Sunday, March 06, 2016

The "No Phone" zone.

The photo above shows the Erith Mural. It is located next to the Kassiopi Cove children's soft play centre (what used to be the Blockbuster video hire store) in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre in Colebrook Street. The mural has nine panels depicting scenes inspired by the history of Erith, including the murder of Thomas A Beckett and the reign of Henry the VIII. The mural was designed and built by the artist William Mitchell between 1966 and 1970. The mural is constructed using an artistic technique called "Cloisonne" - which is similar to the production of stained glass windows. The mural was originally located on the side wall of the old Riverside Swimming Pool in Erith High Street, but was moved to its current location in the centre of the town just before the old pool site was demolished. 

Sky have launched their Ultra High Definition 4K satellite receiver, as I previewed a few weeks ago. The Sky Q service costs a not inconsiderable £54 a month for a new subscriber, plus a one – off setup cost of £299. On top of this, if you want Sky Sports there is an additional monthly fee of £27.50, and yet another £17 a month if you want Sky Movies. Totting this all up, it means an initial expenditure of £397.50, followed by a contractually obligated minimum of eighteen months payments of £98.50, which equates to £1773.00 over the duration of the contract.  I think that Sky may well be over – reaching themselves this time. If you were to use Freeview, along with subscriptions to Netflix (£7.49 a month) and Amazon Prime (£79 a year - £6.58 a month), the bill over eighteen months would come to £253.26, a saving of £1818.74 over the cost of Sky Q plus subscription, and the one off joining fee. I know that the content offered will not be quite equivalent – dumping Sky would lose a lot of live sport, but conversely the range of shows available on Amazon Prime and Netflix far outstrips Sky in every way, and on top of this there are no adverts – something that endlessly annoys me with Sky – why pay for a premium service, and still have adverts? Currently the two streaming services don’t offer 4K resolution, but many channels on Sky Q will still be in either HD or SD resolution, so it would not be the loss it might initially appear. I understand that Sky is already losing customers to their standard HD service due to viewers switching to the cheaper and better content services offered by both Amazon Prime and Netflix. I think that this will only accelerate over time. When Sky launched their original analogue satellite based service back in February 1989, there was no broadband infrastructure in the UK (or anywhere for that matter), as the World Wide Web had yet to be invented by Tim Berners – Lee. Satellites were the only economic method of broadcasting to large areas of the planet. Now the use of satellites for broadcasting is soon to go the way of using hot air balloons for air travel – yes you can still do it, but why would you bother? Fibre optic broadband is the way forward. Mark my words, the age of Sky using hugely expensive satellites to broadcast will soon be at an end; they will either change their operating model and switch to online, or they will slowly die. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

After the very unusual publishing of the last Maggot Sandwich update on Saturday, rather than Sunday last week, a couple of readers have asked me how I go about writing each update. The process normally begins as soon as the last edition “goes to press” at around 1pm on each Sunday afternoon. I keep notes of stories that may have relevance or interest to readers, and I keep a list of ideas written on a notepad; the actual content gets written gradually over the course of the week. I get the impression that some readers think I sit down and write the whole thing on Sunday morning, but nothing could be further from the case. What happens on Sunday morning is that I edit together all of the little scraps I have written during the week into what I hope is a readable and entertaining form. I add the active web links (a chore which takes well over an hour in itself), and I also run some final sense checks, including checking that any submitted content from a third party or guest writer does not break any rules of taste or copyright. Last week I had a rare failure in this respect – partly I think because of the rush to get the update “out of the door” on Saturday. I would like to apologise to Andy Doran as it is clear that I inadvertently used text from what I later found out was on his website. I get sent stories from all number of sources – P.R companies (more on them later) volunteer organisations, Maggot Sandwich readers and a number of trusted sources that wish to be anonymous. I had been sent a Word document with a well – written piece on the history of Mobo Toys from someone who has sent me stories before;  they declined to be a guest author, so I just grabbed the text from the file and uploaded it into Blogger. It turned out my source, or someone who passed it to her had scraped the text almost word for word from the D and S pedal car restoration website. My error was in not checking this before publication; my only defence is that I was in a hurry to get the update published a day early, and in doing so I skipped the “due diligence” I normally carry out.  I know what it is like to be plagiarised; a certain local paper (now no longer in publication) used to semi regularly nick not only my stories, but my photos too. So I can well understand the feeling this generates.

