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News and Comment January 2022

Index: 2019202020212022

31 January - For God’s sake cool it

TwitterThere are some very nasty people in this world and one or two of them have finished up as Councillors in Bexley. Why people vote for them I have no idea, presumably some Conservative supporters are ignoramuses totally unaware of what goes on in our community.

I know that some Tory Councillors agree with me.

But most are sort of OK and a few I know to be really nice people keen to do their best not only for voters but humanity - and dogs - in general.

In the top three of those would be Mayor James Hunt. A genuinely nice guy without a shred of malice within his vast frame. I might have put him in my top spot except that it would risk upsetting the other two.

On Saturday someone wanted him dead and yesterday he went public on both Twitter (see image here) with a fuller account on Facebook. (Click to read it.)

Many of us see such pent up anger whenever we are out on the road. The unreasonable aggression on display there is pretty much the norm. High speed weaving from one lane to another to save a few seconds and undertaking on Bexley’s badly designed roundabouts being my principal bugbears, but who in their right mind threatens to stab a public figure going about his business at their own address? Even our incompetent and corrupt police force should manage to find the culprit.

I don’t have close friends who are Councillors but James Hunt was the first to hold out a friendly hand to me both literally and metaphorically and still does so ten years later.

It was the mark of a friend that at the very same time James posted on Twitter (see above) he sent another message to reassure me that his reference to “keyboard warriors” on Facebook was not aimed at me.

I think there has been the occasional criticism of James on Bonkers, it is not easy to be totally impartial when chairing a Full Council meeting and there have been some spectacular failures in that department, but none were his.

It may be coincidence but all the nicest male Councillors in Bexley are Freemasons.

 

29 January - One crap day

Here is the latest in my catalogue of excuses as to why there is no blog.

Manhole A blocked Manhole A blockedI first noticed it at the beginning of the week, a suspicion that the water level in the WC was just a little higher than it should be. Yesterday brown liquid was oozing from next door’s manhole cover and my own.

There had been no drainage problems in the 35 years I have lived at this address so I suspected my new neighbours were doing something silly.

The drain layout is a gigantic distorted Y shape with a manhole below each house’s bathroom (A and B) and the central junction point (C). Three are in my drive and the left top extremity (A) on next door’s -just. The blocked covers are supposed to lift up but with all the gaps filled with sand that is a forlorn hope. The paving had to be ripped up.


Drain layoutI drew the attention of my neighbour to the problem and two females looked at it, got their phones out to take pictures and disappeared inside never to be seen again. They conversed in a foreign tongue, and not to me. Very helpful!

Because I couldn’t see where the exit pipe was I had to bale the crap (A) into my brown garden waste bin but after a while my injured knee couldn’t take any more of the ups and downs and I slung it on the neighbour’s lawn. There was a whole load of what I took to be paper panties mixed in.

All the while more muck was flowing from next door’s plumbing occasionally splashing into my face because no one there had the sense to restrict usage.

I probed the exit pipe (A) with a device I bought on spec years ago for my pressure washer. A lucky life saver.

After a while the remaining water at A flowed out but nothing appeared at the bottom of the Y (Point D). I had destroyed that manhole cover too but there had been no response to probing from that end. The length of probe suggested a blockage somewhere around C. If I destroyed that manhole (or B) the car would not be able to re-enter the garage.

Another probe at A resulted in much gurgling and a long slow moving caterpillar of you know what mixed with loads of white garments moving through the final exit point D.


Drain plugEncouraged by the movement (please excuse pun) I blocked the exit at A and filled the manhole with water and then removed the plug to give it a good flush. Nothing happened, it had blocked again. More probing and three more big flushes seemed to do the trick. More panties than Marks & Spencer.

For my final trick I descended manhole D with a ladder in case my gammy leg wouldn’t let me out again. I plugged the pipe where it enters D and spent 15 or 20 minutes filling A with water so that the whole underground system was filled with water.

At this point the man who lives next door appeared and showed more interest than his females.

When I retrieved the plug there was an almighty rush of yet more knickers or whatever the white fabric was and with luck the drain is now clear.

It has been suggested that I should just leave the neighbours to stew in their own juice so to speak but that overlooks the fact that they are blocking my drain too.

I am inclined to put a grid across their pipe where it meets mine to see if it catches any more panties.

On a happier note I have perfected the technique of taking a bath with a bandaged leg and blood blackened ankle perched up on the tap to keep it dry.

There were two Council Scrutiny meetings last week, I have a feeling it will be February before a report sees the light of day.

 

28 January (Part 2) - Let battle commence

I suppose that Bexley Labour will be on a high right now as they go into the Council elections and will be busy oiling their campaign machinery. As part of that they are advertising for a new Campaign Manager.

Personally, and only for balance to yesterday, I don’t like people who cannot spell Dependent any more than those who use less when fewer is correct.
Job Advert

 

28 January (Part 1) - The Banana Republic that is Boris’s Britain

A first use of the new fibre connection. My ISP remotely created a VPN from Port 3 to Port 0 of the Cisco router which leads to my LAN. Plugged in and away it went providing nothing new apart from a painful leg and bloodied nose. If Openreach had laid their cable where they could have done instead of taking the lazy route I would not now be hobbling around.

This afternoon my ISP technician is coming round to swap the old Cisco router for a new one. not a service you get from BT.

