Sunday, April 02, 2023


The financial situation at supermarket chain Morrisons is looking increasingly bleak. The Erith store pictured above - click on the photo to see a larger view - is emblematic of the problems suffered by the company overall. Morrisons faces a growing crisis as customers continue to desert it for Aldi and Lidl. The beleaguered Bradford-based supermarket saw sales climb 0.1 per cent to £2.8 billion in the three months to March 19th – its first growth since May 2021. But the increase was the slowest of any supermarket. Aldi’s sales, meanwhile, were up 25.4 per cent from a year ago at £3.1 billion. Morrisons now makes up 8.8 per cent of the UK’s grocery market, down from 9.5  a year ago, Kantar figures showed in a recent report. Aldi, which overtook Morrisons to become the UK’s fourth biggest supermarket last year, makes up 9.9 per cent of all grocery sales, up from 8.6 per cent a year ago. Lidl is hot on Morrisons’ heels, having grown its share from 6.4 per cent a year ago to 7.4 per cent. Morrisons has struggled since being bought by a US private equity firm two years ago. Shore Capital retail analyst Clive Black said in an interview on MSN that it was "sadly now the laggard of the trade". Last week, Morrisons announced that it has pledged to slash its costs by £700 m as it grapples with a £5.9 billion debt pile and tepid sales. The supermarket is preparing to make changes including cutting down the range of products it manufactures and simplifying routes taken by its delivery vans to save on fuel, all in an effort to cut spending. Morrisons said making these savings would allow it to invest in lowering prices, increasing its service levels and expanding its footprint in convenience stores. The supermarket has already announced three rounds of price cuts so far this year in a bid to win back shoppers It comes after a difficult year that saw Morrisons lose its title of Britain’s fourth largest supermarket to Aldi, as shoppers squeezed by the cost of living crisis sought out cheaper groceries. Higher interest rates are also putting pressure on the supermarket’s finances. As I have written previously. Morrisons was taken over by private equity company Clayton, Dubilier & Rice in 2021 in a deal that has left the supermarket with a £5.9 billion debt pile. In February, credit ratings agency Moody’s downgraded its outlook for Morrisons from ‘stable’ to ‘negative’, making it more difficult for the company to borrow money going forward. There have been rumours - so far unsubstantiated - that both Aldi and Lidl may be about to make a bid to purchase some of the most under-performing Morrisons stores around the UK. This would make sense, as it is far cheaper to buy an existing store and convert it to your brand, than it is to build a store from scratch. What do you think? Email me at

Here is the Bexley Fire Brigade Update for the month of March 2023 from Jim Morford, Borough Commander for Bexley, London Fire Brigade:- "Cooking and smoking have been the main causes of the 32 fires we have attended over the last month. However, a growing cause of fire is batteries igniting in electric scooters. A couple of years ago Firefighters in Erith tackled a fire caused by an electric scooter igniting whilst being charged. So far this year, on average across London we’ve been called to an e-bike or e-scooter fire once every two days – a 60 percent increase compared to the same period last year. We attended 116 incidents involving e-bikes and e-scooters in 2022, a sharp increase compared to 2021 when we attended 78. In 2017 we attended only two. The statistics reflect the growing popularity of private e-bikes and e-scooters in London, especially among young people. Sadly, a young woman lost her life earlier this year in a fire attended by Firefighters from the Old Kent Road fire station. Please read the safety tips below, these will help reduce the risk of being injured in a fire caused by E scooters/Bikes. Never block your escape route with anything, including e-bikes and e-scooters. Store them somewhere away from a main through route. Our advice is to store these items in a safe location if possible, such as a garage or a shed. Always use the correct charger and buy an official one from a reputable seller. We are predominantly seeing fires where batteries have been purchased from online marketplaces and when they've been sourced on the internet, which may not meet the correct safety standards. Let the battery cool before charging. Batteries can get warm during use and it is advisable to allow them to cool down before attempting to recharge as they could be more susceptible to failure. If you are charging batteries indoors, please follow our advice on safe charging. Unplug your charger once it’s finished charging. Always follow manufacturers’ charging instructions and we advise users not to leave their e-bike or e-scooter unattended or while people are asleep. Fit alarms where you charge. Ensure you have smoke alarms fitted in areas where e-bikes or e-scooters are being charged and make sure they are tested regularly. You can quickly and easily check your home by visiting our free online home fire safety checker tool. Check your battery and charger meet UK safety standards. Watch out for signs that the battery or charger isn’t working as it should – hot to the touch or has changed shape (expanded or heat deformed)". Sadly nowhere in his article does the Borough Commander mention that such e-scooters are illegal to use in any public area. More on this issue later.

