Sunday, March 14, 2021

Air Ambulance.

I took the photos above - click on either to see a larger version - on Monday lunchtime. I was sitting in the office in Pewty Acres when I heard the sound of a helicopter. When I looked out of the window, I could see the London Air Ambulance hovering over my back garden. It then headed towards the only piece of open ground in the vicinity - the Eastern end of Morrison's car park, which is usually empty of cars - except for weekend afternoons, when learner drivers and radio controlled model car enthusiasts tend to use the open space for their activities. When I arrived on site, the helicopter was silent as the engine had been switched off. Various members of the crew were in conference by the machine, as you can see in the lower of my two photos above - what you cannot see is that another crew member had repaired to the recycling centre, just out of shot - in order to have a crafty cigarette. It did not seem that there was any urgency to their actions. Indeed, when I went into Morrison's to do some shopping, I saw one of the helicopter doctors coming out of the public toilets in the supermarket. I do wonder if the helicopter had just landed in order for the medic to have a wee. This might sound slightly frivolous, but it is possible to get caught short in a helicopter, just like anywhere else - and I doubt that a small vehicle like the London Air Ambulance has a loo on board. There is a well established precedent for the emergency services using the facilities of Morrison's in Erith. For many years, the River Police have on occasion moored their launch on Erith Pier, then visited the Morrison's staff canteen for a meal. The staff canteen is apparently on the upper floor of the building, and not accessible to the public. I have seen the River Police returning from the supermarket with bags full of snacks - a novel way of doing their shopping. I do not suppose that it is any different for the London Air Ambulance crew.  

As regular readers will be aware, I have been following the Community Share offer at The Exchange closely. In a press release published on Monday, The Exchange had some very good news to announce. The press release reads:- "On February 10th, The Exchange launched a Community Shares campaign to raise the final £130,000 needed to complete the renovation works at Erith’s Old Library. In under 1 month, the community has raised £113,037, leaving £16,963 to reach their optimum target. Sarah Batten, Co-Director of The Exchange says - “The support we have received from the local community has been immense. At a time where money is tight, and when people are struggling with the impact of the pandemic, it has been so uplifting to see this campaign do so well so quickly, and to feel people’s belief in The Exchange project.” Community Shares are a way communities can fund large projects. But instead of donating to causes, people are asked to become investors instead. These investors become the owners of the project – in this case the owners of The Exchange – helping to guide its future, and also benefiting from the organisation’s success. Since launching the campaign, The Exchange now has 283 shareholders – local residents who will be actively involved in the running of the community organisation. Peter Nutley, Co-Director of The Exchange says – “Investments have come from all over Bexley, and from areas of SE London and Kent. The word is spreading about the value of community ownership on local building and areas. Our hope is that through everyone’s investment we can work together to give the Old Library and Erith a brighter future.” The campaign will run until 01 May. And the money raised will be used to restore key features in the historic old library, including the Edwardian toilets, the mosaic featuring the town’s coat of arms, and the wrought iron railings that were previously removed. The Exchange has so far secured over £3.5m for the repair and renovation of the building and to kick-start a community programme of workshops, markets, festivals and music. Investments start at just £20, and organisations as well as individuals can invest. Every investor will have an equal vote and a say on the important issues facing The Exchange and its work in the community. You can also stand for and be elected to the board, and in a few year’s time, get your money back. For everyone giving over £100, you also get 30 percent tax relief and 3 percent annual interest on your investment. The Exchange has also received support from the Booster Programme, which is funded by Power to Change. With this support every £1 invested by the community, will be matched by the Booster Programme up to £75,000 To find out more about the Community Shares offer, and the story of The Exchange visit: or watch our Community Shares film".

You may recall that late last November I published the photograph above, along with an article wondering what Amanda Holden and Alan Carr were doing in the Running Horses pub in Erith High Street. Well, thanks to some research by a regular reader, the answer is now clear. The "Slebs" were filming an episode of a TV series called "DNA Journey" for ITV. The programme is described thus:- "Eight celebrities prepare to embark on a life changing journey to explore their family history using DNA technology and genealogy. This time, TV personalities Amanda Holden and Alan Carr embark on a journey across the country as they delve into their family history, unlocking secrets of the past and meeting close family they never knew existed. Amanda's journey starts in the grounds of a stately home in Cornwall, while Alan's hunt for his ancestors takes him to a pub in Erith with something of a colourful past". The episode featuring Holden and Carr is scheduled for transmission on Wednesday the 17th of March at 9pm - 10:15pm on ITV1. 

