I took the photo above in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre on Friday lunchtime. You can see some others that I took at around the same time on my Flickr site here. It is some time since I took any photos in the shopping centre, and many new shops have opened, and a couple have closed. I thought that it was high time to document the changes that have happened over the last couple of years. Whilst I was taking shots, a couple of Maggot Sandwich readers came over to say hello, which was very nice - it never ceases to amaze me as to how many people read my weekly ramblings.
Well, just for once I can say that I told you so. Regular readers may recall that back in August 2013 I predicted the demise of 3D television - you can see my original article by clicking here. Well, only this week the BBC News technology website has been reporting that both LG and Sony have now stopped making 3D-enabled televisions. The firms follow Samsung - the world’s biggest TV maker - who confirmed the move last year. It means there are currently no major manufacturers making 3D TVs. Very few movies are now being shot in the format, and it is rumoured that the sequels to Avatar (the most financially successful film shot in 3D) will be shot in 2D and only converted to 3D in post production - mainly to save money, as it is not felt that a native 3D production would recoup its' increased production costs with the greatly reduced share of the potential audience being prepared to pay extra to see the movie in 3D in any form. Since the original Avatar was released in 2009, the numbers prepared to sit through what a significant proportion of people find to be a headache inducing, eye strain causing ordeal will be instructive to see. Personally I can get on with 3D for about twenty minutes at a time. I would most certainly not be able to sit through a full length movie without feeling distinctly unwell. I gather that the way that the 3D processing works relies on the viewer having perfect unassisted 20/20 vision – the overlapping dual images that are displayed on screen and filtered by the stroboscopic (in the case of active 3D) or polarising (in the case of the cheaper and less effective passive system) glasses are not interpreted correctly by the brains’ visual cortex if vision is anything less than perfect – this is why problems with watching 3D content are more common with people who wear prescription spectacles like myself. It would appear that consumers were buying the TV’s despite the 3D features, not because of them. My suspicions regarding this were confirmed recently when a while ago I had a detailed conversation with the senior A/V installation engineer from local electronics retailer Wellingtons and he confirmed my suspicions. He said that people buy smart TV’s mainly for applications such as BBC iPlayer and other streaming “catch up” services – the other smart functions are generally regarded as a novelty – as is 3D. This novelty soon wears off. 3D is a solution to a problem that you never knew that you had.
Many local residents commute into London to go to work; unfortunately the means of doing this for many people who live in the Northern parts of the London Borough of Bexley are somewhat limited - you either get the overland train via either the Dartford to London Via Greenwich line, or alternatively via the Bexleyheath line. Some lucky people such as myself have an alternative of getting a bus to Woolwich Arsenal and then joining the Docklands Light Railway into London - but for many this is not a practical option. This week travel was greatly disrupted by the derailment of a freight train on a section of line near to Lewisham station. The train was eighteen cars long and contained building materials - mainly sand and ballast, several tons of which got dumped onto the tracks during the accident. The derailed train also bent and broke a fairly long - around fifty metres - section of rail track which needed to be replaced. In an interview with the London Evening Standard on Wednesday, Andy Derbyshire, chief operating officer for Network Rail’s South East route, said: “We know that this incident is disrupting many peoples’ journeys and I’m sorry it will be a few days yet before services return to normal. We are doing everything we can to get the site clear and our repairs under way as quickly and safely as possible. We need to completely rebuild more than 50m of railway from the foundations up, just a few metres from one of the busiest railway lines in the south east. This is a significant job but we’ll be working round-the-clock until the work is done and trains are back up and running for passengers.” The last time a similar event happened was on the 3rd of June 2015, when a similar freight train derailed on the junction close to the Angerstein Wharf branch line, on the London bound track just past Charlton station - you can see a photo of that incident below. The 2015 incident took Network Rail engineers a week to clear and resolve; bearing in mind it is less than eighteen months since that serious incident, is one to assume that derailments are becoming a far more regular occurrence. I know that a substantial number of my regular readers are transport enthusiasts - I wonder if any of them can give me greater insight into the reasons for such derailments - does it have anything to do with the UK's rail network being almost unique in the world in allowing freight and passenger trains to share the same tracks, for example? I am concerned that whilst the last two derailments have involved freight trains and no people were injured, the next time may involve a passenger train on what is one of the busiest and most heavily used lines in the country. We may not be so lucky next time. