Sunday, June 13, 2021

Elegance Lounge?


It would appear that Bexleyheath is shortly to get a new nightclub. As you can see in the photo above (click on it to see a larger view), the former - and very troubled - Chinese restaurant site at 167 Broadway, which has in the past been the location for a bar, prior to that it was a supermarket, and much before that it was a cinema. The Elegance Lounge seems to be pitching itelf very much as an upmarket, aspirational venue; it describes itself thus:- "Elegance Lounge is the newly refurbished lounge bar located in Bexleyheath Broadway, with its elegant ambience and comfortable surroundings Elegance Lounge provides a stylish yet current place to enjoy with friends". The venue is aimed at over 25 year olds, and will have a smart dress policy. In its desire to appeal to an upmarket (that is, wealthy) clientele, The Elegance Lounge states that it will be operating a series of VIP booths, which can be booked in advance. The price to hire these booths is pretty eye watering - costs range from £450 to £1000 a booth for one evening. You can see details of these booths and how they can be booked by clicking here. To be honest I am struggling to understand the market the new venue is trying to capture. The prices that they are pitching at are the kind you would find in the West End of London, where there are a large number of high net worth individuals - footballers, Russian oligarchs, Arab oil magnates and the like. Bexleyheath is not exactly Knightsbridge or Mayfair; I think the owners may well be pitching the Elegance Lounge somewhat at an audience that does not really exist locally. I am keen to promote and support local businesses, but I do wonder if the Elegance Lounge may be overreaching itself. The venue is due to open for the first time on Friday the 25th of June - I would imagine that this will be dependent on whether Covid-19 lock down is suspended on the 21st of June - something that currently is looking very unlikely. The Elegance Lounge has announced that:- "Friday 25th June and Saturday  26th June - Over 25's. We have secured a selection of London’s top DJ’s to play on constant rotation every weekend! Joining our resident Jesse James we have Rob Crouch, Vinny P, Tommy Sanwell and Glenn Lee. Music policy will be the very finest funky and soulful house,  garage anthems and club classics". What do you think? Is this just what you have been looking for? Do you feel that there is a need for the new venue? Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

I found out something interesting and a little bit bizarre about Woolwich when carrying out some research on the area for another article; it was the home to a fascinating, if ultimately doomed engineering venture. The Auto Stacker in Woolwich was meant to be an engineering and automotive first, when it was constructed in 1960 / 61. It was meant to be the first entirely automated, mechanical stacking car park in the United Kingdom. The Auto Stacker was an automated system for parking cars, and effectively an automated multi-storey car park, using a combination of conveyor belts, lifts and dollies to move vehicles from ground level to one of 256 car park spaces. It was situated above a car showroom, workshop and petrol station on Beresford Street, on the site of the former Empire Theatre. Being situated along the A206 road, close to Woolwich market (Beresford Square) and the town's main shopping street (Powis Street), it was thought that the Auto Stacker, along with the introduction of parking meters, would solve the town's parking problems. The eight-storey Auto Stacker was designed by T. and P. Braddock and built by Mitchell Engineering Company, in collaboration with Shell-Mex and BP. The idea was that the entire facility could be operated by a single person in a control booth near the entrance. At the touch of a button, a car would be magically carried away to its’ parking bay with no intervention by the driver. The Auto Stacker was designed to hold 256 cars; it was anticipated that it would solve the car parking problems in Woolwich town centre for years to come. The whole construction project ended up costing somewhat in excess of £100,000 – a lot of money in the early 1960’s. The ground floor of the building housed a car sales showroom and a garage workshop, with a petrol station forecourt to the front. The idea was that the driver wishing to park their car in the Auto Stacker would drive onto a conveyor belt in front of one of four vehicle lifts, then leave it. The car would then be automatically moved into a stacked storage bay on one of the floors above – all remotely controlled by an operator in a small booth on the ground floor. When the driver returned, and wanted their car back, he would pay a fee, and then be presented with a Yale type key, which would be inserted into a console, returning the car from whence it came. The Auto Stacker was ceremonially opened by Princess Margaret on the 11th May 1961 – she was to have “stacked” a van specially donated by Dagenham Motors for the purpose. The operation was a complete failure – a couple of assistants ended up having to manually push the van into the parking space. This was merely an omen of what was to come. The Auto Stacker never worked properly, and a year later, after much unsuccessful remedial engineering work, the then newly formed London Borough of Greenwich pulled the plug on the project, and the whole structure was demolished at an additional expense of £60,000. The whole affair was a great embarrassment to all concerned, and effectively ended the development of mechanically automated car parks in the United Kingdom for decades.

