Sunday, December 15, 2019

The chimney.

The photos above - click on any one for a larger view, were taken by me on Friday, just as the Christ Church Erith annual Christmas Tree Festival got under way. The event, which features eighty individually decorated and lit Christmas trees is held every year; it raises money for the church, and also for Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice. Several thousand visitors attend the event, which has become a cornerstone in the local social calendar. I was there on both Friday and Saturday in my capacity as a committee member of the Friends of Christ Church Erith. I was holding a donation bucket and handing out event programmes to the constant stream of visitors. Not just local people came to view the Christmas trees - a couple who had heard about the event on social media told me that they had come all of the way from Hounslow, and another woman said she had come from just outside of Southend! The high winds experienced on both Friday and Saturday did present some challenges; especially to the handful of trees in the West lobby - some got blown over several times, but did not seem to be worse for the wear after being uprighted. On the Saturday of the festival the Bexleyheath Rock Choir performed to a packed house. Tonight is the annual Christmas Carol concert, which is also always a standing room only event. If you are intending visiting the carol service, I highly recommend that you get to Christ Church by 6pm at the latest, if you want to get a seat. The carol concert is exceedingly popular. 

Over the last two editions of the Maggot Sandwich, I have outlined how Ring smart doorbells are a really bad idea, and have a very low level of security; last week Ring owner and local software developer Miles wrote a piece confirming my own observations; now another company who make smart door locks has come under scrutiny, when it turns out their own supposedly groundbreaking product is subject to very straightforward security exploits. On Wednesday, Finnish security house F-Secure revealed a vulnerability in the KeyWe Smart Lock that could let a sticky-fingered miscreant easily bypass it. To add insult to injury, the device's firmware cannot be upgraded either locally or remotely. This means the only way to conclusively remediate this problem is to remove the smart locks from your door and replace them with a standard mechanical lock. The KeyWe Smart Lock is primarily used in private dwellings, and retails for circa £155 on Amazon. It allows users to unlock their doors through a traditional metal key, via a mobile app, or with Amazon Alexa. Its Achilles' heel is what F-Secure describes as "improperly designed communications protocols". These allowed the firm to intercept the secret passphrase as it transmitted from the smartphone to the lock, using just a cheap wireless sniffer and Wireshark - a common free and open source program for intercepting and analysing computer network traffic. The KeyWe Smart Lock uses AES-128 encryption to communicate with the mobile app. However, the communication channel uses only two factors to generate that encrypted channel: a common key and a separate key calculation process. Both of these are trivial to overcome. The KeyWe Smart Lock uses BlueTooth Low Energy, which is based on the concept of advertisements. These contain information about device capabilities, the device name, and the device [MAC] address. It is from this address the common key is generated. Security analysts at F-Secure also figured out how to isolate and replicate the key-calculation process from the mobile application, rendering the second factor redundant. With the KeyWe's encryption rendered null and void, an attacker would merely have to identify a property using the lock, then wait for someone to come and unlock the door. They would then be able to intercept the passcode in transit and use it to break into the property. Smart devices are inherently insecure, and often the first vector a hacker will use when attacking a location, as the devices tend to have rudimentary security, and are connected to the location's data network, making them an ideal portal into your network, and thus all of your information. You have been warned. Comments to

Some time ago I featured a short article on The Priory Club on the corner of Woolwich Road and Picardy Road in Upper Belvedere, directly opposite the site of the former Belvedere Police Station. Tony from The Priory Club has written the following piece about the establishment; he writes:- "The Priory Club occupies one of the few outwardly untouched Victorian Villas in Belvedere (See picture). The Club, previously known as the Conservative Club occupied the building in 1912, buying the site from Flaxman Spurrell who in his day was a well-known archaeologist and photographer. (see Wikipedia). The Priory, possibly the oldest club in Bexley originally was exclusively for “Gentlemen only” ladies only admitted on special occasions and New Years Eve. About thirty years back a concession was made, and ladies attended as guests; but on Saturday evening only. In recent years the ethos changed, and they were permitted to become members, which led two years ago to a female becoming a committee member; Now the committee has both Lady Chair and Secretary. During the recent economic recession, The Priory like many clubs went through a period of decline as membership fell back, but in the last year things have picked up as numbers increase, now joint membership with a partner is offered at a discounted fee. Singers and guest speakers regularly entertain members and quiz nights are ever popular. The well- stocked bar offers a range of wines, spirits and ales at reasonable prices. Arguably the club has three of the best snooker tables in the borough and snooker is one of the major facilities available. A development programme is being enacted where funds raised will be ploughed back into improving the décor and facilities for members. Further information can be found on the priory Club website by clicking here".

