Sunday, April 02, 2017

Casey Jones.

Work progresses on the White Hart in Erith High Street - the photo above was taken just before the scaffolding was erected to cocoon the building before the next phase of restoration and conversion work got underway earlier this week. The recreated frontage is definitely starting to come together, and to my mind should end up being almost indistinguishable from the original. 

The mystery of the tracked digger that I reported and photographed last week in the Erith Riverside Gardens has now been solved.  I was contacted earlier this week by FORGE (Friends Of Riverside Gardens Erith) who explained that the Council are carrying out work on the gardens.  They are digging up all the large bushes and re-planting with low growing shrubs.  This is to have a better view across the gardens to the river. This was agreed last year between the Council and FORGE. The large bushes were making a barrier between the pavement and the gardens and people were not encouraged to go into the gardens. The Council are also gradually re-vamping all the other beds on the gardens. This is very encouraging news - the gardens are the jewel in the crown of Erith, and the only place in the whole of the London Borough of Bexley where you can get direct access to the River Thames. It is a lovely place to sit and watch the ships go past on the river, and to watch the world in general go by. There has been long held distrust by many local residents that the council would try to sell off the land to a developer to build expensive riverside apartments, but that fear now seems to be unfounded. FORGE also reminded me to let readers know that FORGE and Thames 21 have arranged another Clean-Up Day along the Thames foreshore and gardens which will take place on SUNDAY 15th MAY from 9am to 12.30pm.  The Army Cadets (who love pulling trolleys out of the water!) will be volunteering on the day and anyone who would like to help would be welcome to come along. You can see a short video film about the work of environmental charity Thames 21 below. 

