Sunday, May 17, 2020


The photo above was taken by me on Friday evening; it shows the sun setting over Erith Pier. Recently there has been much wildlife activity in the river around the pier. There have been  several recent “false alarms” to the RNLI over the last few months. Regular readers will have seen the aerial drone footage of Grey Seals basking on the muddy river foreshore by the Slade Green Marshes that I have published in the past. The seals swim in the River Thames and often into the River Darent; they often float in  the water with their heads above the surface in and around Anchor Bay, and well-meaning passers by on the shore mistake the Seals for swimmers who appear to be in trouble in the water. Indeed, the average survival time for a person in the water is estimated to be eleven minutes, due to the extreme currents and undertow in the river in and around Erith Pier. Obviously the situation is somewhat different for Seals – the water is their natural habitat, to which they are perfectly evolved. 

A report published recently in the New York Times poses serious questions about the long held belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It turns out that the idea is the result of spin over the years by breakfast cereal companies and others. Skipping  breakfast can allegedly lead to weight gain, a sluggish metabolism, or stress. According to the piece in The New York Times however, our beliefs about breakfast are all based on "misinterpreted research and biased studies"– propaganda, basically. Author Aaron E. Carroll notes that almost all breakfast studies suffer from a "publication bias." There are flaws in reporting of studies that skew findings to link skipping breakfast with causing obesity. Carroll writes: "The reports improperly used causal language to describe their results. They misleadingly cited other's results. And they also improperly used causal language in citing others' results. People believe, and want you to believe, that skipping breakfast is bad. Additionally, there are usually conflicts of interest behind the studies, considering most of them are funded by the food industry. The Quaker Oats Centre of Excellence, for instance, paid for a trial that concluded eating oatmeal or frosted cornflakes reduces weight and cholesterol. People are conditioned from a young age to believe that breakfast is essential to performance. It turns out that's because most of the research geared toward kids is meant to evaluate the impact of school breakfast programmes. They don't take into consideration that 15 million children in the U.S. go hungry at home–of course they would do better in school if they eatThat isn't the same, though, as testing whether children who are already well nourished and don't want breakfast should be forced to eat it," Carroll writes. Overall, you should just go with your gut. If you're hungry in the morning, eat. If you're not, don't think you're sinning by skipping it. Finally, approach all studies sceptically – Carroll put it best: "Breakfast has no mystical powers."

On the first of June this year, the driving test will be 85 years old. Here is a little piece of driving test history. The driving test was introduced in 1935. Volunteers started to be tested on March 16 of that year in order to lessen the burden when it became compulsory, less than three months later, on June 1. Approximately 246,000 candidates applied — 63 percent of whom passed (against around 50 percent today) — with between nine and 16 half-hour tests being conducted each day by a total of 250 examiners. Examiners checked the applicant’s driving licence (which came in well before the test, in 1903, as a means of identifying drivers and their vehicles) and insurance documents before carrying out a basic eye sight test. Then drivers were tested on The Highway Code, with questions including the correct use of arm signals (this was before standardised light indicators, of course). Then came the practical test, with the examiner watching for correct signals and road courtesies, as well as checking manoeuvres such as stopping, starting, hill starts, making an emergency stop, reversing and carrying out a turn in the road. The first person to pass the test was Mr R Beere, at a cost of 7/ 6d (about 38p). The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency estimates that more than 46m tests have been taken since 1935. Below you will see a Pathe News feature on the then new - fangled driving test. It is certainly a period piece. Comments to

