Sunday, February 21, 2021

Hermes.

The photo above shows the entrance door to Erith Post Office - somewhere that many readers may have stepped through whilst visiting the post office over the years. Yet the doorway holds a secret, that is only now to be revealed, thanks to guest contributor Pamela today. Pamela writes a piece which has been adapted from a presentation that she made to a local archaeological society last year:- "I am a naturally interested person in the world that I live in. I grew up in Sydenham, London S.E.26 until the age of 9 years then lived in Canada for my father’s job at a Canadian NORAD military air force base. I then returned to England aged 17 years. The result of this is that I view everything around me like a tourist; I am permanently on holiday. I had gone to visit the town of Erith to walk along the river and look at the landscape and architecture. When I had entered Erith High Street, and as I turned the corner to go into Bexley Road I had come upon Erith Post Office and Costcutter convenience store. As I looked at the Post Office building I saw in front of me a practical  brownish/red brick building and on the roof of the building, on each corner, was a sculptured stone urn. I walked to the entrance door and looking up  I noticed on the brick lintel above the door there was a beautiful carved, formal looking stone ornament of a face. Looking at the stone ornament above the entrance door, I began to wonder about the building’s history - why would a Post Office have these quite elaborate adornments, perhaps it had been used for another purpose before it was a Post Office,  what might it have been before it was a Post Office. I began to examine in my mind where the building was located: • it was near the tidal River Thames • it was by the old Erith Police Station (1847) - a new riverside Police Station being built in 1908 and at the same time a separate River Police Station building was built next to it (they are all now closed) • and the Police Station was located next to the former historical industries of the coal wharves, the trains running on the railway pier, the shipbuilding yard, flour mills, iron mill and other industries of that time. I had wondered if perhaps the Post Office had been a mortuary for people who had been fatally injured or drowned because of the location of the building near to river, the police stations and this former industrial area. It is my nature to want to enquire and examine things.  I was so intrigued that I thought I must find out more about Erith, the Post Office, the former two nearby police stations, the River Thames at Erith and the historical industry. Erith became part of the Metropolitan Police on 13th January 1840.  Until 1847 the town was patrolled by officers from Bexley.  In that year a Police Station was built in what was then Back Lane, and is now Bexley Road, at a cost of £583.17s.2d.  It was to remain active until November 1908 when a new riverside police station was built at a cost of £9,000.  It did include a separate station for the River Police. The River Police ceased to operate at the end of 1989 (it is now offices). A few years later this was followed by the closure of the land side police station. Returning to my research and investigation of the Erith Post Office building and what the stone ornament was above the door, I would like to take you further to my online search about architecture. This was one of the many things I had investigated. “At the top of a round arch is the keystone, which holds the arch together, and on which the weight of the building above contacts the arch and is transferred to the right and left.  It is therefore symbolical as well as design wise an obvious point for decoration.” After spending several periods of time  searching online, I finally found the first piece of information to reveal to me what the stone ornament was above the door of  Erith Post Office. In my search I had found the answer.  The sculptured stone head is of Mercury / Hermes, the winged messenger of the gods in Greek and Roman mythology. It has been a fascinating journey for me in my online search to have found out so much about this wonderful historic town". Thanks to Pamela's research, the mystery is now solved. Comments to hugh.neal@gmail.com.

