Jane remembers 2016

jwj-remembers-2016At midnight on 31st December I was travelling by car through the bottom of Broadstairs.  In Ramsgate, minutes earlier, they’d been spilling out of pubs, crowding along the waterfront, waiting for fireworks. Three miles down the road the pavements were deserted. You could almost see the tumbleweed blowing along Albion Street. I could only imagine that all the revellers were huddled behind doors – The Dolphin looked pretty crammed through its steamed up windows – in case 2016 had one final act of retribution up its sleeve. Nothing would have surprised me. In a year that saw us voting to shoot ourselves in our collective foot, our prime minister resigning, horrific acts of terrorism across Europe, losing an incredible amount of artistic talent, and gaining Trump while strangers crawled all over other strangers’ gardens looking for Pokemon, frankly anything could have happened. Now we are safely through to 2017, it’s time to breathe out and look back in wonder at the local highlights and national low-lives of the past twelve months.

A THUMBS UP FOR:

New outlets, increased business and general let’s-go wow factor in all three main towns. Margate Old Town gets ever more cutesy and the Harbour Arm continues to thrive with all units taken since the  latest addition to this snazzy food and drink destination – Mala Kaffe – in the spring.   2016 also brought the two-millionth visitor to the Turner Contemporary. Lucky teacher Linda Tucker was presented with a bottle of fizz when she walked through the gallery’s doors in June.

Over in Ramsgate, more restaurants and bars have popped up along Military Road in the old fishermen’s arches alongside such favourites as The Arch and The Greek Arch – and weren’t the lights on the boats gorgeous this year? Down in Pegwell Village, Frank Thorley – 81 this year and still working seven days a week – presided over the opening of the Seaview Bar & Restaurant – and extension to The Stanley Grey pub. I took Mike-humbug-Pearce (dining criteria: no kids, no office parties, nothing foreign, nothing spicy, no fish) along there for our annual pre-Christmas lunch and even he liked it.

In Broadstairs, despite the continuing blots on the landscape that are Costa and Iceland, the prevailing tradition of independent shops and eateries is upheld with the opening of teeny, acclaimed Stark by Michelin-starred chef Ben Crittenden, Taylors Seafood Restaurant and cocktail bar on the site of what was once the Rose pub, and the under-new-ownership, being-revamped-as-we-speak, Fish & Beer bar and restaurant, reopening on 27th January as The Reef.

Meanwhile, Micropubs continue to mushroom all over the Isle stretching from the Hair of the Dog in Minster to the Wheel Alehouse in Birchington. I am convinced most of society’s ills can be laid at the now-closed door of “The Local” (The Dane Valley Arms is the latest to be demolished)  so this is all good and worth its own small round of applause. 2016 additions include Nautic Ales at Northwood and Mind the Gap in Broadstairs, next to Houdini’s – our first “magic” bar…

My personal culinary discovery of the year goes to the London Tavern, Margate for their fab food and utterly superlativeburger. They do real ale too.

A DROPPED JAW AT:

Nigel Farage being shortlisted for Time magazine’s Person of the Year award.

(And then Donald Trump winning it.)

SHOCK OF THE YEAR

A dual award given to 23rd June and November 8th 2016. No doubt there was much rejoicing on the morning after the referendum in Kipper Towers (aka Thanet District Council) but most sane people I know were walking about in a fog of shock and bereavement. Waking up on 9th November to find a buffoon with no political experience whatsoever now had his finger on the nuclear button, it felt as if the world had ended twice.  My friend, the award-winning restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin, tweeted simply: “There are no more jokes”.

Which as it’s turned out there won’t be, tragically, from some of our brightest stars. We bid farewell to Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Ronnie Corbett, Sir Terry Wogan, TV comedy writer Carla Lane, ascerbic and brilliantly witty journalist AA Gill.

OTHER (NON) EVENTS

Meanwhile work started, and was then halted, in Ramsgate on what is rumoured to become the biggest Wetherspoons of all time and Margate house prices surged beyond all other seaside towns. Perhaps because, while commuters in other parts of the country faced unrelenting misery, our hi- speed trains mostly ran on time.

