Sunday, July 17, 2022


Much has been written in the local press about the current bin collection strike. Whatever the political ins and outs of the situation - which I am not going to get into, for Bexley residents, the latest on the way it affects local people can be summarised thus:- The strike was originally set to last until the 24th of July. An announcement was made on Wednesday last week that the Unite union were extending the strike until Sunday the 7th of August - an additional two weeks. It was only last August when a similar strike took place, then under the remit of the previous contractor, Serco, who subsequently were not asked to re - tender when their contract expired. The industrial action will only affect a certain number of bin collection services within the borough. Suspended collections and services include: Paper and cardboard recycling (blue lidded bin) Plastics, glass, cans, and carton recycling (white lidded bin). Garden waste (brown wheeled bin). Box service - paper, cardboard, plastics, glass, cans and cartons; Gully cleansing. The following services will continue as normal:- General refuse waste (green bin), Food collections (brown bin); Clinical waste collections; Box service - refuse and food waste. Assisted collections - refuse and food waste collections will continue as normal; Street cleansing. The Thames Road Recycling Centre will be operating on extended hours during the strike period; it will be open from 7.30am until 4pm each day, except on Mondays when it will stay open until 7pm. Proof of local residence will be required - a valid driving licence or a Council tax bill will suffice. Existing Bexley permits will continue to be valid but are being phased out and are no longer being distributed. Since the announcement of the extension of the strike, a war of words has broken out between Countrystyle - the waste contractor who took over from Serco last summer, and the union Unite. In an article in specialist magazine Materials and Waste Recycling, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The biggest obstacle to resolving this dispute is the ending of the job and finish provision for Countrystyle’s workers. Working on bin rounds is dirty smelly heavy work done in all weathers. This industry standard provision, in place in Bexley for decades, makes the job bearable for staff. It is outrageous that Countrystyle is trying to scrap it. Ending it needs to come off the table or these strikes will continue with Unite’s full support.” The dispute turns on whether a job is finished when an individual completes their work or when all rounds are complete, with crews assisting each with missed bins or vehicle breakdowns. A Unite statement said Countrystyle was “trying to force through the changes to punish workers for asking for a cost of living pay rise”. Countrystyle said in its rebuttal that only 70 staff had gone on strike and that the company “requires a re-interpretation of ‘job and finish’ to reflect a modern approach to delivering a productive and quality outcome for the residents of the London Borough of Bexley, that is fair to all members of the group employed by Countrystyle to deliver that outcome”. It said its proposed ‘group task and finish’ policy would mean “instead of the individual employee deciding when he or she has done enough work in any given day…this concept creates a collective task reasonably set for a group of staff who have a common objective of delivering the same waste collection or street cleansing service”. Employees would still only be required to work the stated contractual hours for which they are paid, Countrystyle said. What do you think about the situation? Email me at

In the past I have written at some length about smart door bells and other internet connected devices. Two or the largest technology companies producing such equipment are Ring and Hive. Last week, quite suddenly Hive announced that several of their internet connected products were to go out of support. In an article published on technology news website The Register, a spokesperson said:- "At Hive, we've got big plans to make... homes greener, so we've made the tough decision to discontinue our smart security and leak detection products. As a smart tech brand in the middle of a climate crisis, we know the focus needs to change and will instead be developing smart home tech that'll help get us closer to achieving Net Zero". Home automation platform Hive plans to terminate key products in its line, including the Hive View cameras, HomeShield, and Leak products. Users, some of whom have invested four figure sums in Hive products are less than impressed. The indoor and outdoor cameras and HomeShield will be supported until August 1, 2025. The Leak sensors will work as normal until September 1, 2023, after which leak notifications and water usage graphs will dry up. Once that August date is reached, the cameras will simply no longer function. Video playback subscriptions will last for "a minimum of two years." Older security products also face the axe, including the Sound Detection service for the Hub 360, which will be killed off at the end of this year. More up to date is the Boiler IQ trial, which is also on the chopping block. The explanation: "Hive has taken a business decision to not move forward with this product – and to focus on other areas of innovation instead." Hive's discontinued products can still be purchased from a variety of retailers in the UK, Netherlands and North America. In the meantime, Hive's decision is a reminder that IoT devices are not forever. The hardware might be strong, but all too often the cloud behind them is less soOne of the problems very few people have considered when discussing “The Internet of Things” as digitally connected domestic devices are often called is that of durability and lifecycle. Whilst, for example, a central heating system may last for twenty or so years (with a boiler swap – out halfway through), a smart phone with an associated app to remotely control the heating system has an average life of not much more than a couple of years. There is no guarantee that the app will continue to be supported on later version of the phone or tablets’ operating system, or that the app itself will still be available. As some of you may know, I worked for seventeen years as a senior technology analyst in a multinational consulting company. I did some research some years ago into the possibility of replacing some very expensive, proprietary interactive touch screen screens outside of office meeting rooms which showed who was using the rooms, and who would be in there next with much cheaper Android tablets fixed to the outside of the meeting room. The Android tablet hardware worked out at less than one third of the cost of a proprietary screens, but the problem was that the company that provided the meeting room screen software could not guarantee that their code would carry on working for at least five years, and after multiple Android updates. The project ended up dead in the water because of this. I think that many similar situations may well arise in domestic environments, where a device such as a heating or lighting system with a relatively long lifecycle is to be controlled by a tablet or mobile phone with a far shorter life cycle, and with software with a shorter life cycle still. I feel that much of the “Internet of Things” is actually a solution looking for a problem.

