Sunday, February 07, 2021

The Thames Hovercraft.

The photo above shows the Erith Mural - click on it to see a larger version. It is located next to the Kassiopi Cove children's soft play centre (what used to be the Blockbuster video hire store some years ago) in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre in Colebrook Street. The mural has nine panels depicting scenes inspired by the history of Erith, including the murder of Thomas A Beckett and the reign of Henry the VIII. The mural was designed and built by the artist William Mitchell in 1968. The mural is constructed using an artistic technique called "Cloisonne" - which is similar to the production of stained glass windows. The mural was originally located on the side wall of the old Riverside Swimming Pool in Erith High Street, but was moved to its current location in the centre of the town just before the old pool site was demolished, and flats built.

I think pretty much everyone in the UK gets a lot of unsolicited mail through their letter boxes. It seems to be a curse of modern life. I have whinged at length about this at length in the past, and I am not going to repeat myself now. The worst part of the problem seems to be what is called “letter box stuffing” – the posting of advertising flyers and leaflets through the door from dedicated delivery people. In the last week I have had a handful of leaflets advertising take – away pizzas and kebabs. There is nothing unusual with this, but the problem is, they are for food outlets in Dartford; one is even from a place in the Brent, which is pretty much halfway to Greenhithe, and according to Google Maps, over six miles from Erith. There is no way that these places would deliver a meal over that kind of distance, and there is no way that any sane person would want to – whatever you did order would be a greasy cold and congealed mess by the time it eventually arrived. Rather than just ranting on about the pointlessness and waste of money on the part of the companies that leaflet places way outside of their catchment area, I have decided to do something positive about it. It just happens that two of the places involved in this practice are part of a franchise. I looked up the website of the parent company in each case, found the contact details, and Emailed a complaint to them. I pointed out that it did not make business sense for their outlets to leaflet areas over six miles away – at least twice the maximum delivery distance quoted on the leaflets themselves. It is either local poor management, or the outlets are employing unscrupulous door to door leaflet delivery agents.

With all of the debate going on at present about improving road and rail connections across the River Thames, It is interesting to see enterprises that instead of viewing the river as a barrier, they use it as a means of transport in itself. Back in 1963, a unique experiment was carried out. A hovercraft ferry service on the Thames was set up. The Denny D2 Hovercraft could carry seventy passengers at speeds of up to 21 knots, and the service was launched in early July 1963. It was operated by Thames Launches, who planned to operate a service every day until that October with a schedule of three trips per hour. The fare was £1 for adults and 10 shillings for children – a very substantial amount by the standards of the time. Built in Dumbarton by Denny Hovercraft - a subsidiary of Denny Ship Buildiing, the company that built the Cutty Sark, the hovercraft travelled under its own power along the east-coast, which was at the time the longest trip ever made by a hovercraft. The hovercraft also required a permit to fly along the Thames, as they were officially classed as aircraft, under the Air Navigation Order 1960. As such, a Times newspaper report into the new service was written by the Aeronautical correspondent, not their shipping one. The first passenger carrying “flight” took place on 1st July, with some five hundred customers on the first day. Initially the hovercraft service was limited to running three trips per hour between Tower Bridge and Westminster, but a series of experimental flights were also made down river, at least one of which was to Anchor Bay, Erith, to the area that is now the site of Erith Construction Ltd’s six and a half acre logistics and materials treatment facility in Manor Road. A key advantage of the hovercraft over conventional ships was that it would race along the Thames at much higher speeds - around 21 Knots, as it caused minimal disturbance to the river as it passed over the water, a problem which limits speeds on the Thames to this day. Sadly, the experiment was a failure, and the builders were forced into bankruptcy the following year. The hovercraft was eventually sold in 1970 to begin life on a new route in the Caribbean linking Kingston, Jamaica, with the island’s Palisadoes Airport. If things had turned out differently, it could have been that Erith residents took the hovercraft to work in the morning. It would have certainly been a somewhat more interesting commute than using Southeastern trains! Talking of trains...

The photo above shows Erith railway station in the Spring of 1969, with a train waiting at the Dartford bound platform. What strikes me about the historic photo is how much more industrialised Erith was back then. A photograph taken from the same location now would show a far more residential environment in the background. A fascinating glimpse of the not so distant past.

