Sunday, February 07, 2016

Crayford Island.

The posters above are as they say, for the forthcoming "Our Erith" art exhibition, being hosted by the Friends of Christ Church, Erith. You can read more about the event, and how you can take part by visiting the "Our Erith" page of the Christ Church website here.

One of the perks of being a moderately well known local blogger is that I do tend to get sent all sorts of press releases and publicity documents before they are made available to the general public. One announcement reached me too late for last week's Maggot Sandwich update. Bexley Council have made a two decisions which will do nothing to increase their popularity with residents. Firstly they have cut the funding to Bexley Youth Services to the tune of a total of £358,000 by the end of March this year, effectively closing down much, if not all of the service. Up to twenty seven Youth Service jobs are at risk. The council claims that the restructure, which will target Bexley’s most vulnerable children - including those with special needs and those caught up in crime - is the right way forward. In the build-up to the announced cuts, an online petition against changing the structure of youth services gained more than two thousand signatures - this seems to have been in vain, as Bexley Council are steam - rollering through the cuts anyway. So much for their motto:- "Listening To You, Working for You".

The News Shopper are reporting the results of an extremely unscientific piece of data analysis that nevertheless sparks some degree of interest:- Bexley has been revealed as the happiest borough to live in London, according to tweets.  Data analysis company Tekja produced a new Twitter study which gave an insight into the capital’s happiest to saddest boroughs.  The data was collected through 50,000 tweets each day and Bexley came out on top – with Lewisham third bottom and Sutton last. The point of a tweet was determined by examining each word against a list of 2,500 English words rated for happiness from -5 (negative) to +5 (positive).  All of the results are being displayed at Somerset House’s Big Bang Data exhibition which runs until February 28. All very interesting, conversation provoking stuff, but it does not really stand up to any kind of rigorous analysis.

Word reaches me that a new shop will shortly be opening in the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. Subway are opening an outlet in the vacant unit opposite the clothing store Blue Inc. I for one welcome the move; of all the “fast food” outlets, Subway offer by far the healthiest food options – and I find their offerings to be very tasty. They certainly will be a credible alternative to the salt, sugar and fat laden stuff sold by KFC and McDonald’s. Subway are far from perfect, but better than many of their competitors. I also understand that Mambocino still intend on taking the large corner unit opposite Argos (shown in the photo above - click on it for a larger view); not only does the very successful coffee shop / informal restaurant need the extra space to expand, but the new unit at the front of the shopping centre has a door that would allow customers to access the restaurant after the main shopping centre gates are closed and locked at 6pm every evening. This is the one issue that has prevented the evening opening of any business in the shopping centre. I understand that Mambocino wish to retain their current daytime premises within the centre, and to expand with an evening opening “sit down” restaurant opposite Argos. I feel that this is a very good idea; at present the only place where one can sit down to a knife and fork meal after 6pm is the cafĂ© in Morrison’s – hardly somewhere you would want to book! I think Mambocino could well be on to a winner. My source informs me that the reason the whole development has taken such a long time is that new power cabling and a full kitchen ventilation system are having to be installed in both the prospective Mambocino corner unit and the smaller unit which will house the Subway franchise. Things are looking up when it comes to eating choice in the town.

Although, as many readers know, I personally detest mobile phones, I am acutely aware that many people run their lives around such devices. Tus I do keep an eye on developments in mobile phone technology. Windows Phone started off life as a promising alternative to Android and iOS five years ago. Microsoft positioned its range of Windows Phone 7 handsets as the true third mobile ecosystem, but it is time to admit it has failed. If a lack of devices from phone makers and even Microsoft itself wasn't enough evidence, the final nail in the coffin hit today. Microsoft only sold 4.5 million Lumia devices in the recent quarter, compared to ten point five million at the same time last year. That's a massive fifty seven percent drop. Even a fifty seven percent increase wouldn't be enough to save Windows Phone right now. Microsoft and Nokia have sold a total of 110 million Windows Phones compared to four point five billion iOS and Android phones in the same period. With Lumia sales on the decline and Microsoft's plan to not produce a large amount of handsets, it's clear we're witnessing the end of Windows Phone. Rumours suggest Microsoft is developing a Surface Phone, but it has to make it to the market first. Windows Phone has long been in decline and its app situation is only getting worse. With a lack of hardware, lack of sales, and less than two percent market share, it is time to call it: Windows Phone is dead. Real Windows on phones might become a thing with Continuum eventually, but Windows Phone as we know it is done. It won't stop Microsoft producing a few handsets every year as a vanity project, but for everyone else it is most certainly the end of the line. I doubt that many people will even notice, to be honest. 

