Sunday, March 05, 2017

All natural?

Erith Town Centre currently only has one pub, and that is one that is sadly a shadow of its former self. The Running Horses is in a fantastic location opposite the excellent Erith Riverside Gardens, and overlooking the River Thames. Under previous ownership back in the 1980’s, The Running Horses Carvery was incredibly popular – to book on a Sunday you usually had to make a reservation a couple of weeks in advance. The food was well cooked and plentiful, the place was packed and the service was great. The excellent view over the River Thames from the upper floors windows only added to the whole experience. I can recall being taken there with my sister by my parents on many occasions. It was always a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately things have gone downhill since. The Running Horses used to be a “treat” destination, but nowadays it seems to be the last refuge of the desperate. The current owners spent a lot of money on the place a few years ago, but I don’t think they have recouped it. Walking past the place early on a Sunday afternoon, I rarely see more than a couple of cars in the car park at the back, or in the Riverside Gardens parking spaces at the front of the pub. This contrasts with the eighties, when a driver would be hard pressed to find a space after midday.  What the solution for this is I don’t know. Apart from the Mambocino coffee house and cafe in the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, and the recently opened and very popular Riverside Fish and Steak restaurant, there are no other “sit down” eateries in the town (I refuse to count Morrison’s cafe, as it is not the sort of place that you can make a reservation). So The Running Horses does not have any direct competition, but it still is not doing very well.  All I can say is that it has a couple of issues: 1) Lack of publicity – many don’t know the carvery / restaurant still exists - and indeed it is now rarely open from what I have been told. An advertising campaign or even a FaceBook page might help in this regard, as their website appears abandoned. 2) A concentration on quality of food and drink. When I last visited The Running Horses a couple of years ago, the only real ale they had on tap was Young’s Bitter (one of my favourite bog standard bitters) but it was sour and off. When I took back the pint the barman denied it was off, and when I showed him my CAMRA membership card, he offered me a pint of Carlsberg lager in replacement. I am pretty sure he had no idea how insulting that was to a real ale enthusiast, so I got a refund and went home. This is no kind of customer service. I think a change of management company or brewery might be the best way forward to keep the place going – or indeed as has been mooted, that the place is taken over and refurbished by Wetherspoons. This option seems to be more likely now that the Carnegie gifted library in Walnut Tree Road is no longer available (more on this in the weeks to come).

It is not very often that a local restaurant gets extensive coverage in the press, let alone wins a regional award. The News Shopper have reported that Bexleyheath based Turkish restaurant The Meze, located at the junction of the Broadway and Lion Road has won the award for the best kebab restaurant in South and East London – a not inconsiderable accolade for a part of town that is better known for takeaways than for sit in restaurants. I do wonder, however, what criteria the judges use when deciding who to award the best restaurant prize to, as there are serious concerns about the hygiene practices employed in the kitchens of The Meze, and currently the “Scores on the Doors” star rating only grants the restaurant a one out of a possible five stars for food hygiene. The last Environmental Health inspection of The Meze took place on the 12th January 2017, and the examination found that food hygiene and safety was poor, structural compliance was poor and there was little confidence in management.  This really does not bode well – especially as throughout the London Borough of Bexley the levels of restaurant food hygiene have improved markedly over the last couple of years – you really have to be running a duff operation to merit a one out of five stars. I feel that if I was judging a restaurant in any form of competition, I would certainly take into account how likely any customer was to end up with food poisoning if they visited. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

You may well recall my observations and thoughts on the government's ill conceived plans to roll out smart energy meters to all of the UK by 2020, despite the huge cost and the miniscule actual per household saving the meters will actually bring, not to mention the very considerable risk of malicious hacking that the poorly designed devices expose their owners to. You may have seen recently that the BBC News website was reporting a story that smart meters made and supplied by company SSE have been malfunctioning and showing that their owners owe thousands of pounds when they should have read only tens - you can see the account here. As I wrote back in September, the predicted net energy bill cost saving per household was £23 a year, with the entire smart meter programme costing taxpayers £11bn. The government hopes to get 53 million meters installed by 2020, though just under four million had been installed as of late last year. A decade old Cabinet Office review of the smart meter programme, was unable to pinpoint the financial benefits of the smart meter programme, noting only the cost-benefit impact assessments made at the time varied between a net cost of £4.5bn and a £7.1bn net benefit to the economy. The same report claimed that smart meters “by 2020 will deliver a net annual saving of £23” per dual fuel household. The per-household cost given to the Cabinet Office at the time was an extra £390 for smart meters, against €150 per household in France when that country rolled out its own Linky smart meters. Dan Lewis of the Institute of Directors said in a recent interview:- “The government’s poorly thought-out smart meters programme has stifled innovation, competition and consumer choice driving the final cost to the customer up. It started costing £7bn and we are now looking at over £11bn. This programme needs to be opened up to much cheaper alternative emerging smart energy solutions. Only when utilities have to sell the technology to consumers and are prepared to return most rather than some of the benefits, can the cost of the programme be brought under control".

