Very thrilled by Emma’s review:
I’ve known Jane Wenham-Jones for years. A real life-enhancer, usually sporting rainbow-coloured hair, Jane writes novels, short stories and columns, interviews authors at literary events and often pops up on TV and radio too. It’s been a while since she wrote a novel though so I was eagerly anticipating her new book, Mum in the Middle.
I’m pleased to report that it’s a cracker of a book, mainly because Jane has chosen a subject that’s all too pertinent to our lives.
Tess, the star of the book, is the archetypal sandwich mum. In other words, she’s desperately worried about her mother, who’s showing the first signs of dementia and has a tendency to wander off unexpectedly, often in her nightie, and about her three children, who are supposed to be grown-ups but keep boomeranging back to the family home. At the same time, divorcee Tess is desperately trying to make a new life in a new town, find friends and keep her freelance designer job on track.
Jane writes about all these things with wisdom, humour and real insight. Tess herself feels very real, the sort of person you’d like to have as a friend – which, come to think of it, is pretty much like Jane herself.
My favourite character of all is Malcolm, the gruff local newspaper editor who befriends Tess. Grumpy and kind-hearted by turns, he’s been married twice, drinks too much and has a tendency to fly off the handle when young reporters get stories spectacularly wrong.
Mum in the Middle is an enjoyable read, poignant and funny by turns. If you’re caring for your elderly parents while supporting your teenage and 20-something children this is definitely the book for you.
Mum in the Middle by Jane Wenham-Jones (HarperImpulse, £7.99)
Yes! One Glass is Never Enough (published by Accent Press Ltd) is FREE for a limited time. Clicking on the cover will take you to the Amazon.co.uk store or HERE for the US equivalent so grab it now while it’s hot! 🙂
Now more about the book…
Three women, one bar and three different reasons for buying it. Single mother Sarah needs a home for her children, Claire’s an ambitious business woman. For wealthy Gaynor, Greens Wine Bar is just one more amusement. Or is it?
On the surface, Gaynor has it all – money, looks, a beautiful home in the picturesque seaside town of Broadstairs, and Victor – her generous, successful husband. But while Sarah longs for love and Claire is making money, Gaynor wants answers. Why is Victor behaving strangely and who does he see on his frequent trips away? What’s behind the threatening phone-calls? As the bar takes off, Gaynor’s life starts to fall apart.
Into her turmoil comes Sam – strong and silent with a hidden past. Theirs is an unlikely friendship but then nobody is quite what they seem in this tale of love, loss and betrayal set against the middle-class dream of owning a wine bar. As Gaynor’s confusion grows, events unfold that will change all of their lives forever.
“Funny, realistic and full of insight. I couldn’t put it down…” Katie Fforde.
The 500+ reviews on Amazon include…
- 5* BRILLIANT novel, I enjoyed every glass! I really loved this book. Of course, it DID make me want to have a glass of wine – or two – lol! Three women with different backgrounds go in together to purchase a wine bar/restaurant on the eastern coast of England. I could FEEL being in that place! There were several twists and turns, one of which I figured out very shortly into the novel, and others that were a surprise. Lovely, lovely book. I was so smitten with the characters – Sarah was a delight and reminded me very much of my own life. Having quite a bit of experience in the restaurant world, I really enjoyed the authenticity of the scenes and the anxieties, challenges and the rewards experienced by the three women owners.
- 5* Left me wanting more! I was lucky to get this as a freebie, and was hooked instantly. Like another reviewer, I really didn’t like Gaynor, and thought her business partners a bit wishy-washy, but as the story unfolded the depth of each of them came out and they became full bodied, a little fruity and likeable! I guessed the “secret” quite early on, (don’t know what that says about me!) and to me, this is recommended reading for any chick lit fan.
- 5* A delightful tale of winebar perils from an owners perspective Anyone wondered about running a winebar? Teaming up with your friends to run a place that is so much fun from the customers side of the bar? This is a humorous look at the perils of running a place of your own: The long hours, the aching hearts and faces from smiling at everyone, even those you’d rather see leave.
Well worth the effort of reading for the laughs and insights while having some interesting sub-plots.
You can also read Chris High’s review of this novel here.
Do you have a photograph of yourself or a friend reading one of Jane’s books? If so, it could appear on the relevant book page and in the Jane’s Readers photo gallery. 🙂 Feel free to email Morgen with your pictures (ideally jpgs) together with your / their website link if you / they have one.
I don’t mean the plot – though God knows I started writing it so long ago and it went through so many edits, that is hazy enough, but all the other stuff surrounding a new book hitting the (virtual) shelves. (The paperback for those who like a real book – yes me too – is out in September.)
What I’d forgotten is the obsessive checking of the amazon ratings and the looking through one’s fingers at the latest reviews (not to mention the video of one looking rather raddled and wittering on about the squeezed generation that one’s publisher put out on launch day – it was the morning after one of those nights before). The small jump of elation when some kind soul has doled out five stars, and the resigned sigh when it is slated for having a strand about dementia – apparently entirely inappropriately for a book billed as “hilarious”. (I don’t think anyone was referring to that particular storyline.)
I’d forgotten the thrill of someone taking the trouble to write to say they liked it. (And the quiet pleasure of making a small plasticine model of those who didn’t and popping it in my pin drawer 🙂 ho ho.) And the anticipation of planning the launch party for the paperback (watch this space). And the worry over which crash diet I am going to have to undertake in order to fit into something vaguely presentable for same (usually when I have a book out I put ON weight – it is the constant excuse to hit the fizz and open a celebratory bag of crisps – not a great look for someone who’s also written a weight loss book!).
I’d forgotten the quips. It used to be: have you sold as many as JK Rowling/50 Shades of Grey yet? Now it’s have you made a million and will it be made into a series on Netflix.
And the four a.m. horror of remembering who you forgot in the acknowledgements.
And which detail you included that makes it blindingly obvious to all the locals EXACTLY who you were basing THAT character on…
But mostly I’d forgotten how utterly delightful it is to have a book published and how one gets a little rush of joy every time one sees the cover.
You can hear me talking about it here, courtesy of the great Peter James…
or here thanks to my lovely publishers at Harper Collins…
If you have downloaded it – I know a few of the followers here have – then thank you SO much. If not – it’s only 99p – a bloody bargain if I might make so bold – and I would absolutely love to hear what you think. You can be honest! I wouldn’t want anything less jxxx
So exciting… Jane’s new novel is going to be published on 15th June.
‘Fresh, funny and wise’ – Katie Fforde
Tess has downsized to a lively new town and is ready for ‘me’ time. But her Zen-like calm is tested by her boomerang offspring, who keep fluttering back to the nest (usually with a full bag of dirty washing) and by her elderly mother’s struggle to hold on to her independence.
Tess is also surprised to discover that there are dark resentments simmering beneath the vintage charm of her new hometown and a spate of vandalism has exposed the rift between the townsfolk and new arrivals like Tess.
Tess enlists the help of gruff newspaper editor Malcolm to get to the bottom of the mystery but when her ex-husband pays an unexpected visit and her mother stages a disappearance, Tess starts to feel her new-found freedom wearing just a little thin…
Pre-order your copy now from Amazon and available from all good bookshops online and in the real world from 15th June…
Sir Tony comes to town for BroadstairsLit
There were turnips on display when Baldrick fans packed The Pavilion on 10th March to welcome Sir Tony Robinson to Broadstairs.
The actor, presenter, author and comic genius who, we decided, must by now have national treasure status, delighted the audience with hilarious tales of stage and screen from his childhood start as the Artful Dodger in the west end production of Oliver to that going-over-the-top iconic Blackadder finale.
The queue for signed copies of his memoir No Cunning Plan (Pan Macmillan) – stretched a while…
And on the subject of paperbacks – six years ago, Carol Clarke invited me to visit the bookshop she’d opened in Cliftonville with her husband, Dave. It sounded delightful – I love a second-hand bookstore – and I promised to pop along. Last Sunday I finally made it!
Tiverton Books is tucked away beneath the Smiths Court Hotel and offers good quality, used books across a range of subjects and genres, quirkily laid out without category headings under a system that Carol knows like the back of her hand, but which is suitably cryptic to ensure the potential buyer gets to have a good browse.
With everything from Blyton to Dickens to Jilly Cooper to a tome on quilting, there is something for everyone (I left Carol a couple of my own works – pristine and unread – if you want a bargain) without breaking the bank. I came away with four thrillers for under a fiver. Wish I’d got there sooner!
Tiverton Books can be found “Down the Steps” at Smiths Court Hotel, Eastern Esplanade, Margate CT9 2HL
Open every Sunday from 10 am to 2pm. www.tivertonbooks.co.uk
Kent Festival of Writing
For anyone with writing dreams of their own, the Kent Festival of Writing started life 3 years ago and welcomes “all writers from absolute beginners and those writing just for fun, to would-be and established authors at all stages of their careers.” The day aims to provide “inspiration, support and the opportunity to develop skills with hands-on workshops designed to encourage and inform.”
Director Sue Basset is a writer herself and has recently acquired an agent for her Gothic thriller which is currently being submitted to publishers. “I know how important it is to meet other writers,” she says. “Their support and encouragement, along with the advice I have received from published authors and tutors, have been invaluable on my journey. I wanted to provide something similar for aspiring writers which was accessible and local.”
Events include workshops on blogging, finding your writing voice, interviews with published writers and a mystery book swap. (I’d be there myself but I shall be teaching elsewhere – at the fabulous Chez Castillon – if you have dreams of writing with sunshine and wine, check this out too www.chez-castillon.com)
Kent Festival of Writing will be held on Saturday 14th April 2018
Whitstable Community College, Whitstable, Kent CT5 1PZ
For details and tickets see https://www.kentfestivalofwriting.co.uk
Back here in Thanet, the writing scene is flourishing too with the well-established Isle Writers group being regular and entertaining contributors to the monthly Broadly Speaking sessions hosted by BroadstairsLit. The group meet regularly for discussion and critique sessions and have produced an anthology Small Things. Find them on facebook https://www.facebook.com/IsleWriters/
If you have a story to share, or would simply like to listen, Broadly Speaking is held on the last Sunday of each month at the Yarrow Hotel, Broadstairs from 7.30pm. Visit https://broadstairslit.co.uk/broadly-speaking-3/ for the full lowdown.
Don’t miss Hunter Davies!
And if you really like a good yarn, then the BroadstairsLit guest for April has more tales than you can shake a stick at. In his memoir A Life in the Day (Simon & Schuster) witty raconteur Hunter Davies reflects on life in London in the Swinging Sixties, his time as editor of Britain’s first colour weekend supplement The Sunday Times Magazine; his friendship with the Beatles (he wrote the only authorised biography of the group) and his partying with and ghost-writing for some of the biggest names in television, film and theatre of the day. We’re talking Sir Michael Caine, George Best, Melvyn Bragg, Dame Joan Bakewell, Sir Sean Connery, Cilla Black, Paul Gascoigne, and Wayne Rooney among others. It is also a moving account of his deep love for and marriage to the acclaimed novelist Margaret Forster who he sadly lost to cancer in 2016. Hunter will be joined by their author daughter Caitlin Davies, whose latest book Bad Girls (John Murray) is a fascinating look at the history of Holloway prison. Both will be in conversation with me, spilling the beans about all of this and more. Come along – it’s going to be riveting!
Hunter Davies and Caitlin Davies will be at The Yarrow Hotel, Broadstairs from 7pm 6th April. Tickets at £15 include a welcome drink and canapés. Please see https://broadstairslit.co.uk/events/ to book
Still to come…
- Friday 11th May – Extra Time with James Brown. The TalkSport host talks about male friendship and his love of football
- Thursday 21st June Being David Archer. Tim Bentinck (David Archer) and Sunny Ormonde (Lillian Bellamy) take us behind the scenes at Britain’s favourite radio soap.
Details of all events and how to book https://broadstairslit.co.uk/events. Original article at https://theisleofthanetnews.com/jane-wenham-jones-write-around-the-isle-turnips-thrillers-and-special-guests.
Literary gatherings have been popping up left, right and centre – I go to quite a few of them myself – and there are now more LitFests in Britain than you can shake a stick at. But none, I feel confident in saying, are quite like our own homegrown BroadstairsLit – a collection of writing-inspired and book-themed events that will last not just for the weekend, Ladies and Gentlemen, nor even a full fortnight but – all through the year!
Conceived over a series of mineral waters, coffees and the odd gin (that was me!) the model has taken a bit of tweaking but we now have a line up of stalwart volunteers (step forward Denise Martin-Harker of Dickens Festival Fame – if you went along to this year’s extravaganza you’ll know this lady can organise with bells on! – and Lee and Jacqui Wellbrook, the powers behind all sorts of good local events and her right-hand men for the above). I am to be the resident interviewer (nothing I like better than the sound of my own voice and the weight of a mic in my hand) and we kicked off with our first event back in June.
‘A cup of tea with The Archers’ was a sell-out. I am passionate about the long-running radio four soap but even I was surprised at the depth of devotion filling the Broadstairs Pavilion when scriptwriter Keri Davies joined the beautiful actress Annabelle Dowler who plays Kirsty Miller, and Trevor Harrison, the actor behind Eddie Grundy, to talk about life in Ambridge. One hundred and eighty happy beverage-drinkers listened enthralled as Annabelle spilled the beans on whether Kirsty really goes in for a proper snog or simply kisses the back of her hand during love scenes, Keri explained the reason why so many of the characters speak with their mouths full and Trevor Harrison – delighting the audience with a burst of his Eddie voice – shared his joy at the Grundys finally getting back to Grange Farm.
As fans queued afterwards for photo opportunities, the delight was palpable. One local, making a strange bobbing motion as she held out her pen for a Grundy autograph, seemed almost unsteady on her feet. She’d just stopped herself from dropping a curtsey!
The next event on our calendar is 24th September: a cream tea with Hallie Rubenhold – the power behind the ITV series Harlots – and Lucinda Hawksley, great great great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens himself. They will be talking about Harris’s List, the 18th/19th century underworld and those who influenced the great man. Hear Denise talking about them here.
Excitements for the future include Sir Tony Robinson of Baldrick fame on 10thMarch 2018, and top authors Katie Fforde and Peter James when we’ve all coordinated our diaries. Keep an eye on www.broadstairslit.co.uk and watch this space….
And follow BroadstairsLit on Twitter.
You can read this original article at https://theisleofthanetnews.com/write-around-the-isle-and-broadstairslit-with-jane-wenham-jones.
Another to add to my list of fab festivals I have worked for. Had a great time at the Buckingham Literary Festival last weekend, interviewing three top bestsellers. First up on Friday night a packed audience were enthralled by the mega-successful crime king Peter James with whom I always have a laugh; and then the next morning I “did” the wonderful Clare Mackintosh and Louise Doughty – who both went down a storm. I also had the pleasure of meeting Sir Anthony Seldon – what an inspirational chap he is. I loved Buckingham – never been before and it is the most gorgeous place. One for the calendar next year…
So fab to host the Archers event last Friday at the Pavilion in Broadstairs with ace scriptwriter Keri Davies, the gorgeous Annabelle Dowler (Kirsty Miller), and the ever-entertaining Trevor Harrison (Eddie Grundy). Next up for Broadstairs Literary Events @BroadlySpeaking –
Hope you can come along… xx
Looking forward to this very much. Are you an Archers fan? Do you fancy a day trip to Broadstairs? Tickets from here . Would be brilliant to see you 🙂
‘No. 1 – The Italian job’ courtesy of the www.theisleofthanetnews.com
They’re back! Popular Thanet columnists Jane Wenham-Jones and Mike Pearce reunite for a lunch date which has all the ingredients for disaster.
Read what happened when author Jane lured retired editor Mike into foreign lands.
JANE: There’s nothing better than a good lunch out with your friends. Booking one for my mate Mike is always a minefield.
His list of requirements gets longer as his years advance. I quote: No fish, no kids, no groups or office parties, no blaring music, nothing Indian, nothing Chinese, nothing Malay, Thai or all stations east, no tasting menus, nothing drizzled in anything and nothing much over a tenner.
“We might need to go somewhere where they serve pie,” I tell my son, who is accompanying us in order to quiz Mike on the rigours of editing a local newspaper for twenty years for a uni. project.
Tom is having none of it. “The Posillipo” he says firmly. It is indeed a favourite of ours. The food is unfailingly good and the staff have long lost their early reputation for Italian broodiness aka being downright surly.
I send Mike the link to the menu.
“Is this a send-up?” he writes back. “It’s all in Italian.”
I promise to guide him through the ‘carne’ section when we get there.
The day dawns bright and beautiful and we get a table outside. “I hope it won’t be too cold for him,” I say to Tom who is perusing the list of craft beers. He shakes his head. “I’m fine,” he says.
Mike arrives smiling but clearly apprehensive. “Pork escalopes?” I enquire. “Do you like rosemary?”
“I’ve got some in the garden,” he says doubtfully, “but I don’t eat it.” I am about to recommend a Tagliata di Manzo (strips of chargrilled rib eye steak served on a bed of rocket), when I spot the word “drizzled”.
We eventually settle on a Grigliata Mista (mixed grill to him) which he seems to like. Tom has a rather impressive pizza – Vesuvio with lots of chillis – and I do my usual and build my own with a smoked salmon and prawn dish from the startesr menu served with a salad and some fries. Tom orders a beer he can’t now remember the name of – but it soon disappears– and then drinks the rest of my wine: a most pleasing bardolino rose I’ve not had before, which slips down a treat. “Isn’t it a pretty colour?” says Mike happily, even though he’s driving and on orange juice.
“How was your first foray into non-English food?” I ask when he’s on his ice-cream and my son is spending my hard-earned dosh on dessert wine and almond biscuits. Mike nods. Clearly it’s a curry next ….
MIKE: She claims that going somewhere Italian for lunch is her son Tom’s choice.
But as she socialises with people who eat Appalachian goats’ meat off anvils and quaff artisan cider out of flower pots, who can doubt Jane’s hand was involved in an act of social wilfulness, knowing I would have chosen an English pie in an English pub.
Any road up, I am instructed to go to the Posillipo.
I don’t even know what a Posillipo is. Sports car? Illness? Eurovision contestant?
Turns out it’s a restaurant in Broadstairs, next to what in my day was Marchesi’s.
Our date gets off to a perfect start. One foot inside the restaurant is enough to trigger a beaming enquiry, delivered in fabulous Italian style, by an immaculately dressed staff member: “Aha! You are here for Jane?”
I am led to the appealing if wind-swept balcony, where the famous author plus son are seated at the best table in the house, overlooking the sea.
“What are you going to have?” asks Jane, pointing to a menu written in what I assume is Italian.
She might as well have presented a phonebook written in Sanskrit and asked who I wanted to call.
Then two remarkable things happen.
The sun emerges, to drive away the chill. And Jane graciously translates the dishes, beginning with a lengthy harangue about what I wouldn’t like – anything fishy, anything spicy and anything drizzled in anything. Hard to argue against that.
Surprisingly, this still leaves a more than decent choice, including what I would call a mixed grill. (Warning – if you’re looking for it, you’ll probably find it’s listed under an exotic title ending in ‘i’ or ‘o’.)
It turns out to be chicken, lamb, pork and steak – plus saute potatoes. Well, that’s amore, as Dean Martin used to sing.
After a couple of mouthfuls, I concede it is very amore indeed.
Choice of dessert is simple. Italian equals ice cream, in my book.
Bella! Carina! Jolly nice! Whatever language, lunch was as delightful as the weather and the company.
Meat pie can wait for another day.
Mike and Jane ate at:
- Posillipo, 14 Albion Street, Broadstairs.
- Open every day. 12.00 till 11pm
- Phone 01843 601133 or visit www.posillipo.co.uk
Mike’s verdict: Bellissimo – friendly, smart, efficient, plus great food.
Jane says: I love it here x
Time to say goodbye to another luminary of the book world and to fondly recall the day in 2009 when I met Colin Dexter at the Winchester Writers’ Conference. It was late morning, he had just finished speaking, and was suitably dismayed to learn that the bar was closed. “Can’t we go to the pub?” he asked Beryl Bainbridge. I have no idea what I was doing standing there – I was gobbier in those days, I’d probably pushed my way to the front to announce my addiction to Morse and enduring crush on John Thaw – but I was able to share with both these great writers, the intelligence I’d gathered the night before when in a similar fix. You could buy wine direct from the kitchen staff. I led the famous author to the chap who’d done the deal the previous evening, he purchased a bottle of red (it could have been two) which he generously invited me to share. I was speaking later myself, so God knows how that went, but I do recall a most entertaining lunch with the pair of them, feeling privileged indeed. “It was a delight to be with you,” Mr Dexter wrote in my Inspector Morse Omnibus, causing someone to joke that if I fell on hard times I could take the inscription to the News of the World. He laughed. I have treasured the tome ever since. I was pretty delighted too.
This first appeared in Woman’s Weekly Fiction in 2010. Can’t say much has changed…. 🙂
Happy Valentine’s Day!
You might think that someone who has spent a great deal of her writerly life dealing in romance in one form or other, would embrace the celebration of St Valentine with open arms. You may imagine your average author of romantic fiction as a hearts and flowers sort of woman; floating about the home in pink chiffon, exchanging Snugglebum messages with Coochie-face, preparing heart-shaped salmon delights and chocolate coated strawberries in champagne, while the deliveryman arrives bent beneath the weight of lavish floral gifts. Not in this house.
My theory is that we scribes make up romance for the same reason as so many millions read it. It’s in jolly short supply in real life.
It would be fair to say that in the last twenty years I have generally received a card on Valentine’s Day and more often than not, some roses to boot. This is largely by dint of writing instructions in large felt tip in my husband’s diary mid-January and by teaching my son, as soon as he could speak, to repeat “Buy Mummy Flowers” whenever I gave him a Pavlovian shove through the door of his father’s study.
We never go out to dinner on February 14th – all those other couples slobbering over each other is enough to put anyone off their Nipples-of-Venus-to-share – and a general air of relief descends when the day’s over and we can go back to shouting as usual.
A quick straw poll among my friends suggests we are not unique. In novels, men may be tall, dark, handsome and capable of producing tickets for a romantic break in Paris without being asked but in reality, in my experience, they are more likely to shriek “How much?” and remind you that there’s an important league match that weekend and the only thing they’ll be holding close is the remote control.
The myth continues because, even if we find the whole “Bunnykins” thing pretty cringey ourselves, we live in hope that our fictional heroes who have the florist on speed-dial and understand about candlelight and Belgian chocolate and the element of surprise are out there somewhere. Even if the evidence to the contrary – “they double the price on Valentines Day / I can’t see what I’m eating / Won’t that make you fat? / You get it and put it on my credit card” – is overwhelming. And that, dear reader, concludes my entire fount of knowledge on things romantic.
I wish someone would believe me. But no, it is assumed if I write romantic comedy I must be something of an authority the matter of lurve. Over the years a variety of magazine editors, radio producers and fellow hacks doing the Ten Top Tips trick when there’s nothing else to say, have called upon me to dispense wisdom on everything from handling a first date to spicing up one’s marriage to how to cope when he lives a continent away (sounds ideal to me).
I once choked on air having just heard myself introduced by one regional radio station (clearly desperate to fill five minutes before the travel news) as a “relationships expert” and finding I was being called upon to offer advice to Helen who felt Kevin no longer loved her, when I’d thought I was just there to plug a novel. “A special night out,” I suggested vaguely, trawling my memory for every cliché from every agony aunt page I’d ever read. “A quiet night in when you can really talk… Communication is so important,” I simpered, getting into my stride, even though I knew that Kevin, as previously discussed, would rather watch the boxing and will be aghast when Helen serves up chicken a la mode, in the dark, instead.
But there are worse things to be asked to do and it’s just happened again. Another call from the well-meaning wanting me to give a workshop. “We’ve got someone to do Crime,” she says brightly, “and a very nice gentlemen in charge of Sci Fi. Perhaps you can give us a few words on Romance and Erotica….” I most certainly can’t.
The only time I ever attempted to write anything erotic, the magazine in question gave up on my descriptions of passion and wrote the end in themselves. I can’t do body parts, I can’t do moaning and writhing, I feel saying silly saying “nipple” (yes I know I said it earlier but that was a pudding) and even in my raunchiest novel where every single character is at it in some form or other, I still flinch from the squelchy bits.
I try to make this sound intelligent. “I tend to believe less is more,” I offer. “The brain is the most potent of the sexual organs and arousal is often mental not physical. I see nothing wrong in closing the bedroom door and leaving much to the imagination.” “Perhaps just the romance then…” she says.
I am planning my opening address.
A good hero should be tall and handsome, kind and sensitive, and given to unexpected acts of generosity in the city break and floral departments.
Even if you have to write it down for him first…
At midnight on 31st December I was travelling by car through the bottom of Broadstairs. In Ramsgate, minutes earlier, they’d been spilling out of pubs, crowding along the waterfront, waiting for fireworks. Three miles down the road the pavements were deserted. You could almost see the tumbleweed blowing along Albion Street. I could only imagine that all the revellers were huddled behind doors – The Dolphin looked pretty crammed through its steamed up windows – in case 2016 had one final act of retribution up its sleeve. Nothing would have surprised me. In a year that saw us voting to shoot ourselves in our collective foot, our prime minister resigning, horrific acts of terrorism across Europe, losing an incredible amount of artistic talent, and gaining Trump while strangers crawled all over other strangers’ gardens looking for Pokemon, frankly anything could have happened. Now we are safely through to 2017, it’s time to breathe out and look back in wonder at the local highlights and national low-lives of the past twelve months.
A THUMBS UP FOR:
New outlets, increased business and general let’s-go wow factor in all three main towns. Margate Old Town gets ever more cutesy and the Harbour Arm continues to thrive with all units taken since the latest addition to this snazzy food and drink destination – Mala Kaffe – in the spring. 2016 also brought the two-millionth visitor to the Turner Contemporary. Lucky teacher Linda Tucker was presented with a bottle of fizz when she walked through the gallery’s doors in June.
Over in Ramsgate, more restaurants and bars have popped up along Military Road in the old fishermen’s arches alongside such favourites as The Arch and The Greek Arch – and weren’t the lights on the boats gorgeous this year? Down in Pegwell Village, Frank Thorley – 81 this year and still working seven days a week – presided over the opening of the Seaview Bar & Restaurant – and extension to The Stanley Grey pub. I took Mike-humbug-Pearce (dining criteria: no kids, no office parties, nothing foreign, nothing spicy, no fish) along there for our annual pre-Christmas lunch and even he liked it.
In Broadstairs, despite the continuing blots on the landscape that are Costa and Iceland, the prevailing tradition of independent shops and eateries is upheld with the opening of teeny, acclaimed Stark by Michelin-starred chef Ben Crittenden, Taylors Seafood Restaurant and cocktail bar on the site of what was once the Rose pub, and the under-new-ownership, being-revamped-as-we-speak, Fish & Beer bar and restaurant, reopening on 27th January as The Reef.
Meanwhile, Micropubs continue to mushroom all over the Isle stretching from the Hair of the Dog in Minster to the Wheel Alehouse in Birchington. I am convinced most of society’s ills can be laid at the now-closed door of “The Local” (The Dane Valley Arms is the latest to be demolished) so this is all good and worth its own small round of applause. 2016 additions include Nautic Ales at Northwood and Mind the Gap in Broadstairs, next to Houdini’s – our first “magic” bar…
My personal culinary discovery of the year goes to the London Tavern, Margate for their fab food and utterly superlativeburger. They do real ale too.
A DROPPED JAW AT:
Nigel Farage being shortlisted for Time magazine’s Person of the Year award.
(And then Donald Trump winning it.)
SHOCK OF THE YEAR
A dual award given to 23rd June and November 8th 2016. No doubt there was much rejoicing on the morning after the referendum in Kipper Towers (aka Thanet District Council) but most sane people I know were walking about in a fog of shock and bereavement. Waking up on 9th November to find a buffoon with no political experience whatsoever now had his finger on the nuclear button, it felt as if the world had ended twice. My friend, the award-winning restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin, tweeted simply: “There are no more jokes”.
Which as it’s turned out there won’t be, tragically, from some of our brightest stars. We bid farewell to Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Ronnie Corbett, Sir Terry Wogan, TV comedy writer Carla Lane, ascerbic and brilliantly witty journalist AA Gill.
OTHER (NON) EVENTS
- Manston still didn’t reopen.
- Dreamland didn’t close.
- Corbyn came to town and Theresa May was photographed wearing an ill-advised pair of trousers.
Meanwhile work started, and was then halted, in Ramsgate on what is rumoured to become the biggest Wetherspoons of all time and Margate house prices surged beyond all other seaside towns. Perhaps because, while commuters in other parts of the country faced unrelenting misery, our hi- speed trains mostly ran on time.
Tracy Emin “married” a lump of rock, Emeli Sande’s music video for her single “Hurts” filmed on Botany Bay collected over ten million hits on YouTube, Margate Caves got lottery funding, and new dog waste bag dispensers were introduced. Well done TDC. (And you didn’t think you’d hear ME say that in this decade, did you?)
Which leaves me to conclude it’s not been all bad. May I wish you health, wealth and happiness in 2017. It can only get better now. (Can’t it?)
Happy New Year! xx
In the absence of a Gazette column to post this week, I thought I’d share a Woman’s Weekly piece I wrote back in 2013. In memory of, and with love to, Carole Blake, who died so suddenly on 25th October and is missed by so many of us.
It made me sad to re-read it but it is also a happy memory of a great evening with Carole – to go with many more of some fab times. Here’s raising a glass!
The article reads…
Would someone please tell me where this year has gone? One moment we were all moaning about how winter was dragging and the daffodils were late, we sneezed and it was summer for a day or two, then I got distracted and found it was October and now suddenly everyone’s using the C word and preparing to take the tinsel out of the loft.
Time flies as you get older, they say. And it’s not only ten months that can pass in the blink of an eye. Three weeks ago I had the privilege of rolling up to top literary agent Carole Blake’s party held to celebrate her astonishing fifty years in publishing.
Astonishing because Carole looks far too youthful to have been at it that long – they clearly started ‘em young in those days – and surprising for me too, to realise that I first met her, screwing up all my courage to speak, when I was a wannabe novelist back in 1998. Which means I’ve been knocking around the book world fifteen years myself and I don’t know where that has gone either.
I arrived at the bash with Katie Fforde and a wild look in my eye.
We had flown back from France for the event – I’d been teaching at the fab Chez Castillon (Google it now!) and Katie had been working away at her 21st novel (she, too, has been going a while) – on a journey which was punctuated by minor crises, mostly of my doing. These began when I left my mobile on the floor at Bordeaux airport while trying to stuff my handbag into Katie’s suitcase (that one item of baggage rule has a lot to answer for) and went downhill from there.
“J’ai perdu mon telephone,” I stuttered frantically to the couple sitting where I’d last seen it. “Avez-vous seen it? S’iI vous plait.”
“Never mind all that, love,” said the husband. “Try the information desk.” Mercifully it had been handed in by some wonderfully honest being, and after a small panic over where Katie’s passport was and me leading us purposefully to the wrong gate, we arrived in Gatwick intact but with not much time to spare.
Katie’s face was a picture, therefore, when at passport control, she whizzed through and I got the cheery chap who fancied a chat. While I explained why I’d gone to France, why I was coming back, whose party it was and why I didn’t look at all like my passport photograph (it was taken nine years ago, mate!), I could see her expression ten metres away, frozen in horror, convinced I was about to be led away and we’d miss the revelry after all.
I’ll spare you the sagas of the taxis, my blisters and the curious incident of the laddered tights, but eventually we got there to find Carole, her usual cool, glamorous self, in a room brimming with warmth and affection.
The fizz flowed, the speeches were heartfelt. Fellow agent, the beautiful Isobel Dixon, recalled her interview at Blake Friedmann 18 years ago when she was offered a glass of wine and wondered if it was a test. I would say it probably was and she passed it by having the second glass – she’s been working with Carole ever since.
Colleague Conrad Williams told how he had learned from Carole’s example, the “centrality of lunch” and the bestselling crime writer Peter James, hailed by Conrad as the “Uber Client”, stated quite simply that he adored her.
Carole said she’d promised herself she wouldn’t cry – by that time I was fumbling for a tissue myself. And looking round the packed room I went on my own little trip down memory lane.
There was the agent who wrote that she hated my first novel so much she couldn’t even encourage me, and the other poor chap I practically stalked while trying to flog it anyway. The smiling one-time boss of the publishers who eventually gave me a deal; the authors I was once so shyly in awe of – now my friends. The big book-seller who was so kind to me when I was newly in print and the editors I’ve only ever known by email – now here in the flesh. Looking at the guest list later there were more names from the past I sadly didn’t spot among the 300-strong crowd, all there to raise a glass or three to a long-serving pro. I need her to have another gathering when she’s been doing books for the full sixty.
The next morning Katie and I were back on the plane to Chez Castillon a little jaded but very glad we’d made the trip, and four days after that I flew home. The napkin that came with my complimentary salty things bore the maxim: “Time flies but you are the pilot.” I think we can safely say Carole Blake has earned her wings.
Proud to see that in the final copy of the Isle of Thanet Gazette I appear in, I have made it onto the letters’ page as both “idiotic” AND “inane”… 🙂
I’m sad to be saying goodbye to a column I’ve written for fourteen years but could not in all conscience and in respect for all other freelancers, write it for nothing (which was the only choice on offer).
So here are our final thoughts before we’re over and out.
Over to Mike Pearce first…
THE GRUMPY old man has left the building.
This is my final column and already I hear the cheers from the hipsters, the fraudsters, the spongers, the arty-tarty fakes, the posers, the far-left rabble-rousers and – well, probably anyone born after 1976.
But in a moment of untypical selflessness, let me give you, the readers, the final say.
Over the years you have said plenty, by email, post, phone and even by turning up on my doorstep.
Some, as is the way of such things, has been critical, abusive, obscene and very occasionally slightly menacing. But, as Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
As an ardent admirer of alliteration, I tip my hat to the man who wrote to the Gazette to dismiss my arguments as “geriatric garbage”.
For irony, it’s hard to beat the chap who accused me of wanting to stifle free speech – and in the next sentence, demanded that my column should be axed.
Nil points for the pompous Facebook fellow, who, after denying having heard of me or my column, offered his critical analysis: “Pearce is a poor writer”!
