Sunday, August 09, 2015

Home rule for Erith?

The photo above shows Erith Town Hall, the current home for Capita Business Services, the company used by Bexley Council for the outsourcing of council tax collection. As I have previously written, rumours abound that Bexley Council is looking to terminate its contract with Capita, and enter into a money saving joint venture with Bromley Council, whereby one contract would cover the council tax revenue collection of both boroughs, and where economies of scale and a lack of duplication would mean that the costs to both boroughs would be substantially lower. The downside of this joint venture would be that there would no longer be any use for the old Erith Town Hall building for council operations. Knowing Bexley Council's obsession for selling off the family silver at the slightest opportunity, questions are already being asked about the future for the building, and indeed the Andrew Carnegie gifted former Erith Library next door, a little way further down Walnut Tree Road, and directly opposite the new Bexley College campus. The site would be very attractive to property developers, as they would be able to cram a large number of high - end yuppie flats onto the site, which has a clear view over the River Thames. The council would trouser a packet from the sale of the land, and would also get a steady annual income from Council Tax. I may sound somewhat cynical, but knowing the way the mindset of certain Bexley councillors operates, this would be no surprise whatsoever. I hope that it does not come to pass. Indeed, I have heard the idea circulated that it might be preferable for Erith to secede from The London Borough of Bexley altogether. Erith was a local government district in north west Kent from 1876 to 1965 around the town of Erith. It also included the generally suburban areas of Northumberland Heath, Belvedere, and parts of Barnehurst, Bexleyheath, Crayford and the SE2 London Postal District of Abbey Wood. The district was formed when the Local Government Act 1858 was adopted by the parish of Erith, and a Local Board was formed to govern the town. Under the Local Government Act 1894 it became an urban district. The district ran its own tram services as Erith Urban District Council Tramways until they became the responsibility of the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933.  In 1938 it gained the status of municipal borough. In 1965 it was abolished by the London Government Act 1963 and its former area transferred to Greater London from the administrative county of Kent. Its former area was combined with that of other districts to form the present-day London Borough of Bexley. I cannot see any clear - cut reason why a return to the status of Erith as a municipal borough could not be possible. Care of our own area, with building control with due consideration for local history and traditions, and a greater local accountability, away from the dodgy and unaccountable dealings of Bexley Council - what do you think? Is home rule for Erith the way forward?

It being rather more in his area than mine, Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers has been following the story of the senseless vandalism that destroyed the children’s play area in Lesnes Abbey Woods. The slide and other play equipment were subject to an arson attack on June the 9th at around 7.30pm; a group of four or five teenagers was seen in the area before the fire, but so far, no arrest have been made in respect of the case. Further vandalism of the site was also carried out in the last couple of days, possibly by the original offenders. Bexley Council have, quite surprisingly in respect of their recent track record, approved the replacement of the play equipment, which was damaged beyond repair by the fire. I do not know if the play area was covered by any form of insurance, but the News Shopper is quoting a replacement cost for the equipment of £102,000, which seems an awfully large amount of money for a glorified climbing frame and slide. It also begs the question, why the replacement play equipment has to be manufactured in France? I am sure that they will do an excellent job of it, but I just don't see why some light engineering company in the local area cannot do it – we have plenty of engineering shops in and around Lower Belvedere and Erith who I am sure would have the equipment and skills to carry out an outstanding job for a fraction of the quoted price. What do you think? Let me know, either by leaving a comment below, or by emailing

When I saw the above advertisement outside of Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, it made me both amused and annoyed at the same time; the message that a scheme to encourage children to read more in the school summer holidays is a good one, but the problem is that Bexley Council are shutting down and selling off many local libraries - so the exhortation to "join free at your local library" is ironic - since they are being done away with. Definitely a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing in local government. Perhaps a stronger case than ever for local devolution?

Most weeks, when I check the viewing statistics of the latest Maggot Sandwich, the figures are pretty predictable. I know more or less how many readers I will have over the course of the week, and what they have been reading. Blogger gives some pretty impressive management statistics. If I do get a sudden upsurge in hits, it is normally that someone has put a link on another popular site that leads back to the Maggot Sandwich. This week I have had a bit of a mystery – a very large surge in readers, with no apparent link to another website. It took me quite a while to work out exactly what was happening. It was only when I ran a Google search for the keywords “Funky Clock Scam” – the headline of the last update, that I discovered that it was showing on the page one results from Google. This was leading a lot of people who were researching the scam to hit on the Maggot Sandwich, thus driving up the number of hits the site was getting. You may have noticed that on the footer of each weekly Maggot Sandwich update, there is a small listing of keywords relating to the subject of the week’s update. These are known as metadata – data about data, in other words. Search engines like Google scan this metadata and use it to catalogue and rate webpages for potential users. It just so happens that I included the phrase “Funky Clock Scam” – which coincidentally happened to be what a lot of online users happened to be searching for. This caused the listing of the Maggot Sandwich to have a higher than usual score, and so the entry from last Sunday suddenly appeared on the search results page for a lot of users who would otherwise not see it.  A quirk of a search is all it takes to change user statistics quite dramatically. I welcome anything which brings potential new readers to the blog, even if the search result was nothing but a random accident.

