A new, international supermarket has just opened in Bexleyheath, on the site of the old Mothercare and Early Learning Centre, opposite Bexleyheath Clock Tower. I visited the place on Thursday afternoon, and I was very impressed. The place is spacious, immaculately clean, and stocks a bewildering array of foods and drinks from all over the world, many of which were new to me. The store is truly international in scope - there is a Halal butcher and a fishmongers, and also a large off licence (!) I would strongly recommend that you give the place a visit the next time you are in Bexleyheath.
The evenings are now noticeably drawing in and it is pretty much dark by 8pm. The temperature is still pretty reasonable, but this won’t be the case for very much longer. There comes a time in the year where I reach what I like to call the “Tweed Retirement Point (TRP)” this is when it becomes too cold to just wear a tweed sports jacket when out and about. This is my personal signifier for the true onset of winter, and it does tend to be somewhat variable. I think that the annual retrieving of heavier overcoats from the wardrobe is one of the things I least look forward to in the course of the annual cycle, but one that unfortunately cannot be avoided, just like the first appearance of a pale and scrawny, bare chested youth seems to signify the beginning of spring in Erith. It won't be very long before the trouble makers are happily ensconced back in their darkened and noxiously smelly bedrooms, playing their X-Boxes and awaiting the Spring.
Currently, around two thirds of bulbs sold in Britain are LED lights, making a considerable impact in improving the energy efficiency of the country’s buildings. They last 5 times longer than traditional halogen light bulbs and produce the same amount of light – but use up to 80% less power. The UK began phasing out the sale of higher-energy halogen light bulbs in 2018. The new legislation would mean retailers will no longer be able to sell the majority of halogen bulbs for general household use in the UK from the 1st of September. To help people make the switch, ministers are also announcing that all light bulbs will start to feature new energy efficiency advice via ‘rescaled’ energy labels on their boxes. The labels will simplify the way energy efficiency is displayed on a new scale from A-G, doing away with the A+, A++ or A+++ ratings. The new labels will raise the bar for each class, meaning very few bulbs will now be classified as A, helping consumers choose the most environmentally friendly bulbs. This measure is expected to mean that LED light bulbs will account for 85% of all bulbs sold by 2030. In addition, the government also plans to start phasing out the sale of high-energy fluorescent light bulbs, with a view to bringing an end to their sale from September 2023. Taken together, these new rules will mark a significant shift to more energy efficient and longer lasting LEDs and will stop 1.26 million tonnes of carbon being emitted every year - the equivalent of removing over half a million cars from the UK’s roads. The move is part of a package of energy efficiency improvements to electrical appliances, which will save consumers an average of £75 a year on energy bills.
This year marks the 120th anniversary of the first effective implementation of radio. A great deal of the work to make radio communication possible was down to one visionary man. Guglielmo Marconi was a 22-year-old technology genius, who, stung by the lack of interest in his work in his homeland, moved to a new country to develop his ideas. Whilst born and educated in Italy, he only really made a name for himself when he emigrated to the UK. In a single year, this individual extended the performance of a key, then brand new technology by a factor of more than 20. It sounds like an outlandish tale even by modern Silicon Valley standards, but by the end of 1901, had pushed the range of wireless communications from just over 80 miles (128km) to 2,000 (3,220km). Marconi’s breakthrough turned conventions about the then-new wireless technology on its head, earning him a joint Nobel Prize for Physics nine years later. If one technology dominated the early 20th century, it was wireless – thanks largely to Marconi. Before TV, Marconi's work established wireless as the world’s first mass medium, trouncing the long established electric telegraph and replacing print in many areas. He facilitated the spread of communications, entertainment, politics and propaganda around the globe in a fast-modernising world of motor-driven cars, and propeller-powered aircraft. Long-range wireless transmissions made the oceans a safer place, too, allowing ships to stay in touch with the land long after they had journeyed over the horizon. Marconi’s work also allowed the development of the SOS signal – and his company received the first one in 1910. Contrary to popular opinion, Marconi did not invent radio – that was a chap called Heinrich Hertz, a German physicist. Marconi did massively increase the transmission range, efficiency and sensitivity of radio designs. Marconi was fortunate in that he came from a wealthy family who not only owned a lot of land, but were also part of the Jameson whisky distilling dynasty. Marconi set up a wireless transmitting and receiving station in Poldhu, South East Cornwall – a location picked as it was very close to the Atlantic, and the ships that traversed it – at that time Marconi believed that the main use of wireless would be for ship to ship, and ship to shore communications. In June 1901, Poldhu communicated with a station at Crookhaven in County Cork, 225 miles away. In September, high winds blew down the masts, but that wasn’t going to stop Marconi making history. With a temporary pair of 160-foot masts he set off for Newfoundland in Canada to receive transmission of the first transatlantic wireless signal – from those masts. On the 9th December, he used cable telegraphy to ask his team to start sending signals. On the 12th December 1901, he heard their reply: an "SSS" in Morse. Wireless radio communications had crossed the Atlantic, and further tests found that Poldhu’s range could exceed 2,000 miles. January 1903 saw the first transmission from the US, from American President Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII. This may have been the first example of poorly timed international calls due to time differences; Poldhu received the message at night, after the post office in the nearby village of Mullion had closed, so it didn’t get through to the king until the next morning. How times change.
