Sunday, May 19, 2013

Danger - UXB.

The photos above and below show the work of Thames 21 - the environmental charity that works to clean up the River Thames. They were working with the local Army Cadet unit to remove shopping trollies and other detritus from the mud at low tide this Sunday morning. There was a very good turn out of local volunteers to help in the clean up works.

It seems that unexploded WWII bombs are a bit like buses – you wait ages without seeing any, then two turn up at once. Last week two dummy practice shells were unearthed by demolition contractors on the Larner Road Estate site, and this week two unexploded bombs were discovered on the Tarmac Construction site in Church Manor Way. These were real explosive devices, and they were made safe by the Army. As I mentioned last week, it is a constant source of amazement to me that not more ordnance is uncovered. The whole of the East and South East of London was utterly plastered in explosives by the Luftwaffe during World War 2, many of which failed to detonate. This failure to detonate was down to a number of reasons; earlier on in the war, most bomb fuses were electro mechanical, and quite often the vibration of being loaded and carried on a bomber would cause the mechanical part of the fuse to jam. Later, as the fuse designs improved and became more reliable, some bomb fuses were designed with a user set  delay before they detonated; the Nazis correctly surmised that an unexploded bomb could cause even more disruption and diversion of resources than one that went off immediately, as proved to be the case. Later in the war, the reason for bomb failures changed again; as the Nazis retreated after the Normandy D-Day invasion, they drew much of their manufacturing East, and into the heart of Germany. Most of their established armament factories had been bombed by the Allies, and they resorted to constructing giant weapons factories in caves and old salt mines. These were mainly staffed by slave labour – prisoners from the Russian front and concentration camp inmates. The work regimes were brutal, and many died in the arms factories. Ironically the use of slave labour backfired, as there are many documented instances of sabotage caused by the slaves – things like tiny pieces of cardboard slipped into the electrical arming switch of the bomb fuse, making it unable to complete the circuit and detonate. The Imperial War Museum has a display of WWII German bomb fuses, including a couple of ones that were deliberately sabotaged at the point of manufacture. If you want to find out more about bomb disposal in and around London during WWII, you could do far worse than ordering a copy of the classic 1979 ITV drama series “Danger UXB”. The stories in the series were fictional, but the bombs, the fuse types and the techniques used to render them safe were 100% technically accurate, as the series advisor was a former Army EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) officer. The bombs “defused” in the series were not props, they were real German bombs from the war that had been made safe. The series really was superb. More on this further down this weeks’ post...

One of my local sources attended the comedy evening at The Running Horses last Bank Holiday weekend. He said that the event was very good indeed, and better attended than he anticipated. A couple of people had come all the way from Greenwich to attend. Unfortunately I could not make it, but would like to go along to a future comedy evening at the pub. You can see their website by clicking here. The next comedy night is on Sunday the 2nd of June, which is also the day of the 2013 Erith Riverside Festival - do mark it on your calendar.

Some good news is being reported by the News Shopper; amongst all the doom, gloom and conflict that the ongoing story of the Thames Crossing story is currently generating, another far more positive story has come to light. Frank’s Park, which joins Erith and Belvedere has had a new cycling trail opened. It is part of the Green Chain of cycle routes that cross the region. The Green Chain consists of three hundred parks and other open spaces that spans from Slade Green marshes across Shooters Hill to Dulwich park. The chain provides a network of cycle and pedestrian friendly routes which are designed to eventually cover all of Greater London. The aim is to encourage people to take up cycling by making the whole experience more user friendly by providing places to securely park bicycles, places to purchase refreshments and also bike hire points (though I don’t think that this will extend to Boris Bikes at this time).  Frank's Park has been in need of some fresh blood and new ideas for a very long time. Back in the days when Trinity school was still Picardy, it was based on two separate sites – the Oaks in Erith Road, and the Beeches on the other side of Frank's Park in Halt Robin road. This meant that pupils would have to commute through the park (or “the woods” as they were normally known) in all weathers. Heavy rain and snow were both very challenging – both school sites(not to mention many of the pupils) would be encrusted in mud when it was wet, and snowy weather would bring a succession of pupils with minor bangs and scrapes as a popular way of going from The Oaks (at the top of a hill) to the Beeches (at the bottom) was to use one’s school bag as an improvised toboggan. Understandably chaos often ensued. Once the Beeches was sold off to become a school for children with special needs, and Picardy school was re-branded as Trinity, the use of the park by school children pretty much ceased.  Whilst it was still popular with dog walkers, it never got the level if use it did during the Picardy school years.  Now that the Green Chain has been extended through Frank's Park, hopefully utilisation of this valuable local open space will once again increase.

