Sunday, April 17, 2022


The photo above shows the view over Erith Riverside Gardens, taken on Friday afternoon. It would seem that we have finally got the spring that we have wanted. The Riverside Gardens are due a major renovation in the coming months. The work will entail rebuilding large parts of the gardens to enable better views across the River Thames and new flower beds, along with fitness and exercise equipment and a play area for children. Bexley Council carried out large scale public consultations to determine what local residents and visitors to the town wanted to see in the Riverside Gardens. Hopefully the work will not be delayed as has been the case with the redevelopment of the nearby Erith Pier Square, which is running at least two months behind schedule.  All of these improvements to what the council calls the public realm will hopefully make a difference to all that use them. After many years of Erith being regarded as a backwater, and somewhere that many members of Bexley Council chose to ignore, the area is now getting the recognition and investment that it so richly deserves. Now that the weather has become somewhat more seasonal of late, the annual Erith strip off is well under way. Every year it is the same; as soon as the first rays of sunshine appear over the town the hordes of local low lives and assorted ne’er do wells strip their tracksuit tops and T-shirts off to reveal their sickly white and tattooed torsos. Over the next few days many of the idiots proceed to suffer sunburn as they inevitably don’t use sun cream, and they end up looking like walking saveloy sausages. They just never seem to learn.

As some readers may be aware, my technology related job means that I work permanently from home. One unexpected side effect of this is that I have been witness to the comings and goings that normally take place when I would have previously been in London; the postal deliveries, the leaflet drops and the unwelcome advances of various religious groups who continue to labour under the misapprehension that collaring someone on their doorstep will make them amenable to their ideas. What has become abundantly apparent is that many of the fast food leaflets that I had erroneously assumed were being delivered by employees of the particular fast food outlet are actually coming from a completely different and unexpected source. The Post Office. I have caught the postman delivering nothing but a leaflet from Pizza Hut and a promotional flyer from Farm Foods on a single day this week. No letters, parcels or useful stuff whatsoever. It would seem that since people have pretty much stopped sending personal letters (a combination of the ubiquity and ease of use of Email, and the fact that it can now cost more to put a stamp on a letter than it does to buy the paper and the envelope) the Post Office is in an unenviable position of not having the clearly defined role that it used to; I detect much scrabbling around and repositioning of senior management as they try and find a way of both generating a fresh revenue stream, and continuing to justify their existence. In the meantime, the innocent homeowner gets deluged in paperwork they may not want or need, and there seems to be no way of avoiding it, as from my experience putting a notice to the effect of “No spam mail” on the front door frame makes absolutely no difference.

There has been a lot of press interest over the last few weeks in the burgeoning trend for high quality burgers. Almost every day I read press reviews and articles about new up market burger chains opening in and around the capital - and also of those that have failed and subsequently closed.  I am not about to debate the relative merits of one brand of minced beef pattie in a bun with salad and relish over another – in general it really comes down to personal preference. It got me thinking though. We have such an amazingly wide selection of food available via takeaways and home delivery, I would guess that London probably has the greatest variety of food on sale of any major city in the World, with the possible exception of New York city (though not having been there, I cannot be certain). I notice that one very traditional London fare is not very well represented at present; the Pie and Mash shop.  A few high streets locally still have a Pie and Mash shop – Upper Belvedere has a long established shop in Albert Road - Miller's Pie and Mash, as can be seen in the photo above - click on it to see a larger view, and Bexleyheath has one in the middle of the Broadway. They are not exactly “destination” eating places, and tend to be frequented mainly by pensioners. Wouldn’t it be a good idea if some kind of promotion of Pie and Mash shops took place? Before you counter with “what about the Square Pie chain?” I don’t regard those as “proper” Pie and Mash shops, as they don’t have the ambience or character of the real thing, and in general Square Pie shops only reheated pies made offsite in a large factory- in fact the retail shops / restaurants in the Square Pie chain have now closed after going into receivership - only the commercial aspect of the business - selling pies to other retailers for them to resell is still operational; all real pie and mash shops make the pies and mashed potato from scratch in the shop – something that gives each one its’ own unique character. I am a great fan of exotic, unusual and somewhat challenging food – and we have this in many high streets in spades. What we seem to be doing nowadays is ignoring our own traditional cuisine, which is a real pity. One thing I don’t think we will be seeing in any future pie and mash shops is a food that was once a staple – the steamed or jellied eel. Very few pie and mash shops serve eel any more, as they have become scarce and the price of eel has rocketed accordingly. Erith was one of the main homes for eel fishing on the River Thames. Nowadays the trade is almost completely dead. In a boost for traditional fish and chips, a chip shop in Dartford has just won an award - it is in the top 50 best chip shops in the country. The winners are selected by judges who visit the shops by sampling their food, inspecting the cleanliness of the stores, testing staff knowledge, and looking at their social media presence. What do you think? Email me at

Whilst on the subject of food and the local area, I must make mention of a cafe / restaurant which is rated as the number one food outlet in Erith by TripAdvisor - The Bookstore Deli and Restaurant. I popped in there on Friday lunchtime for a light snack. As you can see in the photo above - click on it to see a larger version - I had mushrooms fried with garlic butter and thyme on Bookstore home made organic wholewheat bread, served with a pot of Red Bush tea. It was absolutely delicious. I can highly recommend the place, and it certainly deserves its top TripAdvisor ranking.

