Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas 2016.

The photos above were taken at the private screening of the new Star Wars film "Rogue One" at the Cineworld cinema in Bexleyheath last Sunday afternoon - the reason that the Maggot Sandwich got published a little earlier last week. The private, invitation only screening was organised by all round good egg and Star Wars nut Nav Bhamra in what is becoming an annual highlight. The cinema was packed with adults and some very well behaved children; everyone had a really good time. As you can see, several Star Wars re - enactors appeared; they are members of the UK branch of the 501st Legion - a group of Star Wars fans who dress up in film accurate costumes and raise money for charitable causes, and who undertake a lot of "make a wish" visits for terminally ill children and adults. The 501st Legion was formed in America in 1997 by a chap called Albin Johnson. It initially began purely as a website for fans of Star Wars who had created their own costumes, but it soon grew beyond that. Within weeks of launching the sites, Johnson was fielding email requests from people across the country and around the world looking to be featured on his website in their own homemade Stormtrooper armour. What he started soon blossomed into a global phenomenon – a fan-based costuming club unlike any other. The Legion ranks swelled, and regional subdivisions called Garrisons, Squads, and Outposts were created to facilitate the organization of events and appearances on a local level. While the Legion was initially based only on the white-armoured Stormtroopers stationed aboard The Death Star, as the group expanded, it grew to encompass every other canon trooper variation, and other villains from the Star Wars saga, such as Sith Lords, and bounty hunters. All applicants are reviewed by their local units and Legion Membership Officers prior to approval into the member database. Lucasfilm / Disney have granted the Legion a limited use of their copyrighted characters, as long as members of the 501st Legion promised never to use their costumes for personal profit, and that they represent the Star Wars franchise in a positive and respectful manner. The Legion have now became a force for doing good works, expanding into a charitable organisation that has been likened to a Rotary or Lions Club for a modern generation.

You may recall that I have been following the government's plans to roll out smart energy meters to all UK households, and how this is actually a bad thing, as the programme is costing more money to run than it will actually save. According to the latest government figures, there are now 4.9 million smart meters operating across homes and businesses in Great Britain, by both large and small energy suppliers. That may sound like an impressive number, but it leaves the government just over three years to achieve its goal of 53 million smart meters by 2020. In its last quarter report, The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy said 4.2 million smart meters were live. At the current rate of 700,000 per quarter, or 2.8 million per year, it should only take another 19 years to complete the programme. That is, of course, leaving aside the concerns that the consumer benefits of the £11bn scheme appear to be negligible. A recent report found that the savings could amount to just £11 per household in 2020.

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous has raised his suspicions regarding an Email he recently received purporting to be from Bexley Council. The Email reads as follows:- With a view to reducing costs and saving natural resources we are encouraging customers to accept their Council Tax bill via electronic means. I note that you have contacted us in the past using the following email address (address redacted). This email is to notify you that your Council Tax account will switch to E billing in 28 days unless you advise me that you wish to continue to receive your bill by paper. This means when your bill is ready to view you will receive an email which will provide a link to the London Borough of Bexley website. You will need to create an online account so that you can view your bill at any time, day or night. You will also be able to apply to pay your account by direct debit, advise us if you move address, apply for a refund or a Council Tax discount. If you would prefer us to send your E bill notification to another email address will you please notify us via don’t have to wait to receive an email advising you that your bill is ready to view, why not log in now to create your online Council Tax account at: use the 9 digit reference number beginning with 8 on your Council Tax bill when asked for your Council Tax account number. The set up is quick and simple to complete. Thank you for helping to save our environment. Yours sincerely, Mrs R Keen. Bexley Council Tax Manager. I have checked out the message, and it is actually genuine, but it does not read that way - its' structure is very similar to a phishing Email - I suspect that many recipients may well delete the message as they think it is fraudulent. Bexley Council really don't have much of a clue when it comes to online services - their website is a dense and virtually impenetrable mess; it seems to me and others that Bexley make using their services as difficult as possible with the express intention of dissuading residents from using them. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Whilst that message was not a scam - despite appearances to the contrary, there is a most definite scam currently circulating by a relatively old - fashioned vector.  Email users are getting unexpected emails that claim the sender found their email address in an old book. The email asks the user if they are real and what kind of relationship they have with the book. An example can be seen here:- "Hi there;  My name is Jean Rafon, I’m from France. Last week I Bought an old book from street here in Paris and i found your email inside of it, i’m curious to know if this is a real person, and what relate you with this book! Looking forward to hearing from you! Thanks Jean". This is a hook for an online scam, since the same email has been sent en masse to a number of different users. This fake Email can be the precursor to one of the following 1) A Romance scam, where the scammer strikes a relationship with the victim using this email as a form of bait, and over time gains their trust. From there, victims are often instructed to send money to the scammer who then disappears (or asks for more money!) 2) A Malware scam, where the victim and scammer exchange an number of emails before the scammer convinces the victim to click a link to a malware infested website. 3) A Phishing scam, where the scammer sends the victim a link that is designed to steal the login information of the victim. Whatever the specifics of the scam, this is clearly not a genuine email, and thus it should be ignored. I do these things so that you don't have to.

