Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Air Ambulance.

On Tuesday afternoon I was strolling homewards from Erith station after a day spent working in Canary Wharf. I could hear the distant whine of a gas turbine engine, but could not determine where it was coming from; giving it no heed, I passed through the Tunnel of Doom (tm) and then up the steps and into Pier Road. The engine sound was suddenly much louder, and I could see a helicopter swooping low over the area in front of Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, where the buses stop. It was the Air Ambulance, and it was clear to me that the pilot was looking for a place to land. He quickly realised that the bus halt area was unsuitable – there were too many street lamps and covered bus stops in the way. The helicopter then climbed, probably to give the pilot and the observer a better look at the area, before it flew towards the river front. I followed on foot, in time to see the helicopter land on the piece of grassland next to the Running Horses pub that used to be home to the old Erith Swimming Baths. As this happened, the sound of Police sirens seemed to be coming from all directions; it was pretty obvious to anyone in the area that something pretty serious had kicked off. I charged home at top speed, picked up my camera and strode back to the riverside as fast as I could. The helicopter observer had exited the craft, and used a large pair of bolt croppers to cut through the padlock which secured the gates in the fence that surrounded the piece of land. It was pretty obvious that the helicopter crew had to do this sort of thing on a regular basis, and came readily equipped. From speaking to the Police who had turned up en masse, it appeared that a young lad had been in some kind of altercation, and had been stabbed in the chest. I did not actually see the victim, as he was being treated further along West Street; the helicopter crew assisted the local ambulance crew for some minutes, before it became evident that they were no longer going to be required. After a few more minutes the helicopter crew returned to their aircraft and they took off, heading Northwards across the river.  I took quite a number of photos, some of which you can see on my Flickr account here, and they are also being used by the News Shopper with my permission here and here.

The much anticipated break in the wintry weather was greeted by pretty much everyone I have spoken to; having said that, there does seem to have been some reluctance to shed the winter garb; despite the welcome rise in temperature, I have still seen quite a large number of people dressed in heavy coats and woolly hats. I am unsure if this is because they are creatures of habit, and are reluctant to change their outer garb, or whether, after such a long periods of bitterly cold weather, they don’t trust the forecast and think it will still be freezing outside. It all rather smacks of the legendary cold weather protections espoused in Victorian Yorkshire and elsewhere – where certain protagonists were sewn into their woollen underwear from Autumn until the middle of Spring.

The Woolwich ferry celebrates its’ 50th anniversary this week; or more accurately, the current ferries that make up the service are in their 50th year of use. There has been a ferry on the River Thames at Woolwich for  far longer than this. The three vessels in service are currently undergoing a major refit in order to extend their service life, decrease their running costs and reduce harmful exhaust emissions. The £50 million project to life extend the vessels is being undertaken by marine engineering firm Briggs Marine; this should extend the operational life of the ships by another seven years or so.  The M.V James Newman, the M.V John Burns and the M.V Ernest Bevin carry between them approximately fifty thousand people and twenty thousand vehicles a week, and make an invaluable contribution to the transport infrastructure of South East London. The seven year life extension is important; it is designed to cover the period in which a new river crossing – either a bridge or a tunnel can be constructed to replace the Woolwich ferries.  The favourite solution with some local Councillors is a bridge at Gallions Reach, between Woolwich and Thamesmead. The counter to this which seems not to have registered on the said councillor’s radars is that the site of the proposed bridge would be located slap bang next to London City Airport. The problem for any potential bridge developer is international aviation law. Under this law, it is illegal to build any structure more than fifteen metres tall within a kilometre of an airport runway. Any bridge built over the Thames at Gallions Reach would need to be taller than fifteen metres to allow ships to pass underneath into the Pool of London, and the new liner facility opening adjacent to the O2 Arena, not to mention the possibility of the QE2 moving opposite the O2 Arena to be converted into a luxury hotel – a story I covered here.