Earlier last week I took a walk around town; I also took the photo of the small green plaque that commemorates the old Erith Fire Station that you can see at the top above (click the photo for a larger version). Nowadays, all that is left of the original fire station is a very small brick built structure with a wooden door, that to my mind rather resembles an old fashioned outside privy. The building is rapidly becoming overgrown with Ivy, and I do not think that it will be very long before it is completely covered. The building is located to the right of the entrance to the staff car park behind Erith Council Offices. I doubt that many people even realise the plaque is there. I have been conscious that there is a lot of history to the local fire service, much of it directly linked to World War II. Some years ago, local history guru Ken Chamberlain wrote a pamphlet on the history of the fire service in Erith, and he almost certainly has more knowledge on the subject that anyone else. "At the outbreak of the second World War in 1939 there were only 9 regular firemen. However there were no less than 112 full time Auxiliaries, and 160 part time AFS recruited. Properties in Cross Street and the High Street were taken over to house them. Some of course served at satellite stations set up at the Royal Oak Garage in Bexley Road, the Sanatorium in Belmont Road (Now Belmont school) Bedwell School in Albert Road, Belvedere, “Elmhurst” Borstall and St. Marys Hall, Abbey Wood. During that time twenty four lorries, eight high powered cars were acquired. As well as a barge that was converted to a fire float. On the 7th September 1940 local units attended the London dock area assisting the overstretched Local units. They finally returned to Erith after a sixteen hour shift minus a pump that had been blown into the dock. On the night of 21st/22nd January 1944 the Bexley Road station suffered a direct hit by a delayed action bomb. Several years ago I spoke to a survivor of the incident he recounted how they were in the engine room when they heard a loud crash and debris started falling about them. They ran out to see where the bomb had fallen. This action undoubtedly saved their lives as at that moment the bomb exploded. He claimed not to have heard a bang, but was stone deaf for six weeks afterwards. He did however suffer injuries. He was taken to Erith Hospital, treated and was back on duty in two hours. There were no fatalities. The 1907 building was demolished and a temporary structure was put in its place. The wartime control room remains as does a part of the entrance doorway. The temporary station remained until 12th July 1961 when it was replaced by the station that is now located in Erith Road, Belvedere". You can see a couple of Ken's photos from his extensive collection above - the middle one, below the one I took recently shows Erith Fire Station just as it had received the first motorised fire engines in the 1930's. Strange to think that only a handful of years later the station would be flattened by the Luftwaffe, as you can see in the bottom shot, taken on the 22nd January 1944, the morning after the fire station received the direct hit. 


Over the last year, since the beginning of the first Covid-19 lockdown, people have been rediscovering old hobbies and pastimes, some of which have not seen the light of day for many years. It would seem that for some people, watching endless TV series on Netflix, or surfing the web eventually becomes boring, and they start to look for something that perhaps they had not done for decades. I have heard that hobbies such as home brewing and home wine making are having somewhat of a renaissance, and stories of people undertaking what can be somewhat overambitious DIY home renovation projects abound online. Radio listening in its many forms, has also seen a massive resurgence in popularity. SWLing (Shortwave Radio Listening) is one of the most popular radio activities in the world. Even with the advent of the world wide web, SWLing stands apart because it provides some of the best "unfiltered" news and content to be found. Even though many stations have closed down over the years, short wave listening is still a fascinating hobby. Most radio amateurs started out as SWLs, short wave listeners, spending hours tuning around the bands and listening to military and marine traffic as well as broadcast stations. Shortwave is used not just by international radio stations or radio amateurs but is also essential for aviation, marine, diplomatic and emergency purposes. Shortwave signals are not restricted or controlled by the receiving countries and, as frequencies change in winter and summer, they need to be coordinated internationally. The joy of SWLing is that you don't need expensive equipment, a connection to the internet, an elaborate antenna, or even AC mains power.  To pick up most broadcasts, a few batteries and an inexpensive pocket-sized shortwave radio are all you need.  This is simplicity at its best, and the reason there are so many people SWLing today. Of course, once you've mastered the basics of SWLing, you may also be interested in DXing (searching for more distant stations) which will require an upgrade from your pocket-sized radio; however, even then, you may be amazed at how little it takes to put together a good DX-chasing set-up. Many people have or want radios with the ability to pick up shortwave broadcasts, but don't know how to reliably find the stations they seek. Unlike your local FM or AM radio stations, shortwave broadcasts are usually directed to a specific geographic location, for a specific audience, and at a specific, fixed time. Frequencies and broadcast times can vary from year to year, sometimes even from season to season. One of the best resources in my opinion is the website Short-Wave Info, which you can see here. It will tell you who is broadcasting, at what time, in what language and on what radio frequency. If you come across a mysterious signal whilst tuning around the Shortwave bands, you can input it into the website, and it will tell you who it is. Other great resources for Shortwave listening include Shortwave Central, which you can find here. You can find the excellent online resource The World Radio and TV Handbook by clicking here. Additionally, The Shortwave DX Blog, which specialises in recording pirate radio activity can be found here

