Sunday, February 12, 2017

The end of Brighthouse.

I am a regular user of local buses. Overall the service, especially on the 99 route is pretty good, with a double decker bus arriving every ten minutes or so. The current Alexander Dennis Enviro 400 buses that run on the route are more modern, spacious and comfortable that their predecessors. One thing that has definitely changed for the worse has nothing to do with the bus technology; it has for more to do with the behaviour of the passengers. In years gone by, waiting people would form an orderly queue, with the person who had been waiting the longest at the front. Nowadays this seems to largely have been forgotten. People cluster around the bus stop in no particular order and then there is usually a bustle when people try to get on. It all seems very uncivilised. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or email me at

Following on from my recent article on the project to help and support Bexley's homeless people, I have been supplied with an update. Both the News Shopper and the Bexley Times have covered the story to some extent or another, and the Bexley Times is leading with an article that say the number of rough sleepers in the borough has doubled in the last year, albeit from a very low number. I have been sent the following announcement from Transform Bexley Borough, the ecumenical networking organisation for churches in the Borough:- "We are thrilled that the Bexley WINTER NIGHT SHELTER has now been up and running for its first two weeks. Attendance began at zero, then increased to 4, 5 and by the end of the first week 9 men had accessed the shelter with up to 7 men on any one night. 14 had been assessed and 1 housed. Approximately 35 churches have been involved and 130+ volunteers. We are amazed and thrilled at how this project has been taken up by churches right across the Borough, and very thankful to our Great God. Any further donations of clothing etc. must be advised beforehand as the shelter has run out of storage space (please don't leave any donations at a venue). Essentially the project has been blessed with all the materials required – thank you so much. All enquiries should be directed to Melvyn French, the Winter Night Shelter co-ordinator, at / 020 8304 9669." On top of this information, another social welfare project known as XL Mentoring has been announced:- "XL-Mentoring Bexley Project is targeted specifically at young people living in difficult circumstances between the ages of 11 and 18, and may be on the verge of exclusion or excluded, and/or at risk of involvement or already involved in crime or anti-social behaviour. It is important to note that this is not a generic mentoring project and may only offered to those young people who fulfil certain criteria. The overall aim of this project is to see disadvantaged young people making wise life-style choices and positively contributing to their families, communities and society. XLM-Bexley will identify and evaluate candidate young people to take part in the project in consultation with other agencies. Home visits with each of the candidate's families will then be undertaken to further explain the project, and look for approval for the candidate to participate. It will identify and evaluate mentors drawn from the local community, who will receive training and be matched with a young person. These mentors will commit for a minimum of 12 months to build and sustain a relationship with a young person and their family and provide a consistent and inspirational role model. Mentors will meet their young person for 2 hours per week for a minimum of thirty 1-2-1 sessions over a 12-month period and have further limited contact, often via text, in between. In addition, they will also attend outdoor activity and day excursions with their young person arranged by XLM on an ongoing basis. There are now many XLM projects around the country, in many South London Boroughs and in towns and cities elsewhere. Training and support is provided by XLM-National, and each project is autonomous with a co-ordinator. XLM-Bexley is now up and running with a coordinator (Billy-Jo O’Leary) and is at the stage of recruiting the first mentors to train for a pilot year. The pilot project is coming under TBB (Transform Bexley Borough) and is being incubated at BCLC (Bexley Christian Life Centre) in Bexleyheath, which is providing the oversight, insurance and safeguarding policies and procedures."

