Sunday, April 05, 2015


The photos above were taken by one of my confidential informants on Wednesday morning; they show an operation by local police officers along with what would appear to be some undercover police who pull over and stop a Ford Focus with a number of occupants outside of the former Potion (and prior to that, the White Hart pub). The operation is still clouded in mystery.

The Cross Keys Centre has now officially opened in its new role as a business hub for entrepreneurs, small businesses, mobile workers and the like. On April the 16th they will be holding an open day for businesses to showcase what the newly renovated Cross Keys can offer. The Grade II listed building in the Erith High Street conservation area is under renovation; the upper floors that were originally the accommodation have been fully restored and modernised; they now offer first class office, touch down space, sound proofed meeting rooms and a large multimedia presentation suite / conference room / theatre space. The whole interior is now climate controlled, and has business class Wi-Fi, printing facilities along with marble lined bathrooms and other conveniences, including tea and coffee making facilities. The soft launch of the new business centre actually happened a few months ago, when local graphic design company IQ-V moved into an office in the building. The April 16th open day and networking event will give other local businesses a chance to see what the new venture can offer them. Further work is being carried out on the former pub building; the ground floor bar area is being transformed into a tea / coffee shop and food outlet, and further work to increase the amount of available meeting rooms is being carried out to the rear of the structure. The listed front of the building has been restored to how it would have looked in 1911, and internally all of the original late Victorian architectural features have been expertly restored, including all of the ornate cast iron fireplaces. I have been in the Cross Keys Centre on several occasions and have seen the huge amount of work that has gone on to retain and restore as much as possible of the historic building, along with adding the levels of modern functionality required for use as a successful space for small businesses. Anglo American Management Consultancy the Aleff Group own the Cross Keys Centre, and they originally intended to convert the building for exclusive use by their staff – many of whom are highly mobile and need touch down space when they do visit the office. The high level of interest from local people, and the involvement of local councillors and other community leaders convinced the owners of the Aleff Group that a deeper involvement with the local community would be beneficial for all parties. Several consultation meetings have taken place over the last couple of years, to which a wide variety of local stakeholders have been invited (I have to say at this point, myself included). A great deal of feedback and constructive suggestions have been offered at these sessions, and the end result is the Cross Keys Centre that attendees on the 16th April will get to see – many for the first time. You can see details of the event by clicking here. I hope to attend, and I will be reporting on it in due course.

If you are a regular reader of the Maggot Sandwich, you will know that my opinion of DAB digital radio is somewhat mixed. The sound quality and availability of DAB signals around the UK is poor at best, with many station broadcasting only in mono due to the very narrow bandwidth available for DAB signals. The upside of DAB is that there are some excellent radio stations that are not available on AM or FM analogue broadcast bands; two which I particularly like are Planet Rock and BBC Radio 4 Extra. The UK was one of the first countries to embrace DAB radio – and unfortunately the technical standard that was chosen is now very old and out of date. The far newer DAB+ is an upgrade to the original DAB specifications, which uses a more advanced audio codec plus better error correction. It is, in theory, around three times as efficient as the DAB that  we are used to. That means better quality sound – and hopefully fewer mono stations – without the undersea gargling noises (caused by very low bit rate reception in poor signal areas) that some listeners are plagued by. The technology behind DAB means that it's possible to mix DAB and DAB+ services on the same multiplex – a set that doesn't understand the newer stuff will just ignore it. We don't yet know what programming the DAB+ channel on the new multiplex will carry; It may indeed be so compelling that owners of older sets will be motivated to replace them – unless they can just listen to the same station in a different way, such as online or via television using a set top box or Smart TV.. So, while it's great news that DAB+ is finally coming to the UK, I can't help thinking that it's too little, too late. Without a bold shift of more stations to DAB+, it's never going to gain much traction. Existing channels will likely be too scared of losing customers to switch, and so digital radio will continue for many channels as it is today: overwhelmingly mono and sometimes a bit too glitchy. I feel that an opportunity is now being wasted, as many people who listen to digital radio do so in ways other than DAB already. Streaming content via the web of 3G wireless data are very common – indeed some stations now receive more listeners via streaming than they do in other more traditional transmission methods. The excellent Radio Seagull from the Netherlands is a prime example of this.

