Sunday, April 22, 2012

Railway pain.

A view above of the train tracks running through Erith Station; the photo was taken from the footbridge that connects the Dartford bound and the London bound platforms. It would appear that in addition to the extreme disruption that local people are going to be forced to suffer because of the money sucking white elephant er, Olympic Games, there is going to be disruption lasting up to two years once the games are done. Let me explain: The real reason that Southeastern Rail have had the railway station platforms on the Dartford via Greenwich to Charing Cross and Cannon Street line extended to permit 12 carriage trains to use them has been highlighted to me by a Maggot Sandwich reader; I had erroneously assumed that the reason was to accommodate extra travellers during the forthcoming Olympics, but apparently I was wrong. The real reason, which has also now been published by the News Shopper is that once the Olympics are done and dusted, a massive project to upgrade London Bridge Station will move into a new phase. Currently travellers through London Bridge will have noticed the huge changes and upgrades to the main building, concourse and ticket offices. This is the beginning of a larger project to refurbish and extend the entire station. Further phases will extend the station, which is already the third busiest in the country, with over fifty million travellers passing through the facility every year. During 2015 and 2016 trains coming inwards to London from the North Kent lines will not stop at London Bridge at all.  Trains will instead go straight to Charing Cross station, and travellers will have to use the tube or bus to get to their intended destination. The people to be most affected will be commuters who work in or around the London Bridge area, or who normally interchange with the underground network at London Bridge. The reason for the longer local station platforms is because for the period when London Bridge is closed, the number of trains per hour is also going to be reduced, consequently Southeastern have recognised the need for longer trains, especially during the rush hour. This all sounds like a nightmare for regular commuters like myself; I change from the over ground service from Erith, getting off at London Bridge to get the Northern Line tube to Euston, where I then get another overland train to Watford, where I am officially based for work. The journey normally takes two and a half hours each way; fortunately I normally only need to make it for a day every other week – for team meetings and the like; the rest of the time I hot desk in the company’s large offices in Canary Wharf, which is much closer to home and easier to travel to and from – I get off the train at Greenwich and pick up the Docklands Light Railway for the twelve minute trip to Canada Square. For those commuters who need to get off the train at London Bridge, the restrictions are going to be an extended nightmare. It is too early to be certain of the precise restrictions that will be put in place, but from the information already put into the public domain, it is going to have a dramatic effect.  If any reader has additional information, please let me know. Incidentally, I am going to be making a formal complaint to Southeastern trains - I tried on three separate occasions to renew my monthly all zones travel card at Erith station, to no avail. The ticket office has been locked and abandoned for much of last week. I resorted to travelling by train to Abbey Wood to buy my new ticket; the very friendly and helpful lady at the ticket office urged me to complain, as Southeastern do not listen to their own staff - only complaints from customers. I will be doing this in short order - they wonder why so many people travel on the railway ticketless - well, maybe part of the reason is that some of the time you are physically unable to purchase a ticket (please note that when I travelled to Abbey Wood to replace my ticket, the old one was still good for two days - I was not travelling illegally).

It is pleasing for me to be able to report outstanding service from another independent local company. I have an old, 1970’s era Omega mechanical dress watch, which I inherited some years ago. It is very plain and functional, and is a favourite of mine. The mechanism was getting a bit erratic, and the glass had picked up two small scratches along the way; I thought that it was time the watch had a full service and got the problems resolved. Omega UK were contacted; they immediately quoted a base fee of £550, plus possible extras, and the watch would be sent back to Switzerland for at least fourteen weeks. Bearing in mind the total value of the watch is in the region of £800, this seemed excessive. Watches of Switzerland quoted a similar figure and timescale, and the original vendor of the timepiece – Garrards, the Queens jeweller flatly refused to touch it, as they are no longer an accredited Omega dealer. After all this kerfuffle, I was beginning to wonder what to do, but then, at the suggestion of my mother, the watch was taken to Bradley’s manufacturing jewellers in Bexleyheath Broadway. They quoted £189 for the job, and a two week turnaround, with the watch warrantied for a year from the date of collection. I accepted this, and true to their word, the watch was returned in an “factory new” condition. The watch glass was not replaceable, as spares of the type are no longer manufactured. Instead, Bradley’s horologist re – polished the face of the original glass, removing the scratches. They have done an absolutely first class job – the watch now runs like... a Swiss watch, and looks like it has just been delivered from the factory. Exceptional service and a very reasonable price, considering the amount of time a skilled watchmaker would need to spend to bring the timepiece up to “as new” condition.

The News Shopper have covered the case of blogger Olly Cromwell – a pseudonym of John Kerlen, who last week was found guilty at Bexleyheath Magistrates’ Court of “sending a grossly offensive and menacing message over a public communications network”. In essence he’s been found guilty of swearing on Twitter. He faces sentencing on the 9th May. The article omits a number of facts that have been extensively researched and verified by Malcolm Knight of the Bexley is Bonkers” blog. Malcolm has also been harassed on numerous occasions by members of Bexley Council, to the extent that he was required to go for an interview at Bexleyheath Police Station over articles he had posted on his website. Once the facts were exposed, Malcolm was free to go with no case whatsoever to answer. It becomes apparent that certain members of Bexley Council do not believe in free speech; an example of this is that in February 2011, the Department of Communities and Local Government wrote to all local councils in the UK saying that “citizen journalists” (I detest the term, but anyway) should be permitted to film and tweet at council meetings. One of the charges brought against John Kerlen was that he filmed a Bexley Council meeting without authorisation – despite this very action being condoned and encouraged by Government Minister Eric Pickles MP, the Minister for Communities and Local Government. This unfortunately is not mentioned in the News Shopper piece. Malcolm Knight then discovered that following the guidance from Eric Pickles, that Bexley Council have amended their constitution to expressly prohibit all forms of recording in council meetings – directly contrary to official Government policy. I know from personal experience that the easiest way forward would be for Bexley Council to stream live video of all their meetings directly online, and make previous meeting videos available on YouTube or Vimeo. The proceedings are generally so tedious that only the most ardent followers of the minutiae of local government would watch – the contents tend to make watching paint dry as exciting as playing hopscotch in a minefield.