A new website about the history of Belvedere, and to a lesser extent, Erith has recently been launched. The Roundabout Belvedere site is a fascinating account of the history of the local area and has lots of photos that I have never seen before. It is a great resource, though it could do with a slightly less graphically busy design. A worthwhile site and well worth a visit.

Another website I visit on a regular basis is one year old this week. The Build the Enterprise website has gained a huge amount of publicity and has a very large number of subscribers. The premise of the site is that governments such as those of the USA, China, Russia and India are running space programmes which are very short term and limited in scope, and that they need to think on a far bigger and more integrated level. The author of the site proposes that over a period of the next twenty years massive funding is given into research into new materials and engine technologies to be able to build a real – life full sized USS Enterprise. Whilst this sounds like a bit of a joke it is actually a very clever way of gaining press coverage and free publicity to encourage engineering research into better and more efficient spacecraft to explore the entire solar system, not just the Moon and Mars. What the author is proposing is not the Enterprise from Star Trek, but a ship that looks markedly similar, and is as huge as the fictional star ship, but that is built using new and cutting edge technologies, but does not have science fiction elements like transporters, artificial gravity or warp drive, but instead builds a “real world” ship that could be used by large groups of explorers, scientists and space tourists over an extended period of time. You can see the website by clicking here. It is fascinating and thought provoking, though whether anything solid will actually come of it, I have my doubts. I think that may well be missing the point though – building the Enterprise would seem to me to be more of a symbolic goal; I think the real end result would be a far more well thought out and better engineered approach to space exploration in general, rather than the rather nationalistic and short term approach that is currently employed. Either way Build the Enterprise is a very interesting read for anyone with an interest in high technology and space exploration.

The investigation into the unsolved hit and run death of Erith Schoolgirl Gemma Rolfe is entering its’ tenth year. This weekend marks a decade since the twelve year old was killed whilst a passenger in her stepfather’s car whilst travelling along Slade Green Road on May the 19th 2003. Their car was hit by a stolen white Austin Maestro van and Gemma was killed – she was cut out of the wrecked Suzuki Vitara, but did not survive the ordeal. The driver of the stolen van then made off, and has never been reliably identified, and it is thought that some local residents may be concealing his identity.  The Police have never closed the enquiry and are using the tenth anniversary of the crime to re – launch the appeal for witnesses to come forward and tell  them who the hit and run driver was. There will be a vigil, along with a balloon release at the site of the crash, at the junction of Slade Green Road and Canada Road from 7pm this evening. You can also help by checking out the website that has been set up to support the continued campaign for justice for a little girl who never got the chance to grow up through the evil actions of a person who still remains at large. Link here for the site.

As I have mentioned on several occasions in the past, I am not a keen video gamer; I lack the reflexes and hand / eye co-ordination to be any good at computer games. On top of this they mostly strike me as a bit of a waste of time. I have however found myself questioning my attitude due to exposure to one really stunning game. I decided that since I had acquired my new, bespoke and very high performance Apple iMac, that I ought to install something on it which actually pushed its’ capabilities to some extent. After a bit of research I decided to purchase BioShock from the Apple app store. It was a game with universally stunning reviews, yet as the game was a couple of years old, the app store purchase price was only £13.99 – if I did not get on with it, there would not be too much of a loss.  I must admit over the last week I have spent far too much time in what is a totally immersive virtual world. The game is a type of first person shooter where not shooting is as important as shooting. It is based on the philosophy of Russian / American philosopher and writer Ayn Rand, and her ground breaking sci fi / political novel “Atlas Shrugged”.  The plot of the game can be summarised as follows:- “The year is 1960; while flying over the Atlantic ocean, average citizen Jack blacks out and awakens to discover that he is the sole survivor of a plane crash. Amidst the wreckage of his plane Jack spots and swims to a lighthouse and boards a Bathysphere that takes him deep within the ocean and into Rapture. Originally conceived as a utopia where a man would be entitled to all that he made without the interference of "parasites" by idealistic billionaire mogul Andrew Ryan. Rapture has since decayed and festered from the infectious effects of civil war and anarchy, brought about by the very ideals its’ citizens and its’ leader embrace. Aided by a sympathetic smuggler and a rogue geneticist, Jack salvages gene altering chemicals transforming himself into a superhuman, and uses his newfound powers and abilities as well as an arsenal of weapons to fend off the vicious hordes of psychotic mutants, security robots and armoured super soldiers that resulted from Rapture's unrest while given the choice to either rescue or lethally harvest the genetic material from Rapture's only citizens with a chance: the 10 year old "Little Sisters". As Jack wanders through the condemning atmosphere of rapture, he treads towards a secret that for could shatter all that he has known forever”. Quite.  What this does not tell you is how visually stunning and atmospheric the game is; whilst the game is set in 1960, the underwater city of Rapture was supposedly created in the early 1930’s, and has a beautiful, broken down and seedy Art Deco look and feel. The music in the game is an evocative mix of pre war bluegrass, folk and opera, and the whole thing is stunningly rendered – the team behind the game did a wonderful job of creating a fantastical world that is both utterly alien, yet completely believable, with a high level of internal consistency. I won’t bore you with any more on BioShock, but even if video games are really not your thing, at least give it a look. Up until now, I have always thought the term “immersive, interactive fiction” was a bit too much; I am glad to report that in this case I could not have been any more wrong.  Highly recommended.

