Sunday, January 10, 2021

Parakeets.

 
Restoration work continues apace at The Old Carnegie Library in Walnut Tree Road, Erith. The builders have been able to continue working during the lock down, and it is anticipated that the construction and adaption of the historic Grade II listed building should be finished by the end of February. Obviously this depends on a number of factors, and usage of the space may well be limited until he pandemic is substantially reduced or completely over. I know that there have been a couple of comments on local social media sites to the effect that the writers were of the opinion that the building was empty and abandoned, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. You can read more about the Old Library, and the charitable community benefit society The Exchange - who now run it by clicking here

The law of unintended consequences has seemingly come into force yet again; I have been talking to a couple of (anonymous) contacts I have in retail management. It would seem that the ban on giving away free plastic carrier bags at supermarkets has been successful in reducing the number of disposable bags shifted by the stores, but it has had an effect that has at the time of writing has proved to be far more economically damaging. What has happened is that criminals are now able to walk around supermarkets with large reusable shopping bags on their arms, and can easily shoplift items into the anonymous bags. For shop security staff, someone carrying a large shopping bag around the store used to be a significant indicator that they could well be a shoplifter, and the security staff would consequently pay them more attention. Now that virtually all shoppers carry their own bags round the store, the criminals can far more easily blend in with the innocent shoppers. I have been told that the increased levels of stock loss have completely wiped out the lowered costs of supplying single use shopping bags in many high - street stores, but the management do not want to highlight the issue for fear of being thought of as "anti environment".  On top of this, the loss levels of wire shopping baskets has markedly increased; major supermarkets have ordered thousands of extra wire baskets over the last couple of years, as more of them have been going missing as shoppers turn to theft rather than pay for plastic bags, and the figures would seem to back this up - but once again the industry is incredibly reticent about discussing the phenomenon, as they fear it will affect corporate images. Over the course of a year, one major store in Wales had almost five hundred wire shopping baskets stolen when it began charging for plastic bags - resulting in a four-figure loss from just one site. Although research predicts it will cost shoppers just £10.50 a year, history shows that some shoppers will resort to theft to get around the law. What retailers do not want to be seen doing is restricting the use of wire baskets in the way most already do with the more valuable shopping trolleys. Whilst many have debated fitting security tags to shopping baskets in the way trolleys have had for the best part of twenty years, the cost / benefit balance is far less compelling, and they are worried about discouraging shoppers in what is already a cut - throat market place. Those that have fitted security tags to wire shopping baskets have found that certain unscrupulous shoppers have subsequently used wire cutters to remove the tags, so that they can still steal baskets. What do you think? Have you noticed anything like this whilst you have been shopping? Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

This week I have a piece on a radio technology that was never deployed in the UK, but was very popular in parts of the world, and is still in somewhat limited use today. AM Stereo broadcasting was a technology that enabled (relatively) high quality stereo broadcasts on the Medium Wave band, instead of the usual low fidelity mono audio that is transmitted by a conventional AM system. AM Stereo is a term given to a series of mutually incompatible techniques for wireless radio broadcasting stereo audio in the AM band in a manner that is compatible with standard AM receivers. There are two main classes of systems: independent sideband (ISB) systems, promoted principally by American broadcast engineer Leonard R. Kahn; and quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) multiplexing systems (conceptually closer to FM stereo). Initially adopted by many commercial AM broadcasters in the mid to late 1980s, AM Stereo broadcasting soon began to decline due to a lack of receivers (most "AM/FM stereo" radios only receive in stereo on FM), a growing exodus of music broadcasters to FM and / or DAB, concentration of ownership of the few remaining stations in the hands of large corporations and the removal of music from AM stations in favour of news/talk or sports broadcasting. By 2001, most of the former AM Stereo broadcasters were no longer stereo or had left the AM band entirely. In the UK, the only station which planned to use AM Stereo was the ill - fated Stereo Hits 531 (or Stereo Hits 576) in the late 1980's. This was a planned offshore radio station which never actually got beyond a short test transmission. The station was based on a former freighter, the M.V Nannell, which you  can see in the photo above - click on it to see a larger version; The name Nannell was chosen in honour of a senior lady in the owners family - Nellie, who was known to her many grandchildren as Nan Nell. Harvey Metals sold the MV Nannell to Worldwide Broadcasting Corporation during a voyage from Southampton to Spain. In February 1986 the MV Nannell sailed from Southampton to her home port of Santander via Gijon. The vessel was taken to the Alantico shipyard to be converted into a radio ship. The British Government put pressure on Spain to prevent further conversion work taking place. Spain demanded that the work should stop and insisted that, since the MV Nannell was a Honduran ship it should also have a Honduran licence for radio broadcasts. In March the MV Nannell left the Atlantico shipyard stating her destination as Oran, Algeria, however the ship had stayed without completing advice from professionals that the 240 feet tall antenna mast be fully stayed. Within a few miles of the coast it hit huge 'Bay of Biscay' rolling waves, the ship pitched, rolled one way - and the mast collapsed and had to be cut free. Minus the antenna system, instead of Algeria, the ship sailed for France. At the end of April new backers had been found and the MV Nannell sailed back to Santander under a different flag with all the correct paperwork. More financial problems slowed the project down. By June 1989 the MV Nannell was anchored off the Belgian coast, but some months later, it headed for Portsmouth harbour. In 1990 the owners of the ship decided to scrap the ship, which had now been renamed Mia Migo in the meantime. In September the Mia Migo was scrapped In Zeebrügge (Belgium). Thus AM Stereo broadcasting in the UK ended before it had even really begun. You can see some period photos of the M.V Nannell being converted into a radio ship by clicking here.