Last week I wrote an article on Chemtrails, and the flat Earthers and other conspiracy theorists who believe such rubbish; after a series of Emails from a regular reader, this week I am going to put another strange and rather disturbing alleged phenomenon under the spotlight. Nontrivial numbers of otherwise apparently rational people believe in the paranormal. These beliefs have spawned thousands of groups dedicated to investigating paranormal phenomena and a proliferation of ghost-hunting entries in the reality television market. Anecdotal evidence even suggests that ghost-hunting reality shows have increased public openness to paranormal research, which usually entails a small group traipsing through reportedly haunted locales at night with various ghost-hunting technologies. Notably the producers of such shows are careful to start each episode with a disclaimer saying that the programme is for entertainment purposes only - which tells a great deal about the veracity of what is subsequently shown on screen. Audio recorders figure prominently in paranormal researchers’ toolkits. Microphones capture ambient sounds during the investigation. Later, the audio recordings are scoured in search of messages from spirits. The premise is that audio recording devices can register otherwise inaudible communications from discarnate entities. These purported communications have been dubbed electronic voice phenomena (EVP). The sounds are generally brief – most examples consist of single words or short phrases. Perceived contents of EVP range from threatening (“You’re going to hell”) to bizarre (“Egypt Air”). One definition of Electronic Voice Phenomenon reads thus:- "Electronic voice phenomena, more commonly known as EVP, is a mysterious event in which human-sounding voices from an unknown source can be heard on recorded data from audio tape, radio station noise, and other electronic media. EVPs have been captured on audiotape more than any other media but the mysterious voices aren't present at the time of recording. It's only when the tape is played back—sometimes with the application of amplification and noise filtering—that the voices can be heard. One fascinating aspect of EVP is that the voices sometimes respond directly to the people making the recording. For example, the researchers ask a question to which the voice will answer or comment. Again, this response is not heard until later when the tape is played back. EVP recordings vary by gender (men and women), age (adults and children), tone emotion, and even language. Some are more easily heard and understood than others. Most EVPs consist of single words, phrases, or short sentences, although sometimes, they are made up of grunts, groans, growling, or other vocal expressions. The quality of EVP also varies. Some are difficult to distinguish, with meanings that are open to interpretation. Some EVP, however, are quite clear and easy to understand. EVP often has an electronic or mechanical character to it, although sometimes, it can be very natural sounding". Part of the attraction of the audio recorder for paranormal researchers is its apparent objectivity. How could a skeptic refute the authenticity of a spirit captured by an unbiased technical instrument? To the believers, EVP seem like incontrovertible evidence of communications from beyond. But recent research suggests that people don’t agree much about what, if anything, they hear in the EVP sounds – a result readily explained by the fallibility of human perception. Despite the technological trappings, EVP research bears several characteristics of pseudoscience. The chain of evidence for most purported EVP makes hoaxes difficult to rule out, but let’s assume that many of these sounds are not deliberate fraud. In some instances, alleged EVP are the voices of the investigators or interference from radio transmissions – problems that indicate shoddy data collection practices. Other research, however, has suggested that EVP have been captured under acoustically controlled circumstances in recording studios. What are the possible explanations for these sounds? The critical leap in EVP research is the point at which odd sounds are interpreted as voices that communicate with intention. Paranormal investigators typically decode the content of EVP by arriving at consensus among themselves. EVP websites advise paranormal researchers to ask themselves, “Is it a voice…are you sure?” or to “Share results among fellow investigators and try to prevent investigator bias when reviewing data.” Therein lies a methodological difficulty. Research in mainstream psychology has shown that people will readily perceive words in strings of nonsensical speech sounds. People’s expectations about what they are supposed to hear can result in the illusory perception of tones, nature sounds, machine sounds, and even voices  when only acoustic white noise – like the hissing sound of a detuned FM radio – exists. Interpretations of speech in noise – a situation similar to EVP where the alleged voice is difficult to discern – can shift entirely based upon what the listener expects to hear. EVP are an auditory example of pareidolia – the tendency to perceive human characteristics in meaningless perceptual patterns. There are many visual examples of pareidolia – things like seeing human faces in everyday objects (such as Jesus in a piece of toast). Research from cognitive psychology has shown that paranormal believers may be especially prone to misperceiving chance events. A face-like configuration in a slice of toast seems meaningful. People ask, "What are the chances?“ But if you add up all of the slices of toast you see over the days and weeks and months of a lifetime, it becomes inevitable that you will encounter some of these human-like configurations in toast due to chance. Similarly, paranormal investigators record a practically limitless amount of audio and use all manner of sound-processing techniques including filtering the sounds to remove particular frequencies and boosting the volume. Inevitably they’re able to find samples of audio that sound somewhat like a voice. Assuming some of these voice-like sounds can’t be attributed to shoddy data collection practices, their actual sources likely run the spectrum from ambient environmental noises to electrical interference to audio processing artifacts. If the listener is intently expecting to hear a person, virtually any sound can meet that expectation. One writer aptly suggested that EVP are like an auditory inkblot test: a blank slate upon which the listener can project any interpretation. The tendency for EVP investigators to hear a voice – a meaningful sound with agency and intention – is likely amplified by the suggestion of a paranormal context. What do you think? Email me at

