Sunday, March 26, 2017

The digger.


Mystery surrounds the photos above, which I took on Thursday. I had received an Email from a long time reader and occasional contributor, who mentioned how he had been told by others that an excavator had dug "massive holes" in the Erith Riverside Gardens, and did I know anything about it? I ventured round to the gardens to investigate. I certainly found a large, tracked digger parked on top of one of the flower beds, but I found no evidence of any holes being dug, or indeed of any work having been carried out at all. No workers were on site, and the digger was locked up. I then walked across to the Running Horses car park, where the site offices for the Quadrant Construction development of the old swimming baths site are located. I had a chat with the Site Manager, who was very pleasant and helpful. I had wondered if the digger was something to do with them? It turned out not; the manager was just as mystified as I. He told me that he guessed that it was council contractors, and that they had been on site on Wednesday, but nothing had been seen of them since. I checked the Riverside Gardens yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, and the digger had been moved a few metres, but no additional activity had taken place, and no holes had been dug. The mystery deepens. If you have any information regarding the mystery digger as pictured above and below (click on any photo for a larger view), please let me know. Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


The controversy over the proposed electoral boundary changes in Bexleyheath shows no signs of abating; The Boundary Commission has proposed a new Woolwich constituency which would include four wards from the Erith and Thamesmead constituency and St Michael’s and Lesnes Abbey wards from the London Borough of Bexley. The proposals also include an Erith and Crayford constituency, which includes four wards from the Erith and Thamesmead constituency, and six wards from the Bexleyheath and Crayford constituency. Local paper the News Shopper have reported that MP David Evennett, objects to the proposals. He said recently:- “I have objected to the Parliamentary Boundary Commission proposal to place St Michael’s Ward in the new Woolwich constituency, as historically and geographically there are no links between the two areas. I have urged the Commission to think again, taking into account the strong community ties St Michael’s Ward has with the towns of Welling and Bexleyheath. I am also concerned about plans to split Bexleyheath across three Parliamentary constituencies, and I believe the town of Bexleyheath should be recognised in the name of the new constituency. In conclusion, Bexley is formed by a collection of communities, which include Bexleyheath town, Thamesmead town, Erith town and Belvedere village. These are valued by residents across our borough." What do you think? In a recent survey, 88 percent of Bexley residents objected to the proposed boundary changes, on top of which many even objected to being located in a London borough, and who instead wanted to be part of Kent. This makes me wonder - would Bexley be better off seceding from the United Kingdom and becoming independent? There is a precedent, albeit a very old one. At one point what is now the London Borough of Bexley was an independent kingdom, ruled by Æthelberht, King of Kent from about 589 until his death. The eighth-century monk Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, lists him as the third king to hold imperium over other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. In the late ninth century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle he is referred to as a bretwalda, or "Britain-ruler". He was the first English king to convert to Christianity. Æthelberht was the son of Eormenric, succeeding him as king, according to the Chronicle. He married Bertha, the Christian daughter of Charibert, king of the Franks, thus building an alliance with the most powerful state in contemporary Western Europe; the marriage probably took place before he came to the throne. Bertha's influence may have led to Pope Gregory I's decision to send Augustine as a missionary from Rome. Augustine landed on the Isle of Thanet in east Kent in 597. Shortly thereafter, Æthelberht converted to Christianity, churches were established, and wider-scale conversion to Christianity began in the kingdom. He provided the new church with land in Canterbury, thus establishing one of the foundation stones of what ultimately became the Anglican Communion. Æthelberht's law for Kent, the earliest written code in any Germanic language, instituted a complex system of fines; the law code is preserved in the Textus Roffensis. Kent was rich, with strong trade ties to the continent, and he may have instituted royal control over trade. Coinage probably began circulating in Kent during his reign for the first time since the Anglo-Saxon invasion. He later came to be regarded as a saint for his role in establishing Christianity among the Anglo-Saxons. Æthelberht died on 24 February 616 and was succeeded by his son, Eadbald. His feast day was originally 24 February, but was changed to 25 February. So we have been an independent kingdom before - do you think it would work again? What do you think - home rule for Bexley? Leave a comment below. or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


