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 230916: High heels are hardly well-suited for work

plain-jane-230916-blogWELL DONE the TUC for voting to prohibit employers from forcing women to wear high heels at work. Heels may look terrific but in my experience they range from uncomfortable to downright excruciating and serve one best when used to make an entrance before being kicked under a chair by one’s second drink.  Nobody should be compelled to don them for a full eight hours. I can’t agree, however, with GMB delegate Penny Robinson who called on Theresa May to wear flat shoes to “advance the cause of women in the workplace”. Frankly, if the Prime Minister can cope with a long day in teetering leopard-print Jimmy Choos then all respect to her, and I wish I could. There are many ways to advance the cause of women at work – pay them properly, promote them equally, be sympathetic about childcare and refrain from attempting to fondle them behind the filing cabinet being a start. What the Premier puts on her feet, is the least of it.

MY THANKS to reader Robin Hyman, who has taken me to task on Facebook, over my criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn, pointing out that that I omitted the word “income” before my assertion that the top earners paid over 27% of the tax received by the treasury. Robin rightly reminds me there are various other taxes – VAT, duties etc (also paid by the better-off) – that make up the total coffers. I apologise for any misunderstanding. The point I was trying to address was that very few of us as individuals pay enough into the system to cover what we take out.  Particularly if we have health problems or kids that need educating. Therefore, with the top 1% of taxpayers paying 27.5% of our INCOME tax (data taken from the Institute of Fiscal Studies), it is short-sighted to be as scathing about them as Mr Corbyn was at the recent Ramsgate rally. Especially in the light of another reader Rosemary Dunn’s timely comment, that that on a salary of £137k with a house in Islington, he is hardly poverty-stricken himself. Robin suggests I should “clarify”. I hope I just have.

FURTHER illumination  from Head Kipper Chris Wells, who has been attempting to crystallise  the council’s position on the future of Manston airport. Our elected representatives are, we learned from Councillor Wells in this newspaper last week, “drafting an emerging local plan.” This is “evidence-based” which means, according to the council leader, that they have “had to engage a professional consultancy to report on the viability of the airport site as an airport, in order to evidence the current aviation use only designation.”  Shall I translate? Some no-doubt-expensive consultants are going into a huddle to decide whether the Kippers can keep their pre-election promise not to build over our airport. Funny how they made it sound so cut and dried back then.

AND A FINAL THUMBS UP for the Campaign for Real Ale, which has taken a bold stand on the Government’s 14 units a week guidelines for safe drinking limits. “This is the rocky road to prohibition,” says Roger Protz, editor of Camra’s Good Beer Guide. I think this is probably overstating the case a tad  but it does seem that the Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies – she who so cheerily says she  thinks “cancer” whenever she has a glass of wine – may have been influenced by the Institute for Alcohol Studies previously known as the UK Temperance Alliance which historical  links to the movement in the US. And certainly the British are advised caution far in excess of our friends in other countries (Denmark 21 units, USA 25, and Spain a whopping 34). There are many pressing issues for the government to tackle, so  when it comes to the booze why not restrict your counsel  to the very young and leave the rest of us to it.  We can study the research but most of us intrinsically know how much is too much. Especially, I find,  when wearing heels…

Plain Jane 160916: Corbyn comes to Ramsgate.

As I reach for my hard hat and flak jacket, here is my latest Gazette column…

plain-jane-160916Whoever first said you only regret the things you don’t do, was a wise man or woman. I am regretting not going to listen to Jeremy Corbyn address an eager crowd in Ramsgate last Saturday.  Mainly for the missed opportunity to wave my arms and shout out ‘Bollocks’.

Such is the wonder of modern technology, however, I was able to hear what Mr Corbyn had to say the following day, via a slightly muffled, wind-buffeted  YouTube  video of the back of his head. And I must say I can see why he has a following. Life under Corbyn sounds idyllic. There’s going to be superfast broadband and affordable housing, green energy and good transport, opportunities for the young, funding for museums and galleries, an end to zero hours contracts and a boost for employment. The NHS and Education will get more dosh, anyone in work will earn a living wage and there will be investment, investment, investment. Bring it on, I say. It’s what anyone with  a heart wants. Except that  fifteen minutes into the thirty minute speech,  I was intimately acquainted with the Corbyn bald patch, but still none the wiser as to how exactly any of his visions were to be achieved. There were sound bites aplenty: power back to local communities; a “different” and “alternative” way of doing things; rousing sentiments such as “When you bring people together there is a resonance..” and each was greeted with cheers, but little explanation of where the funding would come from or how logistically any of it would work.  Any power he has as an orator ( a friend who listened said he sounded like a whinging schoolboy) half lies in delivering lines that nobody could disagree with (no, of course it’s not fair that some people should be able to buy a Ferrari while other sleep on the streets)  and half in not being afraid of the breathtaking generalisation or letting the truth get in the way of any sort of story. Poor people spend their money and help the economy he assured his audience, whereas the rich put theirs in tax havens (presumably after they’ve bought the  Ferrari). No Corbyn speech would be complete without a swipe at the wealthy and he concluded with a special message for “the super rich”. One day, he declared prophetically, they would be old (really – them too?); one day they might be ill, they might have a heart attack, they might be in a car crash, might need the help of a policeman or to be cut out of their car by a fire-fighter.

“And who paid for all that?” he cried, to roars of approval. “Who paid for that but all of us who paid our taxes in the proper way?”

Stirring stuff, except for the fact that we didn’t. Close to half of work-age adults in Britain pay no income tax at all – 43.8% or 23 million people – at the last count. On the other hand, the amount of tax paid by the richest one percent, JC’s nemesis,  has risen to  a whopping 27.5% which means, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies recently confirmed, that  only 300,000 people pay over a quarter of all the tax the treasury receives. Tony Blair might now be a dirty word but the reason so many of us voted for him not once but twice (before, obviously, he lost the plot, took us to war with no after-plan and left the Middle East in eternal bedlam) was that he recognised the contribution of free enterprise and that some of  “the rich” make us money. As days gone by have shown, demonising or driving them out of the country just means revenue is lost. “I want a process that values the views of everyone,” said Jeremy, to more hurrahs. Except, it seems, for those who’d like to see a Labour party that might just get elected, or all your colleagues in Westminster who want you to resign.

Plain Jane 190816: Council organises ‘how to wear scarves’ class

Plain Jane girl-1343937_1280Poor old Northamptonshire County Council has come under fire for putting on a course entitled How to Tie a Scarf. The three-hour session – a snip at £25 – promises participants the chance to ‘discover how to wear a scarf effectively’, including ‘how scarves can make a difference to your outfit and proportions’ (i.e. get those chins covered up quick and detract the eye from your ample stomach) and has been denounced as “frivolous” and a waste of resources by opposition members and local residents alike. Not so hasty, I say.  It’s always easy to mock but it strikes me that Thanet District Council might benefit us all by taking a leaf out of the East-Midlanders’ book and putting on some cut-price tutorials themselves. With the holiday season in full swing, these might usefully include:

Filial Management. This course takes a practical, hands-on approach to tackling public screaming, stamping and the general running in circles flicking sandwich crusts, by the under-10s. Delegates will be offered instruction in the use of trusses and gags, and invited to utilise a variety of creative alternatives to the conventional: ‘I’m gonna smack yer’. Sponsored by Network South East, Stagecoach, and the National Conglomerate of Catering Establishments.