I reported some time ago about the plans that Aldi had to challenge the domination of Sainsbury's in Crayford; news has now been released that the construction of the new Aldi store is now beginning. The new 18,200 sqft supermarket will be the prime focus of the development in Roman Way - which will sit adjacent to the Tower Retail Park, and just over the road from Sainsbury's. You can explore the area in the embedded Google Street View above. There will be 157 parking spaces on the site, and other smaller retail buildings. Planning permission for the store was passed last year, and Aldi hope to open in November. The new store is going to be located on the quaintly named Crayford Island, almost directly opposite the huge Sainsbury's, which I understand was the largest one in the country when it opened; I am unsure if it still holds that title nowadays though. 

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I featured a story about a campaign to raise a petition to the government to remove the rail franchise from Southeastern. It all went quiet for a while, but finally a government response to the petition has now been published.  “The industry is working hard to improve services and we are reforming passenger compensation. We are determined to provide the service passengers expect across the country. We know that some passengers are very frustrated about the performance and the service they receive. We expect Southeastern to continue to work with Network Rail in order to minimise disruption and ensure services improve in 2016. The Department for Transport is closely monitoring the performance of the rail network across London and the South East and operators must inform customers properly when things go wrong. As the Chancellor stated in his Autumn Statement, we are committed to reducing the time threshold for which passengers can claim from 30 minutes to 15 minutes, and the Department is gearing up to reform the compensation arrangements as set out in that commitment.

As part of our robust franchising programme, the current operator of Southeastern is delivering millions of pounds of investment to improve journeys, which includes:
•       New high speed and classic services delivering more than 95,000 extra seats, including 1,000 extra seats on Southeastern’s High Speed services every day
•       Refreshing 112 trains and updating toilets on a further 190 trains as well as improving accessibility by investing over £10 million in the train fleet over the franchise
•       An obligation to improve stations by investing £4.8 million by 31 October 2016 and from January 2015 opening Cannon Street 21 hours a day with additional staff to assist passengers
•       Extra staff will be available at stations as Southeastern have committed to ensuring that its gatelines are staffed for 90% in London and 70% of opening hours.
•       The new £26m Rochester Station completion was opened on 13 December 2015 and forms part of the East Kent Re-signalling programme, an investment of £145m.
•       Strood Station - a £2.6 million project to demolish the current 1960’s style station and replace it with a modern building – Work is due to start in Spring 2016 and to be completed by 2017.
•       A programme to deep clean all Southeastern stations and a programme of station improvement works across the franchise.

Alongside this, our record investment in the railways, and the transformative work which the industry is doing on this part of the network, is essential in building a world-class railway, providing more services and better journeys. We understand that passengers are concerned about performance and the service they receive, however we know that Southeastern are working together with Network Rail in order to minimise disruption and to recover services faster where infrastructure failures occur. We would like this work to continue in order that service improvements continue. Southeastern have been working on their fleet of trains to improve capacity in the Metro area, and the Department for Transport is working with Southeastern to look at whether additional capacity can be introduced in the near term and improve the service for passengers. This Government has long recognised the importance of improving the performance of train operators, and through Network Rail we committed to seeing £38 billion invested in the rail network, and the hugely ambitious infrastructure projects such as Crossrail and HS2, as well the transformation of London Bridge. We closely monitor the performance of both the operators and Network Rail, and incentivise their performance through the Franchise Agreements and Track Access Agreements. Whilst we understand the frustration felt by all constituents affected by any delay, we would like to assure you that the Department for Transport is determined to see further improvements and provide the service that passengers expect". In a very long – winded and bureaucratic way the Department of Transport are in essence telling commuters to get stuffed. This is precisely what I was expecting; the only real light at the end of the tunnel is the news that there is a strong likelihood that the whole Southeastern franchise may be taken over by Transport for London, who have a pretty good track record of turning around failing rail businesses. Time will tell.