Yesterday – Saturday the 12th of June was Record Store Day 2021. Record Store Day is the one day of the year when over 200 independent record shops all across the UK come together to celebrate their unique culture. Special vinyl releases are made exclusively for the day and many shops and cities host artist performances and events to mark the occasion. Thousands more shops celebrate the day around the globe in what’s become one of the biggest annual events on the music calendar. Record Store Day is the annual event that celebrates the unique culture of independent record stores and the art of vinyl. Now in its 14th year, it is often described as the catalyst behind the vinyl revival. When Record Store Day first began in 2007, only 75,000 vinyl albums were sold in the UK, but jump ahead to 2020, that number has rocketed to over 5m units and over £110 million in value. Vinyl continues to enjoy it 13th consecutive year of growth in the UK with sales in January to May of this year alone topping more than 1.8m vinyl albums and surpassing a spend of over £40 million – that is up over 46 percent compared with 2020. This surge is most likely being driven by a nation being locked inside and having more time than ever before to reconnect with the art and music they love. The trend is looking likely to continue too – as more and more people are investing in turntables and more advanced audio equipment at home. Locally we still have long established independent record dealer Cruisin’ Records in Welling. I recall visiting the shop in the 1980’s – it held a bewildering variety of stock, from pretty much every musical genre; at the time it leaned towards jazz funk and soul, and I can recall hearing adverts for the shop on several dance themed pirate radio stations at the time. Erith used to have an independent record shop, which was part of a small chain – T.W Records was located on what is now the site of the cab office on the junction of Pier Road and Cross Street. It was a strange place, managed by a person of (to me anyway) indeterminate gender. I never really worked out whether they were he or she, or perhaps somewhere in between (the public profile of transgender people back then was pretty low). They were not exactly unfriendly, more distant and uninterested – well, that was my impression anyway. The shop was on split levels, with most chart singles and albums on the lower tier, and the more obscure genres, along with a couple of slot machines, and the cash desk were on the upper tier. What anyone who ever visited the place always recalls is the ceiling, which was remarkable – giant purple plaster stalactites hung down, almost reaching head height when you were on the upper tier – they had been there for as long as I could recall. T.W Records also had a shop in Bexleyheath, near the clock tower, where the Furze Wren is now located, as well as a third in Plumstead High Street, though I never visited that branch. The Bexleyheath shop also housed a small cafe, that constantly seemed busy, though I reckon some of their customers nursed a cup of tea and a bacon sarnie for hours. It was a much more conventional looking shop, but both the Erith and Bexleyheath stores had one thing in common – it was widely known that they were both chart return shops. They had special tills that monitored record sales that fed into the weekly record chart. It was meant to be secret, but pretty much everyone – including the record company sales reps knew which shops were chart return, and always made sure that rarities, picture disks and other items desirable to collectors would make their way to those outlets. I recall that the Erith branch would often have large promotional displays in the window, which were left lit up at night, the glow from these would reflect off the purple stalactites to give an eerie atmosphere – very surreal stuff. A pity that the shops are long gone  – but at least Cruisin’ Records in Welling are carrying on the tradition. What do you think? Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

This week marks a rather unusual tenth anniversary; a new and revolutionary computer worm that was doing the rounds, and whose existence was finally revealed to the public in June 2011. The difference between it and pretty much any other piece of computer malware, was that on 99.9 percent of computers it infected, it did absolutely nothing; it just lay dormant, and eventually wiped itself from the machine automatically. On a tiny number of PC's connected to a specific piece of industrial machinery however, it wreaked havoc, whilst indicating to the user that everything was just fine and dandy. By the time the user discovered that the computer was deceiving them, millions of dollars of intentional, irreparable damage had been done. The industrial equipment was a specific type of gas centrifuge which is solely used for the production and purification of weapons grade Plutonium. It is thought that Stuxnet was created and deployed in order to sabotage the Iranian nuclear weapons programme. The Stuxnet computer worm is the first widely successful weaponised software code. Stuxnet specifically targets programmable logic controllers (PLCs), which allow the automation of electromechanical processes such as those used to control machinery and industrial processes including gas centrifuges for separating nuclear material. Exploiting four zero-day flaws, Stuxnet functions by targeting machines using the Microsoft Windows operating system and networks, then seeking out Siemens Step7 software. Stuxnet reportedly compromised Iranian PLCs, collecting information on industrial systems and causing the fast-spinning centrifuges to tear themselves apart. Stuxnet's design and architecture are not domain-specific and it could be tailored as a platform for attacking modern SCADA and PLC systems (e.g., in factory assembly lines or power plants), most of which are in Europe, Japan, and the US Stuxnet reportedly ruined almost one-fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges. Targeting industrial control systems, the worm infected over 200,000 computers and caused 1,000 machines to physically degrade.