Another "Before and after" photo supplied courtesy of local historian Martin Barnes, who is currently working on developing a new and exciting web project, which I will be covering in detail in the future. It is quite interesting that I have almost given no coverage to the McDonald's drive through fast food outlet as seen in the "now" photo above, when the restaurant is incredibly popular and gets visited by hundreds of hungry diners every day. In truth, I am not a fan of American style fast food, and I have only visited the burger outlet three times in all of the time I have been living in Erith - which is now just over twenty years. I find their sugary, fatty food tends to give me rampant indigestion. Having said that, whilst researching McDonald's for this weeks blog, I did discover that two new burgers are being launched for a limited time, and the Erith restaurant will be one of the locations chosen to promote the customised sandwiches.  McDonald's has begun rolling out mini and mega versions of the Big Mac. The classic Big Mac is constructed with two 1/10lb all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun. By contrast, the Mac Jr is made with a single 1/6lb patty and the Grand Mac is made with two 1/6lb patties. The two new sizes of the Big Mac will be available for a few weeks in early 2017. Whether they stay on the menu permanently will depend on sales. The Mac Jr has 460 calories and the Grand Mac has 860. You can see details of the original Big Mac, and both the Junior and the Grand Mac below. Click on the image for a larger version.

You can see a short video review of the three versions of the Big Mac below. Personally they look pretty unappetising to me, but I know that a lot of people really enjoy them on occasion.  The only McDonald's sandwich that I really like is the Filet O' Fish, but even that has changed over the years; I now find that the bread they use in the buns is far too sweet, and the size of the fish filet has gradually been reduced to the point where it is no more than three or four mouthfuls. A pity as it used to be a relatively healthy and tasty choice. I think I would be better off making one of my favourite light lunches at home - the classic fish finger sandwich, but I digress. What do you think about McDonald's in general, and the Erith store in particular? Leave a comment below, or alternatively Email me at

Last week the Metropolitan Police instigated a firearms amnesty in an attempt to get more illegal weapons off the streets of Greater London. As well as this, more than 800 illegal firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition have been seized by counter-terrorism police and the National Crime Agency in just four weeks in a major crackdown to prevent extremists obtaining guns.  The weapons seized include a fully-loaded AK47 assault rifle, a Skorpion sub-machine gun and 200 handguns. Other assault rifles and machineguns were also recovered. A total of 282 people, included registered arms dealers suspected of selling illegal weapons, have been arrested. The large number of firearms seized was hailed by law enforcers as a “significant” success in the battle to prevent terrorists — as well as other criminals — from obtaining weapons and carrying out a marauding Paris-style attack in London or another British city. The total number of guns seized was 833 with the weapons including 11 assault rifles, two machine guns, a sub-machine gun, 99 rifles, 153 shotguns and 200 handguns. The types included Tanfoglio GT32 and Makarov pistols. The operation also led to the seizure of 4,385 rounds of ammunition, as well as 100 other potential weapons, including knives, plus 80kgs of illegal drugs and more than £500,000 in cash. Announcing the huge haul of weapons, Detective Superintendent Nick Wilcox of National Counter Terrorism Policing said in an interview with the London Evening Standard earlier this week that:- “Counter terrorism officers continue to plan and prepare in light of world events such as the attacks in Paris - but we want to remain on the front-foot and stop terrorists obtaining guns in the first place. The discovery of so many illegal weapons will also raise fears about the volume of guns entering the country and the checks applied to those licensed to sell or possess weapons".The UK has some of the strictest gun laws in the world – rifles and shotguns only permitted where the owner has a clear and demonstrable need for them (farmers and gamekeepers are the main demographic) and the weapons have to be stored in a steel cabinet, with separate locked storage for ammunition. This is subject to regular checks by the local Police firearms officer, and a licence can be rescinded at any point. All handguns, with the exception of muzzle loading black powder weapons were banned in 1997, when all legitimate owners had their weapons confiscated, albeit with pretty generous financial compensation. Time for disclosure - I held a Class 1 Firearms certificate and was a licenced pistol shooter until the handgun ban. Even before the handgun ban, the legal and social position of UK shooters was very different from not just the USA, but much of Europe too. Guns and gun ownership was never part of mainstream British culture – unlike France and Germany, for example, where owning a gun for hunting was, and is still pretty common. The USA is a poor comparison as it really stands on its own in the world in being a unique environment where firearm ownership has very light regulation, depending on state. In the past I have had a number of in depth conversations with police firearms officers about the 1997 handgun ban, and its real – life impact on criminal ownership of guns. The consensus was that banning handguns for law abiding hobby shooters did almost nothing to stop criminal use of firearms – in fact, if one uses the Home Office's own figures, the use of handguns in crime has markedly increased since 1997. Illegal weapons are smuggled in from abroad, often from former Soviet Bloc countries, and old, deactivated weapons are re – activated, which quite often means that the gun is as dangerous to the user as the victim – they can, and do explode. Anyway, having established that the situation in the UK regarding legal gun ownership has little parallel with anywhere else. The largest hand gun range in the UK used to be at Stone Lodge in Dartford, very close to Junction One of the M25. Local residents were largely unaware of the place, as it was set in a large dip in the land, and was not visible from the road. It was open seven days a week and had around four thousand active members, myself included. The Police and Royal Protection Squad used to train there as well. After the handgun ban, Dartford Council pulled the lease on the place from the operator, and it was closed down.