Refuse Disposal Skills. Attendees will be introduced to a range of basic receptacles in stages of ascending complexity, with special focus being given to the sometimes-baffling differences between a rubbish bin and the gutter. Carefully structured role-play provides an opportunity to develop one’s skills with genuine bottles, cans, burger wrappers and fag ends, in a non-judgmental environment.

Parallel Parking: grasping the basics. In response to popular demand, this interactive session will cover the rudiments of enabling your vehicle to enter a gap big enough for a small coach. Discussion topics include: ‘Should you be driving a 4×4 if you cannot manage your gear stick?’, ‘How to move off without bringing the entire High Street to a standstill’, and ‘Use of Indicators: part 1 – why other motorists may not be psychic.’  Discounts available for men over the age of  75 and school-run mothers.

Style Tips for the Beach (can also be employed in bars, parks and shopping centres). A unisex programme examining a number of philosophical issues surrounding the amount of flesh to be displayed without putting others off their ice-creams.  Core modules incorporate: ‘Are speedos ever acceptable?’ ‘Medallions: don’t do it,’  ‘Bikinis – less is not always more’ and ‘ Topical sun-cream application – Lobster is not a good look’.

Perfect Timing (aka How to run a booze-up in a brewery). This enlightening and ground-breaking course, being offered for the first time, looks at logistics, planning and seasonally-appropriate strategies in order to minimize disruption to vacation-enhanced traffic flow. Includes field trips to College Road, Margate; Kingsgate and selected areas of Ramsgate with guided observational studies of Margate seafront ground to a halt. With special thanks for their input to KCC Highways.

ONE CANNOT help feeling a tad sorry for David Cameron, under such scrutiny during his own holiday season. The media have gleefully picked up on everything from the price of his swimming trunks to the rather woeful comparison between his physique and that of his fit-looking wife, pointing out that he has put on weight and looks un-toned. I’ve never been an obvious choice of advocate for our ex-premier but I do feel that after a gruelling few weeks trying to save us from the perils of Brexit, during which press-ups were likely to be the least of his worries, he should be permitted some perfectly average-looking muffin-top without fear of derision. I suspect however, that while long-lenses exist, my hope is in vain and his less-than-firm midriff will continue to pop up in the press. I wonder if he could try a scarf…

Plain Jane 150716: Brexit is going well…..

Jane 150716It’s going well so far, isn’t it? As I write, the big property funds have been forced to suspend trading, we’ve lost our triple-A credit rating and the pound is still well down against the euro and the dollar.

There could be a question-mark hanging over the 500,000 British jobs provided by German-owned companies and both main political parties remain in disarray*. At least Nigel Farage is going to get his “life back” (while hanging on to his £80,000 European job – no surprise there) after systematically wrecking ours.

Time then to draw on one’s inner Pollyanna and look for a bright side. My detractors are quite entertaining – my favourite to date is the woman on Facebook who told me to stop winging (sic), and the tweeter who posted that I was no longer a local celebrity (how exciting to learn that I once was), as well as the infuriated Brexiteer who found me “pomppous” (I think I’d have been inclined to make sure I could spell it first). At least the abuse is predictable – yeah, yeah, I am “rude” and “biased” – and one is never short of something to argue about. I will not go into the appalling acts of racist vandalism that have been perpetrated against the blameless since the vote was cast, but I hope the irony will not be lost when I choose for this week’s choice of positives-to-highlight, that at least our trains run on time.

Reading about the upheaval to Southern Rail – where a dispute rages about the roles of conductors versus supervisors, and where passengers have been subject to endless cancellations in a situation described by one commuter as “an absolute nightmare”, I was struck this week by how very fortunate we are with our own train service here.

The Hi-speed to St Pancras is brilliant, and it is very rare for it not to roll into Broadstairs station bang on schedule. I have no idea what job description applies to the jolly chaps who check the tickets, but whether they are called conductors, supervisors, or something else entirely, on both my journeys this week, “Jack” and then “Stephen” were the very epitome of good customer service and cheer. Jack, possibly a frustrated radio presenter (I sympathise!), always keeps his travellers informed with upbeat announcements and a big smile; Stephen, with equal charm, took the trouble to advise me on the best possible ticket to ensure I got a bargain. We are also lucky with our station surroundings.

As I was waiting for the train in the first place, a member of Broadstairs town team was clearing up dog-ends with a dustpan and brush and putting stray bits of rubbish in the bin. How lovely, I commented to Andy of the Red Bean Machine – the hot-drink-mobile that does a great Americano and homemade flapjack – as I compared and contrasted this altruistic lady with the unthinking morons who’d dropped their fag butts and beer cans in the first place. He pointed out the attractive wooden plant containers, also supplied and maintained by the team, observing sadly that some people sit in them! There are those who give and those who take away. And I think we’ll find that from now on, it was never more so…

Read here: Hike in train passengers heading to Margate

One further tiny reason to be cheerful. The Brexit debacle has inspired a new family game: “Spot the Leaver”. Run along the lines of the one-time Carling Black Label ads, the rules are simple and one only needs to watch and observe.

Overhear an unfortunate (and usually factually inaccurate) exchange about immigration? See a Union Jack T-shirt hoving into view? Witness the bloke moaning about “them” and talking drivel about the economy? My son and I raise eyebrows, roll eyes and see who can be the first to cry: “I bet HE voted Out…”

* NB this was written last weekend – before Theresa May was appointed.

 Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/plain-jane-brexit-is-going-well/story-29512479-detail/story.html#ixzz4ET8CGdAg
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Plain Jane 010716: After the Vote

Plain Jane 010716I woke up on Saturday morning feeling strangely unwell. I mentally ran through what I’d eaten the night before and counted up the glasses of Cava, before I registered that the sick, traumatised sensation in my stomach was simply the realisation that the previous day hadn’t been an awful dream brought on by too much camembert. We really had voted ourselves out of the EU and into the abyss.

On Sunday I felt exactly the same. By that time, we could add to our list of outcomes not only that the pound had crashed and the markets crumbled and that big companies were signalling their intentions to move away from the UK, but that the Labour party was in crisis, nobody from the Tories was seeming ever so keen to be the one to trigger article 50 and in fact a lot of them seemed to be wandering about in confusion wondering what would happen next.

I’ve had my fair share of flak on Facebook for expressing my shock and shame and I have been urged to accept the workings of democracy, to respect the wishes of the majority and to stand firm against the divisions which have sprung up between those who voted to Leave and those who wished fervently to Remain. All well and good  and laudable. But what do I do with my rage?

I have always respected the political opinions of others – I have friends on the right and the far left and the wishy-washy centre (where I usually reside myself) and I will listen to anyone with an intelligent, informed view. And there is the rub.

I feel no animosity towards, say, Craig Mackinlay because I know our South Thanet MP has a brain, is an accountant and voted from a position of unshakable conviction based on his own (even if in my view, mistaken) economic analysis. Ditto any of the members of Westminster who went that way although I note that Boris is not looking particularly jubilant now – time will tell what his particular stance was all about.  But I cannot recover from my fury with the ignorant. Or those that fed them the lies.

The woman interviewed on Radio 5 Live who voted to leave because Wales and Scotland got free prescriptions and she in England didn’t. The bloke filmed for Channel Four news who thought an out vote would  “stop the muslims from coming into this country”  or the chap on the same piece of film who was fuelled by the fact that 13 million quid had been spent on art!  The girl who came on next who thinks a Leave vote  has put “England on the globe” (where was it beforehand then?) or the chap on BBC Radio Four who didn’t mind “the ones here already” but was none too keen on “them others”.  The local woman who said she was doing it because it was “best” for her finances but who hadn’t yet bought the euros for her Spanish holiday next week. (See what it costs you now, love.)