One subject I have mentioned before, but make no excuse for bringing up again is something that intensely annoys me, and that is the inconsiderate and selfish habit a certain type of people have when using the trains – they put their feet up on the seat opposite. It has got to be such a problem that Southeastern Trains have now placed warning stickers underneath the train windows advising passengers not to do it – but it of course has made very little difference, as the kind of people who do it think that the rules don't apply to them – and in any case they don't care. It is not just a question of dirty footwear marking the train seats – it is far more about the transfer of harmful bacteria onto the clothes of other passengers, and from there to their hands. Pavements contain many harmful bacteria – some of which come from animal droppings, mainly dog mess. When it rains, the bacteria wash all over the pavement – you don't actually have to step on a turd to get the harmful bacteria on your shoes. The thoughtless people who put their feet on train seats are actually spreading harmful bacteria onto the clothes of passengers who subsequently sit on the seats; from there the bacteria get spread to wherever the passenger subsequently travels, and gets spread to those that they go on to meet. I have been told by a senior nurse who works in a very large London hospital that something like forty percent of the in – hospital infections that are attributed to MRSA are actually Cryptosporidium or other dog mess related bacteria that have been brought into the hospital by visitors on their hands or clothes. The feet on seats problem is thought by epidemiologists to be one of the principal vectors by which the bacteria travel. The message is abundantly clear – do not ever put your feet on the seats; not only is it loutish and uncouth, it is disrespectful of fellow passengers and on top of everything else, it spreads preventable diseases.

As many readers will be aware, Microsoft have just launched their latest version of the Windows operating system, called Windows 10. One of the biggest complaints about Windows 8 was the lack of a conventional “Start” menu, as had been in place since Windows 95 first came onto the market. Many users were unhappy when Windows 8 did away with the feature, that many had been using for years. Although Microsoft took a real battering over the issue, and re – introduced a modified form of Start menu in Windows 10, it would appear that users are still unhappy.  Start Menu replacements for Windows 10 are moving almost as fast as they did for Windows 8, which didn't have a Start menu at all, according to a software developer called Brad Wardell, whose company makes the most popular third party commercial drop-in Start menu. Far from being rendered obsolete by the return of the Start Menu in Windows 10, Wardell said demand for his Start10 utility is surprisingly high. It's about 2/3 what Start8 (his older Windows 8 Start menu replacement utility) was at this stage. It's been somewhere between 15,000 to 20,000 a day so far, in terms of downloads. Start8 was doing closer to 20,000 to 25,000 per day at this point,"  It was easy to see why people wanted a Start Menu in Windows 8: it didn't have one “out of the box” at all. That broke seventeen years of habit; but why would anyone want a replacement for the Windows 10 version, which Microsoft boasts has been seen by "five million" participants in the Windows Insider preview programme? Wardell thinks it's because users don't like  the program previewing Live Tiles, which remind some of flash banner advertising, while the separation of the new interactive “digital assistant” Cortana means the whole experience becomes cumbersome. Windows 95 had a search button, while in 2007 Microsoft has integrated a real-time search field into the much hated Windows Vista. Perhaps it may be another example of the five million Windows preview users not being representative of the needs of Microsoft's real, paying, working everyday users. Either way, Microsoft needs to act fast to stop Windows 10 suffering the fate of Windows 8. We know that Microsoft made the jump from Windows 8 to 10 with no 9 in between – primarily to distance itself from what the general public regarded as a public relations and technical disaster. My initial impressions of Windows 10 (run on a virtual machine inside my Apple iMac) are pretty favourable. Having said that, there are some worryingly glaring oversights made by Microsoft. Child-friendly Family Features from Windows 7 and 8 won’t be recognised or accepted in the new operating system. Rather, children using Windows 10 PCs are seen as standard users; no dedicated child-user account exists. That means any existing age-related website controls, app and game restrictions, PC time limits, plus your ability to view recent activity, won't work on Windows 10. Adults must now create a completely new set of family settings through a long-winded procedure in Windows 10 that requires the child’s participation. Microsoft had explained the new controls, here, but the details will be lost on many millions following Microsoft’s advice to run Windows 10 on existing PCs. Even those getting early builds of Windows 10 got caught out. Those unaware their old settings won’t work now risk exposing children on Windows 10 to adult content, violence and other online dangers once they have upgraded. I still won’t change my personal opinion that I will only use Microsoft Windows in a production environment when I am being paid to. The choice of computer operating system is not nearly as important for many users as it was even five years ago; the rise of mobile computing, tablet devices and even smart televisions have meant that for many users in non – business settings, the desktop / laptop PC is not the important device that it once was. The world has moved on, and unless Microsoft play nicely with their slowly dwindling user base, they may find that things have moved on from them too. On top of this, organised criminals have latched onto the launch of Windows 10, and have found ways to exploit Windows users - read on below.

