Sunday, October 30, 2016

The other left.

The two photos above were taken almost exactly fifty years apart; the upper photo was taken in the Summer of 1966, and the lower photo was taken by me in the Summer of 2016. They both show the same location - Erith High Street with the Cross Keys, Erith Playhouse and the Cross Keys / former Potion Bar. You can click on either photo for a larger view.

Erith is very much a town in flux; building work is being undertaken pretty much anywhere that you care to look. In the town centre, the fitting out of the forthcoming steak and fish restaurant opposite Argos is proceeding smoothly; work on the Fit4Less gym opposite Erith Health Centre is scheduled to open shortly – more on this later;  work is being carried out on the former White Hart / Potion site – although the details of this are still somewhat of a mystery. Phase two of Erith Park is now under construction, work has begun on Erith Quarry; the Tower Hill development (on the site of the old Bexley College building) is nearing completion. There has not been this level of construction in the town since the much criticised demolition of the old Erith town in 1966 and the subsequent construction of the hideous brutalist concrete shopping centre that replaced it – an action that still provokes strong negative reactions half a century later. I think if the original Victorian town centre had been preserved and restored, the whole character of Erith would be fundamentally different – I think that it could have become a Thames – side equivalent of Whitstable. All is conjecture of course, as nobody will ever know. After years of concrete blandness, the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre looks good, and the restoration work that has also been undertaken on local buildings such as the Cross Keys Centre make the local environment a far nicer place to be than it has for very many years. I will be running a feature on the new Fit4Less gym, and its owner Josh Waters in the next couple of weeks. I hope to publish the first photos of the interior of the gym before it opens to the public. Finally Erith is returning to the “whole town” it was before the old centre was so wantonly destroyed by the developers in the sixties. It has taken fifty years, but things are now definitely on the up.

Once again the News Shopper is showing that is no longer the local paper that it once used to be; they are currently running a story on “The Top 10 Takeaways in South London”. Not only is the London Borough of Bexley not in South London, but the takeaways listed include one in Wimbledon, and another in Hounslow! Not exactly what I would in any way call local. The forced closure of the News Shopper offices in Petts Wood and relocation of a handful of staff to Sutton in Surrey, with those remaining either made redundant, or made to work remotely from home. This has had an awful impact on the quality of local reporting – quite often there are real clangers in stories where the journalist is not familiar with the local area, and makes basic errors which a person conversant with the area simply would not make. I have sympathy with the few remaining staff, who are horrendously overworked, but the quality of the journalism has taken a turn for the worse. You can read more about the situation with the News Shopper and a couple of other local papers by clicking here.

Some very good and overdue news; The government is to review gambling machines amid concerns they may harm vulnerable people. As many as 600,000 people in the UK may take part in "problem gambling", said culture, media and sport minister Tracey CrouchThe review will take a "close look" at fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) - now common on high streets - and children's access to gambling. I have long said that a major review of gambling, both on the high street and online needs to be carried out. Government figures suggest the industry employs around 100,000 people in the UK and contributed more than £10bn to the economy last year. But, amid concern over associated social problems, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport-led review will assess its impact on individuals and communities. Fixed Odds Betting Terminals are sometimes referred to as the "crack cocaine " of the gambling world. I for one would like to see the amount of money possible to stake at any one time be limited to £2, and the maximum payout to be £20, but I am doubtful that this will happen, as the tax revenues the government makes from the current high stakes machines is just so high. There are too many vested interests. Personally I feel that the UK gambling industry needs a massive shake up. It has been allowed far too free a rein for years, and has exploited the market to the point where it is more powerful than some banks. People rightly get annoyed by the activities of certain banks and bankers, whilst seemingly overlooking the scourge of the high street and nowadays also the web, the big five bookies. If all this was not bad enough, the web based casinos and poker sites that operate on the periphery of some country’s laws are proving increasingly aggressive in trying to separate people from their hard earned cash. I have noticed that sites such as 888 Casino and 888 Poker use software resistant pop – ups and pop unders, which are embedded into legitimate web sites, usually without the owner’s consent. The fact that a large organisation would willfully contravene The Computer Misuse Act 1990 to try and promote its dubious services to me says a lot about their intentions.

