Sunday, December 18, 2016

Cowboy builders.

The photo above shows the ground works that have been carried out to prepare the old Erith Riverside Swimming Baths site for redevelopment as a new residential site consisting of 12 mews houses and 55 apartments overlooking the River Thames. The workers clearing the site had a bit of a shock - their instructions were to level and grade the site ready for the foundations of the new structures to be dug. It had been assumed that the site was clear. It soon became apparent that this was actually far from the case. When the old swimming pool was demolished, the workers at the time were instructed to remove all construction materials from the site; it turns out that they did something far easier; in a giant equivalent of lifting a rug to sweep dust underneath it, the demolition workers just knocked down the building and used the rubble to fill the hole left by the drained and empty swimming pool itself. It would seem that something in the region of seventy percent of the construction material thought to have been carted away during the demolition process is still currently on site! This is going to add time and money to the site clearance programme. I wonder if any recourse or compensation can be sought from the historical demolition company for doing such a shoddy and half arsed job? It would seem that cowboy builders can affect large commercial developments as well as individuals.

Malcolm Knight of the excellent Bexley is Bonkers blog has been writing about the changes that Bexley Council have been making to the rules governing the use of Bexleyheath Broadway. A Public Spaces Protection Order has been imposed. This somewhat drastic measure is apparently designed to combat perceived anti-social behaviour. According to the Bexley council press release, the order prohibits “behaviour in a manner which causes, or, is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to another person. The  riding of pedal cycles, skateboards, roller blades, hover boards or other similar devices within the restricted area in a manner which causes, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to another person, and the playing of any type of ball games in the designated area". According to the Council’s own documentation, Failure to comply with the PSPO without a reasonable reason for doing so is a breach of the order and a criminal offence. Significant and/or persistent breaches of the order could lead to a fixed penalty notice being issued or a summons to court. The charge for receiving a fixed penalty notice is £100, which would be reduced to £60 if paid within 14 days. All individuals breaching the conditions of the order would be monitored by a range of agencies to provide other necessary support and interventions. Council staff will take action to try to manage the risk that any young people who receive a fixed penalty notice gain a criminal record without fully understanding the potential of their actions”. This all seems somewhat draconian, and rather reminiscent of the kind of social policies employed by Kim Jong Un in North Korea. Civil rights group Liberty say:- “Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) are broad powers which allow councils to criminalise particular, non-criminal, activities taking place within a specified area. Unfortunately, we have frequently seen them used against the most vulnerable in our society, the homeless.  PSPOs are also being used to limit freedom of speech and the right to protest. PSPOs simply fast-track vulnerable people into the criminal justice system – rather than divert them away from it”. I get the feeling that this is a direct response to the recent riot amongst gangs of school age children that took place in Northumberland Heath, and that made the national news. Whether such an order is actually required is another point entirely. It seems to me to be an over – reaction, and a case of “doing something because we can do” – not because they actually need to. It does rather seem to me that it is going down the path of the infamous “Not the Nine O’ Clock News” over zealous policeman sketch, where a dim, racist and vindictive copper is being hauled over the coals by his boss, for repeatedly arresting the same man for “offences” including – “walking on the cracks in the pavement, possession of an offensive wife, wearing a loud shirt in a built up area during the hours of darkness, urinating in a public convenience, and looking at me in a funny way ”. I understand that the PSPO concept is shortly to be tested in court. Liberty and other similar organisations are keen to challenge the legality of the sweeping conditions that PSPO’s can impose. I get the feeling that once again we may encounter the law of unintended consequences. Time will tell. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Maggot Sandwich readers of long standing may recall that quite some time ago I explained why I refused to take advertising on the blog. One of the reasons I cited was that I did not want to be at the thrall of an advertiser or sponsor, and thus be muzzled as to what content I wrote. It would seem that my feelings on the subject have now been crystallised after a report from The Advertising Standards Authority specifically targeting Vloggers (video bloggers) who have been promoting commercial products and using product placement in their videos, for which advertising agencies and public relations firms have been financially rewarding them for. Whether The Advertising Standards Authority actually have any power over Vloggers is debatable; many are based outside of the UK, and other may be based in the UK, but use platforms that are hosted outside of the UK. I suspect that the ASA are having a bit of a “fishing trip” to see who they can scare into submission. I think that in many cases their words may prove to be an empty threat. I get the feeling that the ASA don’t really have much of a clue as to exactly how video services such as YouTube actually operate. Whilst a file may be uploaded from an I.P address in the UK, it may end up being hosted on a server in the USA, Japan or a host of other locations, from which it is then “broadcast” to viewers via the World Wide Web. Which country is legally responsible for video content? The country from whence it was uploaded, or the country that hosts the video files? Users may upload files using a proxy, mirroring the upload to a third location anywhere in the world – The Advertising Standards Authority would need the resources of GCHQ to track activity of this nature, and I cannot see it ever happening. I think some clueless Whitehall Mandarin is blowing off steam over something that they really don't have a handle on. Let’s see what happens.

