Sunday, April 10, 2022


The work to complete the renovation of Pier Square by Erith Pier has been delayed yet again. I have spoken to several sources of information, and they tell me that the main contractor for the works is a company called Riney. The company says that  delays have been caused by the late delivery of building materials, a number of changes in staff, some of whom have left the job, staff sickness, and poor performance due to bad weather. I understand that both the site supervisor and the contract manager have both left the company and replacements are being recruited. I also suspect, but have no direct proof that the procurement process used by Bexley Council may have had something to do with the poor performance of the contractor. I know that historically speaking Bexley Council  was inclined to place orders with the cheapest tenderer, irrespective of the quality of work. I have no proof that this is the case this time, but it would not surprise me. I am also led to believe that work will be accelerated in the next week or so with the aim to complete the construction within the next month. I sincerely hope that this is the case, and I will be monitoring the situation accordingly.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of thee death of actor and comedian Frankie Howerd, who was born in York, but was brought up and lived for much of his life in Eltham. He later said he had only one memory of living in York and that was of falling down the stairs, an experience which left him with a life-long dread of heights. His family moved to Eltham when he was a young child, and he was educated at Shooter's Hill Grammar School. His first stage appearance was at age 13 but his early hopes of becoming a serious actor were dashed when he failed an audition for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He began to entertain during World War II service in the British Army. It was at this time that he adapted his surname to Howerd "to be different". In 1944 he became a bombardier in Plymouth, was promoted to sergeant, and on 6 June 1944 was part of the D-Day effort but was stuck on a boat off Normandy. Despite suffering from stage fright, he continued to work after the war, beginning his professional career in the summer of 1946 in a touring show called For the Fun of It. His act was soon heard on radio, when he made his debut, in early December 1946, on the BBC's Variety Bandbox programme with a number of other ex-servicemen. His profile rose in the immediate postwar period (aided with material written by Eric Sykes, Galton and Simpson and Johnny Speight). He then toured the Music Hall circuit with an act including what became his standard catch-phrases such as "titter ye not". He also became a regular in the 1950s editions of the weekly hard-copy comic Film Fun. He then experimented with different formats and contexts, including stage farces, Shakespearean comedy roles, and television sitcoms. At the start of the 1960s, he began to recover his old popularity, initially with a season at Peter Cook's satirical Establishment Club in Soho in London. He was boosted further by success on That Was the Week That Was (TW3) in 1963 and on stage with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1963–1965), which led into regular television work. In 1966 and 1967, he co-hosted a 90-minute Christmas show called The Frankie and Bruce Christmas Show with Bruce Forsyth, featuring many top acts of the day. During the 1960s and 1970s, he was involved in shows for the BBC and Thames Television (as well as Frankie Howerd Reveals All for Yorkshire Television in 1980). Ray Galton and Alan Simpson wrote for him from 1964 to 1966 when he worked for the BBC and also for a one-off show for Thames, Frankie Howerd meets the Bee Gees, shown on 20 August 1968. He was known for his seemingly off-the-cuff remarks to the audience, especially in the show Up Pompeii! (1969–70), which was a direct follow-up from Forum. His television work was characterised by direct addresses to camera and by his littering monologues with verbal tics such as "Oooh, no missus" and "Titter ye not". A later sale of his scripts, however, showed that the seemingly off-the-cuff remarks had all been meticulously planned. Barry Cryer said of his technique: "What he could do with a script was amazing, like all the great performers. He transformed something you'd just written – what you hoped was in a Frankie Howerd idiom – but when you heard him do it, my God, it was something else; – it was gossiping over the garden wall, the apparent waffle – he was like a tightrope walker, you thought he's going to fall off in a minute, you thought , 'Come on, Frank' , we're waiting for a laugh, and then, suddenly, Bang. He knew exactly what he was doing." Another feature of his humour was to feign innocence about his obvious and risqué double entendres, while mockingly censuring the audience for finding them funny. As with many great comics, Howerd battled with his own demons; he suffered greatly from depression and