In the past there have been rumours (which I have reported) about the forthcoming Crossrail project being extended past its currently planned terminus at Abbey Wood, and extended down to the proposed Paramount London Theme Park. Until now there has been little concrete evidence that anything other than a bit of talk had been going on. This has now changed. The News Shopper have reported that MP for Bexleyheath and Crayford, David Evennett attended a meeting with other local MP’s at number eleven Downing Street last week. The event was to lobby the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne to agree to extend Crossrail down to Ebbsfleet. Evennett said “We have so much potential along the riverside but transport services must be improved and extended. Local rail services are poor and Southeastern has failed to cope with the growth in passenger numbers. The extension of Crossrail could give a huge boost to economic development in our area, together with new housing and business opportunities”. The group were lobbying for extra regeneration in the east of London and along the River Thames with constituencies in south east London, Kent and Essex represented at the meeting. Thus far, no decision has yet been made as to whether an extension will be allowed. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

The Maggot Sandwich has a guest contributor this week; Gary Drew is a well - known radio presenter who broadcasts a weekly show on Laser Hot Hits. Gary is a renowned authority on 1980 's Jazz Funk and Soul music, and he has a very wide background in radio broadcasting. He writes a piece on his take on DAB Radio, following the article recently submitted by Peter Moore, station manager of Radio Caroline. Gary writes:- "It is well known in free radio circles that I am a supporter of DAB and I have been on board with this method of broadcasting since 2005. However despite much banter and teasing from fellow free radio colleagues on laser and friends having a polite dig at me for this I began to take DAB seriously around late 2012. I am aware that early DAB began in the mid 90's with stations being duplicated on DAB in parallel with the analogue versions. In those early days it is true that if you was able to get a good signal (mostly from the national BBC stations) you were able to get decent quality 198 kbps or 256 kbps and mostly stereo or something called joint stereo. I didn't bother purchasing my 1st DAB set until 2003 but I sent it back within just 3 weeks out of disappointment as the signals were weak on my local services and there was lots of burbling and cut outs most of the time. By 2005 the network had improved but a consequence of this was dropping bit rates of many stations and switching to mono in some cases not just to fit more stations onto the multiplexes but also to improve signal quality for those who had purchased earlier radio sets. Back then DAB radios were expensive and I think I paid over £150 in 2005 for my trusty Sony midi system with built in DAB which still works very well to this day. As I knew the framework for DAB was being upgraded albeit slowly, I decided to stick with it and I wasn't bothered about mono or low bit rates as long as I could hear the station I wanted to listen to. The same applies today with me in that the bit rate and mono signals of some stations doesn't really concern me as long as it's out there and I can get it. Your average Joe public would think in much the same way even now.  A serious issue would be if the stations could not be heard or cut out much more often like the old world space radio service which I believe suffered that fate even though it relied on satellites to get a signal. However to be fair, although I never had world space radio myself I did hear reports that when it did work it was okay. I think it was a victim of early technology launching to the masses too early without being developed enough. A proven record of a success story in satellite radio would be Sirius XM in the USA. Anyway back to DAB and over the years many stations that were DAB only (the selling point) with no analogue alternative changed ownership or closed down or were taken over thus not lasting very long. Some of this was to do with investment and running costs or restricted listenership as DAB was still in its infancy in my opinion until at least 2010. By then it seemed that more stations were coming on board and lasting longer, reception was improving and stations became settled in that they would not be moved around on the multiplex as much forcing a retune. However that said I have had to perform 3 re-tunes since October 2015 as the operators of DAB can be a bit ruthless at times by moving a station to a different multiplex sometimes without warning meaning that the station is still on the air but your radio won't find it unless you do a rescan where it has moved frequency within the DAB bandwidth.  