Work has now begun on the former White Hart pub / Potion Bar site in Erith High Street, directly opposite the Post Office. The much hated and illegal plate glass frontage has now been removed and work has been started on constructing a very accurate replica of the original Victorian acid etched glass, marble and green glazed tile frontage which has been part of the building until the owners of Potion Bar criminally ripped it out in an act of architectural vandalism during the Summer of 2009. The new owners of the building are doing the responsible thing and restoring the historic building to how it looked in the early 20th Century. The terrible weather in the past week has not really helped the construction workers, and progress on the replica frontage has been understandably slow. I hope to have further coverage regarding this in the weeks to come. The image above shows the new floor layout of the inside of The White Hart, thanks to Martin Barnes for supplying it - much appreciated. It would seem that in addition to a couple of flats on the upper levels of the building, the ground floor will be a bar, contrary to s number of local rumours. Hopefully more details in the near future.

On Friday afternoon I was strolling along Bexleyheath Broadway on my way to Welling to visit the excellent specialist shoe shop - The Wide Shoe Shop. In future I will be featuring an article on this outstanding family run business which has been based in Welling for decades, but I digress. As I walked down the Broadway, a sign in the window of the Brighthouse store grabbed my attention. It said that the Bexleyheath Brighthouse store will be permanently closing on the 25th of March, and that customers will have to take their business to other Brighthouse stores in future. I was elated to discover that this pariah of the low waged has been forced out of Bexleyheath. After carrying out some research, it would appear that the whole Brighthouse company is in danger of going bust. The struggling rent-to-own electricals chain has made a bid for survival by offering permanent reform of its controversial practices in talks with lending watchdogs. The company, owned by private equity firm Vision Capital, has submitted a detailed business plan to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in an attempt to ward off circling bondholders who are preparing for the worst. The FCA is due to scrutinise the plan and assess whether Brighthouse should be allowed to continue to lend on the basis of it. The situation is increasingly urgent for the chain, with quarterly rent payments on its 311 stores looming at the end of March, and its heavy debts due to be called in. Brighthouse’s finances are under strain from temporary lending rules agreed with the FCA that force it to carry out more stringent checks on customers’ credit history before lending to them. The guidelines also bar it from issuing punitive late payment charges. As I have previously written,  the definitive indicator that a town has gone to the dogs is when Brighthouse move in.  I was reading an article recently, in which Karl Dayson, an academic who specialises in the study of affordable finance said that “I can think of no better marker of social deprivation than having a Brighthouse store open in your area”.  If you have not heard of the Brighthouse stores before, let me explain. Brighthouse are a chain of retailers specialising in household goods such as furniture, washing machines, televisions and cookers. Their unique selling point is that you can purchase goods on credit with no deposit, and with very low weekly repayments. The store is designed to appeal to young families – the aisles between goods on display are wide enough for a child’s buggy to be wheeled easily along them. Brighthouse offer credit to those who would otherwise be unable to qualify for it – mainly people on benefits. This all sounds great – helping those otherwise unable to afford the basics of a home to get what they need. The downside of it is the eye wateringly high interest rates that Brighthouse charges. Several debt charities have expressed dismay at the high charges. A basic washing machine that costs £399 in Curry's will cost £1,560 from Brighthouse, albeit broken down into “affordable” £10 weekly payments at an interest rate of 69.9 per cent APR. Just like the notorious payday lenders, the poorer you are, the more you pay for goods and services. Debt advisor Anne Young, who has advised many former Brighthouse customers said “These companies are preying on people who cannot afford to go anywhere else. I do think that they are robbing the poor, when you look at their prices. They are charging a ridiculous amount for goods you can buy on the high street for a third of the price”.  