Computer security analysts have encountered a new spamming campaign attempting to spread ransomware using emails purporting to come from Microsoft, telling people they are ready to download Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 10. The emails mimic the actual Windows 10 messages Redmond has been sending out (with some minor text mistakes) and have spoofed the originating address to read as, although the sender's IP address can be traced back to Thailand. There's also a Microsoft disclaimer, and a message claiming the files have been cleared as virus-free by Mailscanner. A 734 KB attachment included in the emails claims to be a Windows 10 installer but actually contains the ransomware, which sets to work encrypting documents, media files and anything else that might be useful to the hapless people who double-click on it. Analysis of the source code continues, but the elliptic curve encryption algorithm used looks very strong. The ransomware is also unusual in a number of ways. It asks for the customary decryption charge in Bitcoin but only gives the user 96 hours to respond, which is a shorter window than is typical of similar malware. It also wants victims to respond via a Tor connection and provides instructions on how to use the protocol. It also demonstrates its efficacy by showing a complete list of encrypted files and offering to decrypt five of them for free. Cryptolocker has built a market for itself because people know that if they pay they will get their files back. CTB-Locker is doing the same thing by proving to people they can do what they say they can do. The Malware is described by security researchers as “unusually chatty", sending back large amounts of data to command and control servers via hard-coded IP addresses. There is speculation that this could mean the malware is mining a victim's files for stuff that looks useful. CryptoLocker is a ransomware Trojan which targeted computers running Microsoft Windows, believed to have first been posted to the Internet on 5 September 2013. CryptoLocker propagated via infected email attachments, and via an existing botnet; when activated, the malware encrypts certain types of files stored on local and mounted network drives using RSA public-key cryptography, with the private key stored only on the malware's control servers. The malware then displays a message which offers to decrypt the data if a payment (through either Bitcoin or a pre-paid cash voucher) is made by a stated deadline, and threatened to delete the private key if the deadline passes. If the deadline is not met, the malware offered to decrypt data via an online service provided by the malware's operators, for a significantly higher price in Bitcoin. Although CryptoLocker itself is readily removed, files remained encrypted in a way which researchers considered exceedingly difficult to break. Many said that the ransom should not be paid, but did not offer any way to recover files; others said that paying the ransom was the only way to recover files that had not been backed up. Some victims claimed that paying the ransom did not always lead to the files being decrypted. CryptoLocker was isolated in late-May 2014 via Operation Tovar—which took down the Gameover ZeuS botnet that had been used to distribute the malware. During the operation, a security firm involved in the process obtained the database of private keys used by CryptoLocker, which was in turn used to build an online tool for recovering the keys and files without paying the ransom. It is believed that the operators of CryptoLocker successfully extorted a total of around $3 million from victims of the Trojan. Other instances of encryption-based ransomware that have followed have used the "CryptoLocker" name (or variations), but are otherwise unrelated.  The message would seem to be, don't be impatient if you want to move to Windows 10, but wait for the official Microsoft update to come to your Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 PC. Although Windows 10 is free at the point of launch to all existing registered Windows owners who qualify, it is questionable for how long this will continue, as it is thought that Microsoft will be rolling out an annual fee for using their operating system, rather than the old “pay once and use for good” business model that they have operated in the past. We will see in time, though paying a licensing fee to use Windows might seem like a bad thing for home users, but for businesses it makes sense – the corporate adage “if it appreciates, buy it; if it depreciates, lease it” applies in many cases. It also stops pirating to a very large degree. We shall see how this one runs. If you have an opinion you would like to share, please leave a comment below, or Email

