Sunday, August 14, 2022

Armadillo.

 
I was walking eastwards along the industrial section of Manor Road in Erith on Monday evening, when I noticed that what had been a large and sprawling industrial estate had been demolished. The area was flat earth. I have asked one local councillor as to whether housing is to be built on the site, but at present the future of the former industrial estate is somewhat unclear. What did grab my attention? Was it the security technology employed by the developer on the site instead of having a security guard patrolling with a dog? A number of security robots were deployed on the site, as you'll see from the photo above. Please click on it to see a larger version. The particular security robot in the photograph is known as a PID Armadillo. They are designed to deter trespassers and intruders to industrial areas and building sites. They are equipped with an array of sensors which can detect the presence of unauthorised persons in the vicinity of the robot. They can then issue warnings and in some cases even send an automated call to police and emergency services. The PID Armadillo has been around for a couple of years, but to my knowledge it is the first time that the high technology guarding system has been deployed within the London Borough of Bexley. The company that manufactures the Armadillo describes the product as follows:- "PID Systems is best known for its core product, the Armadillo VideoGuard 360 intrusion detection camera. Providing an industry-first security solution for instant deployment across a variety of asset protection assignments, we’re the market leader in temporary site security. These sectors include: Construction site security / Civil engineering site security / Utility sector security / Vacant property security / Retail security.The Armadillo VideoGuard 360 is our armoured, rapid deployment unit which features a fully encrypted loT visually verified operating system, with DM-Top loader matrix which enables ultrafast 3-4G data package uploads. VideoGuard 360® units work remotely, communicating via mobile networks with a built-in battery life of up to 4 years. Known for their prominent visual appearance, 360° viewing angle and vocal warning system, the Armadillo VideoGuard 360 deters thieves from breaking and entering into your site. Considered as one of the top crime deterrents in the country, our VideoGuard 360 units are more commonly known as robots for their imposing presence". Comments to me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


Following my article on the protest by the far right Neo Nazi group Patriotic Alternative demonstrating outside Bexleyheath Library two weeks ago, a fascinating article was published in the Guardian this week - click here to read it

Apart from Hall Place, The Crossness pumping station, and (arguably) Abbey Ruins, our part of South East London / North Kent does not appear to have many historic buildings when one compares to other parts of Greater London. Some years ago, I visited one place that more than lives up to the description of Stately Home, yet is often overlooked as a place worthy of a day’s visit. I am referring to Eltham Palace, home during the 1930’s of the multi millionaire Courtauld family. The palace is hidden away, only a couple of hundred yards from the middle of Eltham High Street. It sits, surrounded by a moat, in eleven acres of gardens. Back when I visited, I was astonished at the place. It is actually two distinct structures that have been skilfully (and tastefully) combined. The oldest part of the building is a 14th Century Great Hall, which was boyhood home to Henry VIII. The hall is now attached to a house, finished in 1936 which is one of the most impressive Art Deco buildings in the entire UK. You enter the building and are immediately amazed by the domed, circular entrance hall – a room that is so striking and unusual that it has featured as the location in a number of TV programmes and music videos, A while ago it was used by Florence and the Machine in the video for their song “Shake it out” and by Cheryl Cole and her track "Parachute". The walls are covered in wood laminate that has elaborate inlays depicting a number of stylised art deco figures. The rest of the house is just as impressive; in its’ time it was the most modern and high tech residence in the UK. It had a number of firsts – it was the first house in the country to be heated exclusively by electricity, it was the first to have integrated wet rooms, rather than ordinary bathrooms (something copied from Courtauld’s frequent trips to Hollywood), and it was extremely unusual in having multiple telephones, not only in the family rooms, but in most of the guest bedrooms. At the time, even very wealthy households generally had a single telephone which was customarily answered either by the butler, or the head footman. Eltham Palace also broke new ground in that it had an integrated electric time keeping system. Each main room has an embedded electrical clock, which was synchronised with radio pulses, originally sent from Crystal Palace. All in all it was absolutely state of the art when it was opened in 1936. What is strange is that one would expect the art deco 1930’s part of the building to clash with the 14th century great hall to which it is attached; yet the two parts, separated by the centuries actually mesh and complement each other surprisingly well. I would strongly urge you to visit the palace, which nowadays is run by English Heritage. When I visited some years ago, the palace was hosting a specialist Art Deco antiques fair. The goods on display were very high end, and not the kind of thing one might be able to pick up in a charity shop on a good day. I was looking at a geometric lilac coloured glass light, suitable for display in a cabinet; the thing was only about six inches square, and ten inches high. I looked at the label, which explained that it was made in Germany in 1934. Intrigued, I turned the label over, thinking that if the price was right, I might put in an offer to the dealer. The price quoted was £950. Even with a lot of haggling it was way more than my pockets could stand. Undeterred, I took an interest in a dining table with four matching chairs, all in “as new” condition. The description said it had been made in England in 1932. A very nice set indeed – until I glanced at the price - £3,500! What was more astonishing was that many of the items offered by the dealers were already showing “Sold” stickers; the market for high quality Art Deco goods was strong.