You may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote a piece about the life of pioneering engineering genius Richard Trevithick, who spent the final years of his life living in The Royal Victoria and Bull pub / hotel in Dartford. Since then, further details of his extraordinary life have come to my attention. In 1801 Richard Trevithick invented the first full sized steam locomotive; physically Trevithick was an imposing man – he was tall and almost superhumanly strong. Over the course of his life, he hold something like 1,700 patents for a variety of devices – including steam dredgers, various forms of steam propulsion for ocean going ships, floating iron docks, the marine screw propeller, hot air heaters, and a very early ice making machine. Whilst Richard Trevithick was an amazing inventor and engineer, he was a very poor businessman. He did not renew his patents when they expired after thirty years, and when this happened, Stephenson and other engineers copied, and in many cases improved on Trevithick’s designs - and thus the commercial railway industry was developed. Trevithick had his income dramatically cut when the royalties from his patents ended, and he found himself extremely short of money. In 1816 Trevithick took up an invitation from the government of Peru to migrate there in order to build steam engines to pump floodwater from the country’s silver mines – silver was one of Peru’s main exports. So important was this to the Peruvian government that they paid Trevithick a salary of £100,000 a year – equivalent to roughly thirty times as much nowadays. Over the next five years Trevithick built up a second fortune of around half a million pounds, making him one of the richest people in society at that time. He was then met with a second tragedy; in 1831 a revolution started in Peru, and Trevithick backed the government side, who then lost. His money was lost to the revolution, and Trevithick was lucky to escape Peru with his life. Making his way back to England in little more than the clothes he stood up in, he ended up taking lodgings in The Royal Victoria and Bull pub / hotel. Never discouraged, Trevithick started work on a completely new form of engine. He manufactured several prototypes, but these all succumbed to mechanical failure and exploded. His new engine design was what we would call nowadays a gas turbine – a jet engine. The reason that Trevithick’s engines failed was nothing down to the design; it was actually because of the lack of high tensile strength and low weight complex alloys meant that Trevithick’s designs were bound to fail. Materials technology was not developed at anything like the level it would need to be for such an engine design to work. Shortly thereafter Richard Trevithick died and was buried in Dartford. His gas turbine engine designs were given to the public records office, where in 1927 they were put on display. Engineering student and trainee RAF pilot officer Frank Whittle saw the drawings and realised their significance. He took Trevithick’s design, modified it and used it as the basis for his revolutionary jet engine. The power source for nearly all modern aircraft in essence dates back to a series of engineering drawings made by Richard Trevithick whilst staying in The Royal Victoria and Bull pub / hotel in Dartford, where he lived in his penniless final years. 

The historic photo above (click on the photo for a larger view) was taken in Erith High Street in July 1969, very shortly before the old high street shops were demolished to make way for the much hated brutalist concrete shopping centre. The bus in the photo was operated by the coach and transport company Margo's, whose head office was located at 45, the Broadway, Bexleyheath. The pictured bus is an ex Southdown Leyland Titan PD2/12 with Northern Counties bodywork built in 1955 and acquired by Margo's in 1969. the photo is used with the kind permission of photographer John King, who sent it to me some years ago - you can see more of his excellent transport, nature and historical photos by clicking here. It is great to see an unusual shot of old Erith; I know that I am far from the only local resident who regrets the passing of the old town centre - though I was too young to remember it; my only terms of reference are historic photographs such as John's above. My own feeling is that if the planners had sympathetically restored the old town centre instead of demolishing it, we could now have a tourist attraction similar to Whitstable, but located on the banks of the River Thames. One only has to look at the excellent work that international management consultancy the Aleff Group have done to conserve and restore the Cross Keys to imagine what it would be like if the whole of the old town had been so sympathetically curated. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email

Many locals have complained that now the longer evenings are with us, one particular pest has returned - that of illegal, unlicenced and no crash helmet wearing bike gangs that scream around the streets and pavements. There are a number of such groups locally, the best known of which is Bike Life TV UK, who are a notorious gang who operate all around the UK, but seem to have their primary base in and around Thamesmead. They not only ride en masse in public areas on unlicensed, stolen and uninsured motorbikes and quad bikes, usually whilst not wearing helmets. As I written in the past, the not wearing of helmets is a deliberate tactic – the Police will generally not chase a biker not wearing a helmet, as they are concerned for the safety of the non – helmeted biker. This is a difficult issue with many different factors involved – the trouble is the scumbags know that they are effectively immune from any form of recourse, as they wear masks with the deliberate intent of making themselves unidentifiable. This aura of untouchability that members of Bike Life TV UK have fostered has got to be forcibly changed. Members of the public are losing patience with the Police, who seem to be powerless to stop them. I know that in reality this is not the case, and certainly in Bexley, the Police have got illegal bikers as one of their three highest priorities. I feel that the problem in part comes from central government and the Metropolitan Police leadership, who effectively hamper the actions of the officers “on the ground” with excessively restrictive rules of engagement. What I really fail to understand is why the bikers are obsessed with wheelies – they seem to spend as much time as they are physically able to on their back wheel. Why? What is the point? It would be just as effective and considerably cheaper to have “I am a complete pillock” tattooed across each of their foreheads. Bike Life TV UK don’t just ride around intimidating other road users and pedestrians, I understand that some of their members are involved in other types of crime. I have heard it said (but not confirmed) that some gang members move drugs around Thamesmead and Plumstead using junior gang members as couriers. Body building and Mixed Martial Arts are also popular with gang members – I have also heard to date unsubstantiated rumours that they have a trade in illegal anabolic steroids. This might well explain the extremely violent nature and short tempers of Bike Life TV UK members – who may well be suffering from “Roid Rage" The issue with the illegal bikers is not a new one; the London Evening Standard wrote a detailed account - along with video on one particular "Ride Out" the gang organised back in 2015, which you can read by clicking here