You may recall how last week I described an encounter that I had experienced with a gambling addict outside a Paddy Power bookmakers shop, and how bemused it left me feeling. Well, since then I have had an opportunity to carry out some research into gambling, and into Paddy Power in particular, and my studies have left me further alarmed - things are actually worse than I had previously surmised. I also encountered the same individual again yesterday, and I feel that you would find the details interesting. I was heading up to visit my mother on the 99 bus from Erith, which I was able to pick up from a stop not too far from Pewty Acres.  One thing that I deliberately omitted from my account of the gambling beggar last week was that the chap involved was in an electric wheelchair; I did not feel that his physical disability had any bearing on the story, but now I feel that perhaps it has. I was travelling on the 99 yesterday, as mentioned when I noticed a man in his mid 50's in an electric wheelchair in the pram / wheelchair area adjacent to the rear set of doors. I made sure that I did not obstruct him, and sat near to the back of the bus; at this stage I was in "auto pilot" mode, and did not connect the individual with the encounter of the previous week. When the bus arrived at my stop, I discovered that it was also the getting off point of the guy in the electric wheelchair. I stood to one side to allow him off the bus first, as the driver extended the bus ramp. Once he was successfully off, I followed him onto the pavement, then overtook him as I walked along the pavement; I then heard him call out to me, which was the point when I recalled our previous encounter - he asked me once again for money, which I once more ignored and carried on with my journey. Later I saw him in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere, successfully asking for cash from a number of passers by. He is genuinely disabled, but he does "milk" his condition as a means for gaining sympathy from passers by as he begs for money with which to feed his gambling addiction. I would strongly suggest not giving him any cash, as no good will ever come of it. This links into a piece I wrote earlier in the week, which now has added relevance. Last year, The Gambling Commission issued a report analysing ways in which Paddy Power exploited a man with gambling addiction to the extent that he lost five jobs, his home and access to his children. The company also failed to perform sufficient checks to ensure customers were not using its betting machines to launder the proceeds of crime. The betting regulator said Paddy Power would make a voluntary payment of £280,000 to a “socially responsible” cause following its findings. Paddy Power admitted that senior staff encouraged a man with a gambling problem to keep betting despite warnings by more junior employees. The man, referred to only as Customer A, was a frequent user of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), which have been referred to as the “crack cocaine” of gambling. The machines allow customers to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds on games such as roulette and blackjack, for which the odds are fixed. I have previously written at some length about the dangers of these machines, which the government refused to ban, or limit both the stakes and the level of payout after pressure from the gambling industry.  In May 2014, Paddy Power staff became aware that Customer A was working five separate jobs to fund his gambling and “had no money”, The Gambling Commission said. Although he claimed to be comfortable with his level of gambling, shop staff passed their concerns up the chain to senior staff, who advised monitoring him. Later that month, the shop manager informed a more senior member of staff that Customer A would be visiting the shop less frequently. The senior employee responded by advising that “steps should be taken to try to increase Customer A’s visits and time spent in the gambling premises”. This was grossly at odds with the licensing objective of preventing vulnerable people from being exploited by gambling,” said The Gambling Commission. The report went on to say that the shop manager “recorded some discomfort” about the senior employee’s advice, according to the commission, and staff later noticed that the customer was “spending heavily and looked unwell and as if he had not slept for a while”. He was only advised to seek help for gambling addiction in August 2014, when a staff member met him on the street and learned that he had lost all of his jobs, was homeless and had lost access to his children. The Gambling Commission also detailed two cases in which Paddy Power failed to apply money laundering controls designed to stop people using betting terminals to conceal the proceeds of crime. Criminals can use games such as roulette to launder money at a small cost, gambling experts said. For instance, someone with £100 in cash could place £48 on black, £48 on red and £2 on green, or 0. The maximum they could lose would be £4, at which point they could ask a bookmaker to put the remaining £96 on their debit card. The money would then appear as a legitimate payment from a bookmaker, hiding the fact that it could have been cash from a criminal enterprise. The Gambling Commission said that in August 2014, a shop manager suspected that Customer B, a longstanding user of Paddy Power shops, was using gambling facilities to launder Scottish bank notes. The manager related their suspicions to more senior members of staff on four occasions over six months. But senior staff “repeatedly overruled” the shop manager, saying that as the notes were British currency and were not stained or counterfeit, it was unlikely that the money was being laundered. None of the suspicions were reported to the company’s money laundering reporting officer. Paddy Power only barred the customer after police raised fears that Scottish banknotes that were the proceeds of crime were being laundered in London. it would seem that the News Shopper has picked up on my one man crusade against Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBT's) in their latest edition, they describe some of the misery the terrible machines can inflict. The paper writes that:- "More than 230,000 gambling sessions a year where consumers lose more than £1,000, according to figures by the Gambling Commission, with 650 leading to losses of more than £5,000. One of the main reasons for these staggering individual losses is because FOBT machines have a much higher maximum allowable stake. The maximum is a £100, which marks them as a significant anomaly among high-street gaming machines. Unless you were to go to a specialist casino, every other widely available machine has a maximum £2 stake. Organisations are now stepping in to put pressure on the Government to help protect people with gambling addictions and to save them from throwing vast sums of money into these machines. John White, BACTA chief executive, has spearheaded the campaign to shine a light on the financial and social destruction gambling can cause. BACTA president Jason Frost said: “Fixed-odds betting terminals are a hardcore form of gambling, entirely unsuitable for everyday high-street venues. With stake limits at £100, 50 times that of any other widely available gaming machine, they allow consumers and at-risk gamblers to rack up huge losses.“As the Gambling Commission’s figures show, the vast majority of everyday punters who are making major losses are doing so at these addictive betting shop machines at higher stakes. They endanger consumers, foster a culture of violence and aggression, and undermine the whole amusement industry’s work to create a socially responsible environment for gaming that puts player protection first. We urge DCMS to do the right and necessary thing and order a substantial reduction in FOBT stakes.” In response the immoral and (to my mind, borderline illegal, and certainly immoral) Association of British Bookmakers (who strike me as little more than a front for organised crime) said in response that "This is a deeply flawed report, funded by vested interests who would directly benefit if its recommendations are ever implemented. The report is the view of a tiny group of anti-betting shop MP's . This group has been financed by those with interests in the casino, arcade and pub industries. This group of MPs has operated in secrecy, provided no transcripts of the evidence given to their meetings and operated throughout behind closed doors away from public scrutiny". Personally if I had any say in such things, I would seriously restrict the abilities of betting shops and online casinos, with no stake allowed to be greater than £2, and no payout to exceed £100. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

