Sunday, September 11, 2022


As regular readers will be aware, it is not my custom to comment on stories of national interest; the reason for this is that the professional reporters of the press, web and TV do a far better job than I could; also I do not see the point of repeating details of news items that have been published elsewhere. Following the momentous, historic events of the past few days I have decided to just post a photograph above that I took yesterday in Morrison's in Erith. I have criticised the store on several occasions in the past, but this time I feel that their tribute to the late Queen is simple, tasteful and entirely appropriate.  Contact me with your thoughts to

The first day of the Erith Made 2022 festival was a great success. Events took place in several venues around Erith, as you will see by clicking here for a full list, I spent Saturday in the Exchange at the old Carnegie library in Walnut Tree Road. Several events took place there including a yoga workshop, a dog show, an art class for children showing them how to make their own post cards, a stand-up comic, a DJ and a live band. In addition to this, I undertook four guided tours showing visitors the history of both the old library and the local area, including several historical facts that are very little known to many people. The event was extremely well attended throughout the day and into the evening. Today is the second day of the festival and many further events are taking place in and around. Erith. I've heard it said several times that the local area has little sense of community. I believe this to be untrue as can be shown by the high level of attendance and engagement by visitors to the various events held over this weekend. What do you think? Email me at

This week marks the thirtieth anniversary of the launch of a recording media format that has now been largely forgotten. The MiniDisc. MiniDiscs were very popular in Japan and found moderate success in Europe; although it was designed to be the successor of the analogue cassette tape, it did not manage to mass replace it globally. Sony's MiniDisc was one of two rival digital systems, both introduced in 1992, that were targeted as replacements for the Philips Compact Cassette analog audio tape system: the other was the Digital Compact Cassette (DCC), created by Philips and Matsushita (now Panasonic). Sony had originally intended the Digital Audio Tape (DAT) to be the dominant home digital audio recording format, replacing the analog cassette. Because of technical delays, the DAT was not launched until 1989, and by then the U.S. dollar had fallen so far against the yen that the introductory DAT machine Sony had intended to market for about £400 in the late 1980s now had to retail for £800 or even £1000 to break even, putting it out of reach of most users. Relegating DAT to professional use, Sony set to work to come up with a simpler, more economical digital home format. By the time Sony came up with the MiniDisc in late 1992, Philips had introduced a competing system, DCC, on a magnetic tape cassette. This created marketing confusion very similar to the videocassette format war of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Sony licensed MD technology to other manufacturers, with JVC, Sharp, Pioneer, Panasonic and others producing their own MD products. However, non-Sony machines were not widely available in North America, and companies such as Technics and Radio Shack tended to promote DCC instead. The MiniDisc was relatively popular in Japan and the United Kingdom during the 1990s, but did not enjoy comparable sales in other world markets. The MiniDisc format began as a research project in the labs of electronics giant Sony in the early 1990s. In those pre-iPod, pre-flash memory days, engineers were struggling with the problem of how to make music portable. Sony was riding high on the success of their Walkman analogue cassette players, which had come to dominate the market in the 1980s. But they were bumping up against the limits of the media: both cassette tape and CD Walkman devices really could not get any smaller, because the medium itself was the limiting factor. Devices like the cassette tape Walkman WM-EX88 and the CD D-J50 were not much bigger than the cases that the cassette tape and CD were stored in: they literally could not get much smaller and still hold the tape or CD. What was needed, Sony decided, was a new way to store music. This new format was the MiniDisc. This development was spurred by two inventions: a new audio compression format called ATRAC and a storage system called the magneto-optical disc. The Adaptive Transform Acoustic Codec (ATRAC) was developed by Sony engineers who figured out an important fact: your ears are good, but not that good. They are attuned to picking up certain sounds better than others. Specifically, if there are two sounds at similar frequencies, your ear can’t separate the two. This is especially true of high frequencies: our ears are more attuned to picking out low frequencies like the rustle of a tiger in a nearby tree. At higher frequencies, your ear is not able to pick out the details. So, what ATRAC does is to effectively lump these frequencies together, losing the specific details that your ear can’t hear anyway. (That’s the theory, at least; audiophiles will argue otherwise, but let’s leave that aside for the moment). ATRAC breaks the sound down into 24 frequency bands, and selectively compresses the sound, with smaller bands (that preserve more of the detail) at lower and middle frequencies, but losing a lot in the high bands. There is much more to the process than that (you can read all of the details here - trust me, it is extremely technical), but the end product is that it compresses the sound down so that the ATRAC version is one fifth of the size of the CD version. Each disc could hold 74 or 80 minutes of music, although this could be expanded with later models that could compress the music more to hold up to 320 minutes. The first MiniDisc players were launched in 1992, accompanied by a large advertising campaign touting the benefits of the new format. Initially, Sony tried to pitch it as an alternative to CD, a new format where you would buy albums on a MiniDisc. The first pre-recorded album was Emotions by Mariah Carey, which was perhaps indicative of the state of mind at Sony after the launch was a spectacular failure, with Sony reportedly selling less than 50,000 players in the first year. The MiniDisc never caught on as a pre-recorded music format, as CDs were the music format that everyone used. Never ones to admit defeat, Sony decided to try again in 1996. This time, they decided to play up the recordable and reusable aspects of MiniDisc, touting their new discs and portable players as being tougher, better and cooler than CD or tape, because you could easily move tracks from CD or tape to MiniDisc, then skip or shuffle tracks on the player. This relaunch met with some success: the MiniDisc players were lighter and more flexible than CD players, and they offered the skip protection and shuffle play features that cassette tape players were missing. Other manufacturers (such as Aiwa and Sharp) supported the format and started offering recorders and players. The new breed of portable MiniDisc players could record music directly from the digital output of a CD player, so the quality was great. You could also sacrifice quality for more music, storing up to 320 minutes of audio on those that supported the higher compression levels. One niche market that loved the MiniDisc were radio journalists. The aforementioned ability to write to MiniDiscs meant that you could record to them with many portable MiniDisc devices, and the ATRAC compression worked extremely well for voices and ambient sound recordings. It didn’t have quite the premium audio quality of DAT (Digital Audio Tape), but it was cheaper and more reliable than the notoriously mechanically finicky DAT recorders. The game was soon up, however, when Apple announced the iPod. The benefits of the iPod over the MiniDisc were obvious: the first iPods offered 5GB of capacity that meant up to 1000 songs, or hundreds of hours of music, while each MiniDisc held just 320 minutes at most. And the iPod didn’t ask where the music came from, or limit how you could copy it: it accepted most MP3 files without complaint or limitation. This caused a seismic shift in this industry: the iPod went on to sell millions, while the MiniDisc remained a niche product that was loved by some, but ignored by most. The writing was on the wall. The MiniDisc format lost ground over the early 2000s as MP3 players got better and better. Even the uniqueness of MiniDisc being able to record audio on the player was lost, as solid state recording devices started offering more flexible recording and editing features than MiniDisc ever could for professional users. The Minidisc format was discontinued by Sony in early 2013, though many fan sites and third party resources are still available for a product that never really made it out of a niche.

