Sunday, November 28, 2021

Asda incident.


Progress continues on the riverside development on what once was the extended garden of the then White Hart pub. When the former pub was redeveloped, the large garden was sold off as a separate entity. The upper photo does not appear to show very much in the way of activity, but in fact the concrete foundations of the ground floor of the new building have been mostly completed, but they are below ground level and largely out of view unless you get very close. The layout of the new development can be seen in the lower of the two images above - click on either to see a larger view. The development is taking place right next to the Pier Square redevelopment that I reported on the 14th of November update. 

As regular readers may be aware, I generally do not accept external articles for publication later than Thursday evening of the week prior to each weekly Blog update being published. In the past I have had a few slightly dodgy characters wanting to promote various events at very short notice. This time I have decided to forgo this rule. The following message was sent to the operators of the Asda supermarket in Lower Belvedere, following a disturbing incident. The person who wrote the message is a regular reader and some time Blog contributor, who for reasons which will soon become abundantly clear, they choose to remain anonymous. My correspondent wrote the following letter of complaint to Asda management:-”Good morning, Unlike my usual experience at your stores, this morning has proven to be somewhat of an outlier. Following a casual shop at your Belvedere supermarket, as I exited the female security guard aggressively grabbed my arm and bag dragging me backwards. Two of your customers both raised the alarm, and asked the security guard to stop. She then proceeded to take away my purchase and would not return it. I spoke politely to the women who had served me on the self checkout who printed the receipt and confirmed I had paid for my property that she had decided to seize. I requested to see the CCTV footage of the security guards body camera, she declined. I also requested to see the CCTV footage of the entrance, I was also told no. At this point I asked to speak to the manager, she was equally hostile and wouldn't listen to any comments I had to say and walked away. Whilst this was happening the two customers who saw the event were standing by (I have no relation to them). I requested a replacement bag for the one the security guard tore, and was told did I pay for the bag? - No replacement was provided.  I left the store with what was left of the bag with no further commentary from your staff. I took a video of your staff member, and upon returning home, the bag. I've filed a crime report, the crime reference number is: (Redacted for confidentiality). This is absolutely disgraceful behaviour from both the security guard and the supervisor, and frankly this was outright assault. At no point did either staff member attempt to engage me with respect or understanding - instead they chose to be aggressive, undermining and rude. Whilst I appreciate this may be an isolated incident, I would encourage Asda to revise their training. As for the person in question, I will follow this up with the police”. What do you think? Have you experienced heavy handed security in the Lower Belvedere Asda store? Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com with your stories. 

Following on from my previous articles on Covid-19 conspiracy nutters such as the White Rose Group, it has been commented by a number of observers that social media websites such as, but not limited to Facebook are being used as a means to forward and populise their warped and totally misguided world view. It never ceases to amaze me that a significant minority will believe pretty much anything that is published on social media, especially Facebook – it is the digital equivalent of “it was in the newspaper, so it must be true”. There is a psychological theory called “ego investment” which may go quite some way to explaining why people tend to behave in such a manner. Ego investment basically means how much people care about a certain subject. That, in turn, dictates how much time and energy they'll spend investigating, defending, and sharing their knowledge about it. If they're not really invested in something, they won't put in any effort to vet it out -- because they don't really care. So why post it at all? It may be that a paranoid mind-set can override a dubious one, which results in a "just in case" attitude.  "It won't hurt me to post this, even if it isn't true -- so why not? Maybe I should ... just in case something might happen." On top of this there may also be what is termed “the lemming factor” – where Facebook users feel that if they are not reacting to a story, however implausible or bizarre, then they will be in some way losing out. This is very similar to the old phenomenon of chain letters; There’s a sense of ritualized behaviour of sharing it that makes you feel more in control—which is why people share the letters that say if you don’t share this, then something bad will happen—because the cost of not doing it is big, but the cost of sharing it is minimal. There is also the friendship element – if the hoax story has been posted by a friend, and you trust the friend, you are more likely to believe stories that they post – their critical faculties having been short circuited by their relationship. At the end of the day, social media hoaxes are so common and widespread that one would have thought that the general public would have become more inured to them by now, but this still seems sadly not to be the case. The late scientist and philosopher Professor Carl Sagan produced what he called his “baloney detection kit” – a series of rules to employ when encountering any potential guile or manipulation. “1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.” 2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view. 3. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts. 4. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy. 5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will. 6. Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging. 7. If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them. 8. Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler. 9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate sceptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result." Certainly some very thought provoking principles. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or alternatively Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

As many readers may already know, I don't send Christmas cards, for a number of reasons, mainly as I think them redundant now that the Western world is now online, and via social networking, Email, Twitter and a host of other services; people keep in contact all year round, not just via a once a year bit of printed card. Cards use a huge amount of natural resources, both in their production and transportation, and generally get shredded or dumped after the annual festivities. I think we really need to move on from them.  I know many regard me as a grumpy old curmudgeon when it comes to the Christmas festivities; and I suppose I am to an extent. I suppose having no children does mean that I don’t see the holiday from their perspective. For the most part it is a period for me to endure, rather than enjoy. I am not saying that the festival is a complete anathema, but it sometimes feels that way.

