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

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?

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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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!

***

Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-2015/story-28439560-detail/story.html#ixzz3wDfLKkfb
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Plain Jane 030715: Mike and Jane – Thrills at Dreamland

Plain Jane 030715I didn’t see the rides at the opening of Dreamland. The wait was too long, the speeches too protracted and when the ribbon had finally been cut by the motley crew of “VIPs”, an “entertainer” in rainbow-coloured dress tried to take my arm and skip me through the crowds.

I withdrew to Forts where my friend and Guardian columnist, Marina 0’Louglin, had already taken herself, head shaking, for a bacon roll. Leaving the be-rouged artiste to bound, far more appropriately, after an unsuspecting child. “I’d have told her to–” growls Mike Pearce, as we enter the sun-filled fairground on Saturday, me with fresh hope in my heart and him with a face on.

Frankly, I was stunned he’d agreed to come at all, and so, I think, was he. “Ah – it’s sweet,” I breathed as I got my first proper look at all the twirling twinkliness, while he perused the pinball machines and muttered darkly about entrance fees. “£17 worth of sweetness?” he grouched.

True, there are teething problems and it’s not finished yet. The Big Wheel did open but had to stop for a while, the Crazy Mouse – the ride I’d particularly earmarked as I walked in – was having some adjustments made. But the Twister was zipping back and forth, the Zodiac Jets whirring and the green caterpillar trundling happily along its rails.

Mike, citing fear of heights, wouldn’t go on any of ’em.

But by now he’d cracked a smile and was tapping his feet to Poetry in Motion, so we left him holding the bags while my son Tom – pressed into service as our photographer – and I went forth on the Wave Swinger, gaining a high five from cheery Farrah Griffin on the gate, for it being our first ride. I hope I’m not going to be sick, the boy confided cheerily as we whirled.

Knowing he’d had two burgers to counteract his hangover, so did I.

Back on the ground, we’d lost Mike, who reappeared sometime later from the Wall of Death, proclaiming it “seriously scary” and announcing with glee that he’d found the dodgems. Here, his joy knew no bounds as he rammed his way into the bumpers of small children and I tried to drive him into a corner.

The photos are blurred because Tom was laughing too much to hold the camera.

Such innocent pleasures are what it’s all about. The whole place is delightful and lovingly done. I cannot wait for the Scenic Railway (last ridden when I was fourteen) to re-open for my nostalgia to be complete.

In short, Reader, I loved it. And I think, maybe, so did HE…

Mike says, “MY DAY at Dreamland never stood a chance. Excitement is seeing Palace score a last-minute goal. It is not having my innards rearranged on a frenetic fairground ride.

And I hate anything described as hip. The last hip person was Edd “Kookie” Byrnes in “77 Sunset Strip”, mouthing “You’re the ginchiest” to Connie Stevens, she of the tight sweaters and baby doll voice.

I was always going to miss the delights of my teenage years – the Guess Your Weight Man, the call-and-response bingo callers, the river caves, where I once nearly brought down the scenery when I grabbed a pillar to try to stop our galleon of love while I was courting a girl with glasses.

(The result was not a passionate clinch. It was a fearful creaking noise, the tub wilfully refusing to stop and me nearly tumbling into water in my best – and only – suit.)

So I’m bound to be rude about the new Dreamland Lite – yet how can I be when the sun shone, the dodgems were a hoot, the Wall of Death riders thrilling, there were pretty girls everywhere, and all to the soundtrack of original fifties American rock’n’roll?

With a reputation to live down to, I must carp about the staff trying to be so desperately jolly.

I do not do jolly, as will be confirmed by people who enjoy yelping, cackling, making silly puppet-on-a-string gestures and using meaningless words like “woot”.

That does not mean I do not do fun, as Jane will be the first (and possibly only) person to acknowledge, .

Just not the sort of fun that involves an army of “greeters” telling me they hope I’m having a wonderful day. Firstly, because I know they really couldn’t care a toss and secondly because the chances are that I’m not.

I am allowed to raise an eyebrow at the rides which were not working and, slightly more concerning, the rides that were trying to work but didn’t.

The still unused roller-coaster has a straight-out-of-the-box weirdness, but probably nothing that a couple of coats of Sadolin wouldn’t put right.

There are some great pinball machines, although a few hundred more are needed to fulfil the earlier suggestion that it would be the biggest collection in Europe, or was it the world?

But while I’m still warmed by the sun, humming a 50s rock’n’roll song, marvelling at the motorbike dare-devils and chuckling at the dodgem smashes, here’s a message for the greeters.

Yes, thank you, I did have a wonderful time.”

***

Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Thrills-spills-Dreamland-jolly-time-Mike/story-26820653-detail/story.html
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