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I recently had a most unpleasant shopping experience; last weekend I needed to work Friday night, then all day Saturday and Sunday and into the early evening - some vital IT infrastructure work that could only be performed out of hours in my "day job". This meant that I was unable to visit the shops during the daytime. I did get a chance to visit the large Morrison's supermarket in Erith with a mind to getting myself something for my dinner on Saturday evening. I spent less than ten minutes getting a few essentials and then headed to the tills in order to pay and go home after a long day working. When I got to the checkouts, I found that none of the regular ones were staffed, and only the self service tills were available. I politely asked the supervisor if any conventional tills were available, and was told "It is only self service now - the standard tills shut at 8.30". Please bear in mind that it was around 8.45pm, and the store stays open until 10pm, and there were still many shoppers with large trolleys full of goods in the store. I put down my hand basket and walked out of the store empty handed in protest. I am vehemently opposed to self service for a number of reasons; firstly it has been demonstrated that the average time to complete a supermarket self service transaction is up to three times as long as one carried out by a staffed till – and that is without allowing for system errors. Secondly, why would you have a dog and bark yourself? Quite often the checkout person adds to the whole retail experience, and can problem solve on the go. Elderly people, or customers with small children can also find self service stressful. On top of this, the supermarkets only introduce self service as they think it will reduce their staffing overheads. This has proved to be a false economy, as although the number of checkout staff is reduced, the number of supervisors and security operatives has to increase – who tend to be paid a higher rate than the checkout staff. This particular matter has caused Wilkinson’s to remove them, as they discovered that the self service tills actually cost more by the time all the overhead costs were factored in; they were also finding the incidence of thefts and under age purchasing were on the rise. Self-service counters cost about £9,000 each, including installation, and manufacturer NCR estimates that they pay for themselves in about 15 months. A third more tills can be squeezed into a store and checkout staff can be deployed elsewhere. But the devices — and their frequent complaint of “unexpected item in bagging area” — are disliked by many shoppers, who argue that retailers are asking customers to do their work for them and that it reduces interaction with staff. NCR argues that the counters cut prices. “Staff can be redeployed to the shop floor, so it can actually improve service,” A claim that has since found to be incorrect in a very many cases. NCR believes that it is benefiting from modern social change, especially the growing convenience market. People are making more shopping trips, for fewer items — hence the spread of convenience outlets to meet demand — a phenomenon attributed by analysts to the breakdown in the nuclear family and traditional working patterns. NCR believes, moreover, that shoppers’ desire for healthy and fresh food and a growing desire to have cravings satisfied immediately have also driven the convenience boom. In my opinion, part of the whole shopping experience is the service and interaction with the staff - and as has been previously proved, the auto tills are not very secure. In fact, the whole chip and PIN security system is indeed threatened, as I have written about in the past. I refuse to do the supermarkets' work for them - and I detest these impersonal infringements on our shopping experience. Earlier last year a report was published by the Criminology Department of the University of Leicester on self service checkout tills. The report found that installing self-service checkouts raises lost revenue by 122 percent. Some of it is accidental – people forget to scan items, or get confused by instructions; other times shoppers get so frustrated with self-service kiosks that they feel justified in not paying. But the report states that mostly people shoplift because the technology makes it so easy. Mobile phone scanning technology is just as vulnerable – the study found that at the end of a typical shopping trip, up to ten percent of items had not been scanned, leading to “shrinkage” (loss through wastage or theft) of about 3.9 percent of turnover. Unfortunately the technology makes it very difficult to prove that customers are deliberately stealing. One retailer admitted they almost never prosecute people. For that reason supermarkets are now introducing tagging systems so un-scanned items trigger alarms. Supermarkets such as Morrison’s in Erith have now expanded the number of self – service checkouts so that now half of all tills are of this type, as I found to my cost. Finding open, traditionally staffed checkouts are becoming a challenge to find. I have always wondered why you have to pay the same price for an item when it is purchased via a self – service till when compared to a traditional one – after all, you are doing work on behalf of the supermarket, and surely this should be reflected in a cheaper cost? If I wanted to operate a till, I would get a job at Morrison's. I have filed a complaint with the store management and am currently awaiting a response. More on this in the weeks that come.
