Sunday, August 22, 2021


I took the two photos above - click on either one for a larger view - whilst I attended the Thamesmead Festival last Saturday. It was the first time that I had been to Southmere Lake in very many years. The last time I visited, the area around the lake was pretty desolate. It was barren, bleak and a post industrial wasteland. As you can see from my photos, nowadays this could not be further from the truth. The parkland area around the lake is stunning, and unless you are a local resident, you are somewhat unlikely to know about the area of outstanding natural beauty. As well as a variety of water fowl, including Canada Geese, Ducks of various species, there are also dragonflies and many types of butterfly. The place is definitely a local hidden gem, and I would recommend that you give it a visit during the warm weather. 

You may be aware that the NHS have been undertaking a project to make confidential, private patient data available to third party organisations. The project is called The General Practice Data for Planning and Research SchemeThe organisers of this project assured patients that their data would be anonymised, but security researchers have determined that this anonymisation process can quite easily be reversed, by the application of a relatively simple piece of programming code. Whilst the operators of the scheme say that some personal data will be removed from the database, much will be included by default - information such as gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity will be made available to third parties, as will data about diagnoses, symptoms, observations, test results, medications, allergies, immunisations, referrals, recalls and appointments, including information about physical, mental and sexual health. Since this story broke in the popular press, many UK residents have been alarmed by the apparently cavalier way their personal data was to be sold to third party organisations for cash. In a recent interview, a representative of NHS Digital - the organisation behind the proposed data sale said:- "Patient data is vital to healthcare planning and research. It is being used to develop treatments for cancer, diabetes, long Covid and heart disease, and to plan how NHS services recover from Covid. Medical research and planning benefits all of us but is only as good as the data it is based on. The better the quantity and quality of data collected, the more useful it is for researching new treatments or for planning good, sustainable NHS services to meet patients’ needs, so it is vital people make an informed decision about sharing their data. We take our responsibility to safeguard data very seriously, and it will only ever be used by organisations that have a legal basis and legitimate need to use it for the benefit of health and care planning and research. We have listened to feedback on proposals and will continue working with patients, clinicians, researchers and charities to inform further safeguards, reduce the bureaucratic burden on GPs and step-up communications for GPs and the public ahead of implementing the programme". Privacy researchers are concerned that, whilst the reasons for the data share cited by NHS Digital are well meaning, it is likely that huge swathes of personal data will also be sold to less than ethical organisations, including giant American healthcare conglomerates and life insurance companies, and that the guarantees of individual anonymity are not worth the paper that they are written on. After the proposals were quietly announced in May, doctors’ leaders objected to the short six-week deadline for the public to opt out of the scheme, while privacy campaigners warned the process to remove identities could be reversed.The deadline was initially delayed to September, but an online campaign encouraging people to opt out grew over the summer. Government figures show that in May 107,429 people opted out. In June, a further 1,275,153 followed. NHS Digital had originally intended for the project to be complete by the end of September 2021, but that date has now been abandoned. Patients have been wary of the scheme, not trusting NHS Digital with information which they do not want made public. The competence of the NHS Digital project team in dealing with this technically complex and politically sensitive enterprise has also been called into question. The huge number of patients who have refused permission for their data to be used has meant that the entire project is now in jeopardy. The latest development is that NHS Digital have announced that, in a major concession to critics, patients will now be allowed to opt out at any stage, with their data deleted even if it has already been uploaded. NHS Digital is also pledging to increase the security and privacy of the data, even while researchers are working with it. What do you think? Email me at

The article about smart meters and local fly tipping in last weeks' Maggot Sandwich update has provoked further feedback from concerned readers. One particular local reader sent me the following piece for publication:- "Smart Meters.  About 10 years ago we were fitted with smart gas and electricity meters, one of which was complicated by the age of the installation in our house, in a place formerly a cupboard under the stairs, but a previous owner turned the stairs around while also knocking a wall down. We hide the meter with a Large cupboard and dresser with a hole cut into the rear. As you can imagine, having to empty and move everything was a nightmare.  And of course the first meter replacement didn't work, and he had to go back to base to fetch a replacement, leaving us without electricity for several hours, which meant no central heating for that time. It was mid-winter. The gas meter is in an external box, so was quickly changed with no problems, then they gave us this sort of hand held display unit wired into the mains (meaning we are charged for it working) which provides different displays for both meters, giving price in usage in £ and pence. The problem is that occasionally the display is too dark to read and to be frank, I just can't be bothered to use a wired in (not wireless unit) due to the pure hassle of getting to it. Our meter readings are sent by weekly text message from the meter to the supplier. Like your other correspondent I can go online to manage our energy accounts so we don't worry too much until we get the usual message that they need to amend the amount we pay monthly by direct debit.  When I will raise a complaint with the supplier if I think they are being unreasonable. We are on yearly billing, with half - year updates, so we are not costing the energy supplier a large amount in administering the account, and their charges are reasonable with a fixed deal (which are apparently being withdrawn).  And we always have a credit, sometimes substantial at the end of a billing year.  Getting this credit returned is another issue, but I will leave it there. The thing is that we have a smart meter, and have been contacted at least five times in the past two years "Telling us" to make an appointment to have an upgraded version fitted? I refused point blank, and they then telephoned to try to persuade me that "I have to have it" leaving the consequences of "Not Having it" hanging in the air.  At the moment it has all gone quiet, perhaps the pandemic and them all working from home has stopped the veiled threats, I do hope so. What worries me about all of this is that I am categorised by the supplier as vulnerable in terms of my spouse's ill health, so should receive some consideration and offers to assist with unaffordable heating costs, but I have not received any such treatment, just reminders about an unwanted 2nd generation smart meter". What do you think? Email me at