Later he accused me of “trying to be provocative, but failing”. What provoked him to write that, I wonder? He seems the type who likes to hold centre stage, so let’s not bother with his name
In the “Is that good, or is that bad?” category, a nomination for the man who described me to my celebrity co-columnist and dear friend Jane as “The bloke who writes the weeks that you don’t.”
And the other one, who suggested to her: “He’s very right wing, isn’t he?”
Not so much hurtful as surprising was the cheery assessment by one writer that I “look like a chap who enjoys a drink”.
After being nearly teetotal for 15 years, if only!
No criticism can be attached to the critic who pointed out: “He likes a moan, that one.”
I blame the world for giving me ever-more things to moan about.
The privilege of being afforded a column cannot be over-stated – the chance to champion causes that might otherwise go unheard; to expose lies that might go unchallenged; to prick the vanities of the great and the good.
While researching topics, I have been lucky enough to tour Ramsgate Tunnels (fabulous), Dreamland (loved the dodg’ems), the Turner Centre (oh dear!), Ramsgate’s Petticoat Lane Emporium (unpretentious and fun), Margate Old Town (pretentious and not much fun) and to examine in very great detail what’s going right and what’s going wrong at this crucial stage in Thanet’s development.
I do hope there will still be a voice for those who can see through Emperors’ clothes; who object to money being thrown at self-indulgent whimsies when there are so many real-world problems; who see the folly of trying to revive the rotting corpse of Manston airport; who still believe politicians should be there to serve the community, not stoke their egos.
I shall remain grateful for the opportunity the column has given to make new friendships, sometimes with people whose ages, beliefs, passions and ideologies are a million miles from my own.
And finally, let me tip my hat to Janet from Margate, who was kind enough to write and say: “I don’t think you’re deeply unpleasant”.
After nearly six hundred columns for this good newspaper, it is time for me to hang up my hat too.
There are those who will shout good riddance. The anti-Manston protestor who told me I was “worse than Goebbels” for wanting to save the airport, the councillor who attempted to argue the use of the apostrophe with me (I bow to no one in my command of the possessive), the elderly lady who warned me I drank too much and claimed my hair would fall out if I insisted on dying it pink and blue, and the regular and anonymous correspondent who never failed to tell me what rubbish I spouted.
But I also have a drawerful of letters – yes, real ones with a stamp and envelope – and many, many emails that have touched me beyond measure. I thank you for the comments, the tip-offs, the invitations, the cards and the occasional dodgy present.
I will always appreciate the time readers have taken to stop to speak to me when they have enjoyed – or thoroughly disagreed with – something I have written and I will treasure for ever the beautifully hand-inscribed and indignant missive sent to Gazette Towers from the chap who’d heard me on the radio and wanted to share his mother’s unwavering good judgement that I sounded “a right cow.”
As Mike-don’t-get-me-started Pearce – to whom I owe the opportunity in the first place (he upset people even more before he retired as editor), has intimated: having a space here has been an honour and a joy. But all good things come to an end – often when the money runs out – and our media has changed beyond measure since I first appeared on these pages in 2002.
I shall still be sounding off on Facebook where I’m happy to be friends (unless you claim to be a General in the US army or have serial killer’s eyes) and blogging on janewenhamjones.wordpress.com if you find you’re missing me.
I shall certainly miss all of you. xx
Since writing this I have been told (by a usually-reliable source) that the Thanet Way is built on London clay and is “undulating”. So, if true (anybody else heard anything?) it seems there may be method in the madness after all. It is still a bloody nuisance…
Signs of madness on the Thanet Way. Has some new recruit at the Department of Transport held a map the wrong way up, or an old retainer finally flipped and lost the plot? Driving to Guildford for the book festival last Thursday, I was startled to find new signs proclaiming a 50mph speed limit from shortly after I joined the road, until the turning for Dargate. Everyone was merrily ignoring them when I hared back the same way on Friday afternoon but no doubt it is only a matter of time before the evil cameras are installed. What is going on? Is the Government that short of revenue? As someone who has sat through a recent “speed awareness” course for the heinous crime of doing 81 on a clear motorway – an hour in, I was wishing I’d taken the points – I am fully conversant with the dangers of driving too fast in certain conditions. I would like to see more stringent controls, for example, on the rate at which some senseless idiots roar through towns or down residential streets where children might be crossing or the elderly could quite easily be mown down. But there is no logical reason I can see to slow the traffic on an open, straight road that is rarely congested. On Saturday lunchtime when I once again hit the dual carriageway – this time to interview the fabulous chef Angela Hartnett for Whitlit Food – the highway was almost deserted. Yet I was expected to hobble along at twenty miles less than I’ve been travelling at for the whole of my driving life. Google has not been particularly helpful in tracking down who might be responsible and I lost the will to live halfway through a document entitled “an interim evaluation of the implementation of speed limits summary report” which seemed to be concentrating on the comparative benefits of 20mph limits in Portsmouth. I did glean, however, that in some circumstances, district councils have influence to set speed limits in their local area. Kippers – please tell me this isn’t down to you…
WHAT certainly is down to anyone of a UKIP persuasion (along with the misguided, ill-informed and deluded) is the state of the pound – at, as I write, an all-time low against both Euro and dollar and showing no sign of recovery any time soon. Great news to go with the announcement that a hard Brexit will cost the Treasury a possible 66 billion pounds a year in lost revenue, as our GDP also slumps. Well done people – especially those who fell for the line about all that extra dosh for the NHS. Frankly, I’ve got no sympathy if your Persil and PG tips is now going to cost more, although I too was shaken by the stand-off between Tesco and Unilever over price hikes. I knew the disaster of 23rd June would affect holidays and jobs and health care staffing and our children’s futures. But one still wants to cling to the notion that in Britain as we know it, some things are sacred. A civilised society relies on a fair judiciary, basic freedoms of speech, a belief in equality, compassion in plenty and, whatever else is falling apart, a ready supply of Marmite.
EIGHTEEN days to go till the US presidential elections and a final conclusion to the spectacle that has been Donald Trump. Anyone already in despair at the state of a world in which “clowns” go on the rampage and terrify innocent civilians, should be sending up a prayer. Please may the blind of America finally see Trump for the bigoted, racist, sexist, groping moron he is. And not let the most powerful post in the world be filled by the biggest clown of them all.
This might not be desperately interesting to those living outside Thanet but council sell-offs could affect wherever you are too. Especially if you’re ever unlucky enough to have a Kipper council. Not that I can really complain. They haven’t done anything* yet….
*unless you count breaking their promise to re-open Manston Airport (grrr)
from Isle of Thanet Gazette 7th October 2016
I have no idea who wrote the report presented to the meeting of Thanet District Council last Tuesday but I would hazard a guess that he or she hasn’t read much George Orwell.
The great novelist’s advice to never use a long word when a short one will do, clearly cuts little ice with the author of a document that offers: “There is a financial imperative to accelerate disposals” (we need to start flogging stuff a bit quicker than we thought) and whose idea of explaining the “Medium Term Financial Strategy” (how we’re going to get out of this financial mess) involves talk of “rationalising the asset base” (selling what you can).
But however you put it, I can quite see that there could well be “a significant gap between receipts and capital programme commitments” and a need for “ongoing cost savings in the maintenance of assets.”
In other words, there are quite a few crumbling old buildings dotted around Thanet that cost a fortune to keep going, and the council doesn’t have enough dosh to do it. Hence the suggestion that the Ice House in Ramsgate, the Westgate Pavilion, various tracts of agricultural land and some choice green spaces should go under the hammer to cut annual costs and help fill the coffers.
I can see the theory behind offloading – if there’s not enough money then sometimes something does have to give – and I can also see this: whenever and whichever council-owned asset is put up for sale, someone is going to kick off.
Already MP Craig Mackinlay is talking about a fire sale, pushing petitions and citing Dreamland debts, while Kipper King Chris Wells predictably lays the blame for it all at the doors of Labour and the Tories.
Meanwhile, I find myself in rare agreement with one-time councillor and known party-hopper Ian Driver, who speaks of “UKIP’s environmental vandalism” and urges preservation of the farmland that serves to separate the Thanet towns. We, the public, are invited to make such comments – through our ward councillors apparently – before 19th October.
At the time of writing, nearly 2000 people have also signed a petition you can find on change.org calling for a full public consultation before anything is disposed of.
Personally, I didn’t even know where the Ice House was till I googled it, but I would suggest to TDC that if you must liquidise, then make it buildings, not precious land and draw up a set of guidelines for any eventual sale.
May I propose:
- Properties are sold on the open market at the market rate (not to someone’s mate for a song, who then goes on to do the place up and make a killing.)
- Where development is possible, they are sold with planning permission already in place to ensure the full value is reflected. (See above.)
- First to go are the buildings that cost the most and bring in the least (not rocket science but when it comes to council manoeuvres I take nothing for granted).
- It is ensured that where there is profit to be made – the council makes some of it, not just a canny builder. Could there be partnership deals? Agreements on lucrative restoration projects where a slice of the spoils come back to the local tax-payer?
- And finally: a ban on decisions that are plain daft. Of course you can’t hand over land like Philpott Field off Callis Court Road, or Cliff Field – the green space above Joss Bay. Are you Kippers crazy? But of course my beef here is heightened because I live nearby. And if a public consultation is held, then everyone taking part will have their own agenda, their own brand of NIMBY outrage and a necessarily subjective input. There is however, one question that concerns us all, and should be the very first one we ask.
When these assets are gone, and the council next runs out of money, what will be left to sell then?
WELL DONE the TUC for voting to prohibit employers from forcing women to wear high heels at work. Heels may look terrific but in my experience they range from uncomfortable to downright excruciating and serve one best when used to make an entrance before being kicked under a chair by one’s second drink. Nobody should be compelled to don them for a full eight hours. I can’t agree, however, with GMB delegate Penny Robinson who called on Theresa May to wear flat shoes to “advance the cause of women in the workplace”. Frankly, if the Prime Minister can cope with a long day in teetering leopard-print Jimmy Choos then all respect to her, and I wish I could. There are many ways to advance the cause of women at work – pay them properly, promote them equally, be sympathetic about childcare and refrain from attempting to fondle them behind the filing cabinet being a start. What the Premier puts on her feet, is the least of it.
MY THANKS to reader Robin Hyman, who has taken me to task on Facebook, over my criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn, pointing out that that I omitted the word “income” before my assertion that the top earners paid over 27% of the tax received by the treasury. Robin rightly reminds me there are various other taxes – VAT, duties etc (also paid by the better-off) – that make up the total coffers. I apologise for any misunderstanding. The point I was trying to address was that very few of us as individuals pay enough into the system to cover what we take out. Particularly if we have health problems or kids that need educating. Therefore, with the top 1% of taxpayers paying 27.5% of our INCOME tax (data taken from the Institute of Fiscal Studies), it is short-sighted to be as scathing about them as Mr Corbyn was at the recent Ramsgate rally. Especially in the light of another reader Rosemary Dunn’s timely comment, that that on a salary of £137k with a house in Islington, he is hardly poverty-stricken himself. Robin suggests I should “clarify”. I hope I just have.
FURTHER illumination from Head Kipper Chris Wells, who has been attempting to crystallise the council’s position on the future of Manston airport. Our elected representatives are, we learned from Councillor Wells in this newspaper last week, “drafting an emerging local plan.” This is “evidence-based” which means, according to the council leader, that they have “had to engage a professional consultancy to report on the viability of the airport site as an airport, in order to evidence the current aviation use only designation.” Shall I translate? Some no-doubt-expensive consultants are going into a huddle to decide whether the Kippers can keep their pre-election promise not to build over our airport. Funny how they made it sound so cut and dried back then.
AND A FINAL THUMBS UP for the Campaign for Real Ale, which has taken a bold stand on the Government’s 14 units a week guidelines for safe drinking limits. “This is the rocky road to prohibition,” says Roger Protz, editor of Camra’s Good Beer Guide. I think this is probably overstating the case a tad but it does seem that the Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies – she who so cheerily says she thinks “cancer” whenever she has a glass of wine – may have been influenced by the Institute for Alcohol Studies previously known as the UK Temperance Alliance which historical links to the movement in the US. And certainly the British are advised caution far in excess of our friends in other countries (Denmark 21 units, USA 25, and Spain a whopping 34). There are many pressing issues for the government to tackle, so when it comes to the booze why not restrict your counsel to the very young and leave the rest of us to it. We can study the research but most of us intrinsically know how much is too much. Especially, I find, when wearing heels…
As I reach for my hard hat and flak jacket, here is my latest Gazette column…
Whoever first said you only regret the things you don’t do, was a wise man or woman. I am regretting not going to listen to Jeremy Corbyn address an eager crowd in Ramsgate last Saturday. Mainly for the missed opportunity to wave my arms and shout out ‘Bollocks’.
Such is the wonder of modern technology, however, I was able to hear what Mr Corbyn had to say the following day, via a slightly muffled, wind-buffeted YouTube video of the back of his head. And I must say I can see why he has a following. Life under Corbyn sounds idyllic. There’s going to be superfast broadband and affordable housing, green energy and good transport, opportunities for the young, funding for museums and galleries, an end to zero hours contracts and a boost for employment. The NHS and Education will get more dosh, anyone in work will earn a living wage and there will be investment, investment, investment. Bring it on, I say. It’s what anyone with a heart wants. Except that fifteen minutes into the thirty minute speech, I was intimately acquainted with the Corbyn bald patch, but still none the wiser as to how exactly any of his visions were to be achieved. There were sound bites aplenty: power back to local communities; a “different” and “alternative” way of doing things; rousing sentiments such as “When you bring people together there is a resonance..” and each was greeted with cheers, but little explanation of where the funding would come from or how logistically any of it would work. Any power he has as an orator ( a friend who listened said he sounded like a whinging schoolboy) half lies in delivering lines that nobody could disagree with (no, of course it’s not fair that some people should be able to buy a Ferrari while other sleep on the streets) and half in not being afraid of the breathtaking generalisation or letting the truth get in the way of any sort of story. Poor people spend their money and help the economy he assured his audience, whereas the rich put theirs in tax havens (presumably after they’ve bought the Ferrari). No Corbyn speech would be complete without a swipe at the wealthy and he concluded with a special message for “the super rich”. One day, he declared prophetically, they would be old (really – them too?); one day they might be ill, they might have a heart attack, they might be in a car crash, might need the help of a policeman or to be cut out of their car by a fire-fighter.
“And who paid for all that?” he cried, to roars of approval. “Who paid for that but all of us who paid our taxes in the proper way?”
Stirring stuff, except for the fact that we didn’t. Close to half of work-age adults in Britain pay no income tax at all – 43.8% or 23 million people – at the last count. On the other hand, the amount of tax paid by the richest one percent, JC’s nemesis, has risen to a whopping 27.5% which means, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies recently confirmed, that only 300,000 people pay over a quarter of all the tax the treasury receives. Tony Blair might now be a dirty word but the reason so many of us voted for him not once but twice (before, obviously, he lost the plot, took us to war with no after-plan and left the Middle East in eternal bedlam) was that he recognised the contribution of free enterprise and that some of “the rich” make us money. As days gone by have shown, demonising or driving them out of the country just means revenue is lost. “I want a process that values the views of everyone,” said Jeremy, to more hurrahs. Except, it seems, for those who’d like to see a Labour party that might just get elected, or all your colleagues in Westminster who want you to resign.
Poor old Northamptonshire County Council has come under fire for putting on a course entitled How to Tie a Scarf. The three-hour session – a snip at £25 – promises participants the chance to ‘discover how to wear a scarf effectively’, including ‘how scarves can make a difference to your outfit and proportions’ (i.e. get those chins covered up quick and detract the eye from your ample stomach) and has been denounced as “frivolous” and a waste of resources by opposition members and local residents alike. Not so hasty, I say. It’s always easy to mock but it strikes me that Thanet District Council might benefit us all by taking a leaf out of the East-Midlanders’ book and putting on some cut-price tutorials themselves. With the holiday season in full swing, these might usefully include:
Filial Management. This course takes a practical, hands-on approach to tackling public screaming, stamping and the general running in circles flicking sandwich crusts, by the under-10s. Delegates will be offered instruction in the use of trusses and gags, and invited to utilise a variety of creative alternatives to the conventional: ‘I’m gonna smack yer’. Sponsored by Network South East, Stagecoach, and the National Conglomerate of Catering Establishments.
Refuse Disposal Skills. Attendees will be introduced to a range of basic receptacles in stages of ascending complexity, with special focus being given to the sometimes-baffling differences between a rubbish bin and the gutter. Carefully structured role-play provides an opportunity to develop one’s skills with genuine bottles, cans, burger wrappers and fag ends, in a non-judgmental environment.
Parallel Parking: grasping the basics. In response to popular demand, this interactive session will cover the rudiments of enabling your vehicle to enter a gap big enough for a small coach. Discussion topics include: ‘Should you be driving a 4×4 if you cannot manage your gear stick?’, ‘How to move off without bringing the entire High Street to a standstill’, and ‘Use of Indicators: part 1 – why other motorists may not be psychic.’ Discounts available for men over the age of 75 and school-run mothers.
Style Tips for the Beach (can also be employed in bars, parks and shopping centres). A unisex programme examining a number of philosophical issues surrounding the amount of flesh to be displayed without putting others off their ice-creams. Core modules incorporate: ‘Are speedos ever acceptable?’ ‘Medallions: don’t do it,’ ‘Bikinis – less is not always more’ and ‘ Topical sun-cream application – Lobster is not a good look’.
Perfect Timing (aka How to run a booze-up in a brewery). This enlightening and ground-breaking course, being offered for the first time, looks at logistics, planning and seasonally-appropriate strategies in order to minimize disruption to vacation-enhanced traffic flow. Includes field trips to College Road, Margate; Kingsgate and selected areas of Ramsgate with guided observational studies of Margate seafront ground to a halt. With special thanks for their input to KCC Highways.
ONE CANNOT help feeling a tad sorry for David Cameron, under such scrutiny during his own holiday season. The media have gleefully picked up on everything from the price of his swimming trunks to the rather woeful comparison between his physique and that of his fit-looking wife, pointing out that he has put on weight and looks un-toned. I’ve never been an obvious choice of advocate for our ex-premier but I do feel that after a gruelling few weeks trying to save us from the perils of Brexit, during which press-ups were likely to be the least of his worries, he should be permitted some perfectly average-looking muffin-top without fear of derision. I suspect however, that while long-lenses exist, my hope is in vain and his less-than-firm midriff will continue to pop up in the press. I wonder if he could try a scarf…
Don’t ever let it be said there’s nothing to do in Thanet. For those wishing to be entertained, the excitement kicks off this evening (Friday 29th) with a meeting of Momentum Thanet to be held at Broad Street Hall in Ramsgate to “help re-elect Jeremy Corbyn”. I should get there early if you want a seat as I imagine it will be packed out with gleeful Tories. Since if/when the machinations work and Mr Corbyn does get re-elected, we can kiss goodbye to any notion of a Labour government for the foreseeable, and, more worryingly, any sort of viable opposition to the present incumbents right now. I’ve probably heard the word “democracy” bandied about more in the last four weeks than in five years before that. But even those keen to define it for their own ends, will agree that it is dependent on the existence of a strong, credible challenge to whoever is in power. Or, as one Mark Taylor as @MaGaTa76 on Twitter said of Prime Minister’s Questions: She had Corbyn for breakfast, without even turning on the toaster.
I AM especially keen on local pursuits in summer. And shudder at the thought of a holiday when the schools are out. I fear it will be too crowded, with too many screaming kids, displays of burnt flesh, hold-ups and delays. And I’ve never seen the sense in leaving the country just when we have a fighting chance of the sun coming out at home. The time to venture abroad, surely, is spring or autumn when our good weather is yet to appear or long gone, and the best way to deal with late July and August is to hide in one’s garden with occasional sorties to see Broadstairs Folk Week (starting this time next week) alongside half the population of Chatham. My heart, however, went out to the thousands trapped in their cars last week, in that heat, without access to toilet facilities or water, many with small children in tow, in the long queues to get into the port of Dover. It looked and sounded utterly ghastly and it was touching to hear stories of a blitz spirit emerging, with surrounding residents helping out, football being played and even a game of tennis taking place over the central reservation. I hope the situation improves from now on – and nobody has to go through that again. But if we could all hold the scene in our heads for one last minute, I’d like to whisper one small word which might not sound quite so bad now. RiverOak. Followed by: Manston Airport…
FOR OTHERS planning to stay put, how delightful to see that Stagecoach are offering us all the chance to “Go topless in Thanet this summer” (clearly no expense spared there in the pursuit of razor-witted PR) with the return of the open-top buses to the area. For the first time in nearly 25 years, you can feel the sea breeze in your hair on what they promise will be a “jaunty” journey along the coastline from Ramsgate Boating Pool and Stone Bay in Broadstairs. It is particularly heartening in these times of austerity to see that tickets have not been greedily priced. (Am I the only one who thinks it a trifle rich that the party claiming to be the biggest champions of the poor, are charging £25 a throw to have a say in its future?) A single journey for a child is a quid with the bargain family dayrider coming in at only £5.50. Meaning that you can choose between unlimited journeys all day for two adults and three children – or one adult and four children – and have a lovely time looking down at our sandy shores or buy a fifth of a vote for Jeremy Corbyn.
And now for something entirely non-brexit! In a welcome distraction, I’ve been feeding this little chap, who seems to have fallen out of his nest yesterday and who spent most of his day squeaking outside the front door. We were worried a fox or cat would get him so when he wandered in to what we call our lobby, we left him there overnight. I fed him last night – he had a sleep – and woke me up at five a.m. for breakfast. He’s now back outside – still squawking – and his mum has taken over… Blackbird breakfast on youtube
It’s going well so far, isn’t it? As I write, the big property funds have been forced to suspend trading, we’ve lost our triple-A credit rating and the pound is still well down against the euro and the dollar.
There could be a question-mark hanging over the 500,000 British jobs provided by German-owned companies and both main political parties remain in disarray*. At least Nigel Farage is going to get his “life back” (while hanging on to his £80,000 European job – no surprise there) after systematically wrecking ours.
Time then to draw on one’s inner Pollyanna and look for a bright side. My detractors are quite entertaining – my favourite to date is the woman on Facebook who told me to stop winging (sic), and the tweeter who posted that I was no longer a local celebrity (how exciting to learn that I once was), as well as the infuriated Brexiteer who found me “pomppous” (I think I’d have been inclined to make sure I could spell it first). At least the abuse is predictable – yeah, yeah, I am “rude” and “biased” – and one is never short of something to argue about. I will not go into the appalling acts of racist vandalism that have been perpetrated against the blameless since the vote was cast, but I hope the irony will not be lost when I choose for this week’s choice of positives-to-highlight, that at least our trains run on time.
Reading about the upheaval to Southern Rail – where a dispute rages about the roles of conductors versus supervisors, and where passengers have been subject to endless cancellations in a situation described by one commuter as “an absolute nightmare”, I was struck this week by how very fortunate we are with our own train service here.
The Hi-speed to St Pancras is brilliant, and it is very rare for it not to roll into Broadstairs station bang on schedule. I have no idea what job description applies to the jolly chaps who check the tickets, but whether they are called conductors, supervisors, or something else entirely, on both my journeys this week, “Jack” and then “Stephen” were the very epitome of good customer service and cheer. Jack, possibly a frustrated radio presenter (I sympathise!), always keeps his travellers informed with upbeat announcements and a big smile; Stephen, with equal charm, took the trouble to advise me on the best possible ticket to ensure I got a bargain. We are also lucky with our station surroundings.
As I was waiting for the train in the first place, a member of Broadstairs town team was clearing up dog-ends with a dustpan and brush and putting stray bits of rubbish in the bin. How lovely, I commented to Andy of the Red Bean Machine – the hot-drink-mobile that does a great Americano and homemade flapjack – as I compared and contrasted this altruistic lady with the unthinking morons who’d dropped their fag butts and beer cans in the first place. He pointed out the attractive wooden plant containers, also supplied and maintained by the team, observing sadly that some people sit in them! There are those who give and those who take away. And I think we’ll find that from now on, it was never more so…
Read here: Hike in train passengers heading to Margate
One further tiny reason to be cheerful. The Brexit debacle has inspired a new family game: “Spot the Leaver”. Run along the lines of the one-time Carling Black Label ads, the rules are simple and one only needs to watch and observe.
Overhear an unfortunate (and usually factually inaccurate) exchange about immigration? See a Union Jack T-shirt hoving into view? Witness the bloke moaning about “them” and talking drivel about the economy? My son and I raise eyebrows, roll eyes and see who can be the first to cry: “I bet HE voted Out…”
* NB this was written last weekend – before Theresa May was appointed.
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/plain-jane-brexit-is-going-well/story-29512479-detail/story.html#ixzz4ET8CGdAg
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I woke up on Saturday morning feeling strangely unwell. I mentally ran through what I’d eaten the night before and counted up the glasses of Cava, before I registered that the sick, traumatised sensation in my stomach was simply the realisation that the previous day hadn’t been an awful dream brought on by too much camembert. We really had voted ourselves out of the EU and into the abyss.
On Sunday I felt exactly the same. By that time, we could add to our list of outcomes not only that the pound had crashed and the markets crumbled and that big companies were signalling their intentions to move away from the UK, but that the Labour party was in crisis, nobody from the Tories was seeming ever so keen to be the one to trigger article 50 and in fact a lot of them seemed to be wandering about in confusion wondering what would happen next.
I’ve had my fair share of flak on Facebook for expressing my shock and shame and I have been urged to accept the workings of democracy, to respect the wishes of the majority and to stand firm against the divisions which have sprung up between those who voted to Leave and those who wished fervently to Remain. All well and good and laudable. But what do I do with my rage?
I have always respected the political opinions of others – I have friends on the right and the far left and the wishy-washy centre (where I usually reside myself) and I will listen to anyone with an intelligent, informed view. And there is the rub.
I feel no animosity towards, say, Craig Mackinlay because I know our South Thanet MP has a brain, is an accountant and voted from a position of unshakable conviction based on his own (even if in my view, mistaken) economic analysis. Ditto any of the members of Westminster who went that way although I note that Boris is not looking particularly jubilant now – time will tell what his particular stance was all about. But I cannot recover from my fury with the ignorant. Or those that fed them the lies.
The woman interviewed on Radio 5 Live who voted to leave because Wales and Scotland got free prescriptions and she in England didn’t. The bloke filmed for Channel Four news who thought an out vote would “stop the muslims from coming into this country” or the chap on the same piece of film who was fuelled by the fact that 13 million quid had been spent on art! The girl who came on next who thinks a Leave vote has put “England on the globe” (where was it beforehand then?) or the chap on BBC Radio Four who didn’t mind “the ones here already” but was none too keen on “them others”. The local woman who said she was doing it because it was “best” for her finances but who hadn’t yet bought the euros for her Spanish holiday next week. (See what it costs you now, love.)
My esteemed colleague on this column, Mike Pearce, has always taken the view that some people are too stupid to vote and I have always squealed with horror. Finally, reluctantly, I feel forced to agree.
But the responsibility lies with the likes of UKIP leader Nigel Farage, now distancing himself from any suggestion that the EU contributions could go to the NHS (not what you said a few weeks ago, Nige!) or the Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan who has finally admitted that coming out of the EU will not result in reduced immigration.
Many, many voters were sold a vision of a Britain that cannot be delivered and they won’t realise that until much too late. For those of you who will respond by telling me I am wrong, then let me answer you now that I so dearly hope I am.
In the meantime, I still feel sick. What, oh what, have we done?
You can read the original post at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/plain-jane-after-the-eu/story-29462228-detail/story.html.
Come Thursday we can put our cross in the box and say once and for all, whether we want to be part of the EU or go our own, not necessarily sweet, way. (After the way our football fans have behaved, Europe may heave a collective sigh of relief.)
Having listened to the hours of debate, read acres of news coverage and had a couple of wine-fuelled exchanges in which I have just stopped short of banging the table and shouting “Enough!” ( a habit I am trying to grow out of), I have concluded that the way one intends to vote, boils down to a single, simple question. Namely: is one the sort to become over-exercised about the concept of immigration? Or more of the kind of chap who believes in reserving one’s energies for fretting about the economy? I.e. if you spend a lot of your time muttering about “them” stealing our jobs and taking all the housing, and find Nigel Farage can easily whip you into a lather, you’re in the first camp and fully focused on getting OUT.
If on the other hand, you have been struck by how the economists and business leaders and top academics involved in research funding, have all been urging caution on the potential dosh front and you believe that a strong economy is paramount – otherwise how can you sort anything? – then you are probably planning on adding your voice to staying IN.
It strikes me, however, that along with the back-stabbing there is wealth of misinformation on both sides. Of the sixty-five million of us living in the UK, only around three million are EU Nationals. On the other hand, about five million Brits live abroad, so they’ve still got more of us bellowing at the waiters and demanding more chips than the other way round. (It does give me a wry smile when I hear the Outers complaining that the least those coming here could do is speak fluent English.) Of those three million, over two-thirds are in employment and contributing to the national coffers. And it is a statistical fact as well as my personal opinion, that if anyone is going to swing the lead and bleed the benefit system dry, it is more likely to be a home-grown Brit than an incoming (and in my experience, very hard-working) Pole.
The hard truth is that we need immigrant workers – the NHS would fall apart without them – and since one in five of our care workers comes from elsewhere, so would lots of the elderly. As for them having nowhere to live, do you know how much of the land that makes up England actually has buildings on it? 2.27% Yes, I was staggered too. We’ll just put up some more houses on the other 97%. If all those ex-pats get sent home, we’ll certainly need to!
As far as our wealth and financial stability goes, there’s a tough truth to be faced there too. Nobody knows. Not one of our politicians, experts, pundits or blokes from the pub actually has a clue what the effect of leaving the EU would have on the state purse. It’s all guesswork. It could be brilliant; it might be disaster.
As a friend old enough to have been able to vote the first time around, observed: there is nobody left with any experience of how to run the country without being in Europe. At the end of the day, for all the hypotheses and fears, with the xenophobia and clutching of the Tetleys teabags to the patriotic chests at one end of the spectrum and the idealism surrounding diversity and joys of European culture at the other, what we vote for on Thursday will come down to instinct. Mine says that for all the annoying and petty bureaucracy that comes out of Brussels, we are better off, on balance, with the devil we know.
My latest Plain Jane column. The version that came out in print – and online – was mysteriously lacking my last sentence. Is it that dreadful and offensive? 🙂 Had my tongue protruded too far from my (overly chubby) cheek? Answers, as always, very welcome… 🙂
I couldn’t care less whether Chris Wells, leader of Thanet Council, was unable to pay his council tax back in 2012 and I certainly don’t stand in judgement. Lord knows, I’ve had my cash flow problems in the past – who hasn’t – and if he says it’s all been paid back now, then all well and good, let’s yawn and move on. I do, however, think it’s a trifle rich to accuse his rivals of highlighting his past penury for political gain and then using it himself – through his column last week – to do exactly the same. After a brief re-run of his non payment of bills and a side swipe at “political opponents encouraging the media circus”, Mr Wells moved swiftly to compare and contrast his debts with that of past councils. And then, in a deft demonstration of the tactical non-sequitur, bangs on about alleged Tory election expenses, claiming that Thanet Conservatives “truly fear” a re-run of the general election, “knowing” that Nigel Farage and UKip would win this time around and be able to celebrate the victory that they “earned” a year ago. Oh dear, Chris, if you can hear me over the unmistakable clatter of barrels being scraped, I feel I should offer counsel. Putting aside the obvious fact that Ukip didn’t earn anything – on polling night Nigel Farage got fewer votes than Craig Mackenzie and therefore didn’t secure the seat (the number of hotel rooms paid for in Ramsgate will never change that) – may I remind you of the valuable mantra, heeded by all shrewd figures in the public eye. Never complain, never explain. To which we might usefully add: Or descend into fantasy…
A GOLD STAR for Southern Water’s customer service. Last Saturday I answered the phone to a nice lady called Denise who informed me that our water meter reading had been taken and our bill was much higher than usual. Rather than sending out an invoice for a scary amount, she was calling to enquire if our usage had dramatically increased. Having waited politely while I interrogated my son on his bathing habits and faucet-shutting prowess, she explained that even if he had cleaned his teeth with the tap running (a practice I have long attempted to crush) we were talking a very large quantity of H20 for three people to consume, and we probably had a leak. She then texted instructions as to how I could find out. On Monday I braced myself and phoned the number I’d been given to report that yes, it seemed the meter was still moving even when the water was switched off, and what a shock I had. There was no “press one for a payment”, two to change my address or three to listen to mindless music for forty minutes and then cut my throat. Instead, the phone rang and someone answered! Just like that. And an equally lovely-sounding Sarah said she’d send an inspector round this week. If anyone has had any recent dealings with certain other infuriatingly inefficient and almost-impenetrable utilities (to mention no names, British Gas!) you will understand my almost speechless wonder.
THE Taxpayers Alliance wants the proposed “sugar tax” to be axed, as it fears it will adversely affect the poor. Its reasoning is that the tax will not apply to all sugary drinks across the board but will target those more likely to be purchased by families on low incomes. It offers as an example Coca-Cola (10.6 grams of sugar per 100ml) which will be subject to the levy, as opposed to a Starbucks’ hot chocolate with whipped cream and coconut milk (11 grams), which will not. The organisation also notes anomalies such as “energy” drinks being taxed (11 grams) but not Tesco chocolate milk (12.4). I quite see where the TPA is coming from but surely there’s a much simpler answer. If we really want to make things fair and save the poor NHS from buckling under the weight of obesity, then let the government ban sickly drinks altogether. Make it illegal to sell any soft drink containing more than a certain level of the sweet stuff and have done with it. They’ve come for the smokers and the drinkers. Fatties – it’s your turn next!
You can view the original article at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Debts-water-sugar-tax/story-29351761-detail/story.html
I recently had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing Fay Weldon. The Grande Dame of contemporary women’s fiction-with-an-edge – with whom I spent an hour on stage at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival (Jeremy Clarkson did not attend) – can count among her achievements not just 34 novels and several volumes of short stories, radio plays, stage plays, essays, TV scripts, a CBE, FRSL, a couple of professorships, three husbands and four children but – let us never forget – a significant contribution to the success of the 1960s campaign: Go to Work on an Egg.
