Sunday, January 17, 2016

Our Erith exhibition.

The two photos above show Erith railway station; the upper photo shows what it looks like nowadays, and the lower photo (courtesy of photographer Tom Burnham) was taken back in the Spring of 1970. It is immediately obvious that the building has changed remarkably over the time period, and in my opinion it looks far better nowadays than it did back then. I believe that the way the station looks now is pretty close to what it originally looked like when it was built back in 1849. The structure on the front (to the right) in the 1970 photo appears to be a "goods in" depot for freight - I know that historically the station used to have a small branch line and an extra mini platform for the loading and unloading of sheep, pigs and coal, amongst other commodities. By 1970 this kind of freight was long in the past, and newsprint was the main load, though commuting into and out of London was very much on the increase - the days of most Erith residents working locally was decreasing. The focus of the station was already moving away from freight and onto catering for daily commuters instead. The station now is host to around 2,500 passengers every weekday - somewhat less at weekends.

Southeastern trains have taken yet another hammering this week; they made the BBC National News on Tuesday morning, when they used the incredibly weak excuse that the sunlight was too bright for drivers to see the signals outside of Lewisham station. This compounded problems elsewhere. Less than two years after a serious landslip happened – and after which Southeastern said “lessons have been learned”, another landslip happened on Monday night / the early hours of Tuesday morning at Barnehurst station - this was followed by a second landslip on Thursday. From my understanding, a series of ground reinforcement ties were deployed to strengthen the high earth banks after the last landslip, but for some reason the bank collapsed onto the rail track, blocking the line, and meaning that no trains were able to run on the Bexleyheath line for all of Tuesday. I concede that the problem is quite complex, with a number of conflicting requirements. During the summer, the trees and bushes along the sides of the track have to be cut back to keep up visibility levels, and to reduce the risk of fire. In the autumn the foliage is also cut back or weed – killered to try and stop the “leaves on the line” problem all rail travellers are acutely familiar with. Conversely the tree and bush roots act as anchors, holding the railway cutting soil in place when it rains. Totally removing the vegetation would be a really bad move – on both the Bexleyheath and the Greenwich lines, much of the route is through cuttings or tunnels, and land slips would be even more common The News Shopper have reported that Bexleyheath and Crayford MP David Evennett has written to Southeastern, complaining about the situation. He said:- “I have written to Network Rail to complaint about the lack of information and action, given that this occurred nearly twelve hours ago. I have also raised concerns about this not being an isolated incident as a landslide occurred two years ago. I have asked what action was taken to prevent another landslide and whether a trackside safety assessment had been carried out before last night." I doubt his letter will make much of a difference. To rub salt into the wound, the News Shopper have also reported that people are criticising Southeastern after the company's yearly accounts revealed a £20 million profit, despite the train operator's poor ranking in customer satisfaction. That figure is an increase of just over £10 million on the previous financial year, according to records filed just days before Christmas.  But despite the jump in revenue, Southeastern ranked second to last train company in London in the Which? 2015 consumer satisfaction guide. Back in December rail minister Claire Perry pledged to sit down with local MPs in the new year to review Southeastern's performance.  She also warned that the rail company could face fines of up to £4 million if it fails to meet targets for stations, train services and customer services. If this was not enough, a petition that demands the stripping of the railway franchise for Southeastern has been launched, and in the short time since it was started has gathered more than half of the signatures needed for a government response. “Remove the rail franchise from South Eastern” was started up earlier this month, and has already collected more than 7,000 signatures. For the government to respond to a petition, it needs 10,000 signatures, and for a debate in parliament, 100,000 signatures are needed. Alongside the petition a statement reads: “Southeastern consistently let down their paying customers, cancelling trains strategically so they don’t have to pay refunds, whilst making £12.8m in profit. Their customer service is beyond useless and the people of the South East have suffered for long enough;" Another rail related story has also been doing the rounds over the last few days; Pressure is mounting on the government to extend Crossrail (C2G) from Abbey Wood to Gravesend, as originally planned. Crossrail 1 was originally supposed to run to Hoo Junction, near Higham and the Shorne Marshes. The Ebbsfleet Development Corporation (EDC), Boris Johnson, Thames Gateway Kent Partnership and Bexley, Dartford, Gravesham and Kent County councils joined forces to put forward a case on Friday January 8th for the high speed rail line's extension into Kent. This would also service the huge London Paramount theme park that is planned for the 872 acre site on the Swanscombe peninsula, construction of which is due to begin in the autumn.  