Many people get targeted by cold callers; some of these want to try and sell you compensation services for mis – sold personal loan insurance, or the classic silent call that comes from an automated call centre somewhere obscure and outside of Europe. The big threat nowadays is from what is known as virus call centre scammers.  You may receive a call out of the blue from someone purporting to be from Microsoft, telling you that your computer has a serious virus and that they have detected it remotely. If you go along with this (and many do, not realising that neither Microsoft or Apple will phone users directly) the scam will proceed along these lines. The caller will tell you that your computer has been remotely detected with a number of serious virus infestations. The caller instruct you to download a remote access tool such as PC Anywhere. The caller will then get access to your Windows PC and start the event viewer utility, saying that a number of the event viewer notices are warnings of a virus infection; at this point the caller may well also tell you that your Windows activation key is invalid and has expired. The caller will then offer to “re- activate” your Windows installation for a fee of $160, payable annually, as part of their “software loyalty programme”. All of the above is utter tosh, and completely fraudulent. The scammers are trying to create FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) in the person on the other end of the phone line. These calls are coming mainly from organised fraudsters in India, who have industrialised this phone based crime with large call centres targeting people in Europe, the USA and Australia. Investigations are ongoing as to who the master minds behind this activity are, but in the meantime, don’t believe anyone who phones you saying that you have computer problems – just put the phone down. If you have any questions or concerns, get in contact with me for advice –

Erith couple Jerry and Wendy Crabtree appear to have stirred up a hornet’s nest in the News Shopper this week. They have made a complaint to Bexley Council regarding the behaviour of staff working for the council’s parking warden contractor. Wendy Crabtree is disabled, and the couple had to fight hard to get permission for a disabled parking bay to be created outside their house in Appold Street, off Manor Road. The traffic wardens were checking cars parked in the road, and in doing so they parked their own vehicle in the Crabtree’s parking bay. The Crabtrees then then returned in their own vehicle to find the bay occupied; they beeped their car horn and asked for the warden to move the vehicle, but they were ignored. When the wardens had finished their checks, they then drove off without an apology. I am surprised by this turn of events because of a number of factors. 1) I have never seen parking wardens in Appold Street or Manor Road – I wonder what caused them to visit? 2) I know Appold Street well – it is the road I recently highlighted as being the most infested with dog mess of anywhere in Erith, and the place where I ruined a previously perfectly good pair of boots after I accidentally stumbled into a particularly juicy and noisome turd – which I discussed at some length a couple of weeks ago. 3) Appold Street does have traffic problems, but not usually caused by people parking badly – quite the opposite- the road gets used as a cut through, or rat run when Manor Road gets busy in the mid afternoons, when traffic to and from the Slade Green Industrial Estate is at its’ peak. At the far end of Appold Street, where it joins with Wheatley Terrace and the site of Abbey Car Breakers, there are a row of bollards sunk into the roadway to prevent cars from taking a short cut round James Watt Way (the road that runs around the edge of Morrison’s car park) to bypass a great wodge of traffic that at times sits almost immobile in Manor Road. The problem is that the bollards are too widely spaced apart, and small cars can squeeze through the gap. This fact has become widely known by local drivers, who break the law using the shortcut all of the time. The mix of dog poo, fly tipped commercial rubbish (I nearly forgot to mention this) and illegally driven cars makes for quite a potent mixture in the street. I don’t think the offending traffic wardens had any clue about Appold Street being used as a rat run – from the News Shopper article describing the incident, the wardens were too busy looking for cars to ticket to actually address the far more pressing issue of the improper use of the road.

