Sunday, April 19, 2020


Despite all of the current doom and gloom in the press and elsewhere, at least some things can cheer people up. I took the photo above (click on it for a larger view) during the week; spring is well under way, as you can see from the blossom on the trees. The area around Erith Pier is due for renovation soon; the works may well be delayed by the current lock down though. As you can see in the photo, the flood barrier at the entrance to the pier is closed - indeed it has been closed for several weeks, and at the time of writing I do not know why. If you have any inside information, please Email me at in confidence. 

Residents across the borough are being asked to think of others and to not light bonfires during the current Coronavirus pandemic lock down. The effects of bonfires at this time are likely to be much more serious and have a bigger impact. The Coronavirus is known to cause serious respiratory problems, which could be made much worse if the sufferer is exposed to smoke from bonfires. It is important to be especially considerate at this time, when people are confined to their home and unable to escape unpleasant fumes. Bonfires can also become out of control or cause accidents, creating extra pressure on the already busy emergency services. It is understood that the changes to collection services and the closure of the refuse and recycling centres may create a storage issue for some residents. The council request - "Please think of others, compost your garden waste where possible, and stack or bag up rubbish for disposal when the current emergency is over, rather than burn it. Bexley Council will take enforcement action against any persistent offenders where bonfires cause an impact on neighbours. Bonfires can be reported via the Council's website".

If you have an Android smart phone, use a Chromebook like mine (click on the image above for a larger view), have a car with an onboard infotainment system, surf the web, or have a smart TV, or use social media, then without knowing it, you have used the Linux operating system. Linux is used by NASA, The London and New York stock exchanges, it controls The Large Hadron Collider at CERN, it is the operating system of choice of 497 of the top 500 supercomputers in the world, and is the backbone of Netflix - and pretty much both the Internet and the World Wide Web which is built on top of it. This hugely scalable and reliable operating system pretty much runs the modern world, and for the most part most people are completely unaware of it. Microsoft Windows may dominate the desktop and laptop computers of ordinary people, but outside of this area Linux is by far the more widely used computer operating system. The very first version of Linux was released to the world in 1991, but this week marks the start of the development of it in the Spring of 1990 by Finnish software engineer Linus Torvalds precisely thirty years ago. I have been using Linux since back in 1997, when it was very much the purview of IT professionals; it was lacking features, incompatible with a lot of hardware (getting online with Linux back in the day was an exercise in frustration – even very common hardware such as the then ubiquitous U.S Robotics 56K modem could be an utter bugger to get working).  I recall the hours I spent trying to get my Red Hat 5.1 Linux installation to do what it should do. Back then Linux was far more stable than Windows 98SE or the utter car crash that was Windows ME (oh the horror!) but conversely you had to be a real guru to get things done. I think this is where the negative image of Linux being unsuitable for the desktop came from. Nowadays things are far better – device support is superb – in many cases better than Windows and Linux now “just works”.  Very few people ever install a computer operating system from scratch – they buy a machine with a preinstalled OS and it stays on the machine for its life. Tinkerers like me do OS installs on a regular basis. It really is straightforward whether you are talking Windows 10, Ubuntu Linux or Apple OS X. You just follow the onscreen prompts and it pretty much does it for you. Personally I think that Linux has made far more of an impact in ways that few people realise – Google, FaceBook, Gmail, Netflix and Amazon all run on a version of Linux; it would be true to say that the Internet runs on Linux. If you have a smartphone that is not made by Apple, or a flat screen television, a set top box, whether it be a Sky satellite TV receiver, Virgin cable box or a Freeview receiver, they all run embedded Linux – it is the only operating system that powers devices from a toaster to a supercomputer with everything in between. Android, as used in smart phones and tablets is actually Linux with a whizzy interface suitable for touch operation. You can see from this that whilst Windows has for decades dominated the computer desktop, it has had little influence on the infrastructure and underlying technology of the modern world. As society moves away from large desktop PC’s, (and to a lesser extent away from the traditional laptop) and relies for online connectivity from smart phones and tablet devices, the underlying operating system has less significance than the applications that users wish to run – indeed, many applications are nowadays run online in a browser window – sites such as FaceBook, Instagram, Flickr and Twitter don't require a locally installed application, just a browser with connection to the web. Google grasped this early on with their excellent Google GSuite application suite and its close integration with both Gmail and Google Drive storage. The Google Chromebook range of computers embraces this – they are cheap, relatively low powered laptops that just run a the Chrome web browser and enable cloud based storage. Indeed the Maggot Sandwich is currently written and published solely using a Chromebook - a Linux device. 