Further with the food theme:- there has been much in the press over the years in regard of the quality of ingredients used in fast food meals; most of the big players such as McDonald’s to their credit have improved in the quality and provenance of their meat and eggs for example. All of the companies are acutely aware that their public image and their credibility is dependent on their customers having confidence in their products. One such company is Subway, who foster an image of being a more health conscious option than some of their competitors such as KFC. It would appear that in some countries at least, the quality and healthiness of Subway meals is now being called into question. A study recently undertaken in Canada has shown that what is being marketed as chicken by Subway is rather less than is being claimed. In an investigation undertaken by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, samples of chicken meat were taken from a number of fast food outlets, and then genetically tested to find out exactly how much chicken each sample actually included. The results made for interesting reading. McDonald's Country Chicken-Grilled was 84.9 percent chicken, Wendy's Grilled Chicken Sandwich 88.5 percent, A and W's Chicken Grill Deluxe 89.4 percent, and Tim Horton's Chipotle Chicken Grilled Wrap 86.5 percent. Meanwhile, Subway's Oven Roasted Chicken Sandwich (53.6 percent chicken) and Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki (42.8 percent) seemed to be only half chicken. So what was the "alternative chicken" mixed with the real chicken in these sandwiches? Mostly soya protein, according to the testing performed by the DNA researcher. But soya protein was not the only thing mixed with the chicken. The CBC report explained that the chicken in the six sandwiches included a total of fifty different ingredients (each chicken piece averaged 16 ingredients), ranging from honey and onion powder to industrial ingredients. I have to say that I am not actually surprised.  I cannot say for sure how accurate the testing may have been given that the results have not yet been published in a scientific journal. However, using less expensive fillers or "alternative meat" to bulk up real meat and enhance taste is not a new practice. Previous reports have found a number of other ingredients mixed with meat in tacos and different sandwiches such as wood pulp. To explain, Burger King, McDonald’s and other fast food companies list in the ingredients of several of their foods, microcrystalline cellulose (MCC) or “powdered cellulose” as components of their menu items. Or, in plain English, wood pulp. The emulsion-stabilizing, cling-improving, anti-caking substance operates under multiple aliases, ranging from powdered cellulose to cellulose powder to methyl cellulose to cellulose gum. The entrance of this non-absorbable fibre into fast food ingredients has been stealthy, yet widespread: The compound can now be found in buns, cheeses, sauces, cakes, shakes, rolls, fries, onion rings, smoothies, meats—basically everything. The cost effectiveness of this filler has pushed many chains to use progressively less chicken in their “chicken” and cream in their “ice cream.” McDonald’s ranks highest on the list with cellulose integrated into 14 of their menu items including their renowned fish fillets, chicken strips and biscuits, with Burger King ranking second on the list with 13 menu items containing cellulose. Moreover, many cellulose-laden ingredients (such as honey mustard, bbq sauce, and cheese blends) can be found in multiple items throughout the menu making the filler difficult to avoid. It is best understood that all of the large chain fast food outlets skirt around food description laws by using seemingly innocuous phrases such as “all natural” which is meaningless – after all, crude oil and Uranium are natural products, but you would not want them anywhere near your food. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Now that the final plans for the refurbishment and rebuilding of the White Hart / former Potion bar have been published, it would seem that the intention to build a series of flats on the current site of the pub garden have been somewhat curtailed. The new plans are more in keeping with the location, and the fact that the main pub building is located within a conservation area. You can see drawings showing the revised plans for the new building work above - click for a larger version. Providing the work is carried out to a high standard, I am hopeful that the end result will be a real asset to the local area. The replica of the original Victorian acid etched glass, wood and green glazed tile frontage is currently being constructed, and work would appear to be progressing well. Once the reconstruction work is completed, the building should look very similar to how it did prior to the extensive and illegal vandalism carried out by the former Potion owners when they criminally destroyed the listed pub frontage and installed a horrible anachronistic plate glass frontage that was totally out of place. The Spring and Summer of 2017 will see some big changes happen in and around Erith. Work is already under way on the new housing development on the site of the old Riverside Swimming Baths site on the corner of Walnut Tree Road and Erith High Street. The Exchange will be taking over the nearby former Carnegie Library, and restoration work has recently begun on the White Hart – where the upper floors will be converted into a couple of flats, and the garden will be replaced with some low level retirement apartments overlooking the River Thames. Word reaches me that the remaining vacant units adjacent to the Fit4Less gym is under offer from a potential new tenant, meaning that at long last the building will finally have full occupancy. On top of this, down on Fraser Road, the first phase of Erith Quarry will be completed by the end of the summer. The whole town is progressively being regenerated; one only needs to consider how much has changed in only the last year to understand the scope of the transformations – which are most certainly for the better.

