Very thrilled by this lovely review. Thank you Emma! x

Very thrilled by Emma’s review:

I’ve known Jane Wenham-Jones for years. A real life-enhancer, usually sporting rainbow-coloured hair, Jane writes novels, short stories and columns, interviews authors at literary events and often pops up on TV and radio too. It’s been a while since she wrote a novel though so I was eagerly anticipating her new book, Mum in the Middle.

I’m pleased to report that it’s a cracker of a book, mainly because Jane has chosen a subject that’s all too pertinent to our lives.

Tess, the star of the book, is the archetypal sandwich mum. In other words, she’s desperately worried about her mother, who’s showing the first signs of dementia and has a tendency to wander off unexpectedly, often in her nightie, and about her three children, who are supposed to be grown-ups but keep boomeranging back to the family home. At the same time, divorcee Tess is desperately trying to make a new life in a new town, find friends and keep her freelance designer job on track.

Jane writes about all these things with wisdom, humour and real insight. Tess herself feels very real, the sort of person you’d like to have as a friend – which, come to think of it, is pretty much like Jane herself.

My favourite character of all is Malcolm, the gruff local newspaper editor who befriends Tess. Grumpy and kind-hearted by turns, he’s been married twice, drinks too much and has a tendency to fly off the handle when young reporters get stories spectacularly wrong.

Mum in the Middle is an enjoyable read, poignant and funny by turns. If you’re caring for your elderly parents while supporting your teenage and 20-something children this is definitely the book for you.

Mum in the Middle by Jane Wenham-Jones (HarperImpulse, £7.99)

 

Jane’s latest novel… coming soon!

So exciting… Jane’s new novel is going to be published on 15th June.

‘Fresh, funny and wise’ – Katie Fforde

Tess has downsized to a lively new town and is ready for ‘me’ time. But her Zen-like calm is tested by her boomerang offspring, who keep fluttering back to the nest (usually with a full bag of dirty washing) and by her elderly mother’s struggle to hold on to her independence.

Tess is also surprised to discover that there are dark resentments simmering beneath the vintage charm of her new hometown and a spate of vandalism has exposed the rift between the townsfolk and new arrivals like Tess.

Tess enlists the help of gruff newspaper editor Malcolm to get to the bottom of the mystery but when her ex-husband pays an unexpected visit and her mother stages a disappearance, Tess starts to feel her new-found freedom wearing just a little thin…

Pre-order your copy now from Amazon and available from all good bookshops online and in the real world from 15th June…

Write Around The Isle and BroadstairsLit

Literary gatherings have been popping up left, right and centre – I go to quite a few of them myself – and there are now more LitFests in Britain than you can shake a stick at. But none, I feel confident in saying, are quite like our own homegrown BroadstairsLit – a collection of writing-inspired and book-themed events that will last not just for the weekend, Ladies and Gentlemen, nor even a full fortnight but – all through the year!

Conceived over a series of mineral waters, coffees and the odd gin (that was me!) the model has taken a bit of tweaking but we now have a line up of stalwart volunteers (step forward Denise Martin-Harker of Dickens Festival Fame – if you went along to this year’s extravaganza you’ll know this lady can organise with bells on! – and Lee and Jacqui Wellbrook, the powers behind all sorts of good local events and her right-hand men for the above). I am to be the resident interviewer (nothing I like better than the sound of my own voice and the weight of a mic in my hand)  and we kicked off with our first event back in June.

 

‘A cup of tea with The Archers’  was a sell-out. I am passionate about the long-running radio four soap but even I was surprised at the depth of devotion filling the Broadstairs Pavilion when scriptwriter Keri Davies joined the beautiful actress Annabelle Dowler who plays Kirsty Miller, and Trevor Harrison, the actor behind Eddie Grundy, to talk about life in Ambridge. One hundred and eighty happy beverage-drinkers listened enthralled  as Annabelle spilled the beans on whether Kirsty really goes in for a proper snog or simply kisses the back of her hand during love scenes, Keri explained the reason why so many of the characters speak with their mouths full and Trevor Harrison – delighting the audience with a burst of his Eddie voice – shared his joy at the Grundys finally getting back to Grange Farm.

As fans queued afterwards for photo opportunities, the delight was palpable.  One local, making a strange bobbing motion as she held out her pen for a Grundy autograph, seemed almost unsteady on her feet. She’d just stopped herself from dropping a curtsey!

The next event on our calendar is 24th September: a cream tea with Hallie Rubenhold – the power behind the ITV series Harlots – and Lucinda Hawksley, great great great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens himself. They will be talking about Harris’s List, the 18th/19th century underworld and those who influenced the great man. Hear Denise talking about them here.

