Sunday, May 07, 2017

The festival.

Gary Drostle, the Erith based artist who was responsible for the controversial Erith De Luci Fish Sculpture situated on the large roundabout (photo above - click for a larger view) that connects Bronze Age Way, Walnut Tree Road, Bexley Road and Queen's Road has been very busy of late; he has been working on a commission for the Chelsea Flower Show, which will be sponsored by the holiday firm Viking Cruises. Gary Drostle specialises in mosaics, though he also does paintings - the excellent Thames Barge mural on the side of the White Hart is also his work. His studio is located in what used to be the old Europa Gym Centre - part of the Europa Industrial Estate in Fraser Road. In an interview with the Bexley Times, Gary said of his new commission:- "I’ve been creating mosaics for over 30 years now, but I knew that I needed some inspiration from the city itself. Viking Cruises run a journey from Barcelona to Venice, so I went on that, and my design went from there. When I got there, I had a eureka moment, where I realised what I needed to do was strip back the work, and hand make it using Venetian glass. The aim is to create a modern twist on Gaudi’s works. It’s a quick job compared to usual, as some murals take years to create, but this one has only taken four months. Last time I did anything for the garden show is was for Leeds Council - I made it and they just transferred it to the site, but this time I need to actually be at the show to put it together myself. I’ll have to finish building it, then break it up into jigsaw pieces, and then reassemble the wall when I’m in Chelsea. Mosaics are much more durable than painted murals, which is why I started creating them in the first place, but to be honest, this challenge is a lot more colourful and vibrant than the works I usually do. It’s been a really great challenge, and I’m excited to get the chance to visit the garden show.” Erith actually has quite a remarkable number of public art exhibits, especially considering the relatively small size of the riverside town. Even the gates to Erith Riverside Shopping Centre are works of art; the are covered with X-Ray images of common household objects. There are a number of different sculptures in and around the town centre, and the famous artwork that was removed from the side of the old Riverside Swimming Baths before they were demolished has been relocated to the public space next to the Kassiopi Cove childrens soft play centre (what once used to be the Blockbuster video hire shop - remember them?) Erith has a lot of public art if you care to look for it.

The 12th annual Bexley Beer Festival took place at The Old Dartfordians sports club in Old Bexley on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of last week. Despite the cold and blustery weather, there was as usual a huge turnout for the event, as you can see from the photos above - click on either for a larger view. Due to the inclement and unseasonal weather, it was not really possible to spend much time outside, and the main marquee was crammed with people. The clubhouse building next door was also very full with festival attendees. As usual, everyone was very polite, friendly and accommodating. What strikes me as being notable, is that the press often link alcohol consumption with violence and anti social behaviour. Indeed this may have a degree of basis in reality when considering an average high street pub and the usual lager drinking yob out to consume as much fizzy and tasteless "wife beater" as possible before closing time. Conversely I have never heard a voice raised in disagreement at a real ale festival, let alone any form of a fight - indeed I am led to understand that at the time of writing, the Police have never been called to any micro pub / ale house to resolve a conflict. I think this is primarily due to the type of people who drink real ale - who tend to be better educated, cultured and concerned with quality rather than quantity than your average lager drinker. The cliche of real ale enthusiasts tending to be middle aged and older men is really not true; the diversity in the crowd at the Bexley Beer Festival was interesting, as can clearly be seen in the upper photo. What cannot be seen is that in the upper photo, just out of shot there was a young lady in an electric wheelchair - the crowds parted like the Red Sea when she needed to move around, and she had many offer of assistance. A good festival, and much fun was had by all - it was just a pity that once again the weather was so inclement. Did you attend? What did you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