Last Saturday I was down in Gravesend on a search for a new chair for my home office - more on this later; the current chair is literally falling to pieces and really needs to be replaced with something more suitable sooner, rather than later. Whilst travelling along West Street, which runs parallel with the River Thames, I could see a large red lightship moored on a metal jetty, which you can see in the photo above, courtesy of fellow blogger and journalist Cathy FitzGerald - click on the photo for a larger view. After doing some research, I discovered that the ship was actually the historic former Trinity House Light Vessel 21, usually referred to as LV21. The current owners of the ship describe it thus:- "LV21 is a 40 metre steel-hulled lightship transformed into a floating art space and performance facility, designed to provide a range of services promoting and supporting the creative industries while celebrating and honouring the maritime traditions of the vessel. LV21 is a unique venue with an individual and distinct identity, one of Kent’s prime platforms for cultural activities across diverse artistic disciplines. An integral aim of the LV21 project is to help rejuvenate the riverfront and improve the public realm, bringing new life to what was once a busy commercial thoroughfare. LV21 will endeavour to act as a beacon, attracting the community, visitors and businesses to the riverside and establish itself as an iconic landmark. It is a celebration of the area’s historical maritime importance and creative community, a brand synonymous with creativity, innovation, regeneration and rejuvenation – a leading light in Kent’s cultural offer". This is a real change in purpose when compared with the original task for which LV21 was designed, which was acting as a warning to other vessels sailing in what could be treacherous waters. LV21 was built back in 1963; LV21 saw most of her service off the Kent coast on the Varne, East Goodwin and Channel stations. In 1981 she was involved in the worst Light Vessel collision in which the Light vessel had survived. She was retired from service in 2008. The following account of life on board a light ship during the 1970's and early 1980's was written by Derek Grieve, the last Master of LV21, and has previously been published elsewhere online. Derek had an interesting career. He  traveled extensively with the Royal and Merchant navies, after which he became a Trinity House lightsman working his way up to Master. "There were normally five crew members on a Light Vessel, all were required to be ex-Able seamen or above in the Royal or Merchant Navies. There were times when we were short handed and everyone had to ‘muck in’ to cover for the shortfall in personnel. We would deliver or arrange delivery of our gear/stores the day before we were due to fly out to our ships. On the day our duty started we would arrive early in the morning and check our gear was within the weight limits. After checking that all their crew members were present, the masters/skippers would go to the office, ‘book in’ and receive a briefing on what had been happening. They also received any special orders from head office, down at Harwich, including any plans for the next month. When all this had been completed we would be loaded into mini buses and taken to the locations where we would be transferred to our respective ships. Those going to the Newarp and Smiths Knoll stations would go to South Denes Airport, situated just to the North of Great Yarmouth. Those going to the Dudgeon and Outer Gabbard stations would go to the helicopter pad at Cromer Light House where Graham, the lighthouse keeper would have everything ready and supply mugs of tea. ‘Bonds Helicopters’ did the helicopter transfers. The pilots would do their utmost to get us aboard, even in heavy weather. They were fantastic pilots and fun people. There were many times during the winter months when the crew changes could not be done due to the bad weather, those waiting to return home having to spend another day or two on board. When you are sitting in a helicopter, which is hovering near your ship, and you are watching it gyrating in heavy seas, the helipad looks a very small area to land in. Then the pilot decides to ‘give it a go’. He guides the helicopter into the hover above the wildly bucking deck and starts matching the movement of the ship. He tells everyone that they are to remain in side while the engineer unloads the stores and loads the gear going ashore. Then he would increase the downward thrust and we would all pile out and those going home would scramble in. When the deck was clear he would wait for the deck to reach its highest level and reverse the thrust and shoot from the deck as the stern dropped into a trough. We would then quickly stow our gear below decks.Trinity House didn’t supply food. It was up to us to buy our own supplies for the 28-day tour of duty. It was important to allow an extra two or three days supply of food as the weather at the end of the trip could be so bad that they couldn’t do the change of crews, so there was no option but to stay on board until the weather became favourable. Those who lived near the Depot at Great Yarmouth tended to go shopping in the local shops. Others who lived further a field ordered from Yare shipping which was situated near the Haven Bridge. The supplies would be delivered the day before embarkation and weighed as there was a weight limit imposed as transportation was by helicopter from South Denes airport. Alcohol wasn’t allowed onboard, but a blind eye was turned at Christmas and New Year. As long as you were sensible, peace would prevail. Every