It would seem that the Smart Watch market, which was never that large in global terms, is now in a fairly steep decline. Figures released in the last week show that the worldwide smartwatch market experienced a round of growing pains in the third quarter of 2016, resulting in a year-over-year decline in shipment volumes. According to data from the International Data Corporation, (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, total smartwatch volumes reached 2.7 million units shipped in the third quarter of 2016, a decrease of 51.6 percent from the 5.6 million units shipped in the third quarter 2015. Although the decline is significant, it is worth noting that the third quarter 2015 was the first time Apple's Watch had widespread retail availability after a limited online launch. Meanwhile, the second generation Apple Watch was only available in the last two weeks of the third quarter 2016. "The sharp decline in smartwatch shipment volumes reflects the way platforms and vendors are realigning," noted Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC's Wearables team. "Apple revealed a new look and feel to watchOS that did not arrive until the launch of the second generation watch at the end of September. Google’s decision to hold back Android Wear 2.0 has repercussions for its OEM partners as to whether to launch devices before or after the holidays. Samsung’s Gear S3, announced at IFA in September, has yet to be released. Collectively, this left vendors relying on older, aging devices to satisfy customers." "It has also become evident that at present smartwatches are not for everyone," said Jitesh Ubrani senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. "Having a clear purpose and use case is paramount, hence many vendors are focusing on fitness due to its simplicity. However, moving forward, differentiating the experience of a smartwatch from the smartphone will be key and we're starting to see early signs of this as cellular integration is rising and as the commercial audience begins to pilot these devices." Apple maintained its position as the overall leader of the worldwide smartwatch market, yet it posted the second largest year-over-year decline among the leading vendors. Its first-generation Watches accounted for the majority of volumes during the quarter, leading to the significant downturn for the quarter. Its Series One and Series Two did little to stem that decline, although with lower price points and improved experiences, Apple could be heading for a sequential rebound in the fourth quarter 2016 - this might well align with the launch of their revamped range of iMac computers - sales of which have been dropping as potential customers hold off buying as they know that new models are on the way. Garmin posted the largest year-over-year increase among the leading vendors, thanks to its growing list of ConnectIQ-enabled smartwatches and the addition of the fenix Chronos. Whereas other smartwatches attempt to be multi-purpose devices, Garmin’s smartwatches focus on health and fitness, and the applications reflect that strategy. Its total volumes helped close the gap further against a declining Apple and extended its lead ahead over Samsung. Samsung finished the third quarter 2016, slightly higher from a year ago on the strength of its aging Gear S2 smartwatches. These still remain one of the few smartwatches on the market that feature full-time cellular connectivity. The company introduced its follow-up, the Gear S3, with a Bluetooth-only version as well as a cellular version, but it has yet to be released to the market. Lenovo (Motorola) suffered the largest year-over-year decline among the leading vendors, with multiple channels selling out of Moto 360 devices (both first and second generation) and a scarcity of its recently released Moto 360 Sport smartwatch. In addition, the third quarter 2016 marks the first time in which Motorola did not introduce a new smartwatch in time for the holiday quarter, adding to its decline in the market. Pebble arguably kicked off the smartwatch category with its original Kickstarter campaign in 2012. Since then the company has launched multiple variants of the Pebble watch and also introduced a new timeline-based user interface, though none of them achieved mass success. After another successful Kickstarter campaign in early 2016, Pebble released the Pebble 2 (oddly enough, the third generation) late in the third quarter. The new Pebble 2 is the first watch by the company to include a heart-rate sensor and has an overall focus on fitness. It would seem to me that Smart Watches have one niche - in the health and fitness market; they are used to monitor heart and breathing rates, and associated performance. Outside of this tightly defined area they seem to struggle to find any real relevance. As I have written before, the drop in sales may well be aligned to the fact that many people regard them as a solution looking for a problem. Personally I will stick with my two classic mechanical swiss watches, they look good, keep good time and a ten second wind will keep each of them ticking for at least 36 hours. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