Tracy Emin “married” a lump of rock, Emeli Sande’s music video for her single “Hurts” filmed on Botany Bay collected over ten million hits on YouTube, Margate Caves got lottery funding, and new dog waste bag dispensers were introduced. Well done TDC. (And you didn’t think you’d hear ME say that in this decade, did you?)

Which leaves me to conclude it’s not been all bad. May I wish you health, wealth and happiness in 2017. It can only get better now. (Can’t it?)

Happy New Year! xx

Plain Jane 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 100516: I might give Channel Tunnel another chance

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

Yes, well done, you at the back, Roger Bannister did indeed break the four-minute mile on that date in 1954.  Just six years before Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act on the same day as Princess Margaret married Tony Armstrong-Jones and a year after Tony Blair was born. As it happens, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, a little later in 1966, were also sentenced to life imprisonment on May 6th and it was Orson Welles’ birthday. (Never let it be said your local newspaper does not have the enhancement of your general knowledge and possible potential to win on Eggheads at heart.)

But I was thinking of something a bit closer to home.  Clue: it happened just up the road here in Kent, the Queen was there, and despite the worst of the fear-mongering, we didn’t all get wiped out by rabies.

I speak of course of the opening of the Channel Tunnel.

It was on this very day, back in 1994 that the sub-aqua link between England and France was officially opened by Her Majesty and President Mitterand.

I have no recollection of it at all and can only assume that  since I had spent the previous twelve months in a haze of exhaustion after the arrival of The Child That Never Slept, that I was probably having  a catnap when the news footage came on, the whole event thus passing me by.

I have now been belatedly mugging up and can tell you that the structure, recognized as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers, on a par with the Empire State Building and the Panama Canal,  is 31.4 miles long, with an average depth of 50 metres below the seabed, and the longest undersea portion of any tunnel in the world.

I have only been through it twice. Whereas my highly risk-averse colleague Mr Mike You-won’t-get-me-up-there Pearce (he wouldn’t even come on the roller coaster at Dreamland) frets about falling out of the sky, I feel a slight sense of unease about all those tonnes of water hovering over my head.

So I hesitate to mention it, knowing  a proportion of the readership gets rather more exercised by my carbon footprint that I do (there was a small outcry and some  hilarious abuse when I once admitted flying to Manchester) but on the many occasions I have been to France since the tunnel opened, I have been inclined to let the plane take the strain.

Having, however, had the recent experience of being stuck in a traffic hold-up on the M25 (three hours), endless queues for security at Gatwick (at least half an hour longer than usual), an extra long wait on the runway after we’d “missed our slot” (a further forty-five minutes) and a ninety-minute flight during which the back of my seat was consistently and rhythmically kicked by the small boy sitting behind me, who also regularly shrieked, I am wondering if I should rethink.

Teaching here now at Chez Castillon in the Dordogne, up to an hour’s car ride from Bordeaux airport, I have been joined by two other Thanetians, who arrived fresh-faced and bright-eyed, having  made the journey from Broadstairs via the Eurotunnel shuttle,  in shorter time door-to-door than I had, and having had considerably more sleep. Perhaps it is time to put aside my fear of fire and flood and broken-down trains (in 2009, 2,000 passengers were trapped down there for 16 hours, a thought that fills me with horror and dread) remember instead the thousands of successful journeys that have been completed since and be brave for the 35 minutes it takes to cross beneath the Channel.

Sorry to inflame a different faction altogether, but it’s at times like these that I so miss Manston….

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You can read the original article at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Channel-Tunnel-chance/story-29252022-detail/story.html.

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

Plain Jane 110316“We’re almost there–” proclaims the latest shrink-wrapped brochure from Stone Hill Park, above a photo of children hopping, somewhat bizarrely, in sacks, through fields of what appears to be rapeseed flowers (was the farmer told?) and grinning fixedly for the camera.

