Sunday, May 05, 2013

Cross Keys continues.

I took the photo above on Thursday afternoon; I had been round to the old Erith Tramshed site, which is soon to be the new home for Bexley College. The land has now been cleared and levelled by the builders, and it is not long until the foundation laying begins. My hope had been to catch the workers before they finished for the afternoon, but by the time I arrived at the gates of the construction site, all of the vehicles were shut down and locked up, and the place was still and silent. Undeterred, I took some photos anyway – I am keen to keep a historical record of the construction of a building that will become an important focal point in the town - you can see one of the photos further down this update. All too often these things are taken for granted, and only many years later do people wonder about the background to a particular local landmark. After snapping away for a few minutes, I thought it might also be a good idea to document the progress of the ongoing refurbishment of the Cross Keys. The building has recently been cocooned in scaffolding, and I was keen to find out how things were progressing internally. I walked up to the post office opposite the former pub – the weather was bright and warm, and absolutely spot on for a bit of impromptu photography. Unlike at the Bexley College site, the builders were still hard at work at the Cross Keys. They were refurbishing the windows on the upper floor. The building is both listed, and located in the Erith conservation area, so the restoration work is being undertaken with particular care – something that was lost on the owners of the neighbouring Potion bar, when they illegally ripped the Victorian frontage out of the listed building formerly known as the White Hart. The work on the Cross Keys is being carried out in what initially appears to be a counter – intuitive fashion.  The uppermost floor, which originally contained bedrooms has been converted into a light and airy office space, helped by the large and ornate bay windows which I saw the builders restoring. The middle floor is will be worked on next; currently it contains the lounge, kitchen and general living area for the building. This will also be sympathetically converted into office space. The final stage of work will be to convert the ground floor, open plan bar into meeting rooms and a training centre for candidates on courses run by the Aleff Group. The thinking behind this is pretty clever. The Aleff group are currently based in offices in Canary Wharf; they want to be in a position where they can start migrating staff over to the Cross Keys building as soon as possible; the best way of doing this is to have the office space up and ready for occupation as a priority over everything else. Hence the “top down” restoration work. By the looks of it, the first group of staff should be able to move in within a few weeks, all things being equal. I have been in contact with the MD of the Aleff Group, and I hope to have a guided tour around their building as soon as the restoration and conversion work is completed. No doubt photos will be involved – keep watching this space.

I have mentioned the greater use of Erith Pier over the last year or so several times in recent Maggot Sandwich postings; I found out this week that a group of around forty local anglers have approached the property division of Morrison’s supermarket (who own and have responsibility for the pier) with a view to forming a not for profit collective to maintain and promote usage of the pier. I understand that thus far, no response from Morrison’s has been received. Somehow I really doubt that Morrison’s will cede control of the pier to a group of volunteers. Keeping the pier in good order would be an expensive and onerous for a volunteer group, however well organised and good intentioned that group was. I also understand that part of the condition of Bexley Council permitting Morrison’s to build the Erith store on the site of the former Deep Water Wharf was that they restore and maintain Erith Pier as a facility open to the general public.

As I mentioned last week, if you wish to contact me directly about something that you are concerned about, you have a number of available options. You can leave a comment below, as has always been the traditional feedback method. You can Email me at, or you can contact me via live video conference using Apple's FaceTime technology by calling me at - so for those of you who have an iPhone, iPad or iMac, there is a new way of getting hold of me.

There has been some activity on the roof of Erith Snooker centre this week; Vodafone engineers have been up there, surveying the cell transmitter and the antennas for future replacement. I understand that the work will be to increase the number of radio channels available for use in the local area; apparently at peak times (mainly during the morning and evening rush hour periods) the cell sometimes runs out of free channels, and some users end up getting a “service unavailable” message. The upgrade should address this issue. A similar exercise is being undertaken on the roof of the current (soon to be old) Bexley College building for a similar reason. The area between the former Nordenfeldt pub and the notorious fish roundabout has long been a mobile phone signal black spot for Vodafone users.

