Sunday, December 23, 2012

Master Chef in Erith?

The partial resurfacing of Manor Road took place overnight on Tuesday. Bexley Council Highways department, along with a small army of contractors from Conway started work at 7pm, and continued through until some time after 2am the next morning. I took photos of the action as you can see – click on them for a larger version. I got talking to the project manager from Bexley Council, who recalled me from the previous time the road was resurfaced in 2009 when I also took photos. He said that the work they were carrying out was purely first aid; they were removing the crumbling top layer of tarmac, skimming the remaining surface smooth, laying a fresh layer of special sound deadening tarmac, rolling it smooth, then re – painting the road lines – all in a space of around nine hours. Pretty impressive stuff. The fact remains that it is a temporary repair which will only buy the council a year or so’s time until it needs to be done again. The project manager told me that the problem was down to the underlaying material that was acting as a foundation – the material was too springy and yielding, causing the top layer of tarmac to flex and eventually crack under the weight of the heavy goods vehicles and buses that use the road. He said that at some stage they were going to need to close Manor Road for anything up to a couple of weeks in order to dig down up to three feet in some places to remove the foundations, and also remove the remains of the tram lines which still exist along much of the length of the roadway, that were covered over by surfacing when the tram was decommissioned. The rails are still there, rusting and weakening the foundation level of material; they were originally left in situ as the cost of removing them was at the time thought to be prohibitive. It has turned out to be an expensive error in the long run; any permanent repair for the road will entail removing the rails for disposal. It might be easier to just dig up the road and let the scrap dealers know that there was some steel going free – the rails would disappear in a flash – problem solved! Anyway, the issue of the crumbling surface of Manor Road will not go away, it has just been deferred for a while longer.

The big technology success of this year came from a rather unexpected angle. Rather than the iPhone 5 or the iPad Retina being the sat hardware release, as so many I.T pundits incorrectly predicted, it was a not for profit educational foundation and a group of hackers that produced the Raspberry Pi. This tiny, ultra cheap computer built with off the shelf components, and capable of running a number of operating systems, including several Linux builds, Android and AmigaOS has taken the IT industry by storm. It was predicted that the Raspberry Pi would sell around 10,000 units over the course of its’ first year in production. Since February over 750,000 units have been shipped, and it is predicted that by February next year – the first anniversary of its’ launch, that the diminutive machine will be owned by over 1 million people. A stunning success from a tiny organisation that is staffed entirely by volunteers.

Over the past couple of years I have been quite critical of Bexley’s main free local paper, the News Shopper. I think the print edition is a very strong community news source; and I like it very much. The web base version attracts my ire mainly due to the lack of editorial moderation of the reader comments, which on occasion have been so strongly worded as to be offensive. Overall though it provides a pretty decent news service for the area, and I understand that it does so on a shoestring. There are times when the quality of journalism goes out of the window, and the sub editing fails. This has happened most recently on a story by reporter George Sargent on a lovely story about how Erith chef Keri Moss won the recent BBC Master Chef – the professionals competition. In his interview with her, Sargent writes that she attended “Piccadee” school in Erith as a child. When I read this, I spat cinders – any cursory amount of research would have revealed that the name was “Picardy”; on top of this, how was the phonetic spelling missed by the sub editor? It is blatantly obvious from the way the article is written that mister Sargent had never heard the name before. On  lighter note, it is very heartening news to read that a local lady has won what is a pretty prestigious, not to say high profile cookery award. In the interview, Keri Moss talks of her ambition to open a restaurant in London or the South East, serving high quality traditional British food. Keri, if you are reading this (something I seriously doubt) why not put your money where your mouth is, and open a high profile restaurant in Erith? There would be no local competition, there are plenty of premises available, and with your newly won fame, you could put Erith on the gastronomic map. Simple, high quality traditional British food should prove to be a real winner, and could give Erith a name for something other than facial tattoos and casual violence. Look what happened to Thomasina Myers; she won Masterchef and now co – owns the Wahaca chain of Mexican restaurants. OK; it helps that her husband is an investment banker who helped her raise the finance for the venture, but if you were to start out small, with a double unit in the vacant retail outlet opposite Erith Health Centre, you would have the best of both worlds – there are three nearby car parks, the rent on the units would almost certainly be negotiable (they have been empty since they were built and any developer worth their salt will want to get some kind of revenue stream going) and I reckon that Bexley Council would give you a couple of years respite from business rates. Come on Keri – you know it makes sense!

Another piece of excellent news comes from the announcement that the proposed redevelopment of the Larner Road sink hole estate has now received planning approval. Work on the £100 million regeneration project is due to start as early as March next year, with the first new homes ready in 2015. The proposal will see housing association Orbit South replace the estates five tower blocks with a mix of houses and low-rise apartments, comprising between 550 and 622 new homes. I understand that the plan is to make far more use of the open space that will be freed up by the demolition of the ugly and worn out tower blocks, and that the Dell nature area is to be expanded and improved. The focus is going to be far more on making welcoming and accessible public spaces, with the added bonus of doing away with all the current dark corners where the drug dealers and muggers lurk. One other ambitious and quite brave move being made by Orbit is that the low level housing will be a mixture of rental, shared ownership and around sixty new houses for sale. I think that the quality of the housing will need to be exceptionally good, and at a very reasonable price if it is to attract buyers. The poor reputation that the Larner Road estate currently has will be hard to overcome – which may lead to problems in future re-sales. The fact that the estate is known to be a sink hole for problem families will count against it, unless some concerted marketing effort and a genuine social re-engineering take place. The general feedback I have encountered is that the area will always be undesirable until such time the anti social behaviour and problem families are sorted out. I think that this is a fair point, but it does rather unfairly paint all Larner Road residents with the same brush. I know of many law abiding and sensible people who have lived there for years – yes, there are more than the area’s fair share of villains and scumbags on the estate, but don’t forget the good people too. Some have suggested that a system similar to that about to be piloted in The Netherlands may be in order. They are implementing something that is informally termed “Scum Village” – repeat offenders with charges of anti social behaviour, are being re-housed into units converted from shipping containers in a private village well away from their previous homes and local contacts. They will live in the units for six months, under the supervision and guidance of social workers and the Police. If they can prove that they are able to lead normal, productive lives after this period of mentoring and training, they can re – integrate into Dutch society. The scheme is designed to stop the exodus of the “nice” families that are victimised by the problem families, leaving only anti social trouble makers in certain housing estates. It is certainly an intriguing idea, but I have my doubts as to how the Dutch experiment will pan out. It is clear that one cannot simply move the problems on, as the root cause of their misbehaviour needs to be addressed. I think Orbit are to be congratulated for taking on what is going to be a massive engineering project in a relatively short build period; the greater challenge will be getting the mix of residents correct, rather than any issues with simple bricks and mortar.