By this, the powers behind the proposed development of Manston, mean they are almost ready to submit their proposals to Thanet District Council, which include “jobs, homes, community facilities and £75 million for local investment.” Ray Mallon, spokesman for the Stone Hill outfit, would have us believe it’s what most of us want. “We are finding that the more people hear the facts about what we intend to deliver, the more supportive they are,” he says. Not over here they’re not, Love. I still find the whole “new town” concept completely ghastly. What Messrs Cartner and Musgrave have done at Discovery Park is one thing – credit where credit is due for the excellent deployment of the abandoned Pfizer’s site – but I shudder at the thought of a massive housing estate plonked in the middle of one of our precious green spaces. Not to mention the traffic queues. Yes we need more homes but yes, we also have plenty of empty, disused buildings, pubs, shops and patches of wasteland that could be utilised to provide them too. I am loving the look of what is being done with the former Rank Hovis Factory in Ramsgate, for example, and am pleased to learn from last week’s Gazette that 58 new council homes are planned on 12 former garage sites. (Even if at a suggested cost of 10 million quid this makes them quite pricey in terms of build-costs per unit. I trust there’ll be some shopping around done.) Google has not immediately revealed exactly how many properties are currently empty in Thanet but it does offer the sobering fact that the figure was standing at almost 4,000 a few years ago and that there were 19,000 empty homes across Kent in 2012. The Empty Property Initiative has allegedly made some inroads into these but it would be heartening to see a lot more houses and flats refurbished before 2,500 new ones are stacked up either side of the runway. I suspect, however, that unless there’s a miracle, the “Stone Hill” plans will be bulldozed through. I just hope our good councillors will have the grace to remember the fine words and assurances so many of them gave while out canvassing last May. When they promised us, suckers that we were, an airport instead…

I confess I was not out last weekend, with my litter-picker, Clean for the Queen. It is not that I don’t wish Her Majesty a thoroughly delightful – and pristine – 90th Birthday but it does seem a little sad that we can’t already keep the place tidy – for US. I do not drop my rubbish on the pavement and have been known to pick up that of others’ if it is particularly unsightly. Or even, on one notable occasion, instruct one of those others to do it himself. (I remain bemused that the six-foot bloke, rugby-sized did obediently bend to retrieve his discarded kebab-in-wrapper while I berated him as though he were five and I were his mother.) And I can’t help feeling that those who did venture forth with a bin bag were those who would anyway, and those who don’t give a toss still won’t. At the time of writing the weekend is still in progress so who knows how much of a success it has been but if I’m wrong and this has worked a treat, then perhaps we can roll it out further. Could we pick up our dog poo for the Queen, stop our road rage for the Queen, be kind to animals and children, quit our pilfering, tackle our obesity and stop getting drunk on a Saturday night perhaps? While singing Happy Birthday!

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

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

As every man and his dog is wheeled on to tell us what to think, it is hard to know who to believe.

Will we go to hell in a handcart with millions of jobs lost and big companies moving out, leaving us to scrabble in the dust for the crumbs from the European trade table, unprotected against terrorism and isolated from all centres of influence and power?

Or will we be freer, happier and richer away from the tyranny of Brussels?

Will we easily secure an alternative workable trade agreement – some say yes, others shake their heads in sorrow – leaving us still able to prosper?

Or see ourselves left out in the cold after what the Prime Minister has repeatedly called a Leap in the Dark.

One suspects that nobody can answer these questions for certain and that bias abounds. Here in Thanet, Craig Mackinlay MP is an OUT man while at the last count, Sir Roger Gale was keeping his powder dry until after the negotiations.

The only thing we can be sure of is that over the coming weeks, as figures and statistics are bandied, refuted, reinvented and pulled back out of the hat, it will become more confusing not less, and that like it or love it, we will soon be heartily sick of the word “Europe”.

 

I AM SURE nobody reading last week’s Gazette could fail to be shocked by the plight of those sleeping in a shelter on Margate seafront in this cold weather or agree that homelessness is a sad indictment on our 21st century Britain.

I was however interested by the response from Lyn Fairbrass, TDC’s deputy leader and cabinet member for community services, when asked about the council’s decision to take legal action against the shelter occupants.

Ms Fairbrass claims that despite council visits to “encourage more suitable living arrangements” some of those huddled in sleeping bags are continuing to camp out.

I know from experience that it can be very difficult to help those who, for whatever reason, won’t help themselves, and I can understand surrounding businesses being concerned to see them moved on, but I do wonder this.

Instead of “support, housing advice and referrals” have these individuals sleeping on benches in the middle of February, actually been offered a roof over their heads and a front door key? And if not, why is that?

 

IT HAS LONG seemed to me that, as a general rule, women tend to get more feisty and eccentric as they get older while men get grumpier and more pedantic.

