Sunday, July 03, 2011

The end of the Cross Keys?

A company called Network Auctions is putting the Cross Keys pub under the hammer on an Internet auction on Wednesday 6th July. The building has a reserve of £300,000 and the auctioneer comments that it has "development potential". This is worrying - if some developer wants to turn it into yet more unwanted flats, I hope he gets his comeuppance. The Cross Keys is in an urban preservation area and I believe that it is also individually listed. Not that this stopped the owners of Potion Bar - only two doors away -  from butchering the exterior in their frenzy to convert the traditional Victorian salt glazed tile and acid etched glass exterior into a chav infested drug den which to this day teeters on being forcibly closed by the Police. You can view the Network Auctions website by clicking here. Personally I think it highly unlikely the building will reach anywhere close to the £300K reserve - we are talking about Erith, not somewhere in Docklands after all. The place needs internal gutting, whatever future use it is headed for. The additional problem is that the building has gained national notoriety since the series of incidents when a bunch of over 100 ne'er do wells rode horses in and out of the pub - something which the tabloid newspapers reported with glee. You can see security video footage of one such incident embedded below. Try Googling "Cross Keys Erith" and you will find stuff everywhere. I think the combination of poor local image, high restoration costs and dubious location, along with the established reputation for lawlessness will blight the sale. I sincerely hope that I am found wrong, but somehow I doubt it. I hold a vain hope that a decent brewer and pub company such as Shepherd Neame or Fuller, Smith & Turner will buy it and turn it into a dream pub with quality real ale and great home cooked food; unfortunately I think I have a better chance of seeing Osama Bin Laden and Freddy Mercury duetting on the X Factor...

Bexley Council are shortly to move out of the Council Offices building they have inhabited for around the last 35 years; what is ironic is that they were always intended to be a temporary solution - that has ended up lasting far longer than anyone ever intended. Many years ago, my Dad worked there, in the legal department. I recall as a child being shown around the offices, and seeing some rather interesting and curious machines in the typing pool (remember those?) What Bexley Council had purchased was the Genesis of the modern computer. The Xerox Alto - a computer workstation that was years ahead of anything else on the market. Many people incorrectly believe that the Apple Macintosh was the first computer to have a graphical user interface (GUI). This is not the case. The first computer from Apple to have a GUI was the relatively slow, expensive and commercially unsuccessful Lisa, which was released in the spring of 1983. Xerox released the Alto computer system in early 1973, a full ten years before Apple - indeed Apple engineers, including Steve Jobs visited the ground breaking Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) in 1979 and licenced much of the technology that went into the Apple Lisa, and later the Macintosh. Why are we not all using Xerox computers now? Well, despite being the first "what you see is what you get" video display, the first commercially deployed mouse, an intuitive graphical user interface, built in networking using Ethernet (a first) and having Email, and support for high resolution laser printers, people did not "get" it - the Alto, and later the Star computers were so vastly ahead of their time that almost nobody outside of Xerox, and a few American universities could see where the machines were leading. It took Apple to make the GUI popular, and then Microsoft to launch a thinly disguised and very buggy alternative in the form of Windows. Xerox gave up on computers and went back to making photocopiers - a great loss, and the world could have been very different had they stuck to their guns. Instead, they plucked defeat from the jaws of victory - they could have been bigger than IBM and Microsoft combined, had they continued with the Alto / Star range. They saw the future, but just lacked the courage of their convictions, and thus Apple took the leap instead.

Where is this all leading? I hear you ask. Well, the Xerox Altos in Bexley Council typing pool were never fully exploited - they were not networked together (something way ahead of anything else outside of academia, and one of their strongest selling points). They were just used as glorified typewriters for a few years, before being unceremoniously packed off. Knowing Bexley Council, they will have not thrown the Altos away - I reckon that there is a fair chance they are sitting in a basement, gathering dust. My guess is that they may well be down in the nuclear fallout shelter beneath the main office building. Not many people know about the fallout shelter - I have actually been in it, years ago when Dad worked in the building. Even then it was used as a very expensive store room, and I seriously doubt it would have offered much in the may of protection in the event of the balloon going up. If my hunch is right, and the machines are still there, they would make a very important addition to the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. The Alto is a rare and valuable beast nowadays. I am going to be contacting whoever runs the IT department in the Council and see if I can find out anything. If Bexley have one or more Altos, it would be a fine gesture if they were to donate them to TNMOC. I will let you know what happens in due course. The Xerox Alto is the direct progenitor of the Apple Macintosh and the Windows PC. You can see a photo of a complete Alto system by clicking here. Incidentally, the very latest version of Apple's OS X operating system is to go on sale within the next few days.  OS X 10.7 "Lion" is an incremental upgrade from the current 10.6.8 - the changes mainly relate to making the Mac desktop look and feel much more like the iPad and iPhone in terms of interaction. Personally I don't have either an iPad - or definitely not an iPhone (but that as they say is another story) so I am unsure how much impact it will have for me. Lion will be the first version of OS X not to be released on DVD - it will be available exclusively from the Apple App Store for download for £29.99. Not much help if you are without a fast connection to the Internet. A lot less than Microsoft charge for Windows 7, but not a touch on Ubuntu or all the other flavours of Linux, which are of course completely free. 

