Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Hub in a Pub.

I took the photos above on Thursday, when I was a guest at the inaugural local small business advice and support event held in the newly opened Cross Keys Centre in Erith High Street. You may recall that back in the summer of 2010 the old Cross Keys Pub was invaded several times by a large group of travellers who rode ponies into the pub building on multiple occasions. The story made the national press, and for a while Erith got a reputation akin to the Wild West with outsiders thinking that this kind of behaviour was normal. Sense prevailed, and the Cross Keys lost its drinks licence, and it was compulsorily shut down. It stayed empty and abandoned for ages, but as I have recounted previously, international management consultancy the Aleff Group purchased the building and have been employing local contractors to extensively refurbish the locally listed building for multiple alternative uses. The building offers reasonably priced air conditioned meeting rooms and hot desking space for small local businesses, complete with WiFi and printing facilities. On top of this the presentation suite that you can see in the photos above will be open for community events - more details in the near future. It is hoped that local organisations such as the rotary club and Bexley College will also use the resources of the Cross Keys Centre. Local graphic design company IV.Q Branding and Design have relocated their offices from Redhill in Surrey to the Cross Keys Centre; in the top photo you can see IV.Q CEO Mark Smallcorn giving a very well received talk on what mistakes small business make in their graphic design policy and public image. In the second photo you can see Dr. Julian Hilton of the Aleff Group outlining their strategy to promote and support local small businesses. In the third photo you can see Dr. Malika Moussaid talking about their strategy to ensure the building gets wide community use. Over the next couple of months I will be covering this innovative and important new business and social resource in the centre of Erith in greater detail.

In the photo above, taken by Studio Coordinator Liam Hinds of IV.Q, you can see the group of local entrepreneurs, business leaders and executives who attended this first Cross Keys session; further events will be held throughout the year, and I will be featuring these in due course. If you look carefully, you may also spot yours truly in the shot. You can also see the custom made railings that have recently been fitted to the first floor balcony, including the iconic crossed keys logo. Eagle - eyed locals may recall that the last railings were made of wood, and ran horizontally. This is the only visual change to be made to the front of the building during the fastidious and very expensive restoration - and it was done due to changes in the health and safety laws; railings with horizontal elements are no longer allowed on balconies - as small children are able to climb up and over them - all railings must instead have vertical bars, which are far harder to climb over.

The campaign to save the Belvedere Splash Park has taken a new turn after a period of apparent inactivity; an online petition hosted by Change.Org has been started by the team behind the overall campaign. In three days they have already got over 2,000 signatures - whilst the Facebook site they set up a few months ago now has a total of just over five thousand members. There is going to be a protest at the Bexley Council meeting on Wednesday the 22nd April at 7.45pm. All concerned residents are encouraged to go along to the meeting to show their support for the retention of this important local facility. Some time ago Councillor Sawyer told the Save the Splash Park campaign that he did not recognise or accept petitions; it is now being reported that this is contrary to Bexley Council official policy which is to accept petitions. There seems to have been a misunderstanding on Councillor Sawyers behalf; either that or he has not been telling the truth - with the reputation for chicanery Bexley Council is already renown for, I know what version I believe to be more likely.

One story that started out as little more than a footnote on a couple of local news websites seems to have got a life and momentum of its own over the course of this week; Councillor Gareth Bacon has announced that he is renouncing his roles as deputy leader of Bexley Council, and cabinet member for finance and corporate services to concentrate on his position as chairman of the London Fire Authority. He will step down at the council’s annual meeting on May 20th, although he will remain a backbench councillor. The relevance of this will not be lost to anyone who is a regular reader of Malcolm Knight's excellent "Bexley is Bonkers" blog