The photo above shows another “then and now” photo from local history enthusiast Martin Barnes, who has spent considerable time putting together a load of such shots from around the London Borough of Bexley. The “now” photo is actually from 2012, and it shows the Potion Bar still open, before it lost its’ licence and was forcibly shut by the authorities. The former White Hart pub is currently in a very sorry state indeed; the metal security shuttering which has covered the outside for the last couple of years has now been removed, and workers are currently stripping the interior. What is actually going on with the building seems currently to be shrouded in mystery. When any of the workers are asked what is happening to the building they claim to not know, and say that they are “just tidying it up”. This seems to be stretching a point as they have been hard at work for several weeks. I know that plans were submitted to Bexley Council to convert the upper floor into residential apartments , and for a low level block of flats to be built on what is currently the very large pub garden, which overlooks the River Thames. What I currently don’t know is if these plans got approved – and the Bexley planning website does not seem to be giving anything away. I do know that any redevelopment / refurbishment of the listed Victorian building which is located in the Erith High Street conservation zone will insist that a replica of the original acid etched glass and green glazed tile pub frontage will have to be installed. The original historic frontage was illegally demolished by the then owners of Potion Bar, who instead installed the hideous plate glass and metal “fish tank” exterior you can see in the 2012 photo above. The council took legal action against the owners of Potion, who did not turn up in court. When the court found in favour of Bexley Council, Potion was declared bankrupt – to avoid the punishing fine and requirement to enact the restoration of the historic frontage. Now the building looks extremely shabby, unlike the nearby Cross Keys, which has been sympathetically and methodically restored inside and out at great expense by Anglo American management consultants, the Aleff Group. The whole of the Erith High Street Conservation Area looks amazing – with the exception of the shell of the White Hart / Potion Bar. I am concerned that the building may go the way of The Prince of Wales, which was closed and unused, and just before it was due to be listed by Bexley Council, it mysteriously burned down, caused by a fire which began in more than one location some years ago. The plot of land it once occupied is now the site of the Erith McDonald's Drive Through Restaurant.
Things have also gone very quiet regarding the £19.7 million pounds local regeneration grant due to be spent on Erith. It was announced last March, as you can see in the video clip here, but little has been heard since. Bearing in mind the very positive impact such a large investment will have on the town, it is a pity that this is not given greater prominence. What would you like to see the money spent on, and why? If you have any information as to what is happening regarding this large amount of regeneration cash, please let me know. Leave a comment below, or alternatively Email me at email@example.com.
The train service on the local train lines has been utterly appalling recently, especially after the early morning derailment that I mentioned earlier; I have given up on using it to travel to my company's office in Canary Wharf, and instead get the 99 bus from Erith to Woolwich Arsenal Station where I pick up the Docklands Light Railway. It may take a few minutes longer, but it is a far more reliable and less stressful method of travel in my opinion. One thing that the journey from Erith to Woolwich has done is given me a greater appreciation of the journey between local towns, and the often poor state of repair of so many key buildings on the journey. In my opinion the worst by far are some of those in Plumstead High Street, especially the former bed store at number 64, which has now been the subject of a local news story. The News Shopper have reported that Greenwich council have come under fire for neglecting Plumstead High Street and leaving old, dilapidated buildings unchallenged.The state of disrepair of 64 Plumstead High Street in particular has frustrated locals who want to know why the council haven’t acted sooner on the issue. A residents group called Plumstead and Abbey Wood Regeneration Committee (PARC), consisting of 25 members, to try get something done about the state of their high street. Johnny Beverton, a member of PARC, said: “Plumstead High Street has been neglected for some time now and one only needs to take to social media to see that locals and newcomers alike are becoming increasingly frustrated with the seeming lack of activity or dialogue from the council. The state of some of the buildings is an ongoing concern and has been for some time now, with blatant disregard by owners for the state of their properties contributing to a negative atmosphere and lack of civic pride. Plumstead has a thriving community of people who really care and PARC are looking forward to taking a proactive approach working with the council to secure ongoing progress." PARC members believe the council should be using their powers to force property owners to tidy their land up, citing the Section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1990. The act gives local councils the power to force property owners to clean land when its condition adversely affects the amenity of the area.
Erith is still somewhat of a building site at present; many bus services are still on diversion due to the ongoing roadworks outside of the Fit4Less gym at the junction of Erith High Street and Pier Road, as you can see in the photo above - click on it for a larger view. Apparently the works are necessary to upgrade the gas pipes that run under the road - whatever, there has been a hole for over two weeks, with very little sign of an end in sight. If anyone has more information on the road works, I would love to hear from you - Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your details.