Another anniversary has come up this week; did you know that the humble wine box is now fifty six years old? The Australian invention, known over there as a “goon”, has been occupying wine drinkers fridges since it was first developed back in 1965. The wine box actually owes a lot to the space race and NASA.  The bladder that is located inside the cardboard outer box is made of a material called Mylar – or more correctly, Biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate. This form of polymer was originally invented back in the mid 1950’s by American chemical giant DuPont, for use in early spacecraft. The inert, tough and flexible plastic has since found hundreds of uses in everything from drum skins, the magnetic media in recording tape and computer floppy disks to tiny flecks of it being added to nail varnish to make the varnish “sparkle”. It is a very versatile material that is tasteless and impervious to liquids and gases, thus making it an excellent choice of material to form the wine containing bladder that sits within the reinforcing cardboard box. The clever concept of the wine box is that the Mylar bladder collapses as wine is drained from it, so air does not seep into the container  - which would cause it to begin oxidising and would seriously shorten the shelf – life of the wine once it was opened. As it is, wine inside a wine box remains drinkable for around six weeks once the seal has been broken. Having said that, I don't know of anyone who has managed to make a wine box last anything like as long as that! At one time wine boxes were thought of as being suitable only for student parties and barbecues; nowadays the quality of wine found in boxes is far higher, and they have achieved greater social acceptability. What do you think? Email me at

This week we have a guest article from a regular reader named David, and his recollections in regard of the Thames Barrier. David Writes:- "In 1974 I joined a large Consulting firm, Rendel, Palmer and Triton as part of the design team working on the Thames Barrier project. Due to rising water levels of the Thames, and the south 'sinking' the threat of flooding of London was of major concern. There had been a flood in 1953 where 307 people died. Water flooded parts of the East End and many families were forced to move out of their homes. A barrier was proposed at Woolwich and over 40 proposals were submitted. The winner was a design that had been made by (Reginald) Charlie Draper a brilliant engineer and a lovely self effacing man. He got the idea one evening as he sat by his gas fire. He looked at the gas valve and had a eureka moment. The design of which is like a globe which when turned blocks off the flow of gas. He felt if this was applied to the problem via a series of gates/barriers an effective solution would be achieved. He built a scaled working model. There would be a series of gates that rose up from below the water level (which allowed ships to pass un-obstructed). They were called rising sector gates. Due to sediment build up near both banks of the river the gates had to fall rather than rise. These were called falling radial gates. They were moved via large hydraulic cylinders housed in the concrete buildings across the river. Because this was such a prestigious project the architects came up with the steel edifice that we see today. However it was not easy working with them all the time. They changed the curve at the top which meant the layout we had of all the equipment inside would not fit. We had to get them to raise the height of the curve so we could get a bigger floor plan. This did add a considerable amount to the cost but the final result was called the eighth wonder of the world! Charlie Draper gave support and guidance to all the team. Sadly this was not recognised at the on site exhibition when I went to visit shortly after completion. The names of all the architects were recorded but there was no mention of him. There was a lot of lobbying to get this rectified. I have not been back since but If anyone has been recently perhaps they could let us know if it has on Sadly Charlie died before the work was completed. It was also a requirement that the sea defences were raised for a length of about 11 miles downstream of the barrier. Some readers may remember the sea wall at Erith being raised. There are several inlets of the Thames and these required smaller gates/barriers. One can be seen on the Slade Green marshes. There is a path alongside the Darenth factory that takes you to the river. Originally meant to provide protection for 50 years (until 2030) this has been upgraded and there is talk of additional barriers by 2070. Since it became operational in 1982 it has been closed 195 times to prevent flooding". Some fascinating historical insights from David. If you have a story that you would like to share, then please Email me at the usual address - and we can discuss it.