Within an hour of publishing the Maggot Sandwich update last week, one of my very well – placed and reliable local informants sent me a copy of an Email that they had received concerning the possible future of the White Hart / Potion bar. As you may recall I expressed my concern that the place has been standing empty and unused for so long, and that it seemed like nobody wanted to take the place on, due mainly to the high cost of refurbishing the interior of the pub, installing a new kitchen and fume extraction system, and most importantly of all, the replacement of the hideous plate glass frontage which was illegally installed by the operators of Potion, despite explicit instructions to the contrary by Bexley Council planning department. Plans have been in place since the middle of 2011 to replace the current anachronistic pub frontage with a close replica of the original acid etched glass and salt glazed green tiles that the original Victorian design had. You can see the plan above – click on the picture to see a larger version. I can clearly recall the horror I felt when back in 2009 I was standing outside of the corner by Matalan, looking across the road to the White Hart as the criminals from Potion talked to the borough planning officer about the work that they were undertaking. I clearly heard the council official tell the crooks that they were to leave the existing White Hart pub sign in place, as it had historical and aesthetic significance. Literally moments after the planning officer drove off, one of the Potion workers got out a large angle grinder and cut down the protected sign and threw it into a nearby skip. From this point I knew Erith was in for trouble; sadly I was not wrong. After several years of drug dealing, fights, public drunkenness – and even a visit by Peter Andre, the venue closed after a series of enforcement notices by both Bexley Council and the Metropolitan Police. It was also convenient for the operators of Potion to declare themselves bankrupt, as it absolved them from having to restore the historic building frontage, as per two court orders that they successfully ignored. News now reaches me that something may finally be happening to the historic building – although the details are currently sketchy. My informant questioned the Development Control team at Bexley Council, and got this response “Discussions have taken place with the current owners regarding the outstanding enforcement notice requiring the reinstatement of a more historic frontage. I understand they are currently obtaining quotations for some of the replacement materials and mouldings that would be installed in the event that the application  for the pub front is successful. Whilst they are aware of the importance of this element they are  also reviewing the possibility of an application that includes a residential element on the site. I understand that the Local Authority may receive two applications by the end of the month the first being for the replacement of the historic pub frontage and the second possibly for a residential element on the site. The two applications would be mutually exclusive and looked at on their individual merits”. This strikes me as being both encouraging and worrying; OK, the restoration of the historic pub frontage is most definitely to be applauded, but I do get the impression that if a developer was to come along with an offer to convert the entire pub into flats, they would get a sympathetic hearing from the Council – after all, they are never ones to turn down an opportunity to rake in extra cash from council tax to feed their huge wage bill. Nevertheless, I feel that the White Hart (no longer the appalling Potion to my mind) needs to retain a public use in at very least part of the building. A restaurant would be nice – but I doubt the cost of conversion and upgrading the ground floor would make a restaurant financially viable. I would understand the upper floors being sympathetically converted for residential use, but the essence of the historic building needs to be retained. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at .

Every so often someone comes up with an invention or idea so simple, yet so elegant that I think “why didn't I think of that?” Recently the Bexley Times announced a scheme that is formally backed by Bexley Trading Standards Department. It is run by a commercial company called trueCall who market a range of smart devices designed to filter phone calls to remove nuisance messages from persistent PPI companies, debt consolidation organisations and energy suppliers. This information is then transferred back to other trueCall units that are part of the community, which are automatically updated to block those numbers using software containing a dynamic database called Community Blocking. Users can choose how they want to handle calls from Community Block list numbers.  For example, they can be intercepted, sent directly to the built-in answer machine or played a block message, such as: “We're not interested in your call – please hang up and don’t call us again”.  trueCall can even play the unobtainable tone so the call centre thinks that you have moved – this encourages them to delete your number from future campaigns. The Community Blocking software becomes smarter as more information is fed into it, and is a valuable line of defence against call centres that change the numbers from which they call. trueCall’s algorithms are designed to place more emphasis on recent blocked numbers, allowing it to quickly identify the latest numbers which are being used. true call  have been selling services along these lines for several years, and reports are that they are pretty successful. They have now introduced a new service which is stunningly simple, but very clever. People often find that when they try to complete online forms, such as for booking tickets, donating to charity, making a sales enquiry or obtaining an insurance quote, they are asked for their phone number. In reality there is no reason to provide a phone number. If the company needs to contact you they can email. Unfortunately, these online forms often cannot be completed unless a phone number is provided, even if you would prefer not to give it out. Personally my home phone number is known by perhaps a dozen people at most.  The beauty of the new service by trueCall is that they supply a phone number that you can input into any online forms in place of your own number. If you use 0333 88 88 88 88 instead of your own phone number,  when a call centre or other nuisance phones, they will then hear the announcement: “TrueCall38 is handling my calls. I prefer not to be contacted by phone, so please contact me via email address. Goodbye!” Very simple, but very effective. Do you have problems with nuisance calls? What do you do about it? I know someone who keeps a football whistle beside the phone – I am unsure how effective blowing it down the phone at the unwanted caller actually is, but I am sure it is very satisfying.