As the author of a ground-breaking diet book in which the eating of eggs for breakfast is fundamental (studies show you will eat four hundred fewer calories for the rest of the day) and self-appointed connoisseur of the egg mayonnaise sandwich (should I ever be careless enough to end up on death row it will be my last meal along with decent crisps and a bottle of champagne) I have always been an advocate of the humble egg as staple food item.
Of course the health brigade, in their usual joyless fashion, have been delivering dire warnings about the perils of eating more than three yolked delights per week, for some time. A diktat, I hardly need say, I have roundly ignored. And Yay! One is vindicated. Last week saw the death, at age 116, of Susannah Mushatt Jones, the oldest woman in the world, leaving that position open. The new incumbent, one Emma Morano, also aged 116, an Italian living near Swiss border, attributes her great age to eating… yes, eggs.
Three of them to be precise – a DAY! (Two of them she takes raw.) And lo – a small dig into the culinary habits of her predecessor – reveals that Ms Mushatt Jones too, liked her oval pleasures.
For her this came in the form of bacon with scrambled eggs which she also used to consume daily. In the interests of fairness, however, and before you rush out to stock up, I should add that Emma Morano additionally swears by staying single as a key to longevity, explaining that after her marriage ended in 1938 she remained solo because she “didn’t want to be dominated by anyone.”.
This does fly in the face of other research studies so if it sounds a bit drastic – and you’ve grown fond of your special him or her – I think you can safely take a chance. And make an omelette.
DONALD Trump has been looking ahead (over-optimistically, we pray) to a time when he might be president of the United States. Speaking of his future interactions with David Cameron, he has declared: “It looks like we’re not going to have a very good relationship”.
Well of course not. How could anyone with more than five brain cells interact well with a man who, every time he opens his mouth. spills out the sort of bile that the PM quite rightly described as “divisive, stupid and wrong.”
But these latest comments highlight his unsuitability even further. The grown-up, dignified, and above all, political, response would have been to demonstrate he could accept criticism, by refusing to be drawn on Mr Cameron’s opinions while murmuring soothingly about how he trusted that the “special relationship” would prevail. But no. Trump is an even greater chump than we feared.
THE CHURCH of England is investing millions of pounds in Google we learn, and has paid one of its executive commissioners a staggering £465,000.
Who knew – I didn’t – that these commissioners manage assets worth seven billion pounds?
Leaving aside the knotty questions of whether the church should be investing in companies with a less than glowing record of coughing up on the tax front, and whether it is right for individuals in the church’s employ to earn so much when so many of its parishioners live in poverty, I can only wonder this: If the Church of England has so much dosh, why is St Peter’s Church in Broadstairs having to scrabble around, begging for funds, for a few new pews and repairs to the clock tower?
Yes, well done, you at the back, Roger Bannister did indeed break the four-minute mile on that date in 1954. Just six years before Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act on the same day as Princess Margaret married Tony Armstrong-Jones and a year after Tony Blair was born. As it happens, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, a little later in 1966, were also sentenced to life imprisonment on May 6th and it was Orson Welles’ birthday. (Never let it be said your local newspaper does not have the enhancement of your general knowledge and possible potential to win on Eggheads at heart.)
But I was thinking of something a bit closer to home. Clue: it happened just up the road here in Kent, the Queen was there, and despite the worst of the fear-mongering, we didn’t all get wiped out by rabies.
I speak of course of the opening of the Channel Tunnel.
It was on this very day, back in 1994 that the sub-aqua link between England and France was officially opened by Her Majesty and President Mitterand.
I have no recollection of it at all and can only assume that since I had spent the previous twelve months in a haze of exhaustion after the arrival of The Child That Never Slept, that I was probably having a catnap when the news footage came on, the whole event thus passing me by.
I have now been belatedly mugging up and can tell you that the structure, recognized as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers, on a par with the Empire State Building and the Panama Canal, is 31.4 miles long, with an average depth of 50 metres below the seabed, and the longest undersea portion of any tunnel in the world.
I have only been through it twice. Whereas my highly risk-averse colleague Mr Mike You-won’t-get-me-up-there Pearce (he wouldn’t even come on the roller coaster at Dreamland) frets about falling out of the sky, I feel a slight sense of unease about all those tonnes of water hovering over my head.
So I hesitate to mention it, knowing a proportion of the readership gets rather more exercised by my carbon footprint that I do (there was a small outcry and some hilarious abuse when I once admitted flying to Manchester) but on the many occasions I have been to France since the tunnel opened, I have been inclined to let the plane take the strain.
Having, however, had the recent experience of being stuck in a traffic hold-up on the M25 (three hours), endless queues for security at Gatwick (at least half an hour longer than usual), an extra long wait on the runway after we’d “missed our slot” (a further forty-five minutes) and a ninety-minute flight during which the back of my seat was consistently and rhythmically kicked by the small boy sitting behind me, who also regularly shrieked, I am wondering if I should rethink.
Teaching here now at Chez Castillon in the Dordogne, up to an hour’s car ride from Bordeaux airport, I have been joined by two other Thanetians, who arrived fresh-faced and bright-eyed, having made the journey from Broadstairs via the Eurotunnel shuttle, in shorter time door-to-door than I had, and having had considerably more sleep. Perhaps it is time to put aside my fear of fire and flood and broken-down trains (in 2009, 2,000 passengers were trapped down there for 16 hours, a thought that fills me with horror and dread) remember instead the thousands of successful journeys that have been completed since and be brave for the 35 minutes it takes to cross beneath the Channel.
Sorry to inflame a different faction altogether, but it’s at times like these that I so miss Manston….
You can read the original article at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Channel-Tunnel-chance/story-29252022-detail/story.html.
Celebratory times! Manchester City make the last four in the Champions League, the Queen – longest serving British Monarch – hits 90 (Happy Birthday Your Maj.); the Turner Contemporary marks its five year anniversary, and both Albion House in Ramsgate and Sands Hotel in Margate make the The Times list of Best Places by the Sea.
And I, dear reader, in a rare double departure – what you football fans might like to see as my own personal Blue Moon Rising – find myself simultaneously agreeing with my curmudgeonly colleague Mike Pearce and expressing praise for the cabinet members of Thanet District Council. Excuse me while I take a small lie-down.
I have always been rather sniffy about J D Wetherspoon, mainly because back in 2003 I offered to open their latest acquisition in Hertford – rumoured to be about to be named The Last Witch (who, those up on their 18th century history will know, was one Jane Wenham) – and they turned me down and called it something else. Mike, however, is a fan – expressing his approval in this paper three weeks back; my son thinks highly of them – citing good ale and cheap burgers – and I’ve now discovered that Tim Martin, founder and Chairman, has an entire business plan based on an essay by George Orwell.
This may be a slight exaggeration – it was a journalist who first made the comparison between a Wetherspoon establishment and the fictional and idealised The Moon Under Water hostelry that Mr Orwell dreamt of, and Mr Martin then gave over a dozen of his own drinking holes the same name. But I still feel it shows a certain level of taste and discernment (so sadly lacking 13 years ago) and has caused me to rethink the whole Wetherspoon in the Royal Pavilion, Ramsgate debate.
The great George O listed ten attributes he considered essential for his perfect pub – some of which don’t seem entirely necessary (the selling of stamps and aspirin) or even desirable (the serving of boiled jam roll) (urgh) but do which include the laudable requirements that it should boast regulars and the barmaid should know customers by name. He also wished the place to be quiet enough for conversation (remember that?) and to have a garden. The Moon Under Water , wrote Orwell wistfully, was “only two minutes from a bus stop but…. drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights.” I think we’ll be lucky to achieve that one on Ramsgate seafront but as one who considers the demise of the British “Local” as the biggest single contribution to the breakdown of the fabric of society (along with libraries being full of DVDs instead of books and the sub post offices being squeezed out) I am all for anyone even vaguely bent on recreating some of its qualities. I would also like to see the historic Pavilion properly preserved (I still have fond memories of the faded glamour of the casino Tiberius) and a chain like J D Wetherspoon will at least have the dosh to do it. Better this than it fall into further disrepair.
So the recent decision taken by councillors to continue with negotiations between Rank (holders of lease) and Wetherspoon’s, with a view to the latter taking on the building “to contribute to the regeneration of the area” is probably on balance, and as Mike Pearce himself expounded, good news. Especially if paired with a commitment to upholding Orwell’s vision. For the ideal barmaids, according to the late author, are all middle-aged woman with “their hair dyed in quite surprising shades.”
If Tim Martin’s that keen, he can hire me after all…
So Margate’s most famous daughter has married a rock. This is not the fond description of a nice solid chap, one who can be reliably counted on to be steadfast in all events. No, artist Tracey Emin has revealed she underwent an actual ceremony, in her garden in France, to join herself in matrimony with a hunk of stone. (Drawings of her new spouse make up part of her latest exhibition.)
“Life is beyond parody,” grumbled my esteemed fellow columnist, Mike Pearce, when he emailed to share this news, but I can see how the union would have its benefits. Over and above Tracey’s own reasoning when comparing her new partner with a traditional groom: “it’s not going anywhere” – 20 years on, this might not be quite the advantage it seems – it is also not going to argue. Or put the football on when you want to see a re-run of Downton Abbey. Or leave cups with teabags in them lying around when it takes two seconds to put them in the dishwasher. Or eat the last chocolates in the box and then swear blind it didn’t. Or read the paper when you are imparting something crucial and generally grunt and sigh in place of communication until you are really absorbed in something and relishing the peace and silence, at which point it will suddenly have a very long story to tell that you’ve probably heard before. It also won’t take the rubbish out. On balance however, I think the marriage has legs. I wish the happy couple well.
I WILL NOT use up any more space berating Kipper Councillor, Sarah Larkin, for the unfortunate anti-Muslim views she expressed on Facebook – public opinion has already been suitably robust and she has apologised – but I am at a genuine loss as to understand the official UKIP response to the matter. Councillor Larkin would not be disciplined, a spokesman stated, because she had a “specific perspective” on the issue as a transgender woman. Her “particular position”, Gawain Towler UKIP’s Head of Communications explained, was based on how her “personal safety and position would be endangered” in “many Muslim countries”. I find this an extraordinary line to take. While I have every sympathy for anyone suffering any sort of discrimination, wherever it takes place (there are those in the UK of no religious persuasion who are horribly prejudiced), may I remind Mr Towler that Ms Larkin is not in a Muslim country but Deputy Mayor of Ramsgate, and that furthermore she has chosen to be a politician with all the responsibility that entails. I thought equality meant we were all subject to the same rights and censures. Not that certain minority groups had a special dispensation to make silly and inflammatory comments.
YOU CAN’T get through 24 hours these days without being asked to stretch the grey matter in some new and hitherto-unconsidered direction. April boasts Bowel Cancer Awareness month, National Pet Month, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) Awareness month, Mathematics Awareness month, Jazz Appreciation month, and, not unpredictably, Stress Awareness Month. (Frankly, having to think about that lot while knocking out a spot of long division and recognising the full value of your polyrhythms and syncopation is enough to make anyone feel a bit fraught). If that wasn’t enough, then Monday sees the start of World Homeopathy Awareness Week and on April 20th you can celebrate seven days of National Stop Snoring. Which may be a time to take stock and reflect: that Rocks don’t do that either…
In these difficult and joyless times of conflict, health scares, national obesity and George Osborne, may I take the rare opportunity to look on the bright side and offer reasons to be cheerful this Easter.
Yes, as Chris Wells, Chief Kipper honcho at Thanet council reminded us in his column last week, it is Holy Week, with its “historical and cultural role in our society.”
Christian tradition, our leader reminds us, underpins not only our calendar and “family memories” but “our willingness to sacrifice time and effort to help those less fortunate than ourselves”, (something that might be usefully suggested as an alternative pursuit to the little b*****ds who vandalised the #StreetArtMargate project two weeks ago, whom I would like to string up in a decidedly unChristian fashion).
However, this weekend affords us the chance to do ourselves a favour too and still retain a clear conscience in the face of the Healthy Living police. Readers, I give you beer and chocolate!
It has long been known that chocolate contains flavonoids which have an anti-oxidant effect beneficial to preventing cancer and heart disease. And that eating it also promotes the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormones. (A good reason to get your Easter eggs down your neck early if you’ve got the relatives coming.)
Now it transpires that beer is pretty good for you too.
Recent findings, triumphantly relayed to me by my son – newspaper in hand, definite whiff of brewery on the air – suggest that a pint of the hoppy stuff could be your Easter health perk number two. Scientists at the University of Idaho have found that the acids humulones and lupulones, found in hops, possess the ability to halt bacterial growth and fight cancer and inflammatory diseases.
Further studies claim that such chemicals can reduce the chances of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, kidney stones and Alzheimer’s as well as strengthening bones, helping cure insomnia and protecting against cataracts.
Put like that, the implication was I would be neglecting in my motherly duty if I didn’t positively shower his head with blessings on the beer-imbibing front and pack him off to the nearest fount of ale. Which, as it happens, is right here on our doorstep, for this weekend brings not only the commemoration of the crucifixion but the 11th Planet (eurgh) Thanet Easter Beer Festival, held as usual at the Winter Gardens in Margate.
Beer is not my own drink of choice but I know I am in a dwindling minority as the micro pubs continue to mushroom all over the isle with some brewing their own to boot.
Look out for my stepson Paul Wenham-Jones’ potions – brewed at the Four Candles in St Peter’s – Eddies Cascade Hopburst, New Zealand Double Hop and Manston Centenary Ale (I approve of the name even if I’d pull a face at the taste) and a citrusy little number inspired by my good friend Janice, known as Citra Darling, which has been specially commissioned by Camra for the festival.
Don’t hang about though as last year the Four Candles’ brews were the first to go and since Margate was voted number four in the top 20 hippest places to live in Britain by The Times a couple of weeks ago, who knows who might descend! (“Trendy Londoners” are apparently flocking to Ramsgate too).
I would not be displaying the responsibility you have come to love and expect from an Isle of Thanet Gazette journalist if I did not point out that all the researchers, in their different ways, urged moderation in the face of their findings (a factor that the boy, strangely, omitted to share) and that the Indiana University School of Medicine when citing one of beer’s positive roles, suggested only a tablespoon could be needed to make the drinker feel calmer and more relaxed.
But, hey, it’s Easter, we’re hip and the news can’t be all bad. If you ask me, I’d say fill your boots and have a happy one!
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/EASTER-Plain-Jane-brings-reasons-cheerful/story-28992693-detail/story.html#ixzz43vUeCMIZ
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“We’re almost there–” proclaims the latest shrink-wrapped brochure from Stone Hill Park, above a photo of children hopping, somewhat bizarrely, in sacks, through fields of what appears to be rapeseed flowers (was the farmer told?) and grinning fixedly for the camera.
By this, the powers behind the proposed development of Manston, mean they are almost ready to submit their proposals to Thanet District Council, which include “jobs, homes, community facilities and £75 million for local investment.” Ray Mallon, spokesman for the Stone Hill outfit, would have us believe it’s what most of us want. “We are finding that the more people hear the facts about what we intend to deliver, the more supportive they are,” he says. Not over here they’re not, Love. I still find the whole “new town” concept completely ghastly. What Messrs Cartner and Musgrave have done at Discovery Park is one thing – credit where credit is due for the excellent deployment of the abandoned Pfizer’s site – but I shudder at the thought of a massive housing estate plonked in the middle of one of our precious green spaces. Not to mention the traffic queues. Yes we need more homes but yes, we also have plenty of empty, disused buildings, pubs, shops and patches of wasteland that could be utilised to provide them too. I am loving the look of what is being done with the former Rank Hovis Factory in Ramsgate, for example, and am pleased to learn from last week’s Gazette that 58 new council homes are planned on 12 former garage sites. (Even if at a suggested cost of 10 million quid this makes them quite pricey in terms of build-costs per unit. I trust there’ll be some shopping around done.) Google has not immediately revealed exactly how many properties are currently empty in Thanet but it does offer the sobering fact that the figure was standing at almost 4,000 a few years ago and that there were 19,000 empty homes across Kent in 2012. The Empty Property Initiative has allegedly made some inroads into these but it would be heartening to see a lot more houses and flats refurbished before 2,500 new ones are stacked up either side of the runway. I suspect, however, that unless there’s a miracle, the “Stone Hill” plans will be bulldozed through. I just hope our good councillors will have the grace to remember the fine words and assurances so many of them gave while out canvassing last May. When they promised us, suckers that we were, an airport instead…
I confess I was not out last weekend, with my litter-picker, Clean for the Queen. It is not that I don’t wish Her Majesty a thoroughly delightful – and pristine – 90th Birthday but it does seem a little sad that we can’t already keep the place tidy – for US. I do not drop my rubbish on the pavement and have been known to pick up that of others’ if it is particularly unsightly. Or even, on one notable occasion, instruct one of those others to do it himself. (I remain bemused that the six-foot bloke, rugby-sized did obediently bend to retrieve his discarded kebab-in-wrapper while I berated him as though he were five and I were his mother.) And I can’t help feeling that those who did venture forth with a bin bag were those who would anyway, and those who don’t give a toss still won’t. At the time of writing the weekend is still in progress so who knows how much of a success it has been but if I’m wrong and this has worked a treat, then perhaps we can roll it out further. Could we pick up our dog poo for the Queen, stop our road rage for the Queen, be kind to animals and children, quit our pilfering, tackle our obesity and stop getting drunk on a Saturday night perhaps? While singing Happy Birthday!
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As every man and his dog is wheeled on to tell us what to think, it is hard to know who to believe.
Will we go to hell in a handcart with millions of jobs lost and big companies moving out, leaving us to scrabble in the dust for the crumbs from the European trade table, unprotected against terrorism and isolated from all centres of influence and power?
Or will we be freer, happier and richer away from the tyranny of Brussels?
Will we easily secure an alternative workable trade agreement – some say yes, others shake their heads in sorrow – leaving us still able to prosper?
Or see ourselves left out in the cold after what the Prime Minister has repeatedly called a Leap in the Dark.
One suspects that nobody can answer these questions for certain and that bias abounds. Here in Thanet, Craig Mackinlay MP is an OUT man while at the last count, Sir Roger Gale was keeping his powder dry until after the negotiations.
The only thing we can be sure of is that over the coming weeks, as figures and statistics are bandied, refuted, reinvented and pulled back out of the hat, it will become more confusing not less, and that like it or love it, we will soon be heartily sick of the word “Europe”.
I AM SURE nobody reading last week’s Gazette could fail to be shocked by the plight of those sleeping in a shelter on Margate seafront in this cold weather or agree that homelessness is a sad indictment on our 21st century Britain.
I was however interested by the response from Lyn Fairbrass, TDC’s deputy leader and cabinet member for community services, when asked about the council’s decision to take legal action against the shelter occupants.
Ms Fairbrass claims that despite council visits to “encourage more suitable living arrangements” some of those huddled in sleeping bags are continuing to camp out.
I know from experience that it can be very difficult to help those who, for whatever reason, won’t help themselves, and I can understand surrounding businesses being concerned to see them moved on, but I do wonder this.
Instead of “support, housing advice and referrals” have these individuals sleeping on benches in the middle of February, actually been offered a roof over their heads and a front door key? And if not, why is that?
IT HAS LONG seemed to me that, as a general rule, women tend to get more feisty and eccentric as they get older while men get grumpier and more pedantic.
I make this observation in the hope that it is useful to any sweet young things planning to take advantage of the long tradition surrounding February 29 by getting down on one knee come Monday.
The extra day we gain in a Leap Year was historically the one occasion upon which a woman was permitted to ask a man to marry her, which might have seemed a good idea in the 13th century if he was looking unlikely to ever come up with the bright idea himself, but should perhaps be treated with caution in 2016.
Back then the average life expectancy for a male was 31.3 years with only the particularly hale and hearty making it to their 50s. Today it is 80-plus and counting, with an ever increasing number reaching the full century.
Meaning that if you marry at 25 you’ve got a very real chance of 70 years of wedded bliss (or otherwise) stretching ahead of you. That’s a hell of a lot of socks left on the floor.
Far be it from me to put the boot in on anyone’s notion of fairytale romance, but please girls, take a moment to consider before you whip out that ring. He might just say yes…
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Channel Four’s Michael Crick started it, the Electoral Commission is looking into it and now, according to Mr Crick’s blog, one Michael Barnbrook from Ramsgate, whose hobby is filing complaints, has gone so far as to contact Kent Police. I refer to the minor hoo-hah surrounding South Thanet election expenses on behalf of the Tories. Mr Barnbrook, who, charmingly, has spent time as a member of the both the BNP and Ukip, has made the complaint under sections of the 1983 Representation of the People Act which has various tedious things to say about election expenses, but the basic allegation is that the Thanet South Tories spent way too much.
The main excitement surrounds the Royal Harbour Hotel – a very nice gaff if I may say so – in Ramsgate, where, it is claimed, an assortment of Central Office campaigners were drafted in to stay over and fight the good fight in the battle against Ukip. Running up a bill that was over and above the amount permitted. Craig Mackinlay, our illustrious MP for Thanet South, who famously beat Nigel Farage back on May 7, had just had a tooth out when I phoned him to make enquiries, but bravely gave me the slightly muffled lowdown. “It was national expenditure,” he assured me, “and completely out of my control.”
Yes they descended from Central Office and cost money but that was because “the seat became a focus of the Ukip Conservative challenge across the country”. The world’s media were down here, he recalled, and had to be responded to. It was, Craig declared firmly, and for the second time “properly national expenditure”.
My view is this. It worked. We did not end up with a Ukip Member of Parliament and having to suffer the indignity of watching Farage followers strutting round Thanet. As far as I’m concerned, whatever it cost to keep the Kippers out was money very well spent.
It can come as no surprise that a recent Mori poll found that, when it comes to trusting others to tell the truth, the public favour their hairdressers over politicians. Just 16 per cent of Britons rely on MPs to come up trumps in the veracity stakes, compared to the 69 per cent of us who are ready to believe anything uttered by he or she who wields the scissors, putting the locks-snippers up there with doctors (90 per cent) and teachers (86 per cent). Journalists and estate agents get an equally bad press, with only 22 per cent of those polled trusting either group to be honest in what they say.
Of course we hacks are a sleazy lot – having to cope, as we do, with the irritating manner in which facts get in the way of a good story – and how would an estate agent ever sell anything if he answered sincerely about the damp and the woodworm and the thoroughly ghastly neighbours? But picture the chaos if politicians really did start to embrace the whole truth and nothing but.
Imagine a world in which they shared: “Frankly, I’m only in it for the power,” “The NHS is in deepest crisis” or “We’ve made a terrible cock-up with education.” It would shake the very foundations of the world as we know it. The political system on both a national and local level relies fundamentally on those who wish to be elected giving out a load of cobblers and us pretending to believe it. How else do you explain the overwhelming number of votes for a council who promised to clean up the streets and sort out rubbish collections.
And then re-open Manston?
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FAR be it from me to agree with Nigel Farage (unless he’s talking about Manston airport) but I can’t help feeling a certain sympathy with the self-styled “boozer not an alcoholic” who has spoken out against what he calls “over the top” Government advice about drinking.
I shall not be following his suggestions for a middle-of-the-day mass protest against the new guidelines (now none of us must drink more than 14 units a week), however, as I rarely imbibe at lunchtimes, can’t over-concern myself with what the chaps are allowed to knock back (female limits remain unchanged) and think actually it is a tad irresponsible for a politician to actively encourage the population to swig alcohol. Still I cannot help but share his irritation with “nannying”.
There is no doubt there is a problem with binge drinking in the UK (even though our recommended limits are set lower than in many other countries) – as any member of the police force or NHS worker will confirm – but I don’t believe banging the table about units is the answer. Perhaps taking the French approach, whereby alcohol in moderation with which to enjoy food is part of a civilised life, would stop many a teenager passing out cold on their 18th birthdays.
Or a spot of awareness training in schools about the risks of alcohol poisoning to health and personal safety. But it would probably be wasted. Young people, of course, know much better about everything than old fogeys like me and it’s not until you are of a certain age that you realise that stumbling, slurring, shouting one’s mouth off in the town centre and then throwing up in the gutter is not a good look. Regular readers will know that I like a glass of wine as much as the next woman but it has never landed me in A & E and I would implode with shame if I came close. I abhor “drinking games”, think knocking back shots is for idiots and can honestly say that much as I enjoy the feeling of a nice glass of fizz skipping its way round my veins I have never, in my entire life, gone out for the evening with the sole purpose of getting hammered (although it has occasionally been an occupational hazard). I know, however, that if I delivered this speech to my son and his friends they would listen politely and put my staid ways down to my great age. Something needs to be done about the nation’s long-term wellbeing and clogging up of the NHS but if the Government really wants to improve things I would suggest there are more pressing trees to bark up. Maybe yes, drinking alcohol does account for 15 extra cases of breast, liver, mouth and throat cancers (strangely it appears to offer some protection against cancer of the kidneys or thyroid) per 1,000 women, as cited in a recent study, but compared to the cancer risks of smoking and obesity these figures are still relatively low. Smoking accounts for around one third of all diagnosed cancers with diet-related factors thought to explain a further third, against which alcohol is currently blamed for approximately 5 per cent of cases. Which would seem to suggest that a tax on sugar, moves to discourage supersize portions and reminding the nation that suet pastry and chips is just as bad for you as too much gin, might be the way forward.
Or one could simply reflect that people have many reasons for finally deciding to take themselves in hand: for giving up the fags, losing weight or realising that being drunk most days tends to mess up one’s life rather than improve it. If you canvassed a thousand people on why they took life-changing steps to improve their health, I’d wager that discomfort, embarrassment, illness or a failed relationship might all feature highly as the salient wake-up call. And not many would reply: “Because the Government told me to.” Or, come to that, Nigel didn’t…
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So 2015 is nearly over and I am struck by the people around me expressing gratitude. An “annus horribilis” as one beleaguered friend put it, in an echo of our own dear Queen in 1992, a year in which Windsor Castle caught fire and several of her family were splashed across the tabloids in a storm of marriage break-ups, cringey phone recordings and toe-sucking.
In Thanet, I would say, we have much to be thankful for – not least our distance above sea level – and I would regard the previous twelve months locally, as not a blanket disaster but more of a “mixed bag.”
On the Lows front, Manston did not re-open (although I did get some very entertaining abuse each time I bemoaned this) but high up on the list of Highs – we did not end up with a Ukip MP either. I can still recall the feeling of pure elation I felt when, high on lack of sleep and relief, I walked up the hill from the Winter Gardens to Forts Café for some restorative tea and toast and everyone seemed to be smiling.
True, we got a Kipper council instead – the strange, fervent, banner-waving rally they put on two days later is one of my more disturbing memories of 2015 – but as we know, overall control was short-lived. Praise be to heaven, etc.
New shops, bars and restaurants have opened and if I’m not mistaken, fewer seem to have closed. The old town in Margate, and Addington Street and The Arches in Ramsgate are looking particularly perky and even if Costa Coffee has joined Iceland as another blot on the Broadstairs landscape, the rest of the town is holding up well.
On the odd sortie to Birchington, it seems bustling, the villages are looking in good shape and of all the times I travelled to London on the high speed this year, it was only ever cancelled once (signals, not leaves).
And then the long awaited, newly reborn Dreamland opened! Reliving my teenage years – when an evening hanging round the funfair was a top night out – has been one of the year’s highlights. Especially the magical moment of trundling to the top of the scenic railway for the first time in nigh on 40 years. (Watching Mike Pearce’s face as he was accosted by two jolly young male greeters wearing a lot of make-up, was another!)
If I have a wish for Margate for 2016 it is that the amusement park shall prevail. Although I still think a pay-as-you-go approach– bums-on-seats, they’ll-soon-spend-money-once-they’re-in-there – would be the way forward. Together with the increasing cutesy-ness of the old town and the ongoing triumph of Turner Contemporary, I see Margate – and thus Thanet in general – set to carry on being the must-come destination for the beautiful young things of the capital – or another potential Dalston-on-sea, as the media whispers go. With, very possibly, real ale being the new glass of fizz.
As a few more pubs have sadly closed, the micropubs of Thanet continue to mushroom with approaching 20 establishments now dotting the Isle. In St Peters, The Yard of Ale has made the final four of Camra’s National Pub of the Year, while down the road The Four Candles in Sowell Street goes from strength to strength as the UK’s smallest micro-brewery (being helped to make my own beer there this year was another personal favourite – who knew it would be so hard to climb out of a “kettle”?).
The future is bright as the mobile phone advertisment used to say, so whatever sort of time you’ve had in the last 52 weeks, may 2016 be better. Happy New Year!
Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-2015/story-28439560-detail/story.html#ixzz3wDfLKkfb
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I confess I have lost the plot when it comes to Manston. Much as I continue to grieve for the heady days of KLM and flights to Schipol – gateway to the world – and would still chain myself to the runway for a daily flight to Spain, I can feel my eyes drooping at mention of CPOs, indemnities, Chris Wells (actually that’s true even without Manston) and consultations. That is, until I opened this paper last Friday and looked at the ghastliness that was the “vision” of how Manston could look. Do we really want a mini Milton Keynes in our midst and how can it be good for the area as a whole? One Ray Mallon (whose photo bears an uncanny resemblance to ex-council leader Clive Hart), spokesman for the site’s owners, talks of a planning application as soon as April, amid claims of creating 8,000 new jobs. I don’t believe it. Yes, 2,500 new homes will take some building and long-term, the extra families will create work for extra plumbers and electricians, hairdressers and gutter-clearers. But where are those possible 5,000 inhabitants going to work themselves? Where are the dentists and doctors coming from? Where are the roads for the cars? I would submit that a properly-marketed airport offering travel to popular destinations for both business and leisure, that can serve the whole of the South-East, bringing more visitors and attracting more entrepreneurs would ultimately do more to swell the coffers of the local economy than the concreting over and plasticising of acres of green space to make a glorified housing estate.
Those who pass their driving test on the third attempt make better drivers than those who sail through at the first try, a study carried out for LV Insurance has revealed. The theory – borne out by statistics collated on collision and police involvement – is that the early passers are more likely to be over-confident and less experienced while the twice-failed have a tendency to exercise greater caution. By this logic, I must be a near-genius behind the wheel. I eventually gained my licence thirty years ago after losing count of my trips to the test centre. There was the first, unforgettable occasion, when in my terror I jammed my instructor’s front door key into the ignition, it got stuck, and after five minutes of heavy sighing, the examiner stalked off. There was the second, when on sight of the same granite-faced official walking towards me, my leg shook so much I couldn’t hold down the clutch. There was the test cancelled because of the frost and the one where I left the handbrake on. There was the unscheduled emergency stop for the baby seagull (a bit harsh that one – what was I supposed to do? Pulverise it?) and the slightly unfortunate misunderstanding at the roundabout. In those days you only had to get one cross on the sheet and you were out. The smiley examiner who finally passed me after the grim one had retired, stopped smiling and looked suitably panic-struck when I flung my arms around him and demanded he marry me. My son – with the smugness of one who passed first time aged 17 – refutes both the contents of the study and any suggestion of my superior prowess. Who is better at reverse parking? I enquire. And rest my case.
The Government are investing £250 million in a quest to find an answer to Operation Stack, which, when ordinary motorists get caught up in the queues, is estimated to cost the Kent economy a million quid a day. Could I suggest the dosh is used to get our own airport up and running again? With an area put aside for some of the lorries to reside on till the port or tunnel reopens? And giving anyone with a car full of suitcases, screaming kids and a disgruntled granny, hoping for a break in France, the chance to simply fly?
See the original article at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Manston-driving-Manston/story-28291331-detail/story.html.
Who knew? Our sewage systems are positively awash with precious metals. Analysts at Thames Water have discovered that when we wash our hands or clean our teeth, microscopic particles are rubbed away from wedding rings and expensive fillings and disappear in waste water, leaving sewage sludge as high in the valuable stuff as an economically viable goldmine. A bounty worth a whopping 13 million pounds worth a year if it could just be harvested without anyone honking up or getting e coli. I see another potential too. When listening to the ramblings of members of our local government, one need no longer be tempted by the somewhat crass summary that our elected representatives are “full of ****” Now, instead, one can simply look enthralled and smile beatifically while murmuring softly: “Pure gold.”
I NEVER MET Cynthia Payne but it’s always sad when another character is lost. The infamous brothel-keeper and party-giver had many fans in Thanet who do not necessarily want to stand up and be counted. I have therefore promised not to name the elderly gent who, in a triumph of optimism, bless him, still has a collection of luncheon vouchers…
THERE WAS much dismay on the Thanet Gazette Facebook page this week at the news that a massive new Poundland was to grace Margate’s High Street. For those fretting about a lowering of the tone I sympathise (I still wince every time I pass the front of Iceland here in Broadstairs) and I found myself nodding sagely as Sue Jane Windsor bemoaned the resultant loss of Superdrug and Victoria Cove proposed the alternative vision of an M&S with a café. But the postings that brought me out in a spontaneous rash came courtesy of one Dave Hollands, promptly supported by Colin Forbes. Following a typo on the original news story “A new budget superstore could be on its way to Margate…“ in which “its’” was erroneously spelled “it’s” and quickly corrected, Dave made the following observation. “… the apostrophe is actually correct on this occasion. The ‘it’s’ is possessive. The shop is making the way (possessed by it) to the High Street.” While I was still having a small lie down to get my breathing back under control, he was pronounced “correct” by Colin. I haven’t felt such a rush of blood to the head since Councillor Ken Gregory displayed his lack of education by attempting to debate the same point with me, after having ruined his quite amusing announcement that he used my column to line his cat’s litter tray by also failing to grasp the concept of basic punctuation. Please gather round and listen carefully. IT’S is a shortened version of IT IS. You wouldn’t say the dog ate it is bone, now, would you? Or the education system in this country has totally lost it is way. Or, come to that, the pound shop has made it is way anywhere, however unfortunate. Before we get too depressed, however, about standards, and the demise of civilisation as we know it, there is a small glimmer of hope. Mr Hollands, has, behind his profile picture, a banner in support of the National Sarcasm Society. I can therefore only pray that he was joking…
WHILE ON FACEBOOK I hesitated, mindful of the various views on the subject, over whether to add a blue, red and white filter to my photograph, in support of the people of France. Was it simply a gimmick, a glib social media way of doing nothing very much, or was it even running the risk of “cheapening” the atrocity, as one blogger I’d read had suggested? In the end I decided that were I Parisian, or personally involved in the hideous events of Friday night, I would be touched by others around the world making some tiny gesture, however – realistically speaking – ineffectual. We do something small online because at this stage what else can we do? Except be united in our horror and our thoughts for those killed and injured and our determination to support whatever it takes to bring an end to evil and insanity. I put the colours on. Solidarité.