My esteemed colleague on this column, Mike Pearce, has always taken the view that some people are too stupid to vote and I have always squealed with horror. Finally, reluctantly, I feel forced to agree.

But the responsibility lies with the likes of UKIP leader Nigel Farage, now distancing himself from any suggestion that the EU contributions could go to the NHS (not what you said a few weeks ago, Nige!) or the Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan who has finally admitted that coming out of the EU will not result in reduced immigration.

Many, many voters were sold a vision of a Britain that cannot be delivered and they won’t realise that until much too late. For those of you who will respond by telling me I am wrong, then let me answer you now that I so dearly hope I am.

In the meantime, I still feel sick. What, oh what, have we done?

***

You can read the original post at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/plain-jane-after-the-eu/story-29462228-detail/story.html.

Plain Jane 170616: How we vote on Thursday will probably come down to instinct

Plain Jane 170616So it’s finally here. After all the weeks of posturing, scare-mongering, claims and counter claims, the referendum is finally upon us.

Come Thursday we can put our cross in the box and say once and for all, whether we want to be part of the EU or go our own, not necessarily sweet, way. (After the way our football fans have behaved, Europe may heave a collective sigh of relief.)

Having listened to the hours of debate, read acres of news coverage and had a couple of wine-fuelled exchanges in which I have  just stopped short of banging the table and shouting “Enough!” ( a habit I am trying to grow out of), I have concluded that the way one intends to vote, boils down to a single, simple question. Namely: is one the sort to become over-exercised about the concept of immigration? Or more of the kind of chap who believes in reserving one’s energies for fretting about the economy? I.e. if you spend a lot of your time muttering about “them” stealing our jobs and taking all the housing, and find Nigel Farage can easily whip you into a lather, you’re in the first camp and  fully focused  on getting OUT.

If on the other hand, you have been struck by how the economists and business leaders and top academics involved in research funding, have all been urging caution on the potential dosh front and you believe that a strong economy is paramount – otherwise how can you sort anything? – then you are probably planning on adding your voice to staying IN.

It strikes me, however, that along with the back-stabbing there is wealth of misinformation on both sides.  Of the sixty-five million of us living in the UK, only around three million are EU Nationals. On the other hand, about five million Brits live abroad, so they’ve still got more of us bellowing at the waiters and demanding more chips than the other way round. (It does give me a wry smile when I hear the Outers complaining that the least those coming here could do is speak fluent English.)  Of those three million, over two-thirds are in employment and contributing to the national coffers. And it is a statistical fact as well as my personal opinion, that if anyone is going to swing the lead and bleed the benefit system dry, it is more likely to be a home-grown Brit than an incoming (and in my experience, very hard-working) Pole.

The hard truth is that we need immigrant workers – the NHS would fall apart without them – and since one in five of our care workers comes from elsewhere, so would lots of the elderly. As for them having nowhere to live, do you know how much of the land that makes up England actually has buildings on it? 2.27%  Yes, I was staggered too.  We’ll just put up some more houses on the other 97%. If all those ex-pats get sent home, we’ll certainly need to!

As far as our wealth and financial stability goes, there’s a tough truth to be faced there too. Nobody knows. Not one of our politicians, experts, pundits or blokes from the pub actually has a clue what the effect of leaving the EU would have on the state purse. It’s all guesswork. It could be brilliant; it might be disaster.

As a friend old enough to have been able to vote the first time around, observed: there is nobody left with any experience of how to run the country without being in Europe. At the end of the day, for all the hypotheses and fears, with the xenophobia and clutching of the Tetleys teabags to the patriotic chests at one end of the spectrum and the idealism surrounding diversity and joys of European culture at the other, what we vote for on Thursday will come down to instinct. Mine says that for all the annoying and petty bureaucracy that comes out of Brussels, we are better off, on balance, with the devil we know.

Plain Jane 030616: Debt, water and the sugar tax

Plain Jane 030616

My latest Plain Jane column. The version that came out in print – and online – was mysteriously lacking my last sentence. Is it that dreadful and offensive? 🙂 Had my tongue protruded too far from my (overly chubby) cheek? Answers, as always, very welcome… 🙂

I couldn’t care less whether Chris Wells, leader of Thanet Council,  was unable to pay his council tax back in 2012 and I certainly don’t stand in judgement. Lord knows, I’ve had my cash flow problems in the past – who hasn’t – and if he says it’s all been paid back now, then all well and good, let’s yawn and move on. I do,  however, think it’s a trifle rich to accuse his rivals of highlighting his past penury for political gain and then using it himself – through his column last week  – to do exactly the same. After a brief re-run of his non payment of bills  and a side swipe at “political opponents encouraging the media circus”, Mr Wells moved swiftly to compare and contrast his debts with that of past councils. And then, in a deft demonstration of the tactical non-sequitur, bangs on about alleged Tory election expenses, claiming that Thanet Conservatives “truly fear” a re-run of the general election, “knowing” that Nigel Farage and UKip  would win this time around and be able to celebrate the victory that they “earned” a year ago.  Oh dear, Chris, if you can hear me over the unmistakable clatter of barrels being scraped,  I feel I should offer counsel. Putting aside the obvious fact that Ukip  didn’t earn anything – on polling night Nigel Farage got fewer votes than Craig Mackenzie and therefore didn’t secure the seat (the number of hotel rooms paid for in Ramsgate will never change that) – may I remind you of the valuable mantra, heeded by all shrewd figures in the public eye.  Never complain, never explain.  To which we might usefully add: Or descend into fantasy…

A GOLD STAR for Southern Water’s customer service. Last Saturday I answered the phone to  a nice lady called Denise who informed me that our water meter reading had been taken and our bill was much higher than usual. Rather than sending out an invoice for a scary amount, she was calling to enquire if our usage had dramatically increased. Having waited politely while I interrogated my son on his bathing habits and faucet-shutting prowess, she explained that even if he had cleaned his teeth with the tap running (a practice I have long attempted to crush)  we were talking a very large quantity  of H20 for three people to consume, and we probably had a leak. She then texted instructions as to how I could find out.  On Monday I braced myself and phoned the number I’d been given to report that yes, it seemed the meter was still moving even when the water was switched off, and what a shock I had. There was no “press one for a payment”, two to change my address or three to listen to mindless music for forty minutes and then cut my throat.  Instead, the phone rang and someone answered! Just like that. And an equally lovely-sounding Sarah said she’d send an inspector round this week. If anyone has had any recent dealings with certain other infuriatingly inefficient and almost-impenetrable  utilities (to mention no names, British Gas!) you will understand my almost speechless wonder.

THE Taxpayers Alliance wants the proposed “sugar tax” to be axed, as it fears it will adversely affect the poor. Its reasoning is that the tax will not apply to all sugary drinks across the board but will target those more likely to be purchased by families on low incomes. It offers as an example  Coca-Cola (10.6 grams of sugar per 100ml) which will be subject to the levy, as opposed to a Starbucks’ hot chocolate with whipped cream and coconut milk (11 grams), which will not. The organisation also notes anomalies such as “energy” drinks being taxed (11 grams) but not Tesco chocolate milk (12.4). I quite see where  the TPA is coming from but  surely there’s a much simpler answer. If we really want to make things fair and save the poor NHS from buckling under the weight of obesity, then let the government ban sickly drinks altogether. Make it illegal to sell any soft drink containing more than a certain level of the sweet stuff and have done with it. They’ve come for the smokers and the drinkers. Fatties – it’s your turn next!

