Posted in articles, events, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane, writing

Jane remembers 2016

jwj-remembers-2016At 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

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

Posted in articles, Plain Jane, writing

Just Jane: tribute to Carole Blake

carole-blog-post-medIn 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.

***

Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 211016: Who’s responsible for the idiotic 50mph Thanet Way limit?

plain-jane-211016-blogSince 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.

Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 071016: No selling to someone’s mate who then makes a DIY killing

plain-jane-071016-blogThis 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?

Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 230916: High heels are hardly well-suited for work

plain-jane-230916-blogWELL 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…

Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 160916: Corbyn comes to Ramsgate.

As I reach for my hard hat and flak jacket, here is my latest Gazette column…

plain-jane-160916Whoever 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.

Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 190816: Council organises ‘how to wear scarves’ class

Plain Jane girl-1343937_1280Poor 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…

Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 290716: Expect gleeful Tories at ‘re-elect Corbyn’ meeting

Plain Jane 290716Don’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.

 

Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 150716: Brexit is going well…..

Jane 150716It’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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Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane

Plain Jane 010716: After the Vote

Plain Jane 010716I 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.

Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 170616: How we vote on Thursday will probably come down to instinct

Plain Jane 170616So it’s finally here. After all the weeks of posturing, scare-mongering, claims and counter claims, the referendum is finally upon us.

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.

Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 030616: Debt, water and the sugar tax

Plain Jane 030616

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

Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, Plain Jane

Plain Jane 100516: I might give Channel Tunnel another chance

Plain Jane 100516Friday Quiz Time and your starter for ten. Who knows what auspicious and momentous event took place on May 6th? 

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.

Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 220416: I might give Wetherspoon another chance

Plain Jane 220416Celebratory 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…

Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 080416: Marrying a rock – not as mad as it sound

Plain Jane 080416So 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…

Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane

EASTER: Plain Jane brings your reasons to be cheerful – including beer and chocolate

Plain Jane 240316In 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!

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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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Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 110316: We don’t want a new town

Plain Jane 110316“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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Plain Jane 260216: Should we, shouldn’t we? EU decide

Plain Jane 260216So the referendum on membership of the EU is set for June 23 and we can now look forward to wall-to-wall media coverage of the Should we? / Shouldn’t we? variety on a daily basis till then.

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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Plain Jane 290116: Election gaffe

Plain Jane 290116Channel 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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Plain Jane 150116: Wine, sugar and health improvements

Plain Jane 150116FAR 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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Plain Jane 010116: And so 2015 is over

Plain Jane 010116So 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!

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Plain Jane 041215: Manston, driving and, well, Manston again

Plain Jane 041215I 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.

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Plain Jane 201115: Its vs it’s

Plain Jane 201115Who 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.

Posted in articles, novels, Plain Jane, review, writing

Plain Jane 231015: The power of reviewers

Plain Jane 231015Intriguing news from giant online seller Amazon, who are planning to sue 1,100 “fake” reviewers in a bid to claim damages for their “manipulation and deception” of customers.

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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Plain Jane 091015: Rehabilitation not squalor for those in prison

Plain Jane 041015Oh 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!

***

Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Rehabilitation-squalor-prison/story-27946509-detail/story.html
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Plain Jane 250915: A trip down memory lane

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! 🙂

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Plain Jane 250915 headerAs 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.

Plain Jane 250915 no header“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…

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Plain Jane 100915: Festivals are great – but please just count me out

Plain Jane 100915I turn my back on Thanet for a mere moment and it all happens! Jeremy Corbyn (aka RIP any chance of a Labour Government for the next umpteen years) holds a rally in the Winter Gardens, Jarvis Cocker comes to town and Ellington Park has a music festival!

I do hope it went well but wild horses, etc. I love music but the thought of a festival brings me out in hives. I have never wanted to go to Glastonbury, or any of the other hundreds of such events that have sprung up all over the UK in recent years. Maybe if your en-suite Winnebago is parked up in the VIP area it might all be jolly good fun but why would us ordinary mortals want to wallow in mud with 150,000 other unwashed bodies, before squashing into a sweaty tent near the queue for the stinky temporary loos. I know I am out of tune here. The middle-aged now apparently flock to the 500-plus festivals organised in the UK each year, in their droves. Many take their kids too. This makes me shudder further.