To give an example, a small television which costs £99.99 in Argos would cost a total of £606.84 paid over a total of 156 weeks. Brighthouse argue that their TV is covered against malfunction and accidental damage over the course of the repayment period, but this needs to be set against the fact that you could buy six similar televisions for that amount of money elsewhere.  Brighthouse claim that if you can find an identical product anywhere on the high street, that they will match the price. This is actually quite difficult, as Brighthouse have a lot of “own name” brands, such as Baird; these are simply not available anywhere else; they also include a number of options that other retailers on the high street don’t, and the pricing structure is so bewilderingly complex that direct comparison is rather difficult. Brighthouse were looking to aggressively expand their stores – although they have definitely taken a battering in Bexleyheath, and with the current news of their dire finances, I feel it will be unlikely they will survive in their current form. The demographic for Brighthouse customers is fairly straightforward; a majority are women between 26 and 45 years of age; they earn less than £13,000 a year, and around fifty percent are receiving at least part of their income in the form of benefits. You can really view Brighthouse as a cross between somewhere like Argos and loan company – and its’ customers are overwhelmingly people who do not qualify for a credit card or score too lowly for a conventional, lower interest loan. The kind of goods that the company sells (furniture / consumer electronics) do tend to depreciate over the course of the loan period, to the point that by the time the loan is fully paid off, the goods are essentially worthless. On top of this, Brighthouse have a policy of repossessing goods if payments are not met, even if the customer is only one or two payments away from completing the purchase. Normally a court order is required to repossess goods when more than a third of the credit payments have already been met. Brighthouse have a nasty habit of sending round bailiffs without such legal niceties – exploiting the fact that many of their customers are ignorant of the law. All in all, Brighthouse succeed because they can – their target customer does not qualify for a loan from a conventional source, and is not aware of low cost resources such as credit unions. They rely on the customer being sucked into the colourful, brightly lit and shiny shop with the promise of low repayments, even if they do end up paying for what seems like half a lifetime. The appeal of the “here and now” rather than waiting and saving to buy from a store that offers no credit, but a consequently far lower purchase price is something that Brighthouse encourage – many of their customers have little academic education, and don’t necessarily realise that they may only be paying back a tenner or so a week for their 3D television, but doing so for several years means it is costing them a pile more money than it should. In my opinion, Brighthouse operate a legal business; whether they operate a moral one is open to debate. At least the residents of Bexleyheath will no longer have to suffer potentially being ripped off by making a purchase from the hated Brighthouse. Roll on the 25th of March and the final closure of the store. I feel sorry for the store workers who will lose their jobs, but I think that any redundant workers would be able to sleep better at night when working for a more ethical employer in the future. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph at the end of last week, a spokesperson for Brighthouse said that it would shut 28 stores before the next rent demands are due, saying “part of our plan requires us to be leaner and more cost effective”. I predict that Brighthouse will cease to exist in its' current form within the next quarter, and I for one will not be sorry to see it go.