While I am all for paid-for feedback being clamped down on, I am more stunned that a few fictitious paragraphs of praise can have such a wide-reaching effect. In an undercover investigation by the Sunday Times, a book was propelled into the Amazon bestseller lists via £56 worth of bought-in approbation.
Are we all such sheep and where on earth were the trolls when we needed them? Reviews can be interesting – particularly when by journalists or “experts” we respect – but surely we need to remember that now everyone’s a critic it is best to take all views, both favourable and otherwise, with a pinch of salt and a mind on possible agendas.
If 453 members of Trip Advisor say the Hotel De-Spotless had cockroaches and faced an open sewer, it is probably prudent to stay elsewhere, but my heart goes out to the small family-run bistro that gets slated by a rival establishment or some resentful ignoramus whose wife’s just left him, and sees its bookings plummet as a result.
Yes, anybody with a product to sell, a song to sing or a book to write, is well advised to develop a skin of rhino thickness as part of the territory but as a buying public should we not remove the power of those warped or nasty enough to attempt manipulation by vowing to “Take As We Find”?
I rarely heed either extravagant praise or bitter criticism unless it comes in shedloads, but know to my cost how powerful even a small amount of toxic opinion can be.
I once had six negative reviews in as many days – all clearly written by the same person and all declaring I had been reviewing myself. A strange accusation (and one which Amazon took down as defamatory), as I have my fair share of detractors as well as fans. Particularly across the pond on amazon.com where they don’t hold back on the forthright appraisals. A habit, when it’s honest, that I rather applaud.
Yes, I winced at “this is the worst book I have ever read” (although there is a certain cache in topping any sort of list) but I remain cheered by the kind reader who praised my novel One Glass Is Never Enough (set in Thanet) for being “well written” with characters that were “engaging”, and summarising her response with the glowing and unbeatable accolade that my tale was “exactly the type of mindless fluff I like…”
I’m sorry to smirk further, but it is quite entertaining, is it not. We all suspected the shiny new Kipper council might not be quite the answer the short-sighted voters who elected them might have been hoping for – not least because only a handful of them had any sort of experience of local government – but even I expected Chris Wells to keep control a little longer.
Yet a mere five months after the slightly chilling raised armed cheering and flag-waving that heralded the Ukip crew taking office, we once again have a hung council in Thanet, thanks to the five defectors who have set up the Democratic Independent Group, DIG (a hole maybe?). In my idealistic, happy-clappy over-simplistic way I now have a small dream whereby DIG makes friends with the 18 Conservatives, four Labour members and the lone Independent, to form what is basically an alliance (however informal) to keep the Kippers proper at bay (they can get Manston up and running again with my blessing but I don’t trust them let loose on much else).
I was all for the Want Action Not Kippers agreement, but I was vetoed. Not in a family newspaper, said the lovely Ed sternly. So I had to think again. “Want Inspiration Not Kippers” perhaps?
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Oh Lord, I agree with Michael Gove. Prisons do need reforming and should not be, as Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons puts it, “places of violence, squalor and idleness”. Surely it’s punishment enough to be locked up in the first place.
And even if you’re of the “hanging’s too good for ’em” persuasion and rolling your eyes in despair at my bleeding heart liberalism, then let statistics persuade you that a brutal environment does nothing to prevent reoffending. Education and training is vital to help prevent inmates from coming back and I know from my own limited experience of giving writing workshops behind bars, how life-changing even a small input can be. (And how complex the bureaucracy that surrounds efforts to provide it. It was only this summer, for heaven’s sake, that prisoners were finally permitted to receive a direct gift of books). Proportionally, we have the highest prison population in Europe – madness when a community service order is both cheaper and more useful to society – and have seemed to be doing little to turn this whole disaster around. So a thumbs-up for the new proposals in general and I was struck by one in particular. The idea of selling off the areas of land – now at a premium – on which stand the worst of our outdated and dilapidated jails, and putting up more modern facilities out of town ticks many boxes. Better conditions more conducive to rehabilitation, a cash injection from prime city building plots and an answer perhaps, if it’s done right, to the desperate need for affordable housing. We could do worse to look at this as a principle for Thanet. The idea of a mass of new builds plonked in the middle of our green fields appeals to no one but the developers but much could be done with existing empty buildings and shops, simultaneously removing some eyesores from our towns and providing some of these thousands of homes we are told we need. The hot topic on Facebook last week was whether the old Margate Woolworths should become a gym. No it shouldn’t. We’ve enough muscle-bound, protein-shake-filled primates prancing about in lycra already. Turn it into flats.
So now, even the flimsiest split-if-I-look-at-you carrier bag, costs 5p – a move that promises to raise millions for “good causes” and cut down on the seven billion bags given away freely last year.
I have to admit that quite a few of them came to me. It’s not that I don’t believe in Bags-for-Life – I have a fine collection in different colours and sizes. The boot of my car also boasts a hessian carrier, a large black cloth one, some reinforced reusable cold-bags for transporting frozen goods and a selection of wine-bottle holders in various shades of cardboard and plastic. The problem is they tend to stay there. I don’t know why I have a mental block about getting them out of said boot and into my trolley but I invariably pitch up at the checkout with no means of packing a hundred quid’s worth of impulse purchases and needing what will now be up to 50p worth of high density polythene. Before you rush me to the Green Police, however, consider this: I never simply throw these bags away. Every one is recycled as a kitchen pedal bin liner. I have not bought a packet of those for as long as I can remember. So what is better for the environment? For me to now pay for the flimsies – contributing probably in excess of £20 to the good-cause coffers in the next 12 months or revert to paying for proper bin liners that are bigger, sturdier (thus wasting more plastic) and will line the pockets of retailers instead? Answers on a postcard – recycled, re-pulped, reclaimed, organic and from a suitably sustainable source – please!
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In a spirit of better late than never, we are posting this anyway even though half of it is now past its sell-by date. But they’ll be an autumn production from the Minster Playhouse. And Love, Life and Laughter will return. Come next time! 🙂
As in life, so in Downton Abbey. Sunday evenings are bright again with the return of the addictive period drama, but now it is 1925 and the arguments wrangle over who should best administer the local hospital and which members of staff will face redundancy.
“Does anyone have an under-butler these days?” muses Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham. I’ve no idea but I wouldn’t mind. Should I ever take possession of the Euromillions, I would happily eschew yachts and diamonds for the luxury of a dark-suited Jim Carter look-alike gliding towards me in tails with sage words and a small sherry. Harbouring as I do, a quiet adoration for the inscrutable Carson, only matched by my adulation of Maggie Smith playing the dowager. (I am still grieved I missed the chance to fling roses at her feet when she was filming in Broadstairs last winter.) “I wouldn’t let standards slip that far,” she announces at any suggestion of letting her own salver-bearer go. Those were the days…
If you too, like harking back in time, may I urge you to trot along to Minster Village Hall tonight or tomorrow to watch A Bolt From The Blue, the weird and wonderful tale of a man whose body clock reverses. I am so confident it will be terrific that I am writing this (such are the vagaries of local paper deadlines) before I’ve even been to see it myself. I don’t mention the thriving village of Minster-in-Thanet often enough, so here is a big shout-out for the Minster Playhouse, whose production it is, and for which my esteemed and excellent dentist, David Downes-Powell, is a whiz with the lighting and known for his special effects. David Tristram’s play promises to deliver more of the same – I have already heard rumours of lightning strikes and bodily explosions – and I fully expect the performance in general to be up to its usual high standard. It’s use it or lose it, when it comes to quality local drama. Go get your bum on a seat.
Or why not do it twice. Sunday night sees the return of the fund-raiser Love, Life And Laughter at the Sarah Thorne Memorial Theatre in Broadstairs. I am down as MC, together with the ever-fabulous Lisa Payne, to introduce an ultra-talented cast in an evening of songs, poems and sketches, and as they say, so much more. If past years are anything to go by, you’ll be in for a treat. With the warm glow of knowing you’re boosting a really good cause. All proceeds from the event go to Macmillan Cancer Support and you don’t get much more worthy than that. It starts early, at 6pm. You’ll be home for Downton Abbey…
Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-trip-memory-lane/story-27861756-detail/story.html
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SO THERE went summer. I know it goes more quickly as you age and grow grumpy but this one really has sped past at an alarming rate. We waited months for the sun to come out then, blink, the kids were swarming the pavements, blink, it was Folk Week (in which they did not seem to swarm in quite the same quantities as usual) and now one opens one’s eyes to find Lo, it’s Bank Holiday Weekend and the double parking is pretty much over. Let us hope that September proves warm so we can get in a few more doses of vitamin D before the long winter ahead and that Margate keeps up the good work. While nationally, the numbers of trips to the coast, are falling year on year, our very own seaside resort has been bucking the trend with over 13,000 tourists popping into the Visitor Information Centre in July. Hurrah for the shops and businesses and if you’re fed up with outsiders clogging up the coffee shops and fast food outlets, moan not. It will be February before you know it.
ANOTHER reason to lament the end of Summer – it’s a time to watch where you walk. An email from TPPS (The Phantom Poo Sprayer), bringing me up to date with activities, assures me that “dog dumping is seasonal!” TPPS – the self-appointed guardian of Ramsgate pavements, who has appeared on these pages before, has now spray-painted 156 offerings with its trademark biodegradable pink paint, spanning some 18 roads in Ramsgate, and can state categorically “there is less in the summer than other months.” TPPS puts this down to the lighter evenings, which is only logical. Culprits feel less able to walk away from the evidence that they are irresponsible half-wits, when they might be spotted – and hopefully tackled – by their fellow citizens, or caught on CCTV. I have noticed a dramatic uprise in abandoned turds on the steps down to Stone Bay during the winter too. (Some left by dogs who are encouraged to venture down alone while their slack-bummed owners stay in the warmth of their cars!) I could fill the rest of the page with a string of enraged adjectives and still not properly express how furious this leaves me. TPPS is not one to simply carp however. Four possible solutions are offered in the missive, becoming ever more appealing in ascending order. The council contractor Kingdom, responsible for environmental street enforcement continues to mete out fines. The council and this newspaper makes dog-owners aware of a product known as “Poop Freeze” that makes fecal matter easier to gather (I will spare you the graphic detail in which TPPS explained the theory here). More bins are provided (TPPS has studied the statistics and some of the most prolific dog-fouling offenders, it tells me, live in roads that utilise seagull-proof bags, rather than wheelies. The idea being that if a proper bin were at hand – even if it belonged to someone else – the dog-owner would use it. Although wouldn’t the sort of person decent enough to pick up, I wonder, also carry their fragrant package until they find somewhere suitable to put it?) And finally, our valiant sprayer’s most radical proposal, in which I can see some small snags but which would be undeniably effective: “making examples of” anyone caught not clearing up. “If they were soundly horse whipped in public, and their dog was shot dead on the spot, it could work,” TPPS suggests calmly. “Once word got around…”
I understand there’s a vacancy in the council cabinet right now. TPPS could fit in nicely…
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Watch-walk/story-27710010-detail/story.html
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It is always a joy to be at Chez Castillon. Next course up – could it be for you? – Write and Sell Short Stories. Write a short story for Woman’s Weekly – and get personal feedback from their fiction editor – or a prize-grabbing entry for a competition.
To give you a flavour of what to expect I’d like to share a post from Lynne Shelby, winner of the Accent Press and Woman magazine novel competition who blogged about her experience at Chez Castillon, in May. You can read the original – and find out more about the fabulous venue – at http://www.chez-castillon.com/437/champagne-de-romance-at-chez-castillon.
It’s market day in the small French town of Castillon de Bataille. Writer’s notebook and camera in hand, I edge through the crowds gathered around stalls selling fish and meat, fresh herbs and spices, and dresses fluttering in the breeze like brightly coloured flags. Later, I am to write an atmospheric description of the market through the eyes of a character in my WIP.
I am spending a week at a writers’ retreat at beautiful Chez Castillon, part of my prize for winning the Accent Press and Woman magazine Writing Competition with my debut novel French Kissing (I’m so excited that it’s now available on from Accent Press!)
Days at Chez Castillon begin with a breakfast of fresh croissants and baguettes from the local boulangerie (I could get used to this!). Then I and my fellow writing students, Sue, Mary, Helen and Peter, spend the morning in the “classroom” with our inspiring and insightful (and patient!) tutor, Jane Wenham-Jones.
Janie and Mickey who run Chez Castillon are wonderful hosts. As well as being a writer (her novel, Life’s A Drag, is published by Accent Press), Janie is a superb cook, and for lunch and dinner, all the students, and the writers in residence, Katie Fforde, Judy Astley, Catherine Jones (writing as Fiona Field), Jo Thomas and Clare Mackintosh, gather in the dining room for delicious food, fabulous wine and much laughter (I do like being a writer!).
Today, after lunch, best-selling novelist, Katie Fforde, one of the judges of the Accent Press and Woman Writing Competition, helps me with my WIP. I sit by the pool in the sun, holding my breath while she reads my work, and I’m so thrilled and delighted when she likes it. She very generously shares her expertise and knowledge, and gives me some invaluable advice on how to sort out my plot.
Also at Chez Castillon this week is David Headley of DHH Literary Agency. Jane helps me, Sue, Mary, Helen and Peter work on the pitches for our books, which we then present to David for feedback. I’m very encouraged by his appreciative interest in my WIP. It’s such a great opportunity to hear what a top literary agent looks for in a submission and to learn a little more about publishing.
My first visit to Chez Castillon goes all too fast. It’s been an inspiring and exhilarating week of writing, with great food, great wine, and above all great company – and so much fun. And what better way to toast a gathering of writers that includes romantic novelists than with Champagne de Romance? Santé.
If you’d like to be inspired by the beautiful Chez Castillon and its writers in residence, why not join bestselling novelist and tutor Jane Wenham-Jones in October?
If we live in a small world then Thanet is microscopic. Hold forth in the pub about the bloke from the garage and it will turn out you’re chatting to “that idiot’s” brother’s cousin or his wife’s next-door neighbour.
Gossip about his affair and you’ll discover you’re looking at the woman he ran away with. It was no surprise, therefore, to find that the chap my friend Ann was on the line to, when I arrived at her house, used to be my bank manager. (In the days when these creatures existed and a simple transaction did not require you to answer six security questions, punch out four different numbers on your telephone keypad, and then listen to terrible music for twenty minutes before someone in Madras cut you off.)
“What are you talking to him about?” I asked nosily, upon hearing Brian Short was now heading up the local branch of the RSPB. “Tits!” she declared. Ah yes, silly me…
Ann Munro is an artist, and the powerhouse behind an “installation” planned for the Ramsgate Festival, which she refers to as “Tits Up” and which will benefit the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds as well as the excellent breast-screening charity EKUBS, mainly so that school children taking part in the project can approach it from a feathered angle, and not give their parents the vapours.
The first I heard of it was when Ann swept into my own kitchen and demanded to know if I had any old bras. Well of course I did – what woman doesn’t? I also had uncomfortable bras, ill-advised ones, saggy-strapped affairs and a super-reinforced, upholstered, uplifting contraption that renders one like Barbara Windsor (not necessarily in a good way).
I emptied the contents of the drawer into a carrier bag and off she went. They were destined to be bunting down Harbour Street, she told me. But oh my goodness, things have moved on since then. Ann, just turned 70 and looking amazing for it, seems to have involved the entire isle in her mission.
There are beaded bras and knitted bras and a bra cake, and scores of teddy bears, each wearing their own specially-decorated brassieres.
Shops, businesses and cafes have donated, sponsored and will be putting on displays. There will be raffles and auctions and workshops. It is going to be huge. “It’s about art bringing people together,” says Ann, “and raising awareness and charity. About people discovering their creativity and showing how art can promote a whole area. It’s also about my ego,” she adds refreshingly. “I’m loving my ‘old age'” Basically, loves, if I might summarise, we’re still talking tits. The beaked, seed-loving sort, naturally…
The artworks will be on display from August 24 to 31. For more information find Ann Munro on Facebook or visit http://www.ramsgatearts.org.
If art can bring people together then so can comedy. In the 1970s, the catchphrase “I didn’t get where I am today…” united a generation, and is still used as a quip over four decades later. It sprang from the genius of David Nobbs, creator of TV series The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and 20 equally hilarious books, who died last weekend aged 80. I was privileged to interview him, teach with him, and consider him my friend.
He was a lovely, generous, kind, highly intelligent and extremely funny man. And I didn’t get where I am today by not wanting to say so.
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane/story-27601909-detail/story.html
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DEPRESSED by pub closures and the rise of alcopops? Good news is at hand. Sales of the cheap-booze-and-coloured-sugar drinks favoured by overgrown children are falling.
And there are more brewers in the UK now than at any time since before the Second World War. We have Gordon Brown to thank for introducing the progressive beer tax back in 2002 (in a welcome change from plundering pension funds and flogging off the gold) which paved the way for the mushrooming of microbreweries, micropubs, and now the “microbrew pub” – the dinkiest of which is right here in Thanet. “We challenged CAMRA to name one smaller,” says Mike Beaumont, landlord of the Four Candles in Sowell Street, Broadstairs, “but they haven’t come back to us yet…”
I love this place. My great friend Janice works there, my stepson Paul helps with the brewing, and it’s an easy walk home. So although I’m not a natural ale drinker – more likely to be found clutching a glass of rosé than a porter or stout – when I am given the chance to create my own concoction, a treat offered to a privileged selection of lucky regulars, I scurry along.
I arrive at 8 am to find Mike waving a recipe sheet, while I have tea and reveal my ignorance. Had you asked me what beer was made of, I’d have murmured vaguely about hops. Turns out it is all about barley. We have decided I shall preside over a light summery pale ale (so you can drink more without falling over), thus the barley I will be using will be light in colour too. This is malted barley, Mike explains and the more it’s roasted the darker the beer will be. There followed a complicated lesson on the way sugar turns to alcohol to which I nodded a lot.
“The darker it is, the sweeter it is,” Mike concludes. “Guinness isn’t sweet,” I point out. “Oh it is,” replies Mike. I don’t argue that it is the bitterest thing I can think of apart from cooked avocado (I shall save my soup disaster for another week). What do I know?
We are going to produce 400 litres – or ten casks full. Casks may be referred to as firkins, but not barrels. Because a barrel is made of wood, and anyway it’s bigger, holding 36 gallons as opposed to nine. Exhausted after all this maths, I listen to an outline of the rest of the process and nod a bit more. Then Paul gives me a Health and Safety briefing about not falling down the stairs, and we descend into the cellar and don long rubber gloves (think a veterinary surgeon in Fifty Shades of Grey) to pour the liquor (very hot water to you and me) through the barley into the mash tun.
At this point, Brian Green, our photographer, arrives and my stepson suggests that, while the grain soaks for an hour-and-a-half, it will make a hilarious picture if I get into the kettle (the next stage of proceedings) and help Mike clean it. “How will I get out again?” I enquire dubiously. Answer: by treading on Mike and being shoved unceremoniously from behind.
This is the “farming side,” I am told. There is a scientific side too – which involves sterilisation galore. To this end, Paul begins to clean the casks with a caustic and bleach solution and I, somewhat damp and studded with barley bits, repair to check my emails. Mike is sticking a saccharometer – an odd-looking instrument designed to test sugar levels – into one-they-made-earlier with customer Ali, and frowning over a lot of complex-sounding calculations involving gravity and the ABV (alcohol by volume), required in order to pay the duty. (Gordon may have given the small brewers a boost, but they still have to cough up).
This done, I get to choose my hops. I opt for “Target” that smell of Christmas cake, to give a citrusy edge, and Mike advises Admiral to add bitterness. By now it’s time to pump the hot sugary water, known as “wort”, through a Heath Robinson-type array of pipes and tubes into the copper kettle. I add the hops, peer into the steam and get a beery facial. I have “Flocculation” written in my notes at this point. Sounds rude, but I think it is something to do with giving beer its foamy head.
While Paul cleans out the remaining “mash” – donated to hungry local goats – the wort is left to boil and Mike and I go forth to Gadds, well-known local brewery, and meet smiley senior brewer Jon Stringer, who shows me round this high-tech version of what Mike has going on under his floorboards.
Gadds supply the yeast. Could I make bread with this, I wonder aloud, as we take the foaming mixture back to our production line. (The answer to this turned out to be no. The resulting bricks defeated even the seagulls.)
After a fabulous lunch made by Mike’s Chinese wife Esther, and a guest appearance by his sunny-natured two-year-old, Alex, it is time for the final act of the day – the transfer of the fledgling beer through a heat exchanger into the fermenting vessel where I pour in the yeast, Paul does yet more cleaning and I retire for a glass of wine to celebrate my small sense of pride and achievement.
If it’s all gone well PJ’s – Plain Jane’s Ale – will be on sale this weekend. If I buggered it up, there’s always rosé…
PJ’s can be sampled at the Four Candles,
1 Sowell Street, Broadstairs. Open Tuesday to Sunday evenings from 5pm (6pm Sundays), Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes noon-3pm.
For more information visit www.thefourcandles.co.uk.
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Time-brew/story-27514849-detail/story.html
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I don’t ask for details – they invariably involve pinball machines, model railways and making small children cry – but I am informed so I may take on the sole and solemn responsibility of scrutinising the Gazette’s letters page “in case anyone’s been rude about us”. He is always disappointed when they haven’t. He may feel let down once more, but there was plenty else to entertain and annoy him.
Two letters supporting the re-opening of Manston as an airport – that’s the spirit Ted Bennett and the nameless correspondent who was giving Dennis Franklin a run for his money – which would have Mike huffing, but Jingoism and Flog-em-and-hang-em sentiments respectively from a Mr Hearnshaw and Ms Russell of which he would approve. (I don’t call our Mr Pearce ‘Genghis’ for nothing).
What drew my attention was the sad plight of David O’Donnell from Margate who’d spent five hours driving to Oxford, and was complaining it was “stop, go, stop, go” until they’d only travelled four miles in 20 minutes. Count yourself lucky, Dave. On the day your letter appeared, I spent more than three hours driving to east London.
It was simply ‘stop’ on the M2 – a road we could once rely on – when the entire carriageway was blocked for over an hour due to an accident. “Do you feel an irrational rage against the person who caused this?” I asked a fellow driver, as many of us switched our engines off and wandered the tarmac in the sunshine. “I try not to be judgemental,” he replied loftily. I wish he’d been beside me when I drove back in the rain on Monday morning. Ahead of me on the Thanet Way, a white van (wouldn’t it be?) swerved and skidded before I gave it a wide berth, assuming it had aqua-planed on the wet road.
The driver only had one hand on the wheel as I passed; the other was extended before him, the better to read texts on the phone he was watching instead of the traffic. Judgemental? Yes, I can be…
Talking of which, I should perhaps apologise to the security chap who eventually let me out of East Kent College in Broadstairs last Tuesday evening after I was locked in the building following a Radio Kent broadcast from the studio there.
Despite, I might add, very specifically requesting of the staff member who should have known I was coming, but didn’t, that the door be left open. Luckily for all who work there, I am not a thief or a vandal and the computer equipment, books, paperwork and drawer contents to which I had full, unsupervised access until I was able to raise someone to release me, was safe at my hands.
I will still take the opportunity to temper the speech I delivered upon exit. Our local educational establishment is probably not the dimmest, most inefficient, hopelessly incompetent, shambolic organisation with the worst communication skills, I have ever had the misfortune to deal with. It just felt like it at the time.
Finally, I am grateful to the “other” Michael Pearce who wrote to this newspaper last week to inform us that there will be two full moons in July, a phenomenon that occurs occasionally due to there being 30 and 31 days in some months and a full moon occurring every 29. The second appearance, Mr Pearce reminds us, is known as a Blue Moon. He suggests we might use the opportunity to make a wish.
Those close to me might like to hastily book a jaunt of their own, instead. I have long noted that I become slightly deranged when there is a full moon. So friends and family – you lucky people – now you can look forward to my doing it TWICE…
Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-judgemental-person/story-26914798-detail/story.html
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I didn’t see the rides at the opening of Dreamland. The wait was too long, the speeches too protracted and when the ribbon had finally been cut by the motley crew of “VIPs”, an “entertainer” in rainbow-coloured dress tried to take my arm and skip me through the crowds.
I withdrew to Forts where my friend and Guardian columnist, Marina 0’Louglin, had already taken herself, head shaking, for a bacon roll. Leaving the be-rouged artiste to bound, far more appropriately, after an unsuspecting child. “I’d have told her to–” growls Mike Pearce, as we enter the sun-filled fairground on Saturday, me with fresh hope in my heart and him with a face on.
Frankly, I was stunned he’d agreed to come at all, and so, I think, was he. “Ah – it’s sweet,” I breathed as I got my first proper look at all the twirling twinkliness, while he perused the pinball machines and muttered darkly about entrance fees. “£17 worth of sweetness?” he grouched.
True, there are teething problems and it’s not finished yet. The Big Wheel did open but had to stop for a while, the Crazy Mouse – the ride I’d particularly earmarked as I walked in – was having some adjustments made. But the Twister was zipping back and forth, the Zodiac Jets whirring and the green caterpillar trundling happily along its rails.
Mike, citing fear of heights, wouldn’t go on any of ’em.
But by now he’d cracked a smile and was tapping his feet to Poetry in Motion, so we left him holding the bags while my son Tom – pressed into service as our photographer – and I went forth on the Wave Swinger, gaining a high five from cheery Farrah Griffin on the gate, for it being our first ride. I hope I’m not going to be sick, the boy confided cheerily as we whirled.
Knowing he’d had two burgers to counteract his hangover, so did I.
Back on the ground, we’d lost Mike, who reappeared sometime later from the Wall of Death, proclaiming it “seriously scary” and announcing with glee that he’d found the dodgems. Here, his joy knew no bounds as he rammed his way into the bumpers of small children and I tried to drive him into a corner.
The photos are blurred because Tom was laughing too much to hold the camera.
Such innocent pleasures are what it’s all about. The whole place is delightful and lovingly done. I cannot wait for the Scenic Railway (last ridden when I was fourteen) to re-open for my nostalgia to be complete.
In short, Reader, I loved it. And I think, maybe, so did HE…
Mike says, “MY DAY at Dreamland never stood a chance. Excitement is seeing Palace score a last-minute goal. It is not having my innards rearranged on a frenetic fairground ride.
And I hate anything described as hip. The last hip person was Edd “Kookie” Byrnes in “77 Sunset Strip”, mouthing “You’re the ginchiest” to Connie Stevens, she of the tight sweaters and baby doll voice.
I was always going to miss the delights of my teenage years – the Guess Your Weight Man, the call-and-response bingo callers, the river caves, where I once nearly brought down the scenery when I grabbed a pillar to try to stop our galleon of love while I was courting a girl with glasses.
(The result was not a passionate clinch. It was a fearful creaking noise, the tub wilfully refusing to stop and me nearly tumbling into water in my best – and only – suit.)
So I’m bound to be rude about the new Dreamland Lite – yet how can I be when the sun shone, the dodgems were a hoot, the Wall of Death riders thrilling, there were pretty girls everywhere, and all to the soundtrack of original fifties American rock’n’roll?
With a reputation to live down to, I must carp about the staff trying to be so desperately jolly.
I do not do jolly, as will be confirmed by people who enjoy yelping, cackling, making silly puppet-on-a-string gestures and using meaningless words like “woot”.
That does not mean I do not do fun, as Jane will be the first (and possibly only) person to acknowledge, .
Just not the sort of fun that involves an army of “greeters” telling me they hope I’m having a wonderful day. Firstly, because I know they really couldn’t care a toss and secondly because the chances are that I’m not.
I am allowed to raise an eyebrow at the rides which were not working and, slightly more concerning, the rides that were trying to work but didn’t.
The still unused roller-coaster has a straight-out-of-the-box weirdness, but probably nothing that a couple of coats of Sadolin wouldn’t put right.
There are some great pinball machines, although a few hundred more are needed to fulfil the earlier suggestion that it would be the biggest collection in Europe, or was it the world?
But while I’m still warmed by the sun, humming a 50s rock’n’roll song, marvelling at the motorbike dare-devils and chuckling at the dodgem smashes, here’s a message for the greeters.
Yes, thank you, I did have a wonderful time.”
Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Thrills-spills-Dreamland-jolly-time-Mike/story-26820653-detail/story.html
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In 2014 it was 67. Even allowing for lie-ins and hangovers, over-sleeps or the odd mix up re. serving times, that is quite a lot of hotel breakfasts. I am now something of an expert.
In Broadstairs, the first meal of the day is a hit and miss affair. Sometimes I set forth to the Dalby Café in Cliftonville to partake of their excellent toast and perfectly-judged fried eggs while my son eats his body weight in sausages and bacon.
On other days I come over all health-conscious and whiz up bananas and strawberries and frozen spinach (quite frankly when you spend that much on the whizzy thing you feel ill if you don’t).
But most of the time, I get on with other stuff until I’m distracted by the sound of my stomach rumbling and realise it’s 11.30 am and I’d better have some chocolate.
Put me in a hotel and it’s all change. Whether it is an innate urge to get my money’s worth or some Pavlovian response to waking up in a different bed, who knows, but I open one eye and I’m starving. “The calories!” cries a colleague, looking aghast when I head for the fried end of the buffet selection. “Won’t you put on weight?”
Not if I can help it. For those of you planning hotel stays this summer may I offer my three-point breakfast strategy plan. (Giving me an opportunity to remind you that I am a long-term authority on the perils of “Writer’s Bottom” and the author of a ground-breaking weight-loss book, on which, frankly my dears, I could do with some sales.) For yes, the catered morning repast offers a very real chance of consuming 2,000 calories before 10am and there are three ways in which you can approach this opportunity:
1) With abandon! Eat everything in sight. Have strawberries and cereal, porridge and honey, the full cooked ensemble of eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, baked beans (if you can stomach the latter two – I’d prefer to munch on my leg), hash browns, toast, and croissants.
Then use the stairs not the lift, walk everywhere briskly and don’t eat again till you have a tiny dinner (you will get away with it).
And while you’re enjoying every glorious mouthful, watch the thin girl – yes, that one with the sanctimonious expression who’s clearly as miserable as sin, spooning fat free yoghurt over her kiwi fruit.
Ask yourself: do you want to be like that?
2) With discipline. Eat almost nothing and dine out on your sense of virtue.
Sit piously sipping your green tea and nibbling on a blueberry (while adopting a similar facial arrangement to the one you witnessed above) or your black coffee with a morsel of cheese.
Feel yourself bathed in self-righteousness and peruse the other guests.
See that fat family in the corner? The bloke with the stomach, who can barely squeeze behind the table, the annoying kids going back for more pastries? See how enormous his wife is? Then look at her plate. Allow yourself a small sniff. That’s why.
3) With balance. Remember that just because it’s there you don’t have to eat it ALL.
The bits you don’t eat, you’ll have forgotten by this evening.
If you do eat lots, don’t have lunch.
Or you can do what I did on this particular occasion and carry out such dramatic adjustments to the annoying toast machine, that far from turning out pale flaccid slices it actually catches fire.
An event that will amuse the Brits, throw the Germans and Americans into a state of panic and leave you feeling morally unable to breach the bread area for a second time.
If you ditch the carbs (not hard when they’re blackened and smoking) you’ll burn fat all day. It’s my pleasure. Please don’t mention it.
Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Eating-way-hotel-breakfasts/story-26722548-detail/story.html#ixzz3dmyH53H0
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My particular skill set: being able to spend long hours welded to a computer while wearing pyjamas, knowing how to touch-text with my left hand at the same time as unwrapping a bar of chocolate with my right, and operate a mouse with my elbow; pidgin French, a mostly clean driving licence, and an inability to know when to stop talking, does not immediately lend itself to many occupations.
But I used to fondly think I might probably, if push came to financial shove, at least get a job in sales. Now I know I couldn’t do that either. In my day, when you wanted to make someone else buy something, you simply told them what a brilliant product it was and how cheap you’d make it. Not any more.
Sitting behind two suits in a café near Sloane Square this week, I was reminded of my introduction to the game Bullsh*t Bingo whereby you mark a cross every time someone uses a flowery but largely meaningless phrase like “blue sky thinking”, “window of opportunity” or “touch base with”. I could have filled an entire card in seconds.
Some sort of investment portfolio was on offer which would “trade up” and “net down”. Our rather manic-sounding salesman was going to “model out the process”, “generate receivables”, and fulfil “order-winning critera”. He assured his companion he was “on message,” “thinking in the same space” and “very FCA compliant” especially after “translating strategy into achievable objectives” and speaking to the “visual risk assessment guys”.
Then he withdrew to have a conference video call on his iPad and was rather reassuringly heard to say “bugger it” as he tripped going round the corner. My mouth hung open, but my son, who did a management module at university, merely shrugged. “That’s the sort of stuff I had to write in that essay you couldn’t understand,” he told me. I preened, thinking that at least my son was employable and equipped for the world of big commerce even if it had decisively passed over his mother. So, did you get what they were on about? I asked him, jerking my head at the next table. “No,” he said.
B INGO also makes me think nostalgically of the callers on Margate seafront in the days when a glamorous teenage night out involved hanging around Dreamland and stumping up whatever it cost to scream fetchingly all the way down the scenic railway. (Blissfully ignorant of a future where plain English is dying and one can’t get a job.)
I am as enthusiastic as the next woman about the reopening of the park with its vintage rides and “host of indoor and outdoor events” (I quote) “celebrating the best of British culture.” I applaud the job creation, the effect on visitor numbers and the potential boost to the local economy. I am looking forward to going.
However, without wishing to put a dampener on proceedings, I am feeling increasingly nervous about the much-heralded June 19 for the official launch. A recent peer over the wall from the car park nearby, suggested, if I might use modern parlance, that operations’ communicative sub-units have not translated strategy to measurable objectives with sufficient clarity.
One fears, therefore, that decentralised control activities may have compounded a lack of strategic alignment and goal congruence. Far be it from me to offer the conjecture that a process classed as internally neutral, has formulated an approach to set backs and operative deviations that has been merely reactive not proactive but I do worry that it still looks like a building site and won’t be open on time!