The local area has a strong link with Charles Howard, the 20th Earl of Suffolk, which I think many readers will find of interest. Charles Howard led what can only be described as a colourful and eventful - if somewhat short - life. He was the son of Henry Howard, 19th Earl of Suffolk and his American wife, the former Margaret Leiter ("Daisy"), sister of Lady Curzon and daughter of the American businessman Levi Leiter. The 19th Earl was killed in World War I at the Battle of Istabulat, in Iraq. After leaving the Royal Naval College, Osborne at 15, he attended Radley College, but quit in 1923 to join the sailing ship the Mount Stewart as an apprentice officer. After his return from a round the world voyage, he was commissioned in the Scots Guards but was later asked to resign from his post by his superiors because of his "wild ways". In 1926 he returned to Australia; where he first worked as a junior cattle station operator, and later owned a large farm jointly with Captain McColm, who had been Captain of the Mount Stewart. The earl was a great animal lover, and unlike many of his class he hated hunting and shooting, and was a keen amateur naturalist. In 1934, he married Chicago-born ballet dancer  Mimi Forde-Pigott, with whom he had three children. The Earl enrolled at Edinburgh University, graduating three years later with a first-class honours degree in Chemistry and Pharmacology. In his early twenties, the Earl was made a Fellow of The Royal Society of Edinburgh. The Nuffield Institute of Medical Research at Oxford University offered him a research post in the area of "explosives and poisons".  As Liaison Officer for the British Department of Scientific and Industrial Research during World War II and was instrumental in evacuating the French stock of heavy water and radioactive isotopes that had formed the French nuclear research programme, just ahead of the German invasion – he also managed to liberate over $10 Million worth of gem diamonds and 600 tons of high quality machine parts in the process. For this and other escapades, Herbert Morrison, the Minister of Supply, later described him as "one of the most remarkable young men employed by the Government on dangerous missions." Morrison told the House of Commons that "A considerable service has been rendered to the Allied cause by the safe arrival of this shipload of materials”. Following his return from France, the Earl worked for the Ministry of Supply as a Research Officer learning how to defuse bombs of new and unknown types. The Earl served as part of an unexploded bomb detachment in London during the Blitz. The detachment consisted of himself, his secretary  Morden, and his chauffeur, Fred Hards. They called themselves "the Holy Trinity" and they became famed for their prowess in detecting and successfully tackling thirty-four unexploded bombs with "urbane and smiling efficiency." Morden stood by his side taking notes, as the Earl worked at defusing the bombs. On the 12th May 1941 Charles Howard was working at a “bomb cemetery” on Erith Marshes. A “Bomb cemetery” was a place where bombs that had failed to explode, or bombs were transferred there after being temporarily made safe for transport, and then destroyed using controlled explosions. The Erith bomb cemetery was one of the largest in Greater London. The Earl was tasked with defusing a particularly difficult type of 250 Kg German bomb that had been dropped over six months earlier, and had been around for so long that the bomb cemetery staff had nicknamed it “Old Faithful”. The Earl attempted to defuse the bomb, but was killed along with his secretary Morden, and his chauffeur Fred  Hands, along with eleven others who were nearby when he tried to remove the fuse, as it had been fitted with a type of booby-trap called a Zeus 40 anti handling device. Sir Winston Churchill wrote of Charles Howard “One bomb disposal squad I remember which may be taken as symbolic of many others. It consisted of three people, the Earl of Suffolk, his lady private secretary and his chauffeur. They called themselves 'The Holy Trinity'. Their prowess and continued existence got around among all who knew and 34 unexploded bombs did they tackle with urbane and smiling efficiency, but the 35th claimed its forfeit. Up went the Earl of Suffolk in his Holy Trinity. But we may be sure that, as for Mr. Valiant-for-Truth, all the trumpets sounded for them on the other side”.  In 1973 the BBC produced a television play on the life and death of Charles Howard called “The Dragon’s Opponent”. A memorial to the Earl can be seen in a dedicated stained glass window in St. John the Baptist church in Charlton. The 1979 ITV television series “Danger - UXB” which featured the fictional (but both historically and technically accurate) exploits of a wartime Royal Engineers bomb disposal team had an episode (“Cast Iron Killer”) featuring a bomb fitted with a Zeus 40 anti-handling device just like the one that killed the Earl of Suffolk. I would strongly recommend that you watch the entire series of “Danger - UXB” (available on DVD from Amazon and other online retailers), as it makes very compelling viewing; despite the story being fictional, the methods used to defuse the bombs, and the situations the team find themselves in are totally accurate. The programme was titled and partly based on the memoirs of Major A. B. Hartley, M.B.E, RE, Unexploded Bomb - The Story of Bomb Disposal, with episodes written by John Hawkesworth and four screenwriters. The series was filmed in 1978 in and around the Clapham, Streatham and Tooting areas of South London. You can see the episode of Danger UXB, called "Cast Iron Killer" online, which featured the efforts to counter the Zeus 40 anti handling device by clicking here