We have had another technology birthday in the last week; on the 18th of August, it was the 25th anniversary of the launch of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0. You may wonder why version three of the early web browser would be heralded, rather than version one, Well, in reality Internet Explorer 3.0 was really the first version of the browser as modern users would see it. Microsoft were actually quite late in producing a web browser, and another software company - Netscape Communications - produced a product called Netscape Navigator, which for a couple of years in the early 90's was the de facto web browser of choice. The launch of Internet Explorer 3.0 was an important event in the so-called browser wars between Microsoft and Netscape. in 1993 developers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications thought the World Wide Web could be quite big if it were easier to use – say, with a client that sported a GUI (Graphic User Interface) rather than a text interface. That effort produced a browser called Mosaic, and one of its developers – a chap named Marc Andreessen – quickly created a commercial version of it, which he initially called Mosaic Netscape and started a company to market it. Netscape took off, as did the web. Microsoft saw the web's potential and started work on a browser that became Internet Explorer 1.0. That work happened during Microsoft's massive push to create Windows 95 and give the world a cut of Windows that improved on the illogical user interface that was Windows 3.1. Microsoft felt that Windows 95 was the product that would see it reach Bill Gates's goal of "a microcomputer on every desk and in every home running Microsoft software." But as Netscape grew in popularity and the potential for a GUI-driven web became ever-more apparent, Microsoft knew it could only achieve that goal if Windows 95 included the Internet Explorer 1.0  web browser. Versions of Windows 95 supplied pre - installed on new computers had Internet Explorer 1.0, but a majority of users at the time opted to update their existing PC's with the then new operating system. The version of Windows 95 boxed and sold in shops (those were the days...) did not ship with the web browser at all - lead times for printing, packaging, and distribution made its inclusion impossible. Internet Explorer 2.0 came along a few months after the launch of Windows 95 but it again lacked features available in Netscape. The Microsoft browsers never gained much market share. Bill Gates of Microsoft invested heavily in the next, critical version - Internet Explorer 3.0. This version of the web browser was intentionally almost impossible to uninstall from a Windows 95 computer, and would also detect and overwrite certain Netscape Navigator Windows registry files if it detected it installed on a PC. Microsoft defended that on grounds that some of those components made it easier for developers to include HTML forms in their Windows products. Others saw it differently and IE's persistence became a key element of antitrust action against Microsoft that, for a time, looked like it could see the corporation broken up. American Courts eventually decided on less severe remedies. Internet Explorer 3.0 was given away free by Microsoft, which was deliberately aimed at breaking Netscape's hold on the international web browser market, as Netscape Navigator was at the time a paid for product. While Netscape began with about 80 percent of the market share, and a good deal of public goodwill, as a relatively small company deriving the great bulk of its income from what was essentially a single product (Navigator and its derivatives), it was financially vulnerable. The company's total revenue never exceeded the income generated by Microsoft's funds that were readily available for use. Microsoft's resources allowed them to make Internet Explorer available without charge, as the revenues from Windows were used to fund its development and marketing. As a result, Internet Explorer 4.0 was provided free for all Windows and Macintosh users, unlike Netscape which was free for home and educational use but would require a paid license for business use, which put off a lot of potential users. Microsoft bundled Internet Explorer with every copy of Windows, which had an over 90 percent share of the desktop operating system market, allowing the company to obtain market share more easily than Netscape, as customers already had Internet Explorer installed as the default browser. In this time period, many new computer purchasers had never extensively used a web browser before. Consequently, the buyer did not have anything else to compare with and little motivation to consider alternatives; the set of abilities they had gained with access to the Internet and the World Wide Web made any difference in browser features or ergonomics pale in comparison. Microsoft went on to produce Internet Explorer versions 5.0 and 6.0, but work on subsequent versions ceased for several years, as Microsoft had "won" the browser war, and did not feel that any further development would be profitable. The story of what happened next, and how Microsoft eventually were overtaken by a couple of superior competitors can wait for another time. Suffice to say, in retrospect. Microsoft won the web browser battle, but ended up dramatically losing the war to others. 