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/s-tough-job-don-t-speak-nonsense-lingo/story-26635907-detail/story.html
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I have been updated! The flab book has a new cover and youtube trailer and I have been given an author page on facebook. Not entirely sure what to do with it, as yet 🙂 but if you are on facebook yourselves and feel inclined to click the “like” button, that would be marvellous…. If you feel like trying the flab tips or encouraging your friends to*, that would be even more wonderful… (before and after pics always welcome! :-))
* NB As I instructed my father, after he thrust one of my postcards at what he described as “a large lady” in the queue in Tesco, this has to be done with caution. I have advised: “Of course YOU don’t need this, but it’s vaguely amusing…” as a potential opener next time. He has promised to bear it in mind when he’s out of the plaster…
100 Ways is now on YouTube!
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The Winter Gardens was rammed on the night of the general election with 150 members of national and regional media poised to see Nigel Farage’s moment of – what turned out to be non-glory.
I joined the throng the following morning in time to witness Mr Farage’s exit stage left without waiting for the others to finish their speeches (considered very bad form in political circles) and the ridiculous “prophet” utter an obscenity (considered very bad form by me).
Two days later, the much smaller band of – mostly local – hacks were still looking tired, but I arrived to see an apparently restored, grinning and hand-clapping Mr Farage – or “Daddy” as one successful candidate rather nauseatingly dubbed him – leading his merry band in the cheers and flag-waving as we watched TDC turn purple.
It is not what one would have chosen, not least because most of the new intake have never done it before, but since I would usually go for people not parties in local elections, I decided to approach proceedings with an open mind.
When I found myself in the coffee queue with two purple rosettes, and a hand was extended my way, I shook it. John Buckley HAS done it before, he told me.
Newly elected to the Beacon Road Ward, he explained he had previously represented Broadstairs & St Peters town council for Labour. When I expressed surprise at this profound leap of allegiance, he countered it with his support of Manston.
Far be it from me, an ardent airport fan, to disagree, but my eyebrows remained raised. But wasn’t he, I asked nicely, a little concerned about a certain element that UKIP tended to attract? Mr Buckley opened his mouth to begin what sounded like a reasoned reply, and was drowned out by what I can only describe as a squawking from the second rosette. I will not bore you with the entire exchange, suffice to say that it included much huffing, puffing and eventual storming (hers) from the queue, some ineffectual attempts at pacification (Councillor Buckley’s) and the rather curious accusation being hurled my way that I made racist comments myself in what had suddenly become MY paper.
UKIP, it seems, also tend to attract people who don’t listen, don’t understand, don’t want to engage in rational debate and who think that the best way to win round a sceptic is by shrieking about the shortcomings of the Socialist Workers Revolutionary Party (I don’t like them much either) and complaining that a councillor from the Labour party had called one of their number a fascist. Entertaining as all this was, I think we can be thankful that the lady in question is only married to a Kipper (not Mr Buckley, I should perhaps make clear) and not standing for office herself. Council meetings, I fear, will be chaotic enough already.
Word clearly got round for there was a definite chill coming from factions of the purple camp for the rest of the afternoon. Ironically, the only one who looked pleased to see me and offered a smile, was Nige himself! But: “we have cleaner streets already”, tweeted a local in protest at my cynicism, “or is it my imagination?” I think it might be, love. It took the new lot a week to get email addresses, let alone the dog mess cleared up, but let us wait and see. My mind stays just about propped open. And if it turns out I’m wrong to feel quiet dread, I shall say. In the meantime I shall watch and I shall listen. Lady of UKIP who never got her coffee – you should try it some time…
You can read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane/story-26546957-detail/story.html
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This was my Isle of Thanet Gazette column, published 8/05/2015 that gave rise to the following on this week’s letter page. As I said on twitter – thanks for all the amusing response! – I love the idea that I should pay for my sins by attending a council meeting…. Punishment indeed!!! 🙂
The offending piece:
“They are homophobes; they are sexist.”
“They are self-opinionated and won’t take criticism.”
“They’ve shown how incompetent and secretive they are.”
“They play games.”
By the time you are reading this, we will know which party’s representatives have landed in Thanet, and whichever one it is, the chances are it will have been described as one of the above. The most enjoyable part of interviewing the various candidates for the seats of South and North Thanet in the lead-up to the general elections, was hearing the rants that I wasn’t allowed to print. Above is the short version. I have acres of tape on what is fundamentally wrong with Labour, the Conservatives, the dreaded UKIP, the Lib Dems (actually nobody took them seriously enough to be rude) and the Greens (ditto).
When we got down to analysing individuals, most of my interviewees were keen to protest that they weren’t in the business of knocking their rivals, but did manage to shyly reveal:
“He’s not going to do anything for the area.”
“He’s not going to trot around dealing with people’s problems.”
“He’s a bit like the temple in Cambodia with four faces”
“I’m a different breed of politician from him. I’m not here to tell lies.”
“He’s just using it as a stepping stone up his own vanity ladder.”
“You can’t trust him.”
So welcome whoever made it through. You sound thoroughly delightful and I’m sure we’ll get on like a house on fire. One thing is for sure – it will indeed be a HE in South Thanet. Our current incumbent at the time of writing, Laura Sandys, is sadly not standing for re-election. I can honestly say I have never heard her say a bad word about anyone.
I have had various conversations with Laura over the last five years: as a journalist seeking her views, at local gatherings various, and as a constituent to her MP. Ms Sandys was unfailingly smiley, concerned, committed and above all, moderate. Even my most left-wing friends had little negative to say apart from the obvious – that she was a Tory. In traditionally right-wing circles, hallowed was her name. When she first came on the scene, the criticism levelled at her most frequently was a puzzled: “She seems a bit too nice.” Eventually we realised she actually was nice. Very! She also worked like a Trojan, was passionate about her causes, would turn out to the opening of an envelope even when it was cold, dreary and pouring with rain – make-up-less, hair wet and still managing to look as if she were privileged to attend – and always seemed to be one of those rare creatures: the politician who is in it to try to make the world a better place, not for their own self-glory. I know I am not the only one who would have voted her back in, in a heartbeat, whichever party she was standing for. (Except UKIP, obviously. But the good lady is far too intelligent for that!). Good luck with whatever you do next, Laura! I doubt Thanet will see your like again.
ALSO BY THE TIME you are reading this, I will be propping my eyes open with matchsticks, having flown back from a week working in France (see www.chez-castillon.com) in time to cast my vote and pitch up at the Winter Gardens for the count. It’s a long sleepless night, filled with politicians and council officials, news bulletins and anxiety, and not even an open bar. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ll have seen who we’ve got and be suitably relieved or disappointed or in deep despair .
Whichever of the three, my message for the new chap is this: I hope you’ll do a bit more for Thanet than they said you would…
I interview the Tory hopefuls by adopting police tactics. Sir Roger Gale has been in politics for half a century and the MP for Thanet North for 32 years. He is unlikely to be fazed by anything I can throw at him, and I don’t want newbie Craig Mackinlay – candidate for Thanet South – cribbing the answers. So I separate to interrogate and roll up early to Gale Towers – a charming farmhouse-style affair with open fireplaces and assorted dogs – where I am made tea by the smiley, hospitable Suzy. Roger Gale is a BOGOF candidate (Buy one get one free) – vote for him and his energetic wife is thrown in. He encourages Suzy to join us for the interview. She interjects to correct him on the exact number of votes that held a marginal seat in 1982 and, amusingly, flicks through a magazine during a particularly long anecdote. But she works alongside Roger on the day-to-day. “Suzy and I spend huge amounts of time just dealing with constituency stuff that you never hear about or read about,” Roger tells me. “It’s all private and that’s how it should be. It’s like being a doctor.” It also sounds like a lot of hard work. “Did she secretly wish he’d retired instead of standing again? “Absolutely not,” Suzy retorts. “If anything, I was the one shovelling him along. . .” I follow on with the obvious. But is it time, as other candidates have suggested, after all these decades, for a change in North Thanet? Sir Rog is characteristically unruffled. “It is the obvious chant for anyone who isn’t a member of parliament to say we need a change. . . ” And when I quote his words at a recent hustings, he is unapologetic. “I’m not going to say I’m suddenly going to be someone different, someone new and exciting. Of course they are going to get ‘more of the same’ because I’ve done the job – and am going to do the job – in the way that I believe that it needs to be done.” So what does need to happen to Thanet in the next five years? “Obviously Manston is a key issue. People say ‘he’s only interested in Manston because of the election’. No, I’ve been promoting Manston for more than 20 years.” As a Manston supporter myself, I know this to be true and we fall into a long discussion about the various options, upon which Roger is more realistic than I am. I just want to have a plane to jump on. “Passengers!” I cry. Roger attempts to manage my expectations. “In order to get the bedrock right, you’ve got to have the cornerstones. The cornerstone would be freight. Once you’ve got the business up and running on a sound financial footing then yes, RiverOak wants passengers, I want passengers. “What about night flights?” I ask wearily, as I feel I must. “We don’t need night flights.” Manston is “the most important thing bar none” but Roger is also enthusiastic about other projects. He speaks warmly about the regeneration that is going on in Margate, believes now in the new Dreamland project although would like to see more of it undercover: “Boys need boys’ toys to play with so you want the dodgems undercover so that when they’ve done their conferencing, they can thrash into each other”, and has ideas for a new hotel, a lifeboat centre and an ambitious overhaul of the Winter Gardens complete with “indoor beach”. Craig has pitched up by now, with party supporter Chris Brannigan, and as we prepare to swap seats, I finish on the possible threat from Ukip. Nationally, Roger says, he fears them splitting the Tory vote and letting “the Milliband government in through the back door”, but locally feels Nigel Farage may be in for “an unpleasant shock”. One thing is clear: “I don’t want to be re-elected with the support of anyone who thinks Ukip because I see 1930s Europe,” he says. “I hear the march of boots and I don’t like it.” He and Suzy disappear, and with those words still hanging in the air, I turn a beady eye on Craig, who was a founding Ukip member. “Nice to see you,” he says. “I am the uncharismatic Craig Mackinlay.” He is referring to a previous Gazette piece in which I summed up the various contenders for South Thanet. “The word I used was ‘unappealing’, I tell him. He laughs loudly and warily and I quiz him on his political past. “It was a very different Ukip in those days,” he counters. “Tell me,” I say. Adding, when he protests that he doesn’t want to “spend the whole interview talking about Ukip”, that otherwise people will see him and Farage as one and the same. This galvanises Mr Mackinlay into a full and detailed explanation, which, in fairness to himself, he should probably repeat more often. Ukip was founded in 1991 in a pub in Covent Garden and Craig was one of six members, his motivation being soaring interest rates – he is a chartered accountant by trade – the effects of the exchange rate mechanism and the cost of the EU. “It had an academic base to it.” Immigration “wasn’t even on the agenda.” He became leader in the late 90s but by 2005 was “getting towards the end of my tether”. Ukip was starting to attract “some odd characters” and two of the MEPs were arrested for fraud. Meanwhile, the Conservatives were talking about the EU again. “It was time to come home. I never changed. I stayed in exactly the same spot in my view.” So what is the Mackinlay take on immigration? He welcomes the new rules on benefits but has no objection to anyone coming here to work. His wife is Hungarian and her doctor brother is with the NHS. I thus unpin him from the floor and we take respite in the flapjacks Suzy has left us (excellent) before moving on. If elected, what will Craig do for Thanet? His years as both a councillor and a magistrate, as well as on the Kent Police Authority (he was up against Ann Barnes as for the position of Police Commissioner), he says, “gives you an insight into the real world, the gritty end. . . “Forget the politics, I know what this world is all about.” That’s as maybe, but I suggest that it must be daunting to follow Laura Sandys, of whom everyone speaks so highly. He does too. “She has been a wonder worker that crosses the political divide and I see myself exactly the same.” Even though he is more right-wing? “I think that people who do the right thing should be supported. The Conservatives are the right party to create a great economy and without a great economy you can’t pay for all the things that we want. I see a good economy as the main driver of everybody’s lifestyle. So is that right wing or left wing?” We have a spirited exchange over what constitutes poverty and get back to Thanet. Craig is pro-Manston too – he once tried to set up a “Malaga Airlines” flying out of it – and thinks Ramsgate Marina and Harbour “one of the biggest assets we’re not using properly,” predicting it could create 500 jobs. He likes the new businesses in Military Road and sees high speed rail as having the “potential to transform”. He is driven, he says, by the idea of “making Britain better”. The Ukip MEPs have cost £84 million in their 16 years, he tells me. “And what have they done? Beyond living a fantastic lifestyle?” After meetings in Brussels, the stories go, “Ukip are first up to a bar for the champagne, thank you very much, but have they done any of these things that they now say they want to achieve? Not one. They haven’t achieved anything. . . ” “I’ve got a history of public service,” says Craig Mackinlay. “I’m the real candidate with real experiences, who is a real person. . .” Verdict: Something old, something new, something blue… Also standing: Name: Ruth Bailey Party: Manston Airport Independent Party Age 57 No of years in politics: Four months or so!! What’s the most important thing you would do for Thanet? Revitalise Thanet through the re-opening of Manston airport. Impose a compulsory purchase order on the current owner, securely underwritten by a company that will offer high end jobs, training and apprenticeships and put Thanet on the map. The big dream:
- A thriving Manston airport and fully operating port/marina in Ramsgate.
- Flourishing tourism, protection of our green spaces, affordable new homes and regenerated High Streets, with derelict properties compulsory purchased or legally enforced to improve.
- One hour’s free parking in our town, reasonable business rates and more community centres.
Next week: Mike Pearce on the Election Flipside…
You can read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-meets-Tories-Manston-Airport/story-26308450-detail/story.html
Continuing our series in which Jane Wenham-Jones meets the candidates, this week: Labour…
THERE is a framed cartoon by Giles on my writing-room wall that my grandmother cut out of the Daily Express in 1980.
The intervening years have turned the newsprint brown, but it still clearly shows a teenager propped up on her bed amidst detritus and chaos, perusing an article entitled “MPs at 18”.
Her mother stands just inside the door with mop, vacuum cleaner and a long-suffering expression. “First thing she’s going to do when she’s an MP,” the caption reads, “is straighten up the whole world.”
I saw the joke, but was still convinced I had the answers. Along with the duffle coat, the badges, and the marching shoes. In grouchy middle-age of course, I have come to view anyone under 30 as a mere whippersnapper, and have made my share of the jokes about South Thanet’s Labour candidate’s recent progression from short trousers.
They have probably been unfair. At the only hustings I have been to – the memory of which still brings me out in hives – the 25 year-old Will Scobie acquitted himself well, proving to be better informed, more eloquent and (mercifully) more engaging than several of the older panellists.
So I set forth to meet him and his opposite number in North Thanet, Labour candidate Frances Rehal, with an open mind. We gather in The Arch, the fab new bar set into the cliff opposite Ramsgate Harbour, where I get confused and kiss Chris Clarke, the press officer (he looks startled) before Will appears behind him.
Young Scobie does look very youthful indeed, but he’s been a local councillor for the past four years, and is firm and clear on what needs to be done, saying: “For the first time in 20 years, we finally have people coming to invest in Thanet. What Frances and I can do to help to push that is about banging the drum for the area, making it clear that Thanet is a beautiful place to live and work.”
At 60, Frances Rehal has not been in politics before but has a lot of experience she feels will be relevant. She’s been a health visitor, a manager in the NHS with responsibility for child protection, and was the director of the first Sure Start programme in Kent.
“Thanet needs jobs,” she tells me. “High-skilled jobs.” She is concerned with how we can help those currently in school “who perhaps aren’t the highest achievers”, and when Will starts banging his drum for the proposed Parkway station and reduced journey times to London – “if we can get it down to 56 minutes, it will transform the area” – it is the young she is thinking of. “If I were elected”, she tells me, “I would see how we could get reduced fares. You need to have a pretty high level of skill to get a job in London that pays enough to commute.”
Will has worked as a “transfer manager” in a local language school and chimes in to remind us that good connections with the capital will lead to a lot more foreign students coming our way, which is “big money at the moment”.
Will has toiled in a working men’s club too, which he loved because “I love talking to people and there was always football on”, but it also taught him about working long hours for little financial reward and being forced to rely on tax credits. “We’re a low-wage blackspot here”, he says sombrely. “Labour’s big push is to make sure we can transform that.”
Frances is also earnest on this issue, proposing “a process where people are upskilled as they get older”. Will is right there with her, saying: “One in four people leaving school in Thanet aren’t able to find a job. My vision of the welfare state is for it to be a hand up, not a hand out.”
There is nothing here that anyone with a heart could possibly decry, but how confident would they be that, in practice, they could make a difference? I tell them that Nigel Farage claimed he’d be a good MP for Thanet because he had “a powerful voice”. Did they think they could say the same?
“He would be an embarrassment for the area,” says Will immediately. “What has he done as an MEP?” enquires Frances. When I push the point, Frances is keen to remind me about her past experience at Sure Start, saying she ” laboured at many national conferences”, but Will is our man for the soundbite.
“We have a record of delivery,” he declares. He regales me with the tale of his one-man fight against the easyJet slogan “We’d rather be in Malaga than Margate”, saying: “I saw this and started a social media campaign, which within six hours had got them to withdraw that. I then spent the next three days going on TV talking about Thanet and all the wonderful things that were happening locally. I took something that could have been a disaster locally and turned it into something good.” The reason he could do this, he emphasises, is because “I’m based here in Thanet, I’m responsive and I know the area”. In this, he highlights the difference between himself and the Ukip and Tory candidates for South Thanet – “they don’t have local links”.
“So you’re saying, you’re both hands-on,” I suggest helpfully.
“We’re hands-on,” agrees Frances. “We’ve been encouraging people to come together, to create a new Thanet. It’s the responsibility of those of us in public services, including politicians, to identify common issues.”
Will is adamant that he would continue what he’s been doing throughout his time on the council: “Volunteering on Christmas Day to feed the homeless, picking up dog poo in Cliftonville…” ( I am grateful for this – someone sure needs to do it – could he extend his remit to Ramsgate too?) He is not deterred by my asides, adding: “It’s not always about speeches, and nice media interviews. It’s hard graft most of the time, and that is what you’ll get from me.”
Verdict: Thin on laughs. Big on social responsibility.
Also standing: Party for a United Thanet.
Name: Grahame Birchall (South Thanet)
Age: “Late middle”
Political experience: Previously been a Labour councillor for Whitstable. Also stood as an Independent and Conservative.
What’s the most important thing you would do for Thanet?
Get rid of TDC and take Thanet out of KCC. Once this is done, I will stand down and allow ‘normal politics’ to resume by way of a by-election.
iPUT is a political party that is not interested in exercising power, only in acting as a catalyst to rapid change.
The big dream:
For the people of Thanet to be set free from KCC and such a malign, unaccountable and secretive system of government.
To turn Thanet into the Riviera of the South East, the European destination of choice.
Name: Cemanthe McKenzie (North Thanet)
No of years in politics: None
What’s the most important thing you would do for Thanet?
Create a Unitary Authority for the isle of Thanet. An elected leader would head a hybrid system which involves community groups, town parishes and localised councils.
The big dream:
The majority vote! Which will indicate a vote of no confidence by the people of Thanet in their structure of local government.
Thanet North: Piers Wauchope, Ukip, Roger Gale, Tory, George Cunningham, Lib Dem, Ed Targett, Green,
Thanet South: Craig Mackinlay, Tory, Nigel Farage, Ukip, Russ Timpson, Lib Dem, Al Murray, FUKP, Ian Driver, Green, Ruth Bailey, Manston Airport Independent, Nigel Askew, Reality Party, Tim Garbutt, Independent, Graham Birchall, Independence Party for a United Thanet, Prophet Zebadiah Abu-Obadiah, Al-Zebabist Nation of OOOG
Watch out for Mike on the Election Flipside – coming soon!
Continuing our series in which Jane Wenham-Jones meets the candidates, this week: the Greens…
I was initially invited to visit the Green candidate for Thanet South at his Broadstairs home – an arrangement I jumped at, to check if it featured sacks of mung beans and a composting toilet. In the event, we meet in the Belgian Bar in Ramsgate, which boasts neither. It is a testament to Councillor Ian Driver’s capacity for forgiveness or the thickness of his hide that he wants to meet me at all. I have been less than complimentary on these pages in the past. But his smile is wide when I arrive, so I cut straight to the nub of my doubts.
He tends to party hop, doesn’t he?
“Not really, no,” he says. “I’ve gone Labour, Independent, Green.” He cites other council movers. “Zita Wiltshire’s gone Conservative, Independent, UKIP…” I wouldn’t hold her up as a shining example, I tell him. He guffaws. “Perhaps not…”
He needed to find an organisation he was happy with. “I tried being Independent but I kept on arguing with myself.” He pauses for another chuckle – this is clearly a well-worn joke – but admits it was “really tough”. He’s always been sympathetic to the Green Party and Labour do not have a good record on “the environmental thing.” Is that why he left them? I enquire, preparing myself for a worthy speech about greenhouse gases. His answer is somewhat more colourful and I have not been permitted to quote it. But I like a man who speaks his mind, and you get plenty of that from Mr Driver. “The Thanet Labour group is a bit like you’d expect 1930s Chicago politics to be… .they are self-opinionated and they won’t take criticism.” (This is the short version.) Nationally, you couldn’t “slip a cigarette paper between them and the Tories”. Labour is full of people who “don’t really know what the world is about”. The 58-year-old thinks he does.
He was a Labour councillor in Southwark before he moved to Thanet in 2007 and was previously “very active” in the Trade Union movement. He bemoans the lack of “ordinary men and women” in politics today – it is the one area he agrees with Nigel Farage on. “There is a political class that is out of touch and serves its own self-interest.” He is angry about hypocrisy and can still get heated about the expenses scandal: “…snouts in the trough. It stinks!” Again he defends Farage. “At least when something goes wrong with his party, he kicks their arses”. I enjoy a further diatribe on the state of Thanet District Council before bringing him back to the matter in hand. What will he, personally, do for Thanet if he is elected? He is honest enough to acknowledge that there isn’t much chance of this but standing helps to “raise the profile of the Green Party”, and he is up for the council again too where he hopes there will be a shake up. “There is an opportunity now to get new blood in that will do things in a different way.”
So what needs to be done?
“Regeneration is the big one.” He would “throw open” the Regeneration board, Invest in Thanet, empowering local people and tapping into the creative, artistic groups here, as well as the business-minded. “We’ve got quite an entrepreneurial community developing ‘despite the council’”. He doesn’t want Manston to be an airport but a mix of housing and business park. His dream is to see Ramsgate develop a new modern marina and is vocal on how much the port costs compared to how much it is utilised. “Pound for pound it could create more jobs and business opportunities than anything else, and bring in more visitors…”
I realise we’ve not mentioned traditional “Green” issues much at all. “Housing!” he says. We need 2000 more homes in Thanet. All new-builds should be environmentally friendly with solar panels, rain water re-use, treble glazing, massive insulation. Thanet has the highest level of fuel poverty in South East England. Over-65s are dying because they can’t keep warm…”
I agree this is appalling but how will improvements be paid for?
By an end to Trident, he tells me.
“Affordable social housing – that’s what I’m passionate about.”
There is no denying his fervour. He seems genuinely upset and angry that there are people sleeping rough in Thanet and that Carers are denied a proper wage.
“You shouldn’t be in politics if you’re not passionate,” he says. “You shouldn’t be in politics if you don’t care…”
OVER IN NORTH THANET Ian’s counterpart Edward Targett also has a vision. The Green candidate says he will donate £1000 of his MP’s salary each month to local causes, if he is elected. The 32-year old has been working long hours at his day job as an editor – motorcycling to and from the city from his home in Margate (he’d ride a push bike if it wouldn’t take so long and use the train if he could afford it) – so we converse by email. He has no political experience but enthusiasm in spadeloads and a clear plan for what he would do if elected. “I’d work ferociously hard to create quality jobs, make sure services are properly funded and regeneration money is handled transparently and allocated democratically.” As well as giving to charities and sports clubs he would want to “bring empty buildings back into use and plant thousands of trees”.
So what’s his big dream? “Plenty of secure employment that pays the living wage, thriving and well maintained High Streets with affordable business rates, cheap, clean and efficient public transport; an egalitarian society with free access to education and higher education for all.” It all sounds wonderful but he hasn’t finished yet.
“Public services in public hands, not asset-stripping with nationalised losses but privatised profits. World-leading engineering and energy independence, reducing pollution, creating jobs and combating climate change. Flourishing, protected wildlife and green spaces. Robust, representative democracy, with civil liberties protected and the powerful held accountable.”
Phew. How is he going to pay for it?
He types back straight away: A ‘Robin Hood’ tax on financial transactions, along with a wealth tax on the richest 1%. I’d also crack down on large-scale corporate tax evasion.
VERDICT: Commitment shines from the Green Candidates. Everyone needs a dream.
Watch out for Mike on the Election Flipside – coming soon!
I AM looking forward to meeting South Thanet’s Russ Timpson for two reasons. Firstly, the man has a sense of humour (not always a given in political circles) – when I wrote a column expressing my view that the Liberal Democrats didn’t have much chance of getting in, he sent an e-mail with the subject “Hope in Hell”.
And secondly, he used to be a fireman. I do like a man in uniform. Sadly, he is wearing sporty casuals when we meet at the Albion Hotel in Broadstairs, although in compensation, there is a slight suggestion of Daniel Craig about him. After we have run through the problems for the young – they feel disenfranchised and will never be able to afford to buy a house in the way we could – and the need, more then ever before, for everybody in Thanet to get out and vote, I tell him he is taller and more impressive than he appeared at the recent hustings I went to (an event so dull and tedious I thought I might faint with boredom). He smiles. And I get down to business. If he is elected, what will he do for Thanet? He has, he tells me, got a ten-point plan. One of the plans has a sub-plan of another ten points. I am afraid I might start to feel light-headed again but actually this is the one about Manston, a subject close to my heart, so I perk up. Every day is a school day, as my esteemed colleague Mike Pearce is fond of saying (he will be back soon, if you’re fretting) and today I learn what happens to disused aircraft. In the old days they were dumped in the desert, which has now been proved to be “environmentally unsound” (there is depleted uranium in the rudder assemblies and engine bearings) but now they have to be properly recycled. And, Russ declares, although there are 11,000 wide-bodied aircraft coming to the end of their lives in the next three years, there isn’t a purpose-built facility in the world where an aircraft can fly in and be safely dismantled.
This is where Manston could come in. “It could be a massive business.” I am keener to get flights to Spain, I tell him. What about a weekly passenger service? He humours me. “Yes all right but the point is if I’ve got an aviation apprentice college, what better way to learn my trade as an apprentice than dismantling aircraft?” Russ fears if Manston isn’t utilised it will be built all over. We agree this is not good. “We don’t have enough water, roads, GPs, hospitals, schools… It’s not sustainable.” I peer at other things on the list, trying to divert him from going through them one by one. “We’ve got to reopen Ramsgate Harbour,” he says. “We must have a new service to Oostende.” I like this. He talks about Thanet’s “fantastic coastline.” He wants to promote it as a tourist destination, and concentrate on its history. “This is the landing point of Christianity; Saint Augustine, the Romans. We’ve got Huguenots, the Vikings…. More recently we’ve got Dickens…” I can feel my concentration fading once more so I push him on through fracking and wages to high-speed rail. Here he has an excellent idea. A scheme where instead of only being able to buy a weekly, monthly or annual season you can buy twenty tickets at a discount and use them as it suits you throughout the year. This is clever and I would do it. “But what about a booze trolley?” I ask, expanding on the problems of running out of time to nip into M&S at St Pancras. He laughs. “A mini-bar next to each seat?”
He gets serious again to finish: Acknowledging that there are people who have already made their minds up, he still appeals to them to read the manifestos when they come out. “This is a job interview. Judge the individuals on their ability to represent Thanet. That’s all I’m asking.”
Verdict: Ordinary-bloke-type decent family guy with heart in right place and ideas aplenty. For more info see http://www.libdems. org.uk/russ_timpson
RUSS’S counterpart over in North Thanet, George Cunningham, is the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats vice-chair with a bio as long as your arm, which he urged me to familiarise myself with. “I’ve had an exciting life.” He certainly seems to have got about a bit. The multilingual ex Army officer – “58 years young, raring to go” – has been involved in politics since 1979 and walked across Africa. He was in Brussels when I met Russ, so we spoke on the phone. What was he going to do for Thanet? I enquired, talking rapidly, as I was calling his Belgian mobile (we hacks aren’t made of money). George will “get the place back up on its feet after over 30 years of the current MP’s inability to improve Thanet’s position at the bottom of Kent’s deprivation league table.” He wants to see the area (don’t we all!) as “modern, self-confident, international, prosperous, punching above its weight in Kent and in Britain.”
When I enquired how he might achieve this, he provided a long – and approaching mind-numbingly detailed – explanation about European funding. And echoed his South Thanet colleague’s visions of high-speed rail and sea connections and a “fully restored” Manston airport.
“I have a wide experience of life. I am an achiever.”
His vision is to “interconnect” and upgrade Thanet to build on the potential for tourism. “People who vote for me vote for a more modern way for Thanet” Has he got a hope, considering how long the current incumbent, Roger Gale, has been in position? He has been at a recent hustings with Sir Roger, who apparently stated: “I’m going to give you more of the same”. George wants to give “much more than that”, he tells me. “I want to give Thanet an exciting future”
Verdict: Lots of European experience – seems to know his way round the block…
Watch out for Mike on the Election Flipside – coming soon!
You can read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-meets-Liberal-Democrats/story-26200836-detail/story.html#ixzz3V90PQUAF
A friend of mine once sat next to Nigel Farage on a plane. “He was very charismatic,” she said, clearly charmed even though her politics couldn’t be more opposed.
Charismatic and charming are words I’ve heard more than once. “Don’t be snowed by the glamour,” says another chum, darkly, when I tell her I am off to interview the Ukip leader. We meet in a small upstairs room at the community centre in St Luke’s Avenue, Ramsgate, where one of his invitation-only meetings is being held. My last Gazette column, less than flattering about the TV documentary Meet The Ukippers, has been mentioned by three different kippers by the time he arrives. Nigel comes into the room straight-faced. But when I hold out my hand and tell him, truthfully, how pleased I am to meet him, he is wreathed in smiles. I have inadvertently worn tights in a Ukip shade of purple which also goes down well. He is amused when I tell him the descriptions that precede him. “I’m delighted,” he chuckles. “I’ve got to be good at something.” I begin with the easy questions. What is Nigel Farage going to bring to Thanet? “A powerful voice,” he says immediately. “If I say things on the national stage, that relate to Thanet, people will listen, people will hear…” When I’m emphatic on the need for a good constituency MP too, who will work on the problems in Thanet, he assures me he has had “masses of experience” in his 16 years as an MEP. Particularly “in working out what is a genuine cry for help and what is someone taking the mickey”. People want a champion, he agrees, “but a lot of filtering needs to go on.”
I am keen to discuss the help Thanet needs. Bearing in mind that Thanet has fewer immigrants here than many other parts of the country – well below the national average – wasn’t immigration being made a scapegoat by Ukip when Thanet’s areas of deprivation go back a long way? He agrees, citing: “The collapse of everything from Pfizer to the coal mines to whatever it is.” But denies that immigration is being blamed locally. “It’s a national issue. I’m not standing for TDC. I am standing for Westminster.” As he explains his thinking on this and other issues, he does not sound unreasonable. “Ukip has an ethical, sensible, balanced, approach to immigration,” he insists. “I’m not blaming anyone. If I was from Bucharest I’d come to Britain. You’d be bonkers not to.”
But can he genuinely believe what he says next? “Every attempt is made to try and paint Ukip to be racist, extremist, narrow xenophobic and it simply isn’t true.” We talk about the rants of Rozanne Duncan – now removed from the party – and his campaign manager Martyn Heale’s time in the National Front. Nigel Farage is smooth. Rozanne was “a Tory defector”; Martin did that 40 years ago. He still has the leader’s full support. “But there is an element,” I persist, “a racist element that are drawn to Ukip.”
“There is an element in the Conservative party and the Labour party,” he counters. “In all walks of life.” He refers again to media negativity. “In the same week that Rozanne Duncan said the things she did, a former Labour agent from Peterborough was jailed for paedophilia. Was it a national news story?”
Racism aside, I ask him how he felt seeing his “team” on the TV programme, in all their ineptitude. The Farage eyes narrow a little. That’s how fly-on-the-wall works, he tells me. It doesn’t necessarily show us at its best. But they were doing their best, he insisted. I tell him what my grandmother might have said to that. Sometimes your best isn’t good enough? His eyes narrow a little further. “We are a volunteer army. We are a people’s army.”
We move to safer topics. I put it to him that Thanet hasn’t done badly out of Europe – the EFL industry and the money for Ramsgate port. He disagrees – “It’s our money anyway” – before we bond over our belief in the possibilities for Manston – “a fantastic potential asset” that he is determined to fight for. If he gets in, “everything that can be done will be done to make it a success.” His other dream is for Thanet District Council to be put in “rather more professional and wordly hands”.
Now we’re smiling again, I tell him how much I have wanted to chair a hustings and inquire why he is determined to avoid them. “I have done a couple,” he says. But 90 per cent of the people who turn up are “already branded” and he is doing this his own way. The meetings he holds are for people who live in the ward and have to prove their identity when they arrive. “Very extreme leftist groups” are kept out. “Why should I allow some of these violent idiots to come along and disrupt the meeting and throw things at me?”
I relate the tale of the reasonable-sounding and studious-looking young chap who was thrown out of a Broadstairs meeting after Martyn Heale had deemed him unsuitable from something he’d said on Facebook. Mr Farage apparently knew nothing about it. “I can’t answer to that.”
“I’m going to fight a positive campaign,” he finishes, as he is borne off to fit in another interview before his meeting begins. “They can lob as many Mills bombs as they want at me, I don’t care.”
Verdict: Nigel Farage knows how to charm and has charisma and an answer for most things. One might almost wish he were standing for a different party. I don’t think I was snowed by the glamour.
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Meet-candidates-Jane-Wenham-Jones-Nigel-Farage/story-26161010-detail/story.html
“What a place to live!” wrote a friend from the Cotswolds, who’d been watching, aghast, the documentary Meet the Ukippers, aired last Sunday. I was at pains to explain that the curious collection of locals featured was really not a representative sample of the Thanet population, but I got the feeling she – along, I suspect, with many others – was not convinced.
