Sunday, July 03, 2022


Regular visitors to Erith Riverside shopping centre will have noticed over the last 18 months or so, that the number of occupied shops has started to decrease. The first major retailer to leave the shopping centre was Argos who had the large corner units on the front of the shopping centre. They have now been followed by the departure of Shoe Zone, who I have been led to believe have been struggling for several years. The requirement for discount shoes in Erith does not appear to have been as large as this retailer and anticipated. It seems that most people who want shoes either go to Bluewater or to Bexleyheath Broadway. Unlike many other things, people tend not to buy shoes online. Another major retailer who is leaving the shopping centre is Wilko. I have been informed that they are reducing their number of stores in the southeast by around 15. This is part of a national strategy, I feel that Wilko will be sadly missed in Erith. It is a large store with a wide variety of goods for sale. It has been said that it is the nearest equivalent to the old Woolworths chain stores. Indeed, the Woolworths that used to be in Erith Town centre was a very important retail outlet and one that was extremely sadly missed when it closed as part of the countrywide Woolworths closure. The official press release from Wilko reads as follows:- "Wilko confirms that it will be closing its Erith store in September 2022. Wilko has, with regret, briefed its team members in Erith of the decision to close the store because favourable lease terms cannot be agreed with the landlord. A spokesperson, said; “We have been looking at our options, but the reality is that we have been unable to reach an agreement with the landlord that makes this store commercially viable.” Jerome Saint-Marc, Wilko CEO comments: “Our history is steeped in serving our customers and communities going back to 1930 but there’s no denying the way people shop with us and where they want to shop with us is changing. As a business we’re evolving and this includes working with landlords for more favourable terms, as well as looking at locations and store formats. We’ll continue to pull together to make our business better to secure the future of over 16,000 team members. “We’ll be doing everything we can to support our affected team members who will be offered any available positions in nearby stores. We apologise to customers but will continue to offer them everything they need in nearby stores or via” The nearest alternative Wilko stores are situated in Bexleyheath and Dartford.The rent charges at the Erith Riverside shopping centre are high. I recall some years ago when an acquaintance looked to open a small coffee shop in the shopping centre. When they found out the cost of rent was going to be approximately £500 per week, their business plan would not work, the outgoings to open the shop would have been so great as to have been unworkable. I know that fairly recently the ownership of the shopping centre changed; at the time of writing. I am not sure if they are reviewing the cost of rents, but it would seem to me that they will need to do something in order to retain the stores that are still in the centre and attract new traders. I would hate to see the shopping centre revert to how it was before it was refurbished and remodelled in 2005. Prior to that, the shopping centre was a depressing and scruffy place that smelled of Jeyes fluid and wee. There have been a number of rumours circulating locally about the future of Erith Riverside shopping centre. Most of the rumours turn out to not be true. Firstly, it has been said that the operators of the shopping centre have been putting up rents for the shops which has been causing them to close down and move out. This has been said to be untrue; they have however, been several retail units renegotiating rents at the end of their lease agreements, which I guess is where the rumour started from, however other sources disagree. Having said that, the press release from Wilko may well be the "Smoking Gun" that rents are indeed being raised. An inside source informs me that although Wilko is closing, negotiations are underway for another substantial retailer to move into the space when Wilko closes on the 3rd of September. There are no details as to the identity of the new retailer, and I understand that negotiations are somewhat delicate at present. Another rumour is that the shopping centre was to be closed and converted entirely into living accommodation. This is untrue. The owners and operators of the centre wish to keep it as retail venue with accommodation above, as is currently the case. It is understandable that local people are concerned about the changes happening to the shopping centre, but from what I have heard, the changes will mainly be positive, although the loss of Wilko and the Shoe Zone shop are regrettable, and Wilko especially will be missed by many. Although nothing has been said at this point, I also have concerns about the medium to long - term future of the Matalan store in the shopping centre. It is stuffy and hot, drab and has indiffierent items for sale, and the retail staff are almost non - existent. It will be instructive to see what transpires in the coming months. Both Bexley Council and local businesses are active in the negotiations. I have been asked to not name names at this point, as discussions are still underway and I would not want to jeopardise any potential developments. Suffice to say, Erith Riverside shopping centre is not closing down, and it is not being converted into flats. I have this from an impeccable source. Hopefully I will have further information in the weeks to come. What can be done to prevent the decline of Erith Riverside shopping centre? If you have any ideas, then please let me know and I will pass them on to the relevant authorities. I just hope we are not seeing the end of a vital local community resource. Email me at the usual address -

