Sunday, October 30, 2022


Slightly out of my normal coverage area for the first article this week; Work to refurbish and extend the Tramshed arts centre in Woolwich is finally under way after a long delay due to the Covid pandemic. In 2019 it was confirmed that a new development to build a leisure centre on Woolwich New Road would include the complete renovation of the Woolwich Tramshed. Keeping the original Tramshed but giving it a facelift, plus creating more performance and studio spaces and to create a 160 seat theatre. This was considerably delayed due to Covid, and is only now being actioned. The trustees of the Tramshed describe the organisation thus:- "Tramshed is a theatre company and community arts hub based in the heart of Woolwich, South East London. We offer performing arts programmes for young people and for adults with learning differences. We prioritise artist development seeking to create career opportunities in the arts for our community. We are home to numerous and diverse community groups. We put on great shows for a first-class local night out. We believe that creative experiences can remove barriers between us, connect us and positively enrich our lives. We want to be the force for that change in our community - inspiring, challenging and entertaining people of all ages and from all backgrounds. We are a registered charity and our mission is to be the beating heart of our community and to use the arts as an agent for change. In 2019 we changed our name from the Greenwich and Lewisham Young People’s Theatre (GLYPT) to Tramshed, to reflect the work we do now and celebrate our venue the Tramshed in Woolwich as our forever home".  The Woolwich Tramshed is a listed building in the heart of Woolwich. The building was originally a generating station to provide power for the local Tram system between 1916 and 1953. It has had many uses since then but has primarily been a place for gathering and entertainment and today it’s no different (although it has definitely had a facelift!). The Tramshed has launched the careers of a number of actors, musicians and comedians, including Gareth Hale, Norman Pace, Max Wall, Billy Bragg and Warren Mitchell. In early 1987, The South of Deptford Comedy Club was founded and ran from the Tramshed, with early bills included ‘The Joan Collins Fan Club’ (Julian Clary), Harry Enfield and Craig Ferguson. 

A crime report published last week by Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association announced the following:- "On Wednesday 19th October the staff of Mum's Cafe, 36 Upper Wickham Lane, caught a man trying to steal a barrel of cooking oil from the rear of the Cafe. The man then tried to offer the staff money for the recycled oil.  The man was white, with brown/grey wavy hair and a beard. With the price of cooking oil increasing due to the war in Ukraine, it seems likely that this could be a new crime trend for restaurants". The attempted theft may not have been by someone looking to cook with the vegetable oil; there is another possible explanation. Many food outlets use large quantities of cooking oil, which is usually vegetable based. When it has become contaminated, they store it for collection by specialist cooking oil companies, who pay good money to get hold of the oil. Where’s the money on old cooking oil? I hear you ask; well, it makes excellent bio diesel. There is a general perception that cooking oil needs to be specially treated before it can be used in diesel engines. This is actually not true. You can empty a bottle of Mazola or whatever oil you fancy straight into the fuel tank of your diesel vehicle and it will work a treat. The only thing you need to do with old oil is filter out any particles or bits of food – as these can clog up the fuel injectors of the engine. Old fish frying oil actually smells of the chip shop when you burn it in a diesel engine. Some years ago Mercedes Benz commercial vehicle division did some tests on the use of vegetable oil versus conventional diesel in long term use as a fuel. They found that engines run on vegetable oil actually suffered significantly less wear and tear than those run on conventional diesel – this is not much of a surprise, as vegetable oil is a lubricant, and diesel is a solvent. Vegetable oil also has far lower levels of harmful particulates than Diesel, a factor of increasing importance nowadays. Vegetable oil has a lower energy density than diesel, so your miles per gallon does drop a bit, but the cost savings are so big that it makes it worthwhile. It is not illegal to power a road vehicle on old chip oil, as long as you have declared it to HM Revenue and Customs, filled in the relevant paperwork and paid the excise duty. One downside of this is that criminals are now stealing cans of old vegetable cooking oil from outside of restaurants in order to sell it for use as vehicle fuel. Obviously the crooks that are currently nicking cooking oil for use as fuel have no intention of declaring it to HM Revenue and Customs  – so if you see some shady looking characters in a van smelling of plaice and chips going past, be very suspicious…

I took the photo above yesterday in Bexleyheath Broadway; the glass fibre replica Supermarine Spitfire was part of a fund raising event on behalf of several military charities, including the Royal British Legion, Hope for Heroes and the Armed Forces Veterans Association. Apart from the Spitfire, there was a military brass band, a vintage Jeep and members of a World War 1 recreation group, all raising money for charity. There were also representatives from The Royal Engineers (based in Chatham) who were recruiting. It was an interesting event, but one that typically had very little prior publicity - a common problem for events in the borough. What do you think? Comments to me at