Transport for London have issued the following announcement:- "Following a successful trial, from Monday 20 April, buses in London will temporarily become middle-door only boarding as part of Transport for London’s (TfL’s) efforts to help combat Coronavirus. This means the front doors will no longer be in use across the bus network. Please only use the middle doors to board the bus and allow others to exit the bus first before boarding. There is currently no need to touch in. The vast majority of people have followed the instructions of the Mayor and Government and have stopped travelling. The number of people using buses has plummeted by around 85%. This is essential to stop the spread of coronavirus. It is essential that everyone continues not to travel and does not return to the transport network". I have concerns over this, as I feel that it may well invoke the law of unintended consequences. When the public realise that from tomorrow, until some yet to be determined point, that London buses can be used for free, will it increase the number of people using them, and thus increase the risk of infection? Only time will tell. What do you think? Email me at

Not many local people are aware that the Erith / Belvedere area was once subject to one of the largest non – nuclear explosions in history. You can see a contemporary newspaper account above - click on it for a larger view. Back in 1864 there were two local commercial gunpowder factories – that of John Hall and Son and the Elterwater and Lowood Gunpowder company situated on the marsh land that at that time existed parallel to the River Thames between Slade Green in the East and Plumstead in the West. Both factories were physically isolated from residential areas, and many precautions were taken to prevent any kind of fire; workers had to wear felt slippers, and all equipment was made of wood, or lined with copper to prevent sparks; understandably smoking was strictly prohibited. At about 6.40 am on Saturday the first of October 1864 all these precautions proved worthless, when there was a massive explosion which totally destroyed both gunpowder factories, their store magazines and a couple of barges that were being loaded with barrels of gunpowder at the time. No contemporary account exists of exactly what caused the accident, as the eyewitnesses were instantly vapourised. The explosion was heard as far away as Cambridge, and the shock wave was so intense that people in central London were convinced that there had been an earthquake. One report at the time said that as rescuers hurried to the site they found a massive crater and absolutely no signs of any buildings were left “it was if the place had been swept clean by a broom”. Surprisingly there were only around twenty casualties, as though the explosion was huge, the remote location prevented greater loss of life. Witnesses said that a huge pall of black smoke, shaped like a mushroom hung in the air for an hour afterwards. Five of the victims were classed as “missing” as nothing remained of them to bury. Others whose bodies remained intact to some degree or other were taken to the Belvedere Hotel in Picardy Road, which was converted into a temporary morgue. The injured were taken to Guy’s Hospital at London Bridge, where some then succumbed to their injuries. The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times (the story made world headlines) also curiously reported that a man escaped serious injury, but did have “his right whisker blown off, and he has not been seen since”. The unknown reporter then comments “The damage done to property extends to a radius of over twenty miles; the effect upon domestic animals is said to have been very remarkable. Thousands of pets succumbed with fright – the mortality to Canaries being particularly great”. The army was called from the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich to assist with emergency repairs to the river wall, which had been destroyed to a length of three hundred yards from the epicentre of the blast. Fortunately the tide was low at the time, and the Royal Engineers assisted by civilian navvies and some volunteers barely managed to temporarily block the gap before the tide rose. Had they not, much of Lower Belvedere would have been flooded as later happened in 1953. Considering the size of the explosion – it is estimated that something between 45 and 100 tons of gunpowder were detonated, the long term damage was pretty light, though the superintendent of Crossness Sewage Works did put in a grumpy claim for £150 for plate glass that had been damaged by the blast – this sounds like some very creative accounting on his part, as the works was still being constructed at the time, and did not actually go into operation until nearly a year later. I am of the opinion that this was an early example of insurance fraud. 

The advert above dates back to 1901, so the "20th Century Cycle co." would have been an extremely futuristic brand at the time. I think it strange that it does not give an address for callers though. An eye catching design, nevertheless.