A question. Why do modern computer keyboards have CAPS LOCK keys? Who ever (apart from deranged people ranting on discussion forums) uses block capitals anyway? The key seems completely redundant. Personally I think that they are included out of a misplaced sense of tradition. An old mechanical typewriter might have need of a caps lock key, but I really am at a loss on their continued existence. Answers please on a postcard, or better still send your thoughts to

As many readers will now be aware, I had some pretty serious issues last week with my Email client of choice - Google's Gmail. Fortunately I have a paid for Google account, and could thus get technical support from them. If you have a free Google account, if you encounter problems, you are on your own. Anyway, now that my Gmail woes are successfully resolved, I thought I would cast an eye at the most popular web based Email client in the world, which is shortly to celebrate its 17th birthday. Gmail has some quite mind boggling statistics - Gmail remains the most popular email platform with over 1.8 billion users worldwide. Gmail currently owns 43 percent of the email service market share in 2020. Gmail accounts for 27 percent of all email opens. 75 percent of all Gmail users access their email on mobile devices. 61 percent of 18-29-year-olds use Gmail. 306.4 billion emails were sent and received daily in 2020. When Gmail was first created, it was done so with a far higher inbox capacity than that of its' rivals, it also far more sophisticated technology than other web based Email clients. Gmail started off offering each and every user an online message storage capacity of 1 Gigabyte – five hundred times the capacity of the then market leader, Microsoft’s Hotmail? As history shows, it was anything but a trick – it was the single most important release Google had made to date since it launched its search engine in 1998. Gmail was revolutionary for a number of important reasons: It has vast storage, a very zippy and responsive user interface that was well thought out, user friendly and intuitive. It also had a very powerful message search function, which other browser based Email solutions were not able to replicate. On top of this, it was the first major cloud based application that was feature complete and capable of replacing conventional PC software, rather than complimenting it. Gmail was started by a chap called Paul Buchheit – a (then) young software engineer, who was Google’s 23rd employee. He wanted a tool that would search through his archived Email messages, and realising nothing suitable was available, decided to write a search function himself. Initially the Email search engine was running on an old PC on his desk; then other Google engineers asked if they could use Buchheit’s search engine to search their own emails. At the time, the likes of Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail had little or no inbuilt search functionality – but then, it was not really a priority when users were limited to twenty megabytes of storage, and were having to continually delete messages in order to keep under their storage limit. Messages were hard to lose when the limits were so small.  Gmail gave users a Gigabyte of storage – all for free. Initially the web based Gmail was a product only used within Google itself. The company managed much of its business via Email, and having an in – house solution made a lot of sense to them. A decision was made to offer the web application (a first – previous web based Email clients from other vendors had been clunky and dog – slow efforts written in HTML – every time something changed on screen, the whole page needed to be reloaded, which was slow and flickery and gave a very poor user experience – something Google were keen to avoid). Instead Google wanted Gmail to feel like an installed application that one merely happened to be accessing via a web browser – something revolutionary at the time, and increasingly common nowadays. With Gmail, Buchheit worked around HTML’s limitations by using highly interactive JavaScript code. That made it feel more like software than a sequence of web pages. Before long, the approach would get the moniker AJAX, which stood for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML; today, it is how all web applications like FaceBook and Google Docs are built. But when Gmail was pioneering the technique, it wasn’t clear that it was going to work. The fundamental issue was that back in 2002/3, when Gmail was being developed, web browsers were far less sophisticated than nowadays. The problem with using large chunks of JavaScript programming code to make a slick, quick web experience was that Internet Explorer 6 (by far the most widely used web browser at the time) was pretty terrible at handling JavaScript, (actually IE6 was pretty terrible at everything, but that is another story). Google were worried that by making a sophisticated, cutting edge product, they would end up crashing Internet Explorer 6 every so often, which would annoy and alienate their key user base. Eventually the quirks and shortcomings of Internet Explorer 6 were tamed, and Gmail was ready for release. Initially it was going to be offered to a limited number of public Beta testers (I was one of these people – I have one of the first 1,500 Gmail user accounts ever created). Google were so unsure of how Gmail would be received that they initially hosted the entire service on three hundred old Pentium III computers that nobody else at Google wanted, and were otherwise going into the recycling skip. The initial limited run of accounts was soon boosted, as a Gmail address became the new, fashionable thing to have – the scarcity made it cool. Not everything was going Google’s way though. The Gmail business model, which was (and still is) based on scanning the message text, and serving up discreet, context sensitive adverts was not universally well received. A U.S politician, California State Senator Liz Figueroa  sent Google a letter of her own, calling Gmail a “disaster of enormous proportions, for yourself, and for all of your customers.” She went on to draft a bill requiring, among other things, that any company that wanted to scan an email message for advertising purposes get the consent of the person who sent it. (By the time the California Senate passed the law, cooler heads prevailed and that obligation had been eliminated.) Nevertheless, if ultimate privacy is a concern of yours, Gmail is not for you. Compared with Hotmail (now the look and feel of Gmail has changed little – any updates and changes are incremental and subtly performed; Google realise that a substantial portion of their customers value the familiarity of the application, and don’t want change for change’s sake. Whatever your views, Gmail has come a hell of a long way in a seventeen years, and it is a cornerstone of many people’s lives. Happy Birthday Gmail.