I have noticed that on the open spaces and parkland in Western Thamesmead, large poster sized notices have begun appearing, often affixed to trees. The notices would seem to be primarily aimed at travellers. The signs say “No grazing for ponies” with a photo of a traveller cob pony, just in case anyone was under any doubt as to what a pony looks like. I presume this is a legal position to make evicting any illegally grazing ponies easier for the land owners. Many parts of the country are suffering from pony squatting, as the cost of keeping the animals now far exceeds their monetary value (which is also another reason for the recent horse meat scandal – owners have been disposing of animals that they regard as money pits). As I have written on several occasions in the past, the pony squatting local to Erith is of a slightly more sophisticated level – there is a pen at the back of Morrison’s supermarket, adjacent to both the shops’ loading bay, and the Thames riverside pathway. The pen is formed from a piece of wasteland covering about half an acre, which has house traveller ponies for a couple of years now. There was some concern a month ago when the bitterly cold weather was at its’ worst. Several local people (myself included) complained to the RSPCA when it became apparent that the two animals living on the land at this point had not had any food or water in several days. The RSPCA took some action (I don’t know the specifics) but since then, the ponies were fitted with thick winter overcoats, and the amount of feed and water available to them has been more than adequate. Nevertheless, they really should not be living on the patch of land, as it is not licenced for agricultural use. Ironically, during better weather, the equine residents often get over fed. Many parents and child carers take their toddler charges to visit the animals, and they invariably take along a few carrots or an apple or two. Bearing in mind the number of visitors once the weather is pleasant, the ponies often end up looking decidedly fat!
The News Shopper are reporting that the Metropolitan Police are starting an initiative to reduce the number of Police stations in and around London and to move contact points into the community, with drop – in centres to make it easier for residents to report crimes such as burglary and anti social behaviour. A report on the changing nature of the public’s relationship with the Police has been written by a chap called Professor Martin Innes; his research indicates that only twenty percent of lost property alerts are reported to Police stations in person, and fewer than one in eight crimes were reported to the Police by visiting a station. The rest are reported mainly by telephone. His report recommends that Police stations are replaced with more local Police offices which will be closer to where people live and work. I have a couple of issues relating to this policy locally; whilst Professor Innes’ report covers the whole of the Greater London area (and would appear to have some very salient points), when applied locally, it starts to fall down. I think the reason so few people in the London Borough of Bexley report crimes to the Police in person is at least partly because there is only one Police station in the whole borough nowadays. If you cannot get to Bexleyheath, you don’t get the chance to report anything in person, so you are forced into either going online or picking up the phone.  Another point made by Professor Innes is that smaller, hyper local Police offices should be opened in shopping streets to enable the public to interact with law enforcement more readily. Erith has had a local Police office for a good couple of years now, but it is not open to the general public. If this policy of opening local offices to the public was to be rolled out (as personally I think it should be) the Erith office would need a fair bit of internal modification to allow it to become “public friendly”. All do – able stuff, but it would cost money, when the Police are under immense pressure to save cash. I found out from a very reliable source within the management of the Metropolitan Police that they are cutting 75% of all back office administration posts, either by making staff redundant, or by outsourcing the work to cheaper third party organisation. Apparently this has already had ramifications, with court documents being incorrectly filled in, or lost completely. My contact told me “what’s the point in keeping the frontline Police numbers constant, if the people they arrest don’t get to court because the paperwork has gone missing?” A valid point. The cuts end up sounding like a senior management box ticking exercise to appease the Home Office, rather than a reasoned and workable money saving venture.  On a lighter note, the report by Professor Innes also recommends that Police boxes return to the streets of London. The could be used as local stop off points for first aid, and to provide real time video links for the public to report crimes, to provide a place for witnesses to provide witness statements, and provide information to the public during incidents. This last point is interesting – as was a project by the Met back in the late 1990’s to do exactly the same thing. A pilot project was run, and a concrete Police box was built in Earl’s Court, just outside the underground station. It was designed to be a place where coppers on foot could have a sit down to review their notes, and to make a quick cup of tea. Interestingly, when the Metropolitan Police decided to pilot the return of the venerable Police box, they discovered that they no longer had the technical drawings for the structure. Some enterprising person contacted the BBC, and a couple of surveyors were sent along to the Wood Lane Studios to measure up the prop TARDIS from Doctor Who.  These measurements were then used to create the Police box that you can see in Earl’s Court to this day – which is a major place of pilgrimage for Whovians. Before you ask, yes, I have been there. Some years later, BBC Enterprises (the commercial arm of the public service broadcaster) launched a new range of Doctor Who merchandise, heavily featuring the TARDIS. The Metropolitan Police took umbrage at this, and launched a legal case for infringement of copyright. The whole thing spiralled out of control, and the case eventually ended up in court. Things took a sudden turn for the surreal; the case was thrown out by the Judge, who said that as the Police box had been constructed by plans taken from the BBC TARDIS prop, the Police Box was actually a replica TARDIS and not the other way around! Cool or what?
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the first popular web browser, called Mosaic. Mosaic was pretty basic by modern standards, and it was not actually the first web browser. It was however the first one to get any level of popular use outside of academia. Nowadays, the Firefox web browser can be regarded as the great grandchild of Mosaic, as it shares much of the original DNA, and developers.  Previous web browsers had only been able to display text; any embedded pictures were usually downloaded separately, if at all (which was no bad thing in the days of the 14.4K dial up modem – the web was an almost exclusively text based place in the early 90’s! Mosaic brought together a number of then emerging technologies to make what would be familiar to most people as a web browser. Even back then, Mosaic was regarded as being something ground breaking when it was released for the Unix operating system by its’ authors Marc Andreesson and Eric Bina of the NCSA (National Centre for Supercomputing Applications) back in May 1993. Technical journalist Gary Wolfe wrote the following piece about Mosaic in the October 1994 edition of Wired magazine:- “When it comes to smashing a paradigm, pleasure is not the most important thing. It is the only thing. If this sounds wrong, consider Mosaic. Mosaic is the celebrated graphical "browser" that allows users to travel through the world of electronic information using a point-and-click interface. Mosaic's charming appearance encourages users to load their own documents onto the Net, including color photos, sound bites, video clips, and hypertext "links" to other documents. By following the links - click, and the linked document appears - you can travel through the online world along paths of whim and intuition. Mosaic is not the most direct way to find online information. Nor is it the most powerful. It is merely the most pleasurable way, and in the 18 months since it was released, Mosaic has incited a rush of excitement and commercial energy unprecedented in the history of the Net”. Wolfe wrote with rare prescience – he hit the nail squarely on the head, a good couple of years before most people were more than dimly aware of what the web was at all.  Writer Matthew K Gray wrote “Marc Andreessen's realization of Mosaic, based on the work of Tim Berners – Lee and the hypertext theorists before him, is generally recognized as the beginning of the web as it is now known. Mosaic, the first web browser to win over the Net masses, was released in 1993 and made freely accessible to the public. The adjective phenomenal, so often overused in this industry, is genuinely applicable to the... 'explosion' in the growth of the web after Mosaic appeared on the scene. Starting with next to nothing, the rates of the web growth (quoted in the press) hovering around tens of thousands of percent over ridiculously short periods of time were no real surprise”.  Mosaic later spawned the first massively popular  browser,  – Netscape Navigator, which was sold commercially, making Netscape briefly the most profitable tech company listed on the U.S stock market, and at one time had a market capitalisation worth $2.9 billion. Eventually Microsoft twigged that the web was the way forward, after an astonishingly long period of inactivity; it went on to licence some of the technology used in a particular version of Mosaic in order to create Internet Explorer, which, along with some more than slightly questionable business practices that I will not outline here (but do feel free to carry out your own research on the subject) effectively killed Netscape by forcing them out of the burgeoning browser market. If you look at the credits screen on any version of Internet Explorer up until version 7, you will see a credit “based on NSCA Mosaic”. As you can see, Mosaic changed the face of computing, and whilst it seems like the dim and distant past, it was actually only twenty years ago this month. Tellingly a version of Mosaic was developed for the Commodore Amiga almost a year before a Windows version was released. How times change. Incidentally, if you hanker after the old Netscape Navigator application suite, which included the Netscape web browser, the mail and newsgroups reader, and the web page creator, all is not lost. As well as developing and maintaining the mainstream Firefox browser, the Mozilla team have a spin - off group that works on SeaMonkey - a direct descendant on the Netscape Suite - which nowadays is both free and open source. You can get the SeaMonkey suite for Windows, OS X, and Linux by clicking here.
The photo above (click for a larger version) shows the work progressing on clearing and levelling the site for the forthcoming Bexley College, as I described earlier. Unfortunately the workers had all packed up for the day by the time I arrived at the site with my camera. Erith currently feels like a bit of a building site, with the college work, the Cross Keys restoration and the huge Larner Road Estate all well under way. It may mean a period of local noise and extra dust, but the end result should be a far nicer place to live and work. 