year, a couple of weeks before Christmas the Caister Lifeboat would bring the Mayor of Great Yarmouth and representatives of local businesses out to the ship with goodies for the crew. It was looked forward to, as we didn’t have many visitors and the nearest neighbour was just over 14 miles away, ashore at Caistor. Those who were old hands pre-booked fresh provisions such a vegetables, to be delivered at the time when half the crew changed. Mail was also brought out at this time if there was any. At the end of your tour you would put all your unused frozen food into boxes with your name and place it in the bottom of one of the two large chest freezers onboard. Any vegetables left over would be left for those remaining on board. In the winter, when the weather was very bad and all you could do was hang on tight, going to the bridge/lookout was not a task for the faint hearted. The ship could and often was, thrown about by massive waves. The worst time was when the tide turned and the ship was broadside on to the wind and tide and she would lurch fore and aft then roll sideways into the trough between the waves. But these ships were well designed and strongly built; making them very good sea boats, which is just as well. The North Sea is not very deep so the waves are close together forcing ships to smash their way through them; this often weakens the hulls of ships not built to withstand this sort of punishment making it the most dangerous sea in the world. The 28 days were quite boring if you didn’t have a hobby. There were jobs to do, changing over the engines so they had the equal amount of running hours. Cleaning the ship went on all the time with a major clean just before you left the ship. There was a massive amount of brass work and keeping it shining was a job I hated. Greasing all deck equipment was ongoing to ensure that everything would work when it was required to. Some jobs could only be done when it was good weather (normally in the summer) such as calibrating the anchor cable. This would have to be done at the lowest tide possible (springs) and with a window of approximately 40 minutes everything had to be prepared in advance. The heavy engines were started to ensure that there was sufficient air pressure to operate the windlass. Power was then put onto the windlass and it was prepared to haul in the cable.Cleaning the lantern and its optics was another of those jobs, which had to be done regularly to ensure that the light could be seen as brightly as possible. After all, that was what we were there for. The outside glass was only done in good calm weather for safety reasons. There were no safety harnesses in those days. On the 21 we were lucky as we could access the lantern by climbing up the inside of the tube. Older LVs had a ladder/stairway leading up to the base of the lantern giving access through a trapdoor underneath the lantern. The climb would leave you open to the elements and was no joke during winter months. I remember one winter the wind was creating ‘sideways snow’ and by the time I got inside the lantern I was like a snowman, not a comfortable way to do ones job". A fascinating account, which got me thinking. Erith is also a maritime town with a long history, just as Gravesend is. Both towns have had a past reputation for being a bit on the "rough" side in certain ways (I spent a lot of time in Gravesend in the late 80's / early 90's, and the town has certainly come a long way since then - and I think the same could be said of Erith). Gravesend celebrates its maritime history and heritage with tourist attractions such as the LV21 - why could Erith not do something similar? As long time readers may vaguely recall,  some years ago plans were put into place to move the Radio Caroline ship the Ross Revenge to Erith Pier to allow it to be opened to the public as part of the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the famous radio station. I had some small involvement in the preparation for the event, and would have been the key holder for the ship when it was not in use, due to my connection with the station, and my living in close proximity to the pier. Unfortunately due to a number of factors, the relocation of the Ross Revenge to Erith Pier never happened, and the opportunity was lost. It seems to me that we are ignoring the River Thames and the area's maritime history to our loss. Erith Pier and the Riverside Gardens are lovely places to be on a sunny day, and we ought to be doing more to promote and utilise them in a similar way that Gravesend is doing with the LV21. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

I did not find what I was looking for in respect of a new office chair in Gravesend; instead I went into the West End yesterday and visited specialist chair supplier the Back 2 Back back care shop, where I placed an order for a special chair. Not cheap, but very high quality, and exceptionally comfortable. I should be taking delivery before the next Maggot Sandwich update. No doubt a photo of it in my office in Pewty Acres will also be forthcoming. I spend so much time on my backside in my home office that I might as well make it as comfortable as possible.

The ending video this week is a BBC4 documentary on the history and influence on music that the Vox AC30 amplifier (as manufactured in Erith and Dartford) has had. Do give it a watch - lots of famous faces appear in the programme. 

1 comment:

  1. Went to the Meze last Friday and it was fantastic! (although a bit loud!) Scores on the Doors a bit concerning, but they seem a professional bunch and hopefully will turn it round. Often those scores are the kick they need.