Thirty five years ago, Dire Straits released their fifth album, “Brothers in Arms". It went on to become one of the best-selling albums of all time, it revolutionised the music industry. For the first time, an album sold more on compact disc than on vinyl, and passed the one million units sold  mark. Three years after the first silver discs had appeared in record shops,”Brothers in Arms” was the symbolic milestone that marked the true beginning of the CD era. “Brothers in Arms was the first flag in the ground that made the industry and the wider public aware of the CD’s potential,” says the British Phonographic Industry spokesperson Gennaro Castaldo, who began a long career in retail that year. “It was clear this was a format whose time had come.” CD sales overtook vinyl in 1988 and cassettes in 1991. The 12 centimetre optical disc became the biggest money-spinner the music industry had ever seen, or will ever be likely to see. In 1974, 28-year-old electronic engineer Kees Schouhamer Immink was assigned to the Optics Group of Philips Research in Eindhoven, Holland. His team’s task was to create a 30 centimetre videodisc called Laservision (Laserdisk in Europe), but that flopped (the quality was pretty poor, and the disks were notorious for skipping and stopping dead for no apparent reason) and the focus shifted to designing a smaller audio-only disc. “There were 101 problems to be solved,” Immink says. Meanwhile, in Japan, Sony engineers were working on a similar project. In 1979, Sony and Philips made an unprecedented agreement to pool resources. For example, Sony engineers perfected the error correction code, CIRC, while Immink himself developed the channel code, EFM, which struck a workable balance between reliability and playing time. “We never had people from other companies in our experimental premises,” Immink says. “It was unheard of. Usually you become foes, but in this case we really became good friends, and we're still friends after so many years. It was remarkable, actually.” In June 1980, after complicated negotiations in Tokyo and Eindhoven, the so-called Red Book set standard specifications for the compact disc digital audio format. The story goes that the size (12 cm) and length (74 minutes, 33 seconds) were changed at the eleventh hour when Sony’s executive vice president Norio Ohga insisted that the disc should have enough space for the longest recorded performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, his wife’s favourite piece of music, but I and others suspect that is an urban myth. There were so many technical and financial considerations that it is unlikely such a key decision came down to one woman’s love of Beethoven – there were simply too many other factors.  The CD was introduced to the British public in a 1981 episode of the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World, in which Kieran Prendeville famously mauled a test disc of the Bee Gees’ Living Eyes to demonstrate the format’s alleged indestructibility – the spreading of jam on the test disc is something that has passed into popular legend.  It caught the public imagination, but Immink found the claim puzzling and embarrassing because it was clearly untrue. “We should not put emphasis on the fact it will last for ever because it will not last forever,” he says. “We should put emphasis on the quality of sound and ease of handling.” (I read an article recently where Paul McCartney recalled the first time George Martin showed him a CD. George said, ‘This will change the world.’ He told us it was indestructible, you can’t smash it. Look! And – whack – it broke in half.”) Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler was an early convert (the second track on Pure, Perfect Sound Forever, the promotional 1982 compilation that came free with early CD players, was Dire Straits’ Once Upon a Time in the West). Knopfler insisted on recording Brothers in Arms on state-of-the-art digital equipment, so a promotional partnership was a natural fit. Philips sponsored Dire Straits’ world tour and featured the band in TV commercials with the slogan, attributed to Knopfler: “I want the best. How about you?Brothers in Arms was an iconic release, the CD came to symbolise the so-called yuppie generation, representing new material success and aspiration. If you owned a CD player it showed you were upwardly mobile. Its significance seemed to go beyond music to a lifestyle statement. CD’s still sell nowadays, but the emphasis on convenience and ease of use of digital download services such as Apple’s ITunes have reduced the demand for physical recordings – it was It was the 2001 launch of the iPod, an aspirational premium product which made MP3s portable, that turned the tide. Before that the MP3 was an inferior good; Once you had the iPod, the CD was an inferior good. It could get cracked or lost, whereas MP3 files lasted.  Not pure, not perfect, but sound for ever. It is just a pity that unless recorded at very high bit rates, MP3 files sound inferior to CD, and way worse that vinyl – my own format of choice to this day. What do you think? Are CD’s on the way out for you? Do you still have a much loved collection of vinyl? Please make a comment below, or Email me at