Excitements for the future include Sir Tony Robinson of Baldrick fame on 10thMarch 2018, and top authors Katie Fforde and Peter James when we’ve all coordinated our diaries. Keep an eye on www.broadstairslit.co.uk and watch this space….

And follow BroadstairsLit on Twitter.

You can read this original article at https://theisleofthanetnews.com/write-around-the-isle-and-broadstairslit-with-jane-wenham-jones.

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)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This first appeared in Woman’s Weekly Fiction in 2010. Can’t say much has changed…. 🙂

Happy Valentine’s Day!

vintage-635259_640You might think that someone who has spent a great deal of her writerly life dealing in romance in one form or other, would embrace the celebration of St Valentine with open arms. You may imagine your average author of romantic fiction as a hearts and flowers sort of woman; floating about the home in pink chiffon, exchanging Snugglebum messages with Coochie-face, preparing heart-shaped salmon delights and chocolate coated strawberries in champagne, while the deliveryman arrives bent beneath the weight of lavish floral gifts. Not in this house.

rose-1215314_640My theory is that we scribes make up romance for the same reason as so many millions read it. It’s in jolly short supply in real life.

It would be fair to say that in the last twenty years I have generally received a card on Valentine’s Day and more often than not, some roses to boot. This is largely by dint of writing instructions in large felt tip in my husband’s diary mid-January and by teaching my son, as soon as he could speak, to repeat “Buy Mummy Flowers” whenever I gave him a Pavlovian shove through the door of his father’s study.

painting-63186_640We never go out to dinner on February 14th – all those other couples slobbering over each other is enough to put anyone off their Nipples-of-Venus-to-share – and a general air of relief descends when the day’s over and we can go back to shouting as usual.

A quick straw poll among my friends suggests we are not unique.  In novels, men may be tall, dark, handsome and capable of producing tickets for a romantic break in Paris without being asked but in reality, in my experience, they are more likely to shriek “How much?” and remind you that there’s an important league match that weekend and the only thing they’ll be holding close is the remote control.

rabbit-1312581_640The myth continues because, even if we find the whole “Bunnykins” thing pretty  cringey ourselves,  we live in hope that our fictional heroes who have the florist on speed-dial and understand about candlelight and Belgian chocolate and the element of surprise are out there somewhere. Even if the evidence to the contrary – “they double the price on Valentines Day / I can’t see what I’m eating / Won’t that make you fat? / You get it and put it on my credit card” – is overwhelming.  And that, dear reader, concludes my entire fount of knowledge on things romantic.

heart-1668185_640I wish someone would believe me. But no, it is assumed if I write romantic comedy I must be something of an authority the matter of lurve. Over the years a variety of magazine editors, radio producers and fellow hacks doing the Ten Top Tips trick when there’s nothing else to say, have called upon me to dispense wisdom on everything from handling a first date to spicing up one’s marriage to how to cope when he lives a continent away (sounds ideal to me).

audio-1844798_640I once choked on air having just heard myself introduced by one regional radio station (clearly desperate to fill five minutes before the travel news) as a “relationships expert” and finding I was being called upon to offer advice to Helen who felt Kevin no longer loved her, when I’d thought I was just there to plug a novel. “A special night out,” I suggested vaguely, trawling my memory for every cliché from every agony aunt page I’d ever read. “A quiet night in when you can really talk… Communication is so important,”  I simpered, getting into my stride, even though I knew that Kevin, as previously discussed, would rather watch the boxing and will be aghast when Helen serves up chicken a la mode, in the dark, instead.

erotica-979543_640But there are worse things to be asked to do and it’s just happened again.  Another call from the well-meaning wanting me to give a workshop. “We’ve got someone to do Crime,” she says brightly, “and a very nice gentlemen in charge of Sci Fi. Perhaps you can give us a few words on Romance and Erotica….” I most certainly can’t.

bdsm-1203191_640The only time I ever attempted to write anything erotic, the magazine in question gave up on my descriptions of passion and wrote the end in themselves. I can’t do body parts, I can’t do moaning and writhing,  I feel saying silly saying “nipple” (yes I know I said it earlier but that was a pudding) and even in my raunchiest novel where every single character is at it in some form or other, I still flinch from the squelchy bits.

I try to make this sound intelligent.  “I tend to believe less is more,” I offer. “The brain is the most potent of the sexual organs and arousal is often mental not physical. I see nothing wrong in closing the bedroom door and leaving much to the imagination.” “Perhaps just the romance then…” she says.

winter-1937626_640I am planning my opening address.

A good hero should be tall and handsome, kind and sensitive, and given to unexpected acts of generosity in the city break and floral departments.