For many locals, the Littlebrook Power Station chimney will have been a familiar landmark on the horizon. Early this morning it came down in an explosive demolition. I stood in my front garden waiting for it to come down, but nothing. I came home from shopping a little earlier, and it has now gone from the horizon. No explosion heard. I gather that several videos are available on social media, and that the News Shopper have featured the story - click here for the details. A video of the demolition can be seen above. Did you witness the demolition?

Earlier this year a film was released to what turned out to be very little fanfare or publicity. About the only real notice anyone gave it was from the advertising posters that adorned local double decker buses at the time. The film in question was called Red Joan, and bearing in mind it starred Dame Judi Dench, and was directed by Sir Trevor Nunn, it pretty much sank without a trace. The film made a little over $10.5 million worldwide, barely recovering its production costs. The strap line for the film read thus:- "Joan Stanley is a widow living out a quiet retirement in the suburbs when, shockingly, the British Secret Service places her under arrest. The charge: providing classified scientific information - including details on the building of the atomic bomb - to the Soviet government for decades. As the interrogation gets underway, Joan relives the dramatic events that shaped her life and her beliefs". Does this sound vaguely familiar? It is, because Red Joan was a rather badly fictionalised and tediously dull version of the true story of former Bexleyheath resident, and infamous Soviet spy Melita Norwood. Back in August of 2016, I wrote that much of the evidence in respect of her giving the Russians details of the British atom bomb project was contradictory and unclear. Subsequent research I have carried out now lends a stronger argument that she did indeed betray British atomic secrets, and this was the reason that she was awarded the Order of the Red Banner – the Soviet approximate equivalent to the British George Medal. Melita Norwood worked as a secretary at the Tube Alloys project; ostensibly this was a group of Anglo – Canadian scientists, engineers and metallurgists carrying on research into materials which could better resist heat and corrosion for use in both defence and civilian industry. Actually most of this was a cover for what the project was actually dedicated to, which was the creation of Britain’s first atomic bomb, and a few years later with the creation of a British thermonuclear weapon. Contrary to much of received opinion, Britain was not privy to much of the nuclear research the Americans carried out after the end of World War II. The Tube Alloys project actually began in 1942, before the Americans began the much more widely known Manhattan Project. Many Tube Alloys staff did join their American counterparts at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge during the war, and contributed much to the creation of Fat Man and Little Boy – the weapons used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. Once the war had been won, politics took over and the non – US teams were repatriated, and the sharing of atomic information all but ceased under the terms of the McMahon Act of August 1946. (Ironically the Soviet Union got more British nuclear bomb design and construction information from Tube Alloys via the spying of Melita Norwood, than the Americans did by conventional means. The specific project to create a British nuclear weapon began in 1947 and was code named “HER” – which stood for High Explosive Research. After then Prime Minister Clement Attlee's government decided that Britain required the atomic bomb to maintain its position in world politics. In the words of Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, "That won't do at all ... we've got to have this ... I don't mind for myself, but I don't want any other Foreign Secretary of this country to be talked to or at by a Secretary of State in the United States as I have just had in my discussions with Mr Byrnes. We've got to have this thing over here whatever it costs ... We've got to have the bloody Union Jack on top of it." Initially the British atom bomb project was housed as Fort Halstead, near Sevenoaks in Kent, and also at the Royal Arsenal site in Woolwich (just imagine if there had been a serious accident – we might be calling Woolwich the South East London crater now). Later the entire production facility was relocated to Aldermaston, where it continues to this day. Britain’s early nuclear weapons were more than a little crude and shambolic; they lacked basic safety and security features, and potentially could go off on their own if the conditions were right. The main early post war bomb was called the Violet Club; it was a large implosion type un-boosted fission weapon that used a very large amount of Uranium 235 (which was less expensive and hard to enrich than the more efficient and powerful Plutonium 239 that the Americans and Russians used). Because of the very large weight – over 70 kilos of fissile material were used, the bomb was actually greater than critical mass (the amount of weapons grade fissile material needed to create a nuclear explosion) and could theoretically go off with very little provocation. The safety features on the weapon would have been laughable had the subject not been so serious. The arming switch of the bomb was secured with a bicycle padlock and an Allen key. The hollow sphere of Uranium 235 that made up the warhead was filled up with 133,000 steel ball bearings, so that if the weapon did have its’ conventional explosive trigger accidentally go off, the sphere could not be crushed and go supercritical, causing a massive nuclear explosion. The ball bearings had to be removed before the weapon was ready to use. The trouble was, during routine maintenance, the bombs needed to be rotated to access various panels (including those that contained the bombs’ internal power supplies – a couple of six volt lead / acid motorbike batteries – I told you these bombs were built on the cheap). There are several documented occasions when the rubber bung holding the ball bearings in place fell out when the bomb was turned upside down, and all the ball bearings fell out over the floor. This left a very live and unpredictable weapon that could have gone off spontaneously. Now you see why I only half jokingly referred to the South East London crater. Melita Norwood was not exactly secretive about her communist beliefs either to her employers or her friends and neighbours. The fact that she spied so extensively and so long for the KGB might lead one to wonder if other people knew her secret, and sympathised with her cause. Several books have been written on the subject of Melita Norwood and her long career as Russia’s top female spy; the best account is in my opinion “The Spy That Came In From The Co-Op” by Andrew Pierce. He conducted a series of interviews with Norwood in her house in Nursery Avenue, Bexleyheath from the day the spying story publicly broke in the spring of 1999 (he had been travelling to interview her on another subject, but the news story meant that he had a whole more important book to write than that he had intended).  Over the course of a few months and many cups of weak and milky Co-Op 99 brand tea – purchased from the Long Lane branch, she told him her complete story, whilst sipping from her Che Guevara mug. Like many traitors, Melita Norwood had a very selective memory, and her politics remained those of the extreme left until her death in 2005. The fact that MI5 and Special Branch used the excuse that she was too old to prosecute is surprising – although the real reason is that she would have probably spilled the beans on other spies that the authorities had also failed to detect for decades. Intelligence historian and writer Nigel West (the pen name of Rupert Allason) has given the opinion that Melita Norwood did more damage to British interests than the far more well – known Cambridge five group of KGB spies. Perhaps to protect their own already shaky reputations, the security services thought it better to let sleeping dogs lie. After the treachery story came out, and Melita Norwood gained a degree of infamy, my Mother saw her on a local bus on a couple of occasions, and felt sorry for the old lady who was often the target of loudly whispered gossip by fellow travellers. Much of the shock surrounding Norwood's exposure was due to the fact that she seemed so ordinary. Her neighbours in Bexleyheath knew she was a life-long Communist who still took The Morning Star - she would buy 32 copies of each issue and hand them out to friends - but she never appeared other than a mildly harmless eccentric, the only evidence of radicalism being the CND posters in her window. She remained until the end a true believer in the myth of the Soviet peasant worker state that had first inspired her treachery. She hated all reforms of the Soviet Union's genocidal dictatorship. Norwood remained convinced that Communism could work and that capitalism was ultimately doomed to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. she was a quite unique and dedicated traitor. 

