Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Maggot Sandwich regenerates.

With all of the engineering work currently being undertaken on the road bridge over the railway by Bexley Road at present, I thought that it would be a good chance to re - acquaint you with the hideous Erith Fish sculpture, which is very close by. It does not get any easier on the eye I am afraid. The only benefit is that you could not imagine such a monstrosity anywhere else, and it does make a handy marker for the town, however horrendous it might be.

If you have visited the Maggot Sandwich during the last week, you may well have noticed that it was looking different – the layout changing and the various page elements not hanging together properly. The reason for this happened on Tuesday evening. You may recall that I have recounted for the last couple of months how the Blogger template I have been using for the last year or so has developed numerous bugs – the “About me” pop – out column on the right hand of the screen would lose almost all of its’ content; the comments box would randomly appear and disappear at the bottom of each entry, and various other small irritations (such as preview not working) which annoyed both myself and a number of readers who have made comments. All of these problems were caused by coding errors made by Google, who own and run Blogger. I logged support calls but got no response (I suspect the reason my request was met with apathy was that I refuse to host advertising on the Maggot Sandwich, despite Google repeatedly asking me to do so; because I am not generating a revenue stream for them – however minuscule in their greater scheme of things, they have little incentive to resolve my ongoing formatting problems). To cap this all off, on Tuesday evening, I noticed that word wrap was no longer working; all of my content is pretty rigidly formatted – all text is justified to make it look neat on the screen – I cannot stand ragged edges when reading text, and suspect that I am far from alone in this respect. The problem was, that instead of inserting variable gaps between words to keep everything looking neat, the template was cutting words halfway through their length when they reached the end of a line. It looked horrible and made reading difficult – on top of that it made the whole blog look amateurish and cobbled together without care, which is anything but the case – each weekly update takes an average of ten hours to research,  write, format and publish. I have now created a new look and feel using a different (and apparently bug free) template; I would like to say "Thank You" to my small group of testers and quality controllers who have been giving me feedback and suggestions as to the new look and feel during the week, prior to the usual Sunday publication and announcement of the enforced redesign. It is ironic, as I was very happy with the template I had been using. It was clean and uncluttered – but chock full of programming bugs, as many of you will have noticed. I have had a couple of readers enquire as to whether I have considered moving blogging platform to something like WordPress. Yes I have, albeit rather briefly. The main thing is, I have so much time and effort invested in Blogger it would be very difficult to change. I fully accept that there are better content management and publishing platforms now out there, but for the most part (present situation excepted) Blogger has been “just good enough”. You will note the return of the blog link list, the "about me" panel, and the drop down "Blog Archive" list - from which you can access all seven plus years of Maggot Sandwich content. 

It would seem that Malcolm Knight’s fears about the management of the Howbury Centre in Slade Green passing to a commercial organisation were met. Howbury Friends, the not for profit volunteer group that had applied to continue running the centre were elbowed out in favour of a commercial organisation called “Greener Bexley / Eco Communities”. Malcolm likened the decision, which was made at a Bexley Council meeting as a theatrical performance, and that it was apparent to himself, and others also in attendance that the discussion had been rehearsed prior to the meeting. You can read his account by clicking here.  As previously mentioned, Eco Communities would appear to have a very poor record of financial management, and have a County Court Judgement against them for non payment of bills. Even if, as the various Councillors said, the Eco Communities presentation and bid was stronger than that submitted by Howbury Friends, surely this should have been weighed by the fact that Howbury Friends are a volunteer run group, whereas Eco Communities are a commercial organisation? On top of that, any investigation into Eco Communities would have uncovered their shaky and tenuous financial position, which does not bode well for their continued existence.  Malcolm Knight has uncovered all sorts of things which Bexley Council should have discovered themselves during even the most rudimentary due diligence checks. It all seems suspect from my point of view.