anxiety, which was not helped by Howerd being gay - something that was illegal in fifties and early sixties Britain. In 1958, he met Sommelier Dennis Heymer at the Dorchester Hotel while dining with Sir John Mills; Howerd was 40 and Heymer was 28. Heymer became his lover as well as manager, and stayed with him for more than thirty years, until Howerd's death, with Heymer helping to revive Howerd's flagging career in the 1960s. However, the two had to remain discreet as Howerd feared being blackmailed if anyone beyond his immediate circle found out. Having contracted a virus during a Christmas trip to the Amazon River in 1991, Howerd suffered respiratory problems at the beginning of April 1992 and was taken to a clinic in London's Harley Street, but was discharged at Easter. He collapsed and died of heart failure two weeks later, on the morning of the 19th of April 1992, aged 75. Feedback to me at the usual address -

If you have one or more radio controlled clocks, you may find that they act strangely over the next couple of weeks, and do not keep the very accurate time that you are used to. The reason for this is that the transmitter which broadcasts the time signal to such clocks is undergoing maintenance. The official announcement regarding the outage reads as follows:- "A scheduled annual maintenance shutdown of the MSF 60kHz Radio Time Signal service is planned. It will allow safe working on the masts and antennas. The service will be off-air from 0700 to 1700 UTC each day between 4 to 21 April 2022. The transmission will be restored overnight whenever possible. A radio-controlled clock will not be able to pick up the MSF signal during these periods, so may drift off from the correct time".

As regular readers will be aware, I do not in general cover subjects that are reported in the mainstream media. For the most part, I feel that there is no need for me to repeat stories that have been better covered by professional journalists. My concentration is normally on the local area. Mainly I cover the area from Plumstead in the West to Dartford in the East along the banks of the River Thames. I normally cover as far south from the river as Bexleyheath, although I do make exceptions from time to time. One story of international scope that I will be covering. Is that of the situation with the war in Ukraine. There is an unfortunate reason for this; this. It has been reported on numerous reputable websites, and in several well documented videos on YouTube, that Ukrainian irregular forces are using antique machine guns which had been put in long-term storage. Some of these weapons are Maxim machine guns. I have seen several videos featuring Ukrainian troops using the aforementioned Maxim M1910 machine guns. Regular readers will be aware that I have covered quite extensively the history of the Maxim gun, and its links to the local area. The Maxim was the first fully automatic belt fed water cooled squad based machine gun. The weapon was created by Anglo American inventor and engineer Hiram Maxim. His main works were in Fraser Road Erith. It would seem that despite the weapons extreme age, they are still proving brutally effective over a century after they were constructed. Maxim M1910s of various types remained in reserve storage in the Soviet Union for decades after WWII, and were also widely exported to Soviet allies and partner forces. It's perhaps not surprising that some would still be in depots in Ukraine, which most recently gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. As long as the gun itself works, there aren't any real hurdles to using it, either. It uses standard 7.62x54mm ammunition, which remains in production in Ukraine and Russia, among other countries, more than a century after it was first introduced. Subsequent Soviet machine gun designs also continued to use interchangeable cartridge belts to further reduce logistical demands. Bearing in mind the essentially defensive nature of the Ukrainian response to the Russian invasion, the Maxim guns are designed to be used from fixed defensive positions such as bunkers or trenches; a water-cooled gun, which can fire indefinitely without overheating so long as the cooling jacket is regularly topped up with water - or even snow- and nothing physically breaks, could actually be an ideal choice. At the same time, it also shows how deep Ukraine has had to dig to source additional weapons and other military equipment while it faces down one of the world's largest armies and its proxies. Whatever the case, that this M1910 is still serving in any capacity at all is both a testament to the design of Maxim's gun and Russia's 7.62x54mm cartridge. With the conflict in Ukraine, unfortunately, not looking like it will be ending any time soon, it's possible that this gun, already at least one hundred years old, still has years of service left ahead of it. Feedback to me at