On April the 12th 1884, a powerful earthquake shook an area from Woolwich to as far as Margate. Initially residents thought that one of the armament storage warehouses at Woolwich Royal Arsenal had exploded – as had happened back on Saturday the first of October 1864, when two massive gunpowder stores on the marshes in Lower Belvedere detonated – which was one of the largest non – nuclear explosions in British history. It was understandable therefore that almost twenty years later many who experienced the massive explosion would automatically assume that the earthquake was caused by another accident whilst handling explosives. You can read more about the Belvedere explosion by clicking here. The earthquake was a different beast altogether; the epicentre of the quake was in South Essex, from there the shock waves spread out causing disturbance over an area somewhat in excess of 53,000 square miles. It measured 6.9 on the Richter scale and caused buildings to sway and develop structural cracks, chimneys to collapse, slates to cascade down roofs, and several fires were caused. In North Kent, well away from the epicentre, the effects were still profound. People were understandably terrified – the ground beneath their feet was moving, and great clouds of dust rose into the air. Some people were knocked over, whilst others were sick with fright. Some even wondered if the day of judgement had come, as the motion of the earthquake caused many church bells to ring spontaneously. Eventually the earthquake passed; fortunately there were few serious injuries and no reported deaths. To date the Kent earthquake of 1884 remains one of the most serious geological events to have taken place in England. Let’s hope we are not scheduled for another, as the potential damage both to life and infrastructure would be proportionally worse nowadays – there were few gas mains, almost no electricity cables and certainly no fibre – optic lines for an earthquake to destroy back in 1884 – the same most certainly could not be said of today. Contemporary journalist J.E Taylor wrote of the earthquake:- "At last the people of these islands have been enabled to realise the meaning of the term “earthquake,” so terrible in its significance in many other parts of the globe. On Tuesday morning, at a time variously given from 9.15 to 9.30, a shock which was really alarming and did considerable damage was felt over the Eastern Counties and as far west as London and even Rugby. The centre of disturbance seems to have been at Colchester, and the wave apparently travelled from south-east to north-west, though impressions vary on this point. At Colchester, in addition to the undulations of the earth, subterranean rumblings were heard, buildings rocked to and fro, the streets were strewn with debris of fallen chimneys, a chapel spire was thrown to the ground, and other signs of seismic disturbance were evident, familiar enough to those who have been in countries where such phenomena are common occurrences. The shock, when it was most intense, commenced with a rumbling sound, increasing in intensity for about twenty seconds, and then suddenly stopped. It extended to Chelmsford, Cambridge, Northampton, Ipswich, Sudbury, Rugby, Leicestershire; it included London and the surrounding district in its sweep, and even caused some alarm in the Strand. At Woolwich it was so strong that some persons attributed the shock and noise to the bursting of a heavy gun".