You may recall that last week I published an appeal for further information on historical local figure "Robert the Devil", well, long - time Maggot Sandwich reader Brian Spurrell has kindly forwarded me the following piece:- "Here's what Tumbler Bell said about "Robert the Devil" in a letter to the Kentish Times published on 4 June 1943 - the date explains the reference at the bottom of the paragraph: Causeway Characters - The watersiders at the Causeway rails must not be forgotten, especially those natural comedians Bob Austin ("Robert the Devil") and Chris Cobb (“Odie").  Well helped by the barge boys, this company were continually providing entertainment and fun.  At the Regattas they provided much of the sport, while Bob and Chris indulged in mud fights and other items.  On one occasion two strollers appeared with hammer, strip of carpet and lumps of concrete. One lay on the spread carpet, and with hands underneath, balanced a piece of the concrete above his chest; the other gave it a sharp blow with the hammer and broke it in two.  Then the collection.  "We could do that," said Odie to Bob, and off they went to Stone's barge yard and reappeared with hammer and pieces of concrete.  Down went Odie, balanced a piece of the concrete on his chest, Bob gave it a crack with the hammer and the concrete split.  They knew the trick.  The strollers appealed to them and they went away.  The story goes that in one of their pranks Odie fell and injured his leg. Bob got a barrow, put Odie into it, and wheeled him to Greenwich Seamen's hospital for medical attention.  I liked them, and there were few that didn't like them.  They were the "water rats" of their period, the forerunners of the more recent waterside men and boys now spread over the seas and various fronts doing jobs of national and world importance".

And now for some extremely bad news. What in the opinion of both myself and a great many other people what is easily the best pub in the whole of the London Borough of Bexley is up for sale after having been owned by the same family for the last thirty years. The superb Robin Hood and Little John in Lion Road, Bexleyheath is on the market for £750,000. The estate agents describe it thus:- "The property is a corner site at the junction of Lion Road and Robin Hood Lane. The pub is believed to date from the mid 19th Century and comprises a 2 storey detached building with painted, part rendered brick external elevations under a pitched slate roof with single storey extensions to the front and rear and a mixture of traditional multi pane and sash windows. There is a level forecourt providing outside customer seating for around 16 covers and an enclosed courtyard beer garden at the rear providing further customer seating for approximately 28 covers. There is a range of outbuildings including a garage and a private parking space with access via a roller shutter door. Having been in our client’s family ownership for over 30 years, the pub has built a consistent and enviable reputation as a traditional free house offering an extensive range of real ales and a popular food offer including authentic Italian dishes. The pub has been voted CAMRA London pub of the year on three occasions and won CAMRA local pub of the year on no less than 10 occasions. Further useful information will be found on the pub's website  Accounts for the financial year ending 14 May 2016 indicate a turnover of £298,421 net of VAT. Further financial information will be made available to genuinely interested parties following a formal viewing of the business. Two customer entrances at the front provide access to a traditionally decorated lounge bar with panelled walls, beamed ceiling and fitted floor carpet. Loose tables and chairs for approximately 45 covers. Centrally positioned U shaped bar servery with polished oak counter, painted panelled sides and displays behind. Rear entrance to the beer garden.  Trade Kitchen with non slip floor, mechanical extraction, range of catering equipment and stainless steel sink unit. Separate preparation and wash up area. Service yard with additional outside storage.  The property is in an area administered by London Borough of Bexley and we are advised that the current Rateable Value is £33,250. The domestic accommodation is within Band A for council tax purposes. Please note this property is locally listed and not situated in a conservation area". You can read the full details by clicking here. Bexley CAMRA are fully aware of the situation, and are applying for an award of an Asset of Community Value certification to the pub to provide some protection against it being sold to a property developer. The pub runs at a very healthy profit on a turnover of around £6,200 a week, and the business is extremely viable - there is absolutely no reason to close down this very popular, multiple award - winning pub. I know that local real ale fans have been up in arms this week, as news of the potential sale began to leak out. This story will run for some time. If you have any additional information or insight, please let me know. *UPDATE* The estate agent advert has just been taken down since the text above was written; whether this means the pub has been withdrawn from sale, or actually sold, I do not know. Hopefully I will have more information by this time next week. If you have any information, please drop me a line in confidence to