I make this observation in the hope that it is useful to any sweet young things planning to take advantage of the long tradition surrounding February 29 by getting down on one knee come Monday.

The extra day we gain in a Leap Year was historically the one occasion upon which a woman was permitted to ask a man to marry her, which might have seemed a good idea in the 13th century if he was looking unlikely to ever come up with the bright idea himself, but should perhaps be treated with caution in 2016.

Back then the average life expectancy for a male was 31.3 years with only the particularly hale and hearty making it to their 50s. Today it is 80-plus and counting, with an ever increasing number reaching the full century.

Meaning that if you marry at 25 you’ve got a very real chance of 70 years of wedded bliss (or otherwise) stretching ahead of you. That’s a hell of a lot of socks left on the floor.

Far be it from me to put the boot in on anyone’s notion of fairytale romance, but please girls, take a moment to consider before you whip out that ring. He might just say yes…

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Plain Jane 290116: Election gaffe

Plain Jane 290116Channel Four’s Michael Crick started it, the Electoral Commission is looking into it and now, according to Mr Crick’s blog, one Michael Barnbrook from Ramsgate, whose hobby is filing complaints, has gone so far as to contact Kent Police. I refer to the minor hoo-hah surrounding South Thanet election expenses on behalf of the Tories. Mr Barnbrook, who, charmingly, has spent time as a member of the both the BNP and Ukip, has made the complaint under sections of the 1983 Representation of the People Act which has various tedious things to say about election expenses, but the basic allegation is that the Thanet South Tories spent way too much.

The main excitement surrounds the Royal Harbour Hotel – a very nice gaff if I may say so – in Ramsgate, where, it is claimed, an assortment of Central Office campaigners were drafted in to stay over and fight the good fight in the battle against Ukip. Running up a bill that was over and above the amount permitted. Craig Mackinlay, our illustrious MP for Thanet South, who famously beat Nigel Farage back on May 7, had just had a tooth out when I phoned him to make enquiries, but bravely gave me the slightly muffled lowdown. “It was national expenditure,” he assured me, “and completely out of my control.”

Yes they descended from Central Office and cost money but that was because “the seat became a focus of the Ukip Conservative challenge across the country”. The world’s media were down here, he recalled, and had to be responded to. It was, Craig declared firmly, and for the second time “properly national expenditure”.

My view is this. It worked. We did not end up with a Ukip Member of Parliament and having to suffer the indignity of watching Farage followers strutting round Thanet. As far as I’m concerned, whatever it cost to keep the Kippers out was money very well spent.

It can come as no surprise that a recent Mori poll found that, when it comes to trusting others to tell the truth, the public favour their hairdressers over politicians. Just 16 per cent of Britons rely on MPs to come up trumps in the veracity stakes, compared to the 69 per cent of us who are ready to believe anything uttered by he or she who wields the scissors, putting the locks-snippers up there with doctors (90 per cent) and teachers (86 per cent). Journalists and estate agents get an equally bad press, with only 22 per cent of those polled trusting either group to be honest in what they say.

Of course we hacks are a sleazy lot – having to cope, as we do, with the irritating manner in which facts get in the way of a good story – and how would an estate agent ever sell anything if he answered sincerely about the damp and the woodworm and the thoroughly ghastly neighbours? But picture the chaos if politicians really did start to embrace the whole truth and nothing but.

Imagine a world in which they shared: “Frankly, I’m only in it for the power,” “The NHS is in deepest crisis” or “We’ve made a terrible cock-up with education.” It would shake the very foundations of the world as we know it. The political system on both a national and local level relies fundamentally on those who wish to be elected giving out a load of cobblers and us pretending to believe it. How else do you explain the overwhelming number of votes for a council who promised to clean up the streets and sort out rubbish collections.

And then re-open Manston?

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Plain Jane 010116: And so 2015 is over

Plain Jane 010116So 2015 is nearly over and I am struck by the people around me expressing gratitude. An “annus horribilis” as one beleaguered friend put it, in an echo of our own dear Queen in 1992, a year in which Windsor Castle caught fire and several of her family were splashed across the tabloids in a storm of marriage break-ups, cringey phone recordings and toe-sucking.

In Thanet, I would say, we have much to be thankful for – not least our distance above sea level – and I would regard the previous twelve months locally, as not a blanket disaster but more of a “mixed bag.”