Bexley Council leader Teresa O'Neill (someone with whom I rarely agree) said "The existing North Kent Line will not support the growth we aspire to deliver. More capacity is needed beyond what can be provided within the Southeastern train franchise or by Transport for London taking over the Kent Metro services. Growth on this scale requires better connectivity to meet future demand. Bexley and North Kent are uniquely located between the capital, channel ports and less than an hour from major airports. Extending Crossrail 1 presents a real opportunity and we look forward to discussing this further with the Commission." A decision on the matter is due to be reached on February the 13th. More on this story in the weeks to come. 
Further to my article last week regarding the wind - down of AM (Medium Wave) radio in Europe, I got a very interesting and indeed thought provoking Email from my former boss, Peter Moore, the station manager at Radio Caroline. This is what he wrote:- "I would like to contribute my views on DAB Radio. I was interested to read your comments about the rolling close down of AM ( Medium Wave ) radio. This system still works as well as it ever did if transmitted with sufficient power to overcome interference that power lines and electrical devices create. The promotion of DAB radio is another example of how Governments nudge us towards things we neither want nor need, using mostly spurious arguments. It is true that many years ago, there was insufficient choice in radio listening as the BBC had a legal monopoly and provided programmes that they thought the population should have and not the programmes they wanted. As long ago as the thirties, the population tuned en masse to overseas stations providing light entertainment and music. This is why radio sets of the thirties show Radio Normandie, Luxembourg and Hilversum. The reaction of the BBC was not to amend their programmes to compete, but to use every means possible to cause their rivals to close down. The same happened with the upheaval caused by Sixties pirate stations at sea. The Government response was to legislate them out of existence. During the Seventies, privately owned stations started to be permitted, first for major cities than regions, then smaller local stations and the BBC, fearing they were being sidelined, demanded they should have local stations also. FM, which uses a different technical system was particularly suited to local radio and as time passed The Radio Authority, which became Ofcom now wanted to licence as many stations as could possibly be accommodated and this situation was like gold rush, as getting  a radio frequency to use was almost a licence to print money. Eventually saturation point was reached as each new station was taking a percentage of the audience from existing stations and of course, because there were now many more ways to seek entertainment other than by listening to the radio.  So as stations demanded the right merge with each other in order to survive, it can be assumed that the UK has enough radio now. So when Digital Audio Broadcasting appeared it really had no role and the Industry described it as ' a solution to a problem that does not exist '. It was promoted on the supposedly improved audio quality and Stephen Fry advertised the sound as ' honey dripping from your ears ' but it is not. DAB is fragile in that reception may just cease or be subject to background interference. As the operators of DAB try to add more stations in order to break even, these problems increase and, the DAB we use in the UK has long since been superseded by more modern versions. So behind all the hype, the march of DAB has no merit and continues only because the Government has decreed that it must happen, probably because they want the AM and FM bands back to sell again for other use. But to achieve this, Government must persuade every household in the UK to throw away perfectly serviceable radios and spend money on DAB sets that do not work as well as or provide as much choice as the item they have just junked. The Industry also calls DAB ' dead and buried ' but the powers that be will not let it die. I am sure that few people really wanted wind turbines, but someone somewhere decided that we would have them like it or not and now they blight landscapes while we pay subsidies to support their inefficiency" A very pertinent and insightful view from someone within the broadcasting industry. 