In a loose connection to the previous EVP story - one that has far more basis in scientific and engineering reality. Commercially viable (rather than just experimental) magnetic tape recording had its seventty fourth birthday last week - an event which has not been covered in the press.  Thanks to the good fortune of suffering from insomnia, a curious observation by John T. "Jack" Mullin led to the introduction of tape recording and, by extension, the entire home media business. Mullin, a slight and surprisingly humble man, considering his future status in the recording business, graduated from the University of Santa Clara with a B.S. in electrical engineering in 1937, then worked for Pacific Telephone and Telegraph in San Francisco until the war started. By 1944, he had attained the rank of major in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and was attached to the RAF's radar research labs in Farnborough, England. While working late that spring night, Mullin was happy to find something pleasing playing on the radio — the Berlin Philharmonic playing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on Radio Berlin. But Mullin was mystified: The performance's fidelity was far too fine to be a 16-inch wax disc recording, the prevailing radio recording technology at the time. And since there were no breaks every 15 minutes to change discs, Mullin figured it had to be a live broadcast. But it couldn't be — if it was 2 am in London, it was 3 am in Berlin. Mullin was right — the orchestra wasn’t up late, and it was a recording. Just not the usual kind, which is why Mullin was confused. After the war, Mullin was assigned to the Technical Liaison Division of the Signal Corp in Paris. "Our task, amongst other things, was to discover what the Germans had been working on in communications stuff — radio, radar, wireless, telegraph, teletype," explained Mullin. Mullin ended up in Frankfurt on one such expedition. There he encountered a British officer, who told him a rumour about a new type of recorder at a Radio Frankfurt station in Bad Nauheim. Mullin didn't exactly believe the report — he had encountered dozens of low-fi magnetic recorders all over Germany. He pondered his decision of pursuing the rumour, literally, at a fork in the road. To his right lay Paris, to the left, Radio Frankfurt. Fortuitously for the future of the home media business, Mullin turned left. He found four hi-fi Magnetophons and some 50 reels of red oxide BASF tape. He tinkered with them a bit back in Paris and made a report to the Army. "We now had a number of these lying around. I packed up two of them and sent them home (to San Francisco). Souvenirs of war. (You could take) almost anything you could find that was not of great value. (And) anything Germany had done was public domain — it was not patentable." He also sent himself the 50 reels of the red-oxide coated tape. When Mullin returned home, he started tinkering to improve the Magnetophons. On May 16, 1946, exactly 74 years ago last week, Mullin stunned attendees at the annual Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) conference in San Francisco by switching between a live jazz combo and a recording, literally asking the question "Is it live or...?" None of the golden ears in the audience could tell. It was the world's first public demonstration of audio tape recording. Bing Crosby hated doing live radio. And he hated recording his shows on wax records because the fidelity sounded terrible to the noted aural perfectionist performer. When Crosby's engineers heard about Mullin and his Magnetophons, they quickly hired him and his machine. In August 1947, Crosby became the first performer to record a radio programme on tape; the show was broadcast on October 1st. Bing Crosby wasn't the only one interested in Mullin's Magnetophons. Up in Redwood City, California, a small company called Ampex was looking for something to replace the radar gear they'd been producing for the government. Ampex hooked up with Mullin and, in April 1948, perfected and started selling the first commercially available audio tape recorder, the Ampex Model 200. Crosby, Mullin, Ampex and American electronics giant RCA all sort of formulated the same follow-up thought at around the same time: If you could record audio on tape, why not video? Crosby and Mullin teamed up. Ampex formed a team that included a high school student named Ray Dolby. And David Sarnoff gave his engineers their marching orders. A highly-public race began to see who could invent the video tape recorder. Ampex had a leg up on its more well-heeled competition. It had a deal with a Chicago research consortium called Armour Research Institute, now the Illinois Institute of Technology. Working for Armour was none other than wire recording maven Marvin Camras, who solved the most vexing problem facing all the video tape inventor wannabees: Tape speed. Audio recording is accomplished by pulling tape past a stationary recording head. Video, however, is a far fatter signal, which meant tape had to be pulled past the recording heads at ridiculous speeds. A two-foot wide reel of tape could hold, tops, 15 minutes of video — not exactly practical. So instead of spinning the tape, Camras, who got the idea from watching vacuum cleaner brushes, he calculated that he would spin the recording heads instead. Once Ampex got ahold of this key, its engineers shot past Crosby/Mullin and RCA. Even with the spinning head secret, it took five years for Ampex's sometimes part-time six-member team to get things right. On April 14, 1956 — 64 years ago last month — Ampex introduced the desk-sized Mark IV, the first commercial video tape recorder, to a stunned group of TV execs and engineers at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference in Chicago. To say that this machine changed the world is an obvious understatement. It would take almost another 10 years before Philips reduced audio tape to a cassette and ignited the home audio recording craze, and another nearly 10 years before Sony introduced the Betamax and won a U.S Supreme Court case to allow users to legally record TV shows at home and create the home video business. The U.K had few such concerns - one of the reasons why Britain had the largest number of video recorders per head of population back in the 80's / 90's. Ultimately it was the introduction of Jack Mullin's rebuilt Magnetophons that were the first shots fired in the home media revolution, 74 years ago last week - and nothing got mentioned in the popular press, more is the pity.