Following on from his in - depth opinion piece on the forthcoming new for 2021 Tesla Model S, local resident Miles has guest written a piece on local recycling issues, and how they might be improved. Miles writes:- "How the future has passed  us. 12 years ago my girlfriend and I would walk over to a machine at a local supermarket which would accept cans, bottles and other bits and bobs. Unlike todays altruistic recycling, we were actually paid a modest bonus, maybe 5-10 pence per item (I'm getting old now so do forgive me if I'm wrong). This would be credited to our "Tesco Club card" and offer a pound or two off our weekly shop. Here in the UK these machines have more or less gone the way of the dinosaurs, I can only presume poor take-up (it was a bit of a pain) but yet in Germany they are still used a decade later for a slightly different reason - litter. It's quite common for German residents to leave what we'd consider bottle litter near well trodden lamp posts where less fortunate members of society can collect and deposit these items for a cash value receipt. These receipts can be redeemed at supermarkets for physical cash or goods. Whilst this is still far from a solution to our poverty problem, it is a step forward. Tangentially, I do wonder why we have so many varieties of bottles and glasses. Why do we not regulate form factor how a fluid is packaged, and simply reuse that (tetra pak?)? Coupled with a deposit scheme as I highlighted above, could this be this be the way forward to a cleaner street and world? I bet if you offered a token payment for bottles and crisp packets in Erith, our litter problem would be quickly solved. I find it quite depressing when I walk down to Morrisons seeing all the rubbish strewn about due to sheer laziness - if you added a value to it, I wonder if it would go away, at the very minimum it would be worth a trial? I bet even putting £1,000 worth of Morrisons 'credit' would go a long way - maybe something to consider?" A very thought provoking piece. If you have any issues that you would like to share, please contact me at

It would seem that sadly, my prediction in respect of Argos in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre appears to have come true. The store has been emptied of stock and equipment, and the signs removed from outside. It will not be re - opening; it will be a great loss for the town.  It had been hoped that after lock  down the store would be able to re-open and continue business, but this would appear to not be the case. I worry that the staff of the popular branch will have difficulty in finding new employment - I have heard nothing to indicate they will be redeployed in other Argos branches. If you have any information regarding this, please contact me in complete confidence to