In a very big and welcome turnaround, Bexley is now one of the safest places in London to eat out, according to new figures. The figures, which are produced nationally every year, indict 95 per cent of local food business have the top three hygiene ratings, putting the borough top of London’s food hygiene standards. It was only back in May of 2013 that a Which? Report featured the London Borough of Bexley as one of the worst places to eat out in Greater London, so low were many of the restaurant and takeaway hygiene scores. I am really pleased that in just over three years there has been a complete turnaround for very much the better. Back then I wrote "It does not happen very often, but right now I can honestly say that “I told you so”. As you may have seen in the national press over the last couple of days, Which? Magazine is reporting in its’ June issue the postcode areas of DA7 and DA8 in the London Borough of Bexley have been rated as having the worst food hygiene standards in its’ restaurants and takeaways of anywhere in the United Kingdom. Six out of the ten worst rated post codes for the entire country are in Bexley. This has been reported by the BBC, Sky News and a host of other news outlets. Regular readers of the Maggot Sandwich will recall that I have been  banging on about the issue of food hygiene standards, and the “Scores on the Doors” scheme for quite some time." I am now happy that my thoughts are now out of date - it seems that just for once, things are improving markedly, and a good thing too.

Further complaints have been made recently about the Dartford Crossing, and the ongoing problems with the automated toll system. You may recall that I predicted problems prior to the system going live. A camera system which can recognise number plates replaced toll booths at the busy crossing in 2014, and has so far generated 3.5 million penalty charge notices for drivers who have failed to pay. A series of complaints to The Observer newspaper recently has shown how the system is far from foolproof, however, with cameras misreading number plates and people being pursued for fines they are unaware of. This can in turn lead to a complaints system which can appear inflexible. Thousands of those incorrectly charged simply pay up to avoid the risk of an escalating fine, according to Auto Express. Last August the motoring magazine found that while the vast majority of appeals were upheld (80 percent), only one in 25 motorists actually appealed a fine. Many more motorists who do use the crossing, one of the UK’s busiest, fail to pay the charge because of confusing signs. The only warning of the levy is a large C which is identical to the symbol for the congestion charge, the £11.50 fee for vehicles entering central London. A recent poll by the AA found that 60 percent of drivers mistook it for the latter, an entirely different fee which is not payable on the Dartford crossing. Non-Londoners are likely to have no clue of the symbol’s meaning. When the booths were bulldozed to reduce congestion, it seems the levy went from being a toll to a “congestion charge” and was increased by 20 percent. This distinction was never explained, nor is the fee called a congestion charge on the website, but the new terminology gets round the fact that the levy, introduced to cover the costs of building the Dartford Bridge, is still in place 13 years after it was paid for - something that locals are still extremely angry about. Frequent users of the crossing can create either a pre-paid or a pay-as-you-go account to pay the charge automatically, but even this does not safeguard them from fines. Tina Mackenzie of Basildon, Essex, faced a bill of £1,397 for 13 crossings because her pre-paid account dropped below the £10 minimum last November. It should have been topped up automatically, but unbeknownst to her, her bank declined Dart Charge’s request for £10 due to insufficient funds, as reported in the Guardian newspaper. Nowhere on the Dartford Crossing road signs is the price of a crossing mentioned, and no payment details are given. Drivers are merely invited to “find us online” before midnight the following day, a problem for those without internet access and baffling for the thousands of overseas visitors who use the route to and from Stansted and Gatwick airports. For many of those who are erroneously fined and refuse to pay up, however, the system can prove inflexible. The Dartford Crossing is more or less a captive market since the nearest alternative river crossing is a congested 15 miles away, which means that a crucial route that was supposed to become toll free in 2003 is earning the government millions. The toll system is broken, but it is in the government's interest for it to remain that way - it is a cash cow that unfairly penalises users both local and from far away. One user recently said "A year ago I used the crossing for a return journey. When I got home I logged on and paid the charge. A month or so later I got a penalty notice for the northbound crossing and the next day a penalty notice for the southbound crossing. I replied, attaching my receipt for the crossings. Some weeks later I got a letter (I don't think it was in response to my reply, given the date on it, which was weeks before I received it) telling me that the notices had been issued in error. I avoid using the crossing whenever I can now, it's far more trouble than it's worth". In a case of what would appear to be identity theft, another annoyed person reported:- "Here's one for you. I live in Northern Ireland and up until 21st June 2015 I owned a silver Ford Galaxy reg. no EEZ3996. In October 2015 I received a penalty charge notice relating to an alleged offence on 6th June 2015. In the seven years I owned the car, it has never crossed the Irish Sea I.e. Has never been in England. I have never been on the Dartford Crossing. To make matters even worse, they have a photo of a silver Ford Galaxy reg EEZ3996 on the penalty notice! How do I defend this one! I have written to the ferry companies to seek confirmation that my car hasn't crossed the Irish Sea but I doubt they will provide me with the information. On the 6th June 2015, I was on a golfing break in County Donegal and my car was in my garage in Portstewart. My case is now going to a tribunal but I fear the worst". This disastrous state of affairs needs to be sorted out, and soon. 