I do wonder how much longer free daily London newspaper City AM can survive. The paper is given away by distributors outside of major train stations such as Woolwich Arsenal, but I have noticed that a vast majority of commuters ignore this and instead opt for picking up a copy of Metro. The readership figures for these two free morning papers seem to reflect this; according to Wikipedia, City AM gets around 94,000 readers each day, whereas Metro gets around 1.4 million. This figure is somewhat distorted by the fact that Metro is available in several other parts of the country, whereas City AM is only distributed in Greater London. Nevertheless, with advertising revenue tanking for many printed papers, even with City AM’s demographic (wealthy city workers, bankers and the like) it is unlikely to attract much in the way of advertising bearing in mind the very low readership numbers.

I know that a fair number of Maggot Sandwich readers are Radio Amateurs, or radio enthusiasts of one kind or another; the next story is pretty much aimed at this audience. As I have mentioned in the past, I am in the market for a new H.F transceiver and I have been looking around at the various options available to me - currently the Icom IC 7300 is looking as a likely winner. Historically there have been two main amateur radio dealers in the South East; Martin Lynch and Sons in West London, and Waters and Stanton in Hockley in Essex - as you can see in the photo above - click on it for a larger view. I would say that they are the two biggest, longest established and best stocked dealers in the country, and they both advertise heavily both online and in the amateur radio press. I have used both companies in the past, and have had very good service from both. Now it seems that a very undignified war has broken out between the two retailers, after close to forty years of a relatively peaceful coexistence. News recently broke that Waters and Stanton were merging with Nevada (a ham radio retailer / wholesaler based in Portsmouth), and InnovAntennas (an antenna supply firm) to form a new company called IHSG. The result of this is that the long established Waters and Stanton shop in Hockley, Essex closed last Friday and the entire enterprise relocated down to Nevada’s HQ in Portsmouth. Peter Waters G30JV, CEO of the former Waters and Stanton recently wrote:- "Yes it is now official. IHSG is the largest retail outlet for Ham Radio and Hobby Electronics. So what does it mean for the ham radio enthusiast? This new Group has more active radio hams than any other retail outlet. That in itself is very important. Whether deciding what to buy or wanting some technical advice, you need to talk with a fellow enthusiast who is sympathetic to your needs and understands your questions. IHSG are not box shifters whose only concern is to take your money and move onto the next customer. We offer the kind of service that we ourselves would expect, and hope for, if we were buying ham radio gear. More and more customers are now buying mail order, either by telephone or via our web site. This makes sense because it usually means that you receive your order the next working day and don’t waste time in traffic jams or spend money on fuel. Of course we welcome customers into our showroom with free car parking outside and a warm drink inside. The Group’s size also means that you will get the best Casey Jonespossible deal because of our buying power. And as we have more agencies than any other retail outlet, we are able to match or beat prices. This is of course good news. We also operate the largest part exchange and buy back service in the UK. And if you wish, we can arrange to pick up your used equipment”. The bad blood between Martin Lynch and Sons and (now) IHSG is unpleasant; I understand that there have been claims from IHSG that certain Martin Lynch and Sons employees have been telling their customers that Waters and Stanton have gone out of business (technically this may be true in a sense – that they have merged to form a new organisation, but the intent was apparently to convey the message that they had gone bust, which is not the case). IHSG have threatened legal action, and have also published a warning that certain Yaesu equipment purchased from an unnamed amateur radio retailer was old stock that has been sitting in a warehouse for a year or so. Whilst the company is not named, the guilty party is implied. I can understand that Martin Lynch being rattled by the company merger – they have gone from being roughly equal in size to Nevada and Waters and Stanton to being the smaller retailer – and thus likely to lose market share. Personally, I have no axe to grind with any of the organisations mentioned, but it does concern me that undignified bickering between market leaders in the amateur radio field can only bring the technical hobby into disrepute. I have always been of the opinion that when in business, if you have nothing good to say about your competitors, say nothing. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or email me at

