Sunday, October 09, 2016

The Pom Pom.



The photos above were taken by me on Friday, when I was the guest of Maggot Sandwich reader Manjinder, when he showed me around the building and conservation work that is currently being undertaken on the former Royal Alfred pub in Manor Road, Erith. Manjinder writes:- "A little about our story, in 2002 we bought a shop on Manor Road from a local chap called John Webb, 6 years later in 2008 we purchased a pub on the same Road called The Royal Alfred.  The shop was very small and we saw the opportunity of buying the pub to expand the business to bigger premises. The pub was previously run by Steven Taylor who was part of a family that ran some local pubs, Lord Raglan and Cross Keys were two of those pubs.  Although a steady trade it’s fair to say that from a business view point of view it was neglected and in decline. In addition to the opportunity of expanding our shop, the pub was also large enough to build some living accommodation on top, so we started plans to build flats above the pub. Major challenge the building work has been, but has definitely put a spring in our days learning new things and meeting all trades once you are involved you can't get enough! the challenge has been to make the flats above as much in touch with building as possible the open space , large windows, high ceilings etc, There was much concern locally that we would knock down the pub and also our planner suggested it as an option, but it was never entertained by us as we view the building as a landmark of the town and now the fact that when it is turned into a shop more people will share this with us. The local community will still be coming in for their drinks, but this time the drinks will be consumed off the premises! 'New Light' is the name most locals in Erith knew the Royal Alfred as, this name I am led to believe was given by local fishermen, as it was one of the first places in Erith to have electricity hence the light of the pub was visible from the Thames when the fishermen returned home.  After a chat with planning at Bexley Council we mutually agreed that the name above the door, The Royal Alfred will stay permanently! Thank you to all of the local community who have been supportive of the project and we look forward to seeing you all at the new shop." This is excellent news - the upstairs of the former pub will be large, light and airy apartments that reflect the history of the former pub, whilst the downstairs will be a larger version of the popular and long standing Londis corner shop that so many local people rely on daily. I think Manjinder and his family are onto a winner. I have already been invited back for another viewing when the conversion work nears completion. 

I am firmly of the opinion that Erith is heading for a renaissance. For the first time in several decades the town is growing in a positive manner. Not only are nearly two thousand new homes being built in the immediate vicinity, but many new enterprises are starting up. We have the new steak and fish restaurant shortly to be opened in the retail unit opposite Argos in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, which will be the first proper “sit down” restaurant in the town centre. Fit4less – the new gym is opening at the end of October in the long empty units opposite Erith Health Centre (one observer commented that it could not be located in a more suitable location – should a gym user put their back out, they only need to go across the road to see a doctor). The old betting shop in Pier Road has been repurposed as a tutorial centre for children, and the old Blockbuster video hire shop has been turned into a soft play centre for small children. Erith is slowly becoming a much nicer place to live and work. I was told by someone in a strong position to know that they felt that in five years’ time Erith would be more akin to somewhere like Hoxton – a very desirable place to live that also formerly had been a fairly challenging environment in the past.

In a move that I don't think many could have seen coming, Bexley Council have announced that they are now back tracking on their plan to  privatise the borough’s libraries under a joint outsourcing exercise with Bromley CouncilProposals to outsource the borough’s libraries were revealed last October, but the council has decided to continue running the library service in-house following the receipt of tenders. Bexley and Bromley already share back office operations in many areas as a way to save costs. Some Bexley libraries have been handed over to local volunteers to run, but this has proved to be difficult - getting enough voluntary staff to ensure that the libraries are open for their usual hours is a challenge. What Bexley will cut in replacement for the libraries is unclear at this stage, but you can rest assured that cut further services they will. 

The Friends of Christ Church Erith are holding a fundraising quiz night on the evening of Saturday the 22nd October from 7pm until 10pm in the Church Hall, which is located behind the church in Victoria Road, Erith. Tickets are £5 each. I will be there - do feel free to come along. You can get tickets either by Emailing me at hugh.neal@gmail.com or by contacting focce1874@aol.com. You can read more about the Friends of Christ Church Erith by clicking here