The recent hot weather seems to have encouraged an increase in anti social behaviour - especially amongst local illegal motor bike and scooter riders. There seems to be an increase in illegal vehicle activity even over and above that we are unfortunately subject to. Erith has for several years been plagued by youths on illegal, unlicensed motorbikes and scooters; the problem appears to be worst around the Frobisher Road and Manor Road area. The scumbags ride their illegal vehicles along the pavements, very close to pedestrians, and also weave in and out of the traffic on the road. They usually end up heading East, and onto the Slade Green Marshes where they cause a nuisance to walkers and legitimate users of the protected marsh area. Local residents have been complaining about this behaviour, and Neighbourhood Watch has been active in working with the Police to get something done about the matter. The general procedure the Police carry out when arresting illegal, unlicensed and uninsured riders is that their bikes or scooters are confiscated and crushed. One can only hope that this will be the case in future instances. The only thing is the offenders will probably just go out and steal another bike and carry out their anti social and criminal acts as before. I feel that it will take another death before they realise how dangerous their activities are. Back in 2006, when the 469 single decker bus still ran on a route that included Manor Road, a young scooter rider came roaring West along the road; a West bound 469 was stationary at the Frobisher Road bus stop, and an East bound 469 bus was coming the other way; rather than waiting for the Eastbound bus to pass, the young rider raced for the gap; he was crushed between the two buses. The ambulance crew were able to stabilise him for long enough to get him to hospital, and his family to get to his bedside to say goodbye. I can see this terrible state of affairs happening again unless the illegal riders do something drastic about their behaviour. 