Following my article last week featuring historic, locally manufactured Maxim and Vickers machine guns which are being used by Ukranian forces to fight the Russian invaders, I thought I would highlight another creation by prolific inventor and engineer Hiram Maxim (1840-1916) who nowadays is best known for the invention of the automatic machine gun, the spring mouse trap and the fire sprinkler, along with the first heavier than air aircraft - The Maxim Flyer, which took to the air - albeit briefly - in 1894, nine years before the Wright Brothers. The experimental steam powered aeroplane accidentally took off during ground testing in Baldwyn’s Park, Bexley – it flew for an estimated 281 metres at a height of 1.4 metres, according to contemporary accounts. You can read more about the story here. Suffice to say that Maxim realised that his design of flying machine was dynamically unstable, and not viable for any longer flights. He abandoned the project shortly thereafter, leaving the Wright Brothers to gain the fame and fortune that went with the first viable aerodynamic flying vehicle. As well as being a skilled engineer and inventor, Hiram Maxim was a very shrewd businessman, and I think he realised that his own flying machine was an engineering dead end, and he decided to stop throwing good money after bad, and work on other projects instead. Maxim was already a very wealthy man, and did not really need the flying machine to be a financial success at all. However, he also developed the inhaler in the photos above. Click on either photo to see a larger version. The inhaler, known as the ‘Pipe of Peace’. It was used to treat throat and chest problems such as bronchitis. Soothing vapours from water warmed with a few drops of 'Dirigo', made from Maxim’s own recipe, which consisted of a mixture of liquid menthol and wintergreen oil, could be delivered right to the back of the throat via a long, swan-necked glass tube. In this set, the drug is made by John Morgan Richards and Sons Ltd. As word of the effectiveness of Maxim’s invention spread, demand grew and eventually hundreds of thousands were sold in the early 1900s. Hiram Maxim was an excellent inventor, engineer and very canny businessman. He realised that his main product - the Maxim machine gun was a weapon of war, and was giving him a negative public image; by diversifying into medicines, this would contribute to a far pleasanter and more positive personal reputation. In his autobiography of 1915, Hiram Maxim wrote:- "I think it was about the year 1900 that I had a very severe attack of bronchitis. First, we had the family physician; then he called in two experts on throat troubles; but they did me no good. They recommended, however, that I should go to Bournemouth and put myself under the treatment of a noted specialist. It was a failure. I returned to London and consulted the greatest specialist on throat troubles in England, and a few days later he sent me about half a ton of stoneware bottles containing mineral water. I took some of the water and followed the treatment for a time without the least effect. I was then recommended to go to Mont Dore, where they have strong and hot mineral springs and there are many doctors who make a speciality of treating bronchitis. I submitted to a very long system of steaming and boiling and taking the waters with no effect. I next learned that at Royat, not far distant, there was an English physician who was supposed to be the greatest expert on throat troubles in France. After he had been working on me about three weeks he said: "There remains only one thing for you to do, and that is to go to Nice and go through a system of treatment at Vos' Inhalatorium." I spent the next winter at Nice and was much gratified to find that I was greatly benefited by the treatment. It was very long and very severe. Every day I had to inhale an hour at a time; but the bronchitis had disappeared completely by the beginning of April, when I returned to England. However, with the cold and foggy weather of the next autumn the trouble returned as bad as ever; so again I went to Nice and went under the treatment. While there I heard a great deal of discussion regarding throat troubles—generally in the French language. Mr. Vos became very much interested in my case, perhaps more so on account of the comic sketches that I made for him, some of which greatly amused the Russian Grand Dukes who were his patients. At any rate I made a point of learning all that could be learned about the treatment of bronchitis before I left Nice, and the next season, when the trouble commenced again, I bought some glass tubing and made a few glass inhalers myself. By making a mouthpiece of such a shape that the vapours were introduced directly into the throat instead of medicating the inside of the mouth I found that my simple device was much more effective than the very elaborate machinery of Mr. Vos. When I became fully satisfied that my apparatus would ward off bronchitis, I gave a few away, and they all did very well indeed. The next move was to get two hundred of them made by a glass-blower, and these I also gave away, with splendid results. This created a demand, and I placed the sale of the instruments with the eminent firm of John Morgan Richards and Sons, of London, since which time hundreds of thousands have been sold and have given entire satisfaction. A short time ago, while returning from the seaside, I found myself in a first-class compartment with a distinguished-looking gentleman. He asked me if I were not Sir Hiram Maxim, and upon telling him that I was he gave me his own name, which I recognised as being one of the most eminent of the Harley Street physicians. He said: "I have tried your inhaling apparatus with very good results; it is a splendid thing; I recommend it to all my patients who have throat troubles. You have prevented an immense amount of suffering in the world and you ought to be very proud of it." This is the way that one of the greatest physicians in the world looked at the subject, but some of my friends not altogether unconnected with the gun business have told me that I have ruined my reputation absolutely by making a medical inhaler, and a scientific friend has written me deploring the fact that one so eminent in science as myself should descend to "prostituting my talents on quack nostrums." However, this little inhaler enables me to live all winter in England and large numbers are now being sold all over the world. So I think I shall be able to withstand the disgrace of having brought out such an invention. From the foregoing it will be seen that it is a very creditable thing to invent a killing machine, and nothing less than a disgrace to invent an apparatus to prevent human suffering. It is a curious and interesting fact that one of the gentlemen who has ridiculed me the most recommends these inhalers to his friends and always takes one with him when travelling. While at Nice I learned that the inhalants could be taken very much stronger if a small quantity of cocaine were used, but as cocaine was regarded as a poison, it was not expedient to use it. I spent my boyhood in the State of Maine, where there is a little plant which, although it is used for flavouring confectionery, really benumbs the mouth and throat just as cocaine does, only in a less degree. By mixing a small quantity of the oil of this plant with pine essence, the vapours may be inhaled very strong without producing coughing, and this little discovery is one of the things that has made the inhalers such a remarkable success. I suppose I shall have to stand the disgrace which is said to be sufficiently great to wipe out all the credit that I might have had for inventing killing machines".