The picture above may look familiar - and that is because I have used it before - I am recycling some second hand photons; it used to pretty much sum up Christmas in parts of Erith to a tee; the bus shelter even looks passingly similar to one almost opposite Pewty Acres. Nowadays the town is changing in such a rapid way that I feel that it is the very last time I will be credibly able to use the image, even in a satirical context. Erith is changing for the better in so many ways. As many readers may already know, I don't send Christmas cards, for a number of reasons, mainly as I think them redundant now that much of the world is now online, and via social networking, Email, Twitter and a host of other services, people keep in contact all year round, not just via a once a year bit of printed card. Cards use a huge amount of natural resources, both in their production and transportation, and generally get shredded or dumped after the annual festivities. I think we really need to move on from them. Think of this as my virtual season's greetings.

I know many regard me as a grumpy old curmudgeon when it comes to the Christmas festivities; and I suppose I am to an extent. I suppose having no children does mean that I don’t see the holiday from their perspective. For the most part it is a period for me to endure, rather than enjoy. I am not saying that the festival is a complete anathema, but it sometimes feels that way. One thing I really detest is the journey home from work on the couple of weeks’ before the Christmas break. One invariably encounters “amateur drinkers” who have been on a boozy Christmas lunch; not able to hold their drink (or to know when to stop before the effects impaired their actions) they generally make the lives of their fellow commuters insufferable, even if it is just by sitting close by and breathing alcohol fumes over their fellows; I have to say that when in the office, either in Canary Wharf or Watford, my habit is to start early and finish early. In doing this I avoid the worst excesses of those suffering from a Yuletide surfeit of Dizzyade. I feel sorry for fellow commuters that have to travel later in the evening – I have been there in years past, and it is not pretty!

You may have noticed that the Maggot Sandwich has been published rather earlier than normal this week; this is for a very good reason; This afternoon I will be attending a private screening Of the new Star Wars film “Rogue One”, and I won’t be around when I normally make the latest edition go live at around 1pm. In a tradition that stretches back as far as this time last year, mega Star Wars fan and all round good egg Nav Bhamra organises a private showing of the latest movie in the Star Wars franchise, with any profits being donated to worthy causes. I will feature photos taken at the event on the update next week.