“Have you ever,” Neil McCormick wrote in The Telegraph, “tried to encourage a small child to hover over a hole big enough for him to fall through, below which is a visible river of merde?” No, I can’t say I have. And nor, I can assure you most fervently, would I want to. I carry lavender oil to smear beneath my nostrils (a tip given to me by a veteran festival-goer as it happens) in case I have to venture into any sort of potentially dodgy public convenience – even the kind with hand dryers and running water.

Yet here I am, enjoying a rhythmic extravaganza after all – the Gibraltar Music Festival! So far I have been treated to Duran Duran, Tom Odell, Ella Henderson and Paloma Faith. As I type, we are being promised Madness. And Kings of Leon, the headline act, are due up later tonight (my son is still shaking his head in despair at my ancientness, ignorance and lack of awareness since I confessed that up until yesterday, I didn’t know who they were). The queues to get in were horrendous, and I hardly dare think about the way the traffic will back up when it’s all over and the thousands try to get home.

But who cares – I won’t be one of them. For I am lying back on a Spanish balcony, just over the frontier from the Rock, where I can still hear the melodies, see the stage and watch the lights on the screens. Yes, yes, I know, you purists and seasoned Glastonbury-goers, that I am not getting the full experience. That actually being “there” is all about the atmosphere, of being one with the crowd, of the indefinable happy-clappy, gloriously dilettante escapism of the throb of the beat and the haze of marijuana hanging on the sweet air, but I don’t need that to relive my youth, I really don’t. I am having a very good time indeed. With no queues, no horrid loos, and ice in my gin and tonic. I tell you folks, when it comes to festivals, balconies are the way to go….

SHOPPING in the local hypermarket, Carrefour, I was amused to see a section marked “Inglaterra”. Here were shelves sporting all the products us Brits might like: Marmite, peanut butter, Walkers shortbread and PG Tips. And of course, taking pride of place – ex-pats have much to answer for – a neat stack of tins of Heinz baked beans. Is there no escape? I find the thought of eating mushy blobs in sweet red sauce revolting even when I’m at home. I’d almost rather go to a festival…

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Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Festivals-great-just-count/story-27773588-detail/story.html#ixzz3lsr8cem3
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Plain Jane 310815: Watch where you walk

Plain Jane 310815SO 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…
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Plain Jane 140815 – Bra-vellous project

Plain Jane 140815If 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.

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Plain Jane 310715: Time for a brew

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Photo by Brian Green

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.

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Copies available from roystoncartoons.com or the Four Candles

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?

Photo by Brian Green
Photo by Brian Green

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.

Four Candles 1 - photo by Brian Green
Photo by Brian Green

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).

Photo by Brian Green
Photo by Brian Green

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.

Photo by Brian Green
Photo by Brian Green

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…

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Artwork by Ray Cannon
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Photo by Brian Green

 

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.

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Plain Jane 170715: I can be as judgemental as the next person

Plain Jane 170715My esteemed colleague, Mike don’t-get-me-started Pearce, has been on one of his jaunts.

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…

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Plain Jane 190615: Eating your way through hotel breakfasts

Plain Jane 190615SO FAR this year, what with speaking and interviewing and literary festivals and running off to bang my head against a different wall, I have spent 32 nights away from home.

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.

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Plain Jane 050615: It’s tough to get a job if you don’t speak nonsense lingo

Plain Jane 050615I HAVE been self-employed now for nigh-on 30 years and have long suspected this has rendered me utterly un-hireable to anyone in the usual (some might say “real”) world of nine-to-five.

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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Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 220515 – A chilly reception

Plain Jane 220515OH DEAR! It seems I haven’t got off to the best possible start with our new Kipper council. Let’s hope I don’t require a new wheelie bin in the next five years.

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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Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, Plain Jane, writing

The one that enraged a Kipper….

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!!! 🙂

Featured image

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…

Posted in articles, interview, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane

Plain Jane 100415: Plain Jane meets the Tories and Manston Airport Independent Party

Plain Jane 100415I 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

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Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane

Plain Jane 030415: Plain Jane meets the Labour and United Thanet candidates

Plain Jane 030415

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)

Age 34

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.

