Sunday, April 17, 2016

Canary Wars.


The photo above shows the tug, the GPS Avenger moored recently on Erith Pier. As you may already know, Erith Pier is the longest pier on the entire length of the River Thames (Southend Pier does not count, as it is judged to be on the Estuary, rather than on the Thames itself). The pier is of a rather unusual design, being of a “Dog – Leg” arrangement, with the longest part of the pier running parallel with the shore. The reason for this was that historically the pier was used for industrial purposes when the area now occupied by the large Morrison’s supermarket was a large deep water shipping wharf.  One of the main products handled by the pier and the wharf was the unloading and trans-shipment of giant rolls of newsprint paper from the paper mills in Sweden to a warehouse on the Europa Industrial Estate in Fraser Road, before finally being taken by lorry up to what was then the giant newspaper print presses in Holborn and Fleet Street. I recall, back in the early 1980’s, not very long before the deep water wharf finally closed down that the warehouse that stored the giant rolls of newsprint in Fraser Road caught fire. Once the paper was alight, it proved impossible for the fire brigade to put out. Fraser Road was blocked for nearly two weeks, as the emergency services contained the blaze, but left it to burn itself out. I can recall standing in the back garden of my parents’ house in  Upper Belvedere on a bright and sunny day, and being amazed by what appeared to be snowflakes falling from a cloudless sky. The flakes were actually specks of ash from the raging paper warehouse blaze a couple of miles away. The smell of burning pervaded the area for nearly a month, well after the fire burned itself out naturally – and left the warehouse building a burned out shell. From my recollections of the fire, nobody was seriously hurt, and there was a substantial insurance settlement to the owners of the Europa Industrial Estate. If you can recall the warehouse fire, and have any more information / memories regarding it, then please get in contact with me by either leaving a comment below, or by dropping me a line to hugh.neal@gmail.com.

The Apple Watch was released on April the 24th, 2015. Nearly a year later, it has become apparent that there really is not much of a need to get one. The smartwatch was the first entirely new product that Apple had released in five years, the first launched under CEO Tim Cook’s oversight—as well the first product in decades launched by Apple without the direction of Steve Jobs behind it. Some argued that it was the product that would give us insight into the future of Apple. A year later, that direction appears to be very boring. The short-term roadmap seems to be focused on iterations of existing products, and selling accessories, like new watchbands, for those products. But the Apple Watch is in itself an accessory, entirely tied to a person’s iPhone, and hasn’t shown that it can perform enough useful functions to make the average person think, yes, this is something that’s worth a few hundred pounds as it’s exciting and will help me in my life. Every Apple product in the last fifteen years or so has been two things: desirable and useful. They’ve made it easier for people to be creative, listen to a lot of music on the go, communicate with anyone in the world or find out any piece of information wherever they are. The Apple Watch looks good, but from a desirability perspective, some argue that the most interesting thing about it has been the collaborations it has had with Herm├Ęs, rather than the watch itself. Even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, in a recent Reddit question-and-answer session, was inclined to agree:- “I worry a little bit about – I mean I love my Apple Watch, but – it’s taken us into a jewellery market where you’re going to buy a watch between $500 or $1100 based on how important you think you are as a person. The only difference is the band in all those watches. Twenty watches from $500 to $1100. The band’s the only difference? Well this isn’t the company that Apple was originally, or the company that really changed the world a lot”. In terms of usability, the watch has proven a tough sell. US presidential hopeful and die-hard Apple fan Jeb Bush didn’t even know his Apple Watch could make and receive calls. The tiny screen doesn’t lend itself to complicated interactions, and third-party and native apps have struggled to show that they’re more useful than, say, just looking at the full-fledged apps on your phone. Apple has always prided itself on ‘thinking different’, and has stood out by creating differentiating products. But different in the case of the Apple Watch right now just means “weird.” Apple probably doesn’t want a product where using one gets you referred to as “that guy.” In an article for the New York Times this week, technology journalist Kit Eaton showed off some of his favourite apps for the Watch. There was a decent grocery-list-making app, a nice text-based game, and a sleep-tracking app. This was, presumably, the best he could find for a device that you have to charge every 18 hours or so, and costs about ten times more than a functional watch that does a better, quicker job of telling you the time. The best iPad costs about £900 (including the keyboard and stylus), and the best iPhone starts at £650. But iPhone and iPad sales are either stagnating or declining. This may well change with the new iPad Pro, a potential laptop-killer for the average person, and whatever new iPhone Apple launches later this year. Apple really needs a new, cheaper device to grow beyond the cycle of iPhone replacements. That was supposed to be the Apple Watch. I predicted as much when I wrote about the Apple Watch last year, hoping to be proved wrong. It looks like I was correct. My conclusion that it was a solution in need of a problem seems to have proved to be true. 

