Sunday, April 25, 2021

Bag for a week.

The photo and location plan above show Electricity House, on the corner of Queen Street and Bexley Road, Erith, directly opposite the controversial De Luci fish sculpture roundabout, designed and constructed by local artist Gary Drostle. I have written at some length about Electricity House in the past, and its rather chequered recent history. The structure was built back in 1938 and opened in November 1939 as a showroom and offices for the local electricity company, which at the time was run by the council. Pre – war services such as gas, water and electricity supply were quite commonly managed and supplied by local councils; the idea of private companies being involved was something that did not happen until after the war had ended. Electricity House was also a place where new electrical customers could view domestic appliances which they could buy via hire purchase. As well as the showroom, Electricity House was home to what contemporary accounts say was a very upmarket dance hall with a fully sprung Canadian Maple floor; there was also a small Pathe cinema. The local electricity business was astonishingly successful – probably much helped by the fact that it offered the cheapest metered electricity in the entire UK at the time – one penny per unit. Ten thousand local people signed up for electrification in the first month alone, attracted by the offer of free connection to the local power grid – unusual at the time – many suppliers would even charge for the copper cable to connect new customers. In 1939 the Erith electricity board made a (for then) massive profit of £13,000. The idea was that the money would be used to improve local services and amenities for all, but the advent of war meant that early in 1940 Electricity House was handed over for war work, and once peace was restored, the money intended to benefit local people was absorbed by the LEB during nationalisation, and nothing was ever seen of it. Since then, Electricity House has gradually declined. It is widely  known that Bexley Council have a long term plan to redevelop the now run down and rather shoddy building. The redevelopment is not going to happen any time soon - the council's lack of money and the Covid - 19 pandemic have most definitely kicked the plan into the long grass, for a while, at least. In the meantime, planning application has been submitted to upgrade and update the current mobile phone base cell infrastructure on the roof of Electricity House to encompass 5G technology. The schedule of work includes the following:- "Installation consists of 2 x new antennas fixed to a support pole, 4 x new antennas on 2 freestanding frames, 1 x existing antenna relocated onto new steelwork, 3 x equipment cabinets, 1No. 600mm dish, 1No. 300mm dish, 1No. GPS module, together with additional ancillary development thereto". Currently there is a range of 4G transceiver  and antenna equipment, and this will be supplemented by some new and shiny 5G kit. The planning application includes the following explanation, and justification for the work:- "5G is the new generation of wireless technology and will deliver the reliable and faster networks of the future. 5G will change how we understand wireless connectivity, moving from something we experience through personal devices to an integrated infrastructure of buildings, transport and utilities, providing enormous benefits for citizens, businesses and urban regions alike. 5G will provide a new level of underlying connectivity to transform services and create new digital ecosystems that will deliver cost and time savings and new amenities to the regions inhabitants. With the ability to connect one million devices per square kilometre, 5G is to offer higher speeds and capacity than anything that has come before. Whether it be in the healthcare, transport, energy or retail sectors, 5G will reshape how we use these services and will bring substantial savings to households, businesses and Councils. For these benefits to be delivered and to ensure the UKs regions do not fall behind their national and international counterparts, there must be further investment in digital infrastructure. 5G uses higher frequency radio signals that have a shorter range and will require more base station sites than the existing networks. As 5G is to deliver new technology, so too the infrastructure required is different than that necessary to provide the previous generations of connectivity. Wherever possible, existing installations will be utilised to accommodate the necessary infrastructure. In certain cases the upgrade of service will require a dual pole solution for sites which currently have a single pole design. Due to the beamforming technology required for 5G service, the antenna height in many cases must be greater than that for previous generation technology. It is very important to note that mobiles can only work with a network of base stations in place where people want to use their phones (or other wireless devices). Without base stations, the technology we rely on simply won’t work". You can read the full planning application with detailed legal and technical descriptions by clicking here. In all of the documentation, there is one huge clanger of an error. Erith Snooker Centre, which is listed as the location of the upgrade works, has not existed for nearly five years. To the best of my knowledge, the legal dispute between the former snooker club operators, and the African church that occupies most of the building is currently unresolved. If anyone has an insight into this issue, please let me know by Emailing me at

Coincidentally, A crime wave has been underway in parts of North Kent, and it shows signs of spreading into South East London. Criminals have been stealing the backup batteries from mobile phone transceiver masts, presumably to sell as scrap. Now that scrap dealers can legally only accept scrap from registered traders, and no cash deals are permitted by law, it was thought that it was going to be far more difficult for the crooks to get away with their thefts, and I gather that the mobile phone companies have their own security investigators on the case, as well as the Police. I understand that these backup batteries are often loaded into shipping containers and sent abroad, thus circumventing the UK's quite stringent scrap laws. More on this in the future.