Just what is Cressida Dick doing? Prepared to spend up to a reported £2 million of our money investigating an allegation of a minor crime. Forget Government hypocrisy, that is not yet a criminal offence; if the Prime Minister and his friends broke the law and Priti Patel had snitched on him as she recommended we should on our neighbours, party attendees might be up for a £100 fixed penalty notice. Boris Johnson would have endangered the public more by speeding in his car.

I never thought I might feel a smidgen of sympathy for Boris Johnson again but the Institutionally Corrupt Metropolitan Police have somehow created the right circumstances.

There has to be something deeply corrupt about the present situation. Usually Government and Police protect each other and I have not yet worked out how that can be the case here. Why does Dick think she has the right to have Sue Gray’s report redacted? She has no right to stop publication of anything until someone is charged with an offence.

Dick always assumes she is above the law as she did on Westminster Bridge.

Maybe Dick is protecting Johnson; news has come in as I write that she is now looking at a criminal investigation. It can only be part of a delaying tactic.

The country must be more corrupt than even I would have believed. Meanwhile a war is brewing in Ukraine. Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus all over again with a touch of Caligula.

As if there are not enough problems my new neighbour appears to be happy throwing rubbish down the bog and the main sewer pipe which runs under my property is blocked with crap oozing from the manhole cover. Never a problem with it in 35 years but the pipe cannot cope with seven people in a house who have little understanding of drains.

It looks like tomorrow will be a smelly day. Fortunately I have all the gear needed for such a job.

 

27 January - Better late than never

OvensA small tradition of repeating here the maiden Parliamentary speeches of former Bexley Councillors appears to have developed. Maybe it was because I was not hugely impressed by the first in January 2020. Black and women’s issues, plus housing, were the primary interests as they have been ever since.

Louie French made his on 18th January and somehow it entirely passed me by. Amusing in places, serious in others, but it is fewer ovens Louie, not less ovens. Sorry, it really grates on me.

The speech may be seen in video form on Louie’s website.

 

26 January (Part 2) - Hypocrisy and corruption in high places

There are so may aspects to Boris Johnson’s predicament that many view points may be valid, even mine!

Why is a police force as Institutionally Corrupt as the Metropolitan investigating a crime more than a year old which might result in a few people being fined £100? Or does someone see Misconduct in a Public Office and the potential for a life sentence?

Daily MailIf Boris Johnson is a hypocrite for imposing largely unnecessary rules on you and me but ignored them himself what does that make Cressida Dick?

The police ruthlessly enforced illogical rules in a frequently unintelligent manner and Dick broke the rules by prancing around on Westminster Bridge. Her force lied by saying that, despite the bridge being lined by police vehicles, it was an impromptu gathering.

Mick Barnbrook’s FOI revealed that the event had been diaried and pre-arranged. His complaints to Boris Johnson, Priti Patel Sadiq Khan who is Cressida’s boss, all went unanswered.

The Prime Minister may soon be proved to be a lying corrupt hypocrite but it is hard to see that Dick and Khan are any better. Dick’s rule breaking was on the same level as Johnson’s but maybe less often.

I find it more than a little concerning that government and piss-ups are so intertwined but it might explain a few things. When I was first at work there was a bar in the 5th floor canteen but that was recognised for the error of judgment that it was more than forty years ago.


Cressida Dick Jane ConnorsDick has thought it appropriate to appoint Deputy Assistant Commissioner Jane Connors to look into what has been going on on Downing Street which reassures me not one bit. Isn’t Jane Connors the same DAC who defended the police who beat up the women attending the Sarah Everard vigil?

Wasn’t she the officer who white washed the police failings at Wembley during the Euro 2020 kick about?

Corruption is now so endemic within the British establishment that one cannot entirely rule out Boris Johnson being stitched up by evil forces that care nothing for justice or democracy.

I would feel happier about him being deposed if there was an obvious replacement waiting in the wings, but there is not a single one I would trust an inch.

 

26 January (Part 1) - Should he stay or should he go?

When I voted Conservative two years ago I knew that Boris Johnson was a philandering liar but I consoled myself with the thought that he was a Conservative and a clever one at that. He proved to be neither. His obsession with Green policies is unaffordable, if electric cars are better than petrol they will gradually take over like CDs killed tape cassettes and DVD killed VHS. The imposition of impractical laws is more Putin than Thatcher. Banning Conservatories? Is he totally mad? I am beginning to suspect he is.

The Covid rules were for the most part illogical. At Christmas 2020 you were allowed to share it with family so long as you could get there and back in a day with all public transport at a standstill. If you stayed over until Boxing Day the risk of contracting Corona Virus was massively increased and banned. After spending all day with my sister she provided breakfast next morning. I am a criminal.

Johnson authorised fines for people who sat on a park bench and his Home Secretary pleaded with us to snitch on our neighbours. Students who invited a few mates into their digs for a booze up were fined £10,000. It was the point at which I decided I could never vote Conservative again while Johnson was in Government.

However I now know that Johnson is clever after all. He knew that many of the rules were stupid. If 30 people could legally work in an office together all day why shouldn’t they gather in the basement once work was over for a glass or two? There was no logical reason why they shouldn’t but it was illegal. I don’t think it should have been, but what sort of idiot makes the rules, breaks them and then excuses himself on the basis that no one told him he was transgressing?

I feel a bit like Johnson must have done when he wrote two Telegraph articles before the Brexit vote, one for the other against, before deciding which one would propel his political career furthest. One can argue the present situation in a wide variety of ways but it is impossible to ignore the hypocrisy and the subservience to false data. Why are SAGE members not all sacked?