Other contenders

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!

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Read more: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-meets-Labour-candidates/story-26272508-detail/story.html#ixzz3WGwzqXWP
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Posted in Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 270315: Meet the candidates for the Green Party

Continuing our series in which Jane Wenham-Jones meets the candidates, this week: the Greens…

Plain Jane 270315I 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.

Photo by Ryan Howard of the Belgian Bar
Photo by Ryan Howard of the Belgian Bar

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”.IMG_0114 (2)

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!

Posted in articles, events, Isle of Thanet Gazette, non-fiction, Plain Jane

Plain Jane 250714: Royalty, politics, tourism and how not to waste money

Plain Jane 250714

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

Posted in articles, Isle of Thanet Gazette, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 010514: 11 years of writing about Thanet, and I’m not done yet

 

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.

(photo by Darron Broadhurst)
(photo by Darron Broadhurst)

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.

Plain Jane 010514Earlier 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…?

***

Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Jane-Wenham-Jones-11-years-writing-Thanet-m/story-21042974-detail/story.html

Posted in articles, events, Isle of Thanet Gazette, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane in the Isle of Thanet Gazette from Friday 21st June

Bit late getting this up here as have been away to the Winchester Writer’s Conference where I had the enormous privilege of hearing Julian Fellowes speak! Fabulous. Top quote: “just because nobody’s found you, it doesn’t mean you haven’t got it”. Could have listened to him for several more hours. I have come late to Downton Abbey (currently on series three of boxed set  so please don’t tell me what happens) but adore it. In love with Maggie Smith, Jim Carter and Lady Mary. ANYWAY, the column won’t be of particular interest to those of you living outside the fair Isle of Thanet as it is a rant about local parking (high cost and general inconvenience of/Council ineptitude over same).  But just in case and because  after an encouraging start with the new website, it is impossible to find online again, (My-mate-Mike eventually tracked me down but you wouldn’t know I’d written it if I hadn’t just told you), I am sticking it up all the same.

The basic premise of it is that there’s nothing like parking to bring out one’s inner tightness, but if you’ve nothing better to do you can read the whole lot HERE. Hope you are having a nice weekend even if the weather is shite. jxx

Plain Jane 210613 blog

Posted in articles, humour, Plain Jane, writing

My-Mate-Mike in the Isle of Thanet Gazette 28th December

isle-of-thanet-gazette2

Remember my excellent advice on coping when the old man is suddenly at home ALL BLOODY DAY?

My esteemed fellow columnist on the Gazette, Mike Bah-Humbug Pearce, has waded in with his own rantings on the matter. Still, keeps him busy, love him. He is retired, you know…

The perils of retired life by Mike Pearce 

SO WHERE were we before we were so rudely interrupted by Christmas?

Ah! yes, my columnist chum Jane Wenham-Jones was offering advice to a wimpy woman wanting to know how could she cope now her husband is retiring, which is like asking a flower how it’s going to cope now that the refreshing rain is on its way. All chaps know it is the MAN who will need help.

So agony aunt Jane and your new pal, please go off and have a natter while I reveal what he needs to know.

Dear Jim. Make sure you invest in a sat-nav.

You are now an on-demand chauffeur and your navigating spouse will invent a new compass point – There.

Whenever you ask “Where do we go?”, she will reply “Over there”. One lady told me, when we stopped at a T-junction, that we should go straight on.

Be prepared for preposterous assertions, the most popular being “You don’t want another drink” after you have just announced that it’s exactly what you would like.

Don’t announce your plans in advance, because you will be headed off at the pass with previously unthought-of things that can be done only on the day you plan to play golf.

Women used to have sinus trouble – “Sign us a cheque for this, sign us a cheque for that.” In the electronic age, leave your credit card at home if you are ever forced to join a shopping expedition.

Buy a second television. Your beloved will sit like a trappist through hours of soaps, then gabble like a goose as soon as anything remotely interesting comes on screen.