You can view the original article at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Debts-water-sugar-tax/story-29351761-detail/story.html

Plain Jane 220416: I might give Wetherspoon another chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EASTER: Plain Jane brings your reasons to be cheerful – including beer and chocolate

Plain Jane 240316In these difficult and joyless times of conflict, health scares, national obesity and George Osborne, may I take the rare opportunity to look on the bright side and offer reasons to be cheerful this Easter.

Yes, as Chris Wells, Chief Kipper honcho at Thanet council reminded us in his column last week, it is Holy Week, with its “historical and cultural role in our society.”

Christian tradition, our leader reminds us, underpins not only our calendar and “family memories” but “our willingness to sacrifice time and effort to help those less fortunate than ourselves”, (something that might be usefully suggested as an alternative pursuit to the little b*****ds who vandalised the #StreetArtMargate project two weeks ago, whom I would like to string up in a decidedly unChristian fashion).

However, this weekend affords us the chance to do ourselves a favour too and still retain a clear conscience in the face of the Healthy Living police. Readers, I give you beer and chocolate!

It has long been known that chocolate contains flavonoids which have an anti-oxidant effect beneficial to preventing cancer and heart disease. And that eating it also promotes the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormones. (A good reason to get your Easter eggs down your neck early if you’ve got the relatives coming.)

Now it transpires that beer is pretty good for you too.

Recent findings, triumphantly relayed to me by my son – newspaper in hand, definite whiff of brewery on the air – suggest that a pint of the hoppy stuff could be your Easter health perk number two. Scientists at the University of Idaho have found that the acids humulones and lupulones, found in hops, possess the ability to halt bacterial growth and fight cancer and inflammatory diseases.

Further studies claim that such chemicals can reduce the chances of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, kidney stones and Alzheimer’s as well as strengthening bones, helping cure insomnia and protecting against cataracts.

Put like that, the implication was I would be neglecting in my motherly duty if I didn’t positively shower his head with blessings on the beer-imbibing front and pack him off to the nearest fount of ale. Which, as it happens, is right here on our doorstep, for this weekend brings not only the commemoration of the crucifixion but the 11th Planet (eurgh) Thanet Easter Beer Festival, held as usual at the Winter Gardens in Margate.

Beer is not my own drink of choice but I know I am in a dwindling minority as the micro pubs continue to mushroom all over the isle with some brewing their own to boot.

Look out for my stepson Paul Wenham-Jones’ potions – brewed at the Four Candles in St Peter’s – Eddies Cascade Hopburst, New Zealand Double Hop and Manston Centenary Ale (I approve of the name even if I’d pull a face at the taste) and a citrusy little number inspired by my good friend Janice, known as Citra Darling, which has been specially commissioned by Camra for the festival.

Don’t hang about though as last year the Four Candles’ brews were the first to go and since Margate was voted number four in the top 20 hippest places to live in Britain by The Times a couple of weeks ago, who knows who might descend! (“Trendy Londoners” are apparently flocking to Ramsgate too).

I would not be displaying the responsibility you have come to love and expect from an Isle of Thanet Gazette journalist if I did not point out that all the researchers, in their different ways, urged moderation in the face of their findings (a factor that the boy, strangely, omitted to share) and that the Indiana University School of Medicine when citing one of beer’s positive roles, suggested only a tablespoon could be needed to make the drinker feel calmer and more relaxed.

But, hey, it’s Easter, we’re hip and the news can’t be all bad. If you ask me, I’d say fill your boots and have a happy one!

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

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

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

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

Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-don-t-want-new-town/story-28898016-detail/story.html
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Plain Jane 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 250915: A trip down memory lane

In a spirit of better late than never, we are posting this anyway even though half of it is now past its sell-by date. But they’ll be an autumn production from the Minster Playhouse. And Love, Life and Laughter will return. Come next time! 🙂

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Plain Jane 250915 headerAs in life, so in Downton Abbey. Sunday evenings are bright again with the return of the addictive period drama, but now it is 1925 and the arguments wrangle over who should best administer the local hospital and which members of staff will face redundancy.

Plain Jane 250915 no header“Does anyone have an under-butler these days?” muses Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham. I’ve no idea but I wouldn’t mind. Should I ever take possession of the Euromillions, I would happily eschew yachts and diamonds for the luxury of a dark-suited Jim Carter look-alike gliding towards me in tails with sage words and a small sherry. Harbouring as I do, a quiet adoration for the inscrutable Carson, only matched by my adulation of Maggie Smith playing the dowager. (I am still grieved I missed the chance to fling roses at her feet when she was filming in Broadstairs last winter.) “I wouldn’t let standards slip that far,” she announces at any suggestion of letting her own salver-bearer go. Those were the days…

If you too, like harking back in time, may I urge you to trot along to Minster Village Hall tonight or tomorrow to watch A Bolt From The Blue, the weird and wonderful tale of a man whose body clock reverses. I am so confident it will be terrific that I am writing this (such are the vagaries of local paper deadlines) before I’ve even been to see it myself. I don’t mention the thriving village of Minster-in-Thanet often enough, so here is a big shout-out for the Minster Playhouse, whose production it is, and for which my esteemed and excellent dentist, David Downes-Powell, is a whiz with the lighting and known for his special effects. David Tristram’s play promises to deliver more of the same – I have already heard rumours of lightning strikes and bodily explosions – and I fully expect the performance in general to be up to its usual high standard. It’s use it or lose it, when it comes to quality local drama. Go get your bum on a seat.

Or why not do it twice. Sunday night sees the return of the fund-raiser Love, Life And Laughter at the Sarah Thorne Memorial Theatre in Broadstairs. I am down as MC, together with the ever-fabulous Lisa Payne, to introduce an ultra-talented cast in an evening of songs, poems and sketches, and as they say, so much more. If past years are anything to go by, you’ll be in for a treat. With the warm glow of knowing you’re boosting a really good cause. All proceeds from the event go to Macmillan Cancer Support and you don’t get much more worthy than that. It starts early, at 6pm. You’ll be home for Downton Abbey…

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Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-trip-memory-lane/story-27861756-detail/story.html
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Plain Jane 310815: Watch where you walk

Plain Jane 310815SO THERE went summer. I know it goes more quickly as you age and grow grumpy but this one really has sped past at an alarming rate. We waited months for the sun to come out then, blink, the kids were swarming the pavements, blink, it was Folk Week (in which they did not seem to swarm in quite the same quantities as usual) and now one opens one’s eyes to find Lo, it’s Bank Holiday Weekend and the double parking is pretty much over. Let us hope that September proves warm so we can get in a few more doses of vitamin D before the long winter ahead and that Margate keeps up the good work. While nationally, the numbers of trips to the coast, are falling year on year, our very own seaside resort has been bucking the trend with over 13,000 tourists popping into the Visitor Information Centre in July. Hurrah for the shops and businesses and if you’re fed up with outsiders clogging up the coffee shops and fast food outlets, moan not. It will be February before you know it.

