Sunday, September 04, 2022

Erith Made 2022.

Last week I reported on the activity of the emergency services around the entrance to Erith Pier, what I did not realise at the time was that only a day later a further incident would happen on the River Thames close to the pier. Normally, I do not report on stories that make the national news, but in this instance I'm making an exception. As some readers may already be aware, last Sunday afternoon a body was found on the mud banks of the Thames at low tide, adjacent to Chichester Wharf, off West Street in Erith. To clarify, I've had a couple of readers contact me thinking that my photos of last Saturday were of the incident with the body. This was not the case. The two incidents were entirely separate. It is just a tragedy that two serious incidents would happen within a day of each other. What I have discovered is that the body found in the river had apparently drifted down from Central London, although precise details have not yet been released. In a statement, the Met Police said: "Police were called at 4.53pm on Sunday, August 28, to reports of a body in the water at Chichester Wharf, Erith. The body of a man, believed to be aged in his 40s, was recovered. Police are working to confirm his identity and inform next of kin. The death is currently being treated as unexpected. Enquiries continue." Chichester Wharf is a quiet residential area with multiple high rise buildings just off West Street. If anyone has any information regarding this tragedy, then please let me know.

The photo above was taken by me in Park Crescent, Erith a while ago; it shows a dumped box of empty Nitrous Oxide canisters. Not really something one would expect to find in the quiet, leafy and prosperous "Beverly Hills of Erith". The gas, which is inhaled, has become a popular recreational drug over the past few years. According to the latest Global Drug Survey, Nitrous Oxide – or laughing gas – is now the seventh most popular drug in the 50 countries surveyed. Just over half the UK respondents said they had tried the drug at some point, and 38 per cent said they had used it in the last year, making it more popular in the UK than any other country. Nitrous Oxide is a colourless, sweet tasting gas that has been used recreationally since the late 18th century, most notably by Sir Humphry Davy, former president of The Royal Society. Medical use was established in the early 20th century and Nitrous Oxide remains an important anaesthetic, tranquilliser and painkiller, used by dentists, obstetricians and sports doctors. Indeed, many members of the public will have experienced the effects of Nitrous Oxide themselves without realising it. The popularity of recreational use of Nitrous Oxide is unsurprising. It is legal in many parts of the world, it is cheap and it reliably produces a short-lasting euphoria as well as heightened senses and a slight feeling of disconnect from the body and is often used as a drug at concerts, nightclubs and festivals. As one can see, the desired effects would be a quick little “pick me up” but continued usage causes major damage. Physically, Nitrous Oxide is not considered an addictive drug; psychologically it is because it mimics other narcotics. It is a very quick high which usually causes intense repetitive behaviours in its users. Users of this drug will continue to try to get more and more high, which again, in turn, creates major issues. In the last week a report on the long term effects of Nitrous Oxide abuse has been published, and it makes for very worrying reading. The drug, also known as “noz” and “hippy crack”, is very popular with teenagers and young adults, including clubbers and those attending music festivals. It is the same substance that is given to women during childbirth and patients undergoing dental treatment to control pain. Those using it illicitly often breathe it in after it has been transferred from silver vials into balloons. It is the second most commonly used drug among 16- to 24-year-olds in England after cannabis. There are increasing concerns about Nitrous Oxide abuse, as it can cause serious, or in extreme cases, fatal results. Last week in an article in the Guardian, experts said that as use of the drug has risen, so too have cases of spinal cord and nerve damage, including paralysis. “There is no doubt that we have seen an increase of cases, as this was almost unknown last year and now [we] see cases weekly,” said Dr Nikos Evangelou, an academic neurologist at the University of Nottingham. Writing on Twitter, Evangelou described the situation as an epidemic, adding: “Terrifying to see paralysed young people from laughing gas canisters.” Dr David Nicholl, a neurologist at Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS trust, also called the problem an epidemic in a recent TikTok video. “We’re seeing dozens of young people coming into hospital because they’re off their legs; some of them have life-changing neurological injuries,” he said. While it can induce laughter and hallucinations, it can also cause neurological problems by inactivating the vitamin B12. “B12 is crucial in the production of myelin, which is the fatty sheath around nerves in your body,” said Dr Trevor Pickersgill, a consultant neurologist at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board. When B12 is inactivated by Nitrous Oxide, myelin is no longer kept in good repair. “That causes spinal cord damage, which can be irreversible if untreated,” said Pickersgill. Dr Mark Ellul, a specialist registrar in neurology based in Liverpool, said cases of nerve damage from Nitrous Oxide use were frequent. “I’d say as a unit we probably see a case every few weeks,” he said. “Most are young people, and many were previously unaware that the substance could be harmful. In some cases the effects can be quite severe and long-lasting.” While it is illegal in the UK to supply Nitrous Oxide for human consumption or to sell it to children, it is not illegal to possess the drug. Users often buy small silver canisters of the gas – known as whippits because of their original purpose as whipped cream chargers – and inhale it from a balloon. However, there are concerns that large canisters of the gas are becoming more common, with giant containers 80 times the size of whippits found in the streets of London after the Notting Hill carnival last weekend. The problem is country - wide, but especially bad locally. What do you think? Please Email me at