Transport for London (TfL) has slammed retailers, namely Halfords, for the use of illegal e-scooters across London. Although e-bikes are allowed to be used across the city, without significant barriers, e-scooters are not covered by the law in the same way. It means that although you can legally buy a private e-scooter to use, you cannot use it on a public road. This creates a legal conundrum as retailers can sell e-scooters on the basis that they are going to be used on private land only, with permission of the landholder. The only legal way to ride an e-scooter on a public road in London is to rent one of the Dott, Lime or TIER e-scooters which are available in ten boroughs (though not in Bexley) as part of a TfL co-ordinated trial which is to be reviewed in September. In the meantime, TfL has needed to negotiate the legal grey area, as it wants to support the legal e-scooter trial scheme, but discourage people from breaking the law. As there is little regulation, it has been difficult to introduce consistent safety standards. Since December 13, 2021, e-scooters have been banned from all TfL property, even though there are e-scooter trial parking bays next to some TfL stations which can confuse the public. Three of the members of TfL's customer service and operational performance panel questioned TfL's director of strategy and innovation Thomas Ableman. They asked why TfL cannot simply block retailers from selling private e-scooters, given that the average person can only ride them legally 'around their garden'. They all voiced their frustration with the scenario, given a number of high-profile accidents. He explained: “I think getting Halfords to stop selling unsafe e-scooters is gonna be really tricky. "Will [Norman, the cycling commissioner] has written several times to them to ask them to label that these are not permitted to be used [on public roads] - and those labels are there, and they are very small, and you would never notice them." He said TfL has worked closely with the Metropolitan Police to ensure bans on private e-scooters are enforced, but it is limited in what in can do as there is a lack of regulation. He continued: "I’ve walked around Halfords - I shouldn’t keep saying Halfords [throws hands up], it’s not fair - I’ve walked around lots of retailers, other retailers are available, and have been really horrified at some of the speeds, some of the wheel sizes and that’s nothing to what you can buy online. "So a fundamental issue has to be regulation. Exactly that; we don’t just want regulation for rental.” TfL has worked with other cities' transport authorities to put a united case to the government as a new law would need to be passed to classify e-scooters as their own type of vehicle. This would stop them falling under the 'powered transporter' category which they currently do right now, equating them to gardening vehicles, which does not make sense in the current environment. For now, as the law has not caught up with the technology, TfL is trying to use the September trial review date to improve safety and the overall experience for Londoners. Personally I feel that regulation cannot come too soon. Currently the number of illegal and dangerous e-scooters in the local area is astonishing. As many may be aware I was the victim of a hit and run collision by an illegal e-scooter rider almost exactly a year ago - less than one hundred metres from my front door. My left shoulder has still not fully healed. Comments to me at