ANOTHER reason to lament the end of Summer – it’s a time to watch where you walk. An email from TPPS (The Phantom Poo Sprayer), bringing me up to date with activities, assures me that “dog dumping is seasonal!” TPPS – the self-appointed guardian of Ramsgate pavements, who has appeared on these pages before, has now spray-painted 156 offerings with its trademark biodegradable pink paint, spanning some 18 roads in Ramsgate, and can state categorically “there is less in the summer than other months.” TPPS puts this down to the lighter evenings, which is only logical. Culprits feel less able to walk away from the evidence that they are irresponsible half-wits, when they might be spotted – and hopefully tackled – by their fellow citizens, or caught on CCTV. I have noticed a dramatic uprise in abandoned turds on the steps down to Stone Bay during the winter too. (Some left by dogs who are encouraged to venture down alone while their slack-bummed owners stay in the warmth of their cars!) I could fill the rest of the page with a string of enraged adjectives and still not properly express how furious this leaves me. TPPS is not one to simply carp however. Four possible solutions are offered in the missive, becoming ever more appealing in ascending order. The council contractor Kingdom, responsible for environmental street enforcement continues to mete out fines. The council and this newspaper makes dog-owners aware of a product known as “Poop Freeze” that makes fecal matter easier to gather (I will spare you the graphic detail in which TPPS explained the theory here). More bins are provided (TPPS has studied the statistics and some of the most prolific dog-fouling offenders, it tells me, live in roads that utilise seagull-proof bags, rather than wheelies. The idea being that if a proper bin were at hand – even if it belonged to someone else – the dog-owner would use it. Although wouldn’t the sort of person decent enough to pick up, I wonder, also carry their fragrant package until they find somewhere suitable to put it?) And finally, our valiant sprayer’s most radical proposal, in which I can see some small snags but which would be undeniably effective: “making examples of” anyone caught not clearing up. “If they were soundly horse whipped in public, and their dog was shot dead on the spot, it could work,” TPPS suggests calmly. “Once word got around…”

I understand there’s a vacancy in the council cabinet right now. TPPS could fit in nicely…
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Plain Jane 140815 – Bra-vellous project

Plain Jane 140815If we live in a small world then Thanet is microscopic. Hold forth in the pub about the bloke from the garage and it will turn out you’re chatting to “that idiot’s” brother’s cousin or his wife’s next-door neighbour.

Gossip about his affair and you’ll discover you’re looking at the woman he ran away with. It was no surprise, therefore, to find that the chap my friend Ann was on the line to, when I arrived at her house, used to be my bank manager. (In the days when these creatures existed and a simple transaction did not require you to answer six security questions, punch out four different numbers on your telephone keypad, and then listen to terrible music for twenty minutes before someone in Madras cut you off.)

“What are you talking to him about?” I asked nosily, upon hearing Brian Short was now heading up the local branch of the RSPB. “Tits!” she declared. Ah yes, silly me…

Ann Munro is an artist, and the powerhouse behind an “installation” planned for the Ramsgate Festival, which she refers to as “Tits Up” and which will benefit the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds as well as the excellent breast-screening charity EKUBS, mainly so that school children taking part in the project can approach it from a feathered angle, and not give their parents the vapours.

The first I heard of it was when Ann swept into my own kitchen and demanded to know if I had any old bras. Well of course I did – what woman doesn’t? I also had uncomfortable bras, ill-advised ones, saggy-strapped affairs and a super-reinforced, upholstered, uplifting contraption that renders one like Barbara Windsor (not necessarily in a good way).

I emptied the contents of the drawer into a carrier bag and off she went. They were destined to be bunting down Harbour Street, she told me. But oh my goodness, things have moved on since then. Ann, just turned 70 and looking amazing for it, seems to have involved the entire isle in her mission.

There are beaded bras and knitted bras and a bra cake, and scores of teddy bears, each wearing their own specially-decorated brassieres.

Shops, businesses and cafes have donated, sponsored and will be putting on displays. There will be raffles and auctions and workshops. It is going to be huge. “It’s about art bringing people together,” says Ann, “and raising awareness and charity. About people discovering their creativity and showing how art can promote a whole area. It’s also about my ego,” she adds refreshingly. “I’m loving my ‘old age'” Basically, loves, if I might summarise, we’re still talking tits. The beaked, seed-loving sort, naturally…

The artworks will be on display from August 24 to 31. For more information find Ann Munro on Facebook or visit http://www.ramsgatearts.org.

If art can bring people together then so can comedy. In the 1970s, the catchphrase “I didn’t get where I am today…” united a generation, and is still used as a quip over four decades later. It sprang from the genius of David Nobbs, creator of TV series The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and 20 equally hilarious books, who died last weekend aged 80. I was privileged to interview him, teach with him, and consider him my friend.

He was a lovely, generous, kind, highly intelligent and extremely funny man. And I didn’t get where I am today by not wanting to say so.

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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
GIBG20150715A-028_C
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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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 190615: Eating your way through hotel breakfasts

Plain Jane 190615SO FAR this year, what with speaking and interviewing and literary festivals and running off to bang my head against a different wall, I have spent 32 nights away from home.

In 2014 it was 67. Even allowing for lie-ins and hangovers, over-sleeps or the odd mix up re. serving times, that is quite a lot of hotel breakfasts. I am now something of an expert.

In Broadstairs, the first meal of the day is a hit and miss affair. Sometimes I set forth to the Dalby Café in Cliftonville to partake of their excellent toast and perfectly-judged fried eggs while my son eats his body weight in sausages and bacon.

On other days I come over all health-conscious and whiz up bananas and strawberries and frozen spinach (quite frankly when you spend that much on the whizzy thing you feel ill if you don’t).

But most of the time, I get on with other stuff until I’m distracted by the sound of my stomach rumbling and realise it’s 11.30 am and I’d better have some chocolate.

Put me in a hotel and it’s all change. Whether it is an innate urge to get my money’s worth or some Pavlovian response to waking up in a different bed, who knows, but I open one eye and I’m starving. “The calories!” cries a colleague, looking aghast when I head for the fried end of the buffet selection. “Won’t you put on weight?”

Not if I can help it. For those of you planning hotel stays this summer may I offer my three-point breakfast strategy plan. (Giving me an opportunity to remind you that I am a long-term authority on the perils of “Writer’s Bottom” and the author of a ground-breaking weight-loss book, on which, frankly my dears, I could do with some sales.) For yes, the catered morning repast offers a very real chance of consuming 2,000 calories before 10am and there are three ways in which you can approach this opportunity:

1) With abandon! Eat everything in sight. Have strawberries and cereal, porridge and honey, the full cooked ensemble of eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, baked beans (if you can stomach the latter two – I’d prefer to munch on my leg), hash browns, toast, and croissants.

Then use the stairs not the lift, walk everywhere briskly and don’t eat again till you have a tiny dinner (you will get away with it).

And while you’re enjoying every glorious mouthful, watch the thin girl – yes, that one with the sanctimonious expression who’s clearly as miserable as sin, spooning fat free yoghurt over her kiwi fruit.

Ask yourself: do you want to be like that?

2) With discipline. Eat almost nothing and dine out on your sense of virtue.

Sit piously sipping your green tea and nibbling on a blueberry (while adopting a similar facial arrangement to the one you witnessed above) or your black coffee with a morsel of cheese.

Feel yourself bathed in self-righteousness and peruse the other guests.

See that fat family in the corner? The bloke with the stomach, who can barely squeeze behind the table, the annoying kids going back for more pastries? See how enormous his wife is? Then look at her plate. Allow yourself a small sniff. That’s why.

3) With balance. Remember that just because it’s there you don’t have to eat it ALL.

The bits you don’t eat, you’ll have forgotten by this evening.

If you do eat lots, don’t have lunch.

Or you can do what I did on this particular occasion and carry out such dramatic adjustments to the annoying toast machine, that far from turning out pale flaccid slices it actually catches fire.

An event that will amuse the Brits, throw the Germans and Americans into a state of panic and leave you feeling morally unable to breach the bread area for a second time.

If you ditch the carbs (not hard when they’re blackened and smoking) you’ll burn fat all day. It’s my pleasure. Please don’t mention it.