In 2009 I bought a Pure Evoke flow wi-fi radio for the internet mainly but also for DAB. This newer radio worked better than the Sony on DAB as the firmware had improved and it is upgradable over the airwaves. I wanted to get all the London stations I could get on FM many years ago but I am out of range where I am so DAB was the answer and having more than one DAB radio was better so in 2011 I bought a Pure One Mi for the kitchen. Now DAB was taking off with more stations being added every few months but it wasn't until around 2012 when I bought a Pure One Classic when the real fun began. It was now possible to record, pause and rewind live radio. The ultimate selling point for DAB was here and I have had many years of success with this radio by setting the timer when I'm away and being able to playback and listen again to my favourite shows. In December last year just a few months ago I learned that DAB+ upgrades were now available for some Pure radios and DAB+ sets were now on sale and affordable in the UK. DAB+ a better version of DAB had already been adopted in most of Europe and stations were (and are) still closing there to go onto the DAB+ platform. Many Medium Wave stations closed on New Years Eve in France and Germany and other countries are following soon. In the UK we are already starting to see medium wave closures  with BBC Radio Bristol due to close on February 18th. There are unconfirmed reports that BBC Radio 5 Live is to go digital only soon as well. I was lucky and managed to get a free upgrade sent to me from Pure for my Pure One Classic mark 2 and Pure Evoke Flow mark 1 but now some people are paying £10 for DAB+ upgrades and these can now be done over the air rather than by plugging the radio into a laptop with a USB cable like I had to do. There is an upgrade for the Pure One Mi but you have to pay and not all radio's will be able to update. Why pay £10 to upgrade? A very good reason is that the new national multiplex is already testing on 11A and some of the stations will be broadcasting in DAB+. A DAB+ test is already going out for engineers and this is moving forward at a pace. I am still a big fan of analogue radio and as a free radio broadcaster and DX'er myself - I get a lot of joy from listening to pirate, clandestine and free radio but in recent years I have found myself not wanting to put up with poor signals on shortwave so I use the Twente SDR in the Netherlands and likewise the noise floor on medium wave is intolerable at times so I would rather find the DAB or online equivalent of a station. FM is okay but limited by local range and national stations require retuning. In most cases RDS or EON on analogue FM will take care of the retuning process especially while driving. Internet and wi fi radio and phone apps are very good but there is some waiting to connect or sometimes there is buffering so DAB is better for me as it's almost as instant as analogue radio, you can get almost everything you get on analogue, you can pause, record and rewind, you can listen to stations out of area in the crystal clear like clear DX and DAB+ is already here and improving and it will not be going away. Small scale DAB multiplexes have started and these are for stations who cannot afford to go onto the DAB platform on their own so they can be privately funded or run as a group of stations. There are 10 near me on one SS multiplex and stations like Radio Caroline and Solar Radio are already on some of the small scale multiplexes but not in all parts of the UK (yet). I am also lucky in that I can get 6 local multiplexes with my nearest 13 miles away and my furthest 50 miles away which only comes in on good days. Sometimes the station ident comes up but with no audio. I would like to thank Hugh for the web space and close by saying - love it or hate it DAB is here to stay. The analogue noise floor will get louder as more people buy electronics and medium wave frequencies will be sold off. Bye for now". Thanks to Gary for that very informative piece; if you have a view on what he says, please leave a comment below, or Email me directly to

Last weekend Erith Model Railway Society held their annual exhibition. One of south east England’s largest shows, it moved to a bigger venue this year at the Longfield Academy, having outgrown previous venues. Over two thousand visitors turned up to look at the model railway layouts. The exhibition encompassed over thirty quality layouts and sale of a range of products including transport books, DVD's and model building kits. You can visit the Erith Model Railway Society website here. The video below shows several layouts taken at last year's exhibition - do give it a watch.

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