The photo above was taken by Richard of the Thamesmead Grump blog, when we met at the Bexley History Fair at Hall Place last Sunday. I am seated in the photo, talking to a visitor about the Friends of Christ Church Erith, of which I am a committee member. The event went well, but it has to be said that Hall Place was bitterly cold; even though the Friends stand was located next to a very underpowered radiator, which felt like it was possibly the only (barely) working one in the building. Thanks to the number of Maggot Sandwich readers who came over to say "hello" and to introduce themselves. If you would like to learn more about the Friends of Christ Church Erith, click here, and to learn more about our forthcoming "Our Erith" art exhibition, you should click here.

On Wednesday morning I was standing on the London – bound platform of Erith station when the automated announcement heralding the arrival of the next train stated “this service will comprise of four carriages”. For a moment I thought that I had heard incorrectly , but when the train turned up it was indeed composed of only four carriages – half the normal length. I got on, and when the train arrived at Belvedere, the driver came on the public address system, and announced that the trains was now going to travel non – stop to London Bridge station. About two thirds of the passengers, myself included then got off and waited on the platform at Belvedere Station. An announcement which had many passengers scratching their heads in disbelief “The next London bound train is cancelled due to greater than normal passenger numbers”. Eventually a very crowded train turned up, and I was then able to travel to Greenwich to pick up my connection via the DLR to Canary Wharf and the office. If this was not bad enough, on Thursday afternoon I had to wait over forty minutes for a train from Greenwich back to Erith, when there is meant to be one every ten minutes. There were a fairly large number of very inconvenienced and annoyed people. Southeastern Trains and Network Rail need to share the blame. The News Shopper has been giving them a hard time, as have several local MP's - with very good cause in my opinion. Teresa Pearce said "I have just one train line running through my constituency, two tracks, three stations, one train rail line, what could go wrong? Well, Southeastern could go wrong. Before Southeastern we had Connex and Connex was terrible and we thought Southeastern would be better and we were wrong. I have a real appreciation of the frustration of the what it’s like to stand on a platform in the certain knowledge of the uncertainty of the train service.” In the same News Shopper interview, Jim Dowd, MP for Lewisham West and Penge, said: “I join in the general wailing and gnashing of teeth about the service that is is allegedly provided by Southeastern, it’s not unreasonable to expect a reasonable service particularly in light of the amount of money they pay. I wish though Southeastern would put as much effort into running the trains on time as they do into providing some of the excuses for why they don’t.” Well said that man! More on Southeastern and their continual delays and cancellations later. 