An interesting proposal has been made by Thurrock Council, across the River Thames. It is ambitious, and I feel probably unlikely to happen in the current harsh economic climate.  Nevertheless it makes for interesting reading. The proposal, which is part of its Vision 2050 local transport plan, would see the current Elizabeth line service from Romford take over the Overground branch to Emerson Park and Upminster, then join c2c services continuing via Chafford Hundred Lakeside to Tilbury. It would then head under a new tunnel beneath the Thames to Gravesend, connecting with the reintroduced Eurostar at Ebbsfleet International / Northfleet. Finally, it would follow Thameslink services for a stretch through Bluewater, Dartford, Slade Green, Erith and Belvedere to the current Elizabeth line terminus at Abbey Wood. This amounts to an extension of around 27 to 30 miles depending on the final position of the additional Thames crossing. This giant loop would also stop at a new station in the Thurrock area, and the new Thames rail crossing which it is proposed to use would also facilitate High Speed services to London via the Southeastern High Speed route. This would mean 140mph Javelin trains running from St Pancras International and Stratford International to Southend / Shoeburyness, using the current route to Gravesend, crossing the Thames to East Tilbury and following c2c rail services.

The Woolwich Auto Stacker, which was an automated system for parking cars, and effectively an automated multi-storey car park, using a combination of conveyor belts, lifts and dollies to move vehicles from ground level to one of 256 car park spaces. The end video this week features this curious construction. It was situated above a car showroom, workshop and petrol station on Beresford Street, on the site of the former Empire Theatre opposite the Royal Arsenal. Being situated along the A206 road, close to Woolwich market (Beresford Square) and the town's main shopping street (Powis Street), it was thought that the Auto Stacker, along with the introduction of parking meters, would solve the town's parking problems. The eight-storey Auto Stacker was designed by T. and P. Braddock and built by Mitchell Engineering Company, in collaboration with Shell-Mex & BP. It was built in 1960–61 at a cost of £100,000. It was constructed more or less simultaneously with the comparable Zidpark at Southwark Bridge, a private enterprise. The Woolwich Auto Stacker was officially opened by Princess Margaret on 11 May 1961. At the opening ceremony, the demonstration vehicle got stuck and had to be manhandled in. The mechanism failed to work that evening for Fyfe Robertson's Tonight television show, and the Auto Stacker never functioned properly; it was abandoned within months in 1961 and a few years later demolished at a cost of £60,000. Comments and feedback to me as usual at

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