You may have read in the popular press that certain car insurance companies are refusing to insure certain models of vehicle, the most widely known model being the latest Range Rover. The reason they cite is that crooks have cracked the digital keyless entry system on the upmarket off – roaders, and crooks can just walk up to the cars and drive away – the hack involves a device that mimics the electronic key fob, not only unlocking the doors, disabling the alarm and the immobiliser, and even starting the engine. I understand that Range Rover are currently investigating, and it is said that a recall of certain affected models for a firmware upgrade on their security systems is imminent. This is a bad state of affairs, but it would seem to be limited to a small number of vehicles from a specific car maker. Things are possibly going to get a whole lot worse though. American security analyst Corey Thuen has discovered a state of affairs that could make the Range Rover security vulnerability look like small change. You may be aware that a number of UK insurance companies offer reduced premiums to drivers who have telematics “Black box” devices installed. Black box insurance works when your car is fitted with a small 'black box' device, about the size of a smartphone, which records speed, distance travelled and the time of day or night that you are on the road. The device also assesses your driving style by monitoring braking and cornering. It will also record the types of road on which you typically travel, and the times of day and night you tend to drive, to build up a comprehensive profile of you as a driver. With a device fitted to your car you can access a website to find out how you are performing in each category. This will show you if you need to make any changes to your driving style, and will provide tips on how you can improve your driver score and bring down the cost of your insurance. As a rule of thumb it is assumed that driving fewer miles on less dangerous roads, while also limiting night time driving, will result in lower premiums. Policies linked to black box recorders charge premiums on a monthly basis, which means the insurer can adjust them swiftly to reward better driving (and punish those who show themselves to be a risky proposition). Aside from privacy concerns (personally I find the concept of being monitored via satellite repugnant, but I know many do not share my worries). The telematic devices may suit younger drivers – indeed I understand that some insurance companies will only issue policies to newly qualified drivers if they have a “black box” installed – at the driver's expense. In the USA there are over two million telematic monitoring units installed on vehicles, and it is likely that in the next few years they become widely spread all over the world. The problem is that the devices currently in use are extremely vulnerable to malicious interference. Corey Thuen said “The firmware running on the black box is minimal and insecure. It does no validation or signing of firmware updates, no secure boot, no cellular authentication, no secure communications or encryption, no data execution prevention or attack mitigation technologies… basically it uses no security technologies whatsoever. A skilled attacker could almost certainly compromise such telematics black boxes to gain remote control of a vehicle, or even an entire fleet of vehicles. Once compromised, the consequences range from privacy data loss to life and limb; also, there is the attack vector of progressive backend infrastructure. If those systems are compromised, an attacker would have control over the devices that make it out to the field. In simple terms, we have seen that cars can be hacked and we have seen that mobile cellular communications can be hacked.” Privacy of data within cars is also a growing concern, one highlighted by Thuen’s research. BMW this week said it had repeatedly been asked by technology companies and advertisers to hand over the data their cars generated, but it has refused to give in to those requests. Thuen said it would be possible to intercept data passed between the black boxes and the insurance providers’ servers, likely including location and performance information, as they do nothing to encrypt or otherwise protect the information they collect. From my research, unless the telematics companies and to a lesser extent the car manufacturers take data integrity and security more seriously, it is only a matter of time before there are disastrous consequences. I predict that hackers will compromise whole fleets of vehicles, demanding cash ransoms to release vehicles from their control, in a very similar method to the current spate of “ransomware” that has affected many PC’s – a remote hacker encrypts a users’ files, then demands a fee to release the encryption key. I don't see any difference between a desktop or laptop PC and a car – indeed modern cars have as much if not more processing power than a home PC, so the analogy is sound.
The upper of the two photographs above may look exceedingly unfamiliar to anyone who only knows modern Erith – it was taken from the opposite end of Pier Road, where it met with Bexley Road, adjacent to Christ Church – which is just to the right of the scene, but out of the photograph. The building in the picture was the Wheatley Hotel – a popular pub that had overnight accommodation for travellers from the nearby Erith Station. The pub was located roughly where the De Luci fish roundabout now resides. I can tell that the upper photograph was taken at some point between 1964 and 1972, as the car at the turning of the road is a Morris 1800 mark one, better known colloquially as a “Land Crab” – a very popular model at the time. Since the premises in Pier Road were demolished in 1972 / 73, and the car only went on sale in 1964, hence the approximate age of the image. Nevertheless it is quite difficult to visualise the location bearing in mind how much the basic geography of central Erith has changed since the horrendous 1970’s Brutalist Concrete shopping centre was built – the roads in and around the town centre were re – sited, renamed and in some cases totally ceased to exist. I have a couple of maps from the late 1940s’ that bear little resemblance to the town we see today. I suspect that much of the changes to the roads were quite necessary – the main aim of the work seems to be to permit far higher levels of motor traffic to pass through the town without causing a traffic jam – though the Bexley Road Bridge shown in the lower of the two photos has historically always been a local choke point for traffic – an issue the Council have talked about addressing by widening the bridge to allow two lanes in each direction, instead of the current one lane. Whether it actually comes to pass is now debatable, as Bexley Council are cutting back their expenditure yet further. The only way I see the work now being done is if a body like Transport for London takes up the task.
The end video this week is a short clip from a British Pathe Newsreel from back in 1936; it shows a major fire which took place in the Vickers armaments factory in Crayford. Comments and feedback can be sent to me at the usual address - firstname.lastname@example.org.