What a shame. Only days before, Margate was in the news as the next big property hotspot; and there is increasing interest in the area as a weekend destination through enthusiasm for the Turner Contemporary, the prospect of the restored Dreamland, and the booming Old Town. So thank you district councillor Rozanne Duncan, for tracking down some dilapidated windows and telling the nation that parts of Cliftonville are “a no-go area after dark”, and for your fanciful assertion that we poor, sensitive English people are disturbed by “the constant noise of people speaking a foreign language.”
We will forgive the narrator’s appalling grammar since at least he confirmed, what those of us who ever go anywhere else can see for ourselves, that actually “Thanet has less (sic) immigrants than the national average.”
Not that a little diversity should put anyone off visiting our fair Isle. What might was the strange collection of characters in this fly-on-the-wall (sometimes a rather shaky fly at that – who on earth was holding the camera when Trevor Shonk’s head was cut off?) look at the South Thanet UKIP group.
Leaving aside what one might feel about UKIP’s manifesto, can you imagine any of that motley crew attempting to run the country? Or even a bath?
Far be it from me to judge anyone by appearances – especially after Councillor Rozanne Duncan’s bizarre and hideous outburst about “negroes” – so I will refrain from suggesting a good scrub and a group haircut.
And simply say that what continues to leave me slack-jawed, is the bumbling ineptitude displayed and that anyone would be so dense as to say some of the things that were said when a camera is rolling. The barely intelligible campaign manager Martyn Heale, chortling about the value of a bit of “misinformation” and airily dismissing his time in the National Front, as “I was never a member of the Gestapo” (oh, that’s all right then!) and then using the F word.
Someone with no experience at all of being a councilor being chosen as a candidate on the basis of an inane grin and the immortal “I’m cheeky and I enjoy it and I want to do something.”
And the then “press officer” (she has since had the good sense to jack it in) claiming amid nervous laughter, that she didn’t feel she could stop Rozanne Duncan’s diatribe ( why on earth not?). I regret there’s no room to go on. But by the time you are reading this, many acres of newsprint and web pages will have dissected the programme and Rozanne Duncan, already thrown out of UKIP – horses and stable doors leap to mind – may well have resigned (1000 signatures asking her to, and counting). So I will jump to the big question remaining.
Nigel Farage is not stupid. Yet the programme began with his words: “I couldn’t have a team anywhere in England who I feel more comfortable with than these people.” Can he be serious? I would have thought there might have been just the tiniest – ahem – intelligence gap?
Did he watch that footage and feel proud of the way his “team” acquitted themselves? I was cringing behind several cushions and I’m nothing to do with it. I have invited Mr Farage to meet me for a drink so I can pose that question, and others.
He hasn’t replied yet but I am sure, him being a polite chap, he will. Watch this space. In the meantime, if you want to laugh in horror while simultaneously choking on disbelief, watch Meet the Ukippers…
You can read the original article here.
FRIDAY 13th. Time to don the bubble wrap and protective headgear, avoid ladders, leave plenty of time to catch the train, and for the chaps, unless you want to be wearing the hard hat for the entire weekend, write yourselves a large memo so you don’t forget what tomorrow is and can turn up with a card.
If you were thinking of getting me one – I live in hope – leave it till Monday when all things heart-shaped are half-price and they’re flogging the roses off cheap. I always appreciate a bargain.
You might think that someone who has spent a great deal of her writerly life dealing in romance in one form or other, would embrace the celebration of St Valentine with somewhat wider arms. You may imagine your average author of romantic fiction floating about the home in pink chiffon, exchanging Snugglebum messages with Coochie-face, preparing salmon delights and chocolate-coated strawberries to have with the champagne, while the deliveryman arrives bent beneath the weight of floral gifts.
You would be wrong. My theory is that we scribes make up romance for the same reason as so many millions read it. It’s in jolly short supply in real life. It would be fair to say that for about 20 years I generally received a card on Valentine’s Day and more often than not, a bouquet to boot. This was largely by dint of writing instructions in large felt tip in my husband’s diary mid-January and by teaching my son, as soon as he could speak, to repeat “Buy Mummy Flowers” whenever I gave him a Pavlovian shove through the door of his father’s study. Now my husband very sensibly leaves the country and I, apart from noticing the price of blooms has gone through the roof and you can get all sorts of “eat-in” bargains in the supermarket, (one small mercy at least – sitting in a restaurant, having to watch all those other couples slobbering over each other is enough to put anyone off their Nipples-of-Venus-to-share ) treat it as a day like any other. A quick straw poll among my friends suggests this is not unique – even when their partners are the other end of the sofa.
In novels, men may be tall, dark, handsome and capable of producing tickets for a romantic break in Paris without being asked but in reality, in my experience, they are more likely to shriek “How much?” and remind you that there’s an important league match that weekend and the only thing they’ll be holding close is the remote.
We read the books and the myth continues because we long to believe that our fictional heroes who have the florist on speed-dial and understand about candlelight and Belgian chocolate and the element of surprise, are out there somewhere. Even if the evidence to the contrary – “they double the price on Valentine’s Day/I can’t see what I’m eating/Won’t that make you fat?/You get it and put it on my credit card” – is overwhelming. I have always thought it might be generous to send a whole bunch of cards to those who will be least expecting them so that they – however old, ugly, malodorous and socially unacceptable – might feel loved and cherished and experience the frisson of excitement that comes from never quite being sure who would go to such trouble. (The only time someone did this to me, I kept the handwriting for years.) It’s not too late to hit the shops. Give someone a marvellous shock tomorrow. Show that kindness, romance and the spirit of surprise are not totally dead. But look both ways before you cross the road today – or you might be!
WITH under 100 days to go until the general election, the big issue, pundits tell us, will be the future of the NHS. It will be safe in their hands, pulled back from the precipice, expanded, streamlined, reorganised, chucked-money-at – depending on who you précis – while more GPs are trained, more appointments made available, a fleet of midwives conjured up and untold riches put into long-term care and mental health.
Sounds brilliant. And so simple one can only wonder how it’s taken so long. Crisis? What crisis?
The sad truth, as I see it, is that nobody in these anxious vote-gathering times will be brave enough to say what we all know deep down. That the NHS is wonderful, those who work in it heroic, and the fact that, whatever soundbites we’re fed about funding and reshaping, it may sink gently to its knees, is not really about politics but about you and me. It is, to put it bluntly, All Our Fault.
The NHS is overstretched because 64 per cent of us are overweight; 19 per cent still smoke (despite all those warnings tch tch) and 15 per cent – at a conservative estimate – drink far too much (leading to nearly 10million hospital visits in 2013). And if you’re not a podgy lush with a fag in her hand? Then I would hazard a guess you’re the worried well.
Pounding that treadmill, checking the labels, eschewing sugar and salt in your organic radish and broccoli shake, and back up at the doctor’s with that funny rash from the stress of it all. One could take the view that education is the answer.
More cookery in schools might teach the boys and girls that vegetables exist as well as Burger King. Posters of a pickled liver might keep them off the gin. But probably the best thing we could do as a nation, bearing in mind the cost of mental health treatment, is to teach our kids to calm down, cheer up, and stop sweating the small stuff.
While we all start looking on the bright side. A ciggie in your break might kill you but will also make you new friends – nothing like huddling together in a freezing doorway to foster camaraderie – and interaction with others boosts serotonin, the feel-good chemical which may save you from depression till you go.
A drink or two can protect against heart disease and give you respite from worry. (And has been single-handedly responsible for keeping the karaoke industry afloat.)
When you’re very old it is better to be slightly plump than as thin as a rake. And anxiety causes more health problems than e numbers. Some of us are luckier than we should be. Others aren’t. We all know of some lard-scoffing, scotch-swilling, 60-a-day chap who lived to his 90s. (And a clean-living, additive-free, gluten-avoiding vegan, who sadly did not.) As the fatalists are fond of reminding us – when you’re time’s up, it is. The Do Your Best and Then Don’t Worry Party could be a vote winner. Along with a concerted campaign to teach us to value the NHS; not abuse it.
Advertising slogans might include: “Accident and Emergency – the clue’s in the name”; “Doctors are for ill people” and “Do you really need that seventh doughnut? Give up your seats on the bus for those who need one…”
We can dream.
In the meantime, brace yourselves for more cries of restructuring, cash injections, training programmes and the promise of appointments for all. And know that the only hands the health service is really safe in, are ours…
Read, and comment on, the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Saving-NHS/story-25948354-detail/story.html
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WELL, how’s yours been so far? My New Year greetings come late, after spending the opening hours of 2015 horizontal and groaning, in the clutches of the norovirus, barely able to sit up let alone write this column.
Since then, life has moved on dramatically and I feel I should begin by pausing for a moment to remember the recent hideous events in France before attempting to finish what I started two weeks ago. Traditionally, my first January offering has been a roundup of favourite shops, eateries and venues on the isle but since 2014 was more than usually fraught and manic and I hardly made it past the corner shop (Victory News – one useful little outlet worth a mention), I’m doing instead, key events and memorable moments. And hoping the coming 12 months may be a little less bumpy than their predecessors. Here, in no particular order, are my lows and lows of 2014…
Disappointment of the Year
Manston closing (don’t get me started); the NHS still being clogged up by people with nothing wrong with them except a desire to be seen TODAY about their possibly -infected middle toe instead of waiting till Wednesday.
Worst economy measure
Margarine instead of butter. A worrying number of breakfast venues on the isle have taken to using “spread” on their toast instead of the real thing.
Not so the Dalby café in Cliftonville – still a reassuring constant in a changing world. They also know how to fry an egg. Another prerequisite.
Ridiculous news story of the year
The scary tidings that landmark Pierremont Hall may be closed because it will cost in the region of £130,000 to rewire it and fit a new boiler. 130 grand? Is the trunking to be gold-plated? The boiler to be hand-carved and bejewelled and daubed with the blood of virgins? Come, electricians and plumbers of Thanet – unite! I’m sure one of you somewhere can do it for less than that. AND the revelation that sexist language – as used by men to describe women – is on the decline. All well and good until you see the words that have apparently dropped out of the language. “Sexy” and “blonde” have allegedly almost vanished along with “stupid” and “daft”. Well excuse me for being both of the latter but am I the only one who thought “sexy” was equally valid as a description of both genders (Martin Shaw and Liam Neeson immediately spring to mind) and what is one supposed to say then about a female who is fair of head? Please save us from the sort of politically -correct nonsense that would render them “non-brunette”….
Funeral of the Year
November saw the sad passing of Harry Lagan, local character and stalwart supporter of all things Thanet. Described by his wife Carol as “irreplaceable”, Harry’s sad but uplifting funeral, featuring the Archers theme tune, oration by Geoffrey Boycott and a rendition of Internationale showed the same wit and irreverence that were the hallmarks of the man himself. RIP Harry. Broadstairs is a duller place without you.
Best new bar of the year
Not a low obviously, but it can’t be all doom. Again two nominees – and both in Ramsgate. The Town Bar at the new Albion House Hotel is looking rather fab and Miles is doing a sterling job at The Arch in the Arches. My son brings good reports of the Ravensgate Arms in King Street – I’ve not got there yet.
Worst prediction for 2015
Dyed armpit hair. Yes I am serious. Foretellers of the next hot trends inform us that this year will see women sporting luxurious underarm growth, coloured in a variety of fetching hues. As an early pioneer of multi-coloured tresses, you might think I’d approve. Not so. There’s only one place female hair looks good on display and that’s her head. Note to my male readers – you can add chests but not noses and ears.
Top lessons learned in 2014
Seven items on a list are more effective than ten (handy that!) I was reliably informed by a fellow scribe. And, it’s not as neurotic as I thought it was, to carry anti-bacterial hand gel. Stay well, use lots of soap and hot water, and I hope your new year is turning out to be a happy one.
Je suis Charlie
Je suis Ahmed
Je suis Juif
See the original post at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Jane-Wenham-Jones-look-2014/story-25881506-detail/story.html.
OUR columnists Jane Wenham-Jones and Mike Pearce don’t need a certain supermarket to remind them that Christmas is for sharing.
Every year, she gets out her sparklers, he dusts off his baubles, and they get together to wish you a joyful Christmas.
This year, they look at having fun – whether you’re a Jolly Jane or a Moany Mike.
Jane: Carols make Christmas. Whether it’s the Salvation Army in the High Street or the Thanet Male Voice Choir in The White Swan pub. I don’t get to church very often but I like a decent sing-song when I do. Midnight mass is an uplifting way to start the festivities – if one is still awake by then. A plea our good reverends: candles not light bulbs? The last time I went to a certain church late on Christmas eve, it was lit up like a supermarket.
NB If you can find a spare child take them to Christingle – a recent survey shows that one in five children think Jesus Christ plays for Chelsea!
Mike: It doesn’t matter which carol service you choose, there will always be a bloke in the pew behind you who is a bellowing bull, a Pavarotti wannabe. He will be with a screech-owl woman, sounding like a Spice Girl in a cat fight. Try starting each verse a second early – throws ’em every time.
Jane: Should just be for kids. We all spend too much on things nobody really wants or needs, but were handily on offer (after Black Friday the whole nation is getting a coffee machine or electric toenail clippers). But if you insist, consumables are best and won’t require a declutter. Champagne, chocolates, bath oil or perfumed candles will usually hit the spot (it’s not too late – my birthday’s next month).
Mike: Infuriate any intelligent relatives you’re not too keen on by giving them a Russell Brand book. As with all things, the pleasure is in the anticipation, so raise expectations among teenagers by putting socks in an enticing Apple Store bag. For ghastly kids, stick a Cilla Black CD in a One Direction cover.
Jane: Is the antidote to all those relatives. Be generous and helpful, take a nice gift and a moment to remember how lucky you are to have people in your life who are not from the same gene pool.
Mike: Arriving in a haze of alcohol fumes and incontinence is poor form, but effective. Sneezing or scratching guarantees you can get away with an early exit. Explain you have only popped in for a minute on your way to somewhere fabulous.
Jane: Brings me out in a rash. To be attended only under duress, when one has small children in tow, and a hip flask about one’s person. I hate audience participation. Oh yes I do… etc.
Mike: If you’re dragged along, cheer the villain, boo the good guys. I tried it once and the embarrassed lady I was with banished me to the bar. Result! Think of it this way – The more boos, the more booze…
Jane: Last year after a late change of plan, I got the turkey at 4pm on Christmas Eve. What a bargain!
Days “between the years” can offer up good reductions too. Don’t buy too much of anything – not only will it get wasted (who actually eats nuts and dates and marzipan biscuits in the shape of a reindeer when they’ve already pigged out on roast potatoes and pudding?) and cost a fortune but you need to run out of something for an excuse to get out of the house (relatives! Remember?).
Mike: Have fun getting a month’s worth of supplies on December 10. Yes, I know that’s too late for this year, but remember it for next time. Stuff your pantry, stuff your freezer and stuff the do-everything-at-the-last-minute laggards who grizzle about aisles packed tighter than Santa’s stockings. If there’s one thing better than being stocked-up for Christmas, it’s being smug.
Fun presents for each other
Jane: This year I’m giving dear old Mike his own Himalayan Goat, a “Save Manston” T-shirt and recognition in the Hall of Fame at Turner Contemporary (he lives in hope of a kiss under the mistletoe with Iris Johnston, but as I always tell him, he can’t have everything…).
Mike: A pile of her novels piled high in prime position at Waterstone’s. Or better still, an empty shelf, where they were stacked before they were all snapped up. Right, that’s more than enough goodwill for one Christmas.
Have a happy one, from us both xx
You can read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/season-jolly-moany/story-25738188-detail/story.html#ixzz3MOBuBKlh
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I DON’T know whether they teach this in journalism school – I am entirely self-taught (also known as untrained ) – but it is a truth commonly recognised among hacks that when columnists have nothing to say, they fall back on three tactics.
They either: refer to a letter (generally made up) from a reader complaining about something; they look on Google to see if it is National Something Day and if it isn’t they make one of those up (or invent a survey that found it should be); or, they produce a List. While being in the fortunate position of having some real missives of displeasure to choose from (dog poo not being cleared up, Manston not being reopened, street lamps not being turned on so that at two in the morning one stumbles into the dog poo) and perfectly ready to defend the need for a ‘Stop Talking About How You’ve Finished* Your Christmas Day Shopping Before I Scream’ Day and find three people to agree with me, the one I favour most is the creation of ten ways / facts / things you never knew. This is because we are a nation of list-lovers: something I learned from the Times Newspaper who recently devoted an entire magazine to the subject in the wake of BuzzFeed – a website crammed with lists – being valued at 850 million dollars. That’s a lot of paper and pens. Which is what a proper list is all about. While I’ve done the topical cataloguing myself – 20 Strategies for Surviving Yuletide; Fifteen Things to Remember at Easter; Eleven-and-a-half Handy Time-Saving-Tips for all; Thanet councillors I could imagine being married to without slitting my wrists (that was a short one) – and have written an entire book with 100 Ways in its title (my esteemed colleague, Mike-Bah-Humbug-Pearce, keeps his own list of how many times I mention this), my favourite sort is the one you write by hand and do a lot of ticking off on. Namely: the To Do List. Because I seriously do not know how people without one manage. Therefore, in the absence of National Make a List Day – where’s an anniversary when you need one? – I give you Ten Top Reasons why writing it all down is a joy:
- There is something endlessly seductive about a blank sheet of paper and a new pen. (I like those green fibre-tip italic ones, if Berol could come up trumps on a product placement deal.)
- It maintains the illusion that you’re almost, in some semblance of, control.
- The warm feeling of smugness you get from crossing a task off when completed.
- The chance to add things you’ve already done, just for the above.
- Because one’s memory isn’t what it used to be and if it’s not written down it won’t happen. ( A state of affairs that started with pregnancy and that was decades ago.)
- You’d deprive your spouse of scrawling “make another list” at the bottom, and after 25 years, still thinking it’s funny.
- Because you’d forget someone’s Christmas present if you didn’t.
- And 90 per cent of the birthdays.
- Because if you shop without one you get home with a till receipt for £106.72 but not the tube of tomato puree you went out for.
- While you’re writing it down, you don’t actually have to do it…
* No, since you ask, I haven’t.
Out now! 100 Ways to Fight the Flab – and still have wine and chocolate. On kindle, e formats and in paperback.
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Make-list/story-25699040-detail/story.html#ixzz3LnidRJQV.
So it was two Saturdays ago when I ventured forth to Bodysym, tucked away behind Tesco, in St Lawrence High Street, hailed as a centre for “physiotherapy and injury management” but offering very much more.
Matt Baker and Craig Hayle, the nice young men who run the joint, are physiotherapists who take a holistic approach. Hence the centre offers yoga and pilates, aromatherapy and reflexology, as well as half a dozen kinds of massage and podiatry.
I was there at the invitation of my friend Helen French to look at the latest service offered – the Ultrasound Centre! Helen, together with five other radiographers trained in sonography, has brought 3D and 4D pregnancy scanning to Thanet for the first time. For the uninitiated, this gives you remarkable images of your unborn child that you can take away as photographs or as a film on DVD, so vivid in clarity and detail that it is hard to believe the baby is still in the womb. Of particular benefit for bonding purposes, reassurance, and the social inclusion of younger siblings, fathers, grannies and in-laws, you can also pop your footage up on Facebook for Auntie Matilda in Australia to get a preview of the forthcoming arrival and many, of course, do.
I was keen to have a go. In the absence of a foetus to ooh and ahh over, we looked at my vital organs instead. Helen smiled as I got on the bed. “You could be brave and let us loose on…” I knew what was coming. I make no secret of the fact that I imbibe in excess of government guidelines (which are increasingly stringent I find – suddenly there are ten units of alcohol to a bottle of wine whereas once there were six) and I must admit to a small frisson of anxiety as I lay back and had the gel applied to my middle, while half a dozen people gathered round to watch.
There was a stunned silence in the room as the probe was passed over my liver. I still had one! Helen laughed as I craned my neck to get a look. “It’s fine,” she said, a hint of astonishment underpinning her professional tones. So, as it happens, were my kidneys and aorta. “You haven’t had breakfast,” she stated accurately, noting that my gall bladder was still full of bile (to be released once there was food to be digested) “and you don’t need a wee, do you?” Fascinating stuff. Not as enthralling as the babies kicking and sucking their thumbs, but a worthwhile outing for the worried well. Or simply the worried. (I take the credit for saving the life of a dear friend by advising him to get his abdominal aorta screened after his mother collapsed and died from an aneurysm. He was later operated on and lives to tell the tale.) Especially as you can self-refer and get your innards checked over for the price of a decent restaurant dinner.
While I was there, Jane Daulton, a local resuscitation trainer, pitched up to give the annual life-support session, so I had a go at that too. Now, should you collapse at my feet, I know how to give you chest compressions, and for how long, can attempt to dislodge a blockage from your choked throat and then put you in the recovery position. I thought I’d be squeamish, but found it all rather gripping. Sometimes one discovers things in oneself one never knew existed. Like a working hepatic organ.
For more information see http://www.bodysym.co.uk or call 01843 590067.
Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/baby-liver-s-fine/story-24828950-detail/story.html
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MALE friends won’t believe me, but I don’t much like shopping. Not for me “a day out” at Bluewater, or an afternoon “just looking” at Westwood Cross. The mere thought of Canterbury brings me out in a rash.
I go to retail parks when I absolutely have to (you can’t get it in the High Street and it’s too late for online).
And I stick with devotion to the same (small) supermarkets. I’ve been a Waitrose woman for over 25 years (both food and staff are lovely) with occasional forays to Asda (cheaper wine and flowers) or the Broadstairs Co-op (handy to shoot into at half past five, when one’s run out of crisps).
I loathe great big stores – I have been known to abandon a trolley and run screaming from the Tesco at Westwood – and have only managed to tour the whole of Ikea because the cafe is licensed.
So you would not expect me to get particularly excited because the Ramsgate Aldi has been extended. I was there, dear reader, at 8 am. I have had a fascination with the new breed of cheap supermarket since Lidl won an award for their cut-price champagne and the middle classes were caught flocking there in their 4x4s to buy smoked salmon.
“Have you been?” I asked my sister. “Oh yes!” she declared, as I knew she would. My older sibling is a one-woman, walking equivalent of a price-comparison site. Name a product, and she will tell you where you can get it cheapest. I am thinking of hiring her out by the hour. I could make a fortune, while you save one. I took a deep breath. “Take me,” I said.
Thus began the tradition of what has become known as the “Lidl Breakfast” whereby we meet early, I gasp my way round a bargain store of some description, and then we go to a cafe for eggs on toast.
We frequently have the shops to ourselves at that hour, but on re-opening day, we arrived at the newly enlarged Boundary Road store to find the car park full and a party atmosphere. There were balloons and a stall with free samples and bacon rolls. Inside, there were dozens of Aldi Big Brass, suited and booted, standing near the brilliant flowers (gorgeous roses, only £2 a bunch) and talking to each other. My sister tutted. “They should be giving out vouchers,” she said, “not ignoring us.”
I suppose when you are buying biscuits for pennies you can’t expect “Did you find everything you needed, Madam?” too, but even “Good morning” would have been a start.
Instead, my sister walked me round Aldi pointing out bargains. “See those cleansing wipes?” she said. “64p. Do you know how much Simple ones are? Over three quid.” I obediently put some in my trolley. I also bought bottles of montepulciano – excellent value at £3.49 – beer for the boy, tissues at half of what I usually pay and some cut-price cat food.
I suspect, however, that where these stores score, is on the impulse purchase. Carried away by the excitement of vastly reduced cheese straws, I somehow found myself buying frozen quails and a box of Coquille St Jacques (last time I went to Lidl I came out with a set of heated, fake-sheepskin, neck and shoulder pads and a plastic broom) and I realise the genius is in mixing in non-bargains with the undeniably cheap, in the hope that nobody really notices that some of it is not the economy one might think.
But they’re now taking credit cards (an improvement) and although I resent tokens for trolleys, at least the smiley girl on the checkout (bosses – you could learn a thing or two from her) gave us some.
The whole trip was, as usual, strangely thrilling, while leaving me with that slight guilty sense I’d been disloyal. Until the next time, Aldi! I’m off to Waitrose…
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Lidl-helps/story-24559978-detail/story.html
Plain Jane 311014: Why prescribing Viagra to all men over 50 could save NHS
GREAT discoveries, it seems, arise from a split second of blinding clarity falling at precisely the right juncture. James Watt may well have forged his fascination with steam as he observed the saucepan lid rise and fall on his mother’s pot of boiling cabbage, while Newton famously, upon feeling an apple clonk against his head, cleverly formed the theory of gravitation.
Clearly these were individuals of genius and, in the normal way, I would have said I were as capable of such brilliance as your average banana. Until last Monday when my own moment of divine realisation came, and in a life-jolting flash of illumination, I solved, in a stroke, the answer to the crisis in the NHS.
I was on BBC Radio Kent’s Breakfast show, with John Warnett and Maggie Doyle, wheeled on to review the papers. Charged with finding four stories on which to comment, I decided for my second slot, to take up the theme of health. The Daily Mail was screaming about “meltdown” in Wales; The Guardian brought the cheering news that there has been a 40% rise in liver disease in the last 12 years (blamed on alcohol consumption, of course) and the Daily Mirror had ground-breaking information to impart about Viagra. Not only, it transpires, does the drug perk a chap up in the downstairs department, but it can also help patients with dicky hearts.
A trial carried out in Italy found that an enzyme inhibitor contained in Viagra, prevented the heart increasing in size and changing shape in patients with left ventricular hypertrophy, and benefited those with other heart conditions too, while maintaining healthy blood pressure. “We found the main ingredient in Viagra can be an effective, safe treatment for heart disease,” summed up Dr Andrea Isidori from Sapienza University in Rome.
Do you see what this means? If every fellow over fifty were prescribed Viagra as a matter of course, heart disease, the country’s biggest killer might be a thing of the past. In addition all that bedroom activity would have a myriad of benefits. Having sex releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals, so depression and anxiety could also be reduced (one of the most common reasons for time taken off work, and a huge clogger of the GP’s surgeries) and the massive drugs bill for anti-depressants and tranquilisers halved. And because everyone would be happier – this was presenter Maggie Doyle’s contribution and it’s a good one – they would drink less, relieving the pressure on essential medical services brought about by all those clapped-out livers.
I haven’t quite worked out how the health service would cope with the sudden groundswell of older, female patients with chronic headache syndrome, but I’m sure paracetamol is cheaper than a by-pass.
Pfizer, who make Viagra, could quadruple production, increasing employment (maybe even re-opening in Thanet) and providing beneficial knock-on effects to related industries (bed manufacturers, hair dye companies and makers of clothes-more-suited-to-the-younger-man. It is amazing what a spot of unexpected rumpy-pumpy can do to a chap’s view of what constitutes an appropriate wardrobe).
My final news story came from The Times, where the splendid Dame Judi Dench, now approaching 80, was explaining that she keeps her brain young and active by memorising a new poem each day. Maybe a small recital should be required upon the collection of each fresh prescription of the jolly blue pills – thus bolstering the nation’s grey cells and contributing to the fight against Dementia.
So there you’d have it. The NHS snatched back from the jaws of collapse, more money for flu jabs and a pleasing rise in the sale of poetry books. Jeremy Hunt eat your heart out. Perhaps with a small Viagra…
A month left to enter! And a totally FABULOUS prize. So what are you waiting for? 🙂 jxx
So you’ve started your novel with great enthusiasm. You’ve finished the first few chapters and don’t know where to go next. Running out of inspiration? Woman writing competition judge Jane Wenham-Jones has good advice for unpublished writers taking part in our search for a new star of women’s contemporary fiction.
- Remember there is no “right” way to plot a novel – only what works for you. Some novelists plan everything out meticulously before they write a word, others just start typing. Many – including me – know what’s in the first chapter, have a vision for the end and have a few ideas for the major events along the way, but work out the detail as they go. All are equally valid.
- Experiment with different ways of planning. Some writers like to use index cards – with notes for each scene or chapter on separate cards and keep them neatly…
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Somewhat after the event, but every day is chocolate day where I come from …. 🙂
Plain Jane – It’s National Home Security month, Dyspraxia month…….but never mind that – it’s chocolate week
THERE is nothing like a spot of consciousness-raising. And there’s never been more of it. October alone sees the declaration of a specially-dedicated awareness month for National Home Security, Breast Cancer and Dyspraxia.
It is also a time for National Hate Crime Awareness Week, World No Beard Day, Family Friendly Week, National Spinal Surgery Awareness Day, World Food Day, National Arthritis Week and National Real Vanilla Day.
“We are on a precipice where we could lose pure vanilla within a generation,” says sustainability expert, Patricia Rain. Who knew?
You might be forgiven for thinking that by November, we’ll be on awareness overload, only fit for a good lie-down (lucky then, that it brings National Spa Week so at least you might get a massage while you’re at it) but by then we’ll be busily growing a moustache (Movember), eschewing animal products (National Vegan Month), knocking up tasty fillings (National Sandwich Day) and looking both ways at the traffic lights (Road Safety Week) while jiggling against our hips, any flushed-looking infants that happen to be grizzling nearby (National Teething Week).
All excellent causes, of course, worth getting your head out of a bucket for and taking note, but for a real perking up of one’s senses, I am delighted to share with the uninitiated, that right now (October 13-19) it is Chocolate Week! As the author of a ground-breaking weight loss book promoting the dark stuff as a chief weapon in one’s weight-loss armoury, I am obviously following proceedings with a special interest. I have both bars and a Belgian selection box (M&S – very good!) next to me as I type in order to give my endorphins a regular boost, and further supplies secreted in the writing room fridge – a small but essential piece of office equipment cunningly disguised as the stationery cupboard. In case you have yet to discover the joys and health benefits of cocoa, and all the wonderful justification that brings, let me do my bit for the campaign and enlighten you. Chocolate – the darker the better – contains flavonoids that can help lower blood pressure, and improve blood flow to the brain and heart. Dark chocolate is also a source of vitamins A, C, B6, and 45B12 as well as magnesium, calcium, potassium, copper, and iron. In addition, it contains stearic acid which slows digestion down, which means, handily, a few squares will take a significant edge off your appetite, and leave you feeling fuller for longer. When you are hungry between meals – try sucking a couple of squares of dark chocolate slowly. Even if you end up eating six squares, you’ll only have taken in 125 calories (I am basing this on Green & Black’s 85 per cent dark – bring on that product placement deal), and had a relatively low carb, low sugar snack that will take you through to lunch or dinner a whole lot better than a bag of crisps or a couple of biscuits (which would be more calorific). And be more pleasurable than boiled cabbage and a cup of brown rice (ditto).
In addition, my exhaustive research has revealed that chocolate contains both tryptophan, an essential amino acid that stimulates the production of serotonin – a natural antidepressant – in the brain, and phenylethylamine, a chemical that stimulates the brain’s pleasure centres and creates the sort of feelings we have when in love or having an orgasm. (Easily confused). (NB for my male readers: now do you see the sense in turning up with a large, exotically packaged box of confectionary under one arm?).
To sum up, on this special week, very dark chocolate will not only fill you up, but will cheer you up as well.
Useful, I’m sure you’ll agree, if you are grappling with facial hair, can’t eat dairy products and the baby’s screaming. National Smile Month’s not till next summer.
My initial thought – that I would rather gnaw on my own leg – has been tempered by the realisation that “The STB” (Stop the Bo*****s Party) has a certain ring to it and being a candidate would guarantee me entry to the count. (I am most afraid that us humble local hacks – usually to be found in the Winter Gardens at 4am hunched over a curling sandwich and our 15th coffee, as votes are totted up – will be left out in the cold as the national media descends en masse to cast a beady eye over antics a la Nige.)
Clearly my campaign will take a little organisation prior to May 7, and volunteers for Team JWJ should apply soon. I will need a megaphone and a soapbox and some cheap-suited lackeys to scuttle in my wake. Leaflets listing my credentials (on cheek-kissing terms with last three incumbents of South Thanet, taken tour round House of Commons, got a gob the size of Margate Caves – how difficult can this MP lark be?) and sporting a photo in which I look slightly manic. Someone with a degree in media studies who has what it takes to justify the revelation that I actually hate 90 per cent of the electorate but just crave power, when I forget to take my microphone off; and a baby, a feisty pensioner and a rescue dog I can pose with to cover all bases.
Previous experience not necessary. Drinkers welcome – think Man in the Pub as our target vote. The jaded and hard-bitten, come on down.
Oh and a self-made bloke with a heart of gold and a credit card to match, who wants to save the NHS, the sub post-office and spread a little joy, to pay the deposit. Let’s rock.
HALLELUJAH – Broadstairs and St Peter’s Town Council is discussing the possibility of restoring Retort House in the bottom car park in Broadstairs for use as a community centre. Those of us who campaigned back in 2005 against the felling of trees and spending of vast fortunes to put a whacking great centre up in Pierremont Park that nobody wanted, suggested this right back then. I am very pleased to hear that nine and a half years on, common sense and logic have prevailed (it’s what the STB is all about), but really – what kept you?
LAST FRIDAY, I had the hilarious pleasure of interviewing Kathy Lette at the Horsebridge Arts Centre in Whitstable. Kathy, described by the Evening Standard as “the wittiest woman in London”, has lots of killer lines in her new novel Courting Trouble, not all of them suitable for consumption in a family newspaper. One that particularly resonated with me came when a male character described certain women as “All hard stares, high heels and droopy handshakes”. I know exactly what he means. I deplore the modern habit of dangling one’s limp fingers into another’s palm and thinking that passes as a greeting. Women should either content themselves with a haughty raising of a perfectly manicured eyebrow or do a spot of air-kissing if they can’t grasp hands properly.
A warm, firm handshake – a small skill on which I pride myself (with an occasional crunching of the knuckles if I don’t like him much) – should be taught in schools, along with opening doors (both sexes), giving up seats on the bus and offering to carry anything heavy when the bearer of said object is clearly more feeble than oneself. (Being able to open a bottle of champagne with a flourish shows a sensible upbringing too.)
Please take a note, my yet-to-be-appointed campaign manager. It’s going on my manifesto.
Read more: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/megaphone-soapbox-cheap-suited-lackeys-needed/story-22950715-detail/story.html. Jane is appearing in the Maltese Falcon from Wednesday to Saturday, September 24 to 27, at 7.30pm at The Red Hall, 11 Grosvenor Rd, Broadstairs. Tickets cost £6 and are available at the door, but seats are limited. To reserve one, ring 01843 604633 or 07989 070843.
