Sunday, July 22, 2012

The torch.

Oh the irony; after much internal debate about the morality of photographing the Olympic torch as it was carried past Pewty Acres, I decided that it was my duty to record the moment as part of Erith's history. I took around a hundred shots with my Nikon D300 DSLR prior to the torch bearer actually appearing; as he ran into view, my very expensive professional camera threw a mighty strop, and crashed. I rebooted it, and it carried on throwing a wobbly; by the time I had switched to a backup battery the runner was long gone. The camera is still sitting in the corner of my home office, sulking. The photo above was taken by Ian with his iPhone - and bearing in mind the limited capabilities of phone camera optics, it has not come out badly at all. Still, the camera has done me proud this weekend - I took several hundred photos yesterday whilst attending the nuptials of colleague and friend Martha - she and her other half got spliced in Putney, and the reception was held at the London Rowing Club on the banks of the Thames at the aforementioned Putney. You can see my photos of the event by clicking here.

On Monday evening I was making my way home from Erith station after having spent the day in Canary Wharf; I was cutting through Morrison’s car park as is my normal habit when I saw a disturbance; as I approached the part of the car park that is bounded by James Watt Way, I could see a black and white piebald pony running freely amongst the parked cars. A couple of Morrison’s staff were trying to capture it, with little success. I suggested to one of the departmental managers who had come out to find out what the fuss was about that he should telephone the RSPCA hot line, to see if a duty inspector could attend and take control of the situation. At this point I left; I have no animal husbandry skills and hardly know one end of a horse from the other (apart from the fact that one end bites and the other end poos) so I would not have been able to contribute much to capturing the beast. The last time I saw of the pony and its’ retinue of pursuers, it was heading along Wheatley Terrace Road, past Abbey Car Breakers – the road is a dead end, so I reckon there was a fair chance the Morrison’s staff would be able to corner the beast. The small piece of waste land behind the recycling centre that lies next to the banks of the Thames

The National Radio Centre was opened by Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industry last week. The centre  The centre has been set up by the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB of which I am a member) and is being run by a small group of dedicated volunteers. The aim of the National Radio Centre is to inform visitors of the role of radio in everyday life, to promote the aims of the RSGB, and to give visitors a chance to learn something about amateur radio, including allowing them to transmit on an amateur radio under the supervision of a qualified operator. Amateur radio is pretty much a niche hobby nowadays – there is much talk amongst its’ proponents about the ageing demographic. Amateur Radio is a very broad church, encompassing many areas of electronic and physical research, along with the opportunity to interact with similarly minded individuals from all around the world.