Daily Telegraph cartoonSo that is my view, or one of them anyway. What of people more important than me? My new friend and fellow Council critic @tonyofsidcup is far more familiar with the ways of ruthless dictators than I am. He hails from Belarus. Under the misapprehension that he now lives in a democratic country he asked every Bexley Conservative Councillor if they thought Johnson should go.

Outgoing Councillor Val Clark said it was none of her business, Cabinet Member Sue Gower came up with the rather odd response that the Nolan Principles forbade comment and Councillor John Davey said No.

Mayor James Hunt and Councillor Andy Dourmoush (Longlands) said he would have to go if found guilty by Sue Gray’s report. No one else responded.

My much older friend Elwyn Bryant asked his newly elected MP the same question. “Should the Prime Minister resign forthwith?”

Elwyn never had much luck writing to his former MP James Brokenshire. If he got a reply it would be evasive and if he phoned for an appointment all the slots would be filled which he would then exploit by getting his friend Peter Gussman to phone a moment later and find appointments were easy to come by. It is Elwyn’s fault obviously. No one should ask a politician a really awkward question and refuse to be fobbed off by wishywashy answers.

Elwyn tends to contrast Brokenshire with his experience writing to a local Councillor. Alex Sawyer came round to his house for a cup of tea and a chat, but I digress, what did Louie French have to say about his boss?

Louie sent Elwyn a gracious letter explaining his position; sympathy with the population in general who had suffered so much and lost loved ones, as he had himself.


TweetWe have already seen that Louie is a man of his word (Tweet to the left) and his letter confirms that he will continue in that vein.

“It angers me greatly that those who set the rules are now alleged to have not been following them. Like most of the country, I find myself waiting to read the outcome of Sue Gray’s independent inquiry, which I understand could be as soon as this week and will be followed by a statement in Parliament from the Prime Minister. Once all the facts have been established and if wrongdoing is proven, I expect to see disciplinary action taken straight away so that we can move on as a country and deliver the people’s priorities.”

Louie is a good man isn’t he? Perhaps he will follow in his predecessor Ted Heath’s footsteps and rise to the top. Andy Dourmoush or James Hunt for Council Leader too.

Can I forgive Boris Johnson? Probably not. Fantasy land… refund all the Covid fines and ditch Carrie might show some contrition but one will not happen and the other will take another year or two.

Buoyed by his relative success in getting an answer, Elwyn has asked Louie his views about the alleged blackmailing of MPs by the whips. Maybe Louie will wait until he has personal experience of it. Can’t be long now.

 

23 January - Legless

I swear I didn’t hit my head when hitting the deck on Saturday but I made my only trip upstairs on Sunday evening intending to write a short thank you to those who expressed their sympathy at my unwanted fall to earth but by the time I had struggled up I had forgotten and went straight to bed. So I am cheating, it is now 6 a.m. on Monday.

Bandaged leg Looking like something out of a horror movie is not a problem, my right leg being bruised from ankle to hip is what is cramping my style. That and a knee which doesn’t seem to want to bear my weight and determined to make me squeal with pain when I move it.

I was encouraged to see that the safety device fitted to modern folding ladders (a reader sent a picture) was pretty much the same as I worked out could be built into mine. So that is another job for when I am able to drag myself to a hardware shop.

Several Councillors (and my favourite MP) got in touch but I’m not sure if the one who said that when he first saw the blood assumed I had been duffed up by one of his colleagues was being entirely serious but it sounded like he was at the time. (Actually I am sure he was.)

Among the silly things I did recently was to dismantle my ancient AV system with a view to updating it. If I mention Component Video, XLR Audio and SCART those who know about these things will recognise that I am well behind the times.

I have someone coming round later today (Monday) to help me restore it to limited working order so that I can at least watch a DVD. With luck mobility will improve so that I can tackle my fibre installation otherwise Openreach is not going to be at all happy with me on Friday.

QEH told me that I had get my GP to change the dressings by Wednesday; they were joking weren’t they?

When I next get up the stairs to the computer I will try to cobble together something Boris Johnson related, assuming he is still Prime Minister at the time.

 

22 January - Excuses, excuses!

I have given some pretty lame excuses this month for a dearth of blogs of any consequence so I thought I should come up with something better. There was only one more screw to put in the garage wall to complete the fibre conduit to my router. I was out there by 8 a.m. because I had a freebie ticket to a rugby match in the afternoon.

Bloodied face Swollen noseI was up a wooden ladder which I have been using regularly since 1961. An extending thing that folds in the middle. It only gets used in the garage because there is not enough height in there to use the big gutter cleaning ladder and the modern aluminium step ladder is not always high enough. The wooden ladder is in perfectly good condition.

It was extended by only one rung and resting against a rafter. As I leaned over to drive a screw into a wooden roof support, the ladder crashed to the ground, me with it. I have since worked out exactly what caused it and arguably it is a design fault that will cause a collapse only in one particular circumstance. It has taken me sixty years to find that fault.

Fortunately there is a lot of old timber strips on the garage floor which are usually straddled by the car. They bounce around slightly if walked on so provided a relatively soft landing place.

The real problem was that my right leg was through a rung space and trapped by the scissor action of a collapsed wooden ladder and it is heavy. I assumed by the intense pain and the way my leg was twisted that it must be broken but it wasn’t and after getting my breath back managed to crawl indoors leaving a pool of blood on the floor.

The ladder had dragged down a box full of old AV cables which may have fallen on my face. Hard to be sure, falling about four feet to the ground does not give a lot of thinking time. 