Margate is in the news again. Described as “the formerly gritty seaside town”, Margate has made its way onto yet another list, coming in at No 4 on The Times newspaper’s “Ten places to be seen this summer”.
Tracey Emin is quoted: her hometown is “romantic, sexy and weird,” and the Turner Contemporary flagged up as “world-class”. It could almost have been written by my esteemed colleague, the Turner and Tracey and all-things-arty fan, Mike Don’t-Get-Me-Started Pearce, who will be thrilled that we can now expect “the art crowd to descend”. It’s a shame, for the sheer entertainment value, that it’s not his week…
Over in Ramsgate, good things are happening too. And not just on the streets, where The Phantom Poo Sprayer reports that its “Dog Dump Tally” (currently standing at 49 with a whopping 21 of the offending offerings turning up in one road alone) is currently “tailing off” (TPPS likes a pun), while expressing hope that the wayward dog owners are finally being shamed into clearing up after their charges. I should hope so. With the yachting fraternity due to sail into town on August 17 for Ramsgate Week, we want everything suitably ship-shape.
Lucky yachters will find an extra drinking venue for their delectation too. Last week saw the opening of The Arch, the latest venture from Miles Wiseman who first brought the eponymous Miles Bar to Harbour Parade. The new bar, set into the arches, on the undercliff, joins Clarey’s Chocolate Lounge as a welcome addition to the mainly marine-based businesses along Military Road.
My son, stating confidently that I would like The Arch because it does house champagne by the glass, marched me along to take a look (and pay for the drinks).
It really is very nice. Exposed brick, metal grilles, gentleman’s club-style leather seating, and sure enough, plenty of fizz (I had a second one).
I quiz Miles for the finer details. Open 11am – 11pm, later at weekends, wifi, food, drinks, coffee, homemade carrot cake, uninterrupted views of the harbour, large selection of bottled beers…
I think how to best summarise. “A cool and trendy bar?”
“No,” he says firmly. “It’s a talk bar rather than a loud bar.”
He points out the bar top made out of pool table slate, and the lights fashioned from gas bottles cut in half.
“What’s the USP then?” I ask.
“Me,” he grins. “Back from the dead.”
Back here in Broadstairs, the locals are braced for the start of Folk Week where we make our annual seamless divide into the Fors and Againsts.
Some of us grab our pewter pots, put the beads in our hair and go forth to dance in the street to the strains of Whisky In The Jar, alongside what my husband likes to refer to as the “hairy maths teachers from Barnsley”, while the others hoist up their indignant bosoms and become over-exercised about an influx of noisy youth and the ensuing sea of plastic cups (which last year were cleared with admirable speed by our refuse collection teams, almost at daybreak).
For those gritting their teeth and clucking, think of it this way: it’s all dosh for the town; it’s only for a week. And if you really can’t stand it, you could always take yourselves off to Margate. And prepare to be seen.
You can read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-art-crowd-new-crowd-old-row/story-22219041-detail/story.html
Love the Romaniacs – crazy, cake-eating romantics that they are. So thrilled to get a spot on their blog. If you like cake and romance, take a look at them. If you like cake TOO much – read on here… 🙂
Let them eat cake….
(And we’ll have some too!)
Jane Wenham-Jones, author of the revolutionary new eating plan 100 Ways to Fight the Flab – and still have wine and chocolate, explains why every successful diet still involves a slice of what you fancy…
No Cake for YOU….
If I told you that you could never have cake again, what would you immediately fancy? Yep, a great big lump of Victoria sponge, or a rich moist coffee and walnut gateau, or a gloriously chocolatey brownie, or perhaps a fresh cream éclair…(insert your own weakness). You may not even like cake (you strange creature) but if your downfall is crisps (as mine is), pizza, or fresh crusty bread with lots of butter, and I suddenly tell you that if you want to lose weight, it has got to go – ? Well, you get my drift…
There are two big…
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Originally published last week but I’ve been away teaching at the fabulous Chez Castillon…
HAPPY Birthday Prince George and congratulations on being able to walk.
The day before the smallest royal heir turned a year old, I was on BBC Radio Kent reviewing the papers, amused to see how the different publications approached the anniversary.
Beneath the official photo of the toddler strutting his stuff, the Daily Mail made much of the fact that Prince William was getting a job nearer home so he could be a hands-on dad (jolly good!) and informed us that the baby’s fetching blue dungarees cost £27; the Times pointed out that the Queen is ahead of her grandson when it comes to shifting royal memorabilia on eBay (8,716 items sold featuring Queenie, only 1,202 for young George), while The Sun was able to reveal that Andrew Morton, late biographer to Diana, Princess of Wales, was predicting that Prince William would one day abdicate in favour of his son (goodness and we haven’t even got Charles on the throne yet). Apparently above having its head turned by any sort of Windsor excitement, The Guardian appeared to ignore the entire event and was more interested in the fact that students in Massachusetts have developed a printer that can churn out 3D ice-cream. John Warnett, Radio Kent’s Breakfast Show presenter, seemed rather more enlivened by this too.
THERE has also been much in the news about the need to increase funding for the NHS. A recent poll suggested that 48 per cent of those questioned thought this should be done by raising taxes while 21 per cent considered patients should be charged. For the 12 per cent who answered “don’t know”, can I suggest some basic savings. Last week my husband received a letter informing him who his GP was, despite us having had the same (wonderful) doctor for the last 24 years. He was being told this, the letter said, because he is now over 75. Whether it was thought he’d forget his doctor’s name at this great age, who knows, but with an ever-increasing elderly population, with those over 75 set to double in the next 30 years, and second class stamps costing 53p, please don’t start writing to them all…
SOMEONE at the Times must like Thanet. The isle has made no fewer than three “best of” lists published by the national newspaper, with Kingsgate Bay appearing on Best Hidden Beaches (won’t be quite so secret now); the fab Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate coming in at a well-deserved number ten for the best places to stay on the beach (overlooking the sea, would be a more accurate description, but we know what you mean) and the new Sands Hotel in Margate scooping a spot on Best Beach Restaurant for its Romney Marsh lamb and Kent cheeses. Hurrah and well done to all concerned. I trust the powers that be at our esteemed council are suitably thrilled. And fully primed to meet the influx of eager trippers, anxious to try these gems. Never one to shirk my responsibility to state the bleedin’ obvious, I would remind them that visitors to the area will want available parking, clean loos (that stay open) and a spot of tourist information, easily gleaned. Just saying…
WHAT I can’t say is that I was overly gripped by the comings and goings of David Cameron’s reshuffle, which is perhaps why I was only half listening to Radio Four and misheard. For a brief, joyful moment I thought our Prime Minister had displayed a stroke of genius and it was not Liz, but Lynne Truss who was to join the cabinet. Imagine my delight at the thought of the novelist, journalist and expert on punctuation being in a position of influence. At last, someone in power who would haul the BBC over the coals if they dared allow reporters to say “less” when it should be “fewer”. And who could be relied upon to take decisive action against any greengrocer found wantonly using an apostrophe to make a plural from potato.
You can read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Royalty-politics-tourism-waste-money/story-21937654-detail/story.html
Am pleased to have been recognised as a “diet expert” 🙂
Says she, with the chocolate nut cookie hanging out of her mouth…
(Brazil nuts – full of selenium you know….)
But if you are planning summer parties, barbecues, and foodie days out – hope this might be useful 🙂
WANT to let off steam this summer without piling on weight? Diet expert Jane Wenham-Jones reveals her top 10 tips…
Nobody (except the teetotal) should be expected to go to a wedding or a big birthday and say no to champagne. Or refuse those yummy little canapés and stand there with a carrot stick. Even if we arrive at a barbecue or garden party with the best of intentions, determined only to drink water and eat the salad garnish, we’re soon going to start feeling deprived and hungry and miserable and as though we’re missing out. No surprise then that, before the end of the evening, so many of us fall off the wagon and stuff our faces with abandon.
Jane Wenham-Jones, the author of How to Fight the Flab and Still Have Wine & Chocolate, offers her top…
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ANDY Murray lost the tennis; the Germans won the football (so far). Type two diabetes is on the rise, standards are falling. Rumour has it Westminster was once full of perverts, and if they don’t make new antibiotics soon, we will all die. The evil Ms Gloag refused to budge on Manston and there’ll soon be a sale of all its unsold perfume and plastic chairs.
Energy prices have risen by more than one-third over the past three years and more increases look likely (so even if we don’t perish from obesity or plague, we’ll still be impoverished or cold); while house prices will mean our children live with us for ever (I don’t really mind this as long as they catch spiders and put the rubbish out).
And I have just returned from a dispiriting trip to a part of deepest Wales that made Margate look like Kensington High Street, where – surprise, surprise – it rained all day. As reasons to be cheerful go, it’s not been a great fortnight. But we have Mike on the Flipside to be a miserable old git – guess who was the first to e-mail about the Manston auction, while chortling with glee?
I am the Pollyanna of the partnership (or so he tells me), charged with sprinkling a little fairy dust on the grey workings of a drab world. It is my job, you might say, to think fluffy and pink.
So dear readers, imagine my delight, when, following my column two weeks ago about mysterious pink circles on the pavements of Ramsgate, to be able to reveal that I have heard from The Phantom Poo Sprayer. Yes!
“OK, I ‘fess up, ’tis me,” wrote TPPS, explaining that it found the biodegradable pink paint on the internet, and, inspired by a group in Cliftonville highlighted in the Isle of Thanet Gazette, began spraying mid-April.
At the time of e-mailing, TPPS, who is keeping an admirably detailed tally of where the abandoned turds appear – Church Road and St Luke’s Road are top hot spots with Upper Dumpton Park Road being, well, thoroughly dumped on (ha ha) – had marked out 43 mounds dog faeces, as it quaintly calls them, and one disposable nappy!
I am therefore regarding TPPS with suitable awe and approbation, and may have a T-shirt printed demanding it be leader of the council. But is one, I wondered, allowed to go paint-spraying willy-nilly, even if one’s motives are good? It seems the Long Arm of the Law raised the same question.
After two police officers were seen assessing the pink paint as a possible graffiti offence, TPPS, ever the good citizen, turned itself in and was subsequently interviewed by phone. “I explained,” it tells me, “that I was trying to highlight dog faeces so people wouldn’t walk in them, and unknowingly tread the result indoors on to their carpets.”
TTPS, who urges me to campaign for dog toilets in public places (couldn’t I just push for people to clean up after their damn animals?) also pointed out the dangers of dog mess to children – it can cause blindness – to young mums who could push their prams through it (ugh) and the visually impaired or anyone in the dark who could walk in it.”
The Long Arm, possibly by now feeling slightly in need of a lie down, considered this. “Carry on the good work” was the verdict.
What a relief! Sensible policing is alive and well. The pink spray continues, and we can be thankful for small mercies, look on the bright side and see clouds lined with silver wherever we go. Mike will be back next week.
You can read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-cheers-sensible-policing/story-21450808-detail/story.html
As regular readers will know, I am an ardent proponent of this fair isle as the thinking punter’s destination of choice.
And have long puzzled why, with its wonderful coastline, quirky towns, easy links to London and the continent (would help if we still had an airport, of course, but I’ll contain my wrath on that one for this week), it isn’t positively blooming a la, say, Whitstable. Or Aldeburgh. Or any number of any places that haven’t actually got any more to offer than we have but manage to be chi-chi and sought-after in a way that our neck of the woods still doesn’t quite manage.
If the area were a book, I would suggest a relaunch with a new title and cover design. Because not only is “Thanet” a particularly unlovely word – but nobody has ever heard of it. And even if they have, they don’t know where it is.
I am writing this from the ever-fabulous Chez Castillon in the Dordogne where I usually tutor others who wish to be best-selling authors (you know what they say about those who teach) but on this occasion am being forced to swallow my own advice. That is, I am “on retreat” charged with producing a huge swath of the novel I should have finished two years ago, before my agent has apoplexy.
By way of experiment I threw the question open to my companions, a bunch of intelligent, sophisticated, well-travelled writers. “What does ‘Thanet’ mean to you?” I enquired in jolly tones at breakfast. “Totally Happy And Not Ever Terrible,” piped up Clare, which wasn’t a bad effort for a woman with a hangover.
“Rhymes with Gannet,” offered Katie, who’d also had a late night.
“Where is it?” I tried.
“Sounds as though it should be near Reading,” said AJ. “It’s where the oysters come from,” said Jo, who was at least in the right county.
“It is on the coast,” declared Judy with authority. Where exactly? I asked. “In Essex”.
“No idea,” intoned Betty.
Catherine, a fellow-devotee of the Shipping Forecast, was confident. “I know where each waypoint is. And North Foreland is in Thanet.”
“I only know where it is because you’ve told me you live there,” finished Clare.
A search of Google is no more inspiring. “Thanet is a local government district of Kent,” drones Wikipedia, hardly making it sound like a must-go. Next up is the website for Thanet District Council (and if that won’t put ’em off nothing will) followed, as I type, with a photograph of the local Tory leader leader Bob Bayford on this very newspaper’s website, who is trying to be gung-ho about his party’s chances against Ukip.
Nothing is screaming Glamour, Style or Come Visit Me.
And even if, like me, you spend every bank holiday thinking that might actually be a damn good thing cos there’s enough of ’em clogging up the pavements already, in the absence of any other notable industry, visitors are Thanet’s best hope of future fortune.
I am wondering if we shouldn’t go the way of Staines in Middlesex who, in 2012, renamed themselves, Staines-upon-Thames in an attempt to go upmarket. Would “Thanet-Upon-Sea” work? “Thanetstable”? “Thanetgate”? “Thanet-really-not-that-far-from-the-M2-honest”?
Ideas on a postcard please. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – or its title– but sadly, folks, it seems we do…
JANE will be running “Write and Sell Short Stories” at Chez Castillon, in France, October 4-10. See http://janewenhamjones. wordpress.com/writing-courses-at-chez-castillon/ for details. Gazette readers receive a ten per cent discount – say THANET when booking. And be ready to explain where it is…
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Thanet-really-known-shipping-forecast/story-21231226-detail/story.html
If I still did the school-run, it might well be 24,001. I believe in a proper education as fervently as any Education Secretary, but I have nothing but sympathy for the 200,000 parents who have signed a petition demanding a change of heart from Michael Gove on the vexed matter of time off from the classroom.
If my child were of that age, I’d have added my name too. And if I’d been the mother of the girl from Staffordshire recently refused leave to attend her grandfather’s funeral, it would have been more than a petition I was waving.
We asked permission to take our son out of school on several occasions, for a variety of reasons – not just because my husband suffers an allergic reaction both to other people’s children and paying through the nose (if the government really wants to stop families going away in term time, their best bet would be to ban the airlines from inflating their prices the minute the kids break up) – and were never refused. I was always polite.
I always promised missed work would be made up. I would generally emphasise the learning opportunities of my son spending, say, two days on a road trip with his father, taking in sites of cultural and historical interest (and keep quiet about the bribe I’d offered him if he begged to see Ely Cathedral or Brunel’s SS Great Britain, because I had a book to finish).
But how much of a lasting impression these outings had, I cannot say. Asked to recall educational jaunts taken with his fond parents, my son wrinkles his nose. “There was a big old house we went to”, he recalls, “when dad was in a bad mood” (This did not help to narrow it down). “And that air memorial place when you stayed at home (This turned out to be the Imperial War Museum, Duxford). His warmest reminiscing is reserved for the morning the whole class were allowed to stay at home while England played Brazil in the World Cup.
Nevertheless, I am firm in my stance. While clearly children must go to school as much as possible to have a fighting chance of knowing how many beans make five, there are many of life’s small nuggets of experience that cannot be met in the classroom. There can be many reasons why families may need to take an occasional holiday outside the traditional breaks, or visit far-flung relatives at short notice, and some encounters will be just as valuable as double maths. As parents, we should be allowed to make that judgement call. I remind my son of art galleries in Florence, mosques in Egypt and the boys weaving baskets from bamboo leaves on the white sands of the Dominican Republic. “That’s why I’m rubbish at Roman numerals,” he offers. “They did them in Year Three when we were in Lanzarote.” This is the first time I have been appraised of this gaping gap in his knowledge and am suitably shocked. “I can teach you those,” I say, rattling them off up to ten (X). The boy looks at me witheringly. “Even I know that far,” he says, correcting me onwards from four.
I HAVE just returned from a week teaching a course at the fab Chez-Castillon in the Dordogne.
I left home at 4am to get to Heathrow and sat in hours of traffic on the M25 on the way back. From the moment of the plane touching down to my walking in through my front door took over four hours.
The last time I returned from Bordeaux, the same transition was completed in under 40 minutes. So yes, thank you Ms Gloag, I am still cross about Manston….
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Jane-Wenham-Jones-Taking-children-class/story-21165371-detail/story.html
So another shake-up for our beleaguered local government. In-fighting and power struggles down at Cecil Street are nothing new, of course, but I am genuinely sorry – and not a little shocked – to see Clive Hart resign as leader of Thanet District Council.
I do not know enough about the shenanigans that led to his making this decision – his Facebook statement sounds like that of a man who has just felt the final straw land on his already straining back – but I am sure of this: hopeless and incompetent as our council as a whole can appear at times, you can divide the parts of its sum into two distinct camps that have nothing to do with manifestos.
There are those who, despite being the sort to actively seek a position of local power and responsibility in the first place (personally I would rather chew my own leg off), are in it for the “right reasons” ie. they actually do want to help make Thanet a better place in which to live and work, and have a sincere interest in dealing with its pockets of deprivation and boosting its fortunes on a wider scale.
Then there are the others, who enjoy the column inches and the lunches, are thrilled by the sound of their own voice (perhaps I have missed my vocation after all) and see every debacle as an opportunity for another promotional sound-bite and a chance to get on YouTube.
Let’s face it, TDC does not need much to give it a bad name – with its fine history of corruption, pretence, prison sentences, ludicrous charades (I am old enough to remember the Councillor’s-mate-dressed-as-Sheik Gate, as well as all the forged money and rumours of back-handers) – but the latest crop of self-seeking party-hoppers, who will jump on whatever bandwagon happens to be rumbling by, if it gets them an interview, sure as hell aren’t helping much to polish up the image.
This is not a party-political rant either – there are a selection from both groups across the board – but more an expression of sadness that the former are driven to despair and resignation by the latter and that it is always the few rotten apples that we recall. I understand that by the time you are reading this, Councillor Iris Johnston will be heading up the Labour lot and I wish her well. I do not know Iris in any depth but I have seen her in action at GGGs (Gatherings-of-Great-and-Good) around the isle and, as I once commented at the time, I like a woman who bears down on the drinks tray with the same alacrity as I do. I would also like to see a woman have a go!
My colleague Mike will be delighted because he has been so rude about the feisty Ms Johnston over the years, that he clearly harbours a secret and unrequited passion; and we should all be relieved for now, as I fondly imagine Iris to be the right-reasons kind and they are the only ones who, long-term, will get us through. Let’s hope she has the stamina and steel to deal with the rest of ’em!
“WELL, I wish you luck with that,” said a PR who I would not normally associate with being easily fazed. “I’d be terrified,” added her colleague. They were talking about my forthcoming appearance at the new and excellent Whitstable Literary Festival with the legendary Lynn “Demon” Barber who has interviewed anyone who is anyone, asks killer questions, and had the guts to quiz Jimmy Savile when nobody else dared. By the time I got on stage, and the fifth person had asked if I was scared, I could feel myself clutching her memoir “A Curious Career” (and it’s certainly had its moments) ever tighter to my thumping chest. She was fabulous. I loved it. Bring on Paxman or John Humphreys. Or, who knows, maybe even Iris…
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-s-Iris-best-luck-Thanet-council/story-21104269-detail/story.html
I have been writing this column for an astonishing 11 years – ever since I bludgeoned the then editor Mike Pearce, into giving me a corner of my own – in which time I have singularly failed to be head-hunted by Fleet Street. (Or even Wapping).
Do not misunderstand me dear readers – I love writing for the Isle of Thanet Gazette. I love the invitations, the occasional letters of praise, the fulsome abuse and the helpful suggestions for gripping subject matter to propound on next. (Thank you, Dora of Westbrook, I can see that your neighbour’s brother’s cat doing its business in your garden is annoying – especially when your husband’s bedroom slipper was involved – and yes, the wool shop should stay open till six.)
It is always gratifying to be able to give vent to one’s small rages and know that there’s an outside chance that the object of your griping will get to hear about them, but how much more satisfying it must be to p*** off the Prime Minster himself rather than just irk TDC’s head of planning.
How exciting, I have always thought, to be the Sunday Times’ India Knight, or the Guardian’s Lucy Mangan, there to make free with opinions, or the Weekend Guardian’s Tim Dowling, charged with sharing with the nation, the minutiae of his family life each week. What a fab job that must be!
So you can imagine my thrill and delight at finding myself on stage with all three columnists at the marvellous Chipping Norton Literary Festival last weekend, at which I got to ask the questions…
Was it a stress finding things to say every seven days, I enquired of Mr Dowling, reflecting how my own domestic bliss might err on the repetitive. (Got up late, listened to husband summarise entire country’s shortcomings, stared at largely blank computer screen for eight hours, picked up towels after son, opened wine…) Did he stalk the house demanding his spouse and offspring utter something amusing? It seems he has two or even three ideas on a Sunday night (THREE! I am usually scraping the inspiration barrel around the time the editor’s third e-mail arrives, demanding copy) and it’s all done and dusted in a couple of hours on a Monday morning.
India was eloquent on the continuing role of the professional journalist amongst a sea of bloggers and tweeters, and Lucy was graphic when describing her fondness for being rude about David Cameron. This was greeted by a slightly stunned silence from the good people of Chipping Norton. Which was no great surprise to me.
Earlier I had interviewed our one-time MP for Thanet South, Jonathan Aitken, about his book on Margaret Thatcher. There was a time when the late PM was in opposition, he explained, when some felt that she was “divisive”. “And they were probably right…” I added mildly, feeling an immediate ripple of disapproval run round the theatre.
Feedback on the event was good – JA is nothing if not entertaining – despite, as one watcher wrote, “the lefty interviewer”.
This, I felt was an achievement, having never before progressed beyond Mike Pearce’s description of me as “dangerously pink”. (Possibly because I once admitted to a crush on Ann Widdecombe.) Lefty’s got to sound more cutting edge than wishy-washy liberal. Could the call from on high come any time soon…?
Plain Jane: Family tree research just to get my passport
If I can give you one small piece of advice this week – along with never trust a Scotswoman bearing gifts (or buying airports) and eat more vegetables (apparently we should now be chomping our way through ten portions – do you have that sort of time? Me neither) then let it be this: Do not under any circumstances, lose your passport.
If you were already gnashing your teeth at our modern paranoid culture in which you can barely pay your electricity bill without supplying two referees and your inside leg measurement, or buy a second packet of Paracetamol without a full explanation to the supermarket queue, then just wait until you can’t produce that dog-eared little booklet of travel – even if it has almost expired.
Suddenly it’s not just where you were born, officialdom wants to know about, but where your parents popped out too. And whether they were married. And when. Fortunately, my sister is a fount of such knowledge and rattled off birthplaces and anniversaries when I phoned to wail at the length of the form. Then I moved to the next page. What about my maternal grandparents? Were they British? Where were they born? I have absolutely no idea. Were they married? Well actually they weren’t – quite a scandal at the time. But in those days you couldn’t get divorced, see, not if your first wife wanted to be difficult. Gran took his name and wore a wedding ring so the neighbours weren’t shocked – will that count? Have I got a copy of all the certificates? Of course I bloody haven’t. Isn’t it evidence enough that I hail from this Isle that I’ve had a passport for the last 30 years? Am I not on the system?
On the plus side, phoning the helpline makes a refreshing change, from say, phoning Student Finance – with whom you could quite easily lose the rest of your life – or Barclays Bank, whose telephone service reduced me to tears of rage last week, featuring as Her Majesty’s Passport Office does, a limited number of button-press options, real people who make sense, no music and a minimum of waiting time. (Could the Queen perhaps take over BT and the energy companies too?) It was to prevent fraud, soothed the nice lady who listened to my woes. In case someone stole my identity, she explained kindly, offering me the opportunity to journey to London and go through airport style security (“leave your sharp objects at home”) armed with as many birth documents as I could muster. Would anyone really go to that trouble? I wondered. And dye their hair pink and blue to start?
I have got to find it, I screeched to the household.
The boy was solicitous. “Have you looked through that?” he enquired – pointing at the pile of receipts and unopened post that dwarfs my computer. “Why would it be there?” I cried. Why indeed would it be anywhere, as my husband helpfully pointed out, except in the designated file in the downstairs office, where all passports preside.
“I might have left it on your desk,” I offered. My son and I exchanged glances. Surely even HE, with his long history of consigning incorrectly placed items to the bin without so much as a by-your-leave, would not throw away a passport. My husband, clearly feeling the long finger of suspicion heading his way, offered to report the loss to the relevant authorities (another requirement). Moments later we heard the receiver crash. “I’ve just listened to a recorded message from the Chief Constable,” he complained. “What a silly waste of his time.” The passport eventually appeared in the bag I’d used to take photo ID to the bank who’d known me for years. I was jubilant. My husband still smarting. “He should be out catching criminals,” he grumbled.
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Family-tree-research-just-passport/story-20979480-detail/story.html
You never really know someone until you live with them. A truth universally acknowledged by generations of women who’ve been swept off their feet with champagne and roses only to discover too late, that he always leaves the loo seat up and his socks on the floor. No such worries when in one’s own, beautiful ensuite accommodation, and sharing a house with other females but the rest holds true.
In return for their own silence, I have promised to be judicious on the matter of what exactly I discovered about my fellow authors when we spent a week together in France but suffice to say I can thoroughly recommend the experience . It was billed as a “Writers’ Retreat”. For which I’d suspected, you could read “Writers’-sit-around-and- Drink-Too-Much”. I was, after all, going with members of the RNA – not an organisation famed for its temperance in pastures new.
But when Katie Fforde, Judy Astley, Jo Thomas and Catherine Jones and I moved en masse into Chez-Castillon, a gorgeously restored 18th century townhouse on the banks of the Dordogne, owned by Micky Wilson and Janie Millman who have turned their talents – they are both actors and Janie is also a writer and one fabulous cook – to running creative courses, surprising discipline was shown. Katie was up at six completing her daily word target before breakfast, Judy was heard to say she wouldn’t have any wine at lunchtime so she could work hard in the afternoon (“say” being the operative word here, I didn’t actually spot her without a glass in her hand) and Jo had completed 7,500 words by the end of day two, (by which time I had managed to pen a TO-DO list and wander down the road for a pedicure). Nor was it just writing!
Catherine “Brace Up” Jones put us all to shame with dawn swims; we did walking, shopping and wine-tasting (naturellement) and in the evening made our own entertainment. “Stars in their Eyes” saw Katie as Mary Hopkins, me as Joni Mitchell (ambitious, yes!), Jo providing the entire score from Calamity Jane (with hand movements) and Catherine as Edith Piaf. Micky was Nat King Cole, Judy contributed hilarious jokes (in French no less!) and Janie a poem about knickers and vicars which is now a blur but went down a treat after the fourth bottle. The whole experience of spending a week with fellow scribes was madly, gloriously, divinely inspiring and even I – Queen of Displacement – returned with a list of book chapters, a short story, two columns and some riotous photos. We will be going back….
Fast forward to NOW…
And back we’ve been – several times!
I’ve taught a number of courses, hung out with the usual suspects – which most recently included the lovely Clare Mackintosh, director of Chipping Norton Lit Fest, and used Janie’s recipes in my 100 Ways to Fight the Flab, proving you can eat well, drink copiously and still combat your writer’s bottom if you only know how.
The authors will, I’m sure, testify to the magical, inspiring qualities of the place (it’s not just all the wine :-)).
It is fab!
And I’d love to see you there.
Just one of those phases – we all have them – in which whatever murky corner of one’s life one peers into, one finds a small crisis brewing (or pouring through the ceiling, refusing to start, falling down, not turning up or having a face on).
Nothing life-threatening, not the sort of catastrophes (unfortunately) where one is so overtaken by the trauma of it all that one can’t eat.
More the kind where one has an over-whelming urge to self-medicate with wine and crisps and then spends too long in the pub.
Not the best possible preparation for an evening in which one is to stand abreast of a famous ballerina.
The beautiful and enviably slender Darcey Bussell CBE was the star celebrity at this year’s RoNAs – Romantic Novel of the Year Awards.
I was wielding the microphone and reading out the shortlists. Darcey was doing the envelopes and “the winner is” bit. She was gorgeous, funny and fabulous.
The whole evening was fabulous. The champagne flowed, the room was bathed in love, romance, and hysterics at Helen Fielding (awarded an Outstanding Achievement Award for bringing the world Bridget Jones) and heartfelt appreciation of the general amazing fabulousness.
Post-prizes – Veronica Henry won overall – I drifted about in my floaty, floor-length sequinned frock, feeling that light joy you get from too many anti-histamine tablets (how else to get through without blowing my nose? I had a cold brewing) mixed with pink fizz, congratulating myself on only mispronouncing the one name this year (sorry Ali McNamara!) and generally feeling the smug glow of a job well done (particularly as I’d managed to trip over the floaty sequins on the way in and drop my notes, thus spending most of the proceedings largely unaware of the running order).
Then I saw the photos. “Oh My God,” I wailed to my agent, The Fearsome One, who took me out to lunch the next day to demand to know why I still hadn’t written the novel I promised two years ago. “Why didn’t I do the exercises on my arms?”
This was her cue to tell me my arms were fine and did not in fact stand out in the pictures like two white slugs in the face of Darcey B’s poise and elegance.
TFO glared. “Well it all takes time, doesn’t it,” she said. “Do we know how sales of the Flab book are going?” My recent work – a meticulously researched tome on weight control with chocolate – contains an entire section on the value of the well-toned tricep.
It also extols the virtues of a well-judged fake tan. I hadn’t remembered to get one of those done either.
I attempted to lighten the mood by listing various people whose sad demise had come before their time. Clarissa Dickson Wright, the last of the two fat ladies, believed that the rise in prozac prescriptions was in direct proportions to the reduction in the consumption of animal fat, I told my companion. “Exactly,” said TFO sternly. “Carpe Diem! Live each day to the full,” she added, by way of translation “Why haven’t you written that novel?”
JANE will be presenting the Love, Life and Laughter charity show (probably wearing long sleeves) tomorrow night (Saturday, March 22) at 7.30pm at the Sarah Thorne Memorial Theatre, Broadstairs, in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. Tickets £10 from the box office on 0845 2626263.
Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-don-t-like-complain/story-20832826-detail/story.html
SIR Andrew Dillon, the pleasant-sounding head of Nice (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), is expressing doubts about taking “wider societal benefit” into account, when deciding who can have their drugs paid for.
Sir Andrew said such a Government suggestion made him “uncomfortable”.
He was “really concerned” at the thought that a middle-aged man with a job might be deemed more worthy of expensive treatment than a very old one who was retired.
Come, come, sir, don’t be fainthearted.
It could save us a fortune! Clearly those without work are a drain on society and don’t deserve a thing. What’s that you say about being a wonderful mother and doing voluntary work?
Oh all right then. She can have antibiotics for her throat infection, but I really don’t see how she needs her veins done.
And let’s not stop at the unemployed. There’s the overweight – look at the room they take up – and while we’re at it, what about the intellectually challenged?
It’s not being a bit dense that has wider societal benefit – it’s the chaps that can invent things, build business, boost the old economy. They’re the ones who need their pills stumped up for, sharpish.
You at the back, too. There’s no easy way to say this, but you’re not actually very attractive. And what with us all having to stand so close together – on account of the fatties – it would be of greater societal advantage if you could at least look nice. As for those of you who are thick AND ugly, well!
Would euthanasia be a step too far? Drinkers and smokers and jam-tart eaters, obviously they can be left to rot – what do they expect? All that sugar and nicotine. Children aren’t a lot of use – not now they can’t go up the chimney – and the elderly will clog up the Post Office.
While, frankly, the nuisance-makers – playing their music at top volume, not putting their recycling in the right bin – that’s not cricket where the wider implications are at stake, is it?
Louts on a Saturday night shouting and jostling in the High Street before they toss their kebab wrapper on the pavement? Why should they get their anti-inflammatories?
Inept drivers, holding us all up while they faff about at roundabouts and fail to reverse park – what are they contributing to the greater good, apart from increasing our stress levels? And then THEY want the valium. As for the dog owners – leaving their pooches’ poo all over the pavement for the hapless to step in – why even let them see the GP? Round ’em, up, put ’em against the wall and shoot the lot of ’em.
All seems sensible to me.
Drug bill halved, more room on the bus, cleaner streets. A win for the Government. A win all round.
CONSTERNATION among the feminist groups at the news that the Barbie Doll has turned cover girl for the 50th anniversary of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, where she’s seen posing in a bikini.
“A line has been crossed,” said an earnest young woman on Radio Four, protesting that the cover shot was entirely inappropriate as the doll was aimed at six-year-old children and the magazine bought by adult men.
Considering Barbie, with her huge chest, miniscule waist and legs up to her armpits is a totally unworkable depiction of the female form – if she were a real woman, she wouldn’t even be able to stand up – this seems to be rather skewing the point.
I’d say the potential damage lies with Barbie being on the toy shop shelves, not on the front of a glossy mag. And that energies would be better spent in distracting the small girls away from the fashion doll, possibly with a box of Lego, a cuddly toy and a skipping rope, rather than concerning oneself over a bunch of blokes ogling a fantasy figure with plastic breasts.
I am naturally thrilled to hear that Thanet Council have been hitting their targets, with a bullseye for 44 out of 58 “key projects”.
I am not surprised, however, that achieving the required revenue for on-street parking wasn’t one of them. May I offer a small personal theory and possible solution.
I look at it thus: psychologically we are geared up to pay in order to leave our motor in a car-park.
It is nice when this facility is free but as it generally isn’t, we drive through the entrance, expecting to have to dig about for coins and hoping some nameless older family member has not plundered the stash in the car’s ashtray like he did last time he took the vehicle out, especially as you know for a fact the younger one has already “borrowed” every last 20p you had in your purse. (He needed it for parking). So that outlay feels like fair game. Especially when there isn’t a spare square foot of tarmac for miles around and yellow lines stretch into the distance.