The Bexley Times are reporting that BT is in consultation with Bexley Council in respect of the nineteen payphone boxes still remaining in use in the borough. British Telecom are saying that the number is no longer financially viable. The council will in turn be canvassing local residents for their opinions on the subject. I recall that some time ago there was a well – used payphone in Manor Road, outside of the former Royal Alfred pub. A reliable source told me that the phone box use got very much heavier, the further into the month one went. Apparently this was because local addicts would use it to phone their drug dealers when the credit on their mobile phones had run out. That all ended in the autumn of 2011 when joy riders in a stolen BMW lost control of the car and crashed into the phone box – you can see a photo of the damage above – click for a larger view. It was thought that as the pay phone generated a fair deal of cash, that BT would replace it, but after a few days the box was removed and the hole it left in the pavement was covered with tarmac. That was the end of what I understood to have been the most profitable phone box in the area, so I am not exactly surprised that less well – earning phone boxes are being retired. I do have concerns however; mobile phone signal coverage is generally good in and around Erith, due mainly to the cell transceivers and antenna farm on the roof of Electricity House next to the Fish roundabout. Other parts of the London borough of Bexley have far patchier coverage, not to mention what would happen in the event of a national or local disaster, or even a terrorist attack? One of the first things to go down in such an event are the mobile phone networks. The authorities have the ability to disable all mobile phones in a given cell or series of cells, with the exception of specialist mobile phones (which have to be approved by the Police and the Home Office) which are used by the disaster recovery teams in large organisations. In certain circumstances, the entire mobile phone network may go down. If this happens the only alternatives are old fashioned copper landline telephones, or the most reliable backup method of communication – two way radio. Unless, like me you are a Radio Amateur, the options for two way radio operation are very limited; CB and PMR 446 are pretty much limited to line of sight – 4 to 6 miles at sea level on average (your mileage may vary due to a number of factors I won’t go into here). This is where the organisation RAYNET steps in; RAYNET is a voluntary emergency service operated by Radio Amateurs that provide short, medium and long range voice, video and data communications in areas where there has been a total loss of mainstream communications. RAYNET volunteers train alongside the Fire Brigade, Police, Ambulance Service, Mountain Rescue and RNLI. When all other forms of communication have failed, radio will always get through. What I am really saying is, if you want to maintain reliable communications under any sort of adverse circumstances, then you really need to become a Radio Amateuryou can read all about how to apply here.

It has been a very long time since I had any kind of remarkable encounter on public transport, but on Wednesday afternoon I had one that is definitely worth a mention. I was returning home by train from work after a long day in the office. I had got to Woolwich Arsenal when two blokes entered the carriage and sat down on the same row of seats as me. They were both in their mid-forties, on the large side, very scruffily dressed and rather smelly, to be honest. They began a conversation in over – loud voices which the whole carriage could hear. One was telling the other one the best way to avoid railway ticket inspectors – “they won’t chase you if you run across the railway tracks”. The other then asked the first why he had not come round to meet him this morning. The first replied that he had rung but the other had not answered – to which the response was “are you sure you rang the right number?” – the other replied that he had shouted outside of the house, but did not ring the doorbell. The duo conducted the entire conversation in very coarse, expletive filled “Arthur Mullard” type voices – I don’t think they were in any way suffering from learning disabilities – they were both just extremely thick. After laboriously comparing the phone number the one had rung, they eventually came to the conclusion he had rung the wrong number. He had two mobile phones, one in each hand, and his ultra dim companion asked him to check the other phone as well “the one in your left hand” – the first bloke looked confused and looked at one of the phones, only for his mate to say ”no – your other left hand”. By this stage the double act had half the carriage listening in bemusement. The two clowns eventually got off at Abbey Wood. I think that their level of befuddlement at even the most basic of tasks was a mixture of general dimness and the ingestion of some recreational pharmaceutical. I seriously doubt that in their condition they would be capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.

