Sunday, January 15, 2017

Shared Space.


The photo above (click on it for a larger view) shows Erith High Street looking West; to the right you can see the former Police station - now (badly) converted into flats, and in the centre distance you can see The Running Horses, the only pub in Erith town centre, and sadly a shadow of its' former self. What used to be a top notch carvery and pub is pretty much a "zombie business" being kept alive by a handful of regulars. The place needs a fortune spent on it, and the only way that I can see it regaining any of its previous success is if it gets taken over by a pub company or large brewing chain. Widespread local rumours suggest that it is a toss - up between The Running Horses and the old Carnegie gifted library building in Walnut Tree Road as to which gets taken over and converted into a Wetherspoon's - if the library gets it, The Running Horses would be dead inside of six weeks in my opinion, as all trade to it would cease. Sad, for what once used to be an excellent pub that has been slowly going downhill over the last twenty years or so. 

On Wednesday afternoon, I was walking through the underpass that leads to Bexley College and Erith Station, lurking in the middle of the underpass were a group of half a dozen or so teenagers wearing hoodies and jogging bottoms; they were trying (unsuccessfully) to look intimidating whilst listening to music being played on a mobile phone. As I approached the group, I fully expected them to be listening to gangsta rap or something of that ilk. I struggled to keep a straight face when I neared them and realised that they were listening to "Mamma Mia" by Abba! They obviously were not familiar with the group (none of the teeneagers would have been born when Abba were active) and they all seemed to think that Abba were very cool. What goes around comes around. 

Notorious convicted criminal, ultra-right wing neo Nazi Joshua Bonehill has managed to get himself into the press yet again, despite being banged up in Wandsworth jail for multiple offences, the most recent of which involved the racially motivated harassment of Labour MP Luciana Berger. In addition to his original sentence of three years and four months for inciting racial hatred, he got another two years added to this for his abuse of Luciana Berger. If this was not enough, he has now sent a letter to his local newspapers – Somerset Live, the Western Gazette, in which he states that he doesn't accept the outcome of the trial and gave a catalogue of excuses while also claiming victory. In a rant, he wrote:- "With regard to the jury itself, I am told by multiple sources that several members were in fact secret service agents working for the government and the establishment I have worked to expose. And part this was a massive victory- this due to the failure of Luciana Berger to explain what actually offended her. When young Garron Helm was arrested and sent to prison for sending this woman a tweet, I promised to bring Berger to count and expose her true nature. At the end of this trial I feel that I have delivered on that promise and for that reason alone I call victory." He also gave a host of other excuses and directed more abuse towards the government and establishment including:- It was an "abortion" of justice / He was very proud of the articles he wrote / The verdict of the "Orwellian courtroom" has no impact on him / Free speech does not exist in England anymore / It was a "trial-by-Dalek" / He was subject to North Korea-style persecution / What is happening in England is "systematic rape" / White people in London are becoming extinct". He rants on for several more paragraphs, but I don’t think I will give him any more of a platform to broadcast his hateful and deluded views. I know that fellow local Bloggers, Richard of the Thamesmead Grump, and Malcolm of Bexley is Bonkers also share my opinion of Joshua Bonehill; to be honest I would not cover the deluded and hateful waste of space had he not sent me a threatening and abusive Email some time ago, which you can read in full by clicking here. The man is in entirely the right place for him – prison; I hope he stays there for a very long time to come.