I took the photo above last Sunday afternoon; it was the first day when the terrible weather finally broke, and I took the opportunity to take a stroll up to the Larner Road Estate with my camera. Nowadays the place is a ghost town; all but one of the tower blocks have been evacuated, and the residents housed elsewhere until the demolition and reconstruction work has been completed. What was rather spooky was that a lot of the flats still have curtains at the windows, and some windows are even open, making the place feel like people are still living there, even though the tower blocks are blocked off with high hoardings and locked gates. When I visited, the main part of the physical demolition had yet to be started, but by the time you read this, much of the real estate depicted in the photo above will be gone; it is likely that the photos I took of the Larner Road tower blocks are some of the last ever taken, and may with luck become some kind of historical record of the events.As I wrote last week, I do feel that the new name for the reconstructed estate is anodyne and bland in the extreme - "Erith Park" is meaningless and non descriptive of the ambitious new development that will spring from the corpse of the old, failed estate.  

I gather that there have been a number of very specific rumours circulating on Facebook concerning a couple of alleged attempted child abductions in the last week or so in the local area. The first of these was raised at the start of the week, and was concerned with an alleged abduction attempt in Dartford. In my role as Neighbourhood Watch Co-Ordinator for part of Erith, I was contacted by a couple of concerned residents, and I did some research into the subject. It turns out that several non - specific accounts of "Eastern Europeans" trying to abduct British children had been voiced. The Police investigated, and the stories turned out to be incorrect - there was no factual basis to the allegations whatsoever. It does sound like someone with an axe to grind has been making up these tales in order to make scurrilous and racist accusations where in fact there is no case to answer. A second, similar story arose later in the week, where a parent alleged that an Eastern European woman had tried to abduct a child in a very similar scenario in a park in Beckenham. The original Dartford abduction incident has now been dismissed by Police as nothing more than a fantasy that has been fuelled by online gossip mongers on Facebook. I have little information about the second reported incident, but at the time of writing, it seems to have a very similar profile. Abductions of children do occasionally occur, but they are extremely rare, and almost never occur where the parents are present, as has been alleged in the two incidents this week. I get the feeling that these are protective hysteria mixed with a racist subtext, and fuelled by someone with a hidden agenda. As always, time will tell.
About this time last year, rumours started circulating around a number of technology gossip websites; the scuttlebutt was that Google were investing a huge amount of their unbelievable fortune in a research and development of an enhanced reality set of goggles. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, this rumour turned out to be correct, and Google have just launched the pilot of their  Google Glass wearable computer  hardware. A select few Americans, who entered a lottery for the privilege of paying $1,500 for a pre- release set of glasses, are now receiving them, and they are beginning to publish their findings online. Google Glass is an attempt to free data from desktop computers and portable devices like phones and tablets, and place it right in front of your eyes. Essentially, Google Glass is a camera, display, touchpad, battery and microphone built into spectacle frames so that you can perch a display in your field of vision, film, take pictures, search and translate on the go. The principle is one that has been around for years in science fiction, and more recently it has become a slightly clunky reality. In fact, the "heads-up display" putting data in your field of vision became a reality as early as 1900, when the reflector gun sight was invented. Google Glass consists of a spectacle – like frame that has a miniature camera and a refractive prism screen, which acts as both a viewfinder for the motion and still camera functionality, and as an output device for the enhanced reality features, such as simultaneous language translation – a person talking to  you in for example, Mandarin, could have their words translated into English to be read from the tiny screen; the conversation could then also be automatically transcribed to read later.  The prism screen has  a resolution of 640 x 360 pixels, the camera has a five megapixel resolution, and is capable of recording 720p HD video. Connectivity is via both 802.11 b/g WiFi and Bluetooth tethering to a mobile device running an Android device running Android 4.0.12 or higher. Glass comes with 16Gb of built – in storage, 12gb of which is available for the user (the remainder is used by the operating system). Voice recognition software used by Glass cleverly circumvents the problem of ambient noise by using a bone transducer to pick up voice sounds from the wearer’s skull, rather than using a more easy confused conventional microphone. Glass tethers with Android and iOS devices using an app for extended functionality. You will be able to dictate Emails whilst on the go, and quite creepily, developers are working on software that will recognise the faces of your friends in a crowd, which can be linked with data from the Glass’s onboard GPS receiver to record location data. This creates serious privacy and security concerns – what is to stop someone continuously scanning attendees at an event, or even people in your average high street, and comparing them with faces in photos online to record who is where and when? The technology being developed both by Google and large numbers of third party Glass software engineers is awesome – a real sci – fi gadget that is coming into real life. As with many things of this nature, the marriage of cutting edge technology and the law of unintended consequences can produce results that nobody can predict.  The initial version of Glass, code named Explorer is currently being deployed to the beta testers who have paid handsomely for the privilege. The current version cannot be used if you wear prescription spectacles or sunglasses, but later versions are planned which may involve collaborations with companies like Ray – Ban, and versions for prescription spectacles are planned for late in 2013. On top of the previously stated privacy concerns, there are also legal issues relating to the use of Google Glass in public, not least whilst driving. I would expect that in the UK at least they will be classed in a similar manner to mobile phones – and banned from use whilst driving. It will be instructive to see when the first prosecution takes place. British users are not able to join the initial beta rollout of Glass. When the production versions become available later in the year, it is anticipated that the UK retail price will be around the £995 mark – which is sure to come down in time.