Following neatly on from this story, the press have recently twigged onto a behaviour which would not have been possible without the arrival of the world wide web; it is called “Show rooming”.  Basically, someone out shopping does into a number of stores when looking for a particular item. When they find it, and after examination it turns out to be just what they are looking for, they then fire up their smart phone, tablet or laptop and look online at stores like Amazon to see how more cheaply they can get the same thing online.  They just use the bricks and mortar shop as a show room where they can see and touch the item to make sure it is what they want before ordering online. Some shops – I am thinking of the high street electronics retailers, seem to be especially vulnerable to this kind of behaviour – and it is not going to go away any time soon. Some more imaginative retailers are offering the option of ordering online and picking up in store – Argos have been in the vanguard in this respect.

One of my local contacts dropped me a line, just as the Maggot Sandwich was getting ready to go to press. He tells me that local football club Erith and Belvedere FC have just won the Kent League - their first trophy win since 1982. Congratulations to them and all those involved. He tells me:- "We now go for the double, playing the Kent League Cup Final on Saturday 11 May at Park View Road, Welling, with a NOON kick-off". So, if you follow local football, please get along to the Welling United ground on the 11th to see the game.

The ending video is seriously cool. It features a chap who has managed to get his hands on the world's first privately owned MIG 29 fighter aircraft. Watch and be extremely envious.

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