Much has been written about Bexley Council and their policy of installing "Shared Space" street furniture, and paying contractors to redesign areas including Sidcup High Street and Bexleyheath Broadway to blur the distinction between the road and the pavement; the idea being that bother drivers and pedestrians will proceed more cautiously when they are unsure of what is road and what is actually pavement. The origin of term is generally linked with the work of Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman, who pioneered the method in the Dutch province of Friesland. Prior to the adoption of the term, street design projects carried out in ChambĂ©ry, France, by Michel Deronzier from the 1980s used the term "pedestrian priority".found that some of the claims made for shared space schemes were not justified by the evidence—particularly the claims that pedestrians are able to follow desire lines, and that shared space reduces traffic speeds. Their primary research in Ashford, Kent, suggested that in streets with high volumes of traffic, pedestrians are more likely to give way to vehicles than vice versa. Most people, but particularly women and older people, found the shared space intimidating and preferred the previous layout with conventional crossings. A study by space planning academics Hammond and Musselwhite using a case study of Widemarsh Street in Hereford found that if traffic volume was relatively low and speeds of vehicles slow anyway then vulnerable road users found it easier to share the area with vehicles, including those blind or partially sighted and older people with mobility impairments. There are wide-ranging reservations about the practicality of the shared space philosophy. In a 2006 report from the Associated Press, it was commented that traditionalists in town planning departments say the schemes rob the motorists of vital information, and reported that a spokesman for Royal National Institute of Blind People criticised the removal of familiar features such as railings, kerbs, and barriers. Shared space is bitterly opposed by many organisations representing blind, partially sighted and deaf people. Some of their members avoid shared space areas entirely. Shared surfaces, which are generally used in shared space schemes, can cause concern for the blind and partially sighted who cannot visually negotiate their way with other road users, as the lack of separation implicit in these features has also removed their safe space. The UK's Guide Dogs for the Blind Associations "Say No to Shared Streets" campaign has the support of more than thirty other disability organisations. There have been similar concerns raised by other groups representing some of the more vulnerable members of society, including Leonard Cheshire Disability, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, and Mencap, who have noted problems when negotiating a route with motor vehicle users, leading them to challenge its fundamental premise. Lord Holmes' 2015 report Accidents by Design found that sixty-three per cent of respondents reported a negative experience of shared space, and thirty-five per cent said they actively avoided it. Lord Holmes attacked the concept as a recipe for "confusion, chaos and catastrophe". The short video below explains why blind and partially sighted people find shared spaces to be difficult and often intimidating. One of the biggest criticisms is that previously highly coloured and textured paving denoting road crossings and bus stops have been toned down to aesthetically blend in with the new look surroundings. This is contrary to the whole idea of high visibility paving for the sight impaired.


In response to the first episode of the latest Sherlock series, The Six Thatchers, Guardian TV critic Ralph Jones recently wrote an opinion piece titled "Sherlock is slowly and perversely morphing into Bond. This cannot stand". The elaborate fight scene between Sherlock Holmes and the assassin known only as Ayjay was cited as an example of Holmes’ undesirable transmogrification into an “action figure”. Now Sherlock writer/actor/co-creator Mark Gatiss has followed in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s footsteps by replying to a critic in verse, playfully underlining the fact that the Sherlock Holmes canon includes numerous action scenes. If you have read the original Sherlock Holmes books and short stories, you will know that Mr. Holmes was more that a little handy when it comes to fisticuffs, and he was an acknowledged expert in the martial art of Bartitsiu. Having researched this method of unarmed combat, it seems to me that many more people would benefit what some experts call the very first mixed martial art. If you have seen the two Guy Ritchie directed Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Junior, the hand to hand fighting technique employed by Holmes to great effect was Bartitsu. The martial art was specifically designed for use by a gentleman whilst wearing a three piece suit, overcoat and hat, and whilst possibly using a walking cane or umbrella – all of which could be deployed to devastating effect when required. Bartitsu was invented in 1898, when Edward William Barton-Wright, a British engineer who had spent the previous three years living in the Empire of Japan, returned to England and announced the formation of a "New Art of Self Defence". This art, he claimed, combined the best elements of a range of fighting styles into a unified whole, which he had named Bartitsu. Barton-Wright had previously also studied "boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate and the use of the stiletto under recognised masters", reportedly testing his skills by "engaging toughs (street fighters) until (he) was satisfied in their application." He defined Bartitsu as meaning "self-defence in all its forms"; the word was a combination of his own surname and of "Jujitsu". Barton -Wright summarised the essential principles of Bartitsu as: "1) To disturb the equilibrium of your assailant. 2) To surprise him before he has time to regain his balance and use his strength. 3) If necessary, to subject the joints of any parts of his body, whether neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, back, knee, ankle, etc. to strains that they are anatomically and mechanically unable to resist". Bartitsu was popular in the early 20th century, but fell from favour for no apparent reason, and the unfortunate Mr. Barton – Wright died a pauper in 1951 at the ripe old age of 90. Bartitsu might have been completely forgotten if not for a cryptic reference by Sir Arthur Conan - Doyle in one of his Sherlock Holmes mystery stories. In 1901 Conan Doyle had revived Holmes for a further story, The Adventure of the Empty House, in which Holmes explained his victory over Professor Moriarty in their struggle at the Reichenbach Falls by the use of "baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me". It may well be that Conan – Doyle changed the name slightly to avoid accusations of copyright theft; in any case confusion was spread as to the correct name, and this did not help Bartitsu from declining in proponents. Until around ten years ago, the martial art was almost completely dead. Recently however, several societies and websites dedicated to this gentleman’s system for self-defence have been established. In October 2006, the Bartitsu Society was launched, which includes information on the history, theory and practice of Barton-Wright's martial art, as well as current events relating to the Bartitsu revival. The recent Sherlock Holmes movies, and the Bartitsu moves used by Colin Firth’s character in “Kingsmen – the Secret Service” have brought the martial art back into the public awareness.