There has been extensive coverage in the press this week as to how the major betting companies, and Paddy Power in particular have been exploiting vulnerable “high stakes” gamblers. Much of the problem with these high spending, big losers is not down to traditional bets placed on horses, dogs or football, but is instead due to an addiction to fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT), these are a kind of electronic gambling machine, with far higher odds than the traditional “one armed bandit”. A recent report makes for extremely troubling reading; it reveals that in the 55 most deprived boroughs in the UK – overwhelmingly located in Northern cities and urban Greater London have a  total of 2,691 bookmakers shops, in which £13 billion was gambled on FOBT machines, and £470 million lost by gamblers in the last year alone. In the same time period, there were 1,258 bookmakers shops in the 115 wealthiest areas, adjusted to cover the same volume of population, within which players gambled a total of £6.5 billion, losing £231 million.  The report was commissioned by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, and shows that the large betting companies have targeted the poorest areas that have the highest unemployment, lowest per capita income and higher crime rates. The last year has also seen a large increase in the number of high street betting shops, mainly due to the leap in the total number of FOBT machines, such as digital roulette in use. In December 2013 there was a total of 9,343 active betting shop licences in the entire United Kingdom, which was an increase of 280 since 2012. The most deprived town council in the UK was identified as being Liverpool. A total of £118 million was gambled in 570 machines, and £23 million was siphoned off by bookmakers in the process. In the same time scale, the place voted as the most desirable place to live in the UK – the Hart district of Hampshire there are just seven betting shops with a total of 24 Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. Liverpool council have understandably got very worried by the figures, and are now keen to place strong control measures on the betting shop operators. The problem with FOBT machines is that large amounts of money can be spent on the machines very quickly, and losses can mount up almost before the gambler realises. A hundred pounds can be lost in no more than thirty seconds. Nick Small, of Liverpool City Council said of the situation “millions of pounds that should be used for paying for food and rent was being sucked into the FOBT machines. Bookies are arriving all the time into prime retail locations. This is all driven for FOBTs. I have no doubt of it. We are seeing horrific reports of family breakdown caused by gambling debts, problems with loan sharks. We are pretty sure organised crime is using the machines to launder money. It's out of control in a city like ours, where there are a lot of poorer people”.  The same situation exists all around the UK, with poorer areas – just like Erith, being hit far harder than wealthier regions. Industry observers have commented that one way to reduce the problem specific to FOBT machines would be to limit the maximum stake gambled to £2 – like ordinary one armed bandit machines, and to limit the maximum pay out to £100. The gambling industry is not keen on this approach, for obvious reasons. To add to this, the Government are now showing an interest, as the subject is gaining column inches in the press now - despite the Government deciding not to place limits on the payouts of FOBT machines when it debated the issue last Summer. The issue has been ongoing for a number of years now, with little interest from the press. This would now appear to be changing, mainly due to a shocking story that was widely reported earlier this week. Bookmaker Paddy Power encouraged a problem gambler to keep betting until he lost five jobs, his home and access to his children, according to a report by the Gambling Commission. The company also failed to perform sufficient checks to ensure customers were not using its betting machines to launder the proceeds of crime. The betting regulators said that Paddy Power would make a voluntary payment of £310,000 to a “socially responsible” cause following its findings. Paddy Power will also be forced to review procedures designed to prevent money laundering and problem gambling and agree to share details of its own failings with the rest of the industry. In one case, Paddy Power admitted that senior staff encouraged a man with a gambling problem to keep betting despite warnings by more junior employees. The man  was a frequent user of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), which have been referred to as the “crack cocaine” of gambling. The machines allow customers to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds on games such as roulette and blackjack, for which the odds are fixed. In May 2014, Paddy Power staff became aware that the anonymous man was working at five separate jobs to fund his gambling and “had no money”, the Gambling Commission said. Although he claimed to be comfortable with his level of gambling, shop staff passed their concerns up the chain to senior staff, who advised monitoring him. Later that month, the shop manager informed a more senior member of staff that the man would be visiting the shop less frequently. The senior employee responded by advising that “steps should be taken to try to increase the customer visits and time spent in the gambling premises”. All of the large gambling chains have signed up to responsible gambling initiatives, and it would appear that in many cases, shop staff have indeed reported customers who seemed to be gambling larger amounts than they could afford, or coming into the betting shop more frequently than normal, but it would seem that senior management have been culturally inclined to ignore these reports in order to keep their profits up. It has also recently come to light that fixed odds betting terminals are being used by criminals to launder illegally acquired cash. Criminals can use games such as roulette to launder money at a small cost. For instance, someone with £100 in cash could place £48 on black, £48 on red and £2 on green, or 0. The maximum they could lose would be £4, at which point they could ask a bookmaker to put the remaining £96 on their debit card. The money would then appear as a legitimate payment from a bookmaker, hiding the fact that it could have been cash from a criminal enterprise. The Gambling Commission said that in August 2014, a shop manager suspected that a woman they called Customer B, a longstanding user of Paddy Power shops, was using gambling facilities to launder Scottish bank notes. The manager related their suspicions to more senior members of staff on four occasions over six months. But senior staff “repeatedly overruled” the shop manager, saying that as the notes were British currency and were not stained or counterfeit, it was unlikely that the money was being laundered. None of the suspicions were reported to the company’s money laundering reporting officer. Paddy Power only barred the customer after police raised fears that Scottish banknotes that were the proceeds of crime were being laundered in London. Subsequent checks revealed the customer could not validate ownership of a business she claimed to belong to her. The company initially told the Gambling Commission it had followed its money laundering policy but later admitted it had not dealt with its staff members’ suspicions properly. Now that this information is in the public domain, attitudes towards the big betting companies may now begin to change. At least they are very visible on many high streets, whereas online gambling is far less high profile and anonymous. Personally I have no interest in any form of gambling, but it would appear to be a large number of people do, and the line between “fun” betting and addiction would seem to be a very fine one. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