This week marks yet another fortieth anniversary in the field of computers and technology. This time the anniversary is unlikely to be celebrated by many in Europe or the USA, for reasons that will shortly become clear.  Back in 1982 Microsoft – who at the time were nothing like the continent bestriding behemoth that they are today – came up with what was then a revolutionary idea, and one that made a lot of sense both then and now. At the time, home computers were all entirely proprietary. You decided which model you wanted to purchase, and once you had done this, you were tied into buying peripherals, and more importantly software that would only work on that make, and usually model of that machine. BBC Micro software only worked on BBC’s, Spectrum software on Spectrums, and so forth. It even was true for early business programs like DBase, WordStar, Electric Pencil and Visicalc. Not only would a version of the software have to be specially written for each brand of computer, but the files saved by the programs on each computer were not compatible with other systems. If you created a VisiCalc spreadsheet or WordStar document on an Apple II computer, you could not read those files on a Commodore 64 or vice versa. Some enterprising individuals did write conversion routines to enable sharing of documents between computers, but the results were often patchy and unreliable. Microsoft thought that what the computing world needed, was a standard to which computers would follow, which would mean that not only files could be shared between different machines, but programs and hardware peripherals such as disk drives and printers too. At this point the IBM PC was a very much newcomer to the market, and aimed strongly at business users. Microsoft saw a gap in the market for home and small business users which was not being satisfied by another supplier. Microsoft worked in conjunction with the Japanese ASCII Corporation to come up with the hardware and software standard, which they named MSX (Microsoft Extended). It was designed to utilise cheap and easily available off the shelf components and a proven 8-bit Z80 processor, the same as used in the already massively popular Sinclair ZX Spectrum. This would keep the price down and appeal to programmers already familiar with the Z80 processor assembly language instruction set.  Microsoft created a truly excellent version of the BASIC programming language for MSX – some say that this was actually the best BASIC implementation available at any price at the time. All looked rosy for this pioneer in computer standardisation, and Microsoft looked about to make a mint. A number of large hardware manufacturers signed up to make and sell machines to the MSX standard. In Japan, Sony (as seen in the photo above - click on it to see a larger version), Toshiba and Panasonic all released MSX computers that sold very well in their home country , and in Europe Philips produced machines which initially sold well. All was not so good in the USA – a key market for any company wanting to establish an international business (and coincidentally Microsoft’s home market). Since around 1977 the Americans had expected even their home computers to use floppy disc drives – the big seller at the time was by far and away the Apple II. A cassette drive was available for the Apple II, but almost everyone spent the extra for a disk drive. Americans had larger disposable incomes that their European counterparts at the time, and this reflected on their computer choices. The problem was, the MSX standard initially had no provision for floppy disk support, which turned off potential American buyers. By the time the next generation of (still 8-bit) MSX computers with floppy drive support were released in late 1984, the first affordable 16 bit home computers such as the Atari ST range and the Commodore Amiga were on the horizon and almost the same price. The market started to realise that  8 bit was history, and whilst software might be compatible between MSX computers produced by different manufacturers, this was academic when almost no software houses were willing to write software for what they correctly perceived was a dying format. MSX machines continued to sell fairly respectably in Japan, but elsewhere the market collapsed. The subsequent release of a 16 bit MSX2 standard in 1985 was too little, too late. Microsoft and the ASCII Corporation parted company over disagreements relating to policy in the Japanese market – the only place that fully bought into the format, and MSX limped on until 1990, when Sony was the last company left producing MSX computers. By this time the aim of producing computers that were software and hardware compatible had come to pass – but not in the way that Microsoft had predicted at the outset. The IBM PC had unwittingly created a new and open standard, and by 1990 PC clones were commonplace. Microsoft made their mountain of cash by first creating MS DOS (Disk Operating System) for the PC, and subsequently the various incarnations of Windows and Microsoft Office which runs on top of Windows – the cornerstone of Microsoft’s business from then until the present day. Thus Microsoft snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, but in a way that they really had not planned for, or indeed expected.

The end video this week is a bit of local history. It features a Thames News report from February 1986 regarding a Chlorine gas leak from the then May & Baker chemical factory in Lower Belvedere.  What do you think? Email me at

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