After a  pause during  the COVID-19 pandemic, it would seem that the misuse of Nitrous Oxide is on the increase again. As you can see from the photo above – click on it for a large view- a large quantity of empty nitrous oxide containers was dumped and the junction of Crescent Road and Aveley Close in Erith in the middle of last week. The dumping of large quantities of used nitrous oxide containers is a strong indicator of the gas being misused as a recreational drug. Nitrous Oxide, or laughing gas, or “NOS”, a relatively niche drug for decades, is now the second most popular drug among 16- to 24-year-olds behind cannabis, according to the Office for National Statistics. Its 2019/20 England and Wales Crime Survey reported that 8.7% of 16- to 24-year-olds had taken it, up from 6.1% in 2012/2013. It is very much a young person’s drug: two in three users are under 24. Nitrous Oxide is not illegal to possess. It is a staple of commercial kitchens, mostly used to whip cream. But around 2013, it began taking off as a mainstream party drug. The gas is commonly dispensed into balloons and inhaled, and is popular with young people for its lack of smell or after-effect – users are totally sober in minutes. It induces a short, 30-second high. “You get a weird sense of detachment and giggliness,” says Josh, 26, an occasional user, in an interview with The Guardian. Many people experience a “helicopter effect” – the feeling of a chopper thundering overhead. A minority experience visual hallucinations. In the early 2010s, young footballers including Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling were captured allegedly taking the then “legal high”. Tabloids began labelling it “hippy crack”, attacking celebrity users and complaining of litter from its mercury bullet bulbs. When the government banned the sale of it for recreational use in 2016, under the Psychoactive Substances Act (PSA), limits were placed on buying boxes in bulk. But because it could be legally used in catering, casual purchases proved impossible to suppress. An estimated 25% of corner shops, not to mention websites such as Amazon, sell boxes, often for just 20p a canister. There are stiff penalties for selling nitrous oxide for recreational purposes. Sellers found guilty can face up to seven years in prison or an unlimited fine. Although prison terms are rare, this February a 24-year-old dealer from Newcastle, who also sold cannabis, was jailed for 27 months. There are currently no penalties for possession - except in prisons. After a small dip in usage in 2017 and 2018 following the introduction of the PSA, consumption jumped back up in 2019; the main legacy of the act was to usher nitrous off the streets and into private house parties. There are dangers - People might fall and injure themselves, and the gas can cause a Vitamin B12 deficiency, leading, in a small number of users, to the development of peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage). About 3.3% of all users experience pins and needles, a symptom of nerve damage, according to a 2019 analysis of three years of Global Drug Survey data.

Bexley Council have just published some details of road closures that may well affect local residents:- "Resurfacing works to the northbound carriageway of Queens Road/South Road Erith will take place from Tuesday 12 April for up to three nights. For this work to be carried out, the road will be closed to through traffic between Dell View Road roundabout and the fish roundabout from 7pm to 2am.  There will be no right turn from James Watt Way (by McDonalds). Diversions will be in place via Bexleyheath and Northumberland Heath. The southbound carriageway of Queens Road / South Road will remain open as normal. The works will only be taking place during the night. A letter has been delivered to residents and businesses that might be affected by the work in the area. Advance warning signs are on-site to alert through traffic. We are sorry for the inconvenience caused by these essential works. For more information about the works"

An anniversary happened recently that very few people know about, yet it is one that is rather more significant and important than many would actually realise. The Sinclair ZX Spectrum is forty years old this month. Why should the anniversary of an old 8 - bit home computer be so important nowadays? Well, the careers of many now leading software developers and game designers were launched back in the early 1980's when as children they learned to program using the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Modern video games such as the Grand Theft Auto series or Red Dead Redemption 2 might look American, but were actually produced in the UK. British software programmers are regarded as some of the best in the world, and many of them first learned their trade by programming their ZX Spectrums in darkened bedrooms back in the 1980's. The British software industry owes a huge debt to the "Speccy". Even when it was launched back in April 1983, the Spectrum was no real technological marvel; compared with its competitors, the BBC Model B, the Commodore 64, ot the Atari 8 bit computers, the Spectrum was no great technical