One of the biggest growth areas in contemporary consumer electronics is the Smart TV. These devices, which merge the functionality of a computer with a large high definition screen are becoming an increasingly common sight in people’s living rooms. Something that the owners of Samsung smart televisions need to be aware of, is that a theoretical security exploit has been discovered which could allow a third party to completely take over control of their television, including the camera and built in microphone. Thus far nobody has managed to carry out an attack of this nature “in the wild” – just in a security laboratory. Currently the exploit only works if the attacker has direct physical access to the television via the Ethernet connection. It is however only a matter of time before a remote exploit is developed. I have a Samsung 46 ES8000 smart television, which is one of the models said to be potentially vulnerable, but I am sleeping easily in my bed. My TV is sat behind a fully stealthed fibre optic router complete with strong wireless encryption and a hardware firewall that I have penetration tested. I am not saying my network is invulnerable (there is no such thing, and only a fool would say otherwise) but it would be a very difficult one to crack, and there are far easier targets nearby. The worry is, not that someone may potentially be able to see you sat in front of your telly in your jim jams, but if they can access the TV’s computer, they may be able to install Ransom Ware – malicious software that blocks functionality of the device until a web page is visited and a “fine” is paid – after which, the ransom ware may, or more likely may not be uninstalled. This kind of digital hijacking is going on with increasing frequency. Some ransom ware writers are even posing as national Police services, accusing users of accessing child porn and suchlike; this is exploiting peoples’ fears of “getting into trouble” and psychologically intimidating them into paying the “fine”. This has been happening on mainly Windows PCs for some time, and I would not be surprised to see it on Apple OS X and smart televisions of all brands in the near future. The black hats are always looking for a new attack vector and platform to exploit. It is all about cash at the end of the day, and the best way to extort it from the innocent users.

The Erith Watch website reports a theft of a much treasured bicycle from a back garden shed in Manor Road, Erith during the early hours of Friday the 13th of December. Property crime always rises in the weeks before Christmas, as the burglars realise that people will have been out buying presents for Christmas. Simple measures such as making sure doors are double locked and windows secured can help, and out buildings are kept secured – not always easy if you have a rather rickety shed, of course. Personally I have some rather more robust measures in place, though I understand the Police took a rather dim view of my request to install land mines in the back lawn... Seriously, if you need advice on home and domestic security, contact your local Safer Neighbourhood Police team – they can send an advisor to look at your place, and make suggestions of effective ways to improve security and deter property theft. They don’t charge for this service and it is completely confidential

Morrison's in Erith were promoting a seasonal real ale by Kent's premier brewer Shepherd Neame last week. Their Christmas Ale was displayed in a pallet by the off licence section of the store; I picked up a couple of bottles, as I am a big fan of Shepherd Neame beers. They have a very distinctive taste like the beer from no other brewery - probably due to the fact they have their own artesian well, which supplies all of the water for their brewing. Christmas Ale is not some novelty product with chocolate or Cinnamon in it, as some lesser brewers are wont to do; instead it is a subtle, yet powerful ale, with many distinct flavour undertones. You can watch a video review of the beer below. Unfortunately the ale was a victim of its' own success, and stocks were rapidly snapped up (somehow I doubt that all of the buyers were ale enthusiasts - I have a sneaking suspicion that a certain percentage of buyers were attracted by the fact it was a pint that was 7% alcohol by volume at a bargain price of £1.50 per bottle, and sod the superior quality) - still, if a few Stella heads are converted to the cause of real ale, it is a price worth paying.

Since it is Christmas (however much I am not in a festive mood) here is a second ending video. As you may be aware, the most over subscribed live concert in entertainment history was recently released on DVD and BluRay. My one - time boss, Peter Moore, the station manager of Radio Caroline was the only person fortunate enough to gate crash the gig.  Led Zeppelin's 2007 concert at the O2 Arena in Greenwich has now been released as a film called "Celebration Day". You can see what many consider to be their finest track below. Click to make the embedded window full screen, and enjoy the sepulchral majesty of Led Zeppelin playing "Kashmir". I rest my case.


  1. I just noticed the Led Zep clip, no bass. If that's just the 4 of them making all that noise without any production happening off stage the **** me!!

  2. From re - watching the video, it would appear that John Paul Jones is a very busy chap indeed. He's playing the string samples from the lower keyboard, and the brass from the upper keyboard. At the same time he is playing the bass parts on a set of bass pedals below the keyboard setup. I cannot tell whether they are Fender or Mood Taurus pedals, as Jones has used both in the past. I understand that there are no overdubs on the live recording.

  3. Overdubs..!!!! Please! This is the finest rock band in the world!