And now an article from regular Maggot Sandwich reader, and occasional contributor Dana Whiffen, who is also a local transport enthusiast. Dana writes:- "In March 2017, Victoria Coach Station will be celebrating its 85th birthday with a three-day Coach Festival from 10th to 12th March. Featuring vehicles from every decade since the grand opening on 10th March 1932, the Festival will showcase coaches, artefacts and presentations on the history of coach travel in Britain. There will be stalls from current operators, as well as a number of competitions raising money for Transport for London’s chosen charity: The Transport Benevolent Fund. The most modern coaches will also be on display and available for inspection and boarding, alongside preserved vehicles dating from the late 1920s to the 1990s. The coach station, originally conceived, constructed and operated by a consortium of coach operators coming together under the banner of London Coastal Coaches Ltd, is now owned and operated by Transport for London.  Transport for London (TfL) are keen to celebrate the history of the coach station and also to demonstrate the continuing development of the facilities within the coach station to meet the needs of the much larger and complex vehicles now using VCS and the people who travel within them. The imposing 1930s’ Art Deco building on the corner of Buckingham Palace Road and Elizabeth Street is still at the heart of the operation providing the main passenger entrance with areas containing public facilities for enquiries and booking, seated waiting areas and a range of cafes, shops and snack bars. This building and the canopy behind covering a significant part of the coach departure area are Grade 2 listed by Historic England.  The Thames Valley and Great Western Omnibus Trust (TVGWOT) are assisting TfL in organising the event by encouraging the owners of preserved coaches to bring their vehicles to this iconic and nostalgic setting to celebrate its 85th Anniversary. Whether your coach was originally operated by one of the principal express coach companies or possibly ‘on-hire’ to one of these companies at peak holiday weekends,  please download and complete an entry form available from www.tvagwot.org.uk . Forms may be submitted to (TVGWOT) by post or email to the addresses given on the form. Vehicles on display will be parked in Lanes 1-4 which are at the eastern end of the coach departure area and nearest to the main passenger entrance and facilities. The display area will be cordoned off from the operational area to allow free circulation of the public around the preserved coaches".