You may recall that last week I wrote about my own philosophy / policy on Christmas present wrapping, and how I employ reusable gift bags rather than using single use gift wrap which in nearly all instances cannot be recycled. I also don't send Christmas cards, as these too are absolutely terrible for the environment. Coincidentally the results of a detailed survey have just been published into issues which people have with packaging and wrapping in general. It makes for interesting reading. The report reads:- "A study of 2,000 UK adults found they spend 19 minutes a week trying to get into tricky packaging which is secured with too much tape, cable ties or even items which are screwed into place. A sixth of Brits will spend more than half an hour of Christmas day trying to free their gifts of their annoying containers. Vacuum-packed plastic wrap and stuck jars are also among the encasements many find themselves struggling to open. But a sixth have even broken scissors or knives from being unable to get into difficult packaging, while as many as two-fifths have hurt themselves in their bid to unwrap something. The study also found taped boxes, toys screwed into plastic, ring pulls and medicine bottles cause frequent annoyances for Brits. As a result, 84 per cent feel frustrated when unable to break into packaging, with one in three getting riled up when stuck opening a product or packet. A fifth will even feel defeated by the containers they can’t get into. These annoyances are caused by several challenging factors, with three in 10 complaining too much tape was used which made it hard to get into a packet. A fifth of those polled get annoyed because they needed a screwdriver to free a product from its packaging, and a third have grown frustrated simply because it took too long to get something from its container. Nearly a quarter have also ended up damaging or breaking the product itself. This has led to one in four having an argument due to struggles to get into a product, with nearly two-thirds having a fallout with their partners. A further three in 10 have bickered with their children, according to the research. The same number have even been put off specific brands because of the frustrations they’ve experienced with the packaging encasing the products they’ve bought. It also emerged businesses could be missing out on £1.5billion, as a fifth of adults have avoided ordering a particular product online over concerns about being able to open it. More than two-fifths would be more likely to buy again from a brand which had packaging that was easy to get into, with the average Brit finding issues with one in every six products. Nearly half have had to ask for help after failed attempts to relieve a product of its packaging confinement, giving up after just eight minutes of struggle. This has left one in 10 feeling embarrassed and an equal percentage getting fed up, with a fifth frustrated after turning to others for assistance". What do you think? Email me at