On Tuesday afternoon last week, I was using the Zebra crossing outside of the KFC in Manor Road when a woman in a VW Polo almost ran me down as I was actually on the crossing. She did not see me, as she was apparently having a row with someone on her mobile phone – something that not only is illegal, but has seen the penalties for so doing increased recently – not that anyone ever seems to get caught doing it. Despite tough new police crackdowns, one in five admits illegally texting or talking on the phone whilst driving. Car makers are aware of this issue, and some companies have been trying innovative approaches to remedy the situation – I suppose not only from a legal and safety perspective, but also in an effort to avoid damage to their brand and reputation should one of their vehicles become involved in a mobile phone related accident, or even fatality. Sunderland based Nissan UK have been one of the first to market with a new product aimed at reducing mobile phone related accidents in their cars. They have created a prototype compartment within the armrest of a Nissan Juke lined with a Faraday cage, an invention dating back to the 1830s. Once a mobile device is placed in the compartment and the lid closed, the Nissan Signal Shield creates a ‘silent zone’, blocking all the phone’s incoming and outgoing Cellular, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections. The concept is designed to give drivers a choice about whether to eliminate the distractions caused by the millions of text messages, social media notifications and app alerts that are ‘pushed’ to smartphones each day. The innovation works on the principle of the Faraday cage, an enclosure made of a conductive material, such as wire mesh, which blocks electromagnetic fields. It is named after the pioneering English scientist Michael Faraday, who invented it in the 1830s. When an electronic device, like a smartphone, is placed inside, any incoming electromagnetic signals – such as cellular or Bluetooth data – are distributed across the cage’s external conducting material and so prevented from reaching the device. RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “Our research shows that handheld phone use by drivers has reached epidemic proportions. “As mobile phone technology has advanced significantly many people have become addicted to them. However, the use of a handheld phone when driving represents both a physical and mental distraction and it has been illegal since 2003. The Nissan Signal Shield is a good example of a technology that can help drivers be phone smart. For those who can’t avoid the temptation, this simple but pretty clever tech gives them a valuable mobile-free zone”. It will be instructive to see if this project bears fruit; it is an interesting and different approach, but just how many drivers will take up the Faraday cage option? Time will no doubt tell, but I don't think very many.

A very worrying event took last week, and to compound matters, the News Shopper made an utter hash of reporting it. They ran a story which could have got national coverage, but their inept reporting meant that the story had little sense. They reported that a woman had attempted to abduct a toddler from a shopping trolley in Asda. What was not clear was when this event actually took place, and where the Asda store was located. As you will see from the screen capture above, the headline reads “Attempted child abduction in Asda Belvedere after woman lifts toddler out of trolley”, yet the video clip is entitled “Woman attempts to steal baby in Asda’s Bexleyheath”. The reporter cannot decide whether the alleged offence took place in Bexleyheath or Belvedere. This problem has been getting more common in the once great paper. Now that it is a regional, rather than a local paper, the reporters don’t know the local area – most of them are from West and South West London, and don’t have a clue about the geography of South East London and North Kent. In normal circumstances, this is little more than an inconvenience and an annoyance, but in an important story such as the toddler attempted abduction, it can make a vital difference. Have you noticed anything similar? Is it just me being too discriminating? It strikes me as being exceedingly poor journalism. The whole situation with local papers and their consolidation / merging has been brought about by a number of separate factors – not least of which has been the rise of the web; many local papers around the country have found it exceedingly difficult to  monetise their online content, as reader are extremely reluctant to pay for what they can get for free elsewhere. This has not only affected local papers – even the nationals have felt the pinch. The “never let the facts get in the way of a good story” Sun put their content behind a paywall for a couple of years, and their online readership dropped off a cliff. They were then forced to make their content freely available, as it now is. The News Shopper have gone down a different path, as on top of closing their Petts Wood office and moving to South West London, they have cut the number of editorial and journalism staff, and they have crammed their website with advertising and all sorts of bloated code. You may have noticed  that the News Shopper website takes an age to load and finish rendering – and it does not matter how fast your internet connection or your computer is. The reason for this is the large amount of hidden HTML, XML and JavaScript code that the web browser is forced to download and process. The News Shopper are not unique in this practice, but they seem to do it to a greater extent than most other similar sites. You also get a ton of “Sponsored Content” articles at the bottom of each page; as I have previously written, these are “Click Bait” – designed to get the user interested and to click on the story to read more. The advertisers that sponsor such non – stories give a fraction of a penny to the link host for each click through the link gets. It all adds up for a website that is trying to generate as much cash as possible, even if it does impede page loading / rendering times and gives a negative user experience.