I have come to the firm conclusion that the Royal Mail now needs to be renamed to accurately reflect its’ function today. In the last week I have received two letters (unfortunately, both bills) and a total of twenty two pieces of advertising, some enveloped to disguise it as if it were a letter. This infuriates me; I consciously go out of my way to avoid the services of any organisation that uses this underhand technique – Virgin TV, I am talking about you! It is now evident that the Royal Mail business model is completely broken. They can no longer make money by delivering items posted; they now charge companies to stuff advertising crap though peoples’ front doors. It has got so bad that I feel like fitting a document shredder to my letterbox – as all the offending advertising flyers only get collected and taken round to the Council recycling centre in Morrison’s car park. When one factors up the thousands (millions?) of people around the country that throw unsolicited advertising leaflets out as a matter of principle, it must amount to a vast waste of resources. Don’t the advertisers realise that many people will actively avoid their products or services if they have them repeatedly rammed down their throats every time they pick up stuff from the door mat? On top of the large corporate advertisers that are the subject of most of my ire, the other guilty party are the local pizza and kebab shops that keep on covering my door mat with their flyers. When I say “local”, I mean that some come from East Hill in Dartford, and I have even had one from as far away as Greenhithe. As if they are going to deliver to Erith, and even if they did, any food would be a greasy, cold and congealed mess by the time it was delivered. Most fast food places will only deliver to a certain distance from their bases, so why on Earth would they leaflet way outside of this range? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The leaflets cost money to print and distribute – if you post them to areas outside of your delivery range, in essence you are throwing money away. Just why would they do it? Answers on a postcard (or better still below) if you have any inkling of the thinking behind this, as I know it goes on all over the place.
The photo above was sent to me by Maggot Sandwich reader Dana of Bexley; it shows one of the original Erith Council Tramways open - topped tram car undergoing restoration work in a workshop at the National Tramways Museum at Crich in Derbyshire. The open topped model is rare; it was one of only seven cars built to this design, as it was used all year round and the open top deck was unpopular in Winter. The tram in the photograph is shown in the companies' later brown and cream livery from 1911; before this the Erith Tramways fleet was painted in a garish pale green and canary yellow, which did not prove popular. Erith Tramways was one of the smallest private tram companies in Greater London; it stretched from Abbey Wood, through Lower Belvedere, into Erith, and up Walnut Tree Road (and past its' own power station on the site of the now demolished swimming baths) to finally terminate in Northumberland Heath. The line opened in on the 21st August 1905. A copy of the brochure commemorating the inauguration of the service is held in the records of Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre in Bexleyheath Library (more of which later - who says I don't plan these things?) The brochure says that the opening of the tram service "marks an important step in the progress of locomotion in the South Eastern district of London" and then went on to envisage the prospect of being able to travel from Erith to far flung places such as Maidenhead and Watford, purely by tram. Of course, this never came to pass; Erith Tramway was never a major financial success, as it was so small and limited in its' scope to generate income. It consisted on only fourteen tramcars in total. The only period when the service ran at a healthy profit was during the First World War, where there was a huge influx of workers to the local arms and ammunition factories which proliferated around Erith and Crayford. Some of the profits during this period were ploughed into extending the service to the Clock Tower in Bexleyheath Broadway, where a new terminus was built. The tram service was finally discontinued on the 9th of November 1935, when the remaining tram cars were replaced with trolley buses. The tram depot on Walnut Tree Road is now the site for the new Bexley College campus, which is currently being built. Going back to the subject of Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre, there was a demonstration in Bexleyheath Broadway last Saturday to protest at Bexley Council's proposal to relocate and outsource the archive duties to Bromley. As I have written before, the amount of money saved by such a drastic move would be minimal, and the impact to local history studies and culture would be enormous. A petition of now over two thousand signatures has been raised by campaigners, who include Bexley Archaeological Society, as well as a lot of ordinary council tax payers such as myself and many other ordinary people.

Very occasionally I will come across a story whilst I am doing my research into the articles for inclusion in the Maggot Sandwich which makes me stop and smile. This week I had such a moment. Whilst reading through “A History of Erith” by John A. Pritchard (the seminal historical text on the town), I discovered that Erith was the first town in the UK to have a dedicated mobile library van. Whilst the much larger and better funded city of Manchester had converted an old truck into a mobile library before, Erith was the first town to have a purpose built, dedicated vehicle, staff and remit. The Travelling Library Service was started on the 24th April 1935. The idea was widely copied both at home and abroad, and the mobile library concept is still in use today – back then it visited Northumberland Heath, Upper Belvedere, Lower Belvedere, Barnehurst and Bexleyheath, in addition to its’ home territory in Erith. The Travelling Library Service was commandeered in the autumn of 1938 as a way to distribute gas masks to the civilian population prior to the widely expected war. At the end of the conflict, the vehicle was used as a travelling war damage compensation enquiry bureau. There is little record of what happened to the van after this, as the records appear to have been lost.
As I have written in the past, I am quite keen on our main free local paper - the News Shopper. It seems to do a hell of a lot with very little resources, and does dig up some very interesting and locally relevant news stories. Qualifying that however, they have recently started publishing “non stories”. I don’t know if they are “click farming” on their website to get advert revenue, but who on Earth would want to read about “Quality Street or Roses – which is the better tin of chocolates?” or “Being clever versus funny versus good looking – which would you rather be?” and “Why is white heather considered lucky – what superstitions do you follow?”  Hardly Pullitzer prize winning journalism,  I think you would agree. Being a populist publication does not mean that you have to pander to the lowest common denominator, which seems to be the appearance here.  What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

The Halloween story I featured the other week concerning my one time friendship with double murderer Roderick Newall prompted a huge surge in Maggot Sandwich page views; a link to the story was placed on a couple of pirate radio discussion forums, and after this had happened, the Sandwich got 2,006 page views on the 27th October alone. It really went through the roof for nearly a week, only returning to something rather more like normal behaviour by the time of the next update. I get an average of 23,500 hits per month; this does fluctuate up and down, due to factors I have been unable to fathom.