As readers may be aware, I host monthly history tours of The Old Carnegie Library in Walnut Tree Road, now operated by Charitable Community Benefit Society, The Exchange. Last Saturday afternoon I was running such a tour when a visitor asked me about Sir Hiram Maxim, but unusually not about his well known forays into heavier than air flight, or his dominance in the UK arms manufacturing industry. Instead the visitor asked me about Maxim's endeavours in the much less well known field of medicine.. Hiram Maxim (1840-1916) is best known for the invention of the automatic machine gun, the spring mouse trap and the fire sprinkler, along with the first heavier than air aircraft - The Maxim Flyer, which took to the air - albeit briefly - in 1894, nine years before the Wright Brothers. The experimental steam powered aeroplane accidentally took off during ground testing in Baldwyn’s Park, Bexley – it flew for an estimated 281 metres at a height of 1.4 metres, according to contemporary accounts. You can read more about the story here. Suffice to say that Maxim realised that his design of flying machine was dynamically unstable, and not viable for any longer flights. He abandoned the project shortly thereafter, leaving the Wright Brothers to gain the fame and fortune that went with the first viable aerodynamic flying vehicle. As well as being a skilled engineer and inventor, Hiram Maxim was a very shrewd businessman, and I think he realised that his own flying machine was an engineering dead end, and he decided to stop throwing good money after bad, and work on other projects instead. Maxim was already a very wealthy man, and did not really need the flying machine to be a financial success at all. However, he also developed the inhaler in the photos above. Click on either photo to see a larger version. The inhaler, known as the ‘Pipe of Peace’. It was used to treat throat and chest problems such as bronchitis. Soothing vapours from water warmed with a few drops of 'Dirigo', made from Maxim’s own recipe, which consisted of a mixture of liquid menthol and wintergreen oil, could be delivered right to the back of the throat via a long, swan-necked glass tube. In this set, the drug is made by John Morgan Richards and Sons Ltd. As word of the effectiveness of Maxim’s invention spread, demand grew and eventually hundreds of thousands were sold in the early 1900s. Hiram Maxim was an excellent inventor, engineer and very canny businessman. He realised that his main product - the Maxim machine gun was a weapon of war, and was giving him a negative public image; by diversifying into medicines, this would contribute to a far pleasanter and more positive personal reputation. In his autobiography of 1915, Hiram Maxim wrote:- "I think it was about the year 1900 that I had a very severe attack of bronchitis. First, we had the family physician; then he called in two experts on throat troubles; but they did me no good. They recommended, however, that I should go to Bournemouth and put myself under the treatment of a noted specialist. It was a failure. I returned to London and consulted the greatest specialist on throat troubles in England, and a few days later he sent me about half a ton of stoneware bottles containing mineral water. I took some of the water and followed the treatment for a time without the least effect. I was then recommended to go to Mont Dore, where they have strong and hot mineral springs and there are many doctors who make a speciality of treating bronchitis. I submitted to a very long system of steaming and boiling and taking the waters with no effect. I next learned that at Royat, not far distant, there was an English physician who was supposed to be the greatest expert on throat troubles in France. After he had been working on me about three weeks he said: "There remains only one thing for you to do, and that is to go to Nice and go through a system of treatment at Vos' Inhalatorium." I spent the next winter at Nice and was much gratified to find that I was greatly benefited by the treatment. It was very long and very severe. Every day I had to inhale an hour at a time; but the bronchitis had disappeared completely by the beginning of April, when I returned to England. However, with the cold and foggy weather of the next autumn the trouble returned as bad as ever; so again I went to Nice and went under the treatment. While there I heard a great deal of discussion regarding throat troubles—generally in the French language. Mr. Vos became very much interested in my case, perhaps more so on account of the comic sketches that I made for him, some of which greatly amused the Russian Grand Dukes who were his patients. At any rate I made a point of learning all that could be learned about the treatment of bronchitis before I left Nice, and the next season, when the trouble commenced again, I bought some glass tubing and made a few glass inhalers myself. By making a mouthpiece of such a shape that the vapours were introduced directly into the throat instead of medicating the inside of the mouth I found that my simple device was much more effective than the very elaborate machinery of Mr. Vos. When I became fully satisfied that my apparatus would ward off bronchitis, I gave a few away, and they all did very well indeed. The next move was to get two hundred of them made by a glass-blower, and these I also gave away, with splendid results. This created a demand, and I placed the sale of the instruments with the eminent firm of John Morgan Richards and Sons, of London, since which time hundreds of thousands have been sold and have given entire satisfaction. A short time ago, while returning from the seaside, I found myself in a first-class compartment with a distinguished-looking gentleman. He asked me if I were not Sir Hiram Maxim, and upon telling him that I was he gave me his own name, which I recognised as being one of the most eminent of the Harley Street physicians. He said: "I have tried your inhaling apparatus with very good results; it is a splendid thing; I recommend it to all my patients who have throat troubles. You have prevented an immense amount of suffering in the world and you ought to be very proud of it." This is the way that one of the greatest physicians in the world looked at the subject, but some of my friends not altogether unconnected with the gun business have told me that I have ruined my reputation absolutely by making a medical inhaler, and a scientific friend has written me deploring the fact that one so eminent in science as myself should descend to "prostituting my talents on quack nostrums." However, this little inhaler enables me to live all winter in England and large numbers are now being sold all over the world. So I think I shall be able to withstand the disgrace of having brought out such an invention. From the foregoing it will be seen that it is a very creditable thing to invent a killing machine, and nothing less than a disgrace to invent an apparatus to prevent human suffering. It is a curious and interesting fact that one of the gentlemen who has ridiculed me the most recommends these inhalers to his friends and always takes one with him when travelling. While at Nice I learned that the inhalants could be taken very much stronger if a small quantity of cocaine were used, but as cocaine was regarded as a poison, it was not expedient to use it. I spent my boyhood in the State of Maine, where there is a little plant which, although it is used for flavouring confectionery, really benumbs the mouth and throat just as cocaine does, only in a less degree. By mixing a small quantity of the oil of this plant with pine essence, the vapours may be inhaled very strong without producing coughing, and this little discovery is one of the things that has made the inhalers such a remarkable success. I suppose I shall have to stand the disgrace which is said to be sufficiently great to wipe out all the credit that I might have had for inventing killing machines".