You may recall I recently covered the story concerning the very sudden closure of the Paper Moon in Dartford, and the (unsuccessful) campaign to keep the popular venue open. Pub owner Wetherspoon’s are undergoing a campaign to close down unprofitable pubs, and then open new pubs in areas where new business is thought to be located. Generally I am pretty ambivalent when discussions turn to Wetherspoon’s pubs – in general I find them a bit formulaic and samey, albeit with a good selection of reasonably priced real ales and not bad food. I very much prefer traditional pubs, but I can understand the attraction of a chain where reliability and predictability are key. I visited the newly refurbished New Cross Turnpike in Bellegrove Road, Welling last Saturday. The place has not long been reopened following an extensive refurbishment after being gutted by an accidental fire last August. I have to say that I was very impressed by the place. The refurbishment included some architectural redesigns within the building, as well as the use of higher quality materials than before. The pub is still on two levels (something that the serving staff must hate, as meals have to be taken upstairs to customers on the upper level by hand). I am very surprised that the designers / architects did not think to include a “dumb waiter”. The place is light and airy, with lots of glass, but the pub does suffer the problem so very common with Wetherspoon’s in general – the toilets are a very long way from the public areas, involving somewhat of a route march. I get the feeling that after a couple of shandies, by the time you make it back to the bar from the bogs, it would be time to go to the loo again. Having said that, I was very impressed – the place is clean and well run, with well – trained, helpful and attentive staff; the food was very good, and reasonably priced, and this obviously reflects well with the customers. By 12.30 on Saturday lunchtime, both the upper and lower floors were heaving with people, many of whom were ordering food as well as drinks. It may have helped that Welling United were playing at home later in the afternoon, but the diversity of the crowd suggested that many of the visitors were not there for a pre – match drink. It was certainly busy. I think that Wetherspoon’s have a lot they could teach Marston’s – the pub company / brewer who own and operate the Morgan in Clydesdale Road, Lower Belvedere. The Morgan is a pub / restaurant in a similar vein to Wetherspoon’s, and has been open for roughly a year. I have visited the place three times recently, and had cause to complain on two of the visits. I recently wrote to the manager saying “I thought it best to bring  a few observations concerning staff training and service levels to your attention in respect of a visit this lunchtime. A group of five people including myself visited the Morgan at 12.30pm this afternoon; we were seated at table 24. My friend ordered a pot of tea - when it was delivered, it was evident that the cup had not been properly washed up. The lady who served the tea had to sort through three other cups in order to find one that was acceptably clean. When this was delivered it too was found to be dirty, and a fourth replacement had to be sourced. This is unacceptable. Cleaning standards need to be improved.  Secondly, when the same friend went to the bar to place a drinks order, she was acknowledged by the server (a lady with a badge name of "Aeron") but when further customers approached the bar, my friend was ignored in preference of the new customers. The fact that my good friend is a British African lady made the situation look racist. At the very least it was an extremely unprofessional way to treat a paying guest. On top of this, "Aeron" opened a bottle of blackcurrant cordial, dropped the lid on the floor, then immediately replaced it on the bottle, in contravention of Health and Safety regulations.  Two of my group of five opted for the carvery meal - it was evident that the meat had been reheated and was dry and tough , and the mashed potato was made from an instant potato mix - again not acceptable at a Marston's restaurant  - you have a reputation for quality which was not met on this occasion. It is apparent that there are insufficient staff available for main service at the location - most of the staff are helpful, if not very well trained - as you may recall, I contacted you three months ago, after being double charged for a meal, which you agreed was an error, but have not still not refunded. The Morgan could be very good and a real asset to the local community, but a lack of training, and some poor quality staff do not help matters”. I got a very vague and slopey shouldered reply from the Morgan Management, which I won’t publish here, but suffice to say it did little to allay my concerns. It shows that two very similar enterprises, only separated by a few miles can have completely different approaches to customer service, and in my eyes Wetherspoon’s is easily the winner. Have you experienced something similar, or have you had excellent service in the Morgan? I would love to revisit and give it a glowing report, as it could be excellent with a few changes to the way it is run. At present however, it barely scrapes a three out of five, whereas the New Cross Turnpike gets a solid four and a half out of five. The benchmark for pub hospitality and service is set by the family run freehouse The Robin Hood and Little John in Lion Road Bexleyheath. It is the only hostelry in the borough to get the Arthur Pewty five stars of excellence award.

