Jane and Mike go forth: The Italian Job

‘No. 1 – The Italian job’ courtesy of the www.theisleofthanetnews.com

They’re back! Popular Thanet columnists Jane Wenham-Jones and Mike Pearce reunite for a lunch date which has all the ingredients for disaster.

Read what happened when author Jane lured retired editor Mike into foreign lands.

JANE:  There’s nothing better than a good lunch out with your friends. Booking one for my mate Mike is always a minefield.

His list of requirements gets longer as his years advance. I quote: No fish, no kids, no groups or office parties, no blaring music, nothing Indian, nothing Chinese, nothing Malay, Thai or all stations east, no tasting menus, nothing drizzled in anything and nothing much over a tenner.

“We might need to go somewhere where they serve pie,” I tell my son, who is accompanying us in order to quiz Mike on the rigours of editing a local newspaper for twenty years for a uni. project.

Tom is having none of it. “The Posillipo” he says firmly. It is indeed a favourite of ours. The food is unfailingly good and the staff have long lost their early reputation for Italian broodiness aka being downright surly.

I send Mike the link to the menu.

“Is this a send-up?” he writes back. “It’s all in Italian.”

I promise to guide him through the ‘carne’ section when we get there.

The day dawns bright and beautiful and we get a table outside. “I hope it won’t be too cold for him,” I say to Tom who is perusing the list of craft beers. He shakes his head. “I’m fine,” he says.

Mike arrives smiling but clearly apprehensive. “Pork escalopes?” I enquire. “Do you like rosemary?”

“I’ve got some in the garden,” he says doubtfully, “but I don’t eat it.” I am  about to recommend a Tagliata di Manzo (strips of chargrilled rib eye steak served on a bed of rocket), when I spot the word “drizzled”.

We eventually settle on a Grigliata Mista (mixed grill to him) which he seems to like. Tom has a rather impressive pizza – Vesuvio with lots of chillis – and I do my usual and build my own with a smoked salmon and prawn dish from the startesr menu  served with a salad and some fries.  Tom orders a beer he can’t now remember the name of – but it soon disappears– and then drinks the rest of my wine:  a most pleasing bardolino rose I’ve not had before, which slips down a treat. “Isn’t it a pretty colour?” says Mike happily, even though he’s driving and on orange juice.

“How was your first foray into non-English food?” I ask when he’s on his ice-cream and my son is spending my hard-earned dosh on dessert wine and almond biscuits. Mike nods. Clearly it’s a curry next ….

MIKE: She claims that going somewhere Italian for lunch is her son Tom’s choice.

But as she socialises with people who eat Appalachian goats’ meat off anvils and quaff artisan cider out of flower pots, who can doubt Jane’s hand was involved in an act of social wilfulness, knowing I would have chosen an English pie in an English pub.

Any road up, I am instructed to go to the Posillipo.

I don’t even know what a Posillipo is. Sports car? Illness? Eurovision contestant?

Turns out it’s a restaurant in Broadstairs, next to what in my day was Marchesi’s.

Our date gets off to a perfect start. One foot inside the restaurant is enough to trigger a beaming enquiry, delivered in fabulous Italian style, by an immaculately dressed staff member: “Aha! You are here for Jane?”

I am led to the appealing if wind-swept balcony, where the famous author plus son are seated at the best table in the house, overlooking the sea.

“What are you going to have?” asks Jane, pointing to a menu written in what I assume is Italian.
She might as well have presented a phonebook written in Sanskrit and asked who I wanted to call.

Then two remarkable things happen.

The sun emerges, to drive away the chill. And Jane graciously translates the dishes, beginning with a lengthy harangue about what I wouldn’t like – anything fishy, anything spicy and anything drizzled in anything. Hard to argue against that.

Surprisingly, this still leaves a more than decent choice, including what I would call a mixed grill. (Warning – if you’re looking for it, you’ll probably find it’s listed under an exotic title ending in ‘i’ or ‘o’.)

It turns out to be chicken, lamb, pork and steak – plus saute potatoes. Well, that’s amore, as Dean Martin used to sing.