The photo above shows Erith High Street and the old Odeon cinema - (click here to see some photos of the building in its heyday); it was taken back in the spring of 1966, not long before the row of shops was demolished - the giveaway is the name of the film being shown at the cinema. The film "Life at the Top" was released in the UK in March 1966; it was the sequel to the film "Room at the Top". The plot can be summarised as "Joe Lampton thought he had really made it by marrying the boss's daughter in his northern mill town. But he finds he is being sidelined at work and his private life manipulated by his father-in-law. Even so, he ignores an offer of a job in London and keeps away from attractive TV presenter Norah. When he finds his wife is having an affair, he reconsiders on both counts. But can he make it on his own ability down south?" Anyway, the photo is pretty precisely dated, and may be one of the last taken before demolition began. No building in the photo is still standing, though the Odeon did survive the demolition ball at least until 1999, when it was demolished to make way for a block of flats and offices.

With all of the unavoidable disruption to normal life we are all experiencing at present, I was quite surprised to be informed of the launch of the latest edition of The Good Pub Guide, which under the current rather unusual circumstances, I had assumed would not be published this year. Nevertheless is has been released for 2021; It also announces a number of special awards, including Brewery of the Year. Explaining its decision to honour Kent brewer Shepherd Neame, the guide offers particular praise for the principled way in which the company responded to the pandemic, writing: "In order to help protect employees, licensees and the company during the Coronavirus lockdown in 2020, the directors took a temporary 20 percent pay cut, suspended rent receipts, cancelled the shareholder dividend and ceased all non-contractual capital expenditure in the brewery and throughout the pub estate."It was also impressed by the independent family firm’s sustainability practices, and its efforts to attract 'the beer-curious drinker' with its Cask Club initiative and contemporary Whitstable Bay and Bear Island ranges. The award is the latest in a series of accolades for Shepherd Neame, which was named Tenanted Pub Company of the Year at the Publican Awards and honoured with nine medals in the International Beer Competition. Chief Executive Jonathan Neame said: “This has been an immensely challenging year, so I am incredibly proud that the creativity, the spirit and the resilience shown by our team members during the past months has been recognised with this award. This achievement, along with the many messages of goodwill that we have received, and the overwhelming support that shown towards our licensees and our pubs in recent months, make it a year to be proud of.” 

