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…

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

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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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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Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-shouldn-t-EU-decide/story-28807743-detail/story.html#ixzz41UN6Svbk
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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.

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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Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-power-reviewers/story-28034113-detail/story.html
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