The effects that the sudden and very unexpected closure of Northumberland Heath based double glazing company PJ Plastics continue to be felt. It would seem that there are a number of creditors who have lost money due to the failure of the company – individuals had given substantial deposits for windows and doors that will now not be delivered. One person, who wishes to remain anonymous wrote:- “We have just become a victim of PJ Plastics' demise. Having ordered a very large double-glazed window for our dining room at the end of September, and paid the deposit, we were looking forward to having the work done in the New Year. But, on a trip to North Heath post office, I noticed their shop across the road looked eerily empty. Closer investigation revealed the notice in the window advising of their closure. I feel particularly aggrieved because only six weeks had elapsed between them banking our deposit and then posting their notice of closure. Surely any financial difficulties they had must have been known to them when they accepted our order. Needless to say, we have received no communications from the company or the liquidators and I suspect they will have preferential creditors who will be given first options on any assets they have. This probably means we will lose our deposit and become a victim of fraud. My wife contacted the liquidators but they weren't particularly helpful. She also contacted her bank as she paid the deposit using her debit card. It is possible she may get her money back but they make it harder than it is for credit card payments. 'Twas ever thus! The silly thing is that if PJ progressed our order and built the window it will be of no use to anyone else. We put that to the liquidator suggesting the situation might be resolved but they did not get back to us”. This is a situation that I expect is quite widespread; if you have suffered as a result of the failure of PJ Plastics, do drop me a line – it can be in complete confidence, should you so wish. People should not have to suffer as a result the poor management and financial fragility of a vendor. Ironically as a previous customer of PJ Plastics myself, I am covered by my FENSA warranty – something not available to customers who have not had their goods delivered. The implications for a relatively small independent local company going bust can be far wider than many might imagine.

On a related subject, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Erith branch of Cash Generator has now closed for good; US-owned Cash Generator plans to close all but a handful of branches and make hundreds of staff redundant, according to a claim from company insiders. The Erith branch is one of the first of a total of 68 branch closures. It is the latest in a string of lenders to scale down after being criticised for charging sky-high interest rates. A Cash Generator worker said in a recent interview: “We have moved away from offering loans to people on benefits, which was regarded as irresponsible lending. Now we have been told that stores not making a profit will be going.” Sister company Cheque Centre pulled out of the payday lending market after criticism by financial regulators. Both firms are owned by American loan giant Axcess Financial. The Financial Conduct Authority brought in rules last year capping how much lenders can charge. Since then, the number of payday lending shops has fallen from 1,400 to under 500. Earlier this year Wonga, Britain’s biggest online lender, revealed losses of £80 million following the clampdown. Cash Generator were notorious for huge markups on second hand goods they bought from cash strapped people, then sold on to other customers on a tight budget. A fairly typical example of the kind of customer service can be read from a disgruntled customer who writes:- "The Guarantee they offer here means nothing as they will just accuse you of dropping the item or whatever they need to say to make it your fault not theirs!. The consumer rights act 2015 also means nothing it would seem as when I returned a not fit for purpose, #Lenovo PC (PC screen doesn't light up!) to them on 19th October less than 24 hours after leaving the shop with it, the staff member laughed at me, and refused to repair replace or give me a refund of my £119.99 payment.  We also rang the manager direct and she flat out refused too!, preferring instead to accuse us of dropping it when we haven't, and their is no evidence or marks on the product to warrant this.  Not only that but come to think of it the item had no CE markings, or PAT testing label on it, And was sold to me with a 2 pin foreign plug attached to a cheap looking, 3 pin UK adapter! I am sure that alone is a breach of some consumer law or other!.  I am very disappointed at this shops non - existent customer service, they are liars.  I hope to prove it in court too!, my home has CCTV which shows I never dropped it getting it from my car, and the street I walked down and car park are covered, I shall instruct my solicitor to obtain footage from the CCTV operator.  I hope they get a massive fine for breaching consumer rights and the manager and staff members involved get what they deserve (sacked).  They have let down the Cash Generator Brand, And damaged my customer confidence in them I shall never recommend or shop there again". Quite. I view the likes of Cash Generator and Cash Converters in exactly the same light as Brighthouse - organisations designed purely to exploit the least well off in our society. I am glad that Cash Generator have closed down in Erith, and hope that they all rot. No loss at all.

Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association have just issued the following warning to local residents:-  "We have been made aware that burglars are targeting Bexley in the run up to Christmas. We are asking our volunteers to be extra alert and to note any suspicious persons or vehicles in your areas and to report this activity to us straight away. These thieves are gaining entry by smashing in back doors which must create some noise. If you hear what could be a burglary in motion please report it to police on 999; if you see suspicious activity such as persons hanging around or vehicles parked that are not familiar, please report this with full details such as date/time/registration number of vehicle and description of person(s) directly to us at Neighbourhood Watch. We will ensure it goes directly to the appropriate police department. Police Patrols are going to target the A2 slip roads in an effort to combat this increase in theft, which is thought to be by persons from outside of the Borough".

