The Thames Water pumping station on the corner of Crescent Road and Appold Street in Erith was the centre of extraordinary activity on Tuesday of last week. Thames Water engineers were working in the intense heat to remove a series of blockages that threatened the fresh water supply to parts of Erith and Slade Green. They were on site for most of the day, and into the evening. Click on the photo above to see a larger view.
This Sunday marks the sixteenth anniversary of the first edition of Arthur Pewty's Maggot Sandwich. You can see my very first Blog entry above. The Maggot Sandwich has been published every single Sunday over the last sixteen years, without a single miss in all of that time. I am told that most Blogs last an average of eighteen months. It all began on a hot and humid Saturday evening back in July 2006. I was bored, and was playing around with various online publication tools when I came across Blogger - at the time a pretty basic content editing and management system run by Google, that had one major advantage - it was free to use. Every Sunday afternoon for the last sixteen years I have published my blog, and for some happily unknown reason, a large number of people, both locally and around the world have chosen to read it. The Blog is almost unrecognisable when compared to the start; it has transformed from a rather annoying and shouty rant at life, the universe and everything into what I hope is an entertaining and informative journal with a focus on local events. I must admit that I had absolutely no intention of the Maggot Sandwich turning into what I suppose could be viewed as part of the local online landscape – I suppose that this is mainly due to its longevity – throw enough stuff at the wall, and eventually something will stick. As some have suspected, I feel that I am really a frustrated amateur journalist; since I cannot do the real thing, I play at it online. Some readers have accused me of being a “proper” author, but I hold no such illusions. What amazes me is that I have readers stretching from Tokyo to Hobart, Rio de Janeiro to Melbourne, Washington DC to Ho Chi Minh City. It seems that it is not just expats that read the Maggot Sandwich; for some inexplicable reason a number of people who have never visited Kent or indeed London log in week after week to check the postings relating to possibly the least glamorous and most under reported suburb of South East London - and I have absolutely no idea why. I am glad that readers seem to like what I publish. The blog originally started as a distraction - a way of having a whinge. It has developed into a (very minor) local news and information bureau. What do you think? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BBNWA - Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association made the following announcement on Wednesday of last week:- "Twenty fire engines and around 125 firefighters were called to a fire involving grassland and buildings on Ray Lamb Way in Erith. Two commercial warehouses were destroyed by the fire and a further warehouse was damaged. An area of grassland and bushes of around five hectares was also involved in the blaze. Firefighters rescued 15 people using fire escape hoods and another 13 people were led to safety by crews. There were no reports of any injuries. The Brigade's 999 Control Officers took 22 calls to the fire. The Brigade was called at 1833 and the fire was under control by 0127. Fire crews from Sutton, Addington, Bexley, Sidcup and surrounding fire stations were at the scene. The cause of the fire is under investigation". You can read more on the BBNWA Blog here.
Over the last few years I have occasionally mentioned radio stations – both legitimate and otherwise that I have worked for in one manner or another. This links in closely with the name of my Blog - Arthur Pewty's Maggot Sandwich - how the name came about has been recounted in the past, but it was a long time ago, and I have gained numerous readers since, so a retelling of the story is appropriate, considering that this is the sixteenth anniversary of the start of the Blog. I have always had a deep interest in radio – even when I was at primary school, I would find old radios and pull them apart to try and work out what made them tick; at one stage I managed to convert an old Bush valve receiver into an amplifier / speaker for my bedside transistor radio – even if it was only to listen to Ed Stewart on “Junior Choice” on Radio 1. When in secondary school I started to listen the land based pirates which you could find all across both the Medium Wave and (what was then termed VHF) FM bands. The early 80’s were a formative time for unlicensed broadcasting – at that point little government thought had been given to widening commercial licences, and things such as community stations and special event licences just did not exist – with the notable exception of Radio Thamesmead, which at that time was available via cable only to residents physically located in Thamesmead. All sorts of pirate stations broadcast from whatever high points they could find – usually the roof of a tower block – radio signals on the FM band travel in straight lines, so the higher up the transmitter / antenna are, the further the signal can theoretically travel – though other factors also come into play. My own favourite stations at the time were Alice’s Restaurant, and later RFM, which broadcast out of the Epping / Hainault area. Another station – which only came on during Monday nights was called Imagine – it played melodic rock and electronic music from bands like Tangerine Dream. When I was in the 6th form