The photo above was taken by a regular Maggot Sandwich reader earlier this week. It shows the flower beds adjacent to the footpath that runs on the outside of The London Southeast College (what used to be Bexley College before it was taken over) in Walnut Tree Road, Erith. As you can see there are hundreds, if not thousands of discarded cigarette butts all over the flower beds and pathway. These have come from the students, who congregate outside of the building during break times in order to smoke. What concerns me is that students at the college are largely in the 16 -18 age range. In the eyes of the law this makes them still children. The college has a duty of care towards its students, which includes caring for their health and wellbeing. Smoking has been banned for anyone under the age of 18 since 1994; I want to know why the college are not doing more to prevent students from smoking through both a campaign of education, and the enforcement of punishments for those who ignore the legal ban? Minors are specifically prevented from smoking in any public place under law. Why this law is not being rigorously enforced by staff at the college is a mystery to me. If you have any insight into this issue of concern, then please contact me. This has been highlighted at a very opportune moment, just as the laws relating to smoking are being tightened and rewritten; new measures being brought in now include include packs of 10 no longer being available as well as some flavoured tobacco and smaller packs of rolling tobacco. The laws actually came into force last May but suppliers and shops were given a year to get rid of old stock and adjust to the changes. The full ban will fully come into effect from May 20th, 2017. Menthol cigarettes are also being phased out and will be completely gone from shops by 2020. This is because the are regarded as a "gateway" to other forms of cigarette. The cheapest packet of cigarettes will cost £8.82 from May 21st. The gradual phasing out of menthol cigarettes will begin; Cigarette packets are set to be plain with only a graphic image showing the impact of smoking on people. Some flavoured cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco, including fruit, spice, herbs, alcohol, candy or vanilla, will be made illegal. You will not be able to buy smaller packets of cigarettes such as packets of 10. Smaller bags containing less than 30g of roll up tobacco will also be banned. Amanda Sandford of anti smoking charity ASH said in a recent interview:- "Cigarettes are already expensive and the price increase of cigarettes is a key factor in making people quit smoking. So by removing the packet of ten cigarettes this means people will have to find that extra money for a packet. It will hit poorer smokers harder, who are usually younger smokers. Paying £3 or £4 for a packet of ten cigarettes at the moment might not seem so much to people and still leave them with change in their pockets. But when you have to spend £6/£7, even £9, people may think, 'Do I really need this packet?'"

Bexley residents are going to have to use a new method to book a car parking space. The new service is known as RingGo - with which you book your car park via a mobile phone application. When you come to park, you’ll have to provide the location code (a five digit number shown on signs near the parking bay) and say how long you want to park. RingGo can be downloaded or drivers can go online to www.RingGo.co.uk to pay, however, a charge of 20p is added each time you use the service. The council claim that by using RingGo drivers won’t have to save up change, hang around in the rain or cold, trek to and from the machine, or put a ticket on the dashboard Users can also be reminded by text message when parking is about to run out and top up wherever they are, reducing the risk of a penalty charge notice. But the cost of a reminder text is 10p. Apart from the additional cost over and above the conventional way of paying for a parking ticket, I can see a number of additional drawbacks. I feel that the onus will be on the poor motorist to prove that they have indeed paid for their space when the parking warden comes to check and the system has incorrectly recorded their details. It also presupposes that all car park users will have a mobile phone. Whilst a majority will, not all may. Fellow local Blogger Malcolm Knight and I share a number of things in common, one of which is that neither of us owns a mobile phone. For me, it is not just a question of actively disliking the things, it is purely that I have no use for one. I rarely use the landline phone at home, let alone any other potential phone device. Perhaps the most common reason people give for having a phone is safety. For the vast majority of us there is no empirical foundation to the idea of phones as essential to our security. That myth depends on something psychologists call the "availability heuristic". Our minds focus on unusual, dramatic possibilities: the broken-down car on a dark and lonely highway; a health emergency where immediate contact is essential. But in reality those scenarios are extremely rare — rarer, no doubt, than accidents while texting or muggers preying on distracted phone users. Focusing on them leads to biased assessment of risk, which, in turn, contributes to a biased assessment of smartphones' utility. Let us not forget that despite the perks, mobile phones have serious downsides, which I have outlined in the past. Experts have even coined a term for phone separation anxiety — nomophobia. Some of it, experts say, comes from the thought of facing big fears — criminals and car breakdowns — without a phone. But I've also been told about subtler anxieties, over "wasted" events that might go unphotographed, uncommunicated, unquantified, as if reality depended on digitization. There's even a pathological aversion to plain old boredom. What if a few minutes waiting for a friend becomes insufferably dull? Owning one, like owning a video game system, has benefits and drawbacks, and I'm convinced there's no reason for me to need or desire a mobile phone. It is all about personal liberty; you are free to own and use a mobile phone, and I am free to choose not to. 