Apple, Google, Facebook and other tech companies may be forced into finding a solution that allows users to connect across the various messaging platforms. Currently, each service has its own way of handling communication that is not compatible with others, placing a burden upon the user when there is a need to reach someone using a different platform or service. A universal communication method would benefit the end-user, whether using an iPhone or Android phone, with Facebook, iMessage, or other social media apps. A cross-platform solution works against the existing model that social media and tech companies have accepted as standard, keeping their customers or users circling back to the same company rather than moving between different services. It’s the same reason for members’ rewards cards at supermarkets. Keeping the existing customer is much easier than recruiting a new one. This is such an obvious and popular requirement, I’m baffled it is taking governments around the world this long to get to implementing it. So much of our communication infrastructure is owned by 3-4 giant technology companies, all incompatible with each other, with absolutely zero control over what happens to your messages and your data. Forcing them to be interoperable – preferably via forcing the publication of open programming interfaces third party developers can tap into – is not only the bare minimum we should expect from our online communication channels, it is probably also a highly popular requirement that would simplify the the lives of people all across the European Union, where different countries favour different messaging protocols.

Proposals have been published by Bexley Council, which if they are enacted, could mean the redevelopment of the parcel of land in Walnut Tree Road, Erith, adjacent to the college building, and opposite the Old Carnegie Library, which until the mid 1970’s was the home of Walnut Tree Road Tram Depot. Erith was heavily dependent on trams for local transport for many years. The main line between Erith and Abbey Wood was heavily used; Walnut Tree Road was constructed to allow trams to go from West Street up towards Northumberland Heath; a branch line went from Pier Road all the way up to North End. Strangely trams never ran from Erith to Upper Belvedere, as the residents of Upper Belvedere were strongly opposed to the idea. I would hazard a guess that as a good number of wealthy and influential people (including some of the owners of the factories in Lower Belvedere)  lived in the big houses at the top of Picardy Road and in Eardley Road, they probably did not want the great unwashed flocking onto their doorsteps from working class Erith. There were also technical issues with the proposed route up Picardy Road, which for the most part is a one in ten, or steeper hill. A conventional tram would have difficulty in climbing such a steep incline.  The coming of the trams meant that the small power station in Walnut Tree Road needed to be doubled in size (it was located where the old Erith Swimming Baths once stood, and is currently a patch of grass).  The tram shed was built on the opposite side of the road, on the new college campus site. The existing level crossing over the railway at Lower Road was replaced with a bridge (locally still known as “the new bridge”) and a set of gates were constructed adjacent to the Ballast Wharf Siding in West Street, which is now called Chichester Wharf. Another tram siding at the bottom of Walnut Tree Road was protected by what was the longest level crossing gate in Britain. The rails, which weighed a total of 1,480 tons, were laid into a bed of six inches  of concrete, lined with granite blocks, except outside of churches, schools and Erith Cottage Hospital, where quieter wood blocks were laid instead. When the tram service began on the 26th August 1905, there were a total of fourteen double decker trams servicing the Abbey Wood – Erith – Northumberland Heath line. Of these, only half had covered upper decks, which could not have been much fun if you were stuck on an open upper deck in the middle of winter. The trams were pretty impressive and grand looking, with maple lined interiors and gold coloured curtains. The original exterior paint livery was regarded as being initially a bit showy and garish – bright green and canary yellow. This was soon replaced with brown and cream, which was regarded as a more sober look. Financially Erith Tramway was not a great success. The only period where the tram company made any substantial profits was during the First World War. At that time the area had a great influx of workers to the munitions factories at the Vickers and Maxim gun works; after that time, the service began a slow decline. To make the complete journey from Abbey Wood to Northumberland Heath cost 3d. The drivers wage, for a minimum sixty hour week was 6d an hour. By 1933 Erith Tramway had 4.1 miles of track and a total of twenty tram cars. At this point, the service was losing money, and the London Passenger Transport Board converted all local tram routes to the newer trolley bus technology. The last tram ran through Erith on the 9th of November 1935, though the depot adjacent to the new college site was retained until 1976, when it was demolished to make way for a car park. 