Now that we are upon Halloween, I have a story to tell you. I have told this once before, back in 2013, but I have gained a large number of readers since then, and in any case I think the story deserves a new airing. When it was originally published, it caused quite a stir amongst the radio enthusiast community. Unlike most Halloween horror stories, this one is absolutely true and totally verifiable. The photo above was taken by me in the summer of 1992. It shows the Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge, moored in the old Dover Western Commercial Dock - click on the photo above for a larger view. When still at sea, the ship had broken its' anchor chain during a heavy storm some months earlier and had drifted onto the Goodwin Sands, from where she was only the second ship in history to be successfully salvaged. She was taken to Dover, where a crew of Caroline staff and a lot of volunteers attempted to restore the ship after being continuously at sea for around nine years. She was cosmetically rough, but basically sound. I was still working for Radio Caroline at the time, and spent much of my time living on board. One gloriously sunny day, a magnificent fifty foot ocean going yacht sailed into the dock and moored, stern in, behind the Ross Revenge (to the right of the photo). The yacht was skippered by a young and very good looking chap who introduced himself as Rod. We invited him on board the Ross Revenge, and gave him a guided tour of the ship, compete with studios, transmitter room and the mess. Over the next week or so, we saw a lot of Rod; he had just sailed up from the Falkland Islands, where he had been chartering for a group from the National Geographic, making a documentary on the penguin population of the islands - he showed us some photos from the expedition, and they were very impressive. Opposite the dock was a local pub, used by the sailors and dock workers. The Caroline crew were regulars - the landlord was a big fan, and would invariably put "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond on the Karaoke, then sing the track - unfortunately he could not hold a tune in a bucket, and the end result was painful. The upside was we got lots of free drinks, and there were lock - ins several times a week. I recall several occasions when we returned to the ship as the sun rose over the ships' antenna masts, and on one particularly memorable occasion having the rather refreshed station manager in a wheelbarrow to get him back on board and into his bunk. Rod joined in with all this with vigour. We found out he was an ex army officer who had inherited a substantial amount of money upon the death of his parents, and he was making a living, travelling the world and hiring out his yacht for all sorts of adventures. This was nothing unusual for Radio Caroline - we tended to attract colourful and larger than life characters, and Rod was just the latest in a long line of individualists. One Sunday evening, we returned from the pub at about 11pm; Rod had promised to treat us to a traditional Sunday Roast, complete with all of the trimmings - he had spend hours preparing it, and we were all licking our lips in anticipation. We all followed him down the steps into the luxuriously appointed main cabin on his yacht - the vessel was obviously worth a fortune, but it was a seaworthy, working ship, not a rich playboy's toy. True to his word, Rod excelled himself, producing a very large and succulent joint of medium rare roast beef, which he carefully worked on with a large and very sharp carving knife, whilst we helped ourselves to roast potatoes, cabbage, shallots, carrots and home made gravy. The meal was a great success, and a really great shared memory of our time moored in Dover. The next day Rod popped over for a cup of coffee and a chat. He said he had plans to sail down to Gibraltar for a fashion photo shoot - the yacht was to be the backdrop. He asked me and a couple of the other Caroline crew if we would like a working holiday to help him crew the yacht on its' passage. There would be no pay as such, but he would buy each of us a return air flight. Myself and one other seriously considered it, but for various reasons had to regretfully decline. He said "no hard feelings - see you around". The next day his yacht was gone - he had left on the early morning tide. We were all a bit sad to see Rod go - he fitted in well with the Caroline crowd - we were all a bit eccentric and most definitely ploughed our own furrow. I recall a couple of days later, sitting in the Ross Revenge mess room eating my lunch (a cold roast beef, mustard and onion salad sandwich made from the leftovers of Sunday dinner, which Rod had generously given us) and watching the BBC lunchtime news. The headline story was a feature on how the Royal Navy had stopped a British ship in international waters and arrested the skipper; the video footage showed our very own Rod and his yacht - Rod was being manhandled and handcuffed by some very efficient and burly Royal Marines. The story went on to say the man, whose full name was Roderick Newall, was wanted by the Jersey Police for the murder of his mother and father! It came out in court that he had killed his parents in order to obtain a very large inheritance - you can read more about the case here. His brother was also found guilty of assisting the murders. Rod served thirteen years in prison for the double murder. What made it even worse was that there were very strong forensic indicators that the carving knife Rod had used to slice our delicious roast beef joint was the very same weapon used to dismember the corpses of his Mum and Dad. I could not make it up. Comments as always to me at the usual address -

Bexleyheath bus garage is home to what is thought to be a world first. A bus route in Bexleyheath is testing an electric double decker bus that is thought to be the world’s first to use a reverse pantograph to top up the batteries. The story can be read in full on the IanVisits website here. Transport for London (TfL) also made the following announcement about that new service, and another that is to start shortly:-"Two key South East London bus routes are being upgraded, in trial schemes designed to make London's bus fleet better for the environment and better for passengers. Route 132 (Bexleyheath-North Greenwich) is now running with 18 electric double-decker "pantobuses" which can be charged wirelessly using a pantograph positioned on the forecourt of Bexleyheath bus garage. Early next year, route 358 (Crystal Palace-Orpington) will start operating electric single-decker "trambuses" which will also be charged via pantographs - the lines running overhead that they'll be connected to. The first trambus destined for the 358 has now been built at its factory in San Sebastian, Spain by bus manufacturer Irizar and will shortly arrive in the UK. In total, 20 of the 'Irizar ie Tram' buses will be produced for the route".