Last week I mentioned my visit to the 2012 Bexley Beer Festival in Sidcup rugby and sports club. I ran out of time and space, so was unable to recount what happened after I left the event. A small group of us decided that in the long established tradition of post pub excursions, we would go for a curry. Walking back along Sidcup High Street, we encountered the Sultana Indian Restaurant. It looked quite up market, and was pretty busy. We were a party of four, and I was a little concerned that we might find it difficult to get a table – it was about 10pm, often a curry houses’ busiest period at the weekend. Nevertheless, the quietly efficient waiter found us a large table near the back of the restaurant. Some of you may know that a few years ago I was a volunteer reviewer for the Good Curry Guide, and ate at some of the best (and sadly a few of the worst) curry houses in and around London. The Sultana is not your bog standard high street eaterie. The menu veers off the beaten track by quite a degree, featuring some interesting Bangladeshi fish dishes such as Fish Chilli Masala (Bangladeshi fresh water fish served off the bone, cooked in a dry sauce with garam masala and green chilli, then garnished with coriander) for example. They only use chicken thigh meat in chicken dishes, as they (correctly) feel it is more tender and has more flavour than the more commonly used breast meat. I had a starter of Sabzi Mushroom (whole button mushrooms wrapped in spiced minced lamb, coated in coarse Gram flour and then deep fried, served with a chilli and tamarind sauce, followed by Garlic Chilli Chicken with onions and capsicum peppers, served in a sizzling cast iron Korai dish, accompanied by a very robust garlic naan and mushroom pilau rice. I also shared a bowl of Saag Paneer (creamed spinach served with cubes of spicy tikka paneer cheese). Needless to say by the end of the meal I was more than replete! I would definitely recommend the place – prices are reasonable, the service was swift and assured, and the bill for four people with drinks came to just under £100. Not bad at all. You can view their (slightly clunky and unfinished) website here.

Events in the Larner Road estate seem to be gaining momentum. The long detested high rise tower blocks are slated for demolition; before they actually come down, the enterprising Orbit Housing Association have planned a series of events to make use of them in alternative ways before they become victim of the wrecking ball. The estate has been registered with a couple of film location companies, and local rumour is that Larner Road may become the location for much of the action in the movie sequel to the film Attack the Block”. Whether this is just wishful thinking on the part of those that have reported it, I do not know, though I have heard the story from two different sources. If anyone has any information, please let me know. One thing that is for definite is that a group of residents were able to abseil 150 feet down the side of Medina House on the Larner Road estate on the 13th April. Once the tower blocks come down, the plan is to replace them with six hundred low rise housing units. This has got to be a positive move; hopefully it will begin the process of regeneration, not just of the physical location, but also of the reputation of the estate – which has been desperately bad for as long as I can recall. A combination of low average income, poor opportunities, crime and anti social behaviour have left the majority of decent, law abiding estate residents labelled with the stigma of living on Larner Road. Hopefully the huge investment of £128 million on the area will bear fruit.

One thing that I discovered during a local meeting that I attended last night was that the campaign to encourage communities to apply to have street parties for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee have been an almost complete flop. To date, only eleven street party applications have been submitted and approved for the entire London Borough of Bexley. The feedback that I have received thus far is that people don't want street parties - it is not that they are anti monarchy or pro republican, it is that they don't want to interact with others in their street; specifically they don't want their children mixing with the chavvy kids from the next block. I get the feeling that there will be some kind of celebration, but that it will be confined to back garden barbecues and the like.

Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system (yes, I know we are actually talking about the kernel, but let's not get picky) Has been jointly awarded the 2012 Millennium Technology Prize - the IT world's equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Is it deserved? Well, judge for yourself. Since Torvalds created Linux in 1991, it has become the world’s most ubiquitous computer operating system; it powers the popular Android phones and eight out of ten financial trades; it runs Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter and other major web networks. It is the dominant operating system for supercomputers, supporting nine out of ten of these major systems, and is the preferable platform for cloud computing. Yes, I think we can safely say this award was richly deserved.

This week's video is from YouTube cookery star Titli Nihaan. She posts a new recipe on YouTube roughly once a week; she cooks all kinds of foods, but her real speciality is Indian / Pakistani cuisine. She's a bit of an eccentric, and sometimes makes me laugh out loud. Her recipe this week is for Kofte (meatball) curry. Enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. Hugh, could not let the latest Maggot Sandwich blog go by without some comments about the rail situation. the reason the platforms on many Southeastern Trains stations are being extended is quite simple really, the railway is almost full to capacity, no room for more trains, so the only answer is to run longer trains in the same paths, something that is happening all over the country. The service levels are specified by the Department Of Transport and supplied by the train operators under the franchise agreements, hence we have the almost empty off peak every 10 minute service along the Greenwich line, this one being specified by the Mayor of London's office to give us a 'tube like frequency'. Enhancements or otherwise to services are decided years in advance and Network Rail decide what can be fitted into the timetables and what works may be needed to achieve the goals of the DfT or the train operators.
    I do not know how the works to add two more through platforms to London Bridge will be managed, I would have thought that closing the station totally would be unneccesary and unthinkable politically, I agree with the chaos it would cause, although Hugh you could always change to the Northern line at Charing Cross or Waterloo East.