I am a big fan of Google's Chromebook computers. The Chromebook concept turned ten years old last week. Chromebook creators Google said of the anniversary:-"10 years ago, computing was complicated. Slow boot times, clunky hardware and intrusive updates were the norm. Computers were invented before the internet, and they hadn’t fully caught up to how people were using the web. So Google set out to design something new. The idea was to create a cloud-first experience that was fast, secure and easy to use — with software that stays up-to-date, automatically. A computer that boots up in seconds, and stays fast over time. In 2011 we launched the first Chromebooks in partnership with Acer and Samsung. Today Chromebooks help millions of people stay connected while they work, study and stay entertained; this has never been more true than over the past year". Chromebooks run a cut down version of the Linux operating system called Chrome OS, and the only locally installed application on the simplified computers is the Chrome web browser. All "apps" run on the machines are actually web based applications that are remotely accessed; whilst the machines do have a limited amount of local storage, users are strongly encouraged to store their data in encrypted form in the cloud. I bought a Google Chromebook by Samsung in 2012, and I have been very satisfied with it - especially considering their inexpensive price. Most Chromebooks cost between £179 and £279, though it is possible to spend considerably more, though personally I can see only limited benefit in getting a pricier model, as most of the "heavy lifting" of any computing is not done on the Chromebook itself. but on the server in the cloud. Chromebooks are basically terminals onto the net. As long as you have a good WiFi or a 4 / 5G connection, you are good to go. Google's Chrome operating system has proved to be extremely robust and secure, though it has to be said it has far less to do than a "full fat" desktop / Laptop operating system such as Windows 10. I bought my original Chromebook back in 2012, when they were a relatively knew phenomenon; I paid £229 for it - which I thought was little enough that if it did not work for me, little money would have been wasted. On the contrary, I found it to be an excellent tool with long battery life, a decent screen and most important to me - an excellent keyboard very similar in style to a MacBook Pro. I spend most of my time online typing, so keyboard quality is something very important to me - and also the reason that I am not a fan of tablet computers - I am primarily a content creator, rather than a content consumer. The photo above - click on it for a larger view - shows the Asus Chromebook which replaced my original Samsung one in the middle of last year. One factor to keep in mind when considering the purchase of a Chromebook is the fact that every Chromebook has an "Auto Update Expiration (AUE) Date" after which the operating system is unsupported by Google. If you happen to buy your Chromebook late in the product's life cycle, you may be surprised how soon the AUE date arrives. Google warrant that a Chromebook will have updates for six and a half years after the device is launched onto the market, not from when the customer purchases it.  You can see the AUE dates for the whole range of Chromebooks listed in order of the manufacturer by clicking here. Would this put you off buying a Chromebook? What do you think? Email me at

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. As previously mentioned, the process  of the various Police Safer Neighbourhood Teams providing reports to BBNWA is currently under review, and because of this, some teams are currently not submitting weekly reports. This should hopefully be resolved soon. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "Two men have been seen checking every vehicle door handle in Northumberland way in the early hours of Monday 8th March. Caught on numerous CCTV". Belvedere ward - no report this week. Bexleyheath ward - no report this week. Crayford ward - no report this week. Erith ward - no report this week. Northumberland Heath ward - no report this week. 

Slade Green and Northend ward:- "During the evening of Wednesday 10th March around 11 pm, a group of three youths, aged about 12 to 15 years old, were seen vandalising a tree with an axe in the Slade Green Recreation ground (Hazel Drive).  The axe broke and was discarded.  Fortunately, it was found by a dog walker before it could be used for more harm.  The tree is now a danger to the public". Thamesmead East ward:- "No burglaries this week. Motor vehicle crimes - Aspen Green - Between the hours of 11:10 pm on Thursday 4/3/21 and 4:15 am on Friday 5/3/21 a vehicle locked and securely parked on the drive had the catalytic converter stolen. Near St. Mellion Close – the front and rear number plates were stolen between the hours of 4:30 pm and 5:30 pm on Friday 5/3/21. Overton Road - On Friday 5/3/21 between the hours of 20:00 pm and 9:00 am on Saturday, a vehicle parked locked and secure had the front grill stolen. On Wednesday 10/3/21 between the hours of 1:00 am and 6:40 am vehicle interference occurred in Maran Way. The vehicle owner stated that the passenger door was open and possessions were all over the seats. Good news - Partnership working with the Environment Agency: Thank you so much to PC Attila Sakifio for being available to do a joint patrol yesterday. Especially good on antisocial behaviours front, very rewarding, some of the process on my part, offenders will be brought to account. Attila’s professionalism was exemplary and he is an excellent representative of the Metropolitan Police. I am sure that you and your higher management would be very impressed. Following proactive policing on the ward by PC’s Pruden and Vekony resulted in cannabis being found on males and were dealt with appropriately. A male who failed to appear in court for fraud offences was arrested by PC Vekony. More good news - On the Sunday 7th of March officers from Thamesmead and Belvedere SNT arrested a male in possession of a knife. Just before 8 pm officers had reason to stop a white Transit Van in Kale Road, Thamesmead. The male was arrested and taken back to a South London Police Station where the investigation continues. We would like to reassure our residents that fighting knife crime remains one of our top priorities and we will continue to use our search powers effectively". West Heath ward - no report this week.

The end video features a local chap wearing inline skates - something of a first for the Blog. He describes the video thus:- "For all the time I have lived in this area I have never ventured out to see what is actually around while not being in a car. So why not take a look at some of these place while practising on the skates.  Today takes me on a trip to Erith Pier". Do give it a watch.

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