And yes, you can afford to have Sky Sports, if she can afford to buy glossy “style” magazines. And if you can’t afford both, get her interested in football. Tell her the centre-forward’s having an affair with someone from Eastenders, which she will find interesting and will probably be true anyway.

Treat yourself to an ipod and a set of earphones. Enjoy records you haven’t played for years, while at the same time blocking out the hour-long phone calls to the friend she had lunch with just hours earlier.

Accept that your suit-and-tie days are over. Casual clothes always look rumpled on an ageing frame, so don’t be ashamed to wear them for days or to leave them lying around the bedroom, the bathroom, the dining room and the hall. She will pick them up eventually, if only to allow the door to close.

Be careful how you react to her cooking. Be over-enthusiastic and you will get the same dish over and over. And when you point out that liver and bacon three times a week might be excessive, expect the: “I thought you liked it. What’s wrong with it?” sulks.

Say you’re not that keen and you’ve taken a short cut to the “What’s wrong with it?” stage.

Be prepared for sighs, an irritating affectation exclusive to women.

You spill your coffee, they go “Tch-huhhhhhhhhhh”. You forget (along with an increasing number of things) to put out the dustbin – “Tch-huhhhhhhhhhh”.

Be prepared for daft questions. When your phone rang at work, nobody would chirp up “Who’s that?”, as if you were Claude the Clairvoyant. Now you’ll get it all the time. Same if there’s a knock on the door. You might try answering “The neighbour I’m having an affair with”, or “The bailiffs”, but it’s a high-risk strategy.

And remember Jim, if this all sounds too daunting, B&Q are always keen to take on older workers.

Posted in articles, books, events, novels, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane. Isle of Thanet Gazette. Friday December 21st 2012

This might not make entire sense to those not blessed with living on the Isle of Thanet but perhaps you would would wish for similar for your town too…

Happy Christmas anyway!

jxxx

***

What would make a perfect gift for Isle?

THE GAZETTE’s regular columnists Jane Wenham-Jones and Mike Pearce have been set a Christmas challenge by editor Rebecca Smith.

It’s better to give than receive, we are told, so what could glass-half-full Jane and glass-half-empty Mike come up with as the perfect gifts for Thanet?

Jane & Mike Xmas 2012 photo by Bill Harris
WHO’S BEEN GOOD? A bumper parcel for Jane and socks again for Mike (photo by Bill Harris)
​JANE: What would I give Thanet this Christmas? Some positive vibes! Thanet has its problems but it’s got a whole heap of potential too. So I’d like to see less negativity from the disaffected quarters and no scaremongering. I wish the Isle further art galleries and creative ventures (to quote Ms Emin: where art comes, regeneration follows); a few more restaurants you can sit outside; and bars that face the sun.

I want the new micro pubs to do well, the older pubs to survive, the High Streets to hang in there and huge success for Manston Airport, (yes, yes, during the day! Don’t start that again).

I’d like to see certain councillors stepping down and others stepping up. I’d like derelict properties restored and landlords held to account and bad housing sorted.

Had I a magic Christmas wand, I would of course bring more employment and prosperity, fewer punch-ups and help for smaller shops and businesses. I’d say no to superstores and give a fat grant to anyone opening up an empty retail space and making jobs.

I’d have an open police station in each town, no more ridiculous “traffic-calming” and put Richborough Towers back where it was. I’d see the theatres full, the churches unvandalised and the loos unlocked. But in the sad absence of my fairy wings, I’ll just send a group hug. Have a good one!

And for my dear colleague Mike? I would give him a season ticket to Turner Contemporary events, a hot night out with Iris Johnston (his favourite!), a night flight from Manston and a signed, life-size photograph of Tracey Emin. Happy Christmas mate!

MIKE: AS A child, I would plead for expensive toys and receive a gift-wrapped box containing a battery and a message saying “Toy not included”. I offer my presents for Thanet, but remember – Santa is an anagram of Satan.

For Margate: A new road behind Dreamland, allowing a pedestrianised seafront paradise with a cafe culture in its true sense. Not just a few late-night boozers, but coffee bars, eateries and a tip of the hat to the glory days, with ice cream parlours, candy floss and family-friendly amusement arcades.