The above logo was sent to me by Ian, the webmaster of The Belvedere Splash as a sort of 80's retro look banner for the Maggot Sandwich. What do you think?

Some good news. As regular readers may well recall, I have in the past mentioned the excellent Romford based radio station Time 107.5FM. The station is very popular outside of its target area, with many listeners in Thamesmead, Belvedere, Erith and Dartford, amongst other locations. The station has just received its latest listener statistics from the official monitoring agency, RAJAR. Here is the press release detailing the results of the survey:- "Time 107.5 is proud to have achieved the highest average listening hours of any radio station in the UK, according to the latest RAJAR figures, which have been released today. The data, which covers the three-month period up to March 2020, reveals we have 30,000 unique listeners each week – up by 3,000 on the previous quarter. Our average listening hours have also risen to 14.1 hours per week – up two hours on the last set of figures and higher than any other radio station in the country. The average person in the UK listens to 17.9 hours of radio per week, which suggests many of our listeners tune in almost exclusively to us. Time 107.5 Station Manager, Lorna Waters, said: “We have a strong record of high average hours figures and it is clear to see that our consistent approach to programming is retaining our loyal listenership. All of our staff have a real passion for what they do and that’s led to a special bond with our audience. Many listeners consider us to be their close friends and, while this can sometimes feel a bit strange, we really appreciate the affection our listeners show. We also have a reputation as a trustworthy source of information, and some see us as the font of all knowledge, which does sometimes mean we get strange requests. But we’re always happy to help, whether that’s by responding to a question about whether or not the local tip is open, or helping people find information about local events. Time 107.5 plays such an active role in our local community. We provide the music for many of the local Christmas light switch-ons each year, we hosted the main stage at the 2019 Havering Show and had a big presence at the Havering half-marathon, and we also support underprivileged children through our annual Christmas and Easter gift appeals. Lorna added: “We are grateful to be part of such a wonderful local community across Havering, Barking and Dagenham, and the surrounding areas. There is such great spirit around here and we share that love for where we live.  Now more than ever, we all need the support of those around us. Times are tough but we are doing all we can to help out in our community. Whether that’s by supporting businesses spread the word that they are still open, or by helping a charity publicise that they need volunteers, we are here to help.”Time 107.5’s Programme Controller, Mark Dover, said: “The figures released today are fantastic news for Time 107.5. Our mixture of All Time Favourites, new music, and some of those classic songs you don’t hear very often, is engaging lots of listeners.“Our truly local content is shining through. We do our best to promote local events, support charities, and shout about all that is good in Havering, Barking and Dagenham, and the surrounding areas. A big thing recently has been the way we hold local politicians to account, and it is clear that all this has contributed to these improved listening figures. These excellent figures would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of our staff. The team of charismatic presenters and our diligent journalists, as well as those who work hard behind the scenes, are the key to our growth and I want to say thank you to all of them. And all of this wouldn’t be possible without the support of our wonderful listeners. Thank you all so much.”