Even if you have to write it down for him first…

***

valentines-day-full-small

Plain Jane 281016: A fond farewell from Jane and Mike

plain-jane-281016-replyProud to see that in the final copy of the Isle of Thanet Gazette I appear in, I have made it onto the letters’ page as both “idiotic” AND “inane”…  🙂

I’m sad to be saying goodbye to a column I’ve written for fourteen years but could not in all conscience and in respect for all other freelancers, write it for nothing (which was the only choice on offer).

So here are our final thoughts before we’re over and out.

Over to Mike Pearce first…

THE GRUMPY old man has left the building.

This is my final column and already I hear the cheers from the hipsters, the fraudsters, the spongers, the arty-tarty fakes, the posers, the far-left rabble-rousers and – well, probably anyone born after 1976.

But in a moment of untypical selflessness, let me give you, the readers, the final say.

Over the years you have said plenty, by email, post, phone and even by turning up on my doorstep.

Some, as is the way of such things, has been critical, abusive, obscene and very occasionally slightly menacing. But, as Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

As an ardent admirer of alliteration, I tip my hat to the man who wrote to the Gazette to dismiss my arguments as “geriatric garbage”.

For irony, it’s hard to beat the chap who accused me of wanting to stifle free speech – and in the next sentence, demanded that my column should be axed.

Nil points for the pompous Facebook fellow, who, after denying having heard of me or my column, offered his critical analysis: “Pearce is a poor writer”!

Later he accused me of “trying to be provocative, but failing”. What provoked him to write that, I wonder? He seems the type who likes to hold centre stage, so let’s not bother with his name

In the “Is that good, or is that bad?” category, a nomination for the man who described me to my celebrity co-columnist and dear friend Jane as “The bloke who writes the weeks that you don’t.”

And the other one, who suggested to her: “He’s very right wing, isn’t he?”

Not so much hurtful as surprising was the cheery assessment by one writer that I “look like a chap who enjoys a drink”. 

After being nearly teetotal for 15 years, if only!

No criticism can be attached to the critic who pointed out: “He likes a moan, that one.”

I blame the world for giving me ever-more things to moan about.

The privilege of being afforded a column cannot be over-stated – the chance to champion causes that might otherwise go unheard; to expose lies that might go unchallenged; to prick the vanities of the great and the good.

While researching topics, I have been lucky enough to tour Ramsgate Tunnels (fabulous), Dreamland (loved the dodg’ems), the Turner Centre (oh dear!), Ramsgate’s Petticoat Lane Emporium (unpretentious and fun), Margate Old Town (pretentious and not much fun) and to examine in very great detail what’s going right and what’s going wrong at this crucial stage in Thanet’s development.

I do hope there will still be a voice for those who can see through Emperors’ clothes; who object to money being thrown at self-indulgent whimsies when there are so many real-world problems; who see the folly of trying to revive the rotting corpse of Manston airport; who still believe politicians should be there to serve the community, not stoke their egos.

I shall remain grateful for the opportunity the column has given to make new friendships, sometimes with people whose ages, beliefs, passions and ideologies are a million miles from my own.

And finally, let me tip my hat to Janet from Margate, who was kind enough to write and say: “I don’t think you’re deeply unpleasant”.

Praise indeed.

***

plain-jane-281016-blogAfter nearly six hundred columns for this good newspaper, it is time for me to hang up my hat too.

There are those who will shout good riddance. The anti-Manston protestor who told me I was “worse than Goebbels” for wanting to save the airport, the councillor who attempted to argue the use of the apostrophe with me (I bow to no one in my command of the possessive), the elderly lady who warned me I drank too much and claimed my hair would fall out if I insisted on dying it pink and blue, and the regular and anonymous correspondent who never failed to tell me what rubbish I spouted.

But I also have a drawerful of letters  – yes, real ones with a stamp and envelope – and many, many emails that have touched me beyond measure. I thank you for the comments, the tip-offs, the invitations, the cards and the occasional dodgy present.

I will always appreciate the time readers have taken to stop to speak to me when they have enjoyed – or thoroughly disagreed with – something I have written and I will treasure for ever the beautifully hand-inscribed and indignant missive sent to Gazette Towers from the chap who’d heard me on the radio and wanted to share his mother’s unwavering good judgement that I sounded “a right cow.”  

As Mike-don’t-get-me-started Pearce – to whom I owe the opportunity in the first place (he upset people even more before he retired as editor),  has intimated:  having a space here has been an honour and a joy. But all good things come to an end – often when the money runs out – and our media has changed beyond measure since I first appeared on these pages in 2002.