Local Police working in conjunction with the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directive managed to arrest a group of villains and thwart an illegal drugs ring with a haul of amphetamines, cannabis, Ecstasy and cocaine with a street value in the region of £7 million. The criminals were watched as they loaded up two lorries based at the Darent Industrial Park on the Slade Green marshes. The lorries were then followed as they took their illegal cargo Northward, and they were eventually intercepted on the M6 motorway in Cheshire. The gang of five miscreants included two criminal low lives from Erith. Hopefully when the case comes to court they will get sent down for a very long stretch indeed. What is currently not clear from the news reports on the story is whether the Police have managed to nick the "mister big" mastermind behind the serious crime, or whether the ones arrested are merely the "foot soldiers" of the operation. I would surmise that the authorities would wish to keep this kind of information under wraps for now, as one never knows if further arrests are anticipated. A good show from the local boys in blue either way. 

Something that I have noticed, but currently cannot find an explanation for is the current fashion amongst almost exclusively middle aged and elderly African women to completely remove their natural eyebrows, and instead paint on false ones with liner pencil; the problem with this seems to be that they quite often don't get it right - I have seen a number of ladies with a very surprised look due to too high painted eyebrows, and even one with a Roger Moore look, due to wonky brows with one higher than the other. All I can guess is that she painted them on without checking in a mirror. What is wrong with natural eyebrows? I don't get it. 

Many people are currently unaware that between now and 2020, all households in the UK will be fitted with “Smart meters”. Both gas and electricity infrastructures are already rolling out these new kind of meter, which does not need to be visited to be read. The meters transmit their usage statistics back to the power company automatically via the old 2G mobile phone system. The meters are also capable of detecting faults before they become apparent to the home owner, and can also indicate ways of reducing power bills by identifying wastage patterns which can be displayed on a wireless station in the users’ home. All sounds very efficient and 21st Century doesn’t it? As with nearly anything of this nature, there is a lot more to it which many people are not aware of.  Greg Jones, director at security consultancy and penetration testing firm Digital Assurance, discovered numerous shortcomings in three samples of two types of smart meters, which are installed in homes to monitor and control the use of gas and electricity. Typically, these devices are wirelessly connected to the supplier so data and upgrades can be easily transmitted over the air. The security that is built into these meter units is poor in many models, and almost non – existent in others. The level of security in these smart meters is far lower than you find in something like an X-Box games console. Jones is quoted as saying that “Smart meters are essentially crap computers in a crap box”. There has been media attention to how malicious hackers could target power stations and the power distribution infrastructure to cause widespread disruption. Scant attention has been given to how such attacks could be prevented at a domestic level. Why would a hacker spend time and effort trying to take down a nuclear power station, with its’ incredibly tight IT security, when instead they could achieve the same result by attacking the consumers in their homes and businesses in a much easier fashion? The wireless communication going to and from smart meters can be intercepted by radio and computer gear readily available over the counter, or online from sites like EBay. The level of technical knowledge required to intercept and manipulate the data and messages travelling between the power supplier and the individual smart meter is not actually very high – and much of the information is freely available online with little more than a Google search required to find it.  I think this could well become a very big story. I for one will not have a smart meter installed until I can be assured that it has a high level of security.

The end video this week is a real favourite of mine, and links in with the earlier story about bomb disposal. It is the full first episode of the classic 1979 ITV drama series "Danger UXB". The series followed the exploits of a bomb disposal team in London during the Blitz of 1940. The series was historically and technically extremely accurate - the advisors to the producers of the show were actual wartime bomb disposal officers, and the bombs "defused" in each episode were real German bombs from the war that had long before been made safe - not props. "Danger UXB" follows the professional and private lives of the team through the war, and shows the technical developments carried out by both sides, with the Nazis coming up with more devious ways of booby - trapping unexploded bombs, and the British "back room boffins" figuring out ways to defeat the technological terrors. I recall that my Dad would allow me to stay up and watch the show, even though it did not start until 9pm on Mondays (a school night), as he correctly realised it was both a valuable lesson in history, as well as giving an appreciation of science and engineering. If you would like to watch more episodes of the excellent series, click here to see them on YouTube. Please leave a comment below. 