The photo above was taken back in 1995, when the Erith Deep Water Wharf was closed, and prior to the start of the redevelopment of the area. No Wharfside Close, and no Aveley Close, and no riverside retirement apartments behind the Cross Keys. As I have written in the past, one of the most underused and overlooked assets that Erith has is the pier. Erith Pier is the longest pier on the River Thames. It was originally constructed for commercial use for the unloading of goods from cargo ships that used to moor at the pier. Most of the cargo were large reels of blank newsprint for what was then Fleet Street and the newspaper printers. Erith Deep Water Wharf provided many local jobs for years, but as container ports such as Tilbury took over, the wharf became less popular with shipping companies, and it was closed down – it remained empty for a number of years. Back in 1998 work started to convert the former wharf into what is now Morrison’s supermarket and the aforementioned pleasure pier, which opened to the public in 1999.

A new Micro Pub has just been announced as the winner of the 2022 Bexley CAMRA Pub of the Year. The Long Haul on Long Lane in Bexleyheath which first opened on August 28, 2020. Abandoned sweet shops, butchers premises, pet shops and hairdressing salons to name but a few are finding a new lease of life as micro-pubs; typically one-room premises newly licensed as free-houses serving mainly cask ales and real ciders. Shunning most forms of electronic entertainment (wifi and a little background music aside), the micro-pub offers patrons a place to enjoy a tipple in an environment where conversation is king, and traditional pub snacks often locally produced, are the ideal drinking companion. According to the Micropub Association’s definition, a micropub is a “small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks”. In other words, being a micropub as the Association defines it isn’t just about scale; it’s about recreating what many would view as the ‘traditional’ British pub experience that intuitively should be in decline. So, what has driven this trend-defying surge in tiny traditional pubs? The 2003 Licensing Act has undoubtedly played a key role, making it easier to open a pub in previously-unlicensed premises. While a large number have opened in empty high street shops, others have sprung up in more unlikely venues, such as train stations, post offices, disused industrial buildings, former butchers’ shops, pet grooming parlours and even undertakers. Progressive Beer Duty, introduced in 2002, and the increase in the number of microbreweries and real ales available, have also helped, as has the fact that most micropubs operate below the £83,000 VAT threshold. The start-up costs are also minimal compared to a lot of small businesses, ranging from £3,000 to £30,000. Many are set up by husband and wife teams, community groups, or entrepreneurs. Bexley has a number of other micropubs - the Bird and Barrel, run by Bexley Brewery, the Kentish Belle adjacent to Bexleyheath Station, and twelve others - you can see a full list, along with photographs by clicking here. What do you think? Email me at

I have been copied into a number of email threads over the last week; the subject of the messages is concern over a group of homeless people in and around Erith Town Centre. I, along with many other people have observed them over several months, in particular one man who seems to semi permanently live in the doorway of Bank Chambers, as can be seen in the photo above - incidentally I waited until he was not around to take the photo, as I wanted to preserve at least some semblance of his privacy. Local Councillor Nicola Taylor is aware of the situation, and I believe that she is currently investigating. More on this in the future. 

The end video this week features TV historian Dan Snow and the Vickers Maxim machine gun. The guns were made in both Fraser Road, Erith, and later in Crayford.

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