Local MP Teresa Pearce will formally launch on the morning of Monday the 18th January. the “Our Erith” exhibition with a call to local artists, photographers and craft makers to prepare entries for the event in May this year. The “Our Erith” exhibition is being organised by Friends of Christ Church Erith in association with Bexley College and will be held at Christ Church Erith in Victoria Road, Erith from Friday 13 May to Sunday 15 May this year. The Friends of Christ Church Erith and Bexley College believe the local area is alive with artistic talent and would love to see this channelled to celebrate the local area. Budding artists, photographers and those who enjoy craftwork are encouraged to produce an original piece inspired by Erith. This could range from Erith’s history, its landscape, its architecture and its people. Local people of all ages are invited to take part and works will be displayed in the magnificent interior of the church. Entries should be submitted by 30 April and will be returned after the exhibition. Please feel free to attend the launch event at Christ Church Erith on Monday morning at 10am. The event will be covered by the local press, and I will be there with my camera. 

You may have seen the recent press coverage regarding the maximum levels of alcohol consumption recommended by the government. Technology website The Register have reported that the government’s chief advisor on health ignored more than eighty studies to produce her new Puritanical guidelines on the consumption of alcohol – which asks Britons to forego their weekend drink. Civil servant Dame Sally Davies has drawn up the lowest recommendations in the West: there is no “safe drinking level”, her team declared. The question is what justification was used to get there? The answer isn’t pretty for “evidence based” policy. Repeated studies have shown that alcohol in moderation prolongs life: it reduces the risk of heart disease and strokes. In fact the benefits of alcohol in preventing strokes and heart disease are far clearer than the negatives of drinking. "Four out of five cohort studies showed statistically significant reduction of all causes of mortality between 15 per cent and 25 per cent for moderate drinking,” notes one meta study, with moderate drinking defined as men who drink about three pints a day and women who have two glasses of wine a day. If three pints a night sounds a lot today, then that’s because of the almost imperceptible ratchet effect that public health policy has had in distorting risk. The guidelines in the 1960s, Christopher Snowdon points out, declared that a bottle of wine a day was fine. The natural conclusion of the health policy is that all alcohol is unsafe – which is the caveat added to today’s new guidelines. The proposed guidelines – you have until April to complain about them – focus heavily on a cancer scare. It is an argument that we have heard before. In fact, neither the cancer scare nor the “unsafe at any level” recommendation have any scientific justification. As Snowdon finds, Davies ignored over eighty studies and meta studies showing the same J-curve of risk. If you drink nothing, you are at greater risk of heart disease, strokes and living a shorter life than a drinker. The health risk falls for moderate alcohol consumption, with optimal consumption of around 20g (two pints a day), then rises for heavy drinkers. Instead, as Davies isolated, some highly selective statistical methods were used instead. Compare the error bars to the data point. One is bigger than the other. Yet even here, the researchers found a relative risk of below 1.0 for almost all groups. Davies simply threw out the evidence that didn’t fit what she wanted to say (i.e. almost all of it) and highlighted the evidence that did. As Snowdon shrewdly observes, the alcohol guidelines aren’t written for the public, which will simply ignore them, but serve a different purpose. They’re intended to show the public health lobby how “virtuous” the government is. It is virtue signalling – the UK can show the world that it is the most moral group in the room. Just as it is the most moral at “fighting climate change”, “being digital” or spending money on foreign aid. Some or all of these things may not matter to you – but they matter to bureaucrats and diplomats when they meet on a junket. If you’re wondering who pays for this mini-industry of Puritans, then you do not have to look far, as I discovered in 2012 by examining the history of a Victorian society which began life in 1852 as the “United Kingdom Alliance to Procure the Total and Immediate Legislative Suppression of the Traffic in All Intoxicating Liquors”. It’s still going, only now it’s called the Alliance House Foundation, or AHF. The AHF funds the Institute for Alcohol Studies, which is giddy with excitement today – but wants the cancer scare to be amplified. The largest funder of the AHF is the European Union. In other words, it’s you and I as tax payers. Feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

Any residents or regular visitors to Erith will well know that the town gets especially busy on Friday afternoons; road traffic through to the Dartford Tunnel and along Bronze Age Way from the South Circular often grinds to a halt due to the sheer volume of vehicles. I usually work from home on Fridays (my "day job" involves working with technology, and means that most of the time, it is not actually important where I am physically located). The traffic outside Pewty Acres is almost always gridlocked for a couple of hours at minimum on Fridays. This may all get quite a bit worse shortly. Road works are shortly to begin on North End Road to open up a new opening in the central reservation and build two new signal controlled crossings. Work will take place at the junctions at Bridge Road and at Colyers Lane. During the works, starting on February 8, the road will be reduced from a dual carriageway to single lane traffic at various stages, with 30 mph speed restrictions in place. Businesses and residents were consulted on the work in October last year, with a letter sent out to businesses in advance of the works, though from my information is that many people are still unaware of the extensive and disruptive works that will be taking place. The Bexley Times report that Alex Sawyer, Cabinet Member for Traffic and Transport, said: “In recent years there has been significant growth in the area and the amount of new homes means that the number of road users has increased. The increase in housing is set to continue and we need to support this regeneration and ensure that the area is accessible in the future, by investing in road improvements now. Public transport is critical. Bus services in Slade Green and in Colyers Lane will improve and become more reliable as a result of the work. Unfortunately this does mean that, during the improvement work, there will be traffic congestion and those who use Northend Road should allow more time for their journeys. We apologise for the short-term inconvenience, but the works will improve the flow of traffic in the longer term".