Recently I have featured Kate Bush in the Blog - not only is she currently back in the charts, but she lived locally for many years, as I have previously described.  She has been back in the news this week, due to a potential problem with her main residence in Devon, since she moved away from Welling, and later Eltham some years ago. The singer relocated to Devon in 2005 in search of a quiet life away from obsessive fans. She now lives in a clifftop mansion on the South Devon coast, near Kingsbridge, which she purchased for a reported £2.5 million. However, the 200-year-old hideaway is perched precariously close to the edge of the cliff.  In 2014, local Council officials warned the area near East Portlemouth in Devon was in danger of toppling into the sea. Steve Gardner, of Devon County Council, said: "If you live there you can either accept it and let your house fall into the sea, or you can take action to prevent further damage, although that can cost hundreds of thousands. You can attach netting to the cliff face, or another option is spraying it with concrete, although these are very expensive and not something the council would pay for." The isolated property is set in 17 acres and surrounded by rolling countryside. Kate spent many years campaigning to close a footpath that led around her home, a request which was eventually granted.

Another famous local was actor and philanthropist Sir Roger Moore, who lived in Wansunt Road in Old Bexley Village. Moore garnered incredible fame and fortune during his 68 year long career, earning him a net worth of £89 million at the time of his death in 2017. The actor, producer and director had over 50 film credits under his belt, not including uncredited roles he took in the start of his career. However, he is still most well known for portraying the world-renowned fictional spy James Bond, which he played for seven movies. Moore is still considered to this day the longest running James Bond actor, working the character from 1973 to 1985. Despite his playboy demeanour in his most well-known role, Moore had an incredible passion for philanthropy, using his millions for good. Speaking to the Telegraph in 2012, the actor revealed charity is not his only use for his millions, noting his love for cash. He satirically noted: "Not only am I a spender, I have had a couple of business people in the past who have been spending my money quite happily." He also recalled his very first paid acting role, right out of the army: "There was no pay cheque. I love cash. When I came out of the Army I went into repertory theatre in Palmers Green and I think I got £9 or £10 a week and they were all in crispy £1 notes. The sheer luxury of them.I felt flush." When Moore first arrived in Hollywood, he was paid roughly $400 (£326) a week in 1954, "which was a huge amount of money", but little did he know just how much his pay cheques would increase. Moore starred as Brett Sinclair in 24 episodes of The Persuaders, and noted that this was his first $1million (£815,000) project for a year's worth of work. He shared his reaction: "When I saw that figure it never worked out quite that way. There was the demon of tax, and house and expenses growing all the time. I always seemed to spend a little more than I had. And of course the only saving you could do was to leave the country." Alongside his fees for working in filming, Moore also receives royalties and a percentages of profits. In the 2012 interview he revealed he was receiving bi-annual royalty cheques for the Bond films. As a result of his time as Bond, Moore was offered his most lucrative commercial opportunity, a commercial for Hanson Industries, which he was paid $1million (£815,000) for three days' work. After that amount of investment, the commercial was not even allowed to be aired as they were concerned about being sued by MGM for it being too Bond-like. Moore satirically noted: "I don't think I've ever made any good financial decisions." Throughout his life Moore had a series of serious illnesses and diseases, including double pneumonia, jaundice and suffered long-term from kidney stones.Moore also successfully beat prostate cancer after being diagnosed in 1993, but the health issues would not stop there. In 2003 he was fitted with a pacemaker due to his incredibly slow heartbeat and was diagnosed with type two diabetes in 2013. Then, a tumour was spotted on his liver and he was diagnosed with lung cancer, which would ultimately be his downfall. His £89 million net worth at the time of his death in 2017 was mostly tied up in properties, and his fourth wife was put in guardianship, although by 2019 the estate was still frozen due to ongoing court cases claiming that her lawyer had been depleting her funds.