Over the past couple of months I have been running an ongoing feature bringing lesser known radio stations to Maggot Sandwich readers attention; there are a number of other such stations I may well mention in the future, but I thought this week I would highlight another radio phenomenon – the weekend hobby radio pirates. These stations come on air sporadically for a few hours, usually on a Saturday night or Sunday morning, almost certainly broadcast from the operators’ spare bedroom or garden shed. They usually broadcast on Shortwave, and probably only have audiences numbering in the couple of dozen. Nevertheless there are a number of people who have made it their hobby to monitor and record when these stations come on air, and what content they broadcast.  The transmitters these pirates use are usually either home – made, or modified amateur radio equipment, re tuned to work on the broadcast radio bands, rather than the legally allocated amateur radio spectrum. These pirates operate pretty much with impunity nowadays – back in the 1980’s at the height of land based pirate radio activity, enforcement was a lot more rigorous, when the likes of the infamous Eric Gotts of the DTI Radio Investigation Service would be chasing round the country, eager to feel a few collars and confiscate an illicit transmitter. Nowadays things are a lot less strict; the Radio Investigation Service is no more – it was subsumed into OFCOM some years ago. Nowadays unless an unlicensed transmission is causing interference with a licensed service, or someone complains, there is a very slim chance that OFCOM would take any action. In other European countries, the situation is different – in the Netherlands for example, penalties for unlicensed broadcasting are pretty strict, with fines and the confiscation of equipment being normal upon conviction.  Whatever the penalties, the number of such stations has remained pretty constant for years. You can read more about them, and what radio frequencies you can find them on, and when here. You can see a daily updated log of stations here. Have a look and let me know what you think.
Are you keen to be seen as a person of taste, style and savoire faire? You might well be interested in a new range of Maggot Sandwich themed T-Shirts that local company RevCo are marketing on my behalf. You can pick up a natty souvenir of Erith’s premiere blog and show your support for local campaigns and issues with just a few mouse clicks. I won’t be making a penny out of any sales, it is purely being made as a public service. Go on – you know you want to! Be the envy of the World - think what your mates down the pub might say (actually, maybe not....).

The very public suffering of the Emirates Airline cable car, better known locally as the Arabfly Dangleway continues. As reports come out saying that only four people regularly use the cable car to commute across the River Thames between Greenwich Peninsular and the Royal Docks, according to figures released last week. Web based newspaper the Scoop lodged a freedom of information request with Transport for London to get the statistics, which TfL were understandably reluctant to release into the public domain. The overall traveller usage figures for the cable car make mortifying reading; as I have written before, I think it is only a matter of time before the plug gets pulled on the whole thing. Emirates Airlines had hope that the service would give them an image boost, but in reality the opposite has happened –the drastically underused cable car has become a running joke; it has become such a figure of derision that someone has now set up a spoof Twitter account for it – the cable car has been tweeting badly spelled messages wondering why he is so unpopular and unloved - This may well be the high point for the £60 million white elephant, as more people are reading the spoof messages than have actually ridden on the service in the last year. The only hope I can see for the Arabfly Dangleway is if it was dismantled, then relocated to a location in central London, for example, next to the London Eye – as at present part of its’ problem is it goes from nowhere to nowhere, whilst travelling over warehouses, truck parks and a rather unlovely breaker’s yard. If this is not done, and soon, I foresee the whole thing being scrapped as an embarrassing failure.

The mystery about the fate of the old Manor Fish Bar in Manor Road seems to be solved. The interior of the dirty, worn and grotty old shop has been completely ripped out, and replaced with shiny new tiles; new catering equipment, grills and other kitchen paraphernalia  is being installed. A sign in the window says “King of the Grill” and “opening 25th November – first day all half price”. What it does not say is what cuisine is going to be offered. I think some investigation is required.  The chances are that by the time you are reading this, the new shop will be open and trading. I am always keen to support independent local businesses, and from the look of the extensive (and expensive) rebuilding and refurbishment work that has been carried out, the place will hopefully get an excellent “Scores on the Doors” hygiene rating. Watch this space.

The ending vide this week is a seven minute long short film made almost totally one - handed by a young chap called Kaleb Lechowski, who I predict is headed for a stellar career in movies. Give the piece a watch and see what you think. Comments below.

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