UK residents have little faith in the government's ability to securely handle their private data - according to a wide-ranging survey which echoes findings by the National Audit Office last week. Just 22 per cent believed that the government has appropriate means to stop cyber-attacks and identity breaches, according to 1,500 people polled by YouGov on behalf of security consultants Covata. Only 37 per cent said they were confident that the government would keep their personal data secure; while 32 per cent believed departments would not be able to share information securely between public sector bodies. The findings come as the government intends to increase the ease with which the public sector can access citizen data via the Digital Economy BillHowever, 51 per cent said it would be easier to use online government services if departments could share more information. A recent report by the National Audit Office slammed Whitehall for its poor information security practices. It found the Cabinet Office is failing to coordinate the UK's government departments' efforts to protect information. It reported 9,000 data breaches in the seventeen largest government departments in 2014/15. Some 54 per cent named security as the number one priority for moving more government services online. In an open letter to the government, Covata wrote:- "At the very least, all sensitive information should be encrypted by default. Strict controls must be in place to guarantee that only authorised personnel can access this information. Who attempts to access which files should be constantly monitored to ensure no breaches of protocol. Departments should make it impossible for files to be shared by unauthorised channels, such as consumer-grade file sharing or cloud-based platforms". A little self interested coming from a security consultant perhaps, but nevertheless a fair comment. If government departments are concerned about data security, then the banks are even more worried - and some are taking some serious moves to deter fraud. I have explained in some detail in the past regarding the problems with banking, and the various methods criminals use to defraud the law abiding public. Nowadays there is little point in carrying out an armed robbery on a bank branch – the risks are great, the rewards limited, and the sentencing harsh in the very likely event that the perpetrators are caught. Conversely online fraud offers potentially unlimited gains, small risk of detection and comparatively lenient sentencing in the unlikely event of capture and conviction. It seems logical that cyber-crime is on the ascendant – however much we all detest it. Last week I explained how vulnerable “tap and pay” debit cards are to data interception and exploitation. This week I have some rather more encouraging news.  Today both Société Générale and Groupe BPCE, two of France’s largest banking groups, are preparing to roll out a new form of bank card that is substantially more secure than those currently in service.  The new cards use a patented technology called Motioncode. The cards initially look pretty much similar to bank cards that we are all familiar with, but on the back, where the signature strip is located, there is a small LCD screen which displays three additional digits, which change every hour for up to three years when the card is replaced. The additional digits are synchronised with the banks systems so that even if your bank card gets cloned by fraudsters, the verification code will only be valid for an hour, after which it will change. This is a similar security approach to that used by a number of large companies that use SecureID to verify remote access to their IT systems. Using an hourly changing additional verification number on a credit / debit card makes it exponentially more secure – but of course still vulnerable to physical theft. Motioncode technology is still in a relatively early stage of development, but it is hoped that it will be available in the UK within a year – here’s hoping the UK banks adopt it sooner rather than later.



The photo above shows a piece of Erith's history which is shortly to go for auction in the USA. The rather impressive looking Victorian naval gun is a Maxim 37mm heavy machine gun / light cannon built in 1890 in Erith. The reserve guide price for the weapon is $150,000 to $250,000The video below was published recently on YouTube by a historical weapons expert called Ian. He tells the history of obscure and obsolete guns and the stories around them. In this video he recounts the history of the 37mm Maxim heavy machine gun / light cannon. It was popularly known as the "Pom Pom" gun, due to the noise it made when firing. Some locals will see where this story is going; The Maxim factory in Fraser Road, Erith (what is now the BATT Cables factory and warehouse) was where the guns were made in the 1890's, back then there was a test range to the rear of the factory where the guns were test fired before being shipped to their customers. To this day the Eastern end of Fraser Road and the houses in the surrounding area are still referred to as the "Pom Pom", although very few local residents will actually know why. Anyway, you can find out more about the locally made historical weapon in the video below.




Some news reaches me this week that is more than a little timely. Last week I mentioned that it would be nice to see a Micro Pub in Northumberland Heath. This week I got news that a planning application has been submitted to Bexley Council for a Micro Pub at 100 Barnehurst Road, in the shop unit previously occupied by the Aquacadabra the aquarium retailer. I think that Barnehurst would be an ideal location for a Micro Pub – it is close to bus and train public transport, there is only one pub in Barnehurst – and that is The Red Barn, next to Barnehurst station – which is a sports bar, mainly serving lager. This would offer no competition for a Micro pub serving hand drawn real ales in civilised company. It will be interesting to see what happens next – I cannot imagine that anyone would object to a Micro Pub in the area? Many thanks to Andy of The Broken Drum for bringing the story to my attention.