Some years ago, the Amateur Radio licensing system was revised and simplified, and a great effort was made to encourage youth groups such as the Scouts and Guides to adopt the (then) new Foundation licence syllabus for their communications badge. This has met with a fair degree of success. To elaborate; the revised amateur radio licensing structure has three levels, each of which gives increasing levels of privileges to those who successfully pass each exam. The Foundation level is designed to give students a basic grounding in radio and electrical theory and practice. Most of the training is “hands on” and practical, with just enough theory for a successful candidate to understand how fuses work, and how to calculate the correct size of an antenna for a specific radio frequency. The exam is a simple multiple choice paper which lasts for 45 minutes. Once this exam has been passed, the newly qualified candidate will be able to apply for a UK amateur radio call sign, and can then go on air on certain specific frequencies on a low power of not more than ten watts. The next, Intermediate level of licence is where things start getting somewhat tougher; there is more theory based learning to the course, and participants are also expected to learn practical skills such as soldering. Successful completion of the Intermediate exam allows the amateur to transmit on an increased power of fifty watts. The ultimate level of amateur radio qualification is the Advanced licence; this is pretty tough, and requires a lot of personal study, as well as the recommendation of attending a recognised training course. Unlike the two lower levels of qualification, there is no practical element to the Advanced licence course – it is purely academic, though in addition to electronic and radio theory,  there is a significant element of law, specifically in relation to planning permission for antennas, resolution of radio interference disputes and the use of radio in vehicles. The advanced exam is roughly equivalent to a City and Guilds level 2 qualification. If this all sounds a bit like Scientology, with their arcane and ever more expensive courses, nothing could be further from the truth - for a start amateur radio is based on sound, proven science and engineering fact. With some self discipline and a fair amount of study, one can pass all three exams within a period of not much more than a year; the cost, including course materials will not exceed £200. Some amateurs decide that the extra privileges that the higher licence levels grant are not for them, and stick with a Foundation or Intermediate licence. One thing no amateur needs to study these days is Morse Code. The requirement for this was dropped some years ago, though many operators still learn it voluntarily, as it is a very efficient method of communication, especially if power levels are limited, or reception conditions are poor. Personally I have an Advanced class licence, though I have to say I don’t go on air very often nowadays. Many think that the use of old fashioned radio is outmoded in the age of widespread Internet access and the ubiquity of the mobile telephone. Nothing could be further from the truth. During national emergencies where communications infrastructure such as phone cables, mobile masts and other hardware is damaged or otherwise unavailable, the only reliable method of communication is by radio, as it requires absolutely no infrastructure to work. To this end, the amateur radio community has a well regarded and very professional group of volunteers known as RAYNET – which is an additional emergency service with the same status as the RNLI. RAYNET set up and operate emergency communication systems in areas where conventional mobile phone coverage is negligible, or where other forms of communication are down due to adverse weather conditions (flooding / high wind damage etc.) They work in conjunction with Police, Fire Brigade and the Ambulance Service, and regularly practice in joint exercises. You may see them at large public events such as county shows and other meetings that involve large numbers of the general public. They are easily identifiable by their high visibility tabards with RAYNET labelled on the back.

The photo below shows muggins, taken yesterday at Martha and Tracy's reception. I am standing on the balcony of the London Rowing Club, talking to a couple of other guests, whilst admiring the view of the River Thames at Putney. Very civilised.

Following my announcement of the Maggot Sandwich having reached 100,000 unique page views last week, I have had a very nice comment posted by a mister Darren Magin, of Brisbane, Australia. He congratulated me, and said that he used to live in Northumberland Heath, before migrating to Brisbane some years ago. Quite why he would want to read about the comings and goings in rain soaked South East London / North Kent rather evades me – especially since he’s now ensconced in one of the more salubrious and picturesque corners of Australia. For all its’ charms, I would personally not want to live there though; it’s too hot (anything over 22 degrees Celsius and I am good for nothing), but more importantly I would not wish to live in a place that seems to have more naturally occurring things that could kill you than anywhere else that I can think of. Darren is a fellow real ale fan; you can read more about him and his quest for the perfect pint on his blog here.

The Pub Spy in the News Shopper dropped a bit of a bomb during this weeks’ pub review. They stated But you can also choose from several different bottled ciders, lagers and ales, like Badger Tanglefoot. I hate ale but I might just try it for the name one day.  You can also get feathered up with an Old Speckled Hen.  But which is better, Badger or Hen?  There’s only one way to find out... “ This shocked me – surely the very most desirable attribute in a pub reviewer is a affinity for, and knowledge of real ale? How can you review a pub if you are ignorant of its’ most fundamental offering? It would be like Jeremy Clarkson only being able to ride a push bike. No point at all. I know I have been accused of being Pub Spy in the past; and to be honest I would gladly offer my services to the News Shopper had I more free time. Am I a beer snob? Er, yes, I suppose I am. I have never liked over chilled, tasteless gassy lager. Quality real ale is to my mind a far superior product, and also the very first manufactured product in history - it predates the creation of bread by Bronze Age man by several centuries.

Talking of pubs and beer; since Ian and I were in Putney for the wedding reception, we decided to make some good use of our time, as we arrived in the town over an hour early for the event; we sojourned across Putney Bridge and soon found ourselves ensconced in The Bricklayers Arms (see the photo above - click for a larger view) - a very famous pub that is one of the very small handful that can rival the Robin Hood and Little John in the range and quality of its' real ale. It is a gem of a find, and I can highly recommend it.