Local MP Teresa Pearce has been campaigning to try and keep open the Post Office at Abbey Wood, which is currently yet another to be threatened with closure.  The Abbey Wood Road branch is one of 37 Crown offices earmarked for closure or franchising across the country, with a total of 300 staff and 127 financial specialists facing redundancy. According to recent reports, 62 Post Office branches were closed and franchised last year, and the Communication Workers Union said the latest round of job cuts would bring more “misery” to workers and the customers. This seems to be just the latest in a series of sell – off and closures of public amenities, the most recent of which to be announced was the National Westminster Bank in Northumberland Heath. We are losing local resources and little seems to be done to stop the rot. There have been arguments that with services moving online, there is less need for a face to face service; to an extent with banks I can understand this – but not agree with it, but people will always need post offices, even if it is to return something unsuitable that has been bought from EBay or Amazon. I don’t think that the same arguments can be used, and I also wonder just where this will end?

The law of unintended consequences has seemingly come into force yet again; I have been talking to a couple of (anonymous) contacts I have in retail management. It would seem that the ban on giving away free plastic carrier bags at supermarkets has been successful in reducing the number of disposable bags shifted by the stores, but it has had an effect that has at the time of writing proved to be far more economically damaging. What has happened is that criminals are now able to walk around supermarkets with large reusable shopping bags on their arms, and can easily shoplift items into the anonymous bags. For shop security staff, someone carrying a large shopping bag around the store used to be a significant indicator that they could well be a shoplifter, and the security staff would consequently pay them more attention. Now that virtually all shoppers carry their own bags round the store, the criminals can far more easily blend in with the innocent shoppers. I have been told that the increased levels of stock loss have completely wiped out the lowered costs of supplying single use shopping bags in many high - street stores, but the management do not want to highlight the issue for fear of being thought of as "anti environment".  On top of this, the loss levels of wire shopping baskets has markedly increased; major supermarkets have already ordered thousands of extra wire baskets, as more of them go missing as shoppers turn to theft rather than pay for plastic bags, and the figures would seem to back this up - but once again the industry is incredibly reticent about discussing the phenomenon, as they fear it will affect corporate images. Over the course of a year, one major store in Wales had almost five hundred wire shopping baskets stolen when it began charging 5p for plastic bags - resulting in a four-figure loss from just one site. Although research predicts it will cost shoppers just £6.50 a year, history shows that some shoppers will resort to theft to get around the new law. What retailers do not want to be seen doing is restricting the use of wire baskets in the way most already do with the more valuable shopping trolleys. Whilst many have debated fitting security tags to shopping baskets in the way trolleys have had for the best part of twenty years, the cost / benefit balance is far less compelling, and they are worried about discouraging shoppers in what is already a cut - throat market place. What do you think? Drop me a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

Every town has what some would call "local colour" - one or more individuals who regularly appear in and around the town and make themselves noticeable for one or more reasons. Erith has had such a person for many years, and scruffy and unkempt chap of indeterminate age who normally can be seen sitting either on one of the benches outside the Post Office in Bexley Road, or alternatively on a bench outside of the Aglory African cash and carry store in Erith High Street. In either location he can usually be seen swigging from a can of Special Brew or White Cider, and later in the day he sometimes shouts at the pigeons, the passing traffic, or indeed something he has seen which nobody else can. Sadly this vulnerable individual has been reported missing, and at the time of writing he has not been seen since Tuesday last week. The person's name is Mark White, and according to a report in the News Shopper, he was last seen in Park Crescent last Tuesday afternoon. Although he looks to be in his mid to late 70's, he is in fact only 54 years old. As can be surmised, Mark White has serious mental health issues, as well as problems with his general health, and is known to sleep rough in various locations in Erith. You can read the original report, complete with a photo of him here. Concerns grow for his welfare; the current icy weather is most definitely not conducive to the outside life, and combined with his alcohol dependency problems, there are concerns that he may have passed out somewhere and then suffered from hypothermia. I have seen him asleep on a bench in the gardens at the junction of Saltford Road and Erith High Street on many occasions. Such a location, on the banks of the River Thames is bitterly cold, with the icy wind coming straight off the river. Police have asked that if anyone knows the location of Mark White, they should contact them immediately. *UPDATE* - Just as the Maggot Sandwich was going to press, an announcement has been released that Mark White has been found safe and well, despite the poor weather conditions. Hopefully he will now get some care and will be taken off the streets; maybe this scare will mean he gets the treatment and attention that he has been missing for so long - it is just possible that this is a positive outcome, after all.