On Tuesday a large number of traveller caravans appeared in the car park of Morrison’s in Erith; one regular reader sent me a couple of discreetly taken photographs, one of which you can see above. I was walking home from work, though the car park as usual when I encountered a large number of caravans that you can see in the photograph. I think the main problem with travellers and non – travelling people is a lack of dialogue. I know that many people have had bad experiences with travellers, but I would hazard a guess that as many travellers have had problems with us in one form or another. The mutual distrust / dislike between the two communities has been ongoing for decades. I refuse to believe that all travellers are criminals in the same way that there are all sorts of people in the general community – some good, some middling, and some bad. The lack of dialogue between the travellers and non-travellers has fed this distrust to the point where I could understand that some travellers might not even try to get along with others, thinking “what’s the point?” The fact is that some in the travelling community do themselves no favours by leaving large amounts of fly tipped litter and damage to the land where they have been camped. One thing is clear; Irish Travellers are a distinct ethnic group. In 2011 an analysis of DNA from forty Travellers was undertaken at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and the University of Edinburgh. The study provided evidence that Irish Travellers are a distinct Irish ethnic minority, who separated from the settled Irish community at least 1000 years ago; the claim was made that they are as distinct from the settled community as Icelanders are from Norwegians. Irish Travellers "left no written record of their own" and their families do not date back to the same point in time; some families adopted Traveller customs centuries ago, while others did so more recently. It is unclear how many Irish Travellers would be included in this distinct ethnic group at least from a genetic perspective. I understand that the Travellers that were camped in Morrison's car park have some kind of dispute with the travellers on the permanent site in Thames Road Crayford, opposite the council tip. Fortunately nothing violent took place, although there were concerns that something might kick off. The travellers were served notice to quit on Tuesday evening; the notice said that they had to be clear of the site by 9am on Wednesday morning; they actually left at 2.20pm, according to a reliable source. Two Morrison's staff then spent much of the rest of the afternoon clearing up the mess that had been left behind. All is now back to normal. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Eight percent of the male population and four point five percent of the general population of the UK as a whole are colour blind, and there are estimated to be over 250 million colour blind people worldwide - comparably the condition only affects something like one in two hundred women. The vast majority of people with a colour vision deficiency have inherited their condition from their mother, who is normally a ‘carrier’ but not colour blind herself. Some people also acquire the condition as a result of long-standing diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, some liver diseases and almost all eye diseases. The effects of colour vision deficiency can be mild, moderate or severe depending upon the defect. If you have inherited colour blindness your condition will stay the same throughout your life – it won’t get any better or worse. The retina of the eye has two types of light-sensitive cells called rods and cones. Both are found in the retina which is the layer at the back of your eye which processes images. Rods work in low light conditions to help night vision, but cones work in daylight and are responsible for colour discrimination. There are three types of cone cells and each type has a different sensitivity to light wavelengths. One type of cone perceives blue light, another perceives green and the third perceives red. When you look at an object, light enters your eye and stimulates the cone cells. Your brain then interprets the signals from the cones cells so that you can see the colour of the object. The red, green and blue cones all work together allowing you to see the whole spectrum of colours. For example, when the red and blue cones are simulated in a certain way you will see the colour purple. The exact physical causes of colour blindness are still being researched but it is believed that colour blindness is usually caused by faulty cones but sometimes by a fault in the pathway from the cone to the brain. People with normal colour vision have all three types of cone/pathway working correctly but colour blindness occurs when one or more of the cone types are faulty. For example, if the red cone is faulty you won’t be able to see colours containing red clearly. Most people with colour blindness can’t distinguish certain shades of red and green, although more severe variants are relatively common. It is worth noting that the term “colour blind” is colloquial and imprecise. To the uninitiated it can suggest a complete lack of colour vision, but many with the condition don’t see in black and white. Some people do (though that iteration of the condition is extremely rare), while others also labeled with colour blindness see