A story that may well affect a lot of local people is currently proving to be controversial. The News Shopper have reported that Southeastern  trains on the Dartford to London via Greenwich line may in future only call at Cannon Street, and not at London Bridge, Waterloo East or  Charing Cross. This may also prove to be the case on the Bexleyheath line. Reaction to this unwelcome news has been swift. Teresa Pearce, MP for Erith and Thamesmead, said that the proposals significantly underestimate the number of new homes being built in south-east London.  “This flawed consultation on the future of the service is based on incorrect information and massively underestimates the number of new homes to come in the local area and the number of people who will be using the service in the future. Failing to assess the service level needed accurately will only exacerbate the problems and leave rail users paying more and more for less and less.” Fellow MP David Evennett said Southeastern have “Let my constituents down. The train services from Bexleyheath and Crayford into central London have been extremely bad. There are constant delays, cancellations, overcrowding, and a severe lack of information from staff.  Southeastern and Network Rail have let my constituents down, and there have been too many excuses.  I raise the issues with the Rail Minister, Southeastern, and Network Rail regularly yet things do not improve so I welcome the consultation on a new franchise.  There must be greater cooperation between the operator and Network Rail to deliver more rolling stock and better reliability, and I therefore support the proposals to ensure they work together as one team with a focus on performance.  However, I strongly oppose the suggestion to reduce the number of terminals that can be reached from Bexley, and believe the services to Charing Cross and Victoria are essential”. On top of this, it would appear that the new housing figures that Southeastern have used in their calculations of the reduced service are wildly inaccurate. They used a figure of 38,000 new homes over the next five years, yet when Teresa Pearce questioned the figure with the Department of Transport they revised the number of new houses upwards to 68,400. Teresa then commented “I am not confident that the future demand for rail services in South East London is being fully considered and consulted on, and if they have made mistakes on this, what else have they made mistakes on? This proposal would drastically limit the choice and options for rail users in my constituency and across the South-East. It would significantly increase journey times, and would lead to major problems of overcrowding and further pressure on already busy interchange stations like Lewisham”. It does seem to me that we as commuters are being charged more and given less in return. No wonder the calls for Southeastern to lose the local rail franchise are now so loud.

The coverage of the potential changes and reductions in the number of London railway stations that may be serviced by Southeastern Trains reminds me of a horror that used to exist at several London stations. There was a period in the 1980's when British Rail ran a series of fast food outlets called Casey Jones Burgers. The restaurants were located at the major rail stations such as London Bridge and Charing Cross. The burgers were quite indescribably vile; they certainly bore absolutely no resemblance to the paragon of great burger - ness featured in the advert above. They were actually composed of greasy, gristly, zombie flesh - like cold grey meat on the outside, and lava hot in the middle so that molten cheese scalded the roof of your mouth like dairy based napalm (I think they microwaved the burgers). Rumours abounded when the Casey Jones opened at Charing Cross, all of the feral pigeons that plagued the station concourse suddenly disappeared. It was all very coincidental. Fortunately Casey Jones did not last too long, and eventually Burger King took over their station locations. they are now nothing other than a distant memory. If you have any recollections of Casey Jones Burgers, please get in contact and let me know.

The staff cuts to the News Shopper are now very obvious; what used to be a well – written and intelligently edited local paper has now sadly declined into a shoddily assembled set of cut and pasted press releases that covers an area from Twickenham and Richmond down to well past Gravesend – hardly local – more regional. I don’t blame the staff – what is left of them. They have been cut to the bone, and have little choice in the stories they run – anything that can be posted without needing to visit a site or interview a witness will be done. Instead of taking photos of locations on site, they now use screen captures from Google Street View. The amount of advertising and tracking software on the News Shopper website is astounding; even with a very fast fibre broadband connection and a fast computer, the website is extremely sluggish and off-putting. Popular items such as the PubSpy reviews were dropped in September of last year, as this requires a reporter to physically visit a location to undertake the review. I fear for the future of the once mighty local newspaper.