As I have written in the recent past, I get extremely annoyed at the people using shops of public transport who do not wear their anti Covid-19 mask properly - for example, having their nose poking out, or wearing the mask like a chin strap. I have always subconsciously felt that such people were untrustworthy; it turns out that I am actually correct. A recent study published in the journal "Psychology Today" indicates that people who wear masks incorrectly are by nature less trustworthy than others. The study posits the following:- Imagine two strangers walking down the street. At first glance, can you tell if one of them is more honest than the other? Of course not. But now, thanks to Covid-19, maybe you can. Just take a look at how they wear their masks in places where masks are mandatory. Suppose one person is wearing her mask properly, covering her mouth and nose. Suppose the other person only has his mask on his chin, or maybe down around his neck. From this difference alone, it could be that the second person is more likely to be dishonest in other situations as well. That, at least, is what the economist Yossef Tobol at the Jerusalem College of Technology and his colleagues found in a recent study published in the journal Economic Letters. Their study was conducted in June of 2020 in Israel, at a time when masks had to be worn outside and violators were given a hefty fine by the police. The experimenters recruited 100 people on the street to be in the study who were wearing their masks properly, along with 100 people only wearing their masks on their chin or neck. As part of the experiment, everyone was given the die-under-the-cup task, a widely used behavioural measure of dishonest behaviour. The way the task goes is that you are told to roll a die in private where no one else can observe you, with the understanding that there will be a greater financial reward the higher the roll you report. In Tobol’s study, a reported roll of 1 earned 1.2 euros, 2 earned 2.4 euros, and so on. At the time one euro was the equivalent of a bit more than one US dollar. For the die-under-the-cup task, the question is whether participants will on average report a roll that is higher than chance would predict (chance = 3.5). This is indeed what Tobol found. For the group wearing their masks properly, the average score reported was 4.05. This result is in line with many studies of honest behaviour using a variety of different measures. These studies tend to find that people are willing to cheat to some extent if they think they can get away with it and get rewarded in the process. At the same time, participants tend to not cheat as much as they could. Why not just report a ‘6,’ for example, no matter what the roll is? Current research on honesty often attributes this restrained cheating behaviour to a desire to preserve our ability to think of ourselves as honest people. What about the group of people who were wearing their masks improperly? How did they report their die rolling task? There, the average reported roll was 4.91, which is a significant difference from the 4.05 of the first group. This second group as a whole was willing to break the rules when it came to Covid-19 safety, and it was also willing to break the rules in another situation as well. This fits with the explanation that Tobol provides for why these people would have their mask on their chin or neck in the first place. Tobol speculates that they could quickly pull their mask up correctly in the presence of the police to avoid a fine, but otherwise did not care about complying with the requirement. This was an outward appearance of compliance, together with hidden deception, just like in the die-rolling task. At this point, it is natural to wonder about a third group, namely those who weren’t wearing a mask at all. Fortunately, Tobol studied them too. For 100 people on the street who were not wearing a mask, their reported die roll was 4.21. Slightly higher than the 4.05 for the mask-wearing group, but not a statistically significant difference. At the same time, it is much lower than the 4.91 for the improper mask wearing group. We might have initially expected the no mask group to cheat the most, of the three on the die task, since they were simply breaking the rules outright. But upon reflection the data makes sense. These are people who are not making any attempt to deceive anyone. They are blatantly violating the public requirement. How people wear their masks, when doing so is mandatory, could be a highly visible clue to their degree of honesty. At the same time, these results need to be replicated in different countries. Other measures of honest behaviour need to be used as well, besides the die-rolling task. Many more studies have to be done. I suspect that the results will be broadly similar - what do you think? Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