Recently I received the above leaflet through the letterbox of Pewty Acres. Normally these kind of flyers got straight into the paper recycling sack, but I gave this one a read, and to be honest I was pretty gobsmacked. If you click on each image you can see a larger version and read for yourself. If the flyer was an advert for a washing powder or new kind of pizza, I feel strongly that the advertisers would be investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority, which have control over direct mailing, leaflets, flyers and promotional literature. The difference is that the advert is for a religious institution. The blatant claims made in the leaflet do not stand up to event the slightest amount of analysis or scrutiny, and indeed could well ending up causing harm to those who take the claims seriously. The Redeemed Christian Church of God are a huge organisation which has groups all around the UK, though it is based in Nigeria. The church seems to have very blinkered and intolerant opinions on many social subjects, and I have noticed that whilst many of the congregation at the Erith church put on their Sunday best for services, they are obviously having to watch the pennies. Yet the Pastor and his wife can both be seen driving around in brand new cars. It strikes me that some people are making very good money out of the poor and vulnerable. Some things never seem to change I am afraid. 

Mayor of London candidate Sadiq Khan claims that 14,322 properties are at risk of being sold in the London Borough of Bexley, and 438,291 across London as a whole. he has claimed this will exacerbate the "chronic" housing crisis, with no promise that new affordable housing will be built. Mr Khan said in a recent interview that:- "We all know that London has a chronic housing crisis – we simply don't have enough social housing for people to rent. The government's solution is not to build more affordable homes in Bexley, instead they want to sell them off. They're planning to force housing associations to sell their homes through Right to Buy – and what’s more, they're planning to pay for this by forcing councils, like Bexley, to sell off large numbers of council homes on the open market. I think this is totally wrongheaded, and will only make London’s housing crisis worse."I feel that this part of the issue, but not the whole thing. Affordable housing has been a problem in London and the South East for what seems like an age. Only this week did the London Evening Standard report on how a scheme to redevelop Battersea Power Station into a mix of affordable and high end housing has hit a snag. which has been widely reported in the local and regional press, as new plans place the affordable accomodation away from the luxury housing scheme. Promised homes at Battersea Power Station reserved for first-time buyers and renters have been moved to a plot half a mile away from the luxury housing scheme. More than 370 “affordable” homes, which were to be mixed among the multimillion-pound apartments next to the Grade II*-listed power station, are instead to be located on a former industrial estate between busy railway lines.  Developers say the change is needed to make way for a giant sewer. Wandsworth council is currently considering the proposal to place the cheaper homes in a collection of mansion blocks ready to move into in 2019. However, with the homes being positioned at the furthest reaches of the site, the proposals are likely to reignite the “poor door” debate — a reference to developers’ practice of providing segregated entrances for private and affordable owners in upscale blocks. I fear that as long as private developers are the only real power in house building, the situation is unlikely to change - after all, it is in their interests to build and sell as many properties as they can, at the highest price they feel that they can get away with.The flight of dodgy cash out of Russia and China, not to mention the huge number of Arabs who are buying up London wholesale has only caused the market to inflate still further. Rental is beset by similar problems. The average cost of a London rental property has risen six per cent to £316 a week in the past year, according to new figures from Hamptons International. Data from head of research, Johnny Morris, shows that even in the cheapest boroughs — Bexley in south-east London and Havering, in the east — a one-bedroom flat now costs about £170 a week, while typical two-bedroom flats cost in the region of £225 a week.

The ending video this week is a Pathe News report on Erith and Crayford, from way back in 1966 (not 1969 as the modern YouTube caption says). It gives a very good idea of what both towns were like then - especially the footage of Erith, which shows the old town, before the wrecking ball destroyed it, only to be replaced with the concrete monstrosity that was universally detested. To be honest, I had quite some difficulty in recognising some of the locations in and around Erith, which have changed so much over the years, unlike Crayford, which is largely recognisable, and not so different now. It really is a time - capsule piece of reportage, which I would encourage you to watch. Leave a comment below, or Email me at


  1. Many of these churches are sadly very very intolerant as you say of certain things eg homosexuality. Some of the leaflets produced by some churches can not be legal on that subject, just like all the spurious claims made in the one above. It's worrying how what they say about medical conditions. I've even spoke to people who honestly, truly believed in witchcraft and that young people could be possessed. Incredible in 2015. Got to feel for children in such a position. I do wonder whether authorities are looking closely enough into these organisations.

    Also, a fair few of those churches espouse the 'prosperity doctrine', which is basically saying greed is good. Do whatever you can to get money, as that makes you a success in God's eyes, and also give the leadership as much as you can.

  2. Nice to see the Erith Crayford Video again. John Prichard, author and the greatest living authority on the history of the town, made an appearance. The visit to the Playhouse saw one of the founders Harold Bull showing the film unit around. Did you notice the producer of the play was the late Pat Watson whose distinctive voice was heard reading her poem " Ode to Old Erith", when you featured it recently.