I ought to add that this next story is not some kind of late April Fool's piece, just in cast it reads that way. You may have noticed that a number of domestic appliance manufacturers are adding the capability to be web enabled to some of their high end devices. This has proved to be more of a liability than a benefit in many cases. Upmarket German domestic appliance maker Miele have been identified as producing a dishwasher that has a serious and unpatched vulnerability that could leave it open to hackers. Yes, you read it correctly - a dishwasher that connects to the Internet. The dishwasher has a fully featured web server installed on it, and the web server has a number of pretty basic vulnerabilities that have not been patched. The upshot of this is that the dishwasher is vulnerable to what is known as a Directory Traversal Attack. These attacks let miscreants access directories other than those needed by a web server. Once they are in those directories, it is party time, because they can insert their own programming code and tell the web server to execute it - thus completely taking over the dishwasher, and potentially any other devices in the home and beyond that the dishwasher is able to communicate with. It is unclear which libraries Miele used to craft the Web server, which means without a fix from the vendor – for a dishwasher – the best option is to make sure the appliance isn't exposed to the Internet. Because Miele is an appliance company and not a pure-play IT company, it doesn't have a process for reporting or fixing bugs. Aside from this consideration, I think we should look at the bigger picture. Until we have self loading dishwashers, how can they need internet access? We don't run them until they are loaded. Humans load them. Once they are full, we set them off. If we don't want them to clean the dishes straight away, they have a "delay" feature so we can run them when the Economy 7 has kicked in / while the sun's up and our solar panels are providing the electricity. Humans put the salt, detergent tablets and rinse-aid in. Needing internet access to order more rinse-aid etc when it is running low is (until the manufacturers can be trusted with anything sharper than a crayon or warmer than a cushion) a decidedly sub-optimal path. So why on earth do we need internet enabled dishwashers? "Because we can" is a valid human argument for scaling Everest (for those humans so inclined/capable) but letting household appliances loose on the internet "because we can" (rather than "because we need to") is lazy, foolish and to my mind pointless.

The following announcement has been made by the North End Safer Neighbourhood Police Team:- "If you would like to become involved with Neighbourhood Watch and set up a scheme for your road (if you do not have one), please let us know. If you are unsure if you do have a scheme in your road, again, email us and we can let you know. Surgery and Street Briefing dates and times for Northend Ward in APRIL 2017 are listed below.



If there are any issues that affect you or you have any information you feel we may need to know, please come and see us. All information is dealt with in the strictest confidence".

Something that I have observed and written about in the past has been independently confirmed. Bexley is officially one of the most improved boroughs when it comes to restaurant and takeaway food hygiene in the country. You may recall that I originally bemoaned the awful state of food hygiene, not only in the borough, but specifically in West Street, Erith, which at one point had the lowest overall "Scores on the Doors" ratings of anywhere in the whole of the UK. Now that has all changed - very much for the better.  Which? magazine found that the chance of a consumer buying from a food business that is not meeting hygiene standards is as high as one in three in 20 local authorities. The consumer group analysed data submitted to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) by 386 UK local authorities and ranked those local authority areas, focusing on those considered high risk such as hospitals, care homes and schools, and medium-risk businesses such as a local restaurant or takeaway. Four London local authority areas - Newham, Ealing, Lewisham and Camden - were all ranked in the bottom 10. The five most-improved local authority areas since Which? last carried out its analysis two years ago are Bexley, Sunderland, Stockport, South Cambridgeshire and Barrow-in Furness. Erith's very own "proper" restaurant - the Riverside Fish and Steak has just got its very first "Scores on the Doors" rating, and to nobody's surprise it passed with flying colours and scored an outstanding 5 stars out of 5. 

The ending video is a time lapse recording of the Woolwich Ferry, from early in a winter morning until around midday. See what you think. Leave a comment below, or Email me at

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