The London Evening Standard reported this week that the London Borough of Bexley is the best London borough to live in if you are retired. Quite how they came to this conclusion I do not know; it is very unusual for Bexley to come to the top of any satisfaction list – as far as I can tell it normally bubbles along fairly close to the bottom in most respects. I imagine the announcement is probably linked to some estate agency and a publicity drive or advertising campaign.

The photo above shows the wrecked and vandalised interior of the old Erith Swimming Baths shortly before they were demolished a couple of years ago; the site is still empty and unused - the row over what the baths should be replaced with is still ongoing.  The picture of the abandoned baths does rather remind me of the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. 

On Tuesday afternoon I reached London Bridge underground station on my way back home after attending work meetings in Watford. I try to avoid travelling to Watford wherever possible, as the train journey and interchanges take an average of two and a half hours on a good day – and substantially more if anything should go wrong. I detest travel at the best of times. I think that now we have high speed web access and reliable voice and data interchange, the need to physically attend a particular location in order to undertake office type jobs should be greatly reduced obviously a fire fighter or chef would be hard pressed to work from home, but many jobs do lend themselves to working remotely. I digress; As I got off the tube train, a tube in the other direction was disgorging its’ passengers at the same time. I was met by a striking and rather surreal sight – a group of thirty or so gay guys all dressed in fancy dress – but also they were all wearing wellies! When I saw a couple both dressed in replicas of the infamous Jean Paul Gaultier pointy boobed dress, I twigged – they were all off to see the Madonna concert at Hyde Park! There was less press coverage of the Madonna gig than the very controversial Bruce Springsteen one a few days earlier, and most reports say the Madonna gig amplification was so quiet that many struggled to hear anything at all. Personally I think it very unlikely that any future licences will be grated for Hyde Park – not only do the exceedingly well heeled (and connected) local residents not want concerts in the park, the audiences are slowly realising that the park is an absolutely terrible music venue. The shape of the open space has terrible acoustics, sucking up sound, and because the grassed area is so flat, rainwater does not run off, and the grass rapidly turns to thick mud. The bark chippings used by the concert promoters apparently smelled so bad a few people were actually ill. I think its' days are numbered - maybe the Stratford arena will host some gigs once the fiasco Olympic Games are over. 

Minister for Justice, and Sidcup MP James Brokenshire is (understandably) getting very hot under the collar about scrap metal thefts; it is very good to see cross party support on this ongoing and serious matter from our own MP, Teresa Pearce. The whole area has been blighted by repeated cable thefts; some parts of Lower Belvedere have been without phone and broadband for up to four days at a time. This has also had the knock on effect of stopping emergency call systems used by elderly and infirm people from working – a potentially fatal issue. The thieves cause this horrendous disruption for metals with only pocket money value – and in some cases the numpties cut through fibre optic cables, not realising they have no resale value at all – this deprives local resident of vital broadband coverage, often for days at a time. Both Brokenshire (Conservative) and Pearce (Labour) are united in supporting a Scrap Metal Dealer’s Bill. This bill, if enacted in Parliament, will make the anonymous sale of scrap for cash a criminal offence. People wishing to sell scrap metal will need to be registered with a dealer, and any financial transactions will have to be by fully documented bank transfer – this will also have the secondary effect of making tax evasion much more difficult for what has historically been a part of the black economy.

The video clip this week is in memoriam of one of the most talented keyboard players in contemporary music - the inimitable Jon Lord, who sadly died this week. The clip shows him playing with Deep Purple, and readily showcases his classically trained technique. Watch and feel free to leave a comment below.


  1. Hi Arthur,

    I apologise for posting unrelated comments on your blog, but I could not find any direct contact details for you.

    My name is Stephanie and I'm from Melbourne Theatre Company, Australia. I'd like to talk to you about using of one of the photos from your flickr account. I was wondering if you could email me so that I might be able to give you more details? My email address is s.convery AT

    Many thanks,

  2. so I reckon there was a fair chance the Morrison’s staff would be able to corner the beast. The small piece of waste land behind the recycling centre that lies next to the banks of the Thames......?

  3. Sounds like your camera may have had a crisis of conscience about photographing the torch too!