On the Lows front, Manston did not re-open (although I did get some very entertaining abuse each time I bemoaned this) but high up on the list of Highs – we did not end up with a Ukip MP either. I can still recall the feeling of pure elation I felt when, high on lack of sleep and relief, I walked up the hill from the Winter Gardens to Forts Café for some restorative tea and toast and everyone seemed to be smiling.

True, we got a Kipper council instead – the strange, fervent, banner-waving rally they put on two days later is one of my more disturbing memories of 2015 – but as we know, overall control was short-lived. Praise be to heaven, etc.

New shops, bars and restaurants have opened and if I’m not mistaken, fewer seem to have closed. The old town in Margate, and Addington Street and The Arches in Ramsgate are looking particularly perky and even if Costa Coffee has joined Iceland as another blot on the Broadstairs landscape, the rest of the town is holding up well.

On the odd sortie to Birchington, it seems bustling, the villages are looking in good shape and of all the times I travelled to London on the high speed this year, it was only ever cancelled once (signals, not leaves).

And then the long awaited, newly reborn Dreamland opened! Reliving my teenage years – when an evening hanging round the funfair was a top night out – has been one of the year’s highlights. Especially the magical moment of trundling to the top of the scenic railway for the first time in nigh on 40 years. (Watching Mike Pearce’s face as he was accosted by two jolly young male greeters wearing a lot of make-up, was another!)

If I have a wish for Margate for 2016 it is that the amusement park shall prevail. Although I still think a pay-as-you-go approach– bums-on-seats, they’ll-soon-spend-money-once-they’re-in-there – would be the way forward. Together with the increasing cutesy-ness of the old town and the ongoing triumph of Turner Contemporary, I see Margate – and thus Thanet in general – set to carry on being the must-come destination for the beautiful young things of the capital – or another potential Dalston-on-sea, as the media whispers go. With, very possibly, real ale being the new glass of fizz.

As a few more pubs have sadly closed, the micropubs of Thanet continue to mushroom with approaching 20 establishments now dotting the Isle. In St Peters, The Yard of Ale has made the final four of Camra’s National Pub of the Year, while down the road The Four Candles in Sowell Street goes from strength to strength as the UK’s smallest micro-brewery (being helped to make my own beer there this year was another personal favourite – who knew it would be so hard to climb out of a “kettle”?).

The future is bright as the mobile phone advertisment used to say, so whatever sort of time you’ve had in the last 52 weeks, may 2016 be better. Happy New Year!

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

Plain Jane 041215I confess I have lost the plot when it comes to Manston.  Much as I continue to grieve for the heady days of KLM and flights to Schipol – gateway to the world – and would still chain myself to the runway for a daily flight to Spain, I can feel my eyes drooping at mention of CPOs, indemnities, Chris Wells (actually that’s true even without Manston) and consultations. That is, until I opened this paper last Friday and looked at the ghastliness that was the “vision” of how Manston could look.  Do we really want a mini Milton Keynes in our midst and how can it be good for the area  as a whole? One Ray Mallon (whose photo bears an uncanny resemblance to ex-council leader Clive Hart), spokesman for the site’s owners, talks of a planning application as soon as April, amid claims of creating 8,000 new jobs.  I don’t believe it.  Yes, 2,500 new homes will take some building and long-term, the extra families will create work for extra plumbers and electricians, hairdressers and  gutter-clearers. But where are those possible 5,000 inhabitants going to work themselves? Where are the dentists and doctors coming from? Where are the roads for the cars? I would submit that a properly-marketed airport offering travel to popular destinations for both business and leisure, that can serve the whole of the South-East, bringing more visitors and attracting more entrepreneurs would ultimately do more to swell the coffers of the local economy than the concreting over and plasticising of acres of green space to make a  glorified housing estate.