Much has been written about the history of the late former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. What is less well known is the influence the paint business played in her life. She would never have met Denis Thatcher, the man she married, if it wasn’t for an Erith based business. Denis worked for his family’s paint and wood preservatives company, Atlas Preservatives, originally based in Deptford, London. It later relocated to a factory on Fraser Road in Erith, where the Wickes DIY store now stands. He became works manager and later general manager. In February 1949 Denis met the then Margaret Roberts, who was a chemist, at a Paint Trades Federation function in Dartford. They fell in love and married in 1951. While they were both right wing they did not agree on everything in politics. He was totally opposed to capital punishment while she was strongly in favour of it being reinstated. Using his knowledge of running a paint business and his accountancy qualifications Denis wrote a book entitled “Accounting and Costing in the Paint Industry.” In 1965 Atlas Preservatives was purchased by Castrol which was later taken over by Burmah Oil but Denis remained involved in the business up to his retirement. He died in 2003. A historic press announcement of the engagement  of Miss Margaret Roberts to Denis Thatcher can be read here:- "It was not so very long ago that Miss Margaret Roberts, 26-years-old Conservative candidate for Dartford, told supporters that she had set up bachelor-girl house-keeping. She commented at the time, “The only trouble is that there is only one to collect the weekly purchases—instead of two.”Now all that is to be changed, for this week she stated she is going to marry a fellow-Conservative, Major Denis Thatcher, 36-years-old company director, of Erith. But they will wait until after the election. At the moment the engagement, although confirmed by Miss Roberts, is not an official one. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with the campaign to wrest the Dartford seat from its occupier for the past six years, Mr. Norman Dodds. No word about the impending news was breathed at the Bedonwell Schools' meeting at Erith on Monday night, although Mr. Thatcher, chairman for the evening, was sitting next to Miss Roberts. In his opening remarks, however, he did say, “She has unlimited beauty brains and charm, three qualities which we can do with in the House of Commons.” They first met in February, 1949, when Miss Roberts was chosen as prospective candidate. “Since then he has helped me tremendously on the economic and industrial side of politics,” smiled Miss Roberts. Major Thatcher is managing director of Atlas Preservative Company, the paint manufacturers, Fraser-road, Erith, and is chairman of the London Association of the National Paint Federation. A member of the Order of the British Empire, he was commissioned in the Royal Engineers and later was transferred to the Royal Regiment of Artillery. He gave full-time service from 1939 to 1946, becoming a brigade major. He saw service in Sicily, Italy and France, being twice mentioned in despatches. After demobilisation, he rejoined Atlas, for whom he had worked from 1934, and became general manager. In 1948 he was appointed managing director. An athletic six-footer, he is a keen Rugby football referee and a member of the London Society of Referees".