shakes, and many playground arguments could be heard as fans of each computer could be heard arguing that their machine had the best hardware specifications - I know, I certainly had many such heated discussions. What we all failed to understand at the time was that any computer was only as good as the software and third party hardware that was available for it. In this respect the ZX Spectrum truly excelled. It had indisputably the widest selection of software and add - on hardware of any eight bit home computer by a very wide margin indeed. The story of the development of the Spectrum is a complex and fascinating one. Clive Sinclair's previous microcomputer, the ZX81, had been launched just over a year before, on 5 March 1981, and had proved a huge success. By December of that year, Sinclair Research had shifted a quarter of a million of the monochrome micros. But Commodore's Vic-20, which shipped in May 1981 after a late 1980 launch, had already heralded colour computing and it was clear to the Sinclair team that their next machine must be colour capable. Trading colour for a low price was acceptable in 1981. It would not be so in 1982. Likewise, the new machine would need a proper, moving keyboard like those offered by almost all of its rivals, not another low-cost membrane keyboard like those of the ZX80 and ZX81. A programmer called Steve Vickers, who had worked on the internal ROM on the Spectrum's predecessor, the ZX 81 had hoped to rewrite the Basic language for the Spectrum to make it run more efficiently, and therefore faster, but it was not to be. Clive Sinclair's tight schedule made this impossible. Vickers' views were ultimately justified: Basic programs ran slowly on the Spectrum. "The Basic is slow," wrote Computing Today in August 1982. "Well, 'snail-like' would be a better description. The last test was done with a loop of 100 instead of 1000 as I thought that you might like to read the review before the Christmas holidays."Making a clear leap forward from the ZX81's 1KB of memory, the Spectrum was offered with a choice of 16KB or 48KB Ram. The former, intended as the budget choice, was priced at £125; the 48KB Spectrum was £175. That was expensive in comparison with the sub-£100 ZX81, but impressively cheap when set alongside the £399 32KB BBC Micro Model B, launched the previous December. Like the ZX81 before it and many other UK home computers, the Spectrum fed its video output through a radio frequency modulator to the aerial socket of and colour or monochrome TV. The computer's ten-octave, single-voice sound was pumped through an on-board speaker, quickly leading to a booming market in warranty voiding plug-in sound chips that relayed the audio out to the TV through the modulator signal. The Spectrum was initially capable of presenting a 32 x 24 grid of alphanumerical and block-graphic characters or a 256 × 192 pixel screen for graphics. Dots and characters could be black or any of seven colours - blue, red, purple, green, cyan, yellow and white - each set to one of two possible brightness values - giving 15 hues in all. The Spectrum's keyboard was its arguably most divisive component, engendering either love or hate in potential buyers. Clive Sinclair had promised a fully moving keyboard, leading many observers and punters to hope for a typewriter-style keyboard. But that would have made the Spectrum much larger than it was, and that was not the Sinclair way. When Spectrums began to land in users' hands, they keyboard would surprise many of them with its use of soft rubber keys uncharitably described at the time as offering the feel of "dead flesh". Nevertheless, sales proved to be exceedingly strong. Demand surged beyond Sinclair's planned 20,000-units-a-month output, leading to a backlog of 30,000 orders by July 1982, a month after the Spectrum began to ship, itself a month and a half after the machine's launch. That month, the UK government included the 48KB Spectrum on a list of computers approved for secondary school use - the others were the BBC Model B and the Research Machines BBC-esque 480Z - with grants to enable them to buy the machines. Through the Summer of 1982, thanks to a holiday at contract manufacturer Timex's Dundee plant, where the Spectrum was being assembled, the backlog grew to 40,000 units. Maybe education viewed the Spectrum as too entertainment-oriented, or perhaps the order backlog simply prevented schools getting hold of all the machines they would like. Either way, Sinclair never made much of a dent on the education market, eventually drumming up a tiny, two per cent share. The technically superior but much more expensive at £399 BBC Model B computer became the de facto standard in UK education. Nevertheless the Spectrum sold incredibly strongly to home users - mainly due to the keen price and the wide array of software available for the machine. By the time Sinclair had upped production, probably with the arrival of the less costly Issue 2 motherboard, some 60,000 Spectrums had shipped. A further 500,000 Issue 2 machines