At 12 metres long and with a tram-shaped body design, the buses are expected to meet TfL's most advanced safety standards and offer a comfortable, pleasant ride. Like the pantobuses, the trambuses will use a form of 'opportunity charging' to power up throughout the day, although unlike route 132, the pantographs which will recharge them will be placed at each end of the 358, at Crystal Palace bus station (under construction now) and Orpington station forecourt (work starts shortly). This allows TfL to save money as fewer buses will have to run empty from the route to the depot, which it can reinvest in improving the bus business elsewhere instead. It will also mean the buses will be lighter than conventional electric buses, reducing the amount of pollution / road wear from braking. Left-hand drive versions of the same vehicles are used in the French towns of Biarritz, Bayonne and Amiens, with articulated (or 'bendybus') versions of them too. Although the manufacturer called the model 'ie tram', the vehicles are not like trams we know in London. They have rubber tyres, running along the road, not on tracks and the driver is not physically separated from passengers in their cab. Iñigo Etxeberria, managing director of Irizar e-mobility, said in a recent interview:- "We are delighted that Go-Ahead, London's largest bus operator, has chosen our technology; this is a clear testament to the confidence placed in our products and proof of their quality and reliability. London is investing heavily in sustainable public transport solutions and we are honoured for Irizar e-mobility to play a part in this goal. Our technological race continues, and this operation will see our company launching the first super-fast charging route in London, complying with the high standards set by TfL."The released images reveal that the trambuses have comfortable leather-style seating with headrests, large tram-like windows, USB ports at each seat, 360 degree cameras instead of mirrors to improve safety and covered wheel protectors. They are of even a higher standard than the premium hi-tech buses being trialled on route 63. TfL's head of bus business development, Tom Cunnington, said in a recent interview:- "We don't expect the buses to be in service until early next year. Our first bus needs to go through comprehensive testing, it's a new technology and it [this model] is the first of it's type being built for the UK market. We have to make sure the infrastructure's in place, test it properly, driver training, and do everything else. While I'd love to have them in service now, we need to make sure it's truly ready for our customers."

A pioneer in early computing has recently died. Professor Kathleen Booth, one of the last of the early British computing pioneers, and the first woman to write and publish a book on computer programming has died. She was 100. Kathleen Hylda Valerie Britten was born in Worcestershire on July 9, 1922. During the Second World War, she studied at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she got a BSc in mathematics in 1944. After graduating, she became a junior scientific officer at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, a research organisation in Farnborough. Two years later she moved to Birkbeck College, first as a research assistant, and later a lecturer and then research fellow. She also worked at the British Rubber Producers' Research Association (BRPRA), where she met and worked with mathematician and physicist Andrew Donald Booth, who later became her husband. After studying with X-ray crystallographer Professor J D Bernal – inventor of the Bernal Sphere – A D Booth was working out crystal structures using X-ray diffraction data, and finding the manual calculations very tedious; he built an analogue computer to automate part of this. In 1946, Britten and Booth collaborated at Birkbeck on a very early digital computer, the Automatic Relay Calculator (ARC), and in doing so founded what is now Birkbeck's Department of Computer Science and Information Systems. The ARC was constructed in Welwyn Garden City, close to the BRPRA's headquarters. A D Booth designed it, but Kathleen Britten and her fellow research assistant Xenia Sweeting built the hardware. Bernal obtained funding from the Rockefeller Foundation for Booth and Britten to visit the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, where Booth reported that only Bernal's friend John von Neumann gave them any time. Von Neumann explained his concept of what is now called the von Neumann computer architecture, which most modern computers use today. In 1950, Kathleen and Andrew married, the same year that she got a PhD in applied mathematics, again from the University of London. To secure further funding for their work, the Booths again went to the Rockefeller Foundation, which provided it on condition that the APE(C)X worked with human languages as well as just mathematics. The result was a demonstration of machine translation in November 1955. As well as building the hardware for the first machines, she wrote all the software for the ARC2 and SEC machines, in the process inventing what she called "Contracted Notation" and would later be known as Assembly Language. Her 1958 book, Programming for an Automatic Digital Calculator, may have been the first one on programming written by a woman. The same year, she started working with neural networks, also the subject of her last paper, "Using neural nets to identify marine mammals", co-written with her son Dr Ian J M Booth and published in 1993. The Booth family moved to Canada in the early 1960s, where Kathleen and Andrew continued working in academia; she retired in the late 1970s. 

The end video this week features a short film on the opening of Bond Street Station on the Elizabeth Line, by transport Vlogger Jago Hazzard. Comments to me at

No comments:

Post a Comment