Last Friday marked the 30th anniversary of the murder of Rachel Nickell, a crime which shocked the country. The terrible event, and others were committed by a local man. Perhaps not since Jack the Ripper prowled the streets of East London has there been a killer as depraved as Robert Napper. Yet his name is hardly known. A flawed police fixation on criminal profiling that led to the jailing of an innocent man - Colin Stagg - for Napper's most notorious crime, the murder and mutilation of Rachel Nickell, denied the killer and rapist of his notoriety. Robert Napper was the eldest child of Brian Napper, a driving instructor, and his wife Pauline. He was born in Erith in February 1966, and is considered to be probably the most notorious son of that town. Napper was brought up on the Abbey Road Estate in Plumstead, and subsequently acquired the nickname of "The Plumstead Ripper". The terrible murder of Rachel Nickell can be summarised:-On the morning of July 15, 1992, Rachel was walking her dog with her two-year-old son Alex Hascombe in Wimbledon Common, in southwest London.They were passing through an area of woodland when the 23-year-old mother was knifed 49 times and sexually assaulted - all in front of her young son. Her killer fled, leaving the toddler clinging to his mother’s body repeatedly asking her to get up. The Metropolitan Police launched a desperate search to find the young mum's killer. Investigators quickly homed in on a man named Colin Stagg who was known to walk his dog on the Common and had previously revealed a dark sexual fantasy that was reported to the authorities after Nickell's death. However, no forensic evidence was found linking Stagg to the scene of the attack. Criminal psychologist Paul Britton created a profile of the killer, later deciding the newspaper delivery man was their chief suspect. An undercover officer, going by the pseudonym "Lizzie James", was then brought in to see if she could elicit a confession from Stagg. She wrote a series of explicit letters to the suspect and they also met several times so she could gain his trust and managed to draw out fantasies from Stagg that Britton interpreted as “violent”, but there was still no confession. Despite that, he was charged with the murder, but the trial later collapsed when a judge condemned the police for the "honey trap" undercover operation - and Stagg was given £700,000 in compensation. It was later revealed that the police had been focusing on the wrong man, leaving the real murderer free to kill again - and he did. Robert Napper, who is now 55, murdered 27-year-old Samantha Bissett and her four-year-old daughter Jazmine after forcing his way into their home in Plumstead, eighteen months after he killed Rachel Nickell. He was serving time for that murder in Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital when, in 2004, new techniques connected DNA evidence of Robert Napper to the murder of Rachel Nickell. In 2008, he admitted to the murder and was charged with manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He had earlier been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Napper is now serving “indefinite detention” in the same hospital, and admitted to attacking four other women. Napper came on to the police radar at least seven times, on at least two occasions displaying behaviour that marked him out as a danger to women. But he was never pursued. Had the links been investigated, the connections would have led detectives to Napper earlier, preventing Colin Stagg from being made a pariah and saving another young mother and her child from murder and depraved mutilation. Now Robert Napper is spending the rest of his life in Broadmoor Hospital; recent accounts state that he is still highly delusional; he erroneously believes he has a Master’s degree in Maths, had won the Nobel Peace Prize, been awarded medals for fighting in Angola and had millions stashed in a bank in Sidcup. He also believes that his fingers had been blown off by an IRA parcel bomb but had miraculously grown back. The only good news to come out of this sad and disturbing tale is that Napper will never be released from Broadmoor Hospital, and cannot further threaten the public. 

The end video this week is a time lapse film of the construction of the controversial Belvedere Beach in Woolwich Road, Upper Belvedere. Comments to me at

No comments:

Post a Comment