On a possibly more upbeat note, I have reason to believe that things may be happening on the old Atlas Trading Estate site in Fraser Road, Erith. It would appear that Lidl have not given up on their project to build one of their discount supermarkets in Fraser Road, Erith. An artists impression of the originally proposed store is above - click on it to see a larger version. Lidl were refused planning permission for the new store a while back (2019) by Bexley Council. I, along with several other local people have noted that over the last couple of weeks, building surveyors and geological survey operatives have been on the site, conducting the drilling of survey bore holes in several areas of the extensive location. I have reached out to one of the area's local Councillors to get some update on exactly what is happening to the site, which has actually been owned by Lidl for around five years; at the time of writing I have not had a response. It would seem, however that a re - survey has been commissioned. Bearing in mind that at least two of the retail units currently on the site are no longer trading, it would seem that new moves are now afoot. Erith is dominated by Morrison's supermarket - there is no realistic competition - I don't feel that Farm Foods or Iceland offer anything like the full range of goods that Morrison's does. On top of this, the Erith Quarry housing development - next door to the proposed Lidl site has opened, with over four hundred new houses and apartments. This equates to roughly a thousand new people coming to live in the area. over the next year. in early 2019, Lidl carried out an independently audited survey of local residents; the results were overwhelmingly positive. A total of 1,366 people responded to the survey, of which 1,276 local residents supported the construction of a new Lidl store on the former Atlas Trading Estate site. That is a majority of 93.6 percent. If the store does eventually go ahead, it will employ 40 local people; I am led to understand that priority will be given to people who are employed by the outlets currently on the site. The original detailed development proposal lists the following benefits of a new store on the former industrial site:- "Demolition of the Atlas Trade Park and construction of a standalone Lidl food store with associated car parking. Provision of a brand new discount food store (1,375m2 sales area, 806m2 of ancillary space) with 91 free car parking bays of which 2 are for electric vehicles, 6 will be disabled spaces and 8 parent and child spaces. Contemporary food store building using high quality materials. Soft and hard landscaping treatment to be applied to all external areas. A limited range of products (2,000 lines) necessitating continued use of existing local retailers. Provision of up to 40 new jobs for local residents". Following my previous articles on Lidl and their plans to open in Erith, I have had several series of correspondence with readers, which have been overwhelmingly supportive and positive about a Lidl store opening locally. What do you think?

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "On Monday 01/02/2021 between 20:00 and 7.15 on the Tuesday 2/02/2021 unknown suspects have ripped the front grill of an AA patrol van and have also taken two orange beacons. On Monday 1/02/2021 at 17:01 in Hurstwood Avenue, a Catalytic Converter was stolen from a Toyota Prius. Three white males were seen driving a grey Volkswagen Golf with shiny new looking alloy wheels. The vehicle parked up near Quantock Road where the three males wearing face masks have got out and proceeded to walk towards the victim's vehicle and within a few minutes removed the Catalytic Converter. The team were also made aware of a blue Transit Van who was seen driving very slowly up Beverley Road. The two male occupants were seen pointing towards a nearby property. One of the males got out of the vehicle and walked onto a driveway towards a vehicle and the garage. The male was confronted and asked what was he doing. The male replied with an accent, Scrap Dealing. When told to get off the property the male smirked before walking away. On Wednesday 27/02/2021 at 18:45 two males approximately 16 years old attempted to purchase alcohol but were refused after having no ID. The males then walked out of the store without paying and made off in a grey VW Golf. One male had brown curly hair and the other male had short brown hair. In Eastleigh Road victim found the roof of a plastic shed had come off by unknown means and the doors open. It’s believed this was not caused by wind as the roof was held down by a large brick. On Tuesday 2/02/2021 Officers stopped two males in the alley that runs between Hornbeam Lane and Merewood Road. This area has been brought to our attention in the past and Officers have patrolled it at the right time on this occasion. The males were found in possession of Cannabis and were drinking alcohol. Both males were dealt with accordingly". 