A neighbour drove me to Erith Urgent Care Centre where, let’s just say they were absolutely useless and sent me to QEH A&E.

QEH triage sent me to their Urgent Care Centre and after about an hour’s wait I was patched up by a nurse who was in on her day off. There is a sticky plaster the size of a dinner plate on my leg covering an iodine impregnated pad but I think it looks, and feels, worse than it is.

My nose is cut down to the bone but it is the leg which is causing problems. Very painful, doesn’t want to support me and I am hobbling on a walking stick. The deep nose cut warranted a tetanus jab and antibiotics for a week. I was lucky not to have broken my leg, hit my head or lose some teeth. My mouth is internally cut and sore.

As is often the case with the NHS, the medical services are excellent while the admin leaves a great deal to be desired. Only two people were allowed into the triage area and it was already occupied by a lady waiting for her lift home, so my neighbour was not allowed to help the leg hobbler in. However once triaged I was able to sit cheek by jowl with 100 others for three hours and 14 minutes - the predicted A&E waiting time. The Urgent Care wait was much shorter.

So there we are; a badly bruised, swollen, cut and very painful leg and I won’t be keen on running upstairs to the computer more often than necessary. A pity because I was building up to a feature on our wonderful Prime Minister.

In recent months I have expressed the hope that he would ultimately be totally humiliated by the corruption and sleaze, his imposition of £10,000 Covid fines on people who do exactly what he does himself and most of all because he is not a Conservative.

Now that we have reached that stage I am not at all sure I like it, partly because I am too soft and don’t like seeing anyone in such a situation but mostly because there is no obvious alternative.
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Reader submissions have brought me news of what our local politicians may be thinking. Councillors and MPs but it will likely have to wait until my head is fully functioning again. Did I mention that three typing fingers were slightly crushed and plastered up?

Meanwhile I have 30 metres of fibre optic cable to drag through my new conduit; by Thursday at the latest.

 

21 January - Council neglect leads to vandalism

Various jobs are taking far too long; the fibre installation will probably take only another day but I stupidly started another project. Updating my 15 year old AV system to make it ‘Smart’. Wires everywhere right now and hence no time for blogging beyond the trivial.

But is it trivial when it eventually costs taxpayers money?

Bin BinThe big paper bin was emptied again today and once again shoved back to front against a wall so that the opening is out of reach. You won’t want to see another photo of that but maybe a closer view will be in order.

I don’t know who it is who abuses our eight month old bin but it has been vandalised. Frustration with no access to the proper opening has led to the lock being ripped out and in the process the hinges bent so that the main lid no longer closes properly.

That will cost money if it is ever fixed and is the direct result of CountryStyle proving to be a worse operator than Serco. Or maybe I should say that it is down to Councillors who negligently fail to let CountryStyle know how careless their staff can be.

The things people do to other people’s property never ceases to amaze me. A rented house and a rented flat, both closer to me than the bins were vacated recently. The house took four weeks to become habitable again and the flat still isn’t. Wrecked, so I heard, and work continues.

I knew both occupants by name and they seemed to be pleasant enough people but apparently they didn’t follow what used to be traditional British standards. There is a common factor but I don’t want to be in Clive Mardiner’s bad books again.

 

20 January - When the music stops

Event cancelledThe advertised music event in Danson Park will not take place. There was always something rather odd about how it came to be proposed and readers have not been slow to pick up on the vibes, but the following is all that is known for certain.

There are links to the Thank You party for volunteers.

The decision to hold that party was taken in May 2021 and it was held on 8th August, expertly - so I was told - organised by a company called City Events. It must have taken quite some organising; marquees, flooring, toilets, generators, waiters etc. Lucy Beckwith, the company Director is well known in Bexley as the owner of Blend in the Broadway.

Despite what must have been lengthy preparations, legal permission to bypass the tendering process and to place a contract was not given until 3rd August. The bill came to £37,475.

A Freedom of Information Request was ignored until the Information Commissioner intervened but it revealed only the tender waiving process. What went on behind closed doors in June and July is not known for sure but one Councillor has said it was taken up by abortive sub-Committee meetings.

It is said by another Councillor that the Director of City Events was so impressed by Danson Park that she decided to use her associate company to stage a music festival there. Ms. Beckwith, a lady with local connections, apparently did not, before the tea party, know anything about Bexley’s biggest park.

And now Dream Valley is off. Bexley Council says it never signed the contract and got cold feet about the impact locally.

It has been rumoured that there are close links between Lucy Beckwith and a senior Bexley Conservative Councillor. This I can confirm is true, they have known each other since their teenage years.

There is no real evidence at all that anything untoward has taken place and certainly there is nothing that reflects badly on the company that stepped into Bexley’s breach, but Bexley Council appears to be on a mission to reclaim their reputation for making things look more than a little ‘fishy’.

 

19 January - Bin banter

The conduit for fibre installation is progressing, albeit slowly. Meanwhile, while time is short, a minor comment on what use this blog may have been over the years. Social Media generally has probably had a positive effect on the worst of Bexley Council’s excesses. Exposing injustices here is no longer a commonplace and Council criminal behaviour has pretty much gone - as far as I know.

Readers quite often ask for injustices to be exposed but my advice is always to think hard about the consequences. On the one hand Bexley Council is never shamed (except on a few occasions by the Local Government Ombudsman) and they almost never react to critical reports on Bonkers. The big risk for readers is victimisation or in one case not so very long ago, arrest by the police.