would ship through the remainder of 1982 and well into 1983, the vast majority of them sold direct by Sinclair itself, some 200,000 by the end of March 1983. Issue 3 added a further three million units to the overall total, though by now High Street shops like WH Smith, Boots, Currys and John Menzies were selling the Spectrum too. For the year to 31 March 1983, Sinclair announced sales totalling £54.53m, earning it £13.8m in profit. In May 1983, Sinclair cut the price of the 16KB Spectrum to £99.95 and the 48KB model to £129.95. In July, Timex began selling an own-brand version of the Spectrum in the US, the TS-1500, licensed from Sinclair. In November, it released the Timex TS-2068, with a completely new case design. But sales proved poor and the company collapsed in 1984. Relatively wealthy Americans never really took to the Spectrum - they moved straight to Apple II's and IBM PC's, despite the hugely increased hardware costs relating to those high - end computers. By mid-1984 the once seemingly unstoppable Spectrum was starting to run out of steam in the UK too. Sinclair had tried and spectacularly failed to enter the business computing market with the Motorola 68000-based Sinclair QL, had commanded all of Sinclair's product development resources, leaving no room for work on a true Spectrum successor for the home market. So the Spectrum was tweaked again: a new, more rectangular, QL-style casing with hard plastic keys, creating the Spectrum+. With no other changes to the core Spectrum specification and a higher price - £179.95 - customers were not overwhelmed by the new Spectrum+ when it went on sale in October 1984. To make matters worse, Sinclair's quality control slipped (again) leading to high failure rates. If the Spectrum+ you bought worked, there was still a good chance one of more of the keys would come loose and fall off. Still, the Spectrum+ kept the brand alive through to February 1986 and the arrival of the Spectrum+ 128, which was, again, a regular Spectrum in a new case but this time with 128KB of Ram; MIDI output and three-channel sound courtesy of a new audio chip; an RS-232 port; and the ability to output to a monitor. And a big, very hot heat sink bolted onto the side. Memory switching hardware ensured the Z80A CPU could flip between the two banks of 64KB making up the 128's memory map. It also had to handle switching between two 16KB banks of Rom, one for the original Spectrum ROM, the other for a new 128 Basic interpreter. Sinclair at this stage were in serious financial trouble - the failed Sinclair QL, the failed pocket television and the spectacular failure of the Sinclair C5 left the company exposed, and Clive Sinclair ended up selling the entire enterprise to Alan Sugar in 1986, as without this he risked being declared bankrupt by his creditors. Amstrad killed off the Spectrum 128 but maintained the Plus, understanding the benefit of a low-cost machine with a huge catalogue of games software behind it. Early in 1987, Amstrad released the Spectrum +2, a 128 with a new design featuring, as per the CPC series, a built-in cassette deck. It also removed the single-key Basic instruction entry system, a Sinclair trademark going back to the ZX80. Like the Plus, the Plus 2 was sold as a games machine - joysticks and a stack of games were bundled with the computer - pure and simple. Having opted for a 3in, 350KB diskette system for its PCW-8256 word processor, launched in September 1985, and acquired a job lot of the non-standard storage media, Amstrad put a 3in diskette drive into a tweaked Spectrum +2 and released in it 1987 as the Spectrum +3. Like the PCW series, it could run the CP/M operating system out of the box, thanks to internal tweaks but the Plus 3 was again sold solely as a games machine, which was a pity as there was some truly excellent business, productivity and scientific software available running under CP/M. Amstrad finally ended Spectrum production in 1990, though some sites put the date at 1988. Either way, the Plus 3 was the last home computer to carry the name. Nevertheless, fans of the ZX Spectrum continue to this day, and new software titles are still being produced for the ancient computer. There is an excellent monthly magazine show on the ZX Spectrum, which is available to view on YouTube by clicking here

The end video this week is a bit of an aye opener. It is a short piece showing the atrocious level of fly tipping that takes place in Wallhouse Road, Slade Green. If you are not familiar with Wallhouse Road, it extends from the junction of Manor Road and Slade Green Road, along Ray Lamb Way, and leads out onto the Slade Green Marshes and the Darent Industrial Park. The road is unlit at night and quite isolated; there are deep drainage ditches along much of its length, which make the illegal dumping of rubbish very easy. Whilst the video below was shot last year, the situation is broadly the same now. As always, please send any comments or feedback to the usual address:-

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