Those who pass their driving test on the third attempt make better drivers than those who sail through at the first try, a study carried out for LV Insurance has revealed. The theory  – borne out by statistics collated on collision and police involvement – is that the early passers are more likely to be over-confident and less experienced while the twice-failed have a tendency to exercise greater caution.  By this logic, I must be a near-genius behind the wheel. I eventually gained my licence thirty years ago after losing count of my trips to the test centre. There was the first, unforgettable occasion, when in my terror I jammed my instructor’s front door key into the ignition, it got stuck, and after five minutes of heavy sighing, the examiner stalked off. There was the second, when on sight of the same granite-faced official walking towards me, my leg shook so much I couldn’t hold down the clutch. There was the test cancelled because of the frost and the one where I left the handbrake on. There was the unscheduled emergency stop for the baby seagull (a bit harsh that one – what was I supposed to do? Pulverise it?)  and the slightly unfortunate misunderstanding at the roundabout. In those days you only had to get one cross on the sheet and you were out. The smiley examiner who finally passed me after the grim one had retired,  stopped smiling and looked suitably panic-struck when I flung my arms around him and demanded he marry me.  My son – with the smugness of one who passed first time aged 17 – refutes both the contents of the study and any suggestion of my superior prowess.  Who is better at reverse parking? I enquire. And rest my case.

The Government are investing £250 million in a quest to find an answer to Operation Stack, which, when ordinary motorists get caught up in the queues, is estimated to cost the Kent economy a million quid a day.  Could I suggest the dosh is used to get our own airport up and running again? With an area put aside for some of the lorries to reside on till the port or tunnel reopens?  And giving anyone with a car full of suitcases, screaming kids and a disgruntled granny, hoping for a break in France, the chance to simply fly?

See the original article at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Manston-driving-Manston/story-28291331-detail/story.html.

Plain Jane 231015: The power of reviewers

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

While I am all for paid-for feedback being clamped down on, I am more stunned that a few fictitious paragraphs of praise can have such a wide-reaching effect. In an undercover investigation by the Sunday Times, a book was propelled into the Amazon bestseller lists via £56 worth of bought-in approbation.

Are we all such sheep and where on earth were the trolls when we needed them? Reviews can be interesting – particularly when by journalists or “experts” we respect – but surely we need to remember that now everyone’s a critic it is best to take all views, both favourable and otherwise, with a pinch of salt and a mind on possible agendas.

If 453 members of Trip Advisor say the Hotel De-Spotless had cockroaches and faced an open sewer, it is probably prudent to stay elsewhere, but my heart goes out to the small family-run bistro that gets slated by a rival establishment or some resentful ignoramus whose wife’s just left him, and sees its bookings plummet as a result.

Yes, anybody with a product to sell, a song to sing or a book to write, is well advised to develop a skin of rhino thickness as part of the territory but as a buying public should we not remove the power of those warped or nasty enough to attempt manipulation by vowing to “Take As We Find”?

I rarely heed either extravagant praise or bitter criticism unless it comes in shedloads, but know to my cost how powerful even a small amount of toxic opinion can be.

I once had six negative reviews in as many days – all clearly written by the same person and all declaring I had been reviewing myself. A strange accusation (and one which Amazon took down as defamatory), as I have my fair share of detractors as well as fans. Particularly across the pond on amazon.com where they don’t hold back on the forthright appraisals. A habit, when it’s honest, that I rather applaud.

Yes, I winced at “this is the worst book I have ever read” (although there is a certain cache in topping any sort of list) but I remain cheered by the kind reader who praised my novel One Glass Is Never Enough (set in Thanet) for being “well written” with characters that were “engaging”, and summarising her response with the glowing and unbeatable accolade that my tale was “exactly the type of mindless fluff I like…”

I’m sorry to smirk further, but it is quite entertaining, is it not. We all suspected the shiny new Kipper council might not be quite the answer the short-sighted voters who elected them might have been hoping for – not least because only a handful of them had any sort of experience of local government – but even I expected Chris Wells to keep control a little longer.

Yet a mere five months after the slightly chilling raised armed cheering and flag-waving that heralded the Ukip crew taking office, we once again have a hung council in Thanet, thanks to the five defectors who have set up the Democratic Independent Group, DIG (a hole maybe?). In my idealistic, happy-clappy over-simplistic way I now have a small dream whereby DIG makes friends with the 18 Conservatives, four Labour members and the lone Independent, to form what is basically an alliance (however informal) to keep the Kippers proper at bay (they can get Manston up and running again with my blessing but I don’t trust them let loose on much else).

I was all for the Want Action Not Kippers agreement, but I was vetoed. Not in a family newspaper, said the lovely Ed sternly. So I had to think again. “Want Inspiration Not Kippers” perhaps?