I recall three occasions when someone in Watling Street got in touch to seek the identification of the precise location of a public realm problem. Pot holes twice and missing white lines after road resurfacing once. It doesn’t really amount to much.

Only one reported problem resulted in a Councillor managing to get hold of me on the phone to seek details of a (Belvedere) housing problem so that he could try to find a solution. A Conservative from the South of the borough!

I twice drew the attention of the questionable grant for a dropped kerb to the relevant Councillor and was ignored.

My possibly trivial complaint that after being emptied the big paper bin near to my house is simply shoved in the right general direction rather than given the attention it deserves has changed nothing. Coincidence or not, the issue arose only after CountryStyle took over the refuse contract and it may be symptomatic of the lack of care that results in litter strewn streets on collection day.

Some very recent (approximately) weekly pictures…

Bin Bin Bin Bin Bin

Every collection it’s the same. Each of these is from a different week over the last six weeks.

 

17 January - The Story of my Life

Thanks to all readers who have asked where I had gone, Councillors too who were maybe hoping I had - literally! (I jest, every one asked about my state of health; at least it wasn’t mind!)

So here I am with an interim announcement and apology. It was genuinely a shock to see I had gone a whole eight days without writing a single line of code!

Writing blogs is time consuming and preceded by looking for things that may be worth writing about which can take up a lot of thinking time. The last couple of weeks has seen an unprecedented amount of other things that must be done - mostly more interesting than writing blogs!

If anyone is interested, there have been four separate days spent far away and another is scheduled for later this week. Then my former employer has given me more work than was necessary.

BT offered to install fibre internet to the premises but my experience of BT is that all is well for years and then something goes wrong and getting them to listen is a nightmare.

Since the late 1990s I have been with a niche ISP and I know the owner and his wife pretty well. They in effect provide the wherewithal for Bonkers free of charge. I told them that BT was telling me that fibre was ready to go. They ordered it for me on Friday 7th January and on the following Monday Openreach was here to poke the fibre through the conduit.

For the umpteenth time I told them there was no BT conduit as a rogue builder with an excavator ripped it up in 1987. In 2006 when laying the front drive I put a 32mm pipe underground all the way from the street to my computer room.

The Openreach man thought that was good planning and painted marks on the street paving to indicate where a few would have to be taken up and said someone would be back with a spade.

Next day the man with a spade was here but he wanted to find the long broken BT conduit and mend it and he did so in about six hours of work. The trouble with that is that it goes to the worst possible part of the house with an awful route back to the computer room.

His solution was to tack a loose cable around a wooden feature of the house but that wood is 35 years old; what happens if it need to be replaced?

To get to the point, I summoned up all my old BT jargon and persuaded the Openreach man that I had been a competent engineer. Even if I had been it was with relays and mechanical switches. The second Openreach guy generously left me everything I would need to install the fibre in a much more satisfactory way. A nice new 30 metre pack of ‘cable’ and some connectors the like of which I have not seen before.

I have to complete the almost hidden ducting and slip the cable through it before Openreach comes back to connect it to the underground portion. I find I work far more slowly and make more mistakes than I used to. Anno Domini at play and it is cold outside!

Additionally I have become bored with having no TV and spending too much time browsing the web. I decided to change my ways and get myself up to date; streaming video maybe. Unfortunately I have no AV equipment newer than 13 years old so nothing is suitable. The best way of circumventing that problem had to be found but it is the sort of technical problem I enjoy sorting out. It could have waited but patience is not my strongest point.

Bexley Council has had to take a back seat. Has anything interesting happened? I will try to get back on track before the weekend.

 

9 January - New blue and old blu

Please excuse the absence, I took the opportunity to embark on a massive, overdue but somewhat premature Spring clean of the house while there was little or no Bexley Council news around.

Duwayne BrooksI had been tipped off that the usual Conservative ‘Team’ leaflets would be going out towards the end of January but Councillor Read has Twittered himself delivering the first I have seen.

He has returned to Northumberland Heath where it is by now common knowledge that Aaron Newbury was expected to stand for election but the new leaflet reveals that he is joined by Duwayne Brooks. Northumberland Heath is one of Bexley’s two Councillor wards.

If the name sounds familiar it is because you are old enough to have been shocked by the events in Well Hall Road 29 years ago. Duwayne was with black teenager Stephen Lawrence when he was fatally stabbed by a gang of white men and badly treated by the Metropolitan Police afterwards. The usual attack the victim technique which is all too common in police circles.

Duwayne’s victimisation by the Met led to him being awarded £100,000 in damages.

Subsequently he followed a political career as a Lib Dem Councillor in Lewisham but switched his allegiances to the Conservatives in 2018. Presumably he will have changed his address too.

I am hoping that Philip Read might now hear at first hand how my friend Michael Barnbrook knew Stephen Lawrence personally due to their shared interest in athletics and continued his association with his parents, and in particular his father Neville after the murder.

Michael gave evidence in support of Stephen at the Macpherson enquiry but despite all that Councillor Philip Read refused to answer a public question from Michael Barnbrook and got as close as he dared to calling him a racist as his justification - which clearly it wasn’t.

Returning to the Spring clean; I wish Councillor Craske would hurry up with the collection of old electronics he mentioned a few moths ago. What is one supposed to do with a 13 year old blu-ray disc player that weighs 6·5 kilogrammes?