It is often difficult to recognise that we have a national arena almost on our doorstep; the O2 Arena in North Greenwich is pretty close by, and hosts all sorts of events, including a lot of concerts. For some reason it does feel a lot more remote than it actually is – mainly I feel due to the relatively poor public transport links from North Kent and South East London to the Arena. The only quick and relatively reliable method to get to the O2 Arena from Erith is to get the train from Erith station to Charlton, and then pick up the dedicated bus service from just outside the station. The bus journey takes about fifteen minutes – not too bad at all. Nevertheless many locals think that the O2 Arena is on the North side of the River Thames, as the cross river communication courtesy of the Jubilee Line tube is so excellent. Nevertheless, visitors from the area do visit the O2 Arena on occasions, and this week, guest contributor Dana Whiffen describes the 50th anniversary concert for The Who at the venue recently. "The Who 50th Anniversary Concert at the O2 - 22/23rd March 2015 Review by Dana Wiffen. As the crowds made their way into the O2, looking around it was clear that there were many oldies like myself in the early sixties. I find it harder to motivate myself to go to large venues around London although once there I always enjoy myself. The audience cross section was of thirties couples and some grandparents with their grandchildren, as well as sixty and seventy plus followers. It was also quite clear that there were a large number drinking a lot It was also quite clear that there were a large number drinking a lot of alcohol, not only the younger ones either. Three guys next to where I was sitting arrived 'blotto' and one of them then fell asleep during Pinball Wizard which is one of their loudest songs. Call me Victor Meldrew if you like but I sometimes wonder what this country is coming to! Unlike the old-days and now in their seventies The Who were on stage prompt at 8pm, to a packed audience at this O2 concert, which was rescheduled from December 2014. Titled “Greatest Hits Tour” the band smashed straight into their hits, including all the well-known songs including Substitute, My Generation, I can see for Miles, Pinball Wizard and; Won’t Get Fooled Again, the last two songs probably receiving the loudest cheers. They added some songs that they had either not played for some time or in the case of 'Slip Kid' not at all, Slip Kid being on their album 'The Who by Numbers'. Other tracks that were seldom included in previous tours were my favourites The Seeker and Join Together and Pictures of Lilly. They also played for the first time for many years Pete Townshend’s early stab at a 'rock opera' originally written as a birthday present for their then manager Kit Lambert, called 'A quick one while he’s away' from their album 'A Quick One' and this also included a rarely heard song called 'Ivor the Engine Driver' followed later by 'So Sad' There were three songs from 'Tommy' and two from 'Quadrophenia', Two hours and ten minutes later they finished and it was time to leave. The O2 arena has numerous facilities outside and around it, including restaurants, bars, coffee shops, noodle bars and a bowling alley, not forgetting the smaller venue called the O2 Indigo. The Who are of course visibly looking older but aren't we all.?There is still the microphone twirling by Daltrey and the occasional windmill guitar playing from Townshend. They have a superb support band of six additional musicians including Pete’s younger brother Simon and Beatle Drummer - Ringo Starr’s son Zak on drums who was taught to play by Keith Moon. This was the first of two nights at the O2, before a midweek concert at The Royal Albert Hall as part of a week-long series of concerts for The Teenage Cancer Trust, before they are off to North America next month, which will be their last full tour. They are promising to still play one off dates and a new album.  They are also headlining a concert at Hyde Park on 26th June which includes Paul Weller, The Kaiser Chiefs and Johnny Marr amongst others". Thanks Dana - excellent stuff. 

I feel a rant coming on; I have not had one for quite a while – but there is a subject I feel is hiding in plain sight – so called “Clickbait” – websites that exist only to get as many visits as possible to increase the rates that they can charge for online advertising. You often find photos at the bottom of the page on some relatively otherwise reputable websites with titles such as “Hurry up before this video gets banned”, “Eat this and never diet again”, “Rich people try anything to ban this”, “Diet trick that melts fat like butter” and so on. You will have no doubt come across these many times before. You also get what appear to be ads personally directed at yourself. These have titles like “Moms in Dartford earn $30 an hour” – it does not take a genius to work out that an automated script on the web server looks at the I.P address of the incoming page request, does a basic lookup of the I.P address and where it is geographically located, then inserts the name of a nearby town to try and attract your attention. Obviously the word “Mom” instead of “Mum” and the dollar rate quoted give the game away. Clickbait is a pox on the web – if people did not click on the stories, the companies who run websites like and would go out of business. Not only do they fill your browser with annoying animated adverts, but some pages have code that hijacks your browser and takes you to other unwanted sites – also markets expensive, untested and quite possibly illegal diet pills and “miracle” slimming aids to gullible people with more money than sense. What amazes me is that these Click Baiters have used exactly the same techniques to elicit visits to their tawdry websites in exactly the same way for years; it seems like the techniques still work – as soon as they post an announcement along the lines of “you have to check this out before it is banned” (they love using the threat of something posted online being “banned”) – as to who or what could actually ban something is left unsaid for the reason that the whole thing is blatant tosh designed to farm clicks to create advertising revenue. In the graphic above you can see a typical “warning” message which was crafted to overcome the pop – up blocker in Google Chrome when a user clicked to shut the browser tab with the Clickbait page on it. This is just one of the less dodgy activities these scumbags get up to.  I visited a few Clickbait sites whilst researching this piece – so that you don’t have to do the same. Please leave them well alone. More on this subject next week - how Clickbait sites mislead and sometimes defraud the gullible.