Regular readers may recall that i wrote some time ago that your TV or other smart devices that you may have in your home can spy on you; voice recognition systems used to control smart TV's have to "listen out" for potential voice commands, and thus have to monitor all sounds in their vicinity - which can be a potential security risk.  Until recently this has all been rather theoretical, until news broke earlier this week that Chinese owned and American operated discount TV manufacturer Vizio had been prosecuted for spying on its customers. America's trade watchdog, the FTC, said today the payment will settle a complaint filed by the state of New Jersey accusing Vizio of violating privacy regulations: the business had collected the viewing habits of 11 million television sets throughout the country without warning or permission. According to the state attorney general's federal complaint, from February 2014 to March 2016, Vizio noted down exactly what its customers were watching and then resold all those records as summaries to third parties – which were mostly advertising companies. The usage data was not only collected while customers were watching over-the-air or cable TV broadcasts, but also when they were watching DVDs or streaming video from websites and web video services like Netflix. Vizio harvested surveillance on people and their families so precise, it knew exactly what viewers were watching, second by second, and even took copies of the watched video, according to prosecutors. Additionally, Vizio resold summaries of personal information about its customers it had gathered, including age, marital status, and household income, to advertisers without consent. Vizio were fined $2.2 million and ordered to delete any customer information it collected before March 1, when it began to notify people of the data theft. The settlement deal also allows the FTC to extract heavier penalties from Vizio in the future if it is found to be collecting and reselling personal data without first getting clear permission from customers. It is my opinion that this kind of behaviour is going to become increasingly common worldwide.

A number of stories have come to light relating to the possible future of Erith landmark building, and nowadays a bit of an eyesore, Electricity House; I had hoped to feature a guest written piece on the building, and what has been going on behind the scenes, but for a number of reasons it will have to wait until another edition. A previously unpublicised factor that may influence the potential sale and redevelopment of Electricity House is the news that the company that has a virtual monopoly of mobile phone transceiver mast sites in the UK (including the extensive antenna farm located on the roof of Electricity House) is itself up for sale. UK cellular tower and TV mast radio specialist Arqiva has been put up for sale with an optimistic price of between £5bn and £6bn, but its two core areas of business both have question marks hovering over them. Any mobile tower company taking a long hard look at 5G has to decide if it can get heavily into a new class of platform for small cells – notably cutting deals with smaller street furniture such as street lighting, rather than building brand new towers, or upgrading existing ones often sitting on top of buildings such as electricity House. It’s not so much that the existing macro cell towers are going away, just that the will not grow as before. Arqiva, so much a dominant force in the UK, that it might be considered a monopoly, has the additional problem of owning all the digital terrestrial TV masts in the UK, just as long term doubts have emerged over linear TV. Arqiva are currently up for sale for a reported £5 - £6 billion, with undisclosed, but large capital debts on top. Arqiva's current owners are two conservative investors, who opt for businesses with guaranteed high returns at low risks - the Australian investment bank Macquarie and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board – and they have decided to throw in the towel now, and have put the business on the market. The truth is that the weakened British Pound gives those who show their investments in Australian or Canadian dollars an asset on their books which appears to be declining rapidly now rather than over the coming years, due to currency fluctuation – so there is a feeling that they wish to get out with the value intact before the British Pound goes down even further. I would estimate that the Electricity House mast site generates roughly £100,000 a year for the building freeholder, undoubtedly the largest source of rental income from the building - which in any case is now worth far less than the land that it stand on. The building is definitely on borrowed time, and it will be instructive to see what happens over the next couple of years.

The end video this week features local, Kent based sea shanty group "Swinging the Lead" who perform all around Europe at folk and cultural festivals. In the video below you can see them performing at the Rotterdam Shanty Festival, singing a shanty about the Woolwich Ferry! Great stuff and very funny. I have to declare an interest here. band member Colin G3VTT (the chap wearing the cap with the impressive moustache) and I have known each other for very many years - I first met him when he was a transmitter engineer on Radio Caroline. We lost touch thereafter, only to bump into each other back in 1996, when I started evening classes to work towards passing the Radio Amateurs Examination (RAE) and Colin was the tutor! A small world. I never realised what a fine singing voice he has. Listen for yourself, and leave a comment below, or Email me at

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