The photo above shows the long established Belvedere Tandoori Indian restaurant in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere (there is no such place as Nuxley Village - it is a fictional invention of estate agents who don't live in the area). As you can see in the photograph, in addition to the menu there are several other notices in the windows. These are effectively the restaurant's suicide note. They announce that the restaurant no longer serves alcohol (and from reports I have heard, also does not allow "bring your own" either). In a predominantly non Muslim area this is a sure fire way to kill off a restaurant - most especially when there is a larger and more attractive rival less than two hundred metres away in the form of the rather good, very large (and serving alcohol) Spice Master restaurant, just ready to hoover up customers. I have heard rumours that the owner is trying to sell the place, but surrendering the drinks licence makes the place a lot less attractive to a potential buyer. If you know any more, please let me know. Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

The local area seems to be targeted by a number of companies offering credit cards to people on low incomes and with poor credit histories. I have had a series of envelopes posted through my front door, which I generally remove any personal details, then take round to be recycled. This time I decided to read through the documentation just to see what was on offer. Personally I don’t own a credit card, as I have little or no need for one. If I cannot afford something immediately, I save up until I can. I am not a believer in personal debt – I have my (miniscule) mortgage, but that is it. When I read the small print of the credit card application leaflet from a company called Vanquis Bank, I was appalled. You may recall that not long ago I wrote that being on a low income is very expensive. Lenders charge far higher interest rates to people they feel are a bad credit risk; conversely this means that the borrower is actually more likely to default due to the crippling interest charges. The Vanquis Bank credit card has a base interest rate of 39.9 to 59.9 percent, depending on the financial situation of the applicant. The card offers a very low initial credit limit, from £150 to £1,000, though the bank does state that if card repayments meet certain criteria, the credit limit can be raised every four months to a maximum level of £4,000. Compared to this, Barclaycard, MBNA, Sainsbury Nectar and Leeds Building Society all offer a credit card that charges a fixed 18.9 percent interest rate and far superior terms and conditions. Vanquis Bank is an operating arm of the Provident Financial Group, a financial services company with an income in excess of £1 billion a year, and Vanquis is designed to siphon as much of that cash from low income earners as possible. It may be legal, but in my view it is not moral. Once again the poor get financially hammered for being poor. I feel fortunate that I have a healthy income and don’t need to worry as the end of the month approaches, but I am acutely aware that many people are not nearly so fortunate.

I would imagine that you, like me were unaware that a large multinational company with a Royal Warrant from the Queen was based locally.  Quite by accident I came across details of Versapak, who describe themselves thus:- "The Versapak Group is a UK based company with subsidiaries in Europe and a distribution network worldwide. Specialising in the manufacture of tamper evident security containers, the Group operates through six main brands:  Versapak International - tamper evident reusable pouches and bags, ballot boxes, medical bags, cash security bags and document and mail carriers, which are secured using a unique security seal locking mechanism.  All International Customers should visit www.versapakinternational.com. Versapak Europe GmbH - Supplies all Versapak products in Germany. Versapak Romania - Our main manufacturing base, wholly owned by The Versapak Group. Supplies all Versapak products in Romania. Versapak Doping Control - Tamper evident security containers for the secure transport of urine and blood samples for anti-doping within sport. Versapak Manufacturing - We can make any bag, for any purpose, to meet a customers' exact requirements. Bond Mailroom - tamper evident reusable pouches and bags featuring the unique T-shaped security seal, and mailroom equipment such as mail trolleys, mail sorting units and sack holders".  Versapak have their international headquarters in 4 Veridion Way, Erith - which is actually in Abbey Wood, just off Yarnton Way, in one of those quirks of location naming I have moaned about in the past. You can see a short explanatory video regarding the company below.