mostly in shades of blue and yellow. Simply put, there are many types that range in severity from mild to extreme. As such, scientists use the more precise term “colour vision deficient” when speaking broadly about the condition. Scientists have known about the condition of colour blindness for the better part of two centuries. However, while some have worked to develop tools to aid the colour vision deficient, no one has produced a product that can offer people who have the condition much more than a crude workaround. An American scientist by the name of Doctor Don McPherson has come up with a very effective way of getting people with colour vision deficiencies to be able to see colour in the same way as people without the deficiency. Before founding his optical manufacturing company EnChroma, McPherson worked for a company called Bay Glass Research—putting his Ph.D. in glass science to use by engineering better ways to protect the eyes of surgeons using high-powered lasers for precision medical procedures. The first generation of protective eyewear these surgeons wore achieved its goal with thick, coloured glass, which absorbed the powerful, eye-frying energy of the laser. However, those glasses gave the surgeons headaches and made it difficult for them to distinguish between the tan, pink, and red tones of human flesh. The physicians had little choice, they needed to rely on other visual cues during operation. McPherson solved this problem by infusing glass panels with rare earth metals, which worked a bit like the surgeons he was aiding—by precisely targeting specific bands of the visible light spectrum. These glasses effectively deflected the dangerous wavelengths of the laser, while letting all other light pass through. The surgeons liked these glasses but not just in the operating theatre. McPherson soon got word that many of his clients were taking the shades home with them and using them as sunglasses. McPherson wanted to see what all the hubbub was about. And so, he made a pair for himself, inserting the customized glass panels into wrap-around BollĂ© frames, and unwittingly setting the stage for his breakthrough moment. In 2005, the self-described "avid ultimate Frisbee player" was wearing his high-tech shades at an ultimate tournament in Santa Cruz, California. While he was on the sidelines, resting, he lent the glasses to his friend and teammate. "And he goes: 'Dude! These are so cool! I can see the cones!" McPherson's friend was referring to the orange, sideline-deliniating cones, which, as colour blind man, he had previously been unable to see. McPherson knew this about his friend, and the news that his speciality glasses enabled him to see a colour he had never seen before hit the EnChroma founder like a ton of bricks. "I didn't play well after that," McPherson recalled in an interview. He was lost in thought—considering the nature of colour vision deficiency and what exactly these particular glasses might be doing that to corrected for his friend's condition. After the match he began feverishly researching colour blindness. According to McPherson he could hardly have picked a better time to take up interest in the field. To begin, around 2009, scientists working on gene therapy research found evidence that the brains of colour vision deficient individuals were able to process all of the colours in the visible spectrum, suggesting that if only the eyes could be aided in passing along the correct signal a previously colour blind person might be able to see the way those with normal  vision do. In essence, the software is OK, the problem is just with the hardware. If you can remedy the hardware, then everything would be fine. Most people have three types of pigment-sensitive cones in their eyes—blue, green and red. The information gathered by this trio, along with the information gathered by our light-sensitive rods, is processed by our brain and turned into a three-dimensional world of colour. In the eye of someone with normal colour vision, these cones are arrayed in such a way that the blue cone stands on its own. McPherson says that this pigment sensitive cone was likely the very first to appear evolutionarily. The green- and red-sensitive cones are much more recent developments—at least on the evolutionary scale. The predominant theory is that the green cone was the second to emerge and that the red cone was an advantageous mutation, which came along not long afterward. The Enchroma lenses filter out certain frequencies of light that confuse the malformed light receptor cones in people with colour blindness, allowing them to perceive colour in the normal way. There are caveats - the lenses have to be constructed specifically for an individual after a series of tests to determine precisely what colour perception deficiencies they have, and the lenses work best in bright daylight. Enchroma do make a separate set of lenses for indoor use, but they are not as efficient at rendering colour as the daylight lenses - also not every colour blind person can be helped with Enchroma technology - about twenty percent of colour blind people don't get any benefit from the glasses; having said that, eighty percent do get a marked improvement in colour perception - often in a very dramatic way, as you will see demonstrated in the short video below. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

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