I used to be a keen reader and supporter of the News Shopper Pub Spy. The mysterious individual acted as a "mystery shopper"anonymously visiting pubs in the South East London and North Kent area - a review was then posted online, and printed weekly in the paper. The reviews were witty, incisive and thought provoking. I was secretly flattered on the occasion I was incorrectly identified as the Pub Spy when visiting the Victoria pub in Upper Belvedere (photo below) a couple of years ago. It was nice to be associated with a column I found a "must read' in the local paper, however erroneous my association with it actually was. If the same thing was to happen again today, I would be more than a little miffed; Pub Spy had mutated from a nice, diverting piece of light consumer journalism into a nasty, spiteful, opinionated and rather badly written ego piece that I am surprised the News Shopper editorial team allow to continue. The current author finds it near impossible to pen a paragraph without taking an unqualified dig at a social group or other incidental matter that crosses his mind as he casually knocks together his seedy copy. It is such a disappointment - a weekly column that used to be a "must read" for me and many others has degenerated into a vindictive and spiteful diatribe from someone who appears totally unqualified to pass judgement on his selected subject. In many reviews he does not even drink real ale, but wine or goodness forbid, mass produced lager - the cold, gassy and flavourless monstrosity that it is. "Whatever works for you" - is my cornerstone personal libertarian philosophy - do as you please as long as it does not adversely affect others. The trouble with the new Pub Spy is that he or she seems to delight in going out of the way to cause irritation and offence to as many News Shopper readers as possible. I wonder how long the editor will allow it to continue?

The environmental charity Thames 21 are holding another clean up the Thames event at Erith River Front; details below:-

Erith Riverside Clean - Up

Join Thames 21 and community partners and help clean up Erith Riverside. We will be tackling debris embedded in the tidal mudflats with grapples, while volunteers can help clean the walkway and shoreline. Parental supervision is required for under 16s. All equipment is provided.

TIME: 1.15pm - 4.00pm on Saturday 9th July.

LOCATION: Riverside Gardens, Erith, meeting on the ramp near the Old Police station.

The Pound shop that has now occupied the old Wise Furnishings shop in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre looks like it will be opening in the next day or so, possibly even tomorrow morning. I have no idea what kind of stuff they will be selling, other than nothing is supposed to cost more than £1, obviously. There are posters in the windows offering free giveaways during their opening period, and some special offers too. I hope they don't get too ambitious, as there is not much money to be made on goods costing a pound, whatever the profit margins are. 

I don't know if you were looking upwards yesterday afternoon, but if you were able to see the skies above London Docklands, at about 4.30pm you would have seen a Supermarine Spitfire Mk5 doing aerobatics for around ten minutes. I was at my Dad's nursing home, which is directly across the river from London City Airport. The door to the garden in his room was open, and I heard the distinctive whining growl of the supercharged Rolls - Royce Merlin V-12 aero engine. Once you have heard a Merlin, nothing else comes close. I went out into the garden to see the Spitfire perform a split S manoeuvre, before barrel rolling over the river. Awesome. I don't know what the display was in aid of, but it was great to see a piece of British history back in action.

Planning permission is being sought for a business that wishes to occupy one of the vacant shop units under the residential block opposite Erith Health Centre. Planning notices have been posted locally, announcing that permission is being sought to open a family centre and cafe. I am not sure exactly what a family centre is - it  could be anything from a kids' play area with a ball pit, to a video games arcade. The units in that block have been unlet for a couple of years - in fact since the place was built. I reckon the landlords will be glad of getting any tenant on site to start paying bills. So may shop units in the town centre are still empty, years after the revamped centre opened for business. I hope that the new venture is a success. 

The main video clip this week is from a new Science Fiction series from Steven Spielberg. it is debuting on Sky One soon. Terra Nova is set about 150 years from the present; the human race is dying out, a victim of global warming, over population and pollution. A project is set up to allow volunteers to travel 80 million years back in time to prehistory to start over with a new and clean planet. It looks a bit like a mash up of Stargate SG-1, Jurassic Park and Primeval, with a dash of the Colonial Marines from Aliens thrown into the mix, sweetened with a huge budget. The pilot cost $16 million, and the following 13 episodes are costing in excess of $4 million each. I have absolutely no idea what the show will turn out to be like, but the production values and CGI look good (but then they should - it is from Spielberg, after all...) As always, take a look and feel free to leave a comment below. It will be moderated and published within 24 hours.


  1. Wonderful to read about the 'Bexley Altos' - I read an excellent book about eight years back called 'Fumbling the Future' - about the activities and developments at Xerox PARC, fascinating stuff.

    A great weekly bulletin, as ever



    PS. totally agree re: the decay of the 'Pubspy'

  2. Hello, Hugh.

    Re the Spitfire. There was an airshow at City Airport which takes place on the first Saturday in July each year. As usual I forgot or was doing something else.

    North Kent Radio Society held an impromptu field day at the top of Shooters Hill and we became aware of the show but couldn't see the planes as we were on the Kent side of the summit. Very frustrating as most of us are interested in aviation as well as radio.

    Can you program a reminder for next year into your blog? It doesn't seem to get advertised generally.


    Frank, G3WMR