Something that might quite surprise you is that the price of old Betamax video recorders is currently going through the roof on the second hand market; a couple of years ago you could not give one away if you tried. Suddenly they are turning up on EBay and the bidding competition is fierce. Prices of £250 and upwards have been noted. Even non working machines that are being sold for repair or spares are fetching £75 or more.  What is the reason for this? Well, it does not seem to be down to any love for the outdated video format (which whilst it failed in the domestic home market, it was the cornerstone of many TV news and outside broadcast units for many years).  It would appear that people are coming across family videos recorded on Betamax cassettes and wish to digitise them. Most professional video transfer services can handle VHS and the common broadcast formats, but very few are capable of doing anything with a Betamax format cassette. People with old recordings of weddings and family events realise that if they wish to be able to see them again, they will need to locate a device capable of playing the tape format - hence the sudden upsurge of interest. The ironic thing is, it is pretty likely that the tapes will be unwatchable even when a suitable player is used. Both Betamax and VHS cassettes deteriorate over time, even when stored in ideal conditions. A thirty year old video tape will have demagnetised and printed through so much that it will almost certainly show on screen as a mess of flickering static with a few under saturated, ghostly images of what remains of the original recording now.  I recently have read quite a lot about the format wars between VHS and Betamax back in the early 1980's. From all that I have read, it became apparent that Sony, the creators of the Beta format were pretty much to blame for the demise of what initially was a somewhat technically superior video format than the relatively pedestrian VHS system. The main determining factor between Betamax and VHS was the cost of the recorders and length of recording time. Betamax is, in theory, a superior recording format over VHS due to resolution (250 lines vs. 240 lines), slightly superior sound, and a more stable image; Betamax recorders were also of higher quality construction. But these differences were negligible to consumers, and thus did not justify either the extra cost of a Betamax VCR (which was often significantly more expensive than a VHS equivalent) or Betamax's shorter recording time. JVC, which designed the VHS technology, licensed it to any manufacturer that was interested. The manufacturers then competed against each other for sales, resulting in lower prices to the consumer. Sony was the only manufacturer of Betamax initially and so was not pressured to reduce prices. Only in the early 1980s did Sony decide to licence Betamax technology to other manufacturers, such as Toshiba and Sanyo. What Sony did not take into account was what consumers wanted. While Betamax was believed to be the superior format in the minds of the public and press (due to excellent marketing by Sony), consumers wanted an affordable video recorder (a VHS machine was often around a hundred pounds less than an equivalent Betamax one, which at the time was a considerable amount of money); Sony believed that having better quality recordings was the key to success, and that consumers would be willing to pay a higher retail price for this, whereas it soon became clear that consumer desire was focused more intently on longer recording time, lower retail price, and compatibility with other machines for cassette sharing (as VHS was becoming the format in the majority of homes). The real Betamax killer was that for the first few years, the maximum length of recording was limited to one hour on Beta, whereas VHS could stretch to four hours with reduced image quality, critically long enough to record an entire American football game - the lucrative mass American market both systems were looking to crack. Sony had the attitude of "We know best" as to what the market wanted, and ignored requests for features that quickly became standard with their competitors. Consequently Betamax is now considered alongside the 8 - Track cartridge as a dodo technology. If you are of the opinion that Betamax is far too mainstream, well known and commonplace, do yourself a favour by visiting the Philips V2000 web site here. You can also read more about other format wars by clicking here.


I took the photo above - click on it for a larger view - a couple of days ago. It shows the continuing work to the block of flats located on the corner of Nuxley Road and Woolwich Road in Upper Belvedere, on the former site of Belvedere Police Station. Work is still proceeding despite the lock down, but at what appears to be a very much slower than normal rate. Do you have any information about the development, and when it is scheduled to be finished? Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com

ADM Oils have been in the news recently; The Port of Tilbury in Essex launched a coastal barge operation to deliver the crop to its customer ADM - a vegetable oil processing facility at Erith on the River Thames. Some 500 tonnes of the crop will be moved twice-daily and each round trip will take about seven hours. Tilbury said the water-borne freight option will lead to 36 fewer truck journeys each day on UK roads. The barges would help "support our environmental efforts and optimise our supply chain," said Martin Farrow of ADM. It strikes me that The River Thames is still a very much under - used resource, and enterprises of this nature make a lot of sense. 

Fly tipping in the local area continues with depressing regularity. As you can see in the photo above, it is not just criminal householders that are illegally dumping waste, but at least one local builder - the dumped waste in the photograph contains old house roofing tiles, woodwork and an also an old door. Since I took the photo, it would appear that the criminal fly - tipper has made a second illegal deposit; at the time of writing the pile of builders rubbish is around three times larger than that in the photo above.