The Bexley Times are reporting a story about a graffiti “artist” being found guilty of a string of graffiti offences over a ten year period. The scrote – a certain Kristian Holmes of Sidcup was convicted of a total of thirty eight counts of criminal damage, with repairs to his vandalism costing a total of quarter of a million pounds. The damage was mostly around railway stations and trains; I recall seeing a great deal of graffiti at the South Eastern Trains depot at Slade Green; from the account it seems probable that it was indeed Holmes that was responsible, as he seems to have been “target number one” by the British Transport Police. What amazes me is that Holmes is now thirty two years old, and has a job as an accounts manager. Considering he has been carrying out criminal graffiti damage for the last ten years, whatever possessed him? Even as a twenty two year old, he surely should have gown out of the juvenile desire to vandalise? All I can surmise is that he must be amazingly immature and self obsessed to continue with this childish activity. Hopefully when he is sentenced, the court will punish him effectively. Before you counter “well, what about Banksy then?”. I have first hand experience of Banksy’s early work. Between the year 2000 and 2007 I was based in an office building in Blackfriars Road, on the South Bank of the Thames. All around the area were railway arches and warehouses – a relic of the areas’ industrial past. This was where Banksy first started his unique and humorous take on street art. I recall seeing one of his very earliest pieces – a life sized cartoon of a Coldstream Guard in full ceremonial uniform, taking a surreptitious leak against the pillar upon which he was painted.  Even at the very beginning it was obvious that this was no mere destructive paint dauber, but someone of a unique and unusual talent. I have been a follower of his career ever since.

The end video this week is a bit of a departure; it is a cover version of the classic Genesis track "Entangled" - a song about hypnotic past life regression in 6/8 time. This version is a bit of an update and change from the original, in that it uses heavy fuzz guitar instead of the original trio of two twelve string and a third six string Ovation acoustic guitar, and eliminates the huge Mellotron choir and Moog Taurus bass pedal ending. It is  an interesting take, but to my mind not a patch on the original Prog Rock classic. See what you think, and please feel free to leave a comment below.


  1. Hi Hugh, just a quick note regarding the Willeke ship that is a frequent visitor to Erith pier. Wandering along this morning we saw a plastic covered notice attached to the railings next to said vessel. It was a little description of the Willeke and its cargo and current work load. The cargo is spoil from the London sewer project and is discharged at mucking near Gravesend. Nice to get some knowledge of what these ships are doing.
    While on the pier we were delighted to get a brief glimpse of two Harbour porpoises slowly making their way downstream, frequent visitors to this part of the river I believe and often seen feeding near the RSPB site over at Rainham Marshes.

  2. Banksy started out in Bristol where he worked for a few years with other similar artists and not the south bank, but I agree he is far more talented and interesting than fools like that bloke. His tags are generic and dull. It isn't art. The same old style that has been around for decades with no innovation or thought, and doesn't raise a smile or make you think like talented artists.