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)

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….

*

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

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.

unnamed
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.

***

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 030715: Mike and Jane – Thrills at Dreamland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Thrills-spills-Dreamland-jolly-time-Mike/story-26820653-detail/story.html
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Plain Jane 010514: 11 years of writing about Thanet, and I’m not done yet

 

I have been writing this column for an astonishing 11 years – ever since I bludgeoned the then editor Mike Pearce, into giving me a corner of my own – in which time I have singularly failed to be head-hunted by Fleet Street. (Or even Wapping).

Do not misunderstand me dear readers – I love writing for the Isle of Thanet Gazette. I love the invitations, the occasional letters of praise, the fulsome abuse and the helpful suggestions for gripping subject matter to propound on next. (Thank you, Dora of Westbrook, I can see that your neighbour’s brother’s cat doing its business in your garden is annoying – especially when your husband’s bedroom slipper was involved – and yes, the wool shop should stay open till six.)

It is always gratifying to be able to give vent to one’s small rages and know that there’s an outside chance that the object of your griping will get to hear about them, but how much more satisfying it must be to p*** off the Prime Minster himself rather than just irk TDC’s head of planning.

(photo by Darron Broadhurst)
(photo by Darron Broadhurst)

How exciting, I have always thought, to be the Sunday Times’ India Knight, or the Guardian’s Lucy Mangan, there to make free with opinions, or the Weekend Guardian’s Tim Dowling, charged with sharing with the nation, the minutiae of his family life each week. What a fab job that must be!

So you can imagine my thrill and delight at finding myself on stage with all three columnists at the marvellous Chipping Norton Literary Festival last weekend, at which I got to ask the questions…

Was it a stress finding things to say every seven days, I enquired of Mr Dowling, reflecting how my own domestic bliss might err on the repetitive. (Got up late, listened to husband summarise entire country’s shortcomings, stared at largely blank computer screen for eight hours, picked up towels after son, opened wine…) Did he stalk the house demanding his spouse and offspring utter something amusing? It seems he has two or even three ideas on a Sunday night (THREE! I am usually scraping the inspiration barrel around the time the editor’s third e-mail arrives, demanding copy) and it’s all done and dusted in a couple of hours on a Monday morning.

India was eloquent on the continuing role of the professional journalist amongst a sea of bloggers and tweeters, and Lucy was graphic when describing her fondness for being rude about David Cameron. This was greeted by a slightly stunned silence from the good people of Chipping Norton. Which was no great surprise to me.

Plain Jane 010514Earlier I had interviewed our one-time MP for Thanet South, Jonathan Aitken, about his book on Margaret Thatcher. There was a time when the late PM was in opposition, he explained, when some felt that she was “divisive”. “And they were probably right…” I added mildly, feeling an immediate ripple of disapproval run round the theatre.

Feedback on the event was good – JA is nothing if not entertaining – despite, as one watcher wrote, “the lefty interviewer”.

This, I felt was an achievement, having never before progressed beyond Mike Pearce’s description of me as “dangerously pink”. (Possibly because I once admitted to a crush on Ann Widdecombe.) Lefty’s got to sound more cutting edge than wishy-washy liberal. Could the call from on high come any time soon…?

***

Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Jane-Wenham-Jones-11-years-writing-Thanet-m/story-21042974-detail/story.html

Plain Jane in the Isle of Thanet Gazette from Friday 21st June

Bit late getting this up here as have been away to the Winchester Writer’s Conference where I had the enormous privilege of hearing Julian Fellowes speak! Fabulous. Top quote: “just because nobody’s found you, it doesn’t mean you haven’t got it”. Could have listened to him for several more hours. I have come late to Downton Abbey (currently on series three of boxed set  so please don’t tell me what happens) but adore it. In love with Maggie Smith, Jim Carter and Lady Mary. ANYWAY, the column won’t be of particular interest to those of you living outside the fair Isle of Thanet as it is a rant about local parking (high cost and general inconvenience of/Council ineptitude over same).  But just in case and because  after an encouraging start with the new website, it is impossible to find online again, (My-mate-Mike eventually tracked me down but you wouldn’t know I’d written it if I hadn’t just told you), I am sticking it up all the same.