Whilst the mystery behind the continued closure of Moat House may have been solved (see the last edition for details), there are still many unanswered questions relating to the former Potion Bar / White Hart. The steel shuttering that has been fixed to the frontage of the building has recently been taken down, and some workers have been seen in the building. The place is just a shell now, and will need extensive refurbishment and reconstruction. The relatively short lived Potion bar was a hive of scum and villainy; it was Erith's drug supermarket and home to every criminal low life and lager drinker in the area. Both the Police and the Council had serious objections to the place almost from the day it opened - not just from the activities of the knuckle dragging, pond life clientele, but from the way the owners of the bar criminally disfigured the grade II listed building, when they ripped out the original salt glazed tile and acid etched glass frontage and replaced it with the plate glass frontage, contrary to the explicit instructions of the Council. I don't think that Potion Bar has ever turned a profit, despite the owners saving money by employing an unqualified and un - Police registered manager. I understand that the new owners will be obligated to install a replica of the original Victorian façade – the building is located in the Erith High Street conservation area. I am trying to find out what is going to be done with the rest of the building; a planning application was submitted to construct a low rise apartment block in what is currently the former pub’s garden, but I have not seen if this has been granted or not. I understand that the metal shuttering which until recently surrounded the building was installed at the insistence of the building insurers – empty buildings are rather likely to be gutted by metal thieves after copper water piping and electrical cabling. It would be good to see the open plan bar area of the former pub put back into use – though I doubt that it would be licenced premises again. If you have any information on the future of the building, please feel to email me with the information – hugh.neal@gmail.com.


It would seem that Transport for London’s plans for new river crossings to the East of London across the Thames are somewhat confused. Recent announcements by both TfL and the Mayor of London’s Office have promoted a new bridge for pedestrians and cyclists between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf, a greener Silvertown Tunnel, and a new extension of the DLR to Thamesmead. Other ideas being examined are:- a new river bus between Canary Wharf and North Greenwich, and a new river crossing from Barking Riverside towards South East London. What seems to be missing from all of this is the proposed river crossing between Rainham in Essex and Lower Belvedere, which has been much discussed in the past. As I have previously written, the Rainham to Belvedere link would be best suited to a prefabricated sunken tunnel, using broadly similar construction technology to that employed in the Gillingham Tunnel. All of a sudden this road and rail link seems to have been dropped and forgotten. I am uncertain as to why this would be the case, as potentially a tunnel at Lower Belvedere could really take the pressure off the Dartford River Crossing – which has been suffering with severe congestion problems for a long time. Quite why the Rainham / Belvedere tunnel is now out of favour is not clear, and I know that other local bloggers are equally perplexed. On top if this, the congestion at the Dartford Tunnel / Bridge is now worse than ever – the transition from the toll booths to online toll payment was meant to speed up traffic flow, but in reality the reverse appears to the case. The design of the revised traffic flow actually seems to cause greater congestion. A letter written to the News Shopper last week really outlines this problem – which you can read here. The writer contends that the congestion problems with the river crossing are now reflecting badly on the whole town of Dartford. If you have any insight into the matter, then please drop me a line (which can be in complete confidence) to hugh.neal@gmail.com.


Crayford based specialist sports car manufacturer Caterham Cars have gone what appears to be a bit bonkers - they have launched a Harrods themed model of their sports car. Caterham Seven cars are stripped to the bone, raw track day and weekend racers - luxury in a Caterham Seven is fitting the (optional) heater. A spokesperson from Harrods was quoted as saying:- "Caterham is one of Great Britain's most famous and instantly recognisable motoring brands and it has been a pleasure to partner with the team there to create this Harrods special edition of the legendary Seven." Clearly someone who works there is a fan also! Based around a 420S model, the Harrods Caterham costs - brace yourself - £59,995 and is on display in-store right now. For that you get a gold-painted chassis, Harrods green paint with gold pinstriping, butterscotch leather and embroidered logos on the seats and a similar one on the gearknob. The intention of the car is to show the range and scope of personalisation options open to Seven buyers under the new Signature scheme. The result is a slightly odd mix of trademark Caterham Seven rawness and well-appointed Harrods luxury but, given the idea is you build it to your own specification, the world is your oyster. I can see wealthy people purchasing customised Caterham Sevens from Harrods as a weekend toy. You do sometimes see Caterham Sevens being test driven along Thames Road in Crayford, and along University Way, which leads to Junction One of the M25 and the Dartford River Crossing. This is because the Caterham Cars factory is located in Kennet Road, Crayford, just off the Thames Road.

