Sunday, January 03, 2016

New Year - old problems.


Well, here is the first Maggot Sandwich blog update for the New Year. Already we have had controversy from Southeastern Trains (yet again) who promised a Saturday equivalent service in the period between Christmas Eve and the 4th of January, despite the huge amount of engineering work being undertaken on the Crossrail Project between Abbey Wood and Plumstead stations, and the refurbishment and rebuilding going on at London Bridge station over the holiday period. I have however had a number of reports of an absolutely terrible level of service on the North Kent Line - one reader reported to me that he waited for forty minutes at Belvedere station for a short and overcrowded train on more than one occasion. All services on the Dartford to London Bridge via Greenwich Line were understandably diverted to New Cross due to the London Bridge building work, but the lack of trains even at peak times on what in many cases were normal working days for many people is just not in any way acceptable. Bexley Councillor David Leaf has been vocal over the issue after carrying out some research into the service levels promised by Southeastern, and the levels actually achieved; The train company promised to provide a Saturday service on the working days between Christmas and New Year's Eve. However Councillor Leaf calculated that there were 57 per cent less trains to London terminals compared to a normal Saturday morning (between 6.30-9.30am). He said in an interview with the News Shopper that "Commuters already facing severe disruption are being misled by Southeastern. Local residents from Bexley who need to commute into London to work will be hit by a triple whammy of disruption from the London Bridge upgrade works, fewer services and the inevitable overcrowding which will occur. There may also be shorter formed trains during this period and local commuters, paying peak fares for an off-peak service, will feel short-changed. "We all know that upgrade works to London Bridge are important, but the replacement services put in place by Southeastern are thoroughly inadequate." Once again the residents of the North of the London Borough of Bexley are treated as second class citizens. Have you had any travel disruptions because of poorly planned engineering work, or inadequate service provision by a train company? Do let me know.

The law of unintended consequences has seemingly come into force yet again; I have been talking to a couple of (anonymous) contacts I have in retail management. It would seem that the recent ban on giving away free plastic carrier bags at supermarkets has been successful in reducing the number of disposable bags shifted by the stores, but it has had an effect that has at the time of writing proved to be far more economically damaging. What has happened is that criminals are now able to walk around supermarkets with large reusable shopping bags on their arms, and can easily shoplift items into the anonymous bags. For shop security staff, someone carrying a large shopping bag around the store used to be a significant indicator that they could well be a shoplifter, and the security staff would consequently pay them more attention. Now that virtually all shoppers carry their own bags round the store, the criminals can far more easily blend in with the innocent shoppers. I have been told that the increased levels of stock loss have completely wiped out the lowered costs of supplying single use shopping bags in many high - street stores, but the management do not want to highlight the issue for fear of being thought of as "anti environment".  On top of this, the loss levels of wire shopping baskets has markedly increased; major supermarkets have already ordered thousands of extra wire baskets, as more of them go missing as shoppers turn to theft rather than pay for plastic bags, and the figures would seem to back this up - but once again the industry is incredibly reticent about discussing the phenomenon, as they fear it will affect corporate images. Over the course of a year, one major store in Wales had almost five hundred wire shopping baskets stolen when it began charging 5p for plastic bags - resulting in a four-figure loss from just one site. Although research predicts it will cost shoppers just £6.50 a year, history shows that some shoppers will resort to theft to get around the new law. What retailers do not want to be seen doing is restricting the use of wire baskets in the way most already do with the more valuable shopping trolleys. Whilst many have debated fitting security tags to shopping baskets in the way trolleys have had for the best part of twenty years, the cost / benefit balance is far less compelling, and they are worried about discouraging shoppers in what is already a cut - throat market place. What do you think? Drop me a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