I recently read about a chap who got accosted and beaten up by a group of thugs merely because he was wearing a top hat. Jacky Pautonnier, 54, who is from Normandy in France, was returning home on a train in London, when a youth aggressively asked to try on his top hat. Mr. Pautonnier had bought the hat in 2008 from the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London. When everyone said it suited him, he took to wearing it every day, not realising what trouble wearing a topper would get him into. When Mr. Pautonnier refused to allow the thug to wear his hat, he was followed on to a train at Catford Bridge station by the youth and two of his friends. They continued to taunt him on the train, but he steadfastly refused to allow them to try on his hat. The next thing he knew, Mr. Pautonnier came to in the train at Charing Cross, covered in blood. He had been beaten unconscious by the three youths. It took reconstructive surgery to repair Mr. Pautonnier’s skull, which had been fractured in three places. The top hat was a write-off. I have seen a number of online discussions regarding this unfortunate encounter, and one thread seems to follow in all of them – that Mr. Pautonnier should learn the martial art Bartitsu. Having researched this method of unarmed combat, it seems to me that many more people would benefit what some experts call the very first mixed martial art. If you have seen the two Guy Ritchie directed Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Junior, the hand to hand fighting technique employed by Holmes to great effect was Bartitsu. The martial art was specifically designed for use by a gentleman whilst wearing a three piece suit, overcoat and hat, and whilst possibly using a walking cane or umbrella – all of which could be deployed to devastating effect when required. Bartitsu was invented in 1898, when Edward William Barton-Wright, a British engineer who had spent the previous three years living in the Empire of Japan, returned to England and announced the formation of a "New Art of Self Defence". This art, he claimed, combined the best elements of a range of fighting styles into a unified whole, which he had named Bartitsu. Barton-Wright had previously also studied "boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate and the use of the stiletto under recognised masters", reportedly testing his skills by "engaging toughs (street fighters) until (he) was satisfied in their application." He defined Bartitsu as meaning "self-defence in all its forms"; the word was a combination of his own surname and of "Jujitsu". Barton -Wright summarised the essential principles of Bartitsu as: 1) To disturb the equilibrium of your assailant. 2) To surprise him before he has time to regain his balance and use his strength. 3) If necessary, to subject the joints of any parts of his body, whether neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, back, knee, ankle, etc. to strains that they are anatomically and mechanically unable to resist. Bartitsu was popular in the early 20th century, but fell from favour for no apparent reason, and the unfortunate Mr. Barton – Wright died a pauper in 1951 at the ripe old age of 90. Bartitsu might have been completely forgotten if not for a cryptic reference by Sir Arthur Conan - Doyle in one of his Sherlock Holmes mystery stories. In 1901 Conan Doyle had revived Holmes for a further story, The Adventure of the Empty House, in which Holmes explained his victory over Professor Moriarty in their struggle at the Reichenbach Falls by the use of "baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me". It may well be that Conan – Doyle changed the name slightly to avoid accusations of copyright theft; in any case confusion was spread as to the correct name, and this did not help Bartitsu from declining in proponents. Until around ten years ago, the martial art was almost completely dead. Recently however, several societies and websites dedicated to this gentleman’s system for self-defence have been established. In October 2006, the Bartitsu Society launched the website, which includes information on the history, theory and practice of Barton-Wright's martial art, as well as current events relating to the Bartitsu revival. The recent Sherlock Holmes movies, and the Bartitsu moves used by Colin Firth’s character in “Kingsmen – the Secret Service” have brought the martial art back into the public awareness.