I was walking through Erith Riverside Shopping Centre on Tuesday afternoon when I saw a man coming out of the Paddy Power betting shop. He then approached me and asked me if I could spare 70p? I paused for a moment to allow for the absurdity of the moment to sink in, before I walked away without saying anything. The guy obviously had a severe gambling problem, but his total lack of self awareness astonished me. Why is it that confrontational beggars always ask for a specific amount of money? Do they think it will make them more credible to potential donors? I have had beggars come up to me asking for money for a train fare, but when I offered to accompany them to the station to buy them a ticket, they got abusive. It is the same situation when travelling by train or tube, where you get the career beggars working their way along the carriage. They ask for money - yet how did they afford the fare to get on the train in the first place? Of course they did not, and they are riding illegally, a fact which seems to escape some fellow passengers. 


Hall Place is the only stately home in the London Borough of Bexley, built in 1537 for Sir John Champneys, a wealthy merchant and former Lord Mayor of London. The house was extended in 1649 by Sir Robert Austen, a merchant from Tenterden in Kent. The house is a Grade I listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument, and surrounded by a 65-hectare award winning garden. It is situated on the A223, Bourne Road, south of Watling Street (A207) and north of the 'Black Prince' interchange of the A2 Rochester Way and the A220. Hall Place has the River Cray running through its gardens. The River Cray is an important freshwater river in the borough; it used to be the home for a large population of water voles, but these indigenous wild creatures are under threat from a number of sources. A recent report by the Canal and River Trust analysed water vole sightings dating back as far as 1970, and found that they were seen in only half as many locations in the past fifteen years as they were in the thirty years before that date. Between 1970 and 1999 water voles were spotted at 53 locations along nearly 270 miles of waterways managed by the trust; between 2000 and 2015 there were water vole sightings at 38 locations covering 141 miles. The decline in water vole population has continued, despite an investment of £500,000 since 1980 in forty projects designed to protect them from predation by American Mink, who were introduced into the British countryside when animal rights protesters illegally released them from fur farms. Water voles are one of the most endangered species in the country, and are fast becoming a rare sight on Britain’s canals and rivers. Non – indigenous mink are one threat, but another, less well known creature is an even greater threat to British Water Voles. In the last twenty years, the American Signal Crayfish has spread like wildfire in British waterways. The creatures, which look like mini lobsters, and are typically 6–9 centimetres (2.4–3.5 in) long, although sizes up to 16–18 cm (6.3–7.1 in) are possible. They are bluish-brown to reddish-brown in colour with robust, large, smooth claws. They have a white to pale blue-green patch near the claw hinge, like the white flags that signalmen used for directing trains—hence the name. The Crayfish burrow into the banks of the river, destroying Water Vole homes and causing the banks to crumble. The infestation of American Signal Crayfish has affected many of the fresh water courses in the UK. The little critters are very difficult to eradicate, as they breed quickly and produce around 200–400 eggs  after mating in the autumn, and are carried under the female's tail until they are ready to hatch the following spring. The eggs hatch into juveniles, which pass through three moults before leaving their mother. Sexual maturity is reached after two to three years, and the life span can be up to 20 years. You have the worst combination – the creatures are quick to breed, long lived, and have no native predator. The American Signal Crayfish does have one key weakness however – once boiled, they are delicious to eat. It is quite legal to hunt wild American Signal Crayfish – all you need to do is to apply for a hunting licence from the Environment Agency. Most licences to hunt wild animals are quite expensive, and limit the size of the hunters bag to only a few animals, in order to limit the impact on the population of that animal. Tellingly, the Environment Agency website has an unlimited bag size and a free licence when it comes to hunting invasive crayfish. Once you have your hunting licence and officially approved design of trap (designed specifically not to trap Water Voles or Otters), you only need the permission of the land owner (who will almost certainly be more than glad that someone is willing to rid them of the infestation of the destructive species).  You can then trap American Signal Crayfish for your table – and you can feel that not only are you going to have a fine feed, but you will be doing the environment some real good in the process. 