Seasoned Maggot Sandwich readers will be familiar with my attitude towards what some journalists refer to as “The Internet of Things” – the current vogue for making every possible domestic device “smart” and connected to the Internet. It started off with Samsung and their “smart” fridge with a built in OLED video display, and Apple with their widely reported range of watches (which, incidentally have been quite successful with male customers, but not that big a hit with women – more of this in the future). Now a new smart device has been created. Security researchers have discovered a glaring security hole that exposes the home network password of users of a Wi-Fi-enabled video doorbell (yes, you did read that correctly). The issue – now resolved – underlines how default configurations of “Internet of Things” components can introduce easy to exploit security holes. The smart doorbell, called The Ring allows users to answer people knocking on their door from their mobile phone or web enabled tablet device, even when they are not at home. The kit acts as a CCTV camera, automatically activating if people approach the door, letting homeowners talk to visitors, delivery couriers and so on. There is an optional feature that allows the kit to hook up to some smart door locks, so users can let guests into their home even when they aren’t in. IT News website The Register are reporting that there is a serious problem with this system. Security researchers at UK consultancy Pen Test Partners were shocked when they carried out a security evaluation of the device. The major component is the doorbell itself, which comes with electronics and battery and is fitted outside the house. The electronics are connected to a back plate which attaches the doorbell to the wall and can provide power from a mains source. The device is secured outside a house using two commonly available screws, leaving it vulnerable to theft. The supplier - Ring offer a free replacement if the kit is stolen, so homeowners are covered in that scenario (at least). However that’s not the end of the problems with the device. An easy attack makes it all too simple to steal a homeowner's Wi-Fi key. To do this, hackers would need to take the kit off the door mounting, flip it over and press the orange "set up" button. Pressing the setup button puts the doorbell’s wireless module into a setup mode, in which it acts as a Wi-Fi access point.  The doorbell is only secured to its back plate by two standard screws. This means that it is possible for an attacker to gain access to the homeowner’s wireless network by unscrewing the Ring, pressing the setup button and accessing the configuration URL. The configuration URL is simple, so the attack could be pulled off using only a mobile device and a screwdriver. The device could be screwed back on afterwards, all without leaving any visible signs of tampering, Any hacker could walk up to a door fitted with a Ring smart doorbell, unscrew the unit, connect it to a mobile device with a web browser and download the house Wi-Fi password and settings, all without physically needing access to the inside of the house. Carrying out this very straightforward attack, the hacker would have complete control over the house’s wireless network. This may be an extreme situation , but it is a prime example of the law of unintended consequences. I guarantee we will be seeing more of this kind of issue in the very near future.

Regular Maggot Sandwich reader, and occasional contributor Dana Whiffen has written the following piece on the Routemaster bus:- "It is just over 10 years since the red London Routemaster was removed from the fully accessible bus routes across London in December 2005, one of the last Routes to have them was 159 which runs between Marble Arch and Brixton via Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. Original Routemasters (RMs) ran on most routes across London from 1957 and a longer version was later introduced to take more passenger known as(RMLs). A batch of Routemasters were revamped and given new engines prior to 2005 with a view that they would operate for another 10-15 years although this decision was cancelled and only a handful of those reconditioned buses were kept to run our one of the main tourist routes route 15. Of the 2,876 built around 1,200 are still running as preserved buses which show their staying power and how well built they were, some of today’s London bus fleet that were built around the year 2000 are on their last legs and due to be replaced by newer buses. The RM is an iconic symbol of London and Englishness and is loved by tourists and visitors alike.  Many of the RM’s that are preserved  across the Country, are being used for weddings, private parties and by sightseeing tour operators. Catch it while you can The RM is still running past St. Paul’s Cathedral to the Tower of London on Route 15".

The short end video this week is fascinating. It shows the work of the small group of people who maintain and support London's gas powered street lights; until I saw this mini documentary, I did not realise that certain parts of London are still lit by gas lamps. This film gives an insight into the men and women who keep these historic lanterns working. Feel free to leave a comment below, or alternatively Email me at

1 comment:

  1. Informative and interesting as always! However, your insistence with regard to criticising official government policy, albeit an unhealthy democratic government, (re UK advise on alcohol) will continue the ban on your blog to a billion ardent wine consumers in the People's Republic of China! Drink long and prosperity, comrade.