The London Borough of Bexley is becoming quite the location for micro pubs. The third, called the Broken Drum at 308 Westwood Lane, Blackfen is due to open shortly – the original opening date of Good Friday apparently had to be changed due to a family bereavement. Nevertheless The Broken Drum will join the Penny Farthing in Crayford (Bexley CAMRA pub of the year 2014) and the original Bexley Micro Pub, the Door Hinge in Welling (according to the website Trip Advisor, the number one venue in Welling).  Micro pubs are usually set up in old shop premises, and are cheaper and easier to set up than full pubs, as they don’t serve spirits or lager, and concentrate on high quality real ales and cider. Some also serve a couple of wines, others do not. Generally any food available is only of the snack variety – crisps, nuts and maybe the odd pork pie. The Door Hinge and The Penny Farthing are both thriving small businesses, and I am sure that the Broken Drum will be the same. Unfortunately there are so many empty shop units around, that finding a suitable location for a new micro pub is not particularly difficult at present. One factor that is vital to the success of a micro pub is that they need to be close to good public transport links; responsible drinkers won’t drive, and they need to be able to get to and from the venue relatively easily. This is one of several reasons why I feel that Erith would make an excellent venue for an additional micro pub – it has very good bus and rail connections with the whole area – trains towards and from London every ten minutes (when the line is not suspended due to Crossrail engineering works, that is), and many bus services connect Erith with the rest of the borough, and the whole South East of London and North Kent. On top of this, there are a number of suitable empty shop units available. The Erith Riverside Shopping Centre has empty units, but there are two key reasons why it would not be a suitable location for a micro pub; firstly the rent on the units would be prohibitive, and secondly the shopping centre gates are closed at 6pm every evening as the shops close. This is for security reasons. Personally I can think of several suitable locations, one of which is the old shop unit that for many years was occupied by Owens the Ironmonger in Cross Street. The unit is quite large, and would have plenty of space for a cool room to store the beer barrels, whilst still leaving a large area for the bar, a lounge and seating space. It is close to the town centre, the Cross Street Car Park for those not drinking, and very close to the bus halt just around the corner in Bexley Road; it is also only a five minute walk to Erith Station. On top of this it has excellent rear access for beer delivery lorries. What do you think? Does Erith need a micro pub? Who would run it? Do you have a suggestion as to another potential location?  Leave a comment below, or Email me at

News broke earlier this week that Kingfisher, the company that owns the brands B and Q and Screwfix is to close or downsize sixty B and Q stores around the UK and in Ireland. At the time of writing, the fate of the store in Lower Belvedere is unknown. Bearing in mind that specific location has been extensively remodelled to downsize the store and  to create the Asda supermarket that now shares the site on what used to be the old Erith and Belvedere football club ground, I would anticipate that there will be little change. I understand that Kingfisher are reducing the number of B and Q stores, but increasing the number of Screwfix outlets – they say that there will be few redundancies where B and Q shops close, as in most cases a Screwfix will be opening to replace it. This is very interesting information, and it shows how the market is changing. People are nowadays doing far less “do it yourself” than a few years ago. They seem more likely to call in a professional to undertake the work. Personally I can completely understand this – I know my limitations, and would rather pay someone who knows what they are doing to do a competent job, rather than bodge the work myself, and then end up calling in a pro to put the work right. Secondly it also puts money back into the local economy –something for which I am a strong supporter. It would see that Kingfisher are reacting to this change in the market – B and Q is primarily a DIY brand, whereas Screwfix is primarily a trade outlet. It would seem that as property prices rise, homeowners feel that investing money in professional building and associated works is well spent; the days of “doing it on the cheap” oneself seem for the time being at least to be on the way out.

Bexley is Bonkers author, and expert on local politics Malcolm Knight gave me some more details of the arson attack on Lesnes Abbey Ruins last week; Malcolm lives very close to the ruins, and informed me that gangs of youths can be seen on an almost nightly basis in and around the listed ruins; we share the opinion that the damage to one of the intact arched doorways was almost certainly caused by one or more of the youths. Whilst the stone arch itself could not be burned, the surface has become discoloured, and Malcolm was concerned that the lime mortar that holds it together seems to have been damaged by the heat of the fire. I don’t know how the Police will be able to catch anyone for the offence – arson is a serious crime. I don’t think that fitting CCTV to the site would be either practical or indeed desirable. What other methods of securing the site from harm are unclear – other than permanent patrols by security guards, I don’t see how the place can be kept from further harm – and I doubt that any money would be forthcoming for such patrols in the first place.