One of my regular sources of local information, who prefers to remain nameless alerted me earlier this week to a development that I had thought abandoned, but it turns out the project is still going ahead. The image above shows the elevations and floor plan for the building located at 28-40 Pier Road Erith. This is the building that currently has the discount supermarket Farm Foods on the ground floor, along with the adjacent Police office. The upper floor - which years ago used to be the home of a nightclub, is to be repurposed as an African church and function centre. If this sounds somewhat familiar to the existing P2 Events Centre a little further along Pier Road, then it is. I find it strange that another church group are planning on duplicating an existing facility that is less than one hundred metres away - and as I have covered in the past, the P2 Events Centre has had a brief, and very troubled history. The beleaguered owners of the P2 Events Centre and the former children's nursery in Electricity House located at 33A Bexley Road, Erith have put both spaces up for rent. As I recently wrote, the temporary planning permission for the two areas of the building has been withdrawn by Bexley Council. The P2 Events Centre is on offer, details of which can be seen by clicking here. The proposed rent for this shabby space is a staggering amount for what was formerly the Erith Snooker Centre - an incredible £95,000 a year - that is £7,916 a month. They will never get anything like this amount, especially as the future of the entire Electricity House is in some doubt, with the individual leases of the occupiers being progressively bought out by Bexley Council. This does make one wonder if the developers of 28-40 Pier Road are flogging a dead horse. It is always good to learn from the mistakes of others; something the current evidence does not seem to support. The organisation who have successfully won planning permission to redevelop the former nightclub space in 28-40 Pier Road are called The Household Of Faith Ministry, who currently meet in the Erith Leisure Centre