I shall still be sounding off  on Facebook where I’m happy to be friends (unless you claim to be a General in the US army or have serial killer’s eyes) and blogging on janewenhamjones.wordpress.com if you find you’re missing me.

I shall certainly miss all of you. xx

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

plain-jane-211016-blogSince writing this I have been told (by a usually-reliable source) that the Thanet Way is built on London clay and is “undulating”. So, if true (anybody else heard anything?) it seems there may be method in the madness after all. It is still a bloody nuisance…

***

Signs of madness on the Thanet Way. Has some new recruit at the Department of Transport held a map the wrong way up, or an old retainer finally flipped and lost the plot? Driving to Guildford for the book festival last Thursday, I was startled to find new signs proclaiming a 50mph speed limit from shortly after I joined the road, until the turning for Dargate. Everyone was merrily ignoring them when I hared back the same way on Friday afternoon but no doubt it is only a matter of time before the evil cameras are installed. What is going on? Is the Government that short of revenue? As someone who has sat through a recent “speed awareness” course for the heinous crime of doing 81 on a clear motorway – an hour in, I was wishing I’d taken the points – I am fully conversant with the dangers of driving too fast in certain conditions. I would like to see more stringent controls, for example,  on the rate at which some senseless idiots roar through towns or down residential streets where children might be crossing or the elderly could quite easily be mown down. But there is no logical reason I can see  to slow the traffic on an open, straight road that is rarely congested. On Saturday lunchtime when I once again hit the dual carriageway – this time to interview the fabulous chef Angela Hartnett for Whitlit Food – the highway was almost deserted. Yet I was expected to hobble along at twenty miles less than I’ve been travelling at for the whole of my driving life. Google has not been particularly helpful in tracking down who might be responsible and I lost the will to live halfway through a document entitled “an interim evaluation of the implementation of speed limits summary report” which seemed to be concentrating on the comparative benefits of 20mph limits in Portsmouth. I did glean, however, that in some circumstances, district councils have influence to set speed limits in their local area. Kippers – please tell me this isn’t down to you…

WHAT certainly is down to anyone of a UKIP persuasion (along with the misguided, ill-informed and deluded) is the state of the pound – at, as I write,  an all-time low against both Euro and dollar and showing no sign of recovery any time soon. Great news to go with the announcement that a hard Brexit will cost the Treasury a possible 66 billion pounds a year in lost revenue, as our GDP also slumps. Well done people – especially those who fell for the line about all that extra dosh for the NHS. Frankly, I’ve got no sympathy if your Persil and PG tips is now going to cost more, although I too was shaken by the stand-off between Tesco and Unilever over price hikes. I knew the disaster of 23rd June would affect holidays and jobs and health care staffing and our children’s futures. But one still wants to cling to the notion that in Britain as we know it, some things are sacred. A civilised society relies on a fair judiciary, basic freedoms of speech, a belief in equality, compassion in plenty and, whatever else is falling apart, a ready supply of Marmite.

EIGHTEEN days to go till the US presidential elections and a final conclusion to the spectacle that has been Donald Trump. Anyone already in despair at the state of a world in which “clowns” go on the rampage and terrify innocent civilians, should be  sending up a prayer. Please may the blind of America finally see Trump for the bigoted, racist, sexist, groping moron he is. And not let the most powerful post  in the world be filled by the biggest clown of them all.

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

Plain Jane 290716Don’t ever let it be said there’s nothing to do in Thanet. For those wishing to be entertained, the excitement kicks off this evening (Friday 29th) with a meeting of Momentum Thanet to be held at Broad Street Hall in Ramsgate to “help re-elect Jeremy Corbyn”. I should get there early if you want a seat as I  imagine it will be packed out with gleeful Tories. Since if/when the machinations work and  Mr Corbyn does get re-elected, we can kiss goodbye to any notion of a Labour government for the foreseeable, and, more worryingly, any sort of viable opposition to the present incumbents right now. I’ve probably heard the word “democracy” bandied about more in the last four weeks than in five years before that. But even those keen to define it for their own ends, will agree that it is dependent on the existence of a strong, credible challenge to whoever is in power. Or, as one Mark Taylor as @MaGaTa76 on Twitter said of Prime Minister’s Questions: She had Corbyn for breakfast, without even turning on the toaster.