The Bexley Times is reporting that the Broken Drum, the Micropub in Blackfen is celebrating its first birthday. We now have three Micropubs in the London Borough of Bexley; the first was the Door Hinge in Welling, and the second the Penny Farthing in Crayford - thoughtfully located next to an Indian restaurant. The landlord of the Broken Drum is a chap called Andy Wheeler. When interviewed by the paper he said "We’ve offered 200 different ales, I don’t have one constant beer, I’m always changing, looking for local and national beers. Each cask holds 70 pints so it's just a case of simple maths - that’s not including the real ciders that we sell. It’s a breakaway from the noise of pubs or the restaurant-type pubs that just have a bar to drink at. We don’t sell lager, we don’t sell spirits and we don’t play loud music. People come in, enjoy a chat with each other and talk to people they don’t know. People can come in, chat and make friends, we have run three quiz nights and raised around £1,000 for the British Heart Foundation. We also donate to Alzheimer's UK, as the pub is named after a pub in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld book series". Micro - pubs seem to have been a modern success story; they are cheaper to open than full pubs, and the licensing terms are less onerous. I am really pleased to see that they are all doing so well - and long may they continue.


We are now getting emergency service call – outs to people threatening to throw themselves into the River Thames either from Erith Riverside Gardens or the Pier on an almost weekly basis. I am not sure if it is a number of troubled people, or one or two disturbed individuals who are making repeated attempts to jump into the river. Another incident occurred this week, as has been reported in the News Shopper. The emergency services – Police, Ambulance and RNLI have responded to each call – out with admirable speed, but as previously highlighted, the RNLI especially have a distance to travel, as their two bases on the River Thames are at London Bridge and Gravesend; Erith is roughly equidistant from either base. Whilst the RNLI do operate river patrols, the chances of them being in the vicinity of Erith when an emergency call is raised are slim, to say the least. Even at top speed, their vessels may take twenty minutes or more to reach the site of the emergency. A few prominent local residents have expressed their support for an RNLI substation at Erith. I am a supporter of the RNLI, and am a member of their “Shoreline” supporters organisation. I will be asking them if there are any plans to open a substation at Erith. As previously noted, there is what appears to be an ideal location for a small substation in the former Port of London Authority building adjacent to the Riverside Gardens and very close to the wooden jetty. I understand that the currently empty hut has water and drainage, along with mains electricity. It is large enough to house a crew of up to four people overnight if required. I have asked the RNLI if they have any plans in this respect, and I will report back accordingly when I get a response.