Belvedere ward:- "We have two new probationer officers who joined the ward recently.  They are PC Sam SHAW and PC Natasha SAWYER. They are very keen and have been out on the ward patrolling. There have been a few Catalytic Convertor thefts recently.  This week we had one theft in Regents Square, one in Gertrude Road and two in Sheridan Road.  The best description we have is of three white males, aged between 20 and 30 years.  Please be on the lookout for anyone acting suspiciously in your road and report to police. There have been reports of males using drugs in block 99-127 Clive Road.  Patrols have been increased and one male was caught and searched recently.  The male had some cannabis and was given a Community Resolution for his trouble.  Please carry on reporting anyone causing ASB and using cannabis". Bexleyheath ward:- "There were no reports of any burglaries on the ward, which is good news. There was a report of a van window smashed whilst parked at the Premiere Inn car park overnight on the Friday 1st January. There have been previous reports of the parking meter at the bowling alley car park being smashed and cash taken out from within. On the Wednesday 27th January there was a report from the staff at the Esso garage which was early hours in the morning, youths had smashed the glass on the door to the entrance to the station". Crayford ward:- "I’m really sorry to say that there was a burglary on Saturday 30th January between 19:00 and 20:50 in Watling Street.  Entry was made by forcing a closed kitchen window to the rear of the property.  There was an untidy search of an upstairs bedroom and jewellery was stolen. There have been two incidents at Sainsburys on 27th January between 11.00 and 11.20 whereby catalytic converters have been stolen off a black Lexus and a silver Mazda. Information has been given for further investigation. The wing mirror casing was stolen from a silver Vauxhall Astra whilst it was parked on the driveway of a property in Halcot Avenue on Sunday 31st January. A white Ford Transit with a crew cab (seats five people in two rows) number late NK13 YLV was stolen on Friday 29th January between 21:30 and 21:45.  It is fitted with a tracker device.  The owner lives in Perry Street but it is understood the vehicle was stolen from Kale Road in Thamesmead. A white Mercedes with the number plate of P19 LNA was stolen from the driveway of a property in Beult Road between 23:00 on Wednesday 27th January and 07:00 on Thursday 28th January, a bank card was also stolen that had been left in the vehicle.  The owner still has the keys. Whilst making a delivery in Old Road on Tuesday 26th January between 19:05 and 19:10, a white Ford Transit, number plate AJ11 NPO was stolen with keys. We have been able to identify one of two youths captured on Ring doorbell checking out a property’s rear garden during night time hours and although he hadn’t touched or taken anything in this instance, action is being taken about his other behaviours. On Monday 1st February we were made aware of cannabis being smoked in Waterside Gardens.  Two males were searched and found to have cannabis on them.  They will be attending Bexleyheath Police station with appropriate adults in due course. Whilst out foot patrolling on Tuesday 2nd February we observed a car vehicle door open with the engine running on the driveway of a property in Whitehill Road, the front door was also wide open.  We knocked at the door and after some time the resident came downstairs to speak with us.  She said she had forgotten something as she was about to pull off her drive and rushed in to collect it.  We had to explain that it takes just a second for a criminal to jump in the car and drive it away, it’s an open invitation to a thief, also by leaving the front door wide open, an opportunist could have walked in the property, taken anything they wanted, in and out of the property in seconds.  Please don’t let this happen to you". Erith ward:- "This week we helped with a warrant that was drugs-related was resulted in two arrests. Theft from and of Motor Vehicles is still quite high across Erith we have been contacting all victims and leaflet dropping in the areas this is happening. However No Burglaries this week". Northumberland Heath ward - no report this week. Slade Green and Northend ward- "A vehicle was stolen from Frobisher Road on Friday 29th January around 11 am. The vehicle was chased by police and 3 suspects arrested in Bridge Road. The team were assisted by North Heath and Erith SNT in executing a drugs warrant at a property on our ward Tuesday morning. Drugs were found and 2 arrests made". Thamesmead East ward:- "Lexus vehicle owners. The two recent thefts have been from Lexus vehicles. Saturday 30/01/21 a Lexus car parked outside of Clewer House, Wolvercote Road had the catalytic converter stolen. the incident happened at approximately 6:10 pm. Overton Road between the hours of 4:00 pm on Thursday 28/01/21 and 6:20 am on Friday 29/1/21 a bank card and a driving licence were stolen. No damage was caused to the vehicle, however, the vehicle has a keyless entry system. On Tuesday 2/02/21 at approximately 1:35 hours a vehicle locked and secure in the parking area next to Osney House, Hartslock Drive had the catalytic converter stolen. The vehicle was also a Lexus car. Probationer PC Attila SAKIFIO attached to the Thamesmead East team for 6 months, made an arrest for a male for breaching his court bail conditions. Another arrest of a male for going equipped, being in possession of a key modified for possible breaking into vehicles". West Heath ward:- "Once again no burglaries have been reported to us over the past week. One theft from a motor vehicle in Lansdowne Avenue. This incident took place on Tuesday 2/02/2021 between 04:05 and 04:09. Several security cameras worth in the region of £500.00 were stolen from the back of the victim’s company van. No other crimes of note to report this week".

Now for the end video; this week is a short film on Erith Playhouse - the volunteer run theatre that I featured in last week's Blog update. Comments to

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