Recently I took a couple of friends from out of the area on a pub visiting tour of Dartford. It is the town closest to Erith which has a decent variety and quality of pubs, the best of which in my opinion is the Malt Shovel in Darenth Road, Dartford - a serious rival to my favourite pub of all, the Robin Hood and Little John, in Lion Road, Bexleyheath. My companions were not familiar with Dartford, and as we walked around the town, they asked why I had not suggested that we pay a visit to the Royal Victoria and Bull pub in the town centre. Locally it is better known as the Bull and Vic; I explained that whilst the pub / hotel was a great looking historical building, the clientele that frequent the place were really not our sort of people; basically it is a chav trap full of lager drinking yobs and other undesirables. This is a real pity as the building is one of the oldest in Dartford, and has been the location of a number of historic events. The pioneering steam engineer and mining expert Richard Trevithick died in the hotel (at that time known just as The Bull) back in April 1833. He had been lodging there for some months. Following a week's confinement in bed he died on the morning of 22 April 1833. By this stage in his life, he had been declared bankrupt; he was penniless, and no relatives or friends had attended his bedside during his illness. His colleagues at Hall's works (where he has been an engineering consultant) made a collection for his funeral expenses and acted as bearers. They also paid a night watchman to guard his grave at night to deter grave robbers, as body snatching was common at that time. Trevithick was buried in an unmarked grave in St Edmunds Burial Ground, East Hill, Dartford. The burial ground closed in 1857, with the gravestones being removed in the 1960s. A plaque marks the approximate spot believed to be the site of the grave. The plaque lies on the side of the park, near the East Hill gate, and an unlinked path. Richard Trevithick, was born in Illogan, Cornwall, in 1771. He was educated at Camborne School, but he was more interested in sport than academic learning. Trevithick was six feet two inches high and was known as the Cornish giant. He was very strong lad and by the age of eighteen he could throw sledge hammers over the tops of engine houses and write his name on a beam six feet from the floor with half a hundredweight hanging from his thumb. Trevithick also had the reputation of being one of the best wrestlers in Cornwall. Trevithick went to work with his father at Wheal Treasury mine and soon revealed an aptitude for engineering. After making improvements to the Bull Steam Engine, Trevithick was promoted to engineer of the Ding Dong mine at Penzance. While at the Ding Dong mine he developed a successful high-pressure engine that was soon in great demand in Cornwall and South Wales for raising the ore and refuse from mines. Trevithick also began experimenting with the idea of producing a steam locomotive. At first he concentrating on making a miniature locomotive and by 1796 had produced one that worked. The boiler and engine were in one piece; hot water was put into the boiler and a red hot iron was inserted into a tube underneath; thus causing steam to be raised and the engine set in motion. This was not a practical design, as without a firebox, the steam pressure could only be maintained over very short journeys. Even when this problem was solved, he encountered more issues with the rails on which his steam engine travelled - at that time the rails were made of cast iron, rather than rolled steel, and they were very brittle as a result. In the summer of 1808 Trevithick erected a circular railway in Euston Square and during the months of July and August people could ride on his locomotive on the payment of one shilling. Trevithick had plenty of volunteers for his locomotive that reached speeds of 12 mph (19 kph) but once again the rails broke and he was forced to bring the experiment to an end. Without financial backing, Richard Trevithick had to abandon his plans to develop a steam locomotive. Trevithick now found work with a company who paid him to develop a steam dredger to lift waste from the bottom of the Thames. He was paid by results, receiving sixpence for every ton lifted from the river. Trevithick found it difficult to make money from his steam dredger and in 1816 he accepted an offer to work as an engineer in a silver mine in Peru. After some early difficulties, Trevithick's steam-engines were very successful and he was able to use his profits to acquire his own silver mines. However, in 1826 war broke out and Trevithick was forced to flee and leave behind his steam-engines and silver mines. He was a good engineer, but it is generally accepted that he was an exceptionally poor businessman. Although inventors such as George Stephenson argued that Trevithick's early experiments were vital to the development of locomotives, in February 1828, the House of Commons rejected a petition suggesting that he should receive a government pension. After this, and several other misguided schemes failed, Trevithick was forced to seek paid employment at the Hall's engineering works in Dartford, where he later died. It is a great pity that no monument to the great contributor to engineering and the Industrial Revolution has no monument in Dartford, and that the Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel does not have some form of commemoration for the great man, whose last months were spent as a lodger there.