A reminder that the 10th annual Bexley CAMRA Beer Festival will be taking place from the 23rd to the 25th April, at the Old Dartfordian's Sports Club in Bourne Road, Bexley Village. This festival will also celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of Bexley CAMRA. I will be going along on the evening of the 24th - generally the Friday session is regarded as the best time to attend. Do come and say "hello" if you see me - I shall be taking along my trusty camera to get some shots for the Maggot Sandwich. The two graphics above show the beer list for the festival - click on either for a larger view. I find one ale particularly intriguing - the arrestingly monickered "Nessun Korma" from the Loch Ness Brewery; it is described as "A curried stout - a Black and Tandoori if you will". It sounds vile, but I am certain that it will sell well - out of curiousity, if anything else. Interestingly the Indian Restaurants in the nearby Bexley Village always seem extra busy over the beer festival period.

Streaming ultra-high definition video could soon be significantly less of a burden on your home broadband network. As I have mentioned previously on the Maggot Sandwich, one of the biggest barriers to widespread adoption of the new 4K Ultra High Definition TV format has been the huge amount of data a 4K picture stream requires – something that most home broadband or fibre optic systems would seriously struggle to deal with - I have covered this issue in the past, and advised readers to steer clear of 4K televisions because of this limitation. Recently an announcement has been made which, if it lives up to the hype, could go a very long way to solving this problem. This will be due to a new method of compressing data that can reduce the size of 4K video files without a noticeable depreciation in footage quality. The technology, which has been developed by a company called V-Nova, uses around fifty per cent of the space currently needed by existing 4K formats. V-Nova has roused interest amongst the telecoms and broadcasting industry, with twenty large companies now backing the technology, including Sky, Intel, and the European Broadcasting union. The actual compression method is called ‘Perseus’, and could potentially see the average UK home broadband connection become capable of handling three simultaneous 4K streams. At present, the average UK home data network – that’s a speed of around 22Mbps - can only facilitate a single UHD stream, because the high-quality footage demands such vast amounts of bandwidth. Netflix currently recommends a steady 25Mbps (Megabits Per Second) broadband connection to utilise its 4K streaming service, while analysis shows that between 12-16Mbps is typically required. According to V-Nova, its Perseus technology can offer the same picture quality, albeit using network speeds of just 7-8Mbps. Media expert Ian Maude, from Enders Analysis, said: “This is cutting-edge technology that will be welcomed by pay TV companies, and TV manufacturers because it will help drive 4K sales; but there are still limiting factors to the take-up of 4K including whether networks are capable of meeting demand, having a device able to display an ultra-high definition picture, and the amount of content currently being shot in 4K. Ultra HD will still remain niche for some time but this technology will help.” V-Nova claims that the compression technology will also make it easy to stream Full HD 1080p footage to mobile devices, by bringing bandwidth usage down to a similar level needed to play music. UK content distributors and broadcasters, meanwhile, will begin utilising the technology ‘before the end of this year’. My guess is that Sky will launch a dedicated 4K service that will require a new set – top box incorporating the Perseus codec in some kind of dedicated processor. Knowing Sky’s normal business strategy, I think that they will sell the boxes pretty much at cost – not more than £200, but recoup their huge investment in 4K subscription fees. What is not known is how many of the Sky satellite fleet have transponders capable of handling 4K data streams, even if they do feature this revolutionary new method of data compression?

The ending video is a piece of film showing the exhibitors at the 2015 Erith Model Railway Exhibition. Erith Model Railway Society meet Founded in June 1962, the Erith Model Railway Society (or EMRS for short) has been in existence for more than fifty years. It is very friendly and informal in nature, and comprises people engaged in modelling railways in most scales including N, HO, OO and O. As well as modelling railways, the society holds an annual modelling contest and many social events. Members' families are more than welcome to attend any EMRS-organised events such as dinners, Christmas and summer celebrations, held at a local family restaurant, pub or club, visits to prototype railways and rail-tours. The society meets every Wednesday evening from 7:00pm up to 10:00pm at their dedicated clubroom in Belvedere Working Men's Club, Invicta House, 66 Gilbert Road, Belvedere, Kent, DA17 5DA. They are in the enviable position of not having to share their facilities with anybody else, so the rooms are potentially available every day of the week. Some of the members also meet on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7:00pm up to 10:00pm to work on the various club layouts that they are currently building.

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