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "Barnehurst Ward has suffered a number of vehicle crime offences.  On Friday 1/01/2021 in Parkside Avenue between midnight and 06:00 a rear window was smashed and a games console was taken from within the vehicle. In Heath Way on Friday 1/01/2021 between 21:00 and 09:00 on SAturday 2/01/2021 front and rear vehicle registration plates, PO11 XFN were taken from the vehicle. In Eversley Avenue on Saturday 2/01/2021 between 07:00 and 15:30 both front and rear number plates WF56 BDV were taken from the vehicle. In Barnehurst Avenue on Friday 1/01/2021 between 18:00 and 07:00 on Saturday 2/01/2021 both front and rear plates, LB12 BAU were taken from the vehicle. In Chipstead Road on Sunday 3/01/2021 between 02:00 and 07:30 a vehicle was broken into and a number of personal items were taken. In Westfield Road on Monday 4/01/2021 between midnight and 00:22 an unknown suspect was seen sitting in the victim's vehicle but within seconds the suspect fled. We received a report to say a vehicle had been parked up in Hillingdon Road in the early hours with the occupants being noisy, blowing up balloons and being a general nuisance. They finally left at 04:00 and left behind empty beer cans and bottles, canisters and balloons and other bits and pieces. The same thing happened in Edendale Road. On this occasion it was a different vehicle however there were four occupants who were playing loud music and decided to urinate in a nearby driveway. Unfortunately on both occasions Police were called but did not attend leaving residents extremely upset. It was very unfortunate that we were not on shift at the time. The Barnehurst Team will be patrolling these areas in particular on late shifts. The team are still distributing anti-theft number plate screws so please let us know if you would like some". Belvedere ward - no report this week. Bexleyheath ward:- "On Tuesday 5th Jan there was a report of a smashed window on a vehicle but nothing was taken from inside along Heversham Road Bexleyheath during the early hours in the morning. Also on Tuesday 5th January at around 10am there was a report of a bag being snatched along the Broadway Bexleyheath. The bag was grabbed off the victim and then the suspect had run towards a vehicle along Albion Road and made off. On Saturday 2nd January between 2 am and 4 am there was a rear car window smashed whilst parked on Heversham Road Bexleyheath. A large hole was made on a fence along Martens Avenue Bexleyheath and took place overnight on the Wednesday 30th December and was discovered 11 am the next day. An electric scooter was reported stolen from a vehicle along Marten Dene Bexleyheath between Wednesday 23rd December and the 26th December and was reported on the Wednesday 30th December. On Monday 28th December between 7 pm and 7:15 pm a motorbike was stolen from outside KFC along the Broadway Bexleyheath". Crayford ward:- "Thankfully, no burglaries to report this week. A wallet with bank cards was stolen from a white Volvo parked at the top end of Maiden Lane, closest to Dartford Road between 16.00 on Friday 1st January and 09:00 on Saturday 2nd January.  A Sat Nav within the vehicle was moved but not taken. The cards had been used but have now been stopped. It was believed that the vehicle was locked but no evidence that the vehicle had been broken in to. A silver Vauxhall Zafira was stolen from Crayford Road close to Crosby House between 18:00 on Friday 1st January and 18:20 on Saturday 2nd January and was later found abandoned locally, the key for the vehicle is missing. On Friday 1st January at 7:30 am the windscreen and driver’s front window were smashed on an Audi A3 whilst parked in Swale Road by a male who ran at the vehicle using a bottle to smash the glass. He was described as wearing a grey hoodie and shorts. As always, be vigilant, keep your home secure especially at night and when you are out.  Avoid leaving items of value in your vehicle.  Don’t let criminals have the upper hand, for further crime prevention advice please visit www.met.police.uk . Finally, let’s work together to keep safe during this lockdown.  Please do all you can to keep you and your loved ones safe, stay at home if you can but take all precautions if you do have to go out". Erith ward - no report this week. Northumberland Heath ward - no report this week. Slade Green and Northend ward - no report this week. Thamesmead East ward:- "No Burglaries to report this week. Motor vehicle Crime Wolvercote Road Sun 3/1/21 9 pm – Mon 4/1/21 3 pm Victim reports Motorcycle was stolen from outside the home address by suspect/s unknown. Keep your scooter and motorcycle safe by following the simple steps in the safety leaflet Overton Road - Sun 3/1/21 3:30 pm – Wed 6/1/21 3:30 pm, the victim reports both front and rear number plates removed from the vehicle (Hyundai) by suspect/s unknown. Happy New Year, 2021 did not start with the traditional bang but together we can beat the virus. Stay home and stay safe". Weat Heath ward:- "One attempted burglary in King Harolds Way on Wednesday Wednesday 30/12.2020 20:00 at 20:45. The suspect damaged the padlock on a side gate to the property. Entry was not gained. Unfortunately, we have had a number of motor vehicle crimes over the past week. One report of criminal damage in Gipsy Road which took place between Saturday 2/01/2020 18:00 and Sunday 3/01/2021 11:00. The rear windscreen was smashed whilst it was parked on the victim’s drive. Nothing was taken. Theft from motor vehicle Brixham Road on Sunday 3/01/21 01:00 14:00. It is not known how entry to the vehicle was gained but two coats were stolen from within it. We have had a report of a suspect in Selsey Crescent trying car doors in the early hours of Sunday 3/01/21. Theft from motor vehicle Woolwich Road Monday 4/01/2 00:01 14:30. It is not clear how entry to the vehicle was gained but some loose change was taken and a search of the vehicle was made".

The end video this week explains where the green parakeets that live locally actually come from - and dispels a number of urban myths about their origin. Send any comments to hugh.neal@gmail.com.

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