***

Read the original at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Eating-way-hotel-breakfasts/story-26722548-detail/story.html#ixzz3dmyH53H0
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Plain Jane 050615: It’s tough to get a job if you don’t speak nonsense lingo

Plain Jane 050615I HAVE been self-employed now for nigh-on 30 years and have long suspected this has rendered me utterly un-hireable to anyone in the usual (some might say “real”) world of nine-to-five.

My particular skill set: being able to spend long hours welded to a computer while wearing pyjamas, knowing how to touch-text with my left hand at the same time as unwrapping a bar of chocolate with my right, and operate a mouse with my elbow; pidgin French, a mostly clean driving licence, and an inability to know when to stop talking, does not immediately lend itself to many occupations.

But I used to fondly think I might probably, if push came to financial shove, at least get a job in sales. Now I know I couldn’t do that either. In my day, when you wanted to make someone else buy something, you simply told them what a brilliant product it was and how cheap you’d make it. Not any more.

Sitting behind two suits in a café near Sloane Square this week, I was reminded of my introduction to the game Bullsh*t Bingo whereby you mark a cross every time someone uses a flowery but largely meaningless phrase like “blue sky thinking”, “window of opportunity” or “touch base with”. I could have filled an entire card in seconds.

Some sort of investment portfolio was on offer which would “trade up” and “net down”. Our rather manic-sounding salesman was going to “model out the process”, “generate receivables”, and fulfil “order-winning critera”. He assured his companion he was “on message,” “thinking in the same space” and “very FCA compliant” especially after “translating strategy into achievable objectives” and speaking to the “visual risk assessment guys”.

Then he withdrew to have a conference video call on his iPad and was rather reassuringly heard to say “bugger it” as he tripped going round the corner. My mouth hung open, but my son, who did a management module at university, merely shrugged. “That’s the sort of stuff I had to write in that essay you couldn’t understand,” he told me. I preened, thinking that at least my son was employable and equipped for the world of big commerce even if it had decisively passed over his mother. So, did you get what they were on about? I asked him, jerking my head at the next table. “No,” he said.

B INGO also makes me think nostalgically of the callers on Margate seafront in the days when a glamorous teenage night out involved hanging around Dreamland and stumping up whatever it cost to scream fetchingly all the way down the scenic railway. (Blissfully ignorant of a future where plain English is dying and one can’t get a job.)

I am as enthusiastic as the next woman about the reopening of the park with its vintage rides and “host of indoor and outdoor events” (I quote) “celebrating the best of British culture.” I applaud the job creation, the effect on visitor numbers and the potential boost to the local economy. I am looking forward to going.

However, without wishing to put a dampener on proceedings, I am feeling increasingly nervous about the much-heralded June 19 for the official launch. A recent peer over the wall from the car park nearby, suggested, if I might use modern parlance, that operations’ communicative sub-units have not translated strategy to measurable objectives with sufficient clarity.

One fears, therefore, that decentralised control activities may have compounded a lack of strategic alignment and goal congruence. Far be it from me to offer the conjecture that a process classed as internally neutral, has formulated an approach to set backs and operative deviations that has been merely reactive not proactive but I do worry that it still looks like a building site and won’t be open on time!

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Plain Jane 220515 – A chilly reception

Plain Jane 220515OH DEAR! It seems I haven’t got off to the best possible start with our new Kipper council. Let’s hope I don’t require a new wheelie bin in the next five years.

The Winter Gardens was rammed on the night of the general election with 150 members of national and regional media poised to see Nigel Farage’s moment of – what turned out to be non-glory.

I joined the throng the following morning in time to witness Mr Farage’s exit stage left without waiting for the others to finish their speeches (considered very bad form in political circles) and the ridiculous “prophet” utter an obscenity (considered very bad form by me).

Two days later, the much smaller band of – mostly local – hacks were still looking tired, but I arrived to see an apparently restored, grinning and hand-clapping Mr Farage – or “Daddy” as one successful candidate rather nauseatingly dubbed him – leading his merry band in the cheers and flag-waving as we watched TDC turn purple.

It is not what one would have chosen, not least because most of the new intake have never done it before, but since I would usually go for people not parties in local elections, I decided to approach proceedings with an open mind.

When I found myself in the coffee queue with two purple rosettes, and a hand was extended my way, I shook it. John Buckley HAS done it before, he told me.

Newly elected to the Beacon Road Ward, he explained he had previously represented Broadstairs & St Peters town council for Labour. When I expressed surprise at this profound leap of allegiance, he countered it with his support of Manston.

Far be it from me, an ardent airport fan, to disagree, but my eyebrows remained raised. But wasn’t he, I asked nicely, a little concerned about a certain element that UKIP tended to attract? Mr Buckley opened his mouth to begin what sounded like a reasoned reply, and was drowned out by what I can only describe as a squawking from the second rosette. I will not bore you with the entire exchange, suffice to say that it included much huffing, puffing and eventual storming (hers) from the queue, some ineffectual attempts at pacification (Councillor Buckley’s) and the rather curious accusation being hurled my way that I made racist comments myself in what had suddenly become MY paper.

UKIP, it seems, also tend to attract people who don’t listen, don’t understand, don’t want to engage in rational debate and who think that the best way to win round a sceptic is by shrieking about the shortcomings of the Socialist Workers Revolutionary Party (I don’t like them much either) and complaining that a councillor from the Labour party had called one of their number a fascist. Entertaining as all this was, I think we can be thankful that the lady in question is only married to a Kipper (not Mr Buckley, I should perhaps make clear) and not standing for office herself. Council meetings, I fear, will be chaotic enough already.

Word clearly got round for there was a definite chill coming from factions of the purple camp for the rest of the afternoon. Ironically, the only one who looked pleased to see me and offered a smile, was Nige himself! But: “we have cleaner streets already”, tweeted a local in protest at my cynicism, “or is it my imagination?” I think it might be, love. It took the new lot a week to get email addresses, let alone the dog mess cleared up, but let us wait and see. My mind stays just about propped open. And if it turns out I’m wrong to feel quiet dread, I shall say. In the meantime I shall watch and I shall listen. Lady of UKIP who never got her coffee – you should try it some time…

You can read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane/story-26546957-detail/story.html
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Plain Jane 100415: Plain Jane meets the Tories and Manston Airport Independent Party