I have written in the recent past of the problems in communicating with countries in Eastern Europe including Ukraine and Russia. Due to the current illegal Russian invasion of parts of Ukraine, the ability of citizens of Russia and Ukraine to receive accurate and unbiased news broadcasts has been severely limited, as Russia has cut many internet connections to parts of both countries, and has made it illegal to report on the situation with the war. Thus Russian journalists are unable to report accurately on the situation in the country, and the protests from the West. As a result of this, some broadcasters who for many years have relied on the internet to impart their news, have now reverted to an older technology - Shortwave Radio. Shortwave Radio signals have the unique capability to go beyond geographical, economic, military, cultural, religious, or political barriers. This is important when considering the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which is underpinned by fake news, misinformation and censorship of foreign media networks. By contrast, Shortwave Radio signals are extremely difficult to jam. It would require a network of strategically placed high power transmitters to intercept the transmissions. A not-for-profit group called Shortwave for Freedom is using shortwave to broadcast English and Russian programmes that have previously been produced by the Voice of America and various other international broadcasters. Shortwave Radio is universally known as crisis radio. In times of disaster, people will need to turn their radio to hear uncensored news, it has been reported that many international broadcasters are now pulling out of Russia due to the fear of being arrested. The alleged penalty for reporting, fake news or protesting the military actions of the Kremlin is set to to 15 year jail sentence. Many Russians are finding international news resources online are now blocked by Russian firewalls. Some have been using VPN technology to try and get around it, but apparently the Russian security services are cracking down on people who they detect to use what they term as illegal VPN technology. Instead, some Russians are tuning into international shortwave news broadcasts, in a way that many have not done since 1990 and the fall of the Iron curtain. The technology may be old, but it still has its uses. Which leads me on to another use. Several online forums seem to be getting quite excited about a subject I have covered on the Maggot Sandwich in the distant past, but now seems to be back in the news. For some inexplicable reason, they have been writing about Secret Numbers and Book Code illicit radio stations in some detail. They have picked up on the espionage activities of the Russian FSB (the successor intelligence organisation to the KGB), especially after the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine. Numbers Stations have been in existence since World War II. They can be found quite easily if you have a radio which can receive the shortwave bands. Generally speaking, numbers stations appear somewhat erratically and consist of a disembodied electronic voice reading out streams of numbers which repeat a fixed number of times. The stations are usually outside of the main shortwave broadcast bands, and can sometimes be encountered in the amateur radio bands – much to the annoyance of their legal, licenced users, such as myself. Whilst numbers stations are well known to radio enthusiasts like me, most of the general public will be unaware of their existence. The purpose of numbers stations is simple. They are the most secure method of communicating with spies in the field. Computer communications are easily intercepted, and even the most heavily encrypted ciphers can be broken over time by supercomputers used by the security services – and it is relatively straightforward to identify a person from an Internet Service Provider. Old fashioned analogue Shortwave Radio is completely anonymous – no sign in, or account is required, and a suitable radio can be picked up in a shop or online for a few pounds. Anyone found with a radio which can receive the shortwave bands will not get much attention – most compact travel radios can receive shortwave broadcasts; thus a spy can be completely anonymous and untraceable whilst listening to the coded broadcasts. Sometimes new technology is not the best solution to a problem, and this is most definitely the case here. Each numbers station transmission is read out by a computer generated voice, giving it an eerie, somewhat creepy sound. One would have thought that once the Cold War was over, the need for numbers stations would cease, but in many cases, the number of stations has actually increased – radio traffic, including numbers stations has been recently noticed in Ukraine, where before the recent dispute with Russia, it was pretty much a backwater. Book Code stations are a simpler but still very effective way of communicating via radio with any person intercepting the transmission unable to understand the meaning of the message being communicated. The key to a book code is that the sender and the receiver need to have an identical copy of a book - two different editions of the same book will not work, as the page layouts will be different. If you buy two identical copies of a book, the transmitter can compile their message in plain language (uncoded), then look through the book to find the relevant words in the text. The sender then notes down the page number, paragraph, line and number of words along the line. This is written down as a series of numbers. This is done for every word in the message in order (very tedious, but very secure as long as the books used are not known to anyone intercepting the message). The stream of numbers is then read out over the radio and the recipient then reverses the process to decipher the message. It is simple, very secure and almost impossible to crack without the use of sophisticated statistical analysis software and a handy supercomputer, which only the likes of the NSA or GCHQ would have access to. As long as the book used is kept secret - and preferably changed for another title for both the sender and recipient on a regular basis - it is pretty much secure.

The news that once again, Erith has been named the hardest place in the UK to pass a driving test is hardly surprising, For the last decade either Erith or Belvedere have shared this somewhat dubious accolade. Data from the DVLA show that people taking their driving test in Erith have more  chance of failing on their first attempt than anywhere else in the country. Only 30 per cent of drivers at Erith’s test centre and 34 per cent at Belvedere’s test centre pass their driving test on their first attempt. 

The end video this week shows engineers from BICC assembling electricity pylons and then fitting them with high tension electricity cables; the footage dates back to 1966 - note the complete lack of health and safety equipment or practices! As always, comments to me at

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