Thirty seven years ago this week, a computer was launched that, on paper should have set the world alight, but instead went on to become infamous. It is a computer that failed so massively, very few people in the UK will have even heard of it, as it sank without trace. Ironically because of its’ lack of success, the machines are now desirable collectors’ items amongst old computer enthusiasts. The machine in question is the IBM PC Junior, otherwise known as the “Peanut”. It was designed to be a computer which was software compatible with the full IBM PC, but with better graphics and sound, to appeal to a home user. Back in the 80’s, IBM could do no wrong. They were massively respected and totally dominated the business and government computer market worldwide. There was a popular saying at the time “nobody ever gets fired for buying IBM”. Which was pretty much the case; IBM kit was well made, expensive and came with excellent technical support and training. The original IBM PC (the 5150 model) was the first time IBM had designed and manufactured a computer from “off the shelf” standard components, something which would both make the PC the industry standard, and also in time mark the end of IBM as a major producer of desktop hardware, as other companies introduced cheaper and more capable “clone” computers. At the point where the PC Junior was introduced though, IBM was still king of the hill. The launch of a home computer built by the company was thought to be a guaranteed hit. The problems with the Junior were pretty much obvious from the outset. The Junior  came with a absolutely terrible “chicklet” type keyboard, which was virtually impossible to touch – type on. The keyboard used a wireless infra red connection which was very unreliable – even of you could get some typing on the keys themselves, quite often the link would break, and you would get half a sentence along, before you realised that the words had stopped appearing on screen. To add to this, the expansion slots and joystick ports were non – standard, making adding third party devices very difficult. If this was not bad enough, the PC Junior only came with 64K or 128K of RAM; this meant that most full PC software, such as Visicalc and Wordstar which required 640K, would not run on the machine – the much vaunted software compatibility was not anywhere near as good as the marketing people said.  The factors are small when compared to the main problem – the PC Junior was over twice the price of the Commodore 64 – which at the time was the most popular and successful home computer in the world, which had a plethora of third party software and hardware available for it. The PC Junior was launched in February 1984 to poor reviews and public indifference. The IBM marketing people were largely perplexed; they were used to dealing with large corporations, not individual private consumers, and really did not understand this strange new market. The few people who did buy the PC Junior complained so vociferously  and so long about the awful keyboard that IBM eventually decided to provide users with a full stroke keyboard as used on the Juniors’ big brother – the full PC, but this was too little, too late, and the company pulled the plug on the whole PC Junior project within eighteen months. Ironically this also marked the slow decline in the full IBM PC. Because of the open design of the PC, other manufacturers realised that they could make computers which were software compatible with the IBM product, but which were considerably faster, cheaper and easier to upgrade. Dell, Compaq and HP all started producing PC compatible clones, and very soon these became ubiquitous, not just in the office, but in the home as well. The PC took on an identity apart from IBM, and within a decade, IBM had sold their entire desktop manufacturing division to Chinese PC makers Lenovo.