The basic premise of it is that there’s nothing like parking to bring out one’s inner tightness, but if you’ve nothing better to do you can read the whole lot HERE. Hope you are having a nice weekend even if the weather is shite. jxx

Plain Jane 210613 blog

With friends like Mike :-)

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

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

cover - prime-time (med)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wonderful! Apart from the beginning….”

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

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

My-Mate-Mike in the Isle of Thanet Gazette 28th December

isle-of-thanet-gazette2

Remember my excellent advice on coping when the old man is suddenly at home ALL BLOODY DAY?

My esteemed fellow columnist on the Gazette, Mike Bah-Humbug Pearce, has waded in with his own rantings on the matter. Still, keeps him busy, love him. He is retired, you know…

The perils of retired life by Mike Pearce 

SO WHERE were we before we were so rudely interrupted by Christmas?

Ah! yes, my columnist chum Jane Wenham-Jones was offering advice to a wimpy woman wanting to know how could she cope now her husband is retiring, which is like asking a flower how it’s going to cope now that the refreshing rain is on its way. All chaps know it is the MAN who will need help.

So agony aunt Jane and your new pal, please go off and have a natter while I reveal what he needs to know.

Dear Jim. Make sure you invest in a sat-nav.

You are now an on-demand chauffeur and your navigating spouse will invent a new compass point – There.

Whenever you ask “Where do we go?”, she will reply “Over there”. One lady told me, when we stopped at a T-junction, that we should go straight on.

Be prepared for preposterous assertions, the most popular being “You don’t want another drink” after you have just announced that it’s exactly what you would like.

Don’t announce your plans in advance, because you will be headed off at the pass with previously unthought-of things that can be done only on the day you plan to play golf.

Women used to have sinus trouble – “Sign us a cheque for this, sign us a cheque for that.” In the electronic age, leave your credit card at home if you are ever forced to join a shopping expedition.

Buy a second television. Your beloved will sit like a trappist through hours of soaps, then gabble like a goose as soon as anything remotely interesting comes on screen.

And yes, you can afford to have Sky Sports, if she can afford to buy glossy “style” magazines. And if you can’t afford both, get her interested in football. Tell her the centre-forward’s having an affair with someone from Eastenders, which she will find interesting and will probably be true anyway.

Treat yourself to an ipod and a set of earphones. Enjoy records you haven’t played for years, while at the same time blocking out the hour-long phone calls to the friend she had lunch with just hours earlier.

Accept that your suit-and-tie days are over. Casual clothes always look rumpled on an ageing frame, so don’t be ashamed to wear them for days or to leave them lying around the bedroom, the bathroom, the dining room and the hall. She will pick them up eventually, if only to allow the door to close.

Be careful how you react to her cooking. Be over-enthusiastic and you will get the same dish over and over. And when you point out that liver and bacon three times a week might be excessive, expect the: “I thought you liked it. What’s wrong with it?” sulks.

Say you’re not that keen and you’ve taken a short cut to the “What’s wrong with it?” stage.

Be prepared for sighs, an irritating affectation exclusive to women.

You spill your coffee, they go “Tch-huhhhhhhhhhh”. You forget (along with an increasing number of things) to put out the dustbin – “Tch-huhhhhhhhhhh”.

Be prepared for daft questions. When your phone rang at work, nobody would chirp up “Who’s that?”, as if you were Claude the Clairvoyant. Now you’ll get it all the time. Same if there’s a knock on the door. You might try answering “The neighbour I’m having an affair with”, or “The bailiffs”, but it’s a high-risk strategy.

And remember Jim, if this all sounds too daunting, B&Q are always keen to take on older workers.

Plain Jane. 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!

Prime Time paperback is now out!

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

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