 

6 January (Part 2) - A Blend of party opinions

The other blog item that may not have been covered as thoroughly as it should have been was the Party in the Park on which Bexley Council spent £37,475 of taxpayers’ money on a bun fight for the #doitforbexley volunteers. I admit to entirely forgetting to mention the biggest mystery of all but even now it is not clear what happened between 26th May 2021 when the decision to throw a party was publicly announced and 8th August when the first of two took place.

Some of the following owes its existence to @tonyofsidcup who tried to get to the bottom of that interval using the FOI route but his request was met with resistance requiring Information Commissioner’s help which is always a justification for suspicion. Other contributions are from the #doitforbexley crowd and more than one Councillor.

As the photographs suggest the attendance didn’t get anywhere near to 500. (†) If I was asked I’d be reluctant to participate in a social event at which I might know no one and I understand this was not an unusual response. A Council source estimated such refusals may have reached as much as 25% and some effort was put into the changing of minds. Councillor absentees were confirmed too.

Clearly June and July 2021 were wasted. The FOI revealed that the Council’s Monitoring Officer was forced to sign a waiver of the competitive tendering process during the Tuesday afternoon preceding the party. Obviously the contract must have been agreed before that; marquees, Portaloos and waiting staff are not summoned up with just a few days of notice.

So Bexley Council is hiding something but it is probably only a cock-up. One might imagine that they would set up a Committee to decide how to spend the money and with it being, as they would see it, donated by Councillors, Conservative, Labour and Independent would have to be included. You may imagine what a recipe for disagreement that might be. Speculation based on only the vaguest of hints but maybe it explains not having the time left to advertise for caterers and events managers.

In a year when the hospitality industry was being throttled to death by Covid regulations one would have thought they would be clambering over each other for a £40k. lifeline. If only the event had been advertised!

How did the Council find the only taker in the form of Lucy Beckwith, the Director of City Events?

Blend BarEasily I suspect. She is a very well connected lady. Chairman of the Business Improvement District in Beckenham, several more hospitality businesses (not all currently active) and with a correspondence address in Bexleyheath Broadway.

It is a very good job she was already known to Bexley Council and could pull all the levers to dig them out of a hole of their own making.

The observant may have noticed that Lucy Beckwith is running next May’s Dream Valley Festival too. There was no hint of that happening before the Thank You Party so maybe the former flowed out of the latter although why an entrepreneur with a Bexley address should be unaware, before running the party, of the potential of a park 15 minutes walk away stretches credulity just a little.

It is seven years since Bexley Council said there could never be any more Festivals in Danson Park because the delicate ground conditions would not support it. But money talks, and it has to.

If yet another of Lucy’s companies can make a profit out of deafening residents next May and Bexley Council charges it much more than the fee charged for firework displays it may just save it from holding out the begging bowl again.

† Mayor James Hunt says he believes the true figure to be approaching 900 over two days.

 

6 January (Part 1) - Shabby Wood

Gayton Road Gayton Road Felixstowe Road Felixstowe Road Felixstowe RoadAs I said, I was gently taken to task for highlighting only the lost staircase to the Harrow Manorway flyover when it is not the only unsatisfactory feature around Abbey Wood station - all neglected since the middle of 2019 - or even far longer!

Photo 1 is arguably a TfL responsibility. The temporary bus stop has become permanent.

Before Gayton Road was rearranged its car park exited on to Gayton Road (Photo 2) but the decision was taken to move the exit on to Florence Road; which is good except that Bexley Council forgot to properly close the original.


New in 2006!Photo 3 is just the sort of silly design that one expects to emanate from Andrew Bashford’s office. It is of Felixstowe Road which has a Z-bend on which drivers might lose control especially in icy conditions. If they did it would wipe out the station lifts and anyone waiting for them. No one had the foresight to think of that and so the concrete blocks have adorned the station approach for well over two years.

There is no kerb which follows Bexley’s favoured ‘shared space’ philosophy.

The only solution is to install the sort of bollards that one sees outside Government offices in central London. They will withstand 44 tonne lorries doing 60 m.p.h.

Strangely, there are no blocks at the other end of the Z-bend to protect shoppers on their way to Sainsbury’s.


Photo 5 is the communications cabinet displaced or otherwise rendered unusable by the renewed Felixstowe Road footpath. I forgot to check who it belongs to but my recollection is that Openreach stripped it. Presumably there is no staff left in post at Bexley Council who could remind them of their responsibilities and tidy the place up.

To be honest I suspect Bexley’s Council neglect will go on for at least another ten years. The New Layout sign by the derelict since 2009 Harrow Inn site has been there since 2008 at least after the sharp bend at the bottom of Knee Hill was remodelled. (First featured on Bonkers in 2011.)

Banner

Directions to the Wilton Road shops while Abbey Wood station was under construction. It was completed more than four years ago.

All photos taken 5th and 6th January 2022.

 

5 January (Part 2) - The Plane truth?

Gayton Road Felixstowe RoadSeveral readers have suggested that some of Bonkers’ recent stories have been less than comprehensive. In particular Gayton Road being unfinished two years after regeneration work began could have included more of the same and the tree counting controversy, a fair amount of which took place on Twitter, rather than here.

The Thank You Party in the Park was another story which left a few unexplained holes but they were potentially controversial and required further investigation in case a variety of sleuths were making a mountain out of a molehill.

Meanwhile, the easy one. Trees.

Mayor Khan boasted a day or two ago that he had planted 300,000 trees since coming to office. That is not very many spread across the whole capital and a far cry from the two million that had been mentioned in 2016.