at school, I worked Saturdays at independent computer store Silica Shop in Hatherley Road, Sidcup, and so was not at home to listen to the various other pirate stations that broadcast on Saturdays. A friend handed me a cassette he had recorded of a pirate station that he said sounded like nothing he had heard before. I listened to the tape and was doubly astounded; firstly the station sounded very slick and professional – they had jingles and sound effects, and even had hourly news bulletins. Secondly, I recognised several of the voices as being people I knew, including one who was a school teacher of mine! I said nothing and carried on with the Saturday job. Sometime later when I had left school, I bumped into several of the people whose voices I had heard on the tape – typically we met in a pub – the Fox in Upper Belvedere (which back then was excellent, unlike now, in my opinion). One thing led to another and I was invited up to the studio. The station was called Radio Lumberjack, and it was run from a large semi-detached house in Bexleyheath. Most of the upper floor of the house had been converted into a main studio and a newsroom / production facility. Unusually for such a setup, the transmitter was located in the studio itself. Normally land based pirates would have a small, low powered UHF link transmitter which sent a hard to track signal to a much more powerful VHF FM transmitter located on the roof of a nearby tower block; the thinking behind this was that the authorities could easily track and confiscate the main FM transmitter, but the low power link signal was far harder to detect – thus meaning it was less likely for the studio to also be raided – though this still was a danger. I later found out that the reason the chap behind Radio Lumberjack was unconcerned about the possibility of being raided was that his day job was as a member of the then Department of Trade and Industry Radio Investigation Service – the pirate radio hunters of the time! He knew well in advance of any possible raids, and any documents pertaining to Radio Lumberjack promptly got “lost”, so the station got no official investigation at all, and operated with impunity for several years. Having such a “mole” right at the heart of the opposition proved invaluable later, when a number of Radio Lumberjack staff became involved with Radio Caroline – but that is a story for another day. Radio Lumberjack broadcast an eclectic range of music, interspersed with comedy sketches and novelty jingles. I soon became a regular presenter, hosting the evening album music show between 8pm and midnight – allowing pretty much all the other DJ’s to disappear up the pub. The humour on Radio Lumberjack was pretty surreal – much of the comedy material was written by the station staff. There were many spoof adverts, with commercials for fictional companies such as “Bethlehem Motors – car faith healers – save money and save your soul! With one simple low cost prayer, we can have your vehicle back on the road”. “Tacky’s Nightclub, with your host, Bland Groover”. Also, “Gaskets motor spares – suppliers of neo Georgian suspension, arc brake lights and stained glass windows”. Best of all, a commercial for the Thamesmead Tourist Board, with a cod salsa song “it’s the place for fun, it’s the place for sun, come to Thamesmead – go on day trips to all the popular holiday destinations like the Belvedere Rift Valley – home of the world famous earwig farm; enquire at the Thamesmead Tourist Board office – the little green hut behind the bike sheds in Thamesmead High Street!” It was all very slick and professional; the chap that ran the station was a big fan of Kenny Everett, but had his own unique style. Each presenter had their own introductory jingle – mine started with an incredulous voice – “oh no... It’s Arthur Pewty!” followed by the sound of Stuka dive bombers, explosions and collapsing buildings, accompanied by a massed band of Daleks screaming “Arthur Pewty, Arthur Pewty!” It was all very over the top and wacky. My pseudonym came from the meek and mild insurance salesman Arthur Pewty from the famous Monty Python sketch about the marriage guidance counsellor. When I first started my evening show, I racked my brains to think of a suitably surreal and silly name for it. I had already got my nickname, and recently I had read a history of 1960’s offshore station Wonderful Radio London, where John Peel got his big break into radio. John Peel had a show called “The Perfumed Garden” where he played a lot of hippy music and recited poetry sent in by listeners (some of it toe curlingly bad, but I digress). I thought that my show needed a really surreal title, so, as a play on “John Peel’s Perfumed Garden”, “Arthur Pewty’s Maggot Sandwich” was born. I was part of Radio Lumberjack for a couple of very happy and memorable years, and made friends that I still have to this day. The station naturally ran its course, and in time some of the more dedicated members – the station owner included - became involved in Radio Caroline. That is a story for another time. Feedback to me at email@example.com.
Southeastern has urged rail passengers to "only travel if it's necessary" ahead of strike action next week. There will be an extremely limited train service during the RMT trade union action on Wednesday (July 27). The reduced network will run between 7am and 7pm, during which Southeastern will run just 20 per cent of the normal timetable. During this time, all but 44 of the 180 stations on the network will be shut. Details of the strike affected train services are outlined in the graphic above - click on it to see larger version.