Do you have an Apple Mac and a need to run a Windows only application? Well aside from dual booting, which involves buying a retail copy of Windows, there is an alternative that until very recently was only really the option for very technically minded people such as me. That is all changing with the arrival of Wine 2.0 which has been released following a year in development with support for Office 2013 among a list of 6,600 changes. Wine is an open-source compatibility layer first released in 2008 for Windows apps to run on Unix-like operating systems, such as Linux and Apple's OS X. Office 2013 is the latest in a line of Microsoft's productivity suite to work with Wine and therefore Linux. Other changes in Wine 2.0 include 64-bit support for Mac OS X. Gamers also get a boost, with more Direct3D 10 and 11 features implemented – including more resource formats – while the Wine 3D graphics card database recognises a broader number of GPUs. Wine 2.0 is free and open source - a much cheaper option that shelling out for a retail copy of Windows 10 Professional at £189.99 including VAT.
Readers may recall that in my update entitled "The Jetty" on the 8th of January, I was extremely worried about the proposed compulsory purchase of Millwall FC's football ground, and the possible precedent that it could set for local councils to similarly compulsorily purchase other leisure spaces and then sell them off to property developers in order to raise cash - bearing in mind Bexley Council's absolutely horrifying reputation for doing exactly this at the slightest opportunity. Well, it would appear that common sense has finally prevailed. It was reported on Wednesday afternoon that the plan to evict Millwall football club from its land around the Den by compulsory purchase has been abandoned after months of fierce public pressure. In a statement Lewisham council’s elected mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, said that the CPO on Millwall’s land “should not proceed”, pulling the plug on the plan that could have threatened the club’s future existence in its historical South East London home. Residents threatened with eviction by the £1bn regeneration scheme will also be celebrating as a concerted campaign to expose the plans to the light of scrutiny has finally borne fruit. In a statement Bullock wrote: “I have always been clear that Millwall must be at the heart of the development and it is my view that these concerns need to be thoroughly addressed, the CPO should not proceed and that all parties concerned should enter discussions to identify an agreed way to achieve the regeneration of this area while resolving these concerns.” Under the proposed scheme Lewisham council planned to seize Millwall’s land, evict the club’s prized community trust and sell the land on to an offshore-registered developer called Renewal. Renewal was founded by two former Lewisham council officers, one of them the previous Labour mayor. The developers are ultimately owned and administered behind the veil of secrecy in the British Virgin Islands and the Isle of Man.
Regular reader and occasional Maggot Sandwich contributor Brian Silk was in contact with me earlier this week; he had spotted something that had completely passed me by. He had discovered that part of a BBC comedy show called “Revolting” was filmed in Erith. You can watch the episode in question on BBC iPlayer here - if you fast forward to the 13 minutes and 50 seconds point, you will see the footage shot in and around Erith. To be honest I am not impressed with the piece. It begins with “In Erith always have a Nigerian phrase book to hand” – advice that is both inaccurate and offensive. Yes, Erith does have a significant proportion of residents whose predecessors came from Africa; not all are of Nigerian origin, and in any case there is no such language as “Nigerian” - I do get the point that they are trying to parody the extreme right wing views of former Erith resident and former BNP and Britain First member Paul Golding, who appears earlier in the episode, but it is very poorly done in my opinion. According to a number of reliable sources, historically something in excess of 520 languages have been spoken in Nigeria. The official language of Nigeria, English, the former colonial language, was chosen to facilitate the cultural and linguistic unity of the country. Communication in the English language is much more popular in the country's urban communities than it is in the rural areas (comprising about three quarters of the country's population).The other major languages are Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ibibio, Edo, Fulfulde, and Kanuri. Nigeria's linguistic diversity is a microcosm of Africa as a whole, encompassing three major African languages families: Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan, and Niger–Congo. Nigeria also has several as-yet unclassified languages, such as Cen Tuum, which may represent a relic of an even greater diversity prior to the spread of the current language families. Calling an African language “Nigerian” is like calling the English language “European”. To be honest, the piece was pretty crass and personally I found it offensive and clumsily executed. I felt that it also painted Erith in a negative light. I wonder what made the producers pick Erith as a destination? Was it purely that racist bigot Paul Golding originates from here? The town does not exactly have a high profile, and I can think of other places that they might have selected instead. It is unfortunate that Erith does have a negative image when it comes to comedy; I can still remember the late comedienne Linda Smith, a former Erith resident who once joked “Erith is not twinned with anywhere, but it does have a mutual suicide pact with Dagenham” – a comment which has taken years to overcome since.
The ending video this week is a short piece from the excellent website The Londonist. It features a concise history of London telephone dialling codes - a lot more interesting than you might expect.