At this time of year, so many people seem to carry around a bottle of water; when the weather is hot, this seems like a sensible move. What I find very hard to understand is that rather than carrying an individual bottle containing up to half a litre, I see many people carrying 1.5 or even two litre bottles of water. Are they really planning on drinking that much? What will happen when they need to use the loo, and as we know, the number of public toilets in the UK has been cut back to almost nothing. Back in August 2015, the then Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to do more to save Britain's dwindling number of public lavatories. The Prime Minister said he would examine the case for lifting thousands of pounds of taxes from them every year to try to save them from closure, though this ultimately proved ineffective. The search for public toilets in towns and cities has become more and more desperate in recent years because the number of lavatories has fallen markedly. Campaigners say that many have had to be closed because of councils have to pay onerous business rates on them. The British Toilet Association has estimated that 40 per cent of local authority run public conveniences have disappeared in the last decade, taking the number down from 12,000 to 6,000, in part because councils have to pay business rates on them. The Daily Telegraph reported that Public toilets have traditionally been liable for business rates in the same way as non-domestic premises such as shops and offices, while churches and premises used to care for disabled people are exempt. Raymond Martin, managing director of The British Toilet Association, said: “This is a public facility. People have to go to the toilet. We have to do five things in life – we have to eat, sleep, breathe, drink and we have to go to the toilet. Failure to go to the toilet we get sick, we get disorientated, we have high blood pressure, we can have strokes – this is a health and wellbeing issue. It is about equality, social inclusion and bringing more older people into town. The reason that toilets are closing is councils do not get any financial support from government to do it, so they have to sit down and look at costs. I have calls coming into me from councils saying ‘how do we close down all our toilets’. Councils really want to provide these facilities, they really want to have them but commercially and economically they can't afford to do it. The fall in numbers of public lavatories meant more and more shop owners are complaining about people urinating in the street, and worse". What do you think? Please email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


The drought has hit the new Pier Gardens project, adjacent to Erith Pier. The garden is going to need to have around half of the shrubs and trees replaced - some of which were already dead when they were planted. This is a great pity, as the garden could be nice - even if it was delivered over four months late - and some work still needs to be finalised, on top of the replacement of the dead plants. 

This might sound like something really technical and irrelevant to the general public, but if it is not addressed in the correct manner, it could come back to adversely affect just about everyone. Power Line Telecommunications (PLT) is a technology that allows data to be transmitted over a standard domestic or business power grid – basically using the electrical wiring in a building to run a computer network. It can also be used to transmit data over longer distances using the national grid. This sounds absolutely great – whilst Wi Fi is good, it is limited in range and often has problems penetrating thick walls and structural steel beams. Running RJ45 Ethernet cable can be a problem in a domestic or small business environment. So if an option becomes available to use the power line infrastructure to carry the data, it would seem to be a win / win scenario. Except that it is not. The adaptors that inject the data signal into the power lines also generate RF (Radio Frequency) signals, which then propagate via the cabling – which acts as an antenna - some PLT systems have effective filtering to minimise this, but many do not. Radio Hams have been complaining as their particular set of H.F radio frequencies (1.8 to 30MHz) are one of the worst affected with radio interference. Well, you may think, who cares if a small bunch of beardy anoraks suffer from a bit of interference?  The trouble is several fold. The H.F bands are not just home to Hams, but are shared with aircraft, ships at sea, the military, diplomatic services, as well as international shortwave broadcasting stations, the number of which is currently increasing to broadcast to Ukraine and Russia regarding the illegal Russian invasion. Any interference to these services can potentially lead to risk to life. In the event of natural disaster, radio is one of the few methods of communication that will get through when the normal infrastructure is damaged or out of commission. It just seems that OFCOM are pretty toothless when dealing with any threat to the radio spectrum – they certainly don’t have the appetite for a fight that the old DTI Radio Investigation Service had – I should know, they tried to feel my collar on a number of occasions, when I was still a poacher, rather than a gamekeeper now. The Power Line Telecommunications radio interference story looks like it will run and run.