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Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-power-reviewers/story-28034113-detail/story.html
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Plain Jane 310715: Time for a brew

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Photo by Brian Green

DEPRESSED by pub closures and the rise of alcopops? Good news is at hand. Sales of the cheap-booze-and-coloured-sugar drinks favoured by overgrown children are falling.

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Copies available from roystoncartoons.com or the Four Candles

And there are more brewers in the UK now than at any time since before the Second World War. We have Gordon Brown to thank for introducing the progressive beer tax back in 2002 (in a welcome change from plundering pension funds and flogging off the gold) which paved the way for the mushrooming of microbreweries, micropubs, and now the “microbrew pub” – the dinkiest of which is right here in Thanet. “We challenged CAMRA to name one smaller,” says Mike Beaumont, landlord of the Four Candles in Sowell Street, Broadstairs, “but they haven’t come back to us yet…”

I love this place. My great friend Janice works there, my stepson Paul helps with the brewing, and it’s an easy walk home. So although I’m not a natural ale drinker – more likely to be found clutching a glass of rosé than a porter or stout – when I am given the chance to create my own concoction, a treat offered to a privileged selection of lucky regulars, I scurry along.

I arrive at 8 am to find Mike waving a recipe sheet, while I have tea and reveal my ignorance. Had you asked me what beer was made of, I’d have murmured vaguely about hops. Turns out it is all about barley. We have decided I shall preside over a light summery pale ale (so you can drink more without falling over), thus the barley I will be using will be light in colour too. This is malted barley, Mike explains and the more it’s roasted the darker the beer will be. There followed a complicated lesson on the way sugar turns to alcohol to which I nodded a lot.

“The darker it is, the sweeter it is,” Mike concludes. “Guinness isn’t sweet,” I point out. “Oh it is,” replies Mike. I don’t argue that it is the bitterest thing I can think of apart from cooked avocado (I shall save my soup disaster for another week). What do I know?

Photo by Brian Green
Photo by Brian Green

We are going to produce 400 litres – or ten casks full. Casks may be referred to as firkins, but not barrels. Because a barrel is made of wood, and anyway it’s bigger, holding 36 gallons as opposed to nine. Exhausted after all this maths, I listen to an outline of the rest of the process and nod a bit more. Then Paul gives me a Health and Safety briefing about not falling down the stairs, and we descend into the cellar and don long rubber gloves (think a veterinary surgeon in Fifty Shades of Grey) to pour the liquor (very hot water to you and me) through the barley into the mash tun.

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

At this point, Brian Green, our photographer, arrives and my stepson suggests that, while the grain soaks for an hour-and-a-half, it will make a hilarious picture if I get into the kettle (the next stage of proceedings) and help Mike clean it. “How will I get out again?” I enquire dubiously. Answer: by treading on Mike and being shoved unceremoniously from behind.

This is the “farming side,” I am told. There is a scientific side too – which involves sterilisation galore. To this end, Paul begins to clean the casks with a caustic and bleach solution and I, somewhat damp and studded with barley bits, repair to check my emails. Mike is sticking a saccharometer – an odd-looking instrument designed to test sugar levels – into one-they-made-earlier with customer Ali, and frowning over a lot of complex-sounding calculations involving gravity and the ABV (alcohol by volume), required in order to pay the duty. (Gordon may have given the small brewers a boost, but they still have to cough up).

Photo by Brian Green
Photo by Brian Green

This done, I get to choose my hops. I opt for “Target” that smell of Christmas cake, to give a citrusy edge, and Mike advises Admiral to add bitterness. By now it’s time to pump the hot sugary water, known as “wort”, through a Heath Robinson-type array of pipes and tubes into the copper kettle. I add the hops, peer into the steam and get a beery facial. I have “Flocculation” written in my notes at this point. Sounds rude, but I think it is something to do with giving beer its foamy head.

While Paul cleans out the remaining “mash” – donated to hungry local goats – the wort is left to boil and Mike and I go forth to Gadds, well-known local brewery, and meet smiley senior brewer Jon Stringer, who shows me round this high-tech version of what Mike has going on under his floorboards.