The News Shopper are reporting another road traffic accident in Bexleyheath Broadway, outside of the Asda supermarket. I for one am not surprised; the disastrous half pavement – half roadway where neither drivers or pedestrians can tell which is which has been roundly condemned, and has resulted in numerous accidents since the work was carried out. Bexley Council seem oblivious to criticism regarding the changes to Bexleyheath Broadway which have left the road far more dangerous to users than it was before. I get the feeling that the council will only make changes when legal action is taken against them by someone injured as a result of the wrong-headed decision to blur the distinction between pavement and road – a trendy theme in current street design, but which puts members of the general public at risk. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

The Peabody Trust housing association have announced plans for 1,500 new homes in Thamesmead, to be built in four phases, the first one of which will be a development of 525 new houses called the Southmere Village, which will consist of around half for sale, and half for affordable rent. The next three phases will be approximately one thousand new properties, which should be completed by 2024. Work on the Southmere Village development is due to start in the Spring of next year. I understand that plans also exist for a new library and I have heard rumours of a sports centre and cinema as well. Bearing in mind that before the 1,500 new houses are built, Thamesmead is a town equivalent in size to Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, yet has nothing like as many public facilities. Hopefully this will change with the new investment that Peabody is bringing to the area. Bexley Council are pressing Transport for London to extend Crossrail (which will be renamed the Elizabeth Line when it opens in 2018) from the currently planned terminus at Abbey Wood, though to Belvedere, Erith and Slade Green. This would be a relatively cheap and simple piece of civil engineering (at least when compared to the previous work), and would improve connectivity for the area to pretty much the whole of Greater London. Extending the Elizabeth line would entail widening the rail track bed between Abbey Wood and Slade Green – something relatively straightforward for much of the run, as the existing railway tracks are next to brownfield, former industrial land on the Kent bound side for much of the run. No tunnelling or bridging would be required, and any widening could be done with little need for compulsory purchasing and subsequent demolition of buildings, or too close encroachment to residential housing. I feel that an extension would be a win / win for all concerned. Abbey Wood has already seen the economic effect of the forthcoming Elizabeth Line, and I am certain that the effect would extend to Belvedere, Erith and Slade Green.

Maggot Sandwich readers who use versions of Windows earlier than Windows 10 may need to take precautions. If you’re looking to protect a PC with an older version of a Microsoft operating system such as Windows 7, you can use Microsoft Security Essentials to provide comprehensive malware protection that will help guard against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software. It provides free real-time protection for your home or small business PCs. However, Microsoft is warning of fake copies of its Security Essentials that if executed will throw a fake blue screen of death, take over machines, and lead users to technical support scams. Redmond regards the threat dubbed "Hicurdismos" as a severe threat which compromises PCs typically through bundled software installers and drive-by-downloads. Microsoft's anti-malware team are warning customers "Hicurdismos" will throw a full screen blue screen of death, disabling the ctrl+alt+delete task manager to prevent the user bypassing it, and hiding the mouse cursor to make it appear more legitimate. "Hicurdismos" misleads users and lures them into "calling a number that can lead to a fake technical support scam," the team say. "The threat of technical support scams has been around for years, but it’s recently been observed to be growing. We’ve seen attackers becoming more sophisticated with their social engineering tactics to try to mislead users into calling for technical support and then they are asked for payment to 'fix the problem' on the PC that does not exist." You have been warned. The bad guys get cleverer with every passing week.

The end video this week is a short documentary on the new Erith Park housing development, and what the residents think of their new homes. It makes for very interesting viewing; see what you think.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Hugh,

    With regard to the road in Bexleyheath Broadway - pedestrians have the right of way at all times, so I fail to see where the confusion lies. Are there any statistics on the number of accidents (and the type) before and after the 'shared-space' scheme was put in place?

    As a car driver and pedestrian in the centre of Bexleyheath I think the shared-space is much better than what we had before - easier to cross the roads as the latter, and quicker to get through Bexleyheath as the former.