  1. Danger UXB

    One episode of this series dealt with a particularly nasty device called a Butterfly Bomb. It contained a delayed action fuse which was specifically intended to kill bomb disposal experts. One viewer watching the episode realised that the interesting lump of metal he had dug out of his garden some years earlier and was using as a doorstop was actually one of these devices. It turned out that it was fully armed and live and could have gone off at any time.

    Richard Spink

  2. Hi, you won't know me, but I work for a MP, and was a former Erith resident many moons back. We have just had this "Which" report on food hygiene standards (which I know you are interested in) mailed to us, and you can see from the copy and paste below) that basically most of the Bexley area (B'Heath, Welling, Belvedere and Erith' is the worst in the UK. I assume Theresa Pearce has had a copy sent to her as well.

    Sure it will make a good column next week

    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    Strictly Embargoed Until Wednesday 22 May 2013 at 00:01 hrs

    Contact 020 7770 7699

    Postcode lottery on food hygiene

    A new Which? investigation has revealed the areas with the worst food hygiene ratings, and the popular food chains with too many branches diners may want to avoid.

    We found Bexley in Greater London had six of the ten worst postcodes studied, with the worst postcode in the country, DA7, having nearly half of the eateries inspected (45%) rated as lower than ‘generally satisfactory’.

    In comparison, Birmingham's B35 area came top, with none of the food outlets inspected in the area receiving a below ‘generally satisfactory’ score.

    Worst postcodes inspected:

    Area (number of outlets tested)


    Scored lower than 3 (%)

    Average score





    Bexley (85)




    Sutton (47)




    Bexley (56)




    Bexley (78)




    Bexley (65)




    Bexley (57)




    Croydon (85)




    Kingston-Upon-Thames (32)




    Bexley (66)




    Fast food & takeaway:

    Takeaway (number of outlets tested)

    Scored lower than 3 (%)

    Chicken Cottage (80)


    Dixy Chicken (68)


    Perfect Pizza (67)


    Favorite (69)


    Pizza GoGo (79)


    Convenience stores:

    Store (number of outlets tested)

    Scored lower than 3 (%)

    Best in/One (183)


    Costcutter (575)


    Premier (254)


    Londis (540)


    Nisa (307)


    Spar (659)



    Meera Khanna | Press Officer | Which?

    Tel: 020 7770 7699 / Mob: 07970 132 804

    Out of hours: 07970 132 811

  3. Nice to see the good work Thames 21are doing.
    I do wonder though if it's just a token thing having a once a year dredge, mind you I've not been to the pier at low tide in ages so don't actually know how much of a problem rubbish is in our part of the Thames. Hat's off to them though!

    You talk about the local area being plastered with bombs but I was always under the impression that most fell on ground further up the Thames towards London where the enemy planes were going to come under heavier fire from the Ack-Ack guns. Would be interesting to find out where Anti-aircraft guns were actually placed in the local area.
    I know the Pom-Pom is supposed to be called that because of the sound of a local anti-aircraft gun but not seen any proper evidence to confirm this. I was always told that's the reason for the name by word of mouth. I think it was probably more likely called The Pom-Pom because of the gun factory that had been on what's now the Europa Trading estate from the 1900's, seems to make more sense that the area got its name from the sound of gunfire/testing over a period of years rather than one big gun that was probably there only for about 4 years. Can anyone set me straight?
    I'm loving that new Belvedere local history site but by God it's hard on the eyes! Facinating stuff.

    I'll have to try the Running Horses Comedy Night, great to see stuff actually happening in our little fetid backwater! Shame it's on a Sunday night though.
    I'm not keen on the pub as I used to drink there about 10 years ago and found it boarded on "full of ar$eholes" and as I seemed to be the only one who drunk the London Pride the pint always tasted soapy as the pipes hadn't been cleaned properly no matter how much I complained. I know that’s a long time ago but went about 5 years ago for the Carvery and the staff and food were so rubbish I never went back.
    Time to give it a another try I think!

    Funny you should mention Franks Park, I went for a family bike ride last Sunday and it was weird as all the rat runs and bits I knew from walking through there everyday as a school kid are now all overgrown and wild but its still so familar. It's a lovely place (the whole place was carpeted in Bluebells when I went) but I do think it gets forgotten by Bexley Council and most people locally and although very pleasant a small gang of about 6 kids asked if they could borrow my childrens bikes and got downright rude when I said no.
    They even talked about stealing them while I was standing there in front of them but they were about 10 years old so I put it down to bravado rather than genreal chavness!
    Did you know it used to be the grounds for the Old Seamen's Home that was behind the Fire Station up by Trinity's school field?