Hedley Mitchell was the largest and by far the most important shop in the old Victorian Erith town centre. It was the towns' department store, and as large and grand as Hides in Bexleyheath. Many older local residents recall Hedley Mitchell with great affection. One lady, called Pam had the following recollections:- “I lived in Avenue Road Erith from the age of 1 until 22 when I got married and now live on Bexleyheath / Crayford border. I loved the town with all the little shops and as a school girl worked in a hairdressers up by the Post Office called Veronique as a Saturday girl for 3 years. I used to go into Mitchells with my mum, and yes, it was on a par with John Lewis. Must say the Ladies Toilets were very posh, had liquid soap which I had never seen before. I also went to the Dancing School over Burtons and learnt Ballroom and the Jive . Bill Hayley's Rock around the Clock was the record for that Jive. I think I was about 8/9. I think the lady teacher was called Lesley but I could be wrong, she was tall, slim and her hair was in a French Pleat, very elegant. My silver dancing shoes were bought in Mitchells and a while later as I was going to a Dance I was bought a rather pretty but expensive dress to wear from Mitchells. As everyone says, Erith was ruined when they built the concrete jungle, it was a lovely place to shop, catered for everyone and everything. Erith was such a big part of my life when I was growing up. Pre school years I went every day except Sunday because our mum shopped on a daily basis for fresh meat and veg for our dinners. There was a lovely large man called George who had a fish stall on a Friday at the side of Burtons and the large blocks of ice fascinated me on his display, so he used to cut me off a chunk, wrap it in newspaper for me to take home. So many lovely memories from my childhood. School friends and I often go down memory lane about the Erith we loved”. The store had a very high reputation for formal service. It was the first building to be demolished when work began to create the new (and subsequently much hated) brutalist concrete shopping centre in 1966. In fact the first act of demolition was carried out by the then Deputy Mayor, Councillor Mrs M Barron, ceremoniously smashed the window of Hedley Mitchell's store to mark the commencement of the demolition of Erith Town Centre to make way for redevelopment. As a consequence, all the existing Victorian buildings were lost. With hindsight, this was a terrible mistake - the existing town centre should have been sympathetically restored. I gather that this was considered, but would have cost too much money; instead they built a relatively cheap but undeniably ugly replacement out of bare concrete. I don't know anyone who had a good word to say about it. Consequently a lot of businesses upped sticks and moved to Bexleyheath or Northumberland Heath, and it is only now, nearly fifty six years later that much of the social and economic damage is being put right. The current Erith Riverside Shopping Centre is actually a very clever redesign of the much hated early seventies structure, rather than a ground up new build, but it has been done with taste and sensitivity - something entirely missing in the original, which was a smelly and soulless concrete monstrosity, detested by all.


The photo above shows Station Parade - the row of shops which used to exist in Bexley Road, opposite Christ Church Erith. The shops were demolished to allow the construction of Bronze Age Way, the dual carriageway that leads to Lower Belvedere, Thamesmead and Woolwich. I dimly recall the parade - there was a newsagent, an off - licence (which had a reputation for serving under - age customers), an estate agent and a "greasy spoon" cafe, which was run by a rather dodgy bloke who was the uncle of someone I went to school with. My schoolmate would sometimes visit the cafe at lunchtime to get a free fry - up, but I seem to remember he had to go round collecting dirty plates and cups for his uncle afterwards. I never actually went in there myself. So much of old Erith has been destroyed over the years; this is the reason that so many residents, including myself are so keen on preserving the little that is left. 

Now a special announcement from my old employer, Radio Caroline, on their increase in power of their licenced 648 kHz Medium Wave service,  which supplements their DAB and online streaming services. Station Manager, Peter Moore writes:- "The opportunity arose to boost our power on 648 AM. This was beyond the ability of the existing Nautel machine. High power AM transmitters are not easily sourced now. We found one in storage near the Dutch/German border and imported it to Essex so that it could be very extensively overhauled and converted. This was a long, costly and labour intensive task. Then the Harris DX25 was shipped to Orfordness and delivered by landing craft. The staff of Cobra Mist, who could have left us to struggle, were particularly helpful. Our unsung heroes were Howard Beer, Alan Beech and Steve Bradley. Working conditions veered between not very nice to evil. Now the new transmitter is in service covering, we hope, a much larger area than before to reconnect with more of our listeners from the past. Obviously we would like to know where our signal is going and indeed where it is not. Might you help us with a reception report so that we can see what we have achieved and to consider what we may do next". You can read more about the station, and complete the online reception report form by clicking here

The end video this week features some further footage of the amazing Ghanaian acrobats who performed at the Erith Made festival back in late August this year. Unfortunately the video was shot in portrait mode (I have no idea why some people do this), but nevertheless it is well worth watching. As always, if you have any comments, then please Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com