The photo above was sent to me recently by a reader; it shows Erith High Street and the old Odeon cinema - (click here to see some photos of the building in its heyday); it was taken back in the spring of 1966, not long before the row of shops was demolished - the giveaway is the name of the film being shown at the cinema. The film "Life at the Top" was released in the UK in March 1966; it was the sequel to the film "Room at the Top". The plot can be summarised as "Joe Lampton thought he had really made it by marrying the boss's daughter in his northern mill town. But he finds he is being sidelined at work and his private life manipulated by his father-in-law. Even so, he ignores an offer of a job in London and keeps away from attractive TV presenter Norah. When he finds his wife is having an affair, he reconsiders on both counts. But can he make it on his own ability down south?" Anyway, the photo is pretty precisely dated, and may be one of the last taken before demolition began. No building in the photo is still standing, though the Odeon did survive the demolition ball at least until 1999, when it was demolished to make way for a block of flats and offices.

I get some very positive reader feedback regarding the articles I post on old technology; the recent piece on Capacitance Electronic Disk (CED) analogue video disks went down particularly well. This week I have a piece on a radio technology that was never deployed in the UK, but was very popular in parts of the world, and is still in somewhat limited use today. AM Stereo broadcasting was a technology that enabled (relatively) high quality stereo broadcasts on the Medium Wave band, instead of the usual low fidelity mono audio that is transmitted by a conventional AM system. AM Stereo is a term given to a series of mutually incompatible techniques for wireless radio broadcasting stereo audio in the AM band in a manner that is compatible with standard AM receivers. There are two main classes of systems: independent sideband (ISB) systems, promoted principally by American broadcast engineer Leonard R. Kahn; and quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) multiplexing systems (conceptually closer to FM stereo). Initially adopted by many commercial AM broadcasters in the mid to late 1980s, AM Stereo broadcasting soon began to decline due to a lack of receivers (most "AM/FM stereo" radios only receive in stereo on FM), a growing exodus of music broadcasters to FM and / or DAB, concentration of ownership of the few remaining stations in the hands of large corporations and the removal of music from AM stations in favour of news/talk or sports broadcasting. By 2001, most of the former AM Stereo broadcasters were no longer stereo or had left the AM band entirely. In the UK, the only station which planned to use AM Stereo was the ill - fated Stereo Hits 531 (or Stereo Hits 576) in the late 1980's. This was a planned offshore radio station which never actually got beyond a short test transmission. The station was based on a former freighter, the M.V Nannell; The name Nannell was chosen in honour of a senior lady in the owners family - Nellie, who was known to her many grandchildren as Nan Nell. Harvey Metals sold the MV Nannell to Worldwide Broadcasting Corporation during a voyage from Southampton to Spain. In February 1986 the MV Nannell sailed from Southampton to her home port of Santander via Gijon. The vessel was taken to the Alantico shipyard to be converted into a radio ship. The British Government put pressure on Spain to prevent further conversion work taking place. Spain demanded that the work should stop and insisted that, since the MV Nannell was a Honduran ship it should also have a Honduran licence for radio broadcasts. In March the MV Nannell left the Atlantico shipyard stating her destination as Oran, Algeria, however the ship had stayed without completing advice from professionals that the 240 feet tall antenna mast be fully stayed. Within a few miles of the coast it hit huge 'Bay of Biscay' rolling waves, the ship pitched, rolled one way - and the mast collapsed and had to be cut free. Minus the antenna system, instead of Algeria, the ship sailed for France. At the end of April new backers had been found and the MV Nannell sailed back to Santander under a different flag with all the correct paperwork. More financial problems slowed the project down. By June 1989 the MV Nannell was anchored off the Belgian coast, but some months later, it headed for Portsmouth harbour. In 1990 the owners of the ship decided to scrap the ship, which had now been renamed Mia Migo in the meantime. In September the Mia Migo was scrapped In Zeebr├╝gge (Belgium). Thus AM Stereo broadcasting in the UK ended before it had even really begun. You can see some period photos of the M.V Nannell being converted into a radio ship by clicking here.