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "Good news for residents of Barnehurst, there has been no reports of burglaries or vehicle crime over the past week. In Hillingdon Road there was another incident of Graffiti in the exact same place as the last time. The graffiti was found on the Monday 8/02/2021 and the content of the graffiti was offensive and removed by Bexley Council. In Northumberland Way on Monday 15/02/2021 at 11:45, a bag of sand was reported stolen from a driveway. A resident has reported a scam whereby she received a telephone call from two males claiming to be Police Officers. The first call came on Tuesday 9/02/2021 where they claimed someone was trying to apply for a car loan and had also attempted to open multiple bank accounts in the victim’s name. The victim then received a second call on the Thursday 11/02/2021 where the so-called Police Officers informed the victim they were still investigating the matter and requested a visit to the address the following day. Please be mindful as criminals are looking for other avenues to commit a crime and scamming vulnerable residents is one of these". Belvedere ward:- "We have had reports of attempted break-ins of garages and undertaken regular patrols around the area. Regular patrol around Clive Road regarding ongoing drug reports. Stop and searches have been conducted with positive results. Patrols are ongoing. Reports of three males overheard discussing thefts of dogs at Park Vets, Picardy Street. Attended and spoke to witnesses. Believed to be street drinkers. Regular patrols around the area". Bexleyheath ward:- "There have been no reports of any residential burglaries or attempted burglaries on the ward recently. There was a report of a theft of motor vehicle along Long Lane between Friday 12th and Monday 15th February. Also, there was a report of a theft of wallet whilst the victim was shopping in the Broadway about a week ago, he believes he may have been pick pocketed. On Wednesday 10th February there was a report of a theft of a mobile phone. Victim believes the incident took place whilst shopping in Pound Land Bexleyheath between 12:45 and 12:50 midday". Crayford ward:-"Thankfully no burglaries on our ward this week and just one motor vehicle-related crime. On Wednesday  10th February between 23:35 and 23:50 a white Citroen van with the number plate LY69 HHF was stolen from the Acorn Industrial Estate without keys by three males. We have been busy in the last few days responding to complaints about COVID breaches, especially at Hall Place, for arranged sports.  Not long now and the restrictions will ease.  In the meantime please stay safe and well". Erith ward:-"Reports of a Hermes delivery driver or someone impersonating, driving around and stealing Amazon parcels from outside of properties. There have been 2 reports of this in Erith and in the same location of Avenue Road. Burglary Alford Road - Entry gained by panel removed on the main communal door. Lock removed on the door of flat to gain entry and steal an electric scooter. No theft from/of Motor vehicles in Erith this week". Northumberland Heath ward:- "The team have been concentrating on motor vehicle crime this week, we had had 2 stop searches of motor vehicles. Three males were arrested on suspicion of the theft of a motorbike, investigation ongoing. Theft of catalytic converters is high across the borough, this week North Heath ward had one theft of a converter from Broadoak Road. No burglaries on the ward this week". Slade Green and Northend ward:-"Overnight between Thursday 11/02 and Friday 12/02 we had 5 vehicles broken into on the ward. Jenningtree Road, Brompton Drive, Lapwing Close and Sheppey Close X2 were the venues which are all very close to each other. All vehicles had items left inside that were taken including mobile phones, tools, a purse and other items. Please do not leave anything valuable in your vehicles and leave nothing on display. Various CCTV images are being pursued. No burglaries to report". Thamesmead East ward:-"A gas meter was stolen from a cupboard located on the outside of a property in Parkway between the hours of 9:00 am and 4:30 pm on Friday 12/02/21. Haldane Road, between the hours of 10:00pm on Friday 12/02/21 and 10:30 am on Saturday 13/02/21 a suspect entered the garden and forced the conservatory door open, no entry was made to the main house and nothing was stolen. The front and rear number plates were stolen from a vehicle parked in Fairway Drive between the hours of 9:00 pm on Saturday 13/02/21 and 9:15 am on Sunday 14/02/21. Between the hours of 3:45 pm on Saturday 13/02/21 and 12:30 pm on Tuesday 16/02/21 the front and rear number plates were stolen from a vehicle parked in Lanridge Road. Motor Vehicle Crime Prevention. Anti-theft Number Plate Bolts are virtually non-removable without the specialist locking tool, preventing theft of your vehicle identity. These clever bolts secure stick-on plates to your vehicle and are self-tapping with spinning security sleeves. Check your car security – Have you locked your doors and windows? Did you know that your vehicle is like a shop window ?. If you can see any property left on view then so can a thief. Take it with you or put it out of sight. Good News - PC’s Sakifio and Smith whilst on foot patrol in Mangold Way 3 males were stopped and searched, one was found to be in possession of cannabis. Officers from Thamesmead East, Thamesmead Moorings and Belvedere increased proactive patrols after a serious incident, officers sighted a male looking suspicious on HMW detained for the purpose of a search assaulted officers, and he was arrested and charged. All the officers are safe and well". West Heath ward:- "No burglaries have been reported to us over the past week. One theft of vehicle registration plated from Downe Close which took place between Monday 8/02/2021 21:00 and Tuesday 9/02/2021 at 06:15 when the owner realised they were missing from the vehicle. One report of criminal damage to a motor vehicle in Brampton Road. This incident took place on Thursday 11/02/2021 at 18:24. The victim was driving near the bridge in Brampton Road when a group of unknown suspects threw a bottle at the vehicle causing a dent on one of the doors. The victim was understandably shaken by the incident".

The end video this week is a short documentary on the history of Thames sailing barges, which can still occasionally be seen on the River Thames, though nowadays they are run mainly for leisure rather than business purposes. Comments and feedback to me at hugh.neal@gmail.com

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