First Top Gear imploded, and the three classic presenters moved to Amazon Prime where they made pretty much the same show under a new title of The Grand Tour, albeit with a massively increased budget. Now my second most favourite car show is also changing - Wheeler Dealers is losing genius mechanic Edd China after thirteen series. Officially Edd China is moving on to new projects, but the real reason is that the original British production company has sold the show to a subsidiary of the U.S Discovery Channel, and the U.S want to reduce the level of technical complexity and the detailed explanations of the engineering that goes into each classic car restoration, reducing the role of Edd to little more that a target for motor mouth Mike Brewer as the main presenter. In essence the new producers are seeking to "dumb down" the programme,  and make it into another scripted reality show. One commenter said:- "I only watched for Edd and his repairs and restorations. Unlike most Discovery channel 'reality', it felt genuine. Hats off to Edd, the first whiff of fakery and he leaves. That's integrity. We don't want more scripted 'reality' nonsense which Discovery pushes to our screens relentlessly. We need a real mechanic and enthusiast like Edd doing real things in the real world which we can share in via media. Thank you Edd, you're appreciated hugely". Car builder and TV presenter Ant Anstead will replace Edd China for series 14; I like Ant, and wish him well in the role, though I wonder how long he too will last if Wheeler Dealers becomes as "dumbed down" as is being threatened.

This week the Maggot Sandwich has a guest contributor, local resident and traffic campaigner Tony Fairbairn. As you may be aware, many local stories have multiple aspects to them, and the ongoing discussion regarding additional crossings of the River Thames to the East of London is certainly contentious. Tony writes:- "There are misconceptions regarding the overwhelming support for a River Thames road crossing at Belvedere. First the TfL survey population was about two million, of which only 4519 persons (Less than 0.5 percent) responded, from that result 77 percent approved a package of train, DLR, tram and road crossings at Thamesmead and Belvedere.  At Belvedere, the only option offered was a road crossing. The Mayor is proceeding with DLR and rail crossings at Thamesmead. The Belvedere road crossing has been put in abeyance but could remain a long- term option; However, readers should note only 4 percent approved a road crossing at Belvedere in isolation, possibly why is was put into the long grass. A crossing at Belvedere is essentially a duplicate Dartford Bridge and a link between the A13 in Essex and the A2016. We all know about the congestion problems at Dartford, but what is little known is that traffic levels on the A13 are five times higher than the A2016. An additional net daily inflow of 17,000 vehicles are estimated to enter Belvedere/Erith, these vehicles will either park in our area thus taking up valuable land (six parking places = one new home), or attempt to drive right through to and return later via the A2016, Bexley Road or the steep inclines of Belvedere towards the A2, and that is on a good day, imagine those days when we have a blocked Dartford or Blackwall crossing. 17,000 vehicles are equal to about an 80 percent increase of those already registered in North Bexley. In addition, North bound traffic of around 10,000 vehicles daily would also be seeking to cross Northwards at Belvedere. The parking spots they vacate would not be occupied by those arriving. That is a massive increase in polluting traffic and congestion that can only turn our environment into an urban sprawl as well as increasing the level of road accidents". Interesting stuff - what do you think? Are you concerned about increased pollution from larger number of vehicles in the area, or do you think it would provide economic stimulus to the borough? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