As I have written in the past, Erith and Crayford were the historic home of Vickers Sons and Maxim Limited, who had factories in both locations which made a whole range of armaments and ammunition, principally the Vickers Machine Gun – which was an easier to produce, lighter and cheaper version of the original Maxim Gun, invented by Sir Hiram Maxim - the most famous local resident. What is less well known is that Vickers Vimy heavy bombers were also constructed on a limited basis. It is thought that the aeroplane which transported Alcock and Brown on the historic very first flight across the Atlantic was one of those produced locally. In the present the fact that both Erith and Crayford were major arms manufacturing towns is unknown to many residents; indeed the only relic of the Vickers Sons and Maxim factory in Erith is that the area of shops and houses located at the bend where Woolwich Road becomes Fraser Road is still known by older locals as “The Pom Pom” – due to the sound of guns being tested in the dedicated shooting range that was adjacent to the factory for many years. I think it sad that many people still call the area by the informal name, but very few seem to know the actual reason for it. Nowadays one could be forgiven for thinking that all of the changes that have happened over the years that arms manufacturing was no longer something that no longer happened locally. In matter of fact nothing could be further from the truth. Slade Green is home to Manroy Engineering, a company that specialises in the manufacture and refurbishment of machine guns and light cannon for the military. They also make all sorts of weapon mounts, gun turrets for armoured vehicles and assorted other military hardware such as specialised sniper rifles and vehicle armour packages. They keep a very low profile for security reasons, but they are actually located on the Power Works site on Slade Green Road. It is amazing what a little bit of searching on Google Street view can find! Anyway, the Vickers machine gun or Vickers gun is a name primarily used to refer to the water-cooled .303 British (7.7 mm) calibre machine gun produced by Vickers Limited, originally for the British Army. The machine gun typically required a six to eight-man team to operate: one fired, one fed the ammunition, the rest helped to carry the weapon, its ammunition and spare parts. It was in service from before the First World War until the 1960s, with air-cooled versions of it on many Allied World War I fighter aircraft. The weapon had a reputation for great solidity and reliability. Ian V. Hogg, in the book Weapons and War Machines, describes an action that took place in August 1916, during which the British 100th Company of the Machine Gun Corps fired their ten Vickers guns continuously for twelve hours. Using 100 barrels, they fired a million rounds without a failure. "It was this absolute fool proof reliability which endeared the Vickers to every British soldier who ever fired one.” The Vickers machine gun was based on the successful Maxim gun of the late 19th century. After purchasing the Maxim company outright in 1896, Vickers took the design of the Maxim gun and improved it, reducing its weight by lightening and simplifying the action and substituting components made with high strength alloys. A muzzle break was also added. The British Army formally adopted the Vickers gun as its standard machine gun on 26 November 1912, using it alongside their existing Maxims. There were still great shortages when the First World War began, and the British Expeditionary Force was still equipped with Maxims when sent to France in 1914. Vickers was, in fact, threatened with prosecution for war profiteering, due to the exorbitant price it was