The photo above shows Erith High Street in 1910. By the look of it, the photo was taken in the Spring / Summer and on a Saturday afternoon, due to the number of men one can see standing around chatting. Back in those days of large families and small houses, the men would be told to stay out of the house until meal times. Working hours were long, and it was quite normal to go to work on Saturday mornings - one of the reasons football matches usually kick off at 3pm or thereabouts nowadays - a historical hangover. The only building in the photo above that still exists is the Cross Keys Centre, which you can just see in the centre distance. Everything else was demolished back in 1966 when the town centre was redeveloped - a move that many locals regret to this day.

Newly opened Erith gym Fit4Less has got off to a very good start. Pre – opening member registrations were the highest of any gym in the franchise chain, and since then the number of members has reached full capacity. I understand that monthly renewal levels are very high, and word reaches me that the place is already so successful that Josh Waters, the owner is in negotiations with Bexley Council about expanding into the vacant industrial unit next door. Bearing in mind that until Josh and his team took the corner unit opposite Erith Health Centre, it had been unoccupied and ignored since the building was constructed. It is now interesting to hear rumours that a couple of other businesses are showing an interest in taking the unit next to Fit4Less, after they have seen the success that the gym has already experienced. I think that especially bearing in mind the financial investment (not to mention risk) that Josh has put into the building, he should most definitely have first option on the adjacent unit. Erith town centre is finally opening up at night – not only is the gym open until late, but also the newly opened Riverside Fish and Steak restaurant opens until 11pm in the week, and midnight at the weekend. The whole pattern if town centre usage is now changing as it no longer becomes empty and barren after 6pm, as was the case for many years. I suspect that this pattern will continue to change and evolve, as other businesses realise that there is both life and customers after the retail shops close for the evening.

I am trying to discover more about a very colourful and larger than life character who lived in Erith during Victorian times; his name was Robert Austen, but he was more popularly known as "Robert the Devil" - he was an exhibitionist and showman, and I understand he had a strong man act that sometimes toured around North Kent and beyond. He had a couple of party tricks. He often drank in the pubs on Erith river front, and was notorious for betting other drinkers a pint of ale if he could swim across the River Thames from Erith to Coldharbour Point in Havering, Essex and back - which he invariably did. As I have previously written, the currents and undertow in and around Anchor Bay make this one of the most lethal stretches of the Thames for swimmers, and why most people who enter the river end up getting fished out by the Police or RNLI as corpses. It would appear that Robert Austen was a very strong and confident swimmer who could repeatedly challenge this - (although I would hazard a guess that he timed his swims for slack tide). On top of swimming the river, Austen would permit a man to break a granite kerbstone over his chest with a sledge hammer - for the price of a gallon of beer! More information if you have it please.

Do you remember that back in 2004 Coca Cola released a bottled water product called Dasani? The UK launch of Dasani is now taught in business schools as to how not to launch a product, and when you have launched it, what not to do when the launch does not go as planned. The problem was that Dasani was actually filtered tap water from Sidcup, where Coca Cola then had a bottling plant. Close similarities were seen with the "Only Fools and Horses" episode "Mother Nature's Son" where Del and Rodney sell tap water as "Peckham Spring" bottled water.  Bearing in mind that Peckham and Sidcup are only a few miles apart, the press picked up on this with glee. The video below tells the whole story of how the American Coca Cola executives completely mishandled the situation and made things worse than they already were, mainly due to not understanding British culture and slang phrases - as you will see in the short explanatory video below. It makes for fascinating and quite amusing viewing. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

1 comment:

  1. When I first drove past the old Erith swimming pool site and noticed it neatly flattened and grassed over, it was obvious to me that the workmen had filled in the pool with rubble from the old building! I'm amazed the professionals surveying the site afterwards didn't realise this! Obviously no-one supervised the demolition of the old building.