Cllr. Craske and friendsLocally Cabinet Member Craske claimed to have provided 1,100 trees which is in line with Sadiq Khan’s claim. I suspect they are the same trees but facts are hard to come by.

Where in Bexley has Councillor Craske been busy with his shovel? An FOI found them. 34 dotted around Albion Road and Gravel Hill, 23 in Sidcup as part of the town centre improvements 18 in Falcon Wood and 129 in Harrow Manorway and around Abbey Wood’s Crossrail station.

The five year old artistְ’s impression of Gayton Road (Image 1 top left) shows at least eight trees and across the railway line in Felixstow Road around nine are shown. It being a nice day for a walk I went to look.

There are three new trees in Gayton Road and five in the area shown in Image 2. Well outside that area is one more.

Harrow Manorway is better served. Sainsbury’s roundabout has nine. Increasing danger by reducing sightlines seems to be a thing among highway designers while vehicle designers spend a fortune counteracting them by ensuring that sightlines are as good as possible.

On the western side of Harrow Manorway between the Sainsbury’s roundabout and Yarnton Way there are nine more. Beyond the roundabout there are none on the western side. There are none in Yarnton Way either.

The central reservation south of Yarnton Way has 22 new trees and north of it 20 more. On the other side of the road there are 31 including a ‘weed’ which may have found its own way there.

I think that makes a nice round 100 overall which is a long way short of Bexley Council’s figure even if you give them the benefit of the doubt over more than 20 being in Greenwich and that the money came from TfL and Network Rail.

The money for Sidcup High Street, Albion Road and Gravel Hill didn’t come from Bexley Council either. Has anyone who lives in an ordinary house in an ordinary residential street seen anyone with a spade and sapling outside their house? I would guess not. Has any Bexley Conservative Cabinet Member ever told the unvarnished truth?

1,106

Trees planted. Figures courtesy of @tonyofsidcup by FOI.

 

5 January (Part 1) - Live the Danson Dream

Party timeI should have listened to the year end message from the Mayor rather sooner but on the other hand the omission has given me a few extra days to reminisce over the days when Bexley was a peaceful little town and not part of the Ibiza music scene. The Mayor announced the all day Dream Valley Music Festival to be held on Saturday 28th May in Danson Park. Maybe he has taken a liking to partying in Danson park.

As long as he sticks to it and does not set his sights on Lesnes Abbey

Tickets start at £50 a head and apparently the park is only 20 minutes from London Bridge and 30 from Stratford. You’d have to be very lucky with bus connections to get anywhere near that. Reading in 75 minutes; forget it unless it has really moved to Surrey as stated.

It will be a very friendly place, no food or drink allowed however thanks to the Mayor of London, cannabis will be perfectly OK.

I think I will steer well clear! If nothing else the T&Cs are outrageous.

Audio only extract from Mayor’s New Year video message.

Party time

Lucy Beckwith? Sounds a familiar name. I wonder why.

 

4 January - And then there were three

Danny, Dave and now Adam Wildman. Bexley Council now has three Independent Councillors. Full report here. Readers may recall that Adam Wildman was appointed to Chair Committees by the Council Leader in May 2021 thereby displacing his perfectly capable predecessors.
Adam Wildman Adam Wildman

 

3 January (Part 2) - Tree Tweets

Counting the number of street trees in Bexley would present a knotty problem barely worth embarking upon although I understand records are kept and someone has rooted them out under FOI.

Trees Trees
Councillor Davey has clearly taken a guess at the number while in all probability Cabinet Member Craske had notice of Councillor Seymour’s question in Full Council when he said that there were 1,100 street trees and a Council Officer drafted his reply.

As always nothing is simple. Is 1,100 the total number of street trees in the borough or the number planted since Craske twigged about three years ago that not planting any trees at all was not his best idea? Just nutty.

Prior to that, street tree planting had been effectively banned from 2014.. Does the 1,100 include those for which individual residents paid £230 each? Doubtful; but it would be interesting to know how many stumped up.

Cabinet Member Craske says he has planted 1,100 trees. Full Council Meeting 3rd November 2021.

Note: Susan Hall is Conservative Leader at the GLA.

 

3 January (Part 1) - Tea for two. (Days)

Taking centre stage in the party photo below is Bexley’s Council Leader and James Hunt the Mayor and if they thoroughly enjoyed themselves they have Independent Councillor Danny Hackett to thank for it, or maybe Cabinet Member David Leaf could claim some credit because he sprang a surprise a year ago by announcing that Conservative Councillors would not be taking their annual pay (allowance) rise. By a series of mis-steps the saving translated into a Summer Garden Party for “volunteers”.

David Leaf at Cabinet. 15th December 2020.

What Councillor Leaf failed to say was that all Councillors had agreed to forego their increase for the second year in a row.

Party timeIt sounded like a well intentioned act but it had its critics. The official pay rate was increased but there was nothing to stop a Councillor who fell on hard times reneging on the deal and taking his cut. Even if untaken the allowance is rising at the approved rate and when the freeze comes to an end it will ensure a nice fat bonus. That remains the case even now.

No one suggested that an individual taking the money was a likely scenario and the total amount involved over two years was close to £43,000.

Why not make the pay freeze official and spend the money usefully?

On 4th March 2021 Councillor Danny Hackett (Independent, Thamesmead East) tried to make that official policy but the Conservatives told him where to go and so did his former Labour colleagues. It seemed to be absolutely crazy at the time but politicians often do stupid things.