The photo above was taken last week; it shows a large number of illegally dumped empty metal Nitrous Oxide mini canisters on the road and pavement outside of the Premier convenience store on the corner of Manor Road and Appold Street in Erith. The store owners were most displeased with the situation. The Police were informed accordingly. Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "Good news again, Barnehurst Ward have had no reports of burglaries over the past week. There have also been no reports of vehicle crime. We did receive a report of criminal damage in Erith Road where plant pots were thrown over a balcony. Other than this it's been business as usual with foot and mobile patrols being carried out around the ward". Belvedere ward:- "The team have been continuing to patrol open spaces throughout the ward - Franks Park, Lesness Abbey and the somewhat smaller Albert Road recreation ground. There have been minimal instances where we have advise people to refrain from using gym equipment or apparatus in children play areas. We will be continuing these patrols for the foreseeable future even in light of the updated government advice. Over recent days the team has been made aware of several youths gathering at Streamway, some of whom have been acting in an anti-social manner. We have also been focusing our attention on this area where possible. This area shares a boundary with the Northumberland Heath SNT so we will be working with them in this area of the ward". Bexleyheath ward:- "Dear residents we have had no crimes this week to report which is wonderful news. One to be aware of is a ball bearing was fired into a garden in Mayplace Road West on Monday 11/05/2020, please be vigilant and if you see anything like this occurring please do let police know. Our Anti-Social Behaviour patrols continue and again if you are aware of groups congregating, smoking cannabis or anything illegal then please do let us know". Erith ward:-"Along with Belvedere SNT we have patrolling Northumberland Heaths ward focusing on the high street and open spaces. We have also posted letter and contact details to all residents in Streamways regarding the slight ASB in the area. As well as posted letters to all local businesses In Erith we have been patrolling the open spaces, every open shops in Town Centre and around Erith Pier. Crimes of note Theft from Motor Vehicle Monday 11/05/2020 Mildred Road; Theft from Motor Vehicle Monday 11/05/2020 Chandlers Drive; Theft from Motor Vehicle Friday 8/05/2020 Upper Holly Hill Road; Theft from Motor Vehicle Saturday 2/05/2020 Galleon Close. No burglaries this week in Erith. There is a rise with theft from vehicles again in Erith. Secure your number plates with tamper-resistant screws – If you want a set of these please email us". Northumberland Heath ward:-"Another good week. Crime levels are very low; unfortunately there have been several reports from local residents from Streamway this week regarding local youths causing anti-social behaviour and intimating residents. Officers have been able to gather brilliant CCTV evidence and have been able to identify a male involved. Police will now be able to complete further investigation . A CCTV camera has also been placed on Streamway to enable the police and Council to take appropriate action on the males involved . Please see our twitter page for any advice regarding reporting COVID related offences". Slade Green and Northend ward:- "No burglaries to report in the last week or any other significant crime on the ward. PC James searched a male in Dale View on Saturday afternoon and he was found in possession of drugs and will be returning for an interview this week. Patrols of our open spaces are ongoing as and when possible. Please be mindful of the new Government guidelines around Covid 19 as we now enter a period of regular updates and changes to our day to day lives". Thamesmead East ward:- "Thursday 07/05/20 building materials were stolen from a demolition site in Coralline Walk. Motor Vehicle Crimes Between 2:30pm on Monday 08/05/20 and 6:00am on Monday 11/05/20 company van parked near Harlequin House St. John Fisher Road had a hydraulic pump stolen. A vehicle parked in Rushdene had money and white cables stolen, no signs of forced entry. This incident occurred between 11:00am on Sunday 10/05/20 and 5:00pm on Monday 11/05/20. At 2:45pm on Tuesday 12/05/20 a Toyota Corolla was stolen from Maran Way. An attempted theft of a motorcycle by two males occurred in Wolvercote Road on Monday 11/05/20 at 3:20pm. Pedal Cycle Crimes - Sunday afternoon between the hours of 3:00pm and 3:15 pm on 10/05/20 on FAIRWAY DRIVE an attempted theft of 2 rider's pedal cycles by youths on mopeds who being unsuccessful made off towards the Thames path. Between midnight and 4:00pm on Tuesday 12/05/20 Fairway Drive 2 pedal cycles kept in a bin cupboard which is locked with only residents in the flats have access were stolen .One of the pedal cycles was locked with a 'D' lock was found on the floor cut in half. Motor Vehicle Crime Prevention. STOP - Check your car security Have your locked your doors and windows? Did you know your vehicle is like a shop window? If you can see, items left on view then so can a thief. Take it with you or put it out of sight". West Heath ward:- "No burglaries have been reported over the last week. One theft from a motor vehicle in Clovelly Road on Saturday Saturday 2/05/20 between Midday and 11pm. Entry was gained via drilling in to the van and a power tool was stolen from within it.Theft of a black Range Rover from Denton Road on Saturday 9/05/2020 18.00 – Sunday 10/05/2020 at 09.37 when the owner discovered it missing. Theft of two Topiary trees on Saturday 9/05/2020 from Ashbourne Avenue. A male was captured on CCTV stealing the trees from the front of the victim's front garden. One arrest of a male for immigration offences on Tuesday 5/05/2020".

The end video this week was recorded in Avenue Road, Erith. Four youths in a speeding car crashed into a tree - hard to determine why, when Avenue Road is one of the straightest roads in the area. As you will see in the video below, there was a huge turn out by the emergency services to deal with the incident. If you witnessed the crash and subsequent rescue of the trapped car occupants, please drop me a line to

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