It has been known for several years that there are serious discrepancies between the rate of successfully passing your driving test, based on your geographical location. Where you take your test can seriously affect your chances of passing. Both Erith and Belvedere test centres have for some time had the reputation for being the hardest places in the UK to pass your driving test. New information has recently come to light which goes some way into explaining this. Insurance company Temp Cover commissioned some research which was then publicised nationally, and was then picked up by the News Shopper. The research covered the 2019 / 2020 period, prior to the Covid-19 lock down, when driving schools had to close, and no driving tests rook place. The 2019 / 2020 findings show 'immense discrepancies' in pass rates across the country, with the top performing region boasting more than double the pass rate of the worst performing. Erith was ranked as the second worst place to take your test in the country with a pass rate of just 32 percent compared with a national average of 46 percent. Belvedere had a 2019 / 2020 pass rate for learning drivers of 33.8 percent. The highest success rate for learner drivers you have Kendal in Cumbria or Peterhead in Aberdeenshire and the success rate for learner drivers increases to 63 percent. It would appear that urban areas - towns and cities have far lower driving test pass rates that areas that are predominantly in the countryside. The researchers discovered that rural areas such as the Lake District, Dorset, and Somerset have higher pass rates, as they are less likely to encounter heavy traffic, one-way systems, dual carriageways, and many of the other obstacles found in heavily urbanised cities. One could argue that this disparity penalises urban drivers over their rural counterparts. Alternatively one could argue that urban drivers need better road skills that people in rural areas, and that the driving test should reflect this. What do you think? As always, you can Email me at

Regular reader and occasional contributor Dana sent me the images above (click on either to see a larger version) of a preserved tram that used to run in the local area. The open topped model is rare; it was one of only seven cars built to this design, as it was used all year round and the open top deck was unpopular in winter. The tram in the photograph is shown in the companies' later brown and cream livery from 1911; before this the Erith Tramways fleet was painted in a garish pale green and canary yellow, which did not prove popular. Erith Tramways was one of the smallest private tram companies in Greater London; it stretched from Abbey Wood, through Lower Belvedere, into Erith, and up Walnut Tree Road (and past its' own power station on the site of the apartment block on the site of the former Erith Riverside Swimming Baths) to finally terminate in Northumberland Heath. The signage on the restored tram car suggests that the route was extended from Woolwich to Dartford, but I have no information as to if this actually happened. The line opened in on the 21st August 1905. A copy of the brochure commemorating the inauguration of the service is held in the records of Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre in Bexleyheath Library. The brochure says that the opening of the tram service "marks an important step in the progress of locomotion in the South Eastern district of London" and then went on to envisage the prospect of being able to travel from Erith to far flung places such as Maidenhead and Watford, purely by tram. Of course, this never came to pass; Erith Tramway was never a major financial success, as it was so small and limited in its' scope to generate income. It consisted on only fourteen tramcars in total. The only period when the service ran at a healthy profit was during the First World War, where there was a huge influx of workers to the local arms and ammunition factories which proliferated around Erith and Crayford. Some of the profits during this period were ploughed into extending the service to the Clock Tower in Bexleyheath Broadway, where a new terminus was built. The tram service was finally discontinued on the 9th of November 1935, when the remaining tram cars were replaced with trolley buses.

The current bin workers strike continues - some local commentators have opined that Serco, the current holders of the dustbin emptying contract now have little incentive to resolve the labour dispute, as they have lost the contract to a competitor, and they may now be punishing both Bexley Council and the borough's residents by not resolving the situation, as they no longer have any financial motivation to do so. On top of this that may feel that they can further "turn the screw" on the members of Bexley Council, as there is a strong chance that voters will wish to express their dissatisfaction with the current administration when the next local council elections come around. The official line from the council was made clear in a statement released at the end of last week. The statement, which has been slightly edited by me to remove information which is now out of date, reads:- "From Cllr Teresa O'Neill OBE & Cllr Peter Craske We could not be more disappointed that the industrial action by some Unite members continues to disrupt services to our residents. As things stand, Unite's dispute with Serco may continue until 3 October, but we are pressing both sides to keep talking through ACAS and find a compromise that will help us restore services and let those on strike get back to work. Despite telling us 3 weeks ago that they were close to an agreement, Unite have rejected the latest offer from Serco and increased their demands. They appear indifferent to the problems they are causing local people. This week we shifted our priority to white bins, to help clear the backlog of plastic packaging, glass, cans & cartons. Because the number of crews is much lower than usual, collections will not be fortnightly. It will be several weeks before they can collect everyone's white bin, but please leave them out so they can be picked up. We've also extended the opening hours of the reuse & recycling centres. They are now open 4pm to 7pm on Tuesday & Thursday, to help people who are unable to visit during the day. We are working hard on other ways to help you dispose of your waste until the dispute is settled, so please keep an eye on our website, email newsletters and social media for updates.  Our thanks again to the 4 out of 5 Serco staff who are continuing to work on collections and other essential services. Thank you for your patience and for helping us to continue recycling in the current difficult circumstances".

The end video finishes pretty much where we began this week; it is a short video that was filmed last Saturday at the Thamesmead Festival.  Email me at

No comments:

Post a Comment