Being asked to pay to leave the car in a deserted high street on a dark, wet, windy Sunday night when there is a whole row of empty gaping spaces in front of you, it is deepest winter and you are off to support one of the local, equally deserted, businesses and are already reeling from your council tax bill, feels like a rip-off, an imposition, and frankly a bloody cheek when one lives here…
It is no wonder that people (me!) after fumbling for the right money, finding the machine has rejected your 50p for the third time, and you only want to have one quick coffee anyway, give up and walk off, muttering “sod-it”.
Assuming, rightly in this case, that traffic wardens will not exactly be thick on the ground.
What we need if I may make so bold, is the following: a resident’s permit for on-street parking during the winter months. Some sort of disc, token, plastic-coated ticket that could be left on the dashboard to indicate one was a bona fide due-paying Thanet local and so was exempt.
This could have a time limit attached – whereby you can only stay for two hours during the day – to prevent the shop and office workers clogging up every available bay and preventing any one else patronising the High Street – and could be financed by asking drivers to pay a couple of quid for it to cover printing costs.
Hell, I’d pay a fiver! Or even a tenner – so the council coffers would probably get more from me than they do now, under the current regime in which I generally fail to have change (see above), park as close to the shop of my choice as I possibly can and sprint there with fingers crossed, or worst of all, decide to go elsewhere, just to save the hassle. The benefits to all would be manifold.
Council taxpayers would feel they were being given some small bonus and the council weren’t such a terrible bunch of bunglers after all.
Council Members could walk around with that small inner glow one gets from having Done Good for a change.
High Street restaurants, bars and shops would get more impulse shoppers, general footfall and customers happy to pop in for “a quick one” having not calculated that by the time they’d paid for parking, they might as well stay at home with a supermarket beer and a bag of crisps.
And I could stop shrieking about who’s taken my last pound coin.
Click here for the original article.
Who dares? :- ) Be great to see anyone who can get here – to watch even if not to take part…. 🙂 jx
Seeking a way around the slush pile? Brave enough to have your manuscript critiqued in front of an audience? Whether you’re ready to throw your hat in the ring, or just want to pick up tips for your own writing, this event is one for aspiring authors everywhere.
Literary agent Carole Blake (pictured right) teams up with author of Wannabe a Writer? Jane Wenham-Jones for this interactive ‘reality show’ event. Submit 1,000 words of your novel in the form below by the end of February 2014 for the chance to win one of five places.
Click here for full details, terms and conditions, and the entry form.
I like the notion of a New Year, New Beginning, as much as the next woman, but with age comes pragmatism.
If I were meant to be thin, nice, teetotal and out of bed at 6.30am each morning for a bracing run, it would probably have happened by now.
That does not, however, stop me – as I kiss goodbye to one year, and peer down the barrel of another – having aspirations.
These can be fuzzily summed up as a vague wish to be more focused, productive and organised. To make better use of my daylight hours; to do one thing at a time, at the right time, in time.
Cue the annual examination of my management techniques.
I currently operate a five-diary system. There’s the one in the kitchen that comes from Boots – I’ve had the same model for 20 years and would twitch if it were any other sort. We might call this The Downstairs Diary. It has relevant family movements in it – dental appointments, haircuts, washing machine repairman’s promises – and birthdays. The latter are written in red ink so as to stand out, and are carefully transcribed from old to new diary each New Year’s Day. (A job I used to make my husband help with, until he deemed it hilarious to write silly names on the wrong days and I threw said diary at his head.)
Upstairs, I have an office diary. This has a selection of events from The Downstairs Diary plus “work” dates. If the latter involves me going away for more than one night, I also add them to the kitchen diary so that the rest of the household knows it has to do its own washing and the bin won’t empty itself. This Upstairs Diary is also a special sort. Exhaustive searching of the internet some years ago located the perfect specimen: an A5 volume with a perforated corner to each page. Imagine a week-to-view one side, with a blank sheet on the other on which you can make a LIST (I need lists). Then – and here is the clever bit – when the list is complete (naturally you cross off each item as you go), you tear the corner off the page! Thus, should there be an important “to-do” left undone in late March – that corner will flap away accusingly at you throughout the whole of April. Genius. When I first showed the torn-corners technique to my mate, the foodie guru and restaurant critic extraordinaire Marina O’Loughlin, she was deeply – almost speechlessly – impressed. (I think she is less impressed now she realises it doesn’t stop me double-booking when we’re due to have lunch.) She herself keeps her entire life on an all-singing, all-dancing, practically-makes-you-a-gin-and-tonic smart phone. (She says she still misses every parents’ evening.)
I also maintain a rather beautiful leather-bound journal in which I note my thoughts, hopes, dreams, the day’s weight, severity of hangover etc, plus the current position of the latest work on Amazon (if your resolution involved a diet and you’ve already caved in – I have just the book for you!), which lives in a drawer. And a small handbag diary, received free with my Equity membership, which rarely gets written in at all but is there to be casually pulled out when I want to show off.
Finally, I have an electronic calendar on my Blackberry, with reminders.
I still forget things. I am still late. I am currently taking the bold new step of writing the birthdays from downstairs, upstairs as well, so I don’t miss those so often (on a long day when I don’t descend to the kitchen before the last post goes, the whole system falls apart) and am considering the input of such anniversaries to the phone.
“You could then sync these to your computer,” says a nerdy friend helpfully. I think it would be easier simply to give up crisps.
By way of an intro I must tell you that I found these on my computer while looking for something else. They were written for a column in 2007! And the shameful thing is, they are just as pressing – with minor updates (see notes in italics) – now, as they were then. Proving that Old Writers Never Learn – they just get bigger arses…. (or something!).
Whatever you resolve, I hope it comes to pass. Happy New Year!
New Year’s Resolutions for Writers
1. Writers’ Bottom
I will finally face the fact that Writing does not use up 500 calories an hour and that food eaten at the desk does count – particularly when it is two packets of Kettle chips dipped in houmous, a bar of chocolate and half a bottle of white wine. The excursion from computer to sofa to watch EastEnders does not constitute exercise. Writers Bottom is not a hereditary condition but caused by sitting on it for eight hours a day while cramming junk food. (Now of course I am the proud author of a tome designed to consign one’s writer’s derriere to a thing of the past. If you wanted to help my new year go with a bang you could always buy it :-))
I will remember that actually alcohol does not enhance creativity and that there is no point in writing down the brilliant idea I had for chapter seventeen when I was three sheets to the wind. Even if I can decipher it, it will still be drivel in the morning.
I will not scream: YOU JUST HAVE when family members walk into my writing room, saying “I won’t interrupt you but….”
Nor throw things at their heads when they answer: “But you were only looking out of the window… “
I will remind myself that the sensible, grown-up way to handle a deadline is write 2000 words a day, Monday to Friday, with Sunday off to allow for bracing walks and cooking the family roast. I will no longer spend five months and three weeks emailing and going out to lunch and then book into a hotel for seven days and stay up all night swearing.
I will go into bookshops to buy books. I will stop rearranging the bookshelves by moving myself from W (down in the corner at ankle level where the cobwebs lurk) to A where everyone can see me (especially if I put all copies face out over the top of Jeffrey Archer).
Alternatively I will change my name to Arkwright.
I will stop grinding my teeth over the Bestseller lists and be totally thrilled when someone who has never written a word in their entire life gets a six-figure sum and half a million quid’s worth of film rights for their memoir on eating slugs in the jungle or having a breast enhancement operation, live on Big Brother. After all, there’s room for all of us…
7. Humour. I will smile widely when the 4, 752nd person says: Ha, ha, ha – have you sold as many as 50 Shades of Grey yet? (of course when I first wrote this, it was J K Rowling. Doesn’t make it any better!)
Even when that person says it every time I meet him.
I will try and keep to these longer than I did last year (January 17th)
I will tell the truth. (It was Jan 4th)
Regular readers of this column (God help you) will know that my final offering of the year has historically been a round-up of my top ten Thanet establishments from the previous twelve months. This usually includes both new ventures and old favourites and generally comprises an eclectic mix of bars, eateries, retail outlets and leisure venues (I’ve also listed Thanet District Council for their continuing entertainment value). It was my mate Mike – seen on these pages when I’m having a lie-down – who suggested that this time around I might go for my top people instead. (“I’ve tried to think of some good places in Thanet,” he explained, with his usual optimism, “but I’ve had no luck.”)
We who get out a bit more, know, of course, that the Isle teems with fabulous enterprises, even if some of them are closed for the duration. E.g.
1) Angela’s Café. Back in the spring, when I put out a call for breakfast recommendations, two different Emmas, a Ryan, a Sam and a Carol all emailed to applaud Angela’s Café in Margate Old Town. I know an orchestrated campaign when I see one, but in a spirit of good-for-them, I have been meaning to visit Angela’s ever since. Unfortunately, by the time I did, it had shut for the winter weeks (reopening February 2014) – so I went next door. My second accolade therefore, goes by default, to…
2) Café G. 1 High Street, Margate. They don’t do breakfast as such, but my son had a Panini he gave the thumbs up to, and the charming girl serving kindly made me some perfectly nice toast. And – a big gold star for this one – they offer a good selection of teas. Most establishments don’t stray beyond the safe-but-dull peppermint and camomile or they have lemon-with-ginger, which I don’t much rate. Café G has green tea with just lemon – a much better option – and also jasmine. I like that.
3) Emma Irvine. (I am taking up Mike’s suggestion and throwing in a few people too). Emma is the powerhouse behind the conversion of ex-council gaff, Albion House in Ramsgate, into a boutique hotel. Search “Albion House Open Day” on YouTube. It is sounding fab.
4) Kate Smith at the Updown Gallery – also in Ramsgate at Satis House, 11 Elms Avenue. I love this! Wonderful space, great exhibitions – so fantastic to see a new gallery in Ramsgate. Go see for yourself.
5) York Street Gallery Ramsgate – in York Street (funnily enough). I’ve only entered this little gem recently but apparently it’s been going nearly two years. I went along for Brian Homewood’s exhibition for quite personal reasons (standing with a glass in one hand, a cheeselet in the other, surveying a large canvas of oneself in the altogether, borders on the surreal) and I liked it. Good range of reasonably-priced greetings cards by local artists.
6) York Street Post Office, Broadstairs (One thought led to another). I sometimes feel this is my second home.
7) Frank Thorley. There are some who like to mutter (for reasons I’ve never quite fathomed) about Mr T and Thorley Taverns. But let us not forget the huge investment this pub / hotel / restaurant group has made in Thanet over the last 38 years, the number of workers it employs and the huge contribution Frank makes personally to the community in terms of his charity efforts. As one who happened to be the speaker for the ever-amusing chaps of Rotary Thanet (also doing lots of good works) on the night of Frank’s last birthday, I can only hope I am going that strong and achieving that much when I am 78. Go Frank!
8) Laura Sandys. Round of applause for our (sadly) outgoing (come 2015) Member of Parliament for Thanet South. Whatever one’s political persuasions, it would be hard to refute her credentials as a brilliant constituency MP. Let us hope whoever we get next has even half of her energy, commitment, good spirits and compassion (and his name’s not Nigel).
9) KLM, Ann Gloag, and all who fly in her. I make no apologies for the fact that I continue to adore having a working airport on my doorstep. May Manston go from strength to strength however much flak I get for saying so. Which brings me neatly to conclude with:
10) Readers (the most important people of all) who write to me. I give you Dennis Franklin for the crossest, most entertainingly abusive, correspondent of 2013 and Helen Waddington for the loveliest. Helen often writes to the letters’ page too and is unfailingly positive about Thanet – always seeing the best in every new development. Frankly, groaners, we need more Helens.
But even if you’ve not written yet (there’s always 2014), I thank you, most sincerely, for reading me. Have a very Happy New Year!
My latest Isle of Thanet Gazette column – the annual joint offering with fellow columnist, my mate Mike 🙂
EVERY year, Jolly Jane and I meet for lunch to discuss the theme for our seasonal collaboration, followed by the traditional humiliation in which her pal Bill takes the photos, the brief she’s given him being to make her look young and me look stupid.
Later she chooses the youngest / stupidest one. You get the picture? If not, see the one with this column.
“We could write about our perfect Christmas,” coos the cherub of cheerfulness.
Asking me to do that is like asking a vegan to cook the perfect steak and kidney pudding.
But perfect Christmas it must be, so I shall put aside the reality – sitting alone watching grinning goons on the telly wishing me merry; the impending December credit card statement; the impossibility of even going to a pub without stumbling over carol singers, kids, and charity collectors.
There is fun in choosing the perfect dinner guests. I’m just no good at it. I’ll plump for Isambard Kingdom Brunel (unoriginal – and he’s dead), Robert Jay from the Leveson Inquiry (unknown quantity, but what a brain), a 17-year-old Bridget Bardot (obviously) and Jerry Lee Lewis to entertain.
Best present ever? The Minic wind-up London Transport red bus which had me in tears when it vanished from the toy shop window. I was too stupid to realise my parents had bought it for me.
Worst? That’s ungrateful, but for 20 years I received a subscription to Reader’s Digest. The magazines never came out of their wrapper, but I never dared tell the giver.
Perfect Christmas dinner? Anyone who says it isn’t turkey and all the trimmings should be stuffed and roasted.
As a child, I waited each year for that moment exactly 12 minutes into the meal when Auntie Ethel would raise her little bird-like head and ask: “Are you enjoying it, Michael?”
To my pride, I never let out a mischievous “No!”
And my perfect present to Jane this year?
I considered a model of her beloved Manston airport. But on second thoughts, it might be cheaper to buy her the real thing.
DON’T listen to him, dear reader – he’s as vain as I am. This year he rejected a perfectly good photo of me smothering lipstick all over his chops because, says he: “I look as if I’m dead.” (Nice to know I haven’t lost my touch).
Perfect Christmas? Easy to say when I’ve never done it but I’m tempted to say no guests at all – there is something quite alluring about the notion of a day in my pyjamas, watching mindless TV, possibly with a bottle of champagne. On the other hand I do find Jeremy Paxman deeply attractive and if Carson the butler from Downton Abbey turned up to pop my cork, I wouldn’t shut him out…
Can’t be doing with sprouts or Christmas Pud – but what I do like is a wonderful turkey sandwich the next day – good bread, mayo, upmarket crisps, chilled bottle of Macon Blanc Villages…
Presents? Without wishing to be too sickeningly Pollyanna-like, it is gift enough not to have died yet, and to know my nearest and dearest are still kicking too.
My offering to Mike (I include him in above list)? A year’s subscription to The Guardian, a vegetarian cookbook and his very own corner of Turner Contemporary in which there will be an installation comprising an unwashed sock, a rotting parsnip and three wound-down watches (symbolically halted at a minute past midnight) entitled Yuletide Reflections from the Edge. On sale for half a mill.
But I expect I’ll get him bath cubes again.
Whatever you are doing on Wednesday, may Santa make your own dreams come true (or at least keep the relatives from squabbling and the sherry flowing) and may we BOTH wish you a VERY merry Christmas.
Read the original article here: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Mike-Jane-Christmas-Time-Mistletoe-Whine/story-20343959-detail/story.html.
I like Laura Sandys. While not a natural inhabitant of the same neck of the woods, politically, as our good MP for Thanet South, (to quote my esteemed colleague Right Mike’s lament, I can be “dangerously pink”) I applaud her commitment, her hard work for the constituency and her genuine compassion and concern for the people and future of Thanet.
Indeed, I have found, via informal chat over the years, that many of her views – of whatever hue, officially – coincide closely, even pinkishly, with mine.
Until, it seems, we come to the vexed question of supermarkets. Or to be specific, their “dodgy promotions”.
Laura is cross with the big stores, recently exposed by a Which? report, for being a bit iffy on their was / now pricing, contravening the statutory length of time goods must have been at a higher price before “discount”, and for hiking the price altogether when presenting a multi-buy offer, so that sometimes it is more expensive to buy ON offer than off.
Basically, if I might paraphrase, for being conniving, duplicitous swindlers who enjoy pulling the wool over our eyes.
Laura is urging the Government to “take some proper action,” saying that for families in her constituency on a tight budget, these false promotions are “totally unacceptable” and that the companies “must be held to account.”
So far so good, couldn’t agree more (I’m quite sure my beloved Waitrose would never be involved!)).
I waver, however, over Laura’s solution. She proposes that supermarket chains found up to no-good should be “put into the equivalent of the ‘village stocks'”. No, sadly, she does not mean the board of directors get pelted with their own over-priced tomatoes, but that the shops should be subject to “a one minute shut-down” per scam, at “their busiest time of the week.”
Her press release spells it out in full: “lights out, tills closed, doors shut – trade totally stopped”, she declares. “It would be a signal to everyone in the store that their supermarket was being punished for attempting to mislead them.”
I hate to rain on such a bold parade but I foresee problems.
1) How long is it going to take to get everyone out? That woman who’s spent half an hour opening every egg box on the shelf and peering inside – by the time you’ve distracted her from her mission (what is she looking for?) it will be time to reopen.
2) What about our trolleys? There we are halfway up the cereal aisle, receptacle piled high with (very probably crookedly priced) three-for-two cornflakes, when the shout goes up and we’re all herded to the doors. Then we have to re-find the right one (which quite frankly is difficult enough when you move a metre away during the Christmas rush). Chaos.
3) Will there be special dispensation if you’ve just reached the till? Picture the scene. You’ve queued, you’ve waited, you’ve stood by while the old boy in front finds his vouchers, gets his token, demands that his tin of beans is changed for one that’s not dented, queries the total and tells the checkout girl about the gout in his bunions (she doesn’t care, bless you, she really doesn’t). You’ve unloaded everything onto the belt and Pow! Time to go. When you get back someone else has shoved in front or that till’s now closed for ever.
4) Who’s going to head up crowd control? There’s a freezing wind, it’s pouring with rain and five hundred shoppers are stuck in the car park. It might be a moment for the Dunkirk spirit. On the other hand…
5) The “busiest time” for a supermarket has been shown to be late Saturday afternoon. Serious delays could mean the nation will miss Come Dine with Me and might even be running late for Strictly. If you thought there was trouble brewing already…
Sorry, Laura. I like your thinking, love. But it’s never going to work.
Read the original article at: http://www.thisiskent.co.uk/Plain-Jane-like-Laura-Sandys/story-20116736-detail/story.html
I’m a late addition to this brilliant authors’ auction set up by the resourceful Keris Stainton. Am giving a dollop of my best agony-aunting plus a couple of books – signed and posted out to you or a friend. Please pass on details if you can think of anyone who might be interested in bidding. All funds raised go to help the people of the Philippines and if you don’t fancy my lot there are hundreds of other fab authors’ offerings to go for…. thanks xx
ITEM: A copy each of Wannabe a Writer? and Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of? (Not to be mistaken for the same thing!) Signed to you or a friend (think useful Christmas gift for someone misguided enough to want to join the ranks)
PLUS half an hour of telephone or skype writing* advice – which can be a general chat or feedback on a short story or first chapter of a novel.
* NB: I am a frustrated agony aunt proper – if you want to spill the beans about your complex personal life instead, that’s fine too. 😉
BIO: Jane Wenham-Jones is the author of four novels and two non-fiction books with a third due out in 2014. As a short-story writer and freelance journalist, she has written for a wide range of women’s magazines and national newspapers and has regular columns in her local paper – the Isle…
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WHO says we can’t make our own entertainment? This family, gathered round the kitchen table on a dark, windswept night, has just spent an enjoyable fun-filled hour on a spontaneous game of Which-Bin-Now? For which jolliness, I must thank Thanet council.
Consternation rippled through the Wenham-Jones household when the bins, bags and 14 pages of leaflets arrived heralding the new system of recycling and refuse collection.
My husband is not a man given to embracing change. He believes in Routine and Not Wavering from it. Bin day moving from a Friday to a Wednesday was never going to go down well. Where we live, facts, once established, remain immutable. (Woe betide any family member who has previously been heard to state: “Let’s leave at seven,” and is not panting by the front door at 18.59.)
Changing Bin Days AND the colour-coding of receptacles was a step too far.
When I returned from a small therapeutic trip away to a place where I could leave lights on and the radio unattended for 30 seconds without it being switched off, a family summit was convened to deal with the crisis.
My son Tom, in his position as highest academic achiever on the premises (a truth established after a small argument over the merits of a banking diploma gained circa 1964), was put in charge of training, and soon proved his worth.
“It is easy to remember,” he said, beautifully illustrating the value of those hours I spent banging his head against the wall to make him learn his spellings, “anything you’ve READ goes in the RED. Food that passes THROUGH, ends up as POO. And what colour is that?”
This made both him and me fall about giggling in a very juvenile fashion, but my husband was not to be deterred.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” he barked. “I pay nearly three grand a year in council tax. I’m not washing out bottles as well.”
“Bottles go in the blue,” said my son. “How do you feel when you run out of wine? Exactly.”
“It’s all a nonsense,” shouted my husband, now banging the table in testy fashion. “Neither of you has a clue how much the water rates are, either.”
My son flapped the leaflets to regain order. And began testing us in a rapid-fire manner reminiscent of Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge reading from practice papers for the 11 plus.
“If Rashid has cereal for breakfast and finishes the packet,” he demanded, “and there is a cardboard outer, but a plastic inner, which bin does he put it in?” “Red then Blue,” I cried triumphantly. “With the left-over crumbs in Brown.”
My husband glared. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,” he growled. “I pay three grand…”
The next morning he was up bright and early, unplugging appliances and throwing out the papers I hadn’t read. I managed to retrieve the Gazette while he was frowning at his colour chart, and turned to the isle’s reaction to the latest system.
I particularly enjoyed Isobel Browning’s resistance, lifted from Facebook, to having a “slop bucket” in her kitchen. I share that revulsion. Can I suggest the following: a compost bin outside for the vegetable peelings. A robust approach to sell-by dates (in my experience there’s a good week’s margin on most products and I’ve eaten yoghurt after six months). And this tried and tested method of disposal: Pile all unwanted food on a plate, take it into the garden, place on a picnic table with cutlery and a glass of wine as if about to commence a summer’s lunch.
Clap a hand to your forehead as if you have forgotten the salt and pop back into the house for a maximum of ten seconds.
When you return, a seagull will have taken the lot.
Read the original article at: http://www.thisiskent.co.uk/Plain-Jane-says-t-make-entertainment/story-20052561-detail/story.html
How time flies… a big hand for Carole Blake!
My small tribute to the Queen of Shoes and her Fifty Years in Publishing. It was a fab party….
(click on below to enlarge)
I am not doing NaNoWriMo officially, but with a book to finish, another one to start, columns piling up, hundreds of emails to answer and a for-God’s-sake-do-soon paper pile that is threatening to take over the entire room, I have my own reasons for needing to buckle down this month. If you live on your own, and don’t go out to work, what’s to stop you? But if you have a family and busy life to juggle, here are my top tips, hoiked out of Wannabe a Writer? for getting lots written in a short space of time…. Good luck! 🙂
How to Write When There’s no Time:
- Think about getting up an hour earlier and write while the rest of the house is asleep. When I’m getting to the end of a book (which always takes longer than planned) I sometimes rise at four a.m. to guarantee three hours of non- interruption and have stayed up all night on occasion. I do not, however, recommend you consider any of these options if you have very small children because you must be totally exhausted already. As the mother of the “boy-who-never-slept,” I sympathise.
- Think about going to bed later and write while everyone else is asleep. N.B. If you like a drink in the evenings you might find you don’t understand any of it in the morning but at least your word count will be up.
- Be alert for all chances to write. Get yourself a nice notebook and carry it around with you, jotting down thoughts and snatches of dialogue, sentences that spring to mind or how you are feeling at a particular time, whenever you get the chance. In the dentist’s waiting- room, for example, outside the school gates or when you have to stand around in a queue. Remind yourself that there’s nothing like being prevented from writing to make you really productive when you finally get the chance.
- Join a local writing group so someone else is forced to look after the kids and you have a guaranteed evening a week to focus on your desire to write. Meet others who share your difficulties and can give you support.
- Pretend you’ve joined a writing group and go and write in the pub.
- Swap childcare with a friend. If he or she writes too, so much the better but strike a pact in any case. Have her kids round to play while she does her embroidery or car maintenance, in return for her having yours while you bash out a short story.
- Forget all that talk about the perils of too much TV and embrace the dvd player as the greatest of childcare inventions. Tell the children you’re all going to watch a favourite film and once they’re absorbed, you can scribble things on your lap and make the right noises at the exciting bits.
- Write during Sports Days and school plays. The moment your own offspring leave track or stage, whip out your pen. Put it round the playground that you are a freelance journalist and nobody will think you rude. On the contrary, they will be delighted, assuming you are taking copious notes on the feats of their little darlings.
- When your spouse asks what you’d like for your birthday, request a day to yourself. Earmark a weekend where he or she takes the kids out and leaves you in blissful solitude at your desk. (N.B. This is unlikely to go down well on your wedding anniversary.)
- Establish the ground-rule that writing is just as important as Golf or Going Shopping for Shoes. Drum this into the kids, too. Remember that being bored is character-forming. Let them get a feel for it.
Finally comfort yourself with the thought that if you write ALL the time you won’t have anything to write about. It is part of the process that you need to reflect and recharge, wander and ponder, see people, live life a little – otherwise you’ll have nothing to say.
Talking to the postman is a crucial part of a writer’s day’s work. And all airing cupboards need a tidy sometimes.
I have listened with interest to reaction to the news that Ann Gloag, legendary hot-shot business woman, co-creator of the Stagecoach millions and probably fairly terrifying, is the buyer of our local airport.
“Asset-stripper,” says one friend darkly. “It will end up a housing estate,” says another. “Night flights…” drones a third.
I am aware of Mrs Gloag’s reputation for hard-nosed business practice (you don’t get to own two castles by playing tiddlywinks) but I, lover of all things Manston (except of course, you at the back with the eggs, the said night flights. No, I am not asking for those. That’s it – you can put the box down now…) am pushing down any pricklings of unease and choosing to look on the upside.
I am giving Mrs G – the woman who brought us The Loop – the benefit of the doubt.
I am seeing her as a Knightress in shining armour, who will save jobs and create more, bring prosperity to the isle, investment to the Manston infrastructure and ultimately secure the future of somewhere I can fly all over the world from, when I want to be shouted at.
When I came back from Amsterdam this week (in 35 minutes only – indoors within the hour) I was pleased to see the plane was almost full. I hope this means the future for Manston is bright.
And brighter now it’s Gloag-shaped. If so, I’d say we’ve got a bargain. It could be the best pound we never spent.
IT IS the lot of the columnist to receive abuse. Indeed my esteemed colleague Mike would consider us to have failed in our duty, were it otherwise.
So being told by Mr Dennis Franklin I am “a selfish, mean, nasty person” (he writes to me personally as well as to the letters page) with the addition of “Dr Goebbles (sic) (why can the worst of the ranters never spell?) would be proud of you”, is par for the course.
Everyone is entitled to their opinions – even if Dr Goebbels, after one look at my family history, would have dispatched me to the nearest camp. But opinions are one thing – I’m afraid I can be a pedant for the facts. So for those still overexcited by my trip to Manchester by plane from Manston, let me share them with you.
My airfare cost £148.80 (sight of receipt available on request). It was paid on my own credit card, although in due course I will be reimbursed by the magazine I went to Manchester to work for.
My investigations at the time, via the trainline.com (you may know cheaper sites) informed me had I taken a similar journey by train – as I did the previous year – it would have cost, depending on the time of day I travelled, anything from £101.90 to £390. But financial considerations were not my primary reason for flying.
As I explained at the time, I was keen to try out the service from KLM and Manston – so that I could write the very column Mr Franklin so enjoyed.
I did and was delighted. And have done it twice more since, to France and Spain.
“We should be told,” wrote Mr Franklin on the letters page a fortnight ago, when demanding to know who had paid my fare. Dear Sir, you just have been.
You can read the original article at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-m-welcoming-Manston-s-new-owner-Ann/story-19988111-detail/story.html.
A lovely blog post here from the immensely talented Clare Mackintosh (watch out for her debut novel next year – it’s going to be astonishing) about our recent time together at the legendary Chez Castillon, where I have had so many happy times.
This visit was particularly special, as I had my pals Katie Fforde, Catherine Brace-up Jones (who made me walk up and down hills mercilessly) and Judy Astley in residence too, along with Betty Orme, (my partner in crime in the crisps department), Jo Thomas and lovely, lovely students, all of whom taught me as much as I imparted to them. Everything Clare says about Janie and Mike’s gaff is spot on – it is a miracle* I came back weighing the same as I went out (Brace-up did me a favour, there, even if I did whinge at the time).
I am back at Chez Castillon in 2014 – doing a general course in May and a specialised short story course in September. Watch the website for details. In the meantime, I’ve still got the photos, Gorgeous….. 🙂
*not such a miracle actually – you can pre-order, now…
You can click the picture above for Clare’s article or here.
I have bills to pay, e-mails to answer, research to complete, phone calls to make, appointments I can’t cancel and the prospect of two days away working, starting tomorrow. And if I don’t send this column off very soon I’ll have the lovely Ed wanting to know if I’m still alive.
But the monster at the top of my stress list consists of three piles of paper I glance at with trepidation, resentment and rage.
They represent an ongoing battle that has lasted two years and has at least another two to go. If the path of true love never runs smoothly, then let me tell you it has nothing on the trajectory of Student Finance.
This inefficient, ridiculous, ill-thought-out white elephant of an organisation is the bane of my life. But before I tell you why it should make you very cross too, even if you are never likely to wave a student off to university, may I just extend hugs to any parents who have.
When I first read Joanna Trollope’s Second Honeymoon – a novel about empty-nests – it was 2007 and my son was 14. What a lot of fuss, I thought, about your child leaving. When the same novel was serialised on Radio Four in 2011, I had to turn the volume down before I fell in a heap.
If you too are feeling bereft, you have my sympathies, and for finding your way through the maze of the finance application process my sincere congratulations. Talk among yourselves for a moment while I do my deep breathing.
I know we are not the average family. My husband has more than one pension, I am self-employed. My income comes from a quirky patchwork of sources. My son chose to change universities after the first year.
But even if we deserve to supply the same information I’ve already given twice about what I didn’t earn two years ago, the system must still be costing the tax-payer a fortune.
I have lost count of the number of times we’ve received a letter asking for a form I’ve already sent because there’s a three week backlog on the processing. “Ah yes,” says the helpful chap I eventually speak to after all the business with my customer number, and pin and security question and some music, “the computer did that – just ignore it.”
We’ve got a dozen such missives – tot up the cost of paper, envelope, postage, printing and then multiply that all over the country. Hasn’t anyone thought to adjust the software?
On one memorable occasion I had to request figures from the tax office, which I sent to Student Finance, so, as a different chap explained, they could be sent back to where they came from, to be verified. “Do you think this is the best possible system?” I asked. He laughed nervously. No, he didn’t really, but that’s how they did it.
I have never run a government department but even I can see at least a dozen ways in which the process could be simplified to save money. And if you spent an afternoon getting through the Fort Knox of security on the website and then making three separate applications, so would you.
UCAS knows which students have gone where, the universities know who they’ve got registered and what the fees are. HM Revenue & Customs know how much I’ve earned (not enough) for the last three years. Couldn’t these bodies possibly share? Couldn’t applicants on year two, just make a simple declaration that “nothing has changed”?
If Student Finance had a policy of only demanding information that wasn’t already logged somewhere else, they would save a rain forest, hours of telephone time, and enough money, I’m sure, for quite a few hospital beds or some care for the elderly.
And I, meanwhile, could put 72 sheets of paper in the recycling bin with good riddance and finally finish my book…
Yes, I got on a plane at Manston, landed at Schipol, walked through the airport and got on another plane and alighted at Manchester, ready to start work the next day at Event City, giving workshops for the Woman’s Weekly Live Show.
You would think I had eaten a couple of live kittens or broiled my grandmother. I am utterly unrepentant but were I into justification, I might explain that I chose this method of travel because it cost much the same as, and possibly less than, (depending on what time of day I had let that particular form of transport take the strain), the intercity, and, despite the protestations of local blog king Eastcliff Richard (never one to let the facts get in the way of a good story) took much the same length of time.
While saving me the bother of dragging two suitcases up and down escalators between St Pancras and Euston and on and off locomotives, and finding somewhere to stash them once aboard.
It also meant I was proffered wine and little salty biscuits in my seat, instead of having to fight my way to a buffet car, and got to gaze down at the clouds.
But most of all, and my main reason for doing it, I got to sample the delights of using my local airport again and flying KLM – and what a thorough joy both turned out to be.
The staff at Manston are lovely – cheery and polite and helpful beyond the call. When we started boarding, the nice chap from the café actually came over and decanted my unfinished jasmine tea into a lidded polystyrene cup, so I could take it with me. Would that happen at Gatwick?
Check-in is speedy, security ditto, and the whole business of changing planes at Schipol is made smooth and easy.
The KLM staff are also lovely and the whole operation slick (I particularly liked the tulip, clog and bicycle embossed on their plastic cups).
But the best bit as always, is in coming back. Instead of queuing for half an hour at passport control, having a domestic about who was supposed to remember where the car was parked and then spending an hour and a half (if you’re lucky and there are no hold-ups) on the M25, one whizzes straight through the checks (there were no fewer than three officers on duty when I came back) and by the time one has walked round the corner, there is one’s suitcase ready for collection.
The boy picked me up (his driving lessons were one of the best investments I ever made) and I was home in my kitchen in under half-an-hour from touchdown?
What’s not to like? Ah yes, of course, silly me.
Yawn. I have never quite been forgiven for quipping (yes, sad people, that was a J-O-K-E) some years ago, that the anti-airport protesters were selfish and what about my holidays?
I do have sympathy if you are such a light sleeper that a plane wakes you up (could you take less water with it perhaps?) and if that plane happened to be right over your head at 3am. But the KLM flights do not leave in the middle of the night and if you stopped carping long enough to just try the whole Manston experience next time you need to fly you’ll be a convert, I promise.
In the meantime, please don’t be tedious about my carbon footprint. If you want to save the planet, direct your attention to entreating the cows to keep their methane to themselves or have a word with China. Or save your energies for next time. I’m flying to France on Friday.
And I’m not sorry about that either.