For Broadstairs: A large field, miles from anywhere, where morris men can beat each other with sticks, and lank-haired minstrels of indeterminate sex can whine about Strawberry Fair, Widdecombe Fair and Betfair for all I care, without providing an excuse for every yob this side of Tilbury to converge on the town centre and cause mayhem.

For Ramsgate: A fairy godmother to sprinkle stardust on the precious Ramsgate Sands site, shoo off would-be developers and turn back the clock to when it was a tourist magnet – or at least a car park.

For Thanet: A spaceship to descend and take away this hapless council. And then (oh Santa, if only) for 56 good men strong and true to come forward – people who will spend more time discussing agendas and less time discussing genders; people with intelligence and enthusiasm; people less concerned with causes and more concerned with the common good.

For the High Streets: An end to hand-wringing, silver-tongued soothsayers offering false dawns.

For the Turner Centre: A ticket machine, so they can finally admit there’s no such thing as a free Munch.

And following Margate’s inclusion in the Rough Travel Guide as the world’s seventh best tourist destination, an early copy of next year’s, showing Cliftonville has the world’s best forests, Manston the most successful airport and Westwood Cross the most efficient traffic system.

For Plain Jane?: A film company to buy up one of her novels. And an address book with the page for D torn out, so she avoids the duckies and divas and darlings who turn her pretty little head!

Posted in articles, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane 14th December 2012: Coping with (his) retirement

Isle of Thanet GazetteAs some of you may know, I write a fortnightly column – alternating with My-Mate-Mike (he who hovers just to the right of Genghis Khan and is considered a suitable antidote for what he views as my ‘dangerously-pink” tendencies) – in the Isle of Thanet Gazette. In theory this appears online on http://www.thisiskent.co.uk. In practice it frequently doesn’t. If it does, you need a degree in orienteering to find it and then, when you get there, it doesn’t bear my name.

Plain Jane. Isle of Thanet Gazette. Friday December 14th 2012

A missive from one Hilda Rarebit of Ramsgate (real name supplied). She doesn’t want her husband to know she is writing, as she is seeking my guidance on coping with retirement. His! Mr Rarebit is due to hang up his working shoes come Christmas.

“Have you,” Hilda enquires, “got any tips on how I am going to hack it  when he’s under my feet all day?”

Well, strange you should ask. I am not sure whether the good Mrs Rarebit, who describes herself as “an avid Gazette reader”, recalls that my own spouse is some two decades my senior and put down his own tools of the trade (a phone and corkscrew) longer ago than I care to remember. Or if she has heard that my enduring ambition is to be an agony aunt (a reincarnation I am hoping to slide past the editor at the Christmas Drinks, leaving Mike-things-aren’t-wot-they-used-to-be-Pearce to moan about the council and gripe about Turner Contemporary, while I solve the Isle’s dilemmas). But I am ready to meet the challenge. My advice, dear Hilda, is as follows:

  1. If he lives for the 18th hole, count your blessings!  You may have railed against being a golf widow for all the years he disappeared for hours whenever the kids needed collecting or your mother was coming to stay, or be used to muttering darkly about his train-spotting, fishing and time in the pub. But a good, solid, time-consuming sport or hobby partaken outside the home, will now be your saviour. Forget socks and hankies and present him on Tuesday week with a new notebook and bobble hat, tankard or gross of maggots.
  2. Discourage any interest in cooking. It may sound good to have all the food prepared but it won’t end there. There is a definite syndrome displayed by Men Who Are At Home Too Much and it is encapsulated by the word “system”.  As in “I have a system when I do that” whenever he watches you chop an onion or wash the kitchen floor.  And he may be watching a lot! My friend Anna was driven to distraction by  her newly-retired husband  delivering  lectures on the correct way to both stack and empty the dishwasher until she was forced to threaten him with one of the saucepans he’d re-positioned. He’ll also use every utensil you own and expect you to wash up.
  3. Give him other things to be in charge of (if these happen to be based at the end of the garden, so much the better). In our house it is the Composting and Recycling System. This has involved our son receiving in-depth training on The Correct Way to Flatten a Cardboard Box. And regular interrogations over whose transgression had led to a tin being found among the newspapers. But it gets him into the driveway.
  4. shed 671283Be creative when his birthday comes along. Buy him membership to the gym, evening classes or a new shed with running water and its own kitchen.
  5. Get a shed of your own.
  6. Leave articles lying around claiming older men are sexier if they spend several hours a day in the fresh air. Or possibly a week…
  7. And those who do voluntary work live longer.
  8. Encourage him to join things. Flattery can work well here. That committee/theatre group/local choir really needs someone like YOU. And  they’re crying out for aid workers in Africa…
  9. Make a space of your own. Take over the spare room as your crafts or sewing room. You don’t actually have to do either. Just leave lots of material and coloured card all over the floor then, shut the door,  put your feet up and  read the paper.
  10. Book yourself on a long cruise.
If YOU have a problem you’d like answering, send it to Dear Plain Jane (address below). And Hilda, don’t mention it…
Plain Jane
Isle of Thanet Gazette
Suite 1
3rd Floor
Mill Lane House
Mill Lane
Margate
Kent CT9 1JU
Editor: Rebecca Smith
Posted in articles, events, Plain Jane, writing