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. The format this week (and possibly in the future) is somewhat different, as the individual ward reports from the various Police Safer Neighbourhood Teams are entirely absent from the latest Police submission, something I feel is a retrograde step. I know that the BBNWA management have been in discussion with Bexley Police about the whole area of ward weekly reports. I hope that a satisfactory outcome can be achieved sooner rather than later. Instead I am publishing some other, relevant information from the Police in relation to local law and order issues. This week a couple of reports from From Mick Chattenton - Acting Superintendent - Neighbourhoods for Bexley:- "County Lines - On Thursday we announced the results of our participation in the latest national county lines intensification week. Officers across the Met safeguarded more than 240 children and vulnerable adults who had been exploited into drug trafficking. A total of 190 arrests were made and the following was seized throughout various operations: - 8kg of Class A drugs - More than 11kg of Class B drugs - Four firearms, two imitation firearms, ammunition and a CS spray - 17 knives and one axe. Throughout the week of activity 27 drug lines running from London to the home counties were also shut down. This includes removing the mobile phone and the line holder. There is an inextricable link between drugs and violence on the streets of London. That is why tackling drug supply in all its forms remains an absolute priority for us. Police dog stabbed - One of our police dogs has been badly injured and his handler is facing weeks off work following a knife attack in south London. Police Dog Kaiser was on patrol with his handler PC Mark Woolcott on Sunday, 30 May when they were called to reports of an intruder in a back garden in Orpington. The pair found a man down a track behind the property. As Kaiser tried to subdue the man he was stabbed up to five times on the top of his head and once below his eye. Despite the attack, Kaiser was able to keep control of the man for long enough to allow officers to take hold of him. Luckily, Kaiser is expected to make a full recovery but his handler sustained a broken wrist and is expected to be off work for up to a month. Read more about the incident here: https://bit.ly/3iatL0O . Three men have been jailed following the Met’s largest ever single seizure of cash - £5 million. The suspects were arrested as part of a complex investigation by detectives into the supply of firearms and drugs across London. Read more about the case here. Three safer transport team officers have been praised for their quick thinking and teamwork after saving a man’s life. The officers were driving in Hackney when they were alerted to a stabbing nearby. Due to the serious nature of the victim’s injuries, the officers made the decision to blue light him to a hospital in their car. One officer carried out emergency first aid in the back of the vehicle. The whole incident from being flagged down to arriving at the hospital took just seven minutes. The victim has now made a full recovery. Detectives investigating the fatal stabbing of a man in Islington on Saturday, 29 May have arrested a 20-year-old man. Officers worked tirelessly since the incident to locate and arrest the suspect.  Two men have been jailed for their part in the killing of Cameron Murfitt in Woolwich on 15 March 2020. Mason Bridle, 18 was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, to serve a minimum of 16 years. Mario Gruda, 23 was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment". Authorisation of a S25 Dispersal Zone - From Inspector Richard Lowe, Bexley Borough Safer Neighbourhoods:- "The dispersal below was used in conjunction with Operation Talaxia; A local operation to respond to evening violence,  working in close partnership with Kent Police and British Transport Police. The operation commenced on Friday evening, 4th June,  and concluded in the early hours of Sunday morning, 6th June. The operation saw over 60 officers deployed to the Bexleyheath and Dartford area. 24 People were arrested for a wide spectrum of offences including possession of drugs, possession of weapons, breach of dispersal and a number of people showing wanted. This operation will continue over the coming months aimed at reducing violence in Bexley, North Kent and the borders. Authority to use Dispersal Powers and to Remove Persons Under 16 to a Place where they Live or a Place of Safety Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 - Part 3. Following an increase in violence linked to key hot spots it has become necessary to authorise a dispersal authority under Section 35 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Police Act 2014 for the area of Bexleyheath Broadway & Welling High Street. This action forms part of operation Talaxia, a joint partnership operation with Kent and British transport police aimed at reducing violent crime and violence against women and girls in the MPS / Kent borders and crime hot spots, concentrating on our nighttime economy locations. To support this operation, the community will notice a number of police officers in these areas on Friday and Saturday evening.  This has been authorised by Inspector Richard Lowe between 18.00HRS on the 4th June 2021 until 17.59HRS on the 6th June 2021. This means that individuals that act in a manner which is resulting or likely to result, in any member of the public being harassed, alarmed or distressed, or likely to cause disorder or commit crime, will be directed to leave the area highlighted in the maps attached with this post by a Constable in uniform or a Police Community Support Officer. The authorisation means that a constable can also direct the individual to surrender to the constable any item in the person’s possession or control that the constable reasonably believes has been used or is likely to be used in behaviour that harasses, alarms or distresses members of the public. The direction can be given to anyone over the age of 10. The officer will be able to return children under 16 home or to another place of safety if they are behaving anti-socially and are not accompanied by an adult. Other powers are available for individuals under 10 years of age. Section 39 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Police Act, allows for offenders to be arrested by a Police Constable, and if convicted has a maximum penalty of three months’ imprisonment and/or £2500. Failure to hand over surrendered items would also be a criminal offence and would have a penalty of up to a £500 fine".