Google launched a number of new products and services this week, which were widely reported in the popular press, and I won’t repeat here. One thing that did somewhat surprise me was that with all of the new gadgetry launched by Google, and the rumoured launch (that did not actually happen) of their new hybrid computer operating system called Andromeda, which – when it appears – is intended to merge Android and Chrome OS into a single monolithic product designed to be a rival to Windows, OS X and Linux. This was not what I found surprising; instead what I noticed was that Google seems to have given up on tablet computers.  It has been widely known for some time that tablet sales are declining. The most recent tablet sales data has the market at about 150 million units a year. Apple has a quarter of the market and Samsung has about 15 per cent. Vendors in third through fifth place – Lenovo, Huawei and Amazon – won't sell ten million units a year. The tablet market is sliding even faster than the PC market – by about 12 per cent a year compared to five per cent for PCs. It can also be seen that it takes more and more effort to get a tablet off the shelf: Apple has teamed with Deloitte to point out how an iPad might make sense at work, having already allied itself with IBM. Microsoft, meanwhile, has bundled training with its Surface-as-a-service pay-by-the-month plan for its hybrid laptop / tablet Surface products. Those hybrids, by the way, are considered the sole bright spot in the PC market, despite their relatively high price.  It would seem now Google's act of omission shows us that the company's assault on our personal space does not include a frontline role for a tablet computer. This  is not to say that tablets are doomed. They are clearly very handy devices in many applications. Personally I have found tablet devices to be a solution in need of a problem, but I know that many disagree.


Last weekend I carried out a full clear out of the loft here at Pewty Acres. I had not been into the loft for at least ten years, possibly quite a bit longer. To give you an idea as to how long stuff has been stored up there, I found a Sharp video tape recorder – and it was a Betamax model! I managed to clear out everything in the loft, most of which went to recycling. Understandably it was very dusty and I was covered. I did come across something that I don’t even ever recall coming into the possession of. Inside a well – sellotaped  cardboard box was a radio wrapped in a plastic bag. When I took it downstairs and opened it up, I found a mint, almost unmarked portable radio made by British firm Hacker. Back in the 60’s and 70’s Hacker were considered the “Rolls – Royce” of portable radios, and considered superior even to the well-known and widely respected Roberts brand. Hacker Radio primarily marketed its products to the UK domestic market, and were priced towards the top of the market. This, plus the relatively short period of operation (only nineteen years from start to finish) results in a lower brand awareness today compared to other household names such as Roberts Radio. However, Hacker products have a strong following among vintage radio enthusiasts and collectors, and in good condition they are worth serious money. The stated Hacker philosophy was to focus on technical performance rather than cost, and words to this effect are frequently found in printed material from the time. Many examples of their products survive today, and it is widely accepted among vintage radio enthusiasts that the build quality is higher than most similar sets from the same era. The model I have is the Sovereign – the top of the range model, and the version I have is the most highly desirable mark one version, often termed the RP18. This was Hacker's premium portable model, featuring AM and FM reception, and the name was used for four generations of the receiver. - The first generation, the RP18 Sovereign, was released in 1964, and was slightly larger than the contemporary Herald, which was the entry level model. The case was leather cloth-covered wood with padding for the front and rear panels, and was only available in charcoal black. The same large loudspeaker was used. The FM front end was bought in from German company Görler, and the rest of the tuner sections used Mullard AF11x-series transistors. User-adjustable station markers were provided to indicate the position of three favourite stations - but as these could only be moved over the lower half of the FM band (which only extended to 101 MHz), they were intended to locate the three national BBC services available at the time. The reason Hacker went out of business was that they would not lower their build quality, or technical standards in the presence of cheaper competitors from the Far East, principally Japan. Unfortunately my Sovereign is currently inoperative. I have installed two new PP9 batteries in it (the radio requires 18 Volts DC to operate), but it is dead. Fortunately I have located a specialist repairer of classic radios who can fix my Hacker and bring it back to life. I will be investing a few quid in getting the prestigious vintage radio back in full working order.

The end video this week comes from a young chap called Jamie Moreland; he runs a YouTube channel call Update News. He covers local news and current affairs stories with video reports like those of a broadcast TV news channel. He's very good, and I can see a bright future for him if he went on to become a professional news reporter. Have a watch, and see what you think.

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