Plain Jane: Playing the Party Season

Isle of Thanet GazetteAs some of you may know, I write a fortnightly column – alternating with My-Mate-Mike (he who hovers just to the right of Genghis Khan and is considered a suitable antidote for what he views as my ‘dangerously-pink” tendencies) – in the Isle of Thanet Gazette. In theory this appears online on http://www.thisiskent.co.uk. In practice it frequently doesn’t. If it does, you need a degree in orienteering to find it and then, when you get there, it doesn’t bear my name.

Plain Jane. Isle of Thanet Gazette. Friday November 30th 2012

So we’re almost at December and the time, I gather, to start thinking festive. No, I don’t know where this year’s gone either, but if one more person tells me they finished their shopping weeks ago I shall slap her with some wet tinsel. It can only be a She. Men don’t get involved with presents at all if they can help it and when finally forced to face the inevitable, hare round on Christmas Eve, panic-buying gift packs. I sometimes wonder if I have male hormones. The joys of wafting around in a pinnie, hand-pressing cranberries and making my own mince meat, have passed me by but at least I have learnt  to keep stress levels low.

The way to approach C Day without fear and dread, is to keep one’s head firmly in a bucket and acknowledge nothing until December 23rd. When you’ve been self-employed as long as I have, with a tendency to let the entire year’s deadlines accumulate, leaving one no option but to be welded to the computer instead of counting down the retail days, the whole build-up can very easily slide past. Especially since nobody has Christmas parties any more. Or if they do, they don’t invite me.

Once upon a time, journalists wrote wearily about mantelpieces stiff with gold-edged cards (be an email these days of course) – too many to possibly ever attend all – while double pages were devoted to how to choose a little black dress and the best way to get through three weeks of champagne and canapés and still fit into it.

Now in these dark hours of austerity and gloom, it’s a buy-your-own down at the local chain pub or a memo urging staff to contribute half a goat for the third world instead. Friends who still have gainful employment with companies that turn a profit (three at the last count), tell me to thank my stars, but it is a small regret to me that never having had what you might call – and my husband does frequently – a “proper job”, I have never attended a traditional office party. I can only imagine the lecherous, bottom-patting general manager and the droopy typist who adores him. The dropped jaws when Doris from the canteen turns up in tight satin and fishnets; the sobbing after too many advocaats, the throwing up in the waste-basket, the passing round of intimate-body-parts-taken-on-photocopier hilarity and  the secretary found in the stationery cupboard doing something inappropriate with Stanley from accounts. I can’t help feeling that at  some fundamental, formative level, I have missed out.