It is now five years since the removal of free supermarket carrier bags came into force. Users now have to purchase a "bag for life" or bring their own bag when shopping. This has resulted in the number of shopping trolleys and baskets being stolen from Britain's supermarkets rocketing since the plastic carrier bag charge came into force. It has also been the victim of The Law of Unintended Consequences. Some supermarkets such as Asda have fitted their baskets and trolleys with electronic security tags to try and prevent thefts. Some light fingered shoppers are even pinching trolleys from stores and then dumping them in the streets after removing their shopping. Trolleys cost about £100 to replace and baskets around £10 – while electronic security tags cost just £1 each. I have also heard evidence from the medical profession that reusing "bags for life" can be extremely hazardous, as cross contamination from raw and ready to eat foods can occur, and bacteria can live on the surfaces of the bags for several days. There is anecdotal evidence that incidences of campylobacter and salmonella are on the increase. In a recent press interview, Professor Anthony Hilton, head of biological and biomedical science at Aston University, said the public needs to be educated about the dangers of contaminated bags. Professor Hilton and his team worked out that millions of bacteria cells can survive on plastic bag for days or even weeks - including potentially deadly E. Coli. He said: "Reusing plastic bags is hugely beneficial to the environment but the public should be mindful of the ability of bacteria to contaminate and survive on bags for long periods of time. Bacteria can easily transfer from different types of reusable bags to the hands and back again. What is more, using the same bag repeatedly for different purposes increases the risk of contaminating the bag with a whole host of harmful bacteria. For example, carrying fresh meat brings with it known contamination risks and if you then use the same bag for carrying ready-to-eat foods such as cheese or bread there is the potential for cross-contamination. Likewise, if you carry sports shoes one day and then shopping the next." He advises that people only use certain bags for certain types of food produce, and always wash hands and goods thoroughly. Another issue with the so called "bags for life" is that shoppers often use them only once, or for a scant handful of occasions. Some industry pundits have coined the term "bag for a week". Supermarkets sold 1.58 billion bags for life in 2019, according to figures from Greenpeace, the equivalent of 57 per household in the UK – more than one a week. The bags for life are made of heavier grade plastic than the old single use bags; it is ironic that the banning of the flimsy single use bags and the introduction of the heavier grade bags for life seem to have had the effect of worsening the impact on the environment - a classic case of The Law of Unintended Consequences. It would appear that the main beneficiary of the increase in bag for life sales is actually the large supermarkets and other retailers, as currently they get to keep the proceeds of the bag sales. There is no incentive at present for them to want to limit bag sales in any way. 

Commercially viable (rather than just experimental) magnetic tape recording had its seventy fifth birthday this 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's international Shortwave service. 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 April the 23rd 1946, 75 years ago , 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 a hold 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 — 60 years ago, Ampex introduced the desk-sized Mark IV, the first commercial video tape recorder, to a stunned group of TV executives 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, 75 years ago - and nothing got mentioned in the popular press, more is the pity.

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. I am sorry to say that the anticipated return to full weekly reporting by the individual ward Police Safer Neighbourhood teams has yet to happen. The reports are once again mostly missing. I am aware that the matter has been escalated to senior members of Bexley Police. Hopefully things will improve by next week, but I am not holding my breath. Anyway, here goes. Barnehurst ward - no report. 

Belvedere ward - no report. However there has been an appeal for information. "Police are appealing to the public to help find Maria, a 'high-risk' missing person from Belvedere, shown in the photo above. Bexley Metropolitan Police released an appeal, asking anyone who can help to come forward". Bexleyheath ward:- "Only one crime this week, but there have been reports of pickpockets in and around the Broadway.  Please be careful and keep valuables safe when out shopping. On Friday 16/04/2021 at 07:15 Theft of a Motor Vehicle in Sterling Road". Crayford ward:- "Some very good news stories, no burglaries, no thefts of vehicles, no thefts from motor vehicles and no robberies in Crayford in this last week. But please remain vigilant and do everything you can not to be a victim of crime, please see for crime prevention advice. There have been reports recently of a male stalking females when they have been leaving Crayford BR Station. We are really pleased to report that the male was detained on Monday and will be dealt with accordingly. On Tuesday we completed a joint operation with our colleagues from Bexleyheath and Barnehurst teams.  A successful day with two vehicles seized for no insurance, two people dealt with for driving with no insurance, one person processed for not driving in accordance with their licence, two community resolutions for possession of cannabis, one penalty notice for possession of cannabis.  We were also highly visible in three areas and spoke with local residents passing by". Erith ward - no report. Northumberland Heath ward - no report. Slade Green and Northend ward - no report. Thamesmead East ward:- "On Saturday 17th April at 11:30 in Redpoll Way the catalytic converter was removed from a Vauxhall Zafira". West Heath ward:- "No burglaries or motor vehicle crime to report this week. Two pedal cycles were stolen from the side of a house in Pinewood Road on Thursday 15/04/2021 between 03:40 and 03:59".

The end video this week was suggested to me by regular reader and semi regular contributor Miles. It is  a short promotional piece featuring various businesses based in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. Suggestions and comments to me at

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