: it’s extremely reliable. There is nothing to break, no moving parts, no lenses, just a piece of sand on a board.” Expect to hear more about Project Soli in the near future.

High Street outlet Brighthouse have launched a series of television adverts, mainly shown on Channel 5, targeting potentially vulnerable people. To my mind, the definitive indicator that a town has gone to the dogs is when Brighthouse move in.  I was reading an article recently, in which Karl Dayson, an academic who specialises in the study of affordable finance said that “I can think of no better marker of social deprivation than having a Brighthouse store open in your area”.  If you have not heard of the Brighthouse stores before, let me explain. Brighthouse are a chain of retailers specialising in household goods such as furniture, washing machines, televisions and cookers. Their unique selling point is that you can purchase goods on credit with no deposit, and with very low weekly repayments. The store is designed to appeal to young families – the aisles between goods on display are wide enough for a child’s buggy to be wheeled easily along them. Brighthouse offer credit to those who would otherwise be unable to qualify for it – mainly people on benefits. This all sounds great – helping those otherwise unable to afford the basics of a home to get what they need. The downside of it is the eye wateringly high interest rates that Brighthouse charges. Several debt charities have expressed dismay at the high charges. A basic washing machine that costs £399 in Curry's will cost £1,560 from Brighthouse, albeit broken down into “affordable” £10 weekly payments at an interest rate of 69.9% APR. Just like the notorious payday lenders, the poorer you are, the more you pay for goods and services. Debt advisor Anne Young, who has advised many former Brighthouse customers said “These companies are preying on people who cannot afford to go anywhere else. I do think that they are robbing the poor, when you look at their prices. They are charging a ridiculous amount for goods you can buy on the high street for a third of the price”.  To give an example, a small television which costs £99.99 in Argos would cost a total of £606.84 paid over a total of 156 weeks. Brighthouse argue that their TV is covered against malfunction and accidental damage over the course of the repayment period, but this needs to be set against the fact that you could buy six similar televisions for that amount of money elsewhere.  Brighthouse claim that if you can find an identical product anywhere on the high street, that they will match the price. This is actually quite difficult, as Brighthouse have a lot of “own name” brands, such as Baird; these are simply not available anywhere else; they also include a number of options that other retailers on the high street don’t, and the pricing structure is so bewilderingly complex that direct comparison is rather difficult. Brighthouse are looking to aggressively expand their stores – their store in Bexleyheath is merely a relatively recent opening. They plan to open another four hundred stores to add to the 288 that they currently operate, which are usually located in areas with high levels of poverty. The demographic for Brighthouse customers is fairly straightforward; a majority are women between 26 and 45 years of age; they earn less than £13,000 a year, and around fifty percent are receiving at least part of their income in the form of benefits. You can really view Brighthouse as a cross between somewhere like Argos and loan company – and its’ customers are overwhelmingly people who do not qualify for a credit card or score too lowly for a conventional, lower interest loan. The kind of goods that the company sells (furniture / consumer electronics) do tend to depreciate over the course of the loan period, to the point that by the time the loan is fully paid off, the goods are essentially worthless. On top of this, Brighthouse have a policy of repossessing goods if payments are not met, even if the customer is only one or two payments away from completing the purchase.  Normally a court order is required to repossess goods when more than a third of the credit payments have already been met. Brighthouse have a nasty habit of sending round bailiffs without such legal niceties – exploiting the fact that many of their customers are ignorant of the law. All in all, Brighthouse succeed because they can – their target customer does not qualify for a loan from a conventional source, and is not aware of low cost resources such as credit unions. They rely on the customer being sucked in to the colourful, brightly lit and shiny shop with the promise of low repayments, even if they do end up paying for what seems like half a lifetime. The appeal of the “here and now” rather than waiting and saving to buy from a store that offers no credit, but a consequently far lower purchase price is something that Brighthouse encourage – many of their customers have little academic education, and don’t necessarily realise that they may only be paying back a tenner or so a week for their 3D television, but doing so for several years means it is costing them a pile more money than it should. As I have said more than once before, it is extremely expensive to live on a low income. Comments to

The end video this week was filmed back on the 19th September by the Rev; it shows the Bexley Brewery on the Manford Industrial Estate in Manor Road, Erith on the occasion of their first birthday. It also shows the presentation of an award by Bexley CAMRA. I was working on the day, and unfortunately was unable to attend. I am a great supported of the Bexley Brewery. They make some stunningly good beers, which you can buy directly from them in their brewery shop, or you can sample them in many of the local pubs which now are regular stockists. Highly recommended either way. 

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