Jane
Preparing for a previous Murder Mystery, at the Victorian Tearooms, Broadstairs
Dodgy photo by Matthew Munson

So it was perhaps with me in mind that my dear friend Lisa Payne, of the Perfectly Dreadful Murder Company, set the theme of her next Murder Mystery evening as “1970s Office Christmas Party”. I have been in a few of Lisa’s mysteries before and they are enormous fun. I am invariably cast as a cross between Barbara Windsor in EastEnders and Les Dawson in drag, allowing me to trip about in fishnets myself – with perilous heels and inadvisably short skirt – and Lisa to murmur sweetly: “and all from her own wardrobe too…” If you’re feeling festive already with no invites either, dressed up and no place to go, why not come along? Just remember ignorance is bliss for a little longer and don’t mention the  sh***ing…

Jane will be appearing with the Perfectly Dreadful Murder Company in their 70s style murder mystery on Saturday 8th December at the Sarah Thorne Memorial Theatre at 7.30 pm. Box office 0845 2626263. Prizes for best-dressed and  super-sleuth. Bring your own snacks.

Posted in articles, books, events, novels, Plain Jane, romance, writing

Plain Jane column 16 November – public speaking & event with Lesley Cookman

Isle of Thanet GazetteAs some of you may know, I write a fortnightly column – alternating with My-Mate-Mike (he who hovers just to the right of Genghis Khan and is considered a suitable antidote for what he views as my ‘dangerously-pink” tendencies) – in the Isle of Thanet Gazette. In theory this appears online on http://www.thisiskent.co.uk. In practice it frequently doesn’t. If it does, you need a degree in orienteering to find it and then, when you get there, it doesn’t bear my name.

Plain Jane. Isle of Thanet Gazette. Friday November 16th 2012

As you may know to your cost, I do a spot of “speaking”. This has taken me to Manchester and Edinburgh, Telford and Torquay and on one best-forgotten occasion, a village hall buried so deeply in rural Wales that it took nine hours to get there (geography has never been my strong point).

But it all started, as so many things have, here in Thanet. When a lovely lady, Rusty Macintyre, invited me to address something called the Beta Ladies. One of them was married to the Hon Sec of the Omega Men (or some such) and they all had friends in the Rotary or Round Table – I never remember which is which.  (One group are youngish and like a drink; the others are oldish, like a drink and then doze off.)

Further bookings followed and I learned on the job. “I generally recommend,” said the President of a Dining Club for Gentlemen of Mature Years, when I enquired how long I should speak for, “that you keep going until half the audience are asleep”. The average age in the room was 86 and one chap had already been snoring for ten minutes when I stood up. I punctuated each anecdote with any large noise I could muster. “And then there was a knock at the door,” I’d cry, slapping the flat of my hand hard down on the table and waiting while the front row jerked awake. “And the woman next to me shrieked…” I’d add, illustrating this with an ear-piercing scream to make sure they didn’t drop off again.  It was apparently the most excitement most of them had had for years – previous speakers had held forth on “The Workings of the Local Authority” and the “History of the Rubber Stamp” (with slides) – and word spread about my ability to bring on a coronary till my oratory career was forged.

I’ve done Probus and the Over 41 Club, Retirees United; the Under 65 Society, Young Wives (they were eighty if they were a day), Old Mothers, Small Businesses and more fundraisers than you can shake a stick at. And whether the audience numbers six or a hundred some things never change. There is always  a woman who glares throughout – even if it transpires she looks like this naturally  – and another who cups her ear and says loudly to the first one “what’s she on about?” There’s a guffawing bloke who calls out “Can I heckle?” (as long as you stay awake, pal, I don’t mind what you do) and when you take questions at the end, someone who wants to tell a long, unrelated story about something that happened in 1976. The more courses they bring out, the more often your glass is filled and the longer they linger over the coffee and mints while reading announcements about the Christmas Coach Trip, the less you feel like standing up and trying to raise a laugh. Which is an inexact science to say the least – the quip that had the Bowls Club in stitches is greeted with stony silence at the Goldfish Appreciation Annual Lunch – and you have no way of knowing if the three people who’ve just left are disgusted by your last anecdote or having a bad reaction to the shellfish starter.

What I do know is that after six months of book promotion involving a more than usually-heavy schedule on the oral front, even I can get tired of the sound of my voice. Relief all round then that at the next gig, Lesley Cookman is coming too. Lesley lives in Whitstable and sets her highly-popular, Libby Sarjeant crime series here in Kent.

She and I are going to be talking about our locally-based books in Waterstones in Canterbury next Friday.