I originally wrote at some length about the following phenomenon back in February; coincidentally the practice seemed to tail off not long afterwards, only to begin again recently. Have you recently received an unexpected letter through your front door that was addressed to "dear neighbour" or "dear friend"? If so, this is part of a process that began in the USA, and has now spread to the UK. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions that we have all undergone over the last couple of years, a number of organisations have taken to promoting themselves in what we might consider to be old-fashioned methods. The letters that I am referring to are written by hand and posted by members of the Jehovah's Witnesses. They rationalise that as they are unable to go door to door preaching, or handing out leaflets in the street as has been their practice for many years, they are reverting to traditional postal letters to individuals. Jehovah's Witnesses are best known for their door-to-door preaching, distributing literature such as The Watchtower and Awake!, and for refusing military service and blood transfusions. They consider the use of God's name vital for proper worship. They reject Trinitarianism, inherent immortality of the soul, and hellfire, which they consider to be unscriptural doctrines. They do not observe Christmas, Easter, birthdays or other holidays and customs they consider to have pagan origins incompatible with Christianity. The Jehovah's Witnesses seemingly target random addresses, though on occasion, they have been known to send handwritten letters to every house or apartment in a street. I received the letter above in the post on Tuesday morning. I must admit seeing an envelope with a handwritten address on it surprised me, as I'm pretty sure that I don't know anybody who sends handwritten letters nowadays - actually I do know one person but that is a story for another time. I would guess that for many people seeing a handwritten address on an envelope would very much encourage them to open and read the contents, as they were probably think it was from an old friend. I have heard many reports that recipients of these letters have been shocked and worried when they read the letter inside, whilst the exact contents of each letter can vary, they all share similar themes. Similar themes. The writer of the letter usually refers to the COVID-19 pandemic being as a result of not obeying God's will, and that the letter recipient can only become immune from the infection by joining the Jehovah's Witnesses, or similar claims. It has been the case that recipients of these handwritten letters are concerned as to how that Jehovah's Witnesses got got addresses. It would appear that they are not using the electoral register or other database, as whilst the letters have an address, they do not have a personalised recipient name. They are merely addressed as "dear friend" or "dear neighbour". What is also interesting is that the people that are writing these letters must put a huge amount of effort into it. Each letter is usually an A4 sheet of paper completely filled with writing; these letters are not photocopied or printed, they are completely handwritten - each letter would take 20 to 30 minutes to write. This is a huge level of time, investment and dedication by the writer. I am not aware of any laws being broken by the Jehovah's Witnesses in writing and sending these letters, but it does strike me that vulnerable individuals may well find receiving such a letter to be stressful and worrying. Personally, I am of the opinion that people should be able to do, think and believe pretty much anything that they wish to with the caveat that they do not cause harm, irritation or distress to others. I find the Jehovah's witnesses to be somewhat curious, but essentially I feel that they should be allowed to do what they wish to do. My concern is when they evangelize and try to influence people from outside of their group. If they were to keep themselves to themselves, I would think them a bit bonkers, but entitled to their beliefs. The fact that they are so intrusive in their evangelising causes me much concern. I'm certain I'm not the only person with this opinion. The fact that the church is now using this rather old-fashioned method of communication does strike me as somewhat odd. How successful this letter writing campaign will actually prove to be is currently unknown. What do you think of this? Have you received a handwritten letter? Do let me know by emailing me at the usual address - hugh.neal@gmail.com.

The end video this week is a short, time lapse film that follows the recently introduced 180 bus route, from its starting point opposite the entrance of The Quarry housing estate in Fraser Road, Erith, to its termination point in North Greenwich. I would however strongly advise that you turn the sound down, or remove your headphones when watching the video, as the choice of accompanying music is in my opinion somewhat less than optimal.