The end video this week is a documentary by Al Jazeera World Television - a TV station operated by the Qatari government. It features the histories of two offshore radio stations. The first of these - Radio Caroline, many readers will be familiar with from my features on the station over the years. The second station covered in the documentary may not be nearly so well known to UK residents. The station was called The Voice of Peace. Following my time with Radio Caroline, I did produce an audition tape for The Voice of Peace, but the first Gulf War kicked off, and history intervened, so I never worked on the station. A little background to the story of The Voice of Peace - it was an offshore radio station that broadcast in the Middle East for 20 years from the former Dutch cargo vessel MV Peace (formally MV Cito), anchored off the Israeli coast on the East Mediterranean - photo above - click on it for a larger version. Founded by former pilot, businessman and peace campaigner Abie Nathan and the New York-based Peace Ship Foundation, the station broadcast almost continuously between the 19th May 1973 and November 1993. The aim of the Voice of Peace was to communicate peaceful co-existence to the volatile Middle East. The output was popular music presented by mostly British DJs broadcasting live from the ship. The Voice of Peace was Israel's first offshore pop station and the first commercially funded private operation. The station's American jingles, English-speaking DJs, and Top 40 hits attracted many advertisers. Initially, the station transmitted on 1539 AM (announced as 1540 AM) and in 1980 added a signal at 100.0 FM. Notable personalities were involved in broadcasting. The Carpenters, Johnny Mathis and others recorded messages of peace. John and Yoko Lennon signed hundreds of peace posters which Abie Nathan could sell in hard times. During the mid-1970s, the station boasted more than 20 million listeners from the Middle East to southern Europe and Turkey, thanks to the format used by professional broadcasters led by Keith Ashton. The Voice of Peace broadcast primarily in English, but a small output included Hebrew, Arabic, and French. Several shows ran for nearly its entire life, including Twilight Time (daily at 18:00, using the Platters hit of the name as its theme), the Classical Music Programme (daily from 19:30), and Late Night Affair (00.00-03.00). The telephone forum chaired by Abie Nathan called "Kol Ha Lev" (Voice of the Heart) and then Ma La'asot? ("What to do?") was the only uncensored direct public dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. The Voice of Peace was tolerated by the Israeli Government, as Abie Nathan was a media personality in the country; however, the IBA was alarmed at its popularity and set up a state-run pop service, Reshet Gimmel, in May 1976. Abie Nathan was imprisoned on several occasions for violating laws forbidding contact with enemy states and the PLO. Abie Nathan decided to intentionally sink the ship in international waters on November 28, 1993 after promises of a broadcast licence, and mooring in Jaffa port failed, and he closed the station due to heavy losses and following the signing of the Oslo peace accords, which he assumed was validation of the station's mission. On the final day, he instructed the presenters to play the Beatles non-stop. Abie Nathan had a stroke in 1997 that left him partially paralysed. He died in Tel Aviv on 27 August 2008 at the age of 81. On 10 June 2007 Tel Aviv-Yafo decided to post a plaque on the Tel Aviv boardwalk at Gordon Beach, opposite where the Peace Ship had been anchored. This memorial plays recordings of Voice Of Peace, including the station call sign in Abie Nathan's voice and an explanation in Hebrew and English. Thanks to broadcaster Gary Drew for bringing this documentary to my attention. please send any comments or questions to me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.