The photo above was taken in the summer of 1907 (click on it for a larger view), and shows how the residents of Edwardian Erith dealt with a heatwave similar to the one we recently experienced. The first public swimming baths in Erith was an outdoor one in Walnut Tree Road; the photo was taken during the opening ceremony on the 3rd of August 1907. The pool cost £700 to build and was sixty feet long by twenty five feet wide. The water was heated using the waste boiler heat from the adjacent Erith Power Station. Bearing in mind that in addition to the coal fired power station, the swimming baths were close to the livestock holding pens at Erith railway station. I would imagine the smell must have been eye watering at certain times!

Last week, Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association published the following announcement in respect of local people and bicycle security:- "Cycle security is always an issue with thefts from a variety of locations including the town centre, residential areas, and educational establishments. Commonly bicycles are either not secured or not secured properly, and this makes it easy for thieves. Where do they go? Number of places: - in a container abroad, to another part of the country, stored in premises or sold as either a cycle or cycle parts via the internet, or third parties. By taking some appropriate precautions and using good quality security products, and using them well, should help you to keep your property safe. Use the best security you can afford. Don't secure a £2,000 bicycle with a £20 lock! As a guide look to spend 10-15% of the value of the item on its security. Look for a “Sold Secure” certified chain and padlock or “D – Lock” preferably gold rated but certainly not below silver. Consider what you chain it to whether at home or whilst out, is that secure? Is it well overlooked to provide good natural surveillance? Make a note of the frame number, security mark the cycle, there are a number of different methods available such as or see Secured by Design accredited products. Take a photograph of the cycle and any areas of damage or marks of identification, and some insurance companies may require one with the owner in the picture with it. At home remove that first attraction to the thief or burglar: 1) don’t leave garage doors open for long periods showing your expensive cycle and other property, 2) consider a “Ground anchor” or “Shed shackle” within your shed or garage to secure your cycle to, 3) look at your shed or garages security and ensure you have good locks and that the hinges are protected, 4) consider a shed alarm,  5) if your home is limited for space outside consider a cycle storage unit, they are smaller than a shed. If you can its worth getting your children or grandchildren into good habits, keeping their bikes secure and not leaving them discarded on the front lawn or other, may save problems in the future".

Next weekend is the 2022 Erith Made festival.  You can read more about the festival, and the events that will be taking place by clicking here. You can download a full PDF programme of events happening that weekend by clicking here. The Erith Made festival is a real cultural and social highlight of the local calendar, and I would highly recommend you come along. For anyone who is interested, I will be making a small contribution to the festival, and the regular annual Open House event by running four history tours of the Carnegie Library in Walnut Tree Road, Erith. The tours, which last roughly an hour, will be held at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm on Saturday the 10th September. The tours are free, but I would ask that you book, as places are limited and tend to get taken up rather quickly. Click here to reserve your free place on a tour. More on the Erith Made festival in the short end video. 