You can glare, you can ask questions, you can heckle. Just don’t fall asleep…

***

Jane and Lesley will be in conversation at Waterstones, St Margaret’s St, Canterbury at 6.30pm Thursday 22nd November. Entry free. But if you are thinking of coming along it would be great to know. Please do leave a comment or if you’re a facebooker Lesley’s made something clever here 🙂

Posted in non-fiction, Plain Jane

Plain Jane – Isle of Thanet Gazette

As some of you may know, I write a fortnightly column – alternating with My-Mate-Mike (he who hovers just to the right of Genghis Khan and is considered a suitable antidote for what he views as my ‘dangerously-pink” tendencies) – in the Isle of Thanet Gazette. In theory this appears online on http://www.thisiskent.co.uk. In practice it frequently doesn’t. If it does, you need a degree in orienteering to find it and then, when you get there, it doesn’t bear my name.

So I am going to start posting it here. Every second Friday. Or Saturday if I’ve been up late.

Here is the column from Friday 2nd November 2012.  If you don’t live in Kent it won’t all be relevant but I hope as a principle it will resonate. Grrr, I say. And more Grrrs.

Plain Jane. Isle of Thanet Gazette. Friday November 2nd 2012

I was first able to vote in the General Election of 1983 and I haven’t missed one since. I do local elections too. Those who don’t, annoy me. Especially if they then complain about any aspect of public life, ever again. Women like this are especially disappointing. Was Emily Davison trampled for nothing? Even if I genuinely couldn’t decide who I next wanted to mess things up,  I would go along to the polling station and scrawl: “you’re  as bad as each other” rather than stay at home. It’s a principle. As is my recent decision to drop my latest poll card in the bin. I am delighted that that a low turnout is predicted for the forthcoming election of a Police and Crime Commissioner for the Kent police area. Boycotting is the only way  to protest at such a deeply flawed scheme. Even if keeping away brings a small frisson of fear at who might get in. At least candidate Ann Barnes has been Chair of the Kent Police Authority and a magistrate; Piers Wauchope a criminal barrister. But Craig Mackinlay is a chartered accountant and Harriet Bronwen Yeo’s claim to fame is being “treasurer of a multi-million organisation”.

What do bean-counters know about policing? And should it really be about cost?  I don’t know much about policing either. Which is why  I do not believe I am equipped to vote on who is suitable to be “overseeing” the police operation.  What I do recognise is the unmistakable feeling of my blood running cold. “I’d be directly responsible for hiring and firing of the Kent Chief Constable” announces the creepily-named Steve Uncles in his election statement, going on to offer nothing in the way of qualifications befitting this momentous responsibility, or any personal information whatsoever except the unsettling news that he is an “English Democrat”. A little judicious Googling also reveals he has been accused of racism more than once (his pledges include “returning policing to ‘common sense’ values, treating all the people of Kent in an equal and fair manner, and not special treatment for minorities”. Which special treatment is that then, Steve? Being 37 times more likely, as recent research  suggests, to be stopped and searched if one is black?) and is not terribly popular even with fellow ED members. Is this who we want in charge of the county’s police service?

The truth is, surely, that we don’t want ANYONE with their own political agenda having that sort of power. The police are, and should be, politically neutral. The system of police authorities, which this elected commissioner business is going to replace, was based on non-political committees – including at least one magistrate – but, whatever the theory, this new set-up is likely to see prospective commissioners from one of the main parties grabbing the votes. They’ll be the ones with the full weight of the party machine (and the finance) behind them to do the canvassing. So they’ll be the ones to get in. And once that happens it is natural that they will be “overseeing” the police with an eye on their own party’s agenda. Should the unthinkable happen and one of the extreme far right – or far left – parties gain power in the future, where would that leave fair and independent enforcement of the law? And what might come next? Lay people voted in to head up other vital services? Any old body supervising the local Health Service or holding the Education authority to account? More pricey TV adverts to encourage voting in the Governor of the Bank of England? Popularly-elected judges – never mind their credentials? If we want untrained individuals wielding too much power, and playing God with our budgets there are plenty on local councils. Isn’t that enough?