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. The update is somewhat shorter than normal this week, due to several ward reports not having been filed for various reasons. Firstly the update from Barnehurst ward:- "Good news for Barnehurst residents there have been no burglaries on the ward since the 15/11/2019. We have suffered a theft of a Jet Ski. This was taken from a trailer in Eversley Avenue. The Incident was captured on camera and shows two males at 03.06pm on Tuesday 10th December 2019 at the location removing the Jet Ski from the trailer. Please continue to ensure doors are double locked and your vehicles are left safe and secure". Belvedere ward:- "We have visited Court Lodge in Erith Road to speak to residents in relation to crime prevention and home security in the run up to Christmas. We were able to supply residents with various items and literature in relation to several topics. PC Holmes spoke to the residents about Smartwater, and there are several residents that we are hoping to supply this to in the coming days. As previously mentioned – Smartwater is now more widely available for the ward, and if anyone is interested please contact the team.There was a burglary in Milton Road on Thursday 5th December in which entry was gained via the rear door of the property (forcibly). Small items of jewellery were taken. The house is currently under renovation meaning there were minimal personal items within. There was also a burglary in Elmbourne Drive over the last weekend. Entry was gained via the rear of the property – the occupants of the property are currently away from their home but we will be speaking to them upon their return. There have been several instances of graffiti throughout the ward, which have been removed by Bexley Council. Should anyone see any of these, please report them to the team". Bexleyheath ward:- "4/12/19 overnight Theft From motor Vehicle Heathfield Road Glass from two wing mirrors stolen off of van 5/12/19 1730 – 6/12/19 1200 Theft From Motor Vehicle whilst parked at Goals Bexleyheath Wallet stolen whilst vehicle left parked up unlocked. 7/12/19 1615 – 1700 Asda Bexleyheath Purse stolen from handbag after withdrawing cash from cash machine located at Asda 8/12/19 0020 – 0050 Nyne Bar Bexleyheath Theft of Handbag whilst left on seat in nightclub 8/12/19 1130 – 1300 Purse and Phone Stolen from handbag whilst shopping at Bexleyheath Broadway 9/12/19 1200 – 1300 Purse Stolen from handbag near The Fragrance Shop, Bexleyheath Mall. Please ensure that doors and windows to properties are locked and secured with keys (lift the handle and turn the key in the lock) where applicable – revisit home security and lighting now the dark lights are coming. Please be careful with purse/wallets whilst out shopping, make sure they are secured inside your bags with a zip type handbag. If there is anything you wish for us to be aware of in your area please do email or phone". Crayford ward - no report received this week. Erith ward:- "No burglaries in Erith this week -Have a crime-free Christmas. We're working hard over Christmas to keep you and your family safe, but there are steps you can take to help us. When you're out shopping • Stay alert and be aware of what's going on around you, especially in busy shops and crowded streets where thieves and pickpockets may well be operating • Keep valuables in inside pockets of clothing or bags. Keep a close watch on them, and try not to keep them all in one place • Only carry the cash and cards that you need. Always shield the PIN pad when entering your PIN • Be careful where you park your car, especially if you will be returning to it after dark. If parking in a multi-storey car park, choose a well-lit space as close to the exit as possible and away from pillars. Reverse into position. Visit for details of approved car parks • Avoid going back to your car to leave your shopping part-way through your trip. If you have to keep presents in the car, make sure they are out of view in the boot, the car is locked, and keep the receipts with you • Deter pickpockets and muggers. Don't overburden yourself with bags/packages. Be extra careful with purses and wallets. Always carry a purse close to your body and not dangling by the straps. Put a wallet in an inside coat or front trouser pocket, likewise with your phone and keys • Try and avoid taking young children into busy shopping areas. If it is unavoidable make sure they know what to do if they lose you e.g. tell the nearest counter assistant that they are lost and never leave a shop without you. Agree a meeting point with older children, in case you get separated • Never leave your bag unattended on your trolley whilst shopping and don't leave it in your vehicle when returning your trolley • Don't get loaded down with too many bags. Try to keep one hand free • Keep car doors locked whilst driving in built-up areas, especially if you've got bags or presents in the car". Northumberland Heath ward - no report received this week. Slade Green and Northend ward:- "No Burglaries to report this week, two vehicles were broken into and property taken over night on Saturday 7th or 8th December. Both vehicles were on the Frobisher Road estate. Items taken were a lap top and a phone. Please do not leave any belongings in your vehicles when unattended. Even if it is only for a minute and even if they are hidden in the boot etc. PCSO Mark read the 6th Lesson at the St Augustines Carols by Candlelight service last Sunday which was very well attended. This coming weekend from Friday 13th until Sunday 15th December is the Erith Christmas Tree Festival at ChristChurch Erith. We will be attending at various times with our colleagues from Erith SNT, culminating in the carol service at 6.30pm on Sunday evening.  Our next Community Contact Session is on Tuesday 17/12/2019 at the St Augustines Welcome café from 1pm. Please come along and say hello, there is a surprise Santa expected". Thamesmead East ward - no report received this week. West Heath ward:- "Two burglaries across the ward over the last week. On Wednesday December 4th between the hours of 6.10pm – 8.05pm the rear doors to a property in Bedonwell Road were forced, the alarm ripped from the wall and an untidy search was conducted within the property. It is believed the address was targeted for family gold but at this stage of the enquiry it is not known if any items were stolen. Residential burglary in Elmstead Crescent on Thursday December 5th between 3pm – 6pm. The middle part of the UPVC door was removed in order to gain entry. The suspect removed the bulb from the security light before searching several upstairs rooms and stealing cash and three CCTV cameras. No vehicle crimes have been reported to us this week which is good news. The team are continuing to focus on high visibility patrols across the ward to detect and deter crime in the lead up to Christmas".

The historic end video this week comes courtesy of Pathe News, and coverage of the granting of the charter for Bexley back in 1937. It is fascinating to see just how many local people turned up for the event. Please feel free to send observations and comments to

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