I have written in the past about former local resident, and prolific inventor and businessman Hiram Maxim – inventor of the Maxim Machine Gun, the first person to fly a heavier than air craft, several years prior to the Wright Brothers, and the man that invented both the fire sprinkler and the sprung mouse trap. Maxim also invented the car exhaust silencer, and as an off – shoot (if you will excuse the pun) his son, the American inventor Hiram Percy Maxim, is usually credited with inventing and selling the first commercially successful model of gun suppressor circa 1902 (patented 30 March 1909). Maxim gave his device the trademarked name Maxim Silencer, and they were regularly advertised in sporting goods magazines. The muffler for internal combustion engines was developed in parallel with the firearm suppressor by Maxim in the early 20th century, using many of the same techniques to provide quieter-running engines (in many English-speaking countries automobile mufflers are still called silencers). Former president of the United States Theodore Roosevelt was known to purchase and use Maxim Silencers. So, it is not too much of a stretch to say that many inventions that we all take for granted were either invented in Erith or Crayford at the two Maxim / Vickers factories, or by people also living in the same area. We for example also had the first petrol – powered tricycle (the Butler petrol cycle), several years before the Benz automobile, which was tested along Manor Road, and the first submarine capable of firing a torpedo whilst submerged was created by the Nordenfeldt works, also located in Erith. The end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century were a real hot house of inventive talent in the local area – some of the most cutting edge engineering took place in and around Erith. I don't feel that we do enough to celebrate our strong links to key moments in the history of Britain. What do you think? Hiram Maxim had a rival in a chap called William Cantelo, who allegedly was the original inventor of the recoil operated machine gun. Cantelo was a Southampton pub landlord with a flair for mechanical engineering whose experiments with firearms in the extended cellar of his pub often caused consternation to both his regulars and his neighbours, though William Cantelo was highly secretive, as he realised the engineer who could invent an automatic, repeat firing rifle would make a fortune. Once he was confident that his machine gun was ready for the world, he packed several prototypes up and went off to market the weapon. That was the last anyone ever saw of him. Not long afterwards, Erith's own Hiram Maxim (born in America, but a naturalised Briton) started producing his range of Maxim Guns - touted as the first recoil operated machine gun, which were made at his large factory in Fraser Road, Erith - to this day the area is known locally as "The Pom Pom" - after the noise of the guns being tested on the range to the rear of the factory. Investigators have noticed that Cantelo and Maxim looked remarkably similar - and certain conspiracy theorists have had a field day in supposing what the connection between the two men was. The thing is, back in the late Edwardian period, most men over the age of thirty had large bushy beards - as did both Cantelo and Maxim, and a lot of their physical similarity would seem to be due to the beard element. Later, Hiram Maxim claimed that he had a double who was impersonating him, but this was never independently confirmed (Maxim was a bit of a showman, and fond of making Donald Trump - like sweeping statements, so this was nothing remarkable or at all unusual). Maxim was already a wealthy man, having the patents for the aforementioned fire extinguishing water sprinkler and the sprung mousetrap, amongst others. Personally I feel that the whole Cantelo / Maxim conspiracy is a fictional construct – Cantelo probably did what many adventurous entrepreneurs did in Victorian times, and emigrated to America (ironically the direct opposite of what Maxim did a few years earlier) – and then disappeared from history. The story makes a good yarn however.

The ending video this week dates back to 1985, and a BBC TV news piece on the then Snooker World Champion, Plumstead lad Steve Davis. In the 1980's Snooker was massively popular on TV; one of the reasons was that by this time nearly all sales of TV receivers were of colour models, whereas prior to this black and white sets had been more popular, due mainly to their lower purchase price and cheaper TV licence. The short TV article goes to Steve Davis's old Abbey Wood School and talks to contemporary pupils, and one of Davis's former teachers about both his time at school and his then dominance of Snooker. It is an interesting historical document.