As a (relatively) well known Blogger, I have managed to get onto the radar of a number of public relations companies. As such I get almost daily Emails inviting me to all sorts of events, product launches and offers of freebies. I almost never take up these offers, as there are usually strings attached. The clients of these PR companies want bloggers to write favourable reviews of their products or services. I am not an advertising agency, despite Google (the owners and operators of the Blogger platform that the Maggot Sandwich uses) repeatedly trying to get me to take advertising, which I refuse to do. Despite this, having experience with the kind of approach that PR companies use when composing press releases. Local papers are currently reporting that Demand for Bexley property is higher than anywhere else in the country, according to figures released on the 6th April. Nearly three quarters, or 72 per cent, of flats and houses on the market in the borough are already listed as sold, research by online estate agents eMoov reveals. This story has almost certainly been seeded to the papers by a PR company; the story is really a hook to raise the profile of the online estate agent, rather than to highlight the situation in respect of property availability in the borough. What seems to have escaped much in the way of publicity is the sell – off of public open spaces in Bexley; the council are rubber – stamping the disposal of four sites, three of which are in the North of the borough. It has been well documented that Bexley Council wanted to rid themselves of the park in West Street, Erith – and I have to admit that of any of the parks in the area, it probably would be the hardest to defend, as the only people I ever see using the small grassed area are the local winos who occupy one or more of the park benches, and generally make the place look unwelcoming for any other potential users. The park should stay, but realistically I don’t see the level of opposition to it being sold off when compared to one of the other threatened sites – the Eastern half of Old Farm Park in Sidcup. The other local site is the two part park on opposite sides of Wilde Road in Northumberland Heath – a park unknown to all but very local residents - you can see it on Google Street View above. It is so tiny and cut in half by the road; by the looks of it the site would probably make way for four houses, two on each side of Wilde Road. Small as the park is, it is absolutely ideal for families with small children, some of whom will not have a garden of their own. Bexley Council seem content to sell off the family silver - especially in the North of the borough, in order to keep their supporters (who are mainly located in the wealthier South of Bexley) placated. 



Recently released figures show that London road users received more than £4 million in compensation last year following accidents and damage caused by deteriorating roads. It comes as the capital’s local authorities say they now face an £86.7 million shortfall in their annual carriageway maintenance budget received from Government, double the £39.9 million shortfall reported the year before. The Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance Survey 2016, which excludes the main Red Route roads run by Transport for London, estimates it would need £706 million to bring the capital’s roads up to scratch in a one-time “catch up” cost, with an average bill of £22.1 million per borough. It estimates clearing the maintenance backlog in London would take 16 years, at current rates of repair. Local authorities in London filled in 131,151 potholes last year, costing an average £80 per pothole as part of a planned programme, compared with £47 in the rest of England, says the survey. “Emergency” potholes cost an average of £94 to repair in London. Overall, London authorities (excluding TfL) spent £11.4 million filling in potholes last year. Paying out the £4.1 million in compensation cost an additional £2.4 million in staff time, bringing total claim costs to £6.5 million.

A research team led by scientists at the UNC School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health has unearthed more evidence that casts doubt on the traditional "heart healthy" practice of replacing butter and other saturated fats with corn oil and other vegetable oils high in linoleic acid. The findings, reported last week in the British Medical Journal, suggest that using vegetable oils high in linoleic acid might be worse than using butter when it comes to preventing heart disease, though more research needs to be done on that front. This latest evidence comes from an analysis of previously unpublished data of a large controlled trial conducted in Minnesota, USA nearly fifty years ago, as well as a broader analysis of published data from all similar trials of this dietary intervention. The analyses show that interventions using linoleic acid-rich oils failed to reduce heart disease and overall mortality even though the intervention reduced cholesterol levels. In the Minnesota study, participants who had greater reduction in serum cholesterol had higher rather than lower risk of death. Once again received wisdom seems to be counter to scientific findings. It will be interesting to see if other studies find the same result. It seems that whatever you eat or don't eat, some research project will find fault with it. I must admit to finding all of this contradictory advice very confusing. 

I have had a couple of emails from long – time readers this week; they both express concern about the recently started trial of Erith Market. The feeling I get from the messages is that the writers are very keen for the newly relaunched market to succeed, but they feel that it is being “set up to fail”. The fact that the market is only being held on a Wednesday, and not also on Saturdays is being raised as a major restriction on how successful it can be. One concerned reader wrote:-“ I hear are giving Erith Market a trial go. When they know it will fail before they start. They only seem to be catering for the unemployed and the elderly. Because they are the only one that can go to the market. The market should have been bigger and on Wednesdays and Saturdays like it used to be. Saturdays for the people that go to work all week”.  I think the sentiment is to be applauded – the market needs to be accessible to as many people as possible – not just those who are able to attend on what for many people is a working day. Personally I have missed the market on the last three weeks – the traders are in the process of packing up their stalls and loading stock into their vans when I get there just after 5pm on my way home from the office. Opening on Saturdays would be a bonus for all parties in my opinion, and would also benefit the Riverside Shopping Centre, as shoppers attracted to the market from Morrison’s would quite likely also visit the shopping centre. What do you think? Have you visited the market? Was it any good? Would it be better in your opinion to also have it running on Saturdays as well as Wednesdays? Do let me know, either by commenting below, or by Emailing me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