Councillor Hackett didn’t like the rejection of his idea for wholly political reasons it and nor did the residents who saw the saga unfold on the webcast and in the News Shopper. Twitter in particular erupted in fury to the extent that the Conservatives U-turned. Without consulting anyone they announced that the money would be taken from the allowances pot and spent on a party for the borough’s #doitforbexley volunteers.

It was described by Bexley Council in their magazine (Autumn 2021 issue Page 6) as a “cream tea” for “almost 1,000” guests and took place on both the 7th and 8th August in the grounds of Danson House.

If all the money was spent the price of an individual Tea in a Tent approached that of Tea at the Ritz but without the ambience and uniformed flunkies. Tents, Toilets and red tape never come cheap; the way that costs run away uncontrollably in the public services is legendary and the reason why taxes are so high.

Enquiries reveal that Bexley’s requirements for the event were…


• Company to be available at very short notice - About five weeks
• Able to provide all requirements within budget
• Very large marquee, capable of housing 500 guests
• On-site catering for 500 guests
• Supply of all staff – Waiters, chefs, managers etc
• Supply of generator power supplies, all tables, chairs and crockery etc.
• Staging required for entertainment being provided by local groups
• Flooring for inside of marquee
• Supply of on-site toilets
• Complete management and delivery of event
• Company to be completely and correctly insured with full Public Liability Insurance


See what I mean? There would not be a lot of money left over for a cuppa and a cream cake! Who could fulfill such a request at short notice?

Apparently the answer was almost no one. There was no time to go through the usual procurement processes and it was a case of searching the web and phoning around.

Only one company looked to be up to the job; City Events Limited, a newish outfit from Tower Hamlets. They quoted £37,475 and produced the goods on time. Where the left over £5,000 went is not revealed.

Whether it was worth the cost of two Zebra Crossings is a different matter entirely.

 

2 January (Part 2) - Where’s Tiff?

Gayton Road stairs At Crossrail Liaison Panel meetings, I attended every single one, only one Bexley Council representative knew anything about railways, or possibly anything at all. She was Tiffany Lynch. Better still, you could approach her, ask a question and get an answer or a promise to get one which was fulfilled.

Earlier today I guessed that she was no longer with Bexley Council and it seems I was right. Like all the best employees Tiff has gone; why work for the second rate?

She is now with Transport for the South East and Bexley Council, especially in the Highways Department is rendered devoid of any obvious competence.


With thanks to a former Bexley Councillor similarly wise enough to leave town.

 

2 January (Part 1) - Bexley’s forgotten backwater

Gayton Road stairs In September 2018 a notice went up in Gayton Road, Abbey Wood which said that in preparation for the opening of Crossrail services the road would be dramatically improved to the level demanded by a prestige project.

The new station had opened a year earlier and Elizabeth line services were due to commence imminently but Bexley Council had run seriously late with all their Crossrail related projects so their lateness was not unexpected. Bexley originally announced that everything would be completed by the Summer of 2018.

For the past three years Bexley Council’s Conservative kettle has called the London Mayorְ’s pot black because Crossrail services have still not started - although if you stand in train-spotter mode on Abbey Wood station you will probably see a train trundle off every five minutes.

In fact Bexley Council is just as far behind with its own relatively simple Gayton Road project without any obvious excuse. The upgrade is still not completed; the stairs to the flyover and station are still inaccessible.

The barricade is not very effective at flyover level because there are two easy access routes past the ironmongery and if you venture that far you will find the stairs apparently completed and ready for use.

The railway is protected from vandalism by a a substantial mesh fence. The old concrete steps are neatly covered with aluminium and the paved area is rather nicely finished off with some sort of asphalt.

So why are pedestrians inconvenienced daily for no good reason except for the perennial suspicion that Bexley Council doesn’t really care?

My guess is that Bexley Council paid off the lady who was looking after the project and it being only a matter of yards from the borough boundary no one else has wandered by. Whatever happened to Tiffany Lynch who decided to refurbish the stairs? (Engineering advice was that their demolition would be too expensive.)

Gayton Road stairs Gayton Road stairs Gayton Road stairs Gayton Road stairs

Gayton Road stairs Gayton Road stairs Gayton Road stairs Gayton Road stairs

 

1 January (Part 2) - Must do better

After ten days of regurgitating old news it is time to tackle some new subjects and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities report into Bexley’s poor financial state will provide the fall back position.

The report follows on from Bexley's skirmish with near bankruptcy a year ago and to my inexpert eye it identifies historical problems which many people, including the Labour Group and even I, saw coming. You can only sell off the family silver once for example and some of the investments look to be unwise with “significant risks” however the report is not without some optimism for the future. The most frequently occurring phrase is the need for close monitoring.
CIPFA
In a Ministerial letter dated 8th December Council Leader Teresa O’Neill is required to respond to the report “within the next month” which is a rather vague phrase which could be interpreted as by 31st January.

In coming days the more interesting parts of the report will appear here in bite sized chunks.

 

1 January (Part 1) - A look back to late 2009

On the first day of the year there is far too much extra code to add to Bonkers and check to make sure everything works after midnight and as it interacts with real time on the server it’s not possible to test it a day early.

So while I am fiddling about with that and you are shaking off a hangover I leave you with something I found in my box of bits. Bexley Council telling us how good Serco would be at keeping our streets tidy.

No, you are right. It is not all that funny.
Serco

 

News and Comment January 2022

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