Photo by Brian Green
Photo by Brian Green

Gadds supply the yeast. Could I make bread with this, I wonder aloud, as we take the foaming mixture back to our production line. (The answer to this turned out to be no. The resulting bricks defeated even the seagulls.)

After a fabulous lunch made by Mike’s Chinese wife Esther, and a guest appearance by his sunny-natured two-year-old, Alex, it is time for the final act of the day – the transfer of the fledgling beer through a heat exchanger into the fermenting vessel where I pour in the yeast, Paul does yet more cleaning and I retire for a glass of wine to celebrate my small sense of pride and achievement.

If it’s all gone well PJ’s – Plain Jane’s Ale – will be on sale this weekend. If I buggered it up, there’s always rosé…

pja2
Artwork by Ray Cannon
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Photo by Brian Green

 

PJ’s can be sampled at the Four Candles,

1 Sowell Street, Broadstairs. Open Tuesday to Sunday evenings from 5pm (6pm Sundays), Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes noon-3pm.

For more information visit www.thefourcandles.co.uk.

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Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Time-brew/story-27514849-detail/story.html
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Plain Jane 170715: I can be as judgemental as the next person

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

I don’t ask for details – they invariably involve pinball machines, model railways and making small children cry – but I am informed so I may take on the sole and solemn responsibility of scrutinising the Gazette’s letters page “in case anyone’s been rude about us”. He is always disappointed when they haven’t. He may feel let down once more, but there was plenty else to entertain and annoy him.

Two letters supporting the re-opening of Manston as an airport – that’s the spirit Ted Bennett and the nameless correspondent who was giving Dennis Franklin a run for his money – which would have Mike huffing, but Jingoism and Flog-em-and-hang-em sentiments respectively from a Mr Hearnshaw and Ms Russell of which he would approve. (I don’t call our Mr Pearce ‘Genghis’ for nothing).

What drew my attention was the sad plight of David O’Donnell from Margate who’d spent five hours driving to Oxford, and was complaining it was “stop, go, stop, go” until they’d only travelled four miles in 20 minutes. Count yourself lucky, Dave. On the day your letter appeared, I spent more than three hours driving to east London.

It was simply ‘stop’ on the M2 – a road we could once rely on – when the entire carriageway was blocked for over an hour due to an accident. “Do you feel an irrational rage against the person who caused this?” I asked a fellow driver, as many of us switched our engines off and wandered the tarmac in the sunshine. “I try not to be judgemental,” he replied loftily. I wish he’d been beside me when I drove back in the rain on Monday morning. Ahead of me on the Thanet Way, a white van (wouldn’t it be?) swerved and skidded before I gave it a wide berth, assuming it had aqua-planed on the wet road.

The driver only had one hand on the wheel as I passed; the other was extended before him, the better to read texts on the phone he was watching instead of the traffic. Judgemental? Yes, I can be…

Talking of which, I should perhaps apologise to the security chap who eventually let me out of East Kent College in Broadstairs last Tuesday evening after I was locked in the building following a Radio Kent broadcast from the studio there.

Despite, I might add, very specifically requesting of the staff member who should have known I was coming, but didn’t, that the door be left open. Luckily for all who work there, I am not a thief or a vandal and the computer equipment, books, paperwork and drawer contents to which I had full, unsupervised access until I was able to raise someone to release me, was safe at my hands.

I will still take the opportunity to temper the speech I delivered upon exit. Our local educational establishment is probably not the dimmest, most inefficient, hopelessly incompetent, shambolic organisation with the worst communication skills, I have ever had the misfortune to deal with. It just felt like it at the time.

Finally, I am grateful to the “other” Michael Pearce who wrote to this newspaper last week to inform us that there will be two full moons in July, a phenomenon that occurs occasionally due to there being 30 and 31 days in some months and a full moon occurring every 29. The second appearance, Mr Pearce reminds us, is known as a Blue Moon. He suggests we might use the opportunity to make a wish.

Those close to me might like to hastily book a jaunt of their own, instead. I have long noted that I become slightly deranged when there is a full moon. So friends and family – you lucky people – now you can look forward to my doing it TWICE…

***

Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-judgemental-person/story-26914798-detail/story.html
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Plain Jane. Isle of Thanet Gazette. Friday December 21st 2012

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

Happy Christmas anyway!

jxxx

***

What would make a perfect gift for Isle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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