On my way to work I cut through the Cross Street Car Park; in so doing I pass the rear of the Queen Street Baptist Church. Recently a very large converted shipping container and a reinforced porta cabin have appeared behind the church hall; they are the home for Erith Food Bank. The new reception area is housed in a porta-cabin site office donated by Erith Group Ltd, and sits alongside a vandal proof storage container provided by Wates, the Erith Park developers, used as a food storage area. The Erith distribution centre is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, 10am until 1pm. The food bank has been running for some time, as regular customers at Erith Morrison’s will have seen from the trolley left by the checkouts where customers can leave donations of dry / tinned foodstuffs which go to the food bank. There is even a notice reminding donors not to leave frozen goods in the trolley, as they won’t stay frozen for long. The food bank's aim is to provide emergency food aid and support to those who are facing a crisis. In the last year the amount of people depending on Bexley Food bank has nearly doubled from 2,211 in 2013/14 to 4,397 in 2014/15. This is a truly shocking figure – to my mind it harks back to the days of the pre – welfare state “Parish Assistance”, and feels only one step away from reinstating workhouses. Please don’t misunderstand – I think that the alliance between Queen Street Baptist Church and Christ Church Erith to provide emergency food to the needy is an excellent, practical way of helping genuinely impoverished local people; it just strikes me as wrong that food banks are necessary at all. It is often said that the state of a country can be determined by how it treats its poorest and most marginalised inhabitants. From this viewpoint I don’t think the UK is doing very well at all right now. It is only a couple of months since I encountered a young couple sleeping rough in the “Tunnel of Doom” that links Erith Town Centre with Erith Station and the new Bexley College campus. It was a freezing cold morning, and I was shocked to see them huddled in the middle of the draughty underpass with nothing other than a sleeping bag and an old piece of cardboard preventing them from freezing to death. Nobody sleeps rough in bitterly cold conditions by choice – I did notify the authorities of the situation, but I never heard what happened to the couple. Hopefully their lot has now improved. It strikes me that there is something wrong in society when the tenth richest country in the World has people sleeping on the street. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

The planning approval for the Erith Quarry development was granted this week; Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers has covered the event in some considerable detail. Other news outlets have also covered the story – including the Bexley Times, who give the story an angle that had not seriously occurred to me. They make much of the status of Erith Quarry as a  designated Site of Borough Importance for Nature Conservation. Note the word borough – not a county, regional or a national designation, just a borough one. I understand that some wildlife does live on the site, which to my point of view is despite the site, not because of it. Erith Quarry has been a dumping ground for fly – tippers for the best part of thirty years; the subsoil has been contaminated with numerous noxious chemicals, including zinc and tin based anti-fouling marine paint and toxic wood preservative, apparently dumped on the site when the Atlas chemicals and paint factory (see the period advert above - click on it for a larger view) in Fraser Road was shut down in the early 1980’s. I also understand quantities of used engine oil and other industrial waste have been identified in the soil around the quarry. If this was not bad enough, until the developers paid a fortune to clear the infestation, it was heavily covered in Japanese Knotweed, which requires specialist removal and destruction. In short it was not some kind of wildlife haven some have made it out to be – it is a grotty tip that has been an eyesore for as long as I care to remember. There are some wild animals on the site, and they deserve to live in a better environment than the one they currently suffer. I do agree that special attention needs to be taken to ensure that traffic flows in and around the development are addressed – as it is, Northumberland Heath already gets close to gridlock, and residential traffic from the quarry development will need to take this into account. There has also been some criticism that the new development offers no affordable housing; this is true, but it is in the nature of the commercial offer. Erith Quarry is designed for second or third time buyers moving from outside of the area into Erith. A majority of the houses on the site (63 percent) will be three or four bedroomed, with a smaller number (37 percent) of flats and two bedroomed houses. The whole development is a commercial venture, and whilst it would have been preferable to incorporate social housing on the site in the same way that Erith Park has a mix of commercial and social housing, it was never going to be financially viable if the development was going to include a primary school – this point has also recently been made by Malcolm Knight.  At the end of the day, the purpose of Erith Quarry is to attract wealthy new people into the area; the knock – on effect will (hopefully) be that they spend their money in the locality, and thus the cash will trickle down to those not so fortunate to have such a high net worth.

The end video this week is the latest film from Simon's Cat. Give it a watch! Let me know what you think. Drop me a line to

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