As you may know, in my "day job" I work for a very large multinational company with offices in Canary Wharf. I recall that last August Canary Wharf tube station was closed for a couple of days, with no real explanation as to why. A number of very large lorries were seen parked up near the back entrance to the station, and some people speculated that the security services may have been carrying out some kind of anti terrorist drill. It has only now become clear exactly what was going on. You may have seen the trailer for the forthcoming "Rogue One - A Star Wars story" online, and very impressive it looks too. If you are not aware, Disney are releasing a Star Wars film every year in December; they are alternating the new Episodes 7,8 and 9 trilogy "main story" with "side story" films, and Rogue One is the first side story film. It is a prequel to the original Star Wars - A New Hope (Plain "Star Wars" to those old enough to remember when it originally came out), and will cover the story of how the Rebel Alliance stole the construction plans of the Death Star, which later enabled Luke Skywalker to destroy it in The Battle of Yavin. Last August principal photography of several key scenes in the new movie were actually shot in Canary Wharf tube station. The screen capture from the trailer I have shown above makes it abundantly clear as to where it was filmed - anyone who has visited the very architecturally impressive station will be struck at what a great location the place makes for what I take to be part of the interior of the Death Star.

I see that the News Shopper has picked up on a story I originally featured back in May 2013. It concerns the “Scores on the Doors” health ratings of restaurants, takeaways and food outlets in the London Borough of Bexley. When I originally featured the issue, it was to show that at the time Bexley came at the bottom of the league when it came to restaurant hygiene ratings, and that West Street in Erith was the worst of the worst, with a total of seven food outlets getting zero out of five possible stars for food hygiene. Things have now changed very much for the better, with much improved ratings – none of the previously zero rated outlets still have a zero, and nearly all are 3, 4 or 5  star rated now. What has happened in the most recent hygiene surveys is that shops that serve very limited food items are now being rated, unlike before. One shop that has suffered because of this is Sam’s 99p shop in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. I cannot understand why the store has had to be inspected, as a vast majority of its business is in retailing small domestic items. It does sell cans of soft drink and other pre - packed food items on a limited basis, but it does not prepare hot food or even sell sandwiches. Why it needs to be hygeine tested is beyond me. If you have any insight into this, then please let me know. 

As I predicted a couple of years ago, the vinyl album comeback shows no signs of slowing down. According to UK industry body BPI, vinyl sales for the first three months of 2016 were up 62 percent over the same period last year, with 637,056 LP albums sold. Vinyl now holds a 3.9 percent share of the UK album market, up from 2.1 percent in Q1 2015—not bad for a format that many thought was long dead and buried thanks to CDs and downloads. This is the highest vinyl sales have been for the last 20 years (the Official Charts Company began monitoring sales in 1994) and, if the last eight years of uninterrupted growth continue, could see vinyl sales climb as high as they did back in the early 1980s. The BPI estimates annual sales in 2016 could be as much as 3.5 million. Indeed, while music subscription services like Spotify and Tidal are extremely convenient, according to a recent report by the BBC, they're not hindering physical vinyl sales, but are in fact boosting them. Half of consumers said they listened to an album online before buying a vinyl copy, according to an ICM poll shared with the BBC, with those using advert - funded services being even more likely to head down to a record shop. Amusingly, despite audiophiles and vinyl fans arguing that the format sounds better, a full 48 percent of those who bought vinyl records admitted they had yet to actually play them. Seven percent said they didn't even own a turntable, instead picking up vinyl for its collectability, to support bands, or to use as decoration around the home.

Finally a new video showing some of the less well - known aspects of Amateur Radio. Do give the short film a watch, and feel free to leave a comment below. 

1 comment:

  1. Selling off a few tiny plots of land is going to make absolutely no difference to the Council's finances, they are so small in the grand scheme of things. Why not attack the most obvious financial wastes first? I can think of loads of them, and I'm sure that readers of the Maggot Sandwich can think of loads too... why can't the Council?

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