In another Trading Standards based story, Bexley Council published the following announcement last week:- "Council stamps out illegal tobacco sales in Welling shop. The Council’s Trading Standards team has permanently closed Bellegrove Convenience Store at 98 Bellegrove Road, Welling, for selling illegal cigarettes and tobacco products. The products are not produced or packaged for legal sale in the UK and when tested are likely to fail UK safety regulations that require cigarettes to self-extinguish to prevent house fires. Working with the Police and the property landlord, Bexley Trading Standards employed covert surveillance, test purchasing and product seizures. This evidence proves continual and organised breaches of the commercial tenancy. The landlord was then able to obtain a surrender of the lease. The shop had been the subject of many enforcement actions over several years which failed to stop the criminal activity in the shop. Using Proceeds of Crime procedures, the Council has put an end to the shop trading in the borough. Report illicit tobacco sales by calling Citizens Advice on 0808 223 1133".
I have long made clear my antipathy for supermarket self - service checkouts, as I have written on here quite extensively in the past. It would now seem that I am not alone in my loathing for them. Like them or hate them, the self-service tills revolution shows no signs of going away. Since they were first introduced by Tesco in 2003, they have divided opinion, with some shoppers liking the idea of scanning and getting on their way while others bemoaning the loss of personal touch. Now some shoppers are revolting against the automated tills, with over 218,000 frustrated customers signing a petition calling for the supermarket to stop adding the self-service checkouts to their stores. The petition, on change.org, was started by London customer Pat McCarthy earlier this year, when she became frustrated after, she claims, two thirds of the tills at her local store were turned over to self-service, and she is calling on Tesco to redress the balance. Mrs McCarthy's petition argues that the tills – which are often card-only – are not accessible for many shoppers on a budget and also states that that older people and those with disabilities are less likely to be able to use self-checkouts and the lack of staffed tills was leading to long queues for those who couldn’t use the self-service tills. She has asked people to support the campaign on social media and message Tesco directly, using the hashtag #TescoVeryLittleHelps.“I want Ken Murphy, the chief executive officer of Tesco, to bring back more staffed tills and check-outs,” said McCarthy. “I want him to commit to a People & Profit Policy not a Profits before People Policy.” The petition, which calls on Tesco to “stop replacing people with machines” has gained momentum on social media, driven by hashtags #BringBackTescoStaff and #TescoVeryLittleHelps. "I don't like self scan. Takes too much time. An experienced checkout operator will take money much quicker. Self scanned shopping should come with an additional discount," while @AlisonR84198452 explained: "The #BringBackTescoStaff is because many disabled people cannot operate the self service checkouts, the poor sighted have difficulties with the card machines, and those with crutches or in wheelchairs find it very difficult. Could happen to any one of us, anytime!" However, others argued the self-service tills were just progress, with @_JamesFinegan asking: "For everyone tweeting #BringBackTescoStaff do you all still use travel agents or do you book online? Do you shop local or do you order online? In fact, why are you not using your local greengrocers, butchers and baker? It's weird how people only care some of the time," and @CraftyArtist4 saying: "#BringBackTescoStaff I wouldn’t mind self service if they put on more tills that take cash rather than card only. Don’t always want to use my card." @Joewozhere424, however, is not a fan. "#BringBackTescoStaff Tesco should Pay me to use there Self service tills.. Basically its me 'Working for Tesco' as my Own Cashier!" he said. A Tesco spokesperson said: "Our colleagues and the friendly service they provide are absolutely vital to our stores and will always be on hand to help our customers, whether they are checking out at one of our colleague-operated or self-service checkouts. We first introduced self-service checkouts nearly 20 years ago to give our customers a choice and our stores have both types of checkout.” This is very interesting; Tesco, as the UK's largest supermarket operator, do tend to lead from the front - they installed self service checkouts before the likes of Sainsbury's and Morrisons. It will be instructive to see what their response to this campaign of complaint will turn out to be. Whilst self service checkouts appear to be cheaper to operate than staffed tills, there are hidden costs, the largest of which is theft - the level of shoplifting that occurs via self service checkouts is large. The big supermarkets also are very reluctant to prosecute self service thefts, due to the difficulty of proving criminal intent - an accused person could claim that they were distracted and made an error in not scanning items, or that they did not properly understand how the self scanning worked, and no member of staff had been on hand to help.
The end video this week is slightly surreal; On 17th July 2022, as guests of the Dartford and Crayford Creek Restoration Trust, Dartford Mayor Cllr Paul Cutler, Dartford's Mayoress Suzanne Cutler and the Mayor of Bexley Cllr Nick O'Hare were taken by Lindsay Ford for a trip along Dartford Creek from the Hythe Street Slipway to Priory Lock in his Dutton Surf amphibious car. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.