Back in September of last year, I reported a very strange experience I had undergone, and I asked if any reader had seen the same thing as me; I was quite surprised to only get one positive response from a lady in New Eltham. At about 8.30pm on the evening of Monday the 21st September, I was returning home to Pewty Acres after an evening shopping trip to the Morrison’s supermarket in James Watt Way, Erith. As many will know, the supermarket is located on the banks of the River Thames, which you can see in the photo above - click on it for a larger view. As I walked home across Morrison’s car park, I looked out over the river. Normally one can see ships moving up or down river, or aircraft coming in to land at London City Airport. This time I saw something which immediately grabbed my attention. I saw a total of eighteen (and yes, I did count) balls of bright light in the sky, travelling at what appeared to be several hundred miles an hour eastwards, away from London. Each ball of light was roughly the same orange colour of a sodium street light, and they were arranged in formations of three, in a chevron pattern. They appeared to be following the course of the river, and they travelled silently. I also saw much higher up a passenger plane making a descent to London City Airport. I watched the formation of lights for around two minutes as they travelled from horizon to horizon. I could hear no engine sounds from the lights (although I could hear the jet engine sounds from the passenger jet travelling in the opposite direction).  Normally if I saw an orange light moving in the sky, I would immediately identify it as a Chinese sky lantern, but these lights were travelling in formation, were far too bright to be lanterns, and were travelling far too quickly to have been blown by the wind (which in any case was blowing in nearly the opposite direction).  I have absolutely no idea what the lights were, but I am certain that many other people must have seen them as well. I am really surprised not to have seen any mention of this puzzling event on the local or regional press; I assumed that thousands of other people must have seen what I saw. Did you see the lights too?  I am surprised that I did not get more of a response when I originally posted this account. Do let me know if you saw the same thing – drop a line to me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.  

As a one - off feature, I print below an original recipe which I created a couple of years ago, and make regularly. If you like curry from an Indian restaurant, I reckon you will like this - it is similar to Garlic Chilli Chicken, but is far healthier for you, and has tons of delicious vegetables in it. Feel free to alter the quantity of spices to make a milder or hotter dish, but I would recommend that you keep the proportions the same, in order to maintain the unique fresh and light flavour.

Hugh's Chicken A La Belvedere Curry Recipe.

Ingredients.

1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 small green chilli – finely chopped.
1 green capsicum pepper (sliced)
6 -7 cloves fresh garlic, crushed then finely diced
Large piece of root ginger, peeled and grated
1 vegetable stock pot
1 tablespoon vegetable / corn oil
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
Small bag of washed baby spinach leaves
Half a punnet of chestnut mushrooms, sliced
Two skinned, boned and sliced chicken breasts (optional – omit for a vegetarian curry)
1 teaspoon of hot chilli powder
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
1 teaspoon hot Madras curry powder
2 teaspoons of ground cumin powder
1 teaspoon of ground coriander powder
1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 bunch of fresh coriander leaves

Method.

Makes enough for two large / three medium portions. Fry off the onion, garlic, chopped fresh chilli pepper, and ginger in the vegetable / corn oil in a large pan or Wok until the onion goes translucent and the garlic, chilli  and ginger soften. Then add all of the dry spices and fry for a few minutes – if the ingredients are too dry, add a little water to loosen the mixture. Then add the chopped tomato and the tomato puree, the stock pot and stir for ten minutes until a thick and spicy gravy is formed – a little additional water may be required. Then add the sliced chicken breast; when this has cooked through and changed colour, add the chopped mushrooms and the sliced bell pepper. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes until all are soft. Add the spinach and half of the fresh coriander leaves, and cook for another 5-7 minutes as the spinach wilts down and melts into the curry gravy. Keep stirring the mix in the pan to stop it from burning. Serve with boiled basmati rice and the rest of the chopped coriander leaf served as a garnish. The curry is a healthy, light, medium hot dish – please feel to experiment with the ingredients, and let me know what you think. If you would like a PDF copy of the recipe, drop me a line, and I will Email it to you.

The end video this week features aerial drone footage taken over the River Thames at Erith, showing Erith Pier (the longest pier on the River Thames, and a much overlooked summer tourist attraction) along with Morrison's supermarket. By the looks of things, the video was shot very early on a summer morning, as so few people are visible on the ground, and the supermarket car park is almost empty.

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