Plain Jane 100415I interview the Tory hopefuls by adopting police tactics. Sir Roger Gale has been in politics for half a century and the MP for Thanet North for 32 years. He is unlikely to be fazed by anything I can throw at him, and I don’t want newbie Craig Mackinlay – candidate for Thanet South – cribbing the answers. So I separate to interrogate and roll up early to Gale Towers – a charming farmhouse-style affair with open fireplaces and assorted dogs – where I am made tea by the smiley, hospitable Suzy. Roger Gale is a BOGOF candidate (Buy one get one free) – vote for him and his energetic wife is thrown in. He encourages Suzy to join us for the interview. She interjects to correct him on the exact number of votes that held a marginal seat in 1982 and, amusingly, flicks through a magazine during a particularly long anecdote. But she works alongside Roger on the day-to-day. “Suzy and I spend huge amounts of time just dealing with constituency stuff that you never hear about or read about,” Roger tells me. “It’s all private and that’s how it should be. It’s like being a doctor.” It also sounds like a lot of hard work. “Did she secretly wish he’d retired instead of standing again? “Absolutely not,” Suzy retorts. “If anything, I was the one shovelling him along. . .” I follow on with the obvious. But is it time, as other candidates have suggested, after all these decades, for a change in North Thanet? Sir Rog is characteristically unruffled. “It is the obvious chant for anyone who isn’t a member of parliament to say we need a change. . . ” And when I quote his words at a recent hustings, he is unapologetic. “I’m not going to say I’m suddenly going to be someone different, someone new and exciting. Of course they are going to get ‘more of the same’ because I’ve done the job – and am going to do the job – in the way that I believe that it needs to be done.” So what does need to happen to Thanet in the next five years? “Obviously Manston is a key issue. People say ‘he’s only interested in Manston because of the election’. No, I’ve been promoting Manston for more than 20 years.” As a Manston supporter myself, I know this to be true and we fall into a long discussion about the various options, upon which Roger is more realistic than I am. I just want to have a plane to jump on. “Passengers!” I cry. Roger attempts to manage my expectations. “In order to get the bedrock right, you’ve got to have the cornerstones. The cornerstone would be freight. Once you’ve got the business up and running on a sound financial footing then yes, RiverOak wants passengers, I want passengers. “What about night flights?” I ask wearily, as I feel I must. “We don’t need night flights.” Manston is “the most important thing bar none” but Roger is also enthusiastic about other projects. He speaks warmly about the regeneration that is going on in Margate, believes now in the new Dreamland project although would like to see more of it undercover: “Boys need boys’ toys to play with so you want the dodgems undercover so that when they’ve done their conferencing, they can thrash into each other”, and has ideas for a new hotel, a lifeboat centre and an ambitious overhaul of the Winter Gardens complete with “indoor beach”. Craig has pitched up by now, with party supporter Chris Brannigan, and as we prepare to swap seats, I finish on the possible threat from Ukip. Nationally, Roger says, he fears them splitting the Tory vote and letting “the Milliband government in through the back door”, but locally feels Nigel Farage may be in for “an unpleasant shock”. One thing is clear: “I don’t want to be re-elected with the support of anyone who thinks Ukip because I see 1930s Europe,” he says. “I hear the march of boots and I don’t like it.” He and Suzy disappear, and with those words still hanging in the air, I turn a beady eye on Craig, who was a founding Ukip member. “Nice to see you,” he says. “I am the uncharismatic Craig Mackinlay.” He is referring to a previous Gazette piece in which I summed up the various contenders for South Thanet. “The word I used was ‘unappealing’, I tell him. He laughs loudly and warily and I quiz him on his political past. “It was a very different Ukip in those days,” he counters. “Tell me,” I say. Adding, when he protests that he doesn’t want to “spend the whole interview talking about Ukip”, that otherwise people will see him and Farage as one and the same. This galvanises Mr Mackinlay into a full and detailed explanation, which, in fairness to himself, he should probably repeat more often. Ukip was founded in 1991 in a pub in Covent Garden and Craig was one of six members, his motivation being soaring interest rates – he is a chartered accountant by trade – the effects of the exchange rate mechanism and the cost of the EU. “It had an academic base to it.” Immigration “wasn’t even on the agenda.” He became leader in the late 90s but by 2005 was “getting towards the end of my tether”. Ukip was starting to attract “some odd characters” and two of the MEPs were arrested for fraud. Meanwhile, the Conservatives were talking about the EU again. “It was time to come home. I never changed. I stayed in exactly the same spot in my view.” So what is the Mackinlay take on immigration? He welcomes the new rules on benefits but has no objection to anyone coming here to work. His wife is Hungarian and her doctor brother is with the NHS. I thus unpin him from the floor and we take respite in the flapjacks Suzy has left us (excellent) before moving on. If elected, what will Craig do for Thanet? His years as both a councillor and a magistrate, as well as on the Kent Police Authority (he was up against Ann Barnes as for the position of Police Commissioner), he says, “gives you an insight into the real world, the gritty end. . . “Forget the politics, I know what this world is all about.” That’s as maybe, but I suggest that it must be daunting to follow Laura Sandys, of whom everyone speaks so highly. He does too. “She has been a wonder worker that crosses the political divide and I see myself exactly the same.” Even though he is more right-wing? “I think that people who do the right thing should be supported. The Conservatives are the right party to create a great economy and without a great economy you can’t pay for all the things that we want. I see a good economy as the main driver of everybody’s lifestyle. So is that right wing or left wing?” We have a spirited exchange over what constitutes poverty and get back to Thanet. Craig is pro-Manston too – he once tried to set up a “Malaga Airlines” flying out of it – and thinks Ramsgate Marina and Harbour “one of the biggest assets we’re not using properly,” predicting it could create 500 jobs. He likes the new businesses in Military Road and sees high speed rail as having the “potential to transform”. He is driven, he says, by the idea of “making Britain better”. The Ukip MEPs have cost £84 million in their 16 years, he tells me. “And what have they done? Beyond living a fantastic lifestyle?” After meetings in Brussels, the stories go, “Ukip are first up to a bar for the champagne, thank you very much, but have they done any of these things that they now say they want to achieve? Not one. They haven’t achieved anything. . . ” “I’ve got a history of public service,” says Craig Mackinlay. “I’m the real candidate with real experiences, who is a real person. . .” Verdict: Something old, something new, something blue… Also standing: Name: Ruth Bailey Party: Manston Airport Independent Party Age 57 No of years in politics: Four months or so!! What’s the most important thing you would do for Thanet? Revitalise Thanet through the re-opening of Manston airport. Impose a compulsory purchase order on the current owner, securely underwritten by a company that will offer high end jobs, training and apprenticeships and put Thanet on the map. The big dream:

  • A thriving Manston airport and fully operating port/marina in Ramsgate.
  • Flourishing tourism, protection of our green spaces, affordable new homes and regenerated High Streets, with derelict properties compulsory purchased or legally enforced to improve.
  • One hour’s free parking in our town, reasonable business rates and more community centres.

Next week: Mike Pearce on the Election Flipside…

***

You can read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-meets-Tories-Manston-Airport/story-26308450-detail/story.html

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Plain Jane 030415: Plain Jane meets the Labour and United Thanet candidates

Plain Jane 030415

Continuing our series in which Jane Wenham-Jones meets the candidates, this week: Labour…

THERE is a framed cartoon by Giles on my writing-room wall that my grandmother cut out of the Daily Express in 1980.

The intervening years have turned the newsprint brown, but it still clearly shows a teenager propped up on her bed amidst detritus and chaos, perusing an article entitled “MPs at 18”.

Her mother stands just inside the door with mop, vacuum cleaner and a long-suffering expression. “First thing she’s going to do when she’s an MP,” the caption reads, “is straighten up the whole world.”

I saw the joke, but was still convinced I had the answers. Along with the duffle coat, the badges, and the marching shoes. In grouchy middle-age of course, I have come to view anyone under 30 as a mere whippersnapper, and have made my share of the jokes about South Thanet’s Labour candidate’s recent progression from short trousers.

They have probably been unfair. At the only hustings I have been to – the memory of which still brings me out in hives – the 25 year-old Will Scobie acquitted himself well, proving to be better informed, more eloquent and (mercifully) more engaging than several of the older panellists.

So I set forth to meet him and his opposite number in North Thanet, Labour candidate Frances Rehal, with an open mind. We gather in The Arch, the fab new bar set into the cliff opposite Ramsgate Harbour, where I get confused and kiss Chris Clarke, the press officer (he looks startled) before Will appears behind him.

Young Scobie does look very youthful indeed, but he’s been a local councillor for the past four years, and is firm and clear on what needs to be done, saying: “For the first time in 20 years, we finally have people coming to invest in Thanet. What Frances and I can do to help to push that is about banging the drum for the area, making it clear that Thanet is a beautiful place to live and work.”