After a couple of mouthfuls, I concede it is very amore indeed.

Choice of dessert is simple. Italian equals ice cream, in my book.

Bella! Carina! Jolly nice! Whatever language, lunch was as delightful as the weather and the company.

Meat pie can wait for another day.

Mike and Jane ate at:

  • Posillipo, 14 Albion Street, Broadstairs.
  • Open every day. 12.00 till 11pm
  • Phone  01843 601133 or visit www.posillipo.co.uk

Mike’s verdict: Bellissimo – friendly, smart, efficient, plus great food.

Jane says: I love it here x

(and you can read the original article here)

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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 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.

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 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.

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.

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

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…

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 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!

Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-don-t-want-new-town/story-28898016-detail/story.html
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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 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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Read the original post at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Wine-sugar-health-improvements/story-28528835-detail/story.html#ixzz3xM05vMp1
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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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Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-2015/story-28439560-detail/story.html#ixzz3wDfLKkfb
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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 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.

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!

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Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Rehabilitation-squalor-prison/story-27946509-detail/story.html
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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…

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

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

With friends like Mike :-)

Whenever I give one of my friends one of my books to read (some  are too tight-fisted to cough up for one themselves :-)) I always say the same thing: you can be brutally honest. Of course, people still feel they can’t be. One pal took months to admit she hated my third novel with a passion, after loving the first two, thinking that by saying that, she’d upset me. Actually I was fascinated. It was illuminating to hear what had affected her so badly and we had a really interesting exchange as a result.

Refreshingly, My-mate-Mike, my fellow-columnist on the Isle of Thanet Gazette DSC_3476has no such inhibitions. I wouldn’t normally shove a review in front of you but the running commentary spread over several emails, made me laugh so much, I thought I’d post  the edited highlights. (The dots are where I’ve removed a spoiler – just in case after reading this, anyone still feels like braving the PRIME TIME. The Italics are mine. ) It’s been good to see how one of my books – primarily aimed at the female market – goes down with a chap too. Could he possibly empathise with the heroine? It seems not…

cover - prime-time (med)

“I’m enjoying the plot but developed an early and intense dislike for the central character. No wonder hubby cleared off.”

“Not a difficult choice when the alternative is a wine-saturated busybody, always wittering about her internal workings.”

“Too much wine and whine in first 100 pages.”

“What the hell’s it got to do with her if he….? Surprised he didn’t smack her when she started quizzing him.”

“I trust you have planned a suitably hideous end for her.”

“Don’t like the sulky son or the oily television bloke, either.”

“Really enjoying it, especially now she’s …… Very droll and picking up pace splendidly. Still hope central character comes to a distressing end.”

“I reckon oily tv bloke will turn out to be a ******” (NB he was wrong)

“Looks as if the raddled woman might finish up with ….. Serves her right.”

“Your best book so far, by a mile. Can’t understand why it was nominated in the romantic comedy section…”

“Didn’t find a typo for more than 200 pages, then two more followed quickly, but three in 300 pages is a miracle nowadays. I trust they sacked the myopic work experience dunce who allegedly roof-read ……” (Insert title of one of my previous books) (Not sure if this is Mike being hilarious or he really left the “p” out…)

“I shall be sad when I’ve finished – which is the highest compliment anyone can pay an author! ”

“Wonderful! So the two ghastlies finished up ….”

“A very good modern morality tale, which I think is too profound to deserve a rom-com tag. ”

“Wonderful! Apart from the beginning….”

Thank you, Mike! Reviewer to the Non-Faint-Hearted.

Am sure if YOU’D like a no-holds barred review for your magnus opus, I can probably persuade him to oblige… 🙂

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.

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.

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?

Prime Time paperback is now out!

Prime Time is officially out now!  I am bracing myself to start peering in bookshops (does one copy mean they’ve sold em all or is that  all they ever had?) and am just about recovered from the local bash last Saturday – coined by my fellow columnist on the Isle of Thanet Gazette, Mike Pearce (pictured below), as “The Launch that faced a thousand quips“. This is one of his….
The paperback version is available here and the Kindle version here.