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Belvedere ward, as there is no report from Barmehurst this week:-"On Bank Holiday Easter Monday at approx. 11am two men on a black motorcycle were seen stealing number plates from a Ford Transit In Alsike Rd. One had a white helmet and the other a black one. They were too far away to get a reg number. We have been getting more and more reports of neighbour disputes across the ward. It is a difficult time at the moment with the lockdown in place. We are all a little frazzled and fed up with the situation while stuck indoors. However, that does not mean we all have to be anti-social, play loud music, be noisy in general and be a pain to our neighbours. We all have a part to play and, when this is all over, we still have to live in our communities. Please try and be patient with each other and don't be a nuisance. There was a motorbike stolen overnight on the Monday 13/04/2020 from Ambrook Road. The bike was black and orange in colour and has been seen being ridden around the Lesnes Abbey wooded area recently. Please keep an eye out and phone police if seen. We have been having to move more people on this week from public spaces and on the streets. If you don't need to go out THEN DON'T. Stay indoors. The gym equipment in parks have been taped off for a reason, stop using them. Stay Safe, Stay Inside". Bexleyheath ward - no report received. Crayford ward - no report received. Erith ward:- "Crimes of note from this last week - attempted Burglary in Pembroke Road where the front window was smashed in the night there has been a slight increase in shop lifting reports from Iceland, Morrison's and Farm foods. We have been patrolling Erith high street daily as well as the rest of the ward. We are also questioning people we see asking their reasons for being out, we are keeping this friendly and if the reasons are genuine there is no problem at all, but we are telling people with non-genuine reasons to go home, if they are seen again more questions will be asked. We know this is a hard time for all of us, we just need to follow the government's guidelines. By all means enjoy this lovely weather we are having at the moment but enjoy it from your garden". Northumberland Heath ward:- "Great news this week no Burglaries or theft reports. The team have been receiving reports of drug dealing across the ward. We are completing patrols around these hotspot areas .This has been organised by a local unit to assist. Stop and searches have been completed in the alleys ways of Belmont Road , Bexley Road & Hurst Road . One male was found to be in possession of drugs . Patrols have also been completed in Northumberland Recreational Ground where a group of youths were dispersed. Officers obtained details and have contacted parents. Please see our tweets on @MPSNorthHeath where your see good stories, advice & information on COVID-19 also scam warning advice. I must remind everyone you should only leave home for essentials such as food or medicine, or to exercise".

Slade Green and Northend ward:- "An attempted burglary took place in the early hours of Wednesday 15/04 in Forest Road. Barking dogs woke the victim who then noticed some damage to their front door. 4 vehicle crimes to report in this last week. A car was stolen from Fern Close on Saturday 10/04, A bank card was taken from a vehicle in Frobisher Road on Monday 12/04, and 2 vehicles had locks damaged on Tuesday 14/04 in Rodeo Close and Crescent Road. All of these crimes took place overnight. As usual, we ask that no valuables are left in the car at anytime, hidden or not. Our officers are continuing patrols of the ward with regular checks of all park areas and open spaces to ensure there are no gatherings etc. Please remember to stay indoors as much as possible. Exercise is permitted for 1 hour a day, you are permitted to travel to and from work and also allowed to go shopping for essential items only". Thamesmead East ward:- "On Thursday 09/04/20 between the hours of 12:00 and 9:30 pm a door and window along with cash was taken from a shared property in ST. Martin's Close. On Tuesday 14/04/20 a sofa was stolen from a property in Mangold Way between the hours of 1;30am and 9;00am. Motor Vehicle Crimes. On the Saturday 11/04/20 on Kale Road between the hours of 10:00 pm and 1:19 am the drivers side window smashed and an untidy search unknown what items were taken. Also in Kale Road between the hours of 6;30pm and 7;30pm on Sunday 12/04/20 a windscreen was smashed. In Alsike Road between the hours of 5;30pm on Thursday 9/04/20 and 09:30 pm Monday 13/04/20 a vehicle was broken into , a torch and face masks were stolen. At 10;35am The front and rear number plates were stolen from a vehicle parked in Alsike Road on Monday 13/04/20. From 4;00pm on the Tuesday 14/04/20 and 3;00pm of the 15/04/20 the bonnet and some of the framework was stolen from a vehicle parked in Fairway Drive. Good News The team were given information about two vehicles which were reported stolen in October 2019 and 1/4/20 vehicles have now been recovered by both registered keepers. On 15/4/20 PC Nana found and arrested a high risk missing person who was wanted on an international extradition warrant in Lithuanian the male is now currently in police custody being processed by the special extradition unit. PCSO's Buckley and Hobbs were on patrol on the ward when they came across 4 young boys playing football when they were asked where they lived, 3 of the boys lived at different addresses. Apparently the first boy was out playing on his own when he was joined by the other 3 boys. Please adhere to the government guidelines. Anyone not in the same household should not be together. All four boys were sent to their respective homes". West Heath ward:- "Another week with no reported burglaries or motor vehicle crime. The team were on duty over the Easter period enjoying the sunshine but sadly having to ask people to move away from park benches, picnicking and sunbathing. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a number of minor neighbour dispute across the ward which appear to have escalated during the lockdown period. We are speaking to all parties concerned and requesting that they be a little more tolerant of each other during these difficult times".

The end video this week features a chap walking the first section of the London loop, which starts at Erith, and runs to Bexley Station. See what you think, and send comments to

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