The following subject will no doubt bring concern to many readers - I know that it does to me! By 2026 the call centre industry could save up to £80 billion by replacing humans with Artificial Intelligence chat bots, according to analysts at Gartner. Customer service companies are increasingly investing in conversational AI to chase those savings, safe in the knowledge that advances in natural language processing and text-to-speech models make it harder for people to detect whether they are interacting with a bot or not. That said, once humans start chatting to machines – by voice or instant messaging – discrepancies and other signs in the conversation can reveal the unreal nature of the non-person on the other end of the line or chat box. Contact centre operators aren't deterred by these limitations and expect the technology will only improve over time. Gartner estimated that there are approximately 17 million contact centres around the world, and together they will spend £2 billion in total on AI software by the end of this year. Daniel O'Connell, VP analyst at Gartner, said in an interview in technology news website The Register, that labour shortages are driving uptake of conversational AI. "Many organisations are challenged by agent staff shortages and the need to curtail labour expenses, which can represent up to 95 percent of contact centre costs. Conversational AI makes agents more efficient and effective, while also improving the customer experience," O'Connell said. Roughly ten percent of agent interactions will be performed by conversational AI by 2026, Gartner estimated. Today, around 1.6 per cent of interactions are automated. A mixture of text-based chatbots and fake voice bots will be increasingly deployed over the next few years, the analyst firm asserted. There are different stages for automation, O'Connell explained in the Register interview. While the technology improves, it may be beneficial for companies to only automate part of the process, such as the beginning of an interaction so that customer requests can be fielded to the appropriate agents. "While automating a full interaction – also known as call containment or deflection – corresponds to significant cost savings, there is also value in partial containment, such as automating the identification of a customer's name, policy number and reason for calling. Capturing this information using AI could reduce up to a third of the interaction time that would typically be supported by a human agent," he said. The pipeline to maintain and deploy conversational AI, however, can be tricky. Although automated technologies can replace customer service agents, companies will have to hire more technical staff to maintain the software. It will cost companies roughly £1,000 to £1,500 to pay for the support needed to prop up each conversational AI agent, in some cases that might rise to £2,000 per agent, Gartner estimated. "Implementing conversational AI requires expensive professional resources in areas such as data analytics, knowledge graphs and natural language understanding. Once built, the conversational AI capabilities must be continuously supported, updated and maintained, resulting in additional costs," O'Connell warned. Personally I think this will probably fail. Artificial Intelligence - however sophisticated - cannot replace human interactivity. What do you think? Email me at

The UK paper bank notes are about to cease being legal tender - something that many are unaware of. People are being urged to find any old £20 and £50 notes they may have sitting in piggy banks or stuck down the back of the sofa and use them before the end of the month. The Bank of England has a countdown on its website advising that these old paper notes will no longer be legal tender from September 30th. The Bank of England said in a recent announcement:- "If you have any paper £20 or £50 notes, we encourage you to use them or deposit them with your bank or Post Office before 30 September 2022. As paper notes are returned to the Bank of England, they are being replaced with the new polymer £20 notes featuring JMW Turner, and polymer £50 notes featuring Alan Turing. After 30th September, only our polymer notes will have legal tender status." In March, the bank said there were around £7 billion worth of old £20 notes and £10.5 billion worth of old £50 notes still in circulation. Following the deadline people will no longer be able to use the notes in shops or to pay businesses. After the September 30th deadline has passed, many UK banks will still accept withdrawn notes as deposits and some Post Offices may also accept them. The Bank of England will always exchange any withdrawn notes, including paper notes withdrawn in the past.

As mentioned earlier, the end video this week is a short piece about next week's forthcoming Erith Made festival. It features Lucy Fry from The Exchange, being interviewed by Saskia from Voice Magazine. Comments and feedback as always to me at

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