I AM especially keen on local pursuits in summer. And shudder at the thought of a holiday when the schools are out. I fear it will be too crowded, with too many screaming kids, displays of burnt flesh, hold-ups and delays. And I’ve never seen the sense in leaving the country just when we have a fighting chance of the sun coming out at home. The time to venture abroad, surely,  is spring or autumn when our good weather is yet to appear or long gone, and the best way to deal with late July and August is to hide in one’s garden with occasional sorties to see Broadstairs Folk Week (starting this time next week) alongside half the population of Chatham. My heart, however, went out to the thousands trapped in their cars last week, in that heat, without access to toilet facilities or water, many with small children in tow, in the long queues to get into the port of Dover. It looked and sounded utterly ghastly and it was touching to hear stories of a blitz spirit emerging, with surrounding residents helping out, football being played and even a game of tennis taking place over the central reservation. I hope the situation improves from now on – and nobody has to go through that again. But if we could all hold the scene in our heads for one last minute, I’d like to whisper one small word which might not sound quite so bad now. RiverOak. Followed by: Manston Airport

FOR OTHERS planning to stay put, how delightful to see that Stagecoach are offering us all the chance to “Go topless in Thanet this summer” (clearly no expense spared there in the pursuit of razor-witted PR) with the return of the open-top buses to the area. For the first time in nearly 25 years, you can feel the sea breeze in your hair  on what they promise will be a “jaunty” journey along the coastline from Ramsgate Boating Pool and Stone Bay in Broadstairs. It is particularly heartening in these times of austerity to see that tickets have not been greedily priced. (Am I the only one who thinks it a trifle rich that the party claiming to be the biggest champions of the poor, are charging £25  a throw to have a say in its future?) A single journey for a child is a quid with the bargain family dayrider coming in at only £5.50. Meaning that you can choose between unlimited journeys  all day for two adults and three children – or one adult and four children – and have a lovely time looking down at our sandy shores or buy a fifth of a vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

 

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 220416: I might give Wetherspoon another chance

Plain Jane 220416Celebratory times! Manchester City make the last four in the Champions League, the Queen – longest serving British Monarch – hits 90 (Happy Birthday Your Maj.); the Turner Contemporary marks its five year anniversary, and both Albion House in Ramsgate and Sands Hotel in Margate make the The Times list of Best Places by the Sea.

And I, dear reader, in a rare double departure – what you football fans might like to see as my own personal Blue Moon Rising – find myself simultaneously agreeing with my curmudgeonly colleague Mike Pearce and expressing praise for the cabinet members of Thanet District Council. Excuse me while I take a small lie-down.

I have always been rather sniffy about J D Wetherspoon, mainly because back in 2003 I offered to open their latest acquisition in Hertford – rumoured to be about to be named The Last Witch (who, those up on their 18th century history will know, was one Jane Wenham) – and they turned me down and called it something else.  Mike, however, is a fan – expressing his approval in this paper three weeks back; my son thinks highly of them – citing good ale and cheap burgers – and  I’ve now discovered that Tim Martin, founder and Chairman, has an entire business plan based on an essay by George Orwell.

This may be a slight exaggeration – it was a journalist who first made the comparison between a Wetherspoon establishment and the fictional and idealised The Moon Under Water hostelry that Mr Orwell dreamt of, and Mr Martin then gave over a dozen of his own drinking holes the same name.  But I still feel it shows  a certain level of taste and  discernment (so sadly lacking 13 years ago) and has caused me to rethink the whole Wetherspoon in the Royal Pavilion, Ramsgate debate.

The great George O listed ten attributes he considered essential for his perfect  pub – some of which don’t seem entirely necessary  (the selling of stamps and aspirin) or even desirable (the serving of boiled jam roll) (urgh)  but do which include the laudable requirements that it should boast regulars and the barmaid should know customers by name. He also wished the place to be quiet enough for conversation (remember that?) and to have a garden. The Moon Under Water , wrote Orwell wistfully, was “only two minutes from a bus stop but…. drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights.”  I think we’ll be lucky to achieve that one on Ramsgate seafront but as one who considers the demise of the British “Local” as the biggest single contribution to the breakdown of the fabric of society (along with libraries being full of DVDs instead of books and the sub post offices being squeezed out) I am all for anyone even vaguely bent on recreating some of its qualities. I would also like to see the historic Pavilion properly preserved (I still have fond memories of the faded glamour of the casino Tiberius) and a chain like J D Wetherspoon will at least have the dosh to do it. Better this than it fall into further disrepair.

So the recent decision taken by councillors to continue with negotiations between Rank (holders of lease) and Wetherspoon’s, with a view to the latter taking on the building “to contribute to the regeneration of the area” is probably on balance, and as Mike Pearce himself expounded, good news. Especially if paired with a commitment  to upholding Orwell’s vision. For the ideal barmaids, according to the late author, are all middle-aged woman with “their hair dyed in quite surprising shades.”

If Tim Martin’s that keen, he can hire me after all…

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