demanding for each gun. As a result, the price was slashed. As the war progressed, and numbers increased, it became the British Army's primary machine gun, and served on all fronts during the conflict. When the Lewis Gun was adopted as a light machine gun and issued to infantry units, the Vickers guns were redefined as heavy machine guns, withdrawn from infantry units, and grouped in the hands of the new Machine Gun Corps (when heavier 0.5 in/12.7 mm calibre machine guns appeared, the tripod-mounted, rifle-calibre machine guns like the Vickers became medium machine guns). After the First World War, the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) was disbanded and the Vickers returned to infantry units. Before the Second World War, there were plans to replace the Vickers gun. However, the Vickers remained in service with the British Army until 30 March 1968. Hundreds of thousands of these guns were manufactured in Erith and Crayford over several decades, and during both World Wars, this meant that the towns were legitimate wartime bombing targets. During both World Wars, the area economically benefited – for example in 1914, the number of trams run in Crayford and Erith was increased to transport the large number of munitions workers many of whom worked for Vickers making ammunition for use on the Western Front. With most of the young men volunteering for military service (conscription was yet to begin) many women entered paid employment for the first time, something that directly led to the start of female emancipation with the Representation of the People Act 1918. I have written at some length about inventor and businessman Hiram Maxim in the past; Maxim was American born but later naturalised British. He invented the sprung mouse trap, the first practical machine gun, the incandescent light bulb (though he famously failed to get the patent registered before Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan) and  the first heavier than air aircraft. After moving to England in 1881, Maxim began his aerial experiments at Baldwyns Park near Bexley Village, in the late 1880's, leading to the construction in 1893 of his enormous biplane Test-Rig, which weighed about three and a half tons. The machine's two steam engines each produced 180 horsepower. and turned two pusher propellers each 17-1/2 feet in diameter. Since the device was intended to be a test vehicle it was held to a track, preventing it from rising more than a couple of feet. On the Maxim Biplane Test-Rig's third test run, on July 31, 1894, with Maxim and a crew of three aboard, it lifted with such force that it broke the reinforced restraining track and careened for some two hundred yards, at times reaching an altitude of two or three feet above the damaged track. It was believed that a lifting force of some four and a half tons had been generated. After this, Maxim allowed his assistants to demonstrate the flying machine on a number of further occasions, but he took no further part in the development – he rightly realised that the machine was a design “dead end” as it lacked practical flight controls. It was not until 1903 that the Wright Brothers worked out their system of ailerons and rudders that made flying practical and controllable. The ending video this week is a detailed examination of the Vickers Mk 1 Heavy Machine Gun, the development of Maxim's original machine gun, which was made lighter, even more reliable, and most importantly cheaper for the British governemnt to purchase for the military. Historical weapons expert Ian McCullum demonstrates the machine gun and explains about its historical and engineering significance.  See what you think below. 

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