As I mentioned last week, I get all sorts of promotional junk sent to me by public relations companies, most of which gets read and binned by me. On Tuesday I received a message which I thought might well be of interest to some readers, especially bearing in mind that today is Mothering Sunday, and my previous experiences above relating to pub eating that I have just recounted. On top of this it mirrors my very own well - publicised antipathy towards mobile phones. See what you think:- "The introduction of the smoking ban saw an end to restaurants being split into smoking and non-smoking areas but this Sunday, Beefeater are introducing a new kind of dining segregation - a 'No Phone Zone'. Launched to coincide with Mother's Day, Britain's best-known steak restaurant has taken the bold step to create 'phone free' areas in response to research that outlines behaviour that can ruin family outings. Top of the table on the list of family outing-ruiners was 'constantly checking phones at the table', which 54 percent listed as the single most likely occurrence to cause an argument. The second and third most likely argument starters were a family member being underdressed or scruffy for the occasion (28 percent) and family members having earphones constantly plugged in (18 percent). Conversely, 'family conversation' is rated as the single most beneficial aspect of a good day out, with nearly two-thirds of respondents suggesting that just having a nice chat is the best bit of a family outing. Beefeater guests will be able to book a 'No Phone Zone' table for Sunday 6th March and those in the zone will have to hand their mobile phones to staff 'as a deposit' when they arrive. Hawk-eyed Beefeater staff will patrol the 'No Phone Zone' for mobiles and have the right to move guests who do not comply with the new rule. The 'No Phone Zone' will be trialled across sites this weekend, with a view to make the areas permanent if well received by diners. Sarah Tinsley, Head of Marketing for Beefeater said; "There's no denying the huge benefits our smartphones provide us, but there is a time and a place for their use and, especially on Mother's Day, we think we can do without them for an hour or two. Mums don't ask much of us and rarely even let us spend any money on them – so the least we can do is give Mums our undivided attention. "We hope this small adjustment to our setup enables a few more families to add some seasoned conversation to their meal." Beefeater is a British brand that first fired up the grill in 1974 and now has over 140 restaurants nationwide. The combination of great steak, friendly service and relaxed surroundings made Beefeater a big hit in Britain in the 70s, 80s and 90s and today is no different. For bookings please contact your local Beefeater or visit". This could turn into quite a popular move, though I don't for one minute think it is anything other than a publicity stunt for Beefeater, thought up by the P.R company. We already have "quiet" carriages on some long distance train routes - I wonder if "quiet" areas in restaurants will take off in the same way?

The ending video this week is an update from Crossrail, showing the latest construction works being undertaken at Abbey Wood Station. If you watch carefully, during the interview with Nigel Fenn of Crossrail Engineering Management, which seem to have been held over the space of an hour or so on the London bound platform, and then edited together, you can see on the digital display board behind the interviewee that every single train heading towards London is delayed. Not that this has anything to do with Crossrail - it is the responsibility of Southeastern and Network rail, but it does reinforce the impression that Southeastern are a bunch of incompetents.


  1. "Southeastern Trains and Network Rail need to share the blame". Don't let the Department for Transport and Treasury off the hook! Whitehall pull most of the strings - deciding train stock numbers, timetables, fares etc.

    Southeastern wrote to them in June 2015 asking for surplus stock available in late 2016 from Thamesmlink to be allocated to them. They would run on routes out of Victoria freeing up stock to lengthen trains on lines to Charing Cross and Cannon Street. Still no reply from the DfT. They said in January they'd be a decision by March. In the parliamentary debate the minister last week said it was still being looked into.

    It's still not a long term solution as they're 30 years old and only free up more 20-25 year old trains that do not have selective door opening to stop at Woolwich dockyard, but still would offer more resilience to prevent that issue of 4-cars turning up.

    This comes after the DfT failed to give the area more trains in 2006, then when the franchise was extended in 2012, and again in 2014 until 2018. A longer period than pretty much any other London area train franchise.

  2. Regarding your article on Sky TV, I think that a program called "Plex" is available for free download in the UK. It works with your computer using "Apps" In the U.S. a lot of stations are available for free with no commercials, for example, a network program which was shown on day 1 is available on day 2 for free and no adverts. I think a lot af BBC programs are available in the UK but not in the U.S.A. Its free so check it out.