At 60, Frances Rehal has not been in politics before but has a lot of experience she feels will be relevant. She’s been a health visitor, a manager in the NHS with responsibility for child protection, and was the director of the first Sure Start programme in Kent.

“Thanet needs jobs,” she tells me. “High-skilled jobs.” She is concerned with how we can help those currently in school “who perhaps aren’t the highest achievers”, and when Will starts banging his drum for the proposed Parkway station and reduced journey times to London – “if we can get it down to 56 minutes, it will transform the area” – it is the young she is thinking of. “If I were elected”, she tells me, “I would see how we could get reduced fares. You need to have a pretty high level of skill to get a job in London that pays enough to commute.”

Will has worked as a “transfer manager” in a local language school and chimes in to remind us that good connections with the capital will lead to a lot more foreign students coming our way, which is “big money at the moment”.

Will has toiled in a working men’s club too, which he loved because “I love talking to people and there was always football on”, but it also taught him about working long hours for little financial reward and being forced to rely on tax credits. “We’re a low-wage blackspot here”, he says sombrely. “Labour’s big push is to make sure we can transform that.”

Frances is also earnest on this issue, proposing “a process where people are upskilled as they get older”. Will is right there with her, saying: “One in four people leaving school in Thanet aren’t able to find a job. My vision of the welfare state is for it to be a hand up, not a hand out.”

There is nothing here that anyone with a heart could possibly decry, but how confident would they be that, in practice, they could make a difference? I tell them that Nigel Farage claimed he’d be a good MP for Thanet because he had “a powerful voice”. Did they think they could say the same?

“He would be an embarrassment for the area,” says Will immediately. “What has he done as an MEP?” enquires Frances. When I push the point, Frances is keen to remind me about her past experience at Sure Start, saying she ” laboured at many national conferences”, but Will is our man for the soundbite.

“We have a record of delivery,” he declares. He regales me with the tale of his one-man fight against the easyJet slogan “We’d rather be in Malaga than Margate”, saying: “I saw this and started a social media campaign, which within six hours had got them to withdraw that. I then spent the next three days going on TV talking about Thanet and all the wonderful things that were happening locally. I took something that could have been a disaster locally and turned it into something good.” The reason he could do this, he emphasises, is because “I’m based here in Thanet, I’m responsive and I know the area”. In this, he highlights the difference between himself and the Ukip and Tory candidates for South Thanet – “they don’t have local links”.

“So you’re saying, you’re both hands-on,” I suggest helpfully.

“We’re hands-on,” agrees Frances. “We’ve been encouraging people to come together, to create a new Thanet. It’s the responsibility of those of us in public services, including politicians, to identify common issues.”

Will is adamant that he would continue what he’s been doing throughout his time on the council: “Volunteering on Christmas Day to feed the homeless, picking up dog poo in Cliftonville…” ( I am grateful for this – someone sure needs to do it – could he extend his remit to Ramsgate too?) He is not deterred by my asides, adding: “It’s not always about speeches, and nice media interviews. It’s hard graft most of the time, and that is what you’ll get from me.”

Verdict: Thin on laughs. Big on social responsibility.

 

 

Also standing: Party for a United Thanet.

Name: Grahame Birchall (South Thanet)

Age: “Late middle”

Political experience: Previously been a Labour councillor for Whitstable. Also stood as an Independent and Conservative.

What’s the most important thing you would do for Thanet?

Get rid of TDC and take Thanet out of KCC. Once this is done, I will stand down and allow ‘normal politics’ to resume by way of a by-election.

iPUT is a political party that is not interested in exercising power, only in acting as a catalyst to rapid change.

The big dream:

For the people of Thanet to be set free from KCC and such a malign, unaccountable and secretive system of government.

To turn Thanet into the Riviera of the South East, the European destination of choice.

Name: Cemanthe McKenzie (North Thanet)

Age 34

No of years in politics: None

What’s the most important thing you would do for Thanet?

Create a Unitary Authority for the isle of Thanet. An elected leader would head a hybrid system which involves community groups, town parishes and localised councils.

The big dream:

The majority vote! Which will indicate a vote of no confidence by the people of Thanet in their structure of local government.

Other contenders

Thanet North: Piers Wauchope, Ukip, Roger Gale, Tory, George Cunningham, Lib Dem, Ed Targett, Green,

Thanet South: Craig Mackinlay, Tory, Nigel Farage, Ukip, Russ Timpson, Lib Dem, Al Murray, FUKP, Ian Driver, Green, Ruth Bailey, Manston Airport Independent, Nigel Askew, Reality Party, Tim Garbutt, Independent, Graham Birchall, Independence Party for a United Thanet, Prophet Zebadiah Abu-Obadiah, Al-Zebabist Nation of OOOG

Watch out for Mike on the Election Flipside – coming soon!

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Read more: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-meets-Labour-candidates/story-26272508-detail/story.html#ixzz3WGwzqXWP
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Plain Jane 270315: Meet the candidates for the Green Party

Continuing our series in which Jane Wenham-Jones meets the candidates, this week: the Greens…

Plain Jane 270315I was initially invited to visit the Green candidate for Thanet South  at his Broadstairs home – an arrangement I jumped at, to check if it featured  sacks of mung beans and a composting toilet. In the event, we meet in the Belgian Bar in Ramsgate, which boasts  neither. It is a testament to Councillor Ian Driver’s capacity for forgiveness or the thickness of his hide that he wants to meet me at all. I have been less than complimentary on these pages in the past. But his smile is wide when I arrive, so I cut straight to the nub of my doubts.

He tends to party hop, doesn’t he?

“Not really, no,” he says.  “I’ve gone Labour, Independent, Green.” He cites other council movers.  “Zita Wiltshire’s gone Conservative, Independent, UKIP…”  I wouldn’t hold her  up as a shining example, I tell him.  He guffaws. “Perhaps not…”

He needed to find an organisation he was happy with. “I tried being Independent but I kept on arguing with myself.” He pauses for another chuckle – this is clearly a well-worn joke – but admits it was “really tough”.  He’s always been sympathetic to the Green Party and Labour do not have a good record on “the environmental thing.”  Is that why he left them? I enquire, preparing myself for a worthy speech about greenhouse gases. His answer is somewhat more colourful and I have not been permitted to quote it.  But I like a man who speaks his mind, and you get plenty of that from Mr Driver. “The Thanet Labour group is a bit like you’d expect 1930s Chicago politics to be… .they are self-opinionated and they won’t take criticism.” (This is the short version.) Nationally, you couldn’t “slip a cigarette paper between them and the Tories”. Labour is full of people who “don’t really know what the world is about”. The 58-year-old thinks he does.

Photo by Ryan Howard of the Belgian Bar
Photo by Ryan Howard of the Belgian Bar

He was a Labour councillor in Southwark before he moved to Thanet in 2007 and was previously “very active” in the Trade Union movement. He bemoans the lack of “ordinary men and women” in politics today – it is the one area he agrees with Nigel Farage on. “There is a political class that is out of touch and serves its own self-interest.” He is angry about hypocrisy and can still get heated about the expenses scandal: “…snouts in the trough. It stinks!” Again he defends Farage. “At least when something goes wrong with his party,  he kicks their arses”.  I enjoy a further diatribe on the state of Thanet District Council before bringing him back to the matter in hand.  What will he, personally, do for Thanet if he is elected? He is honest enough to acknowledge that there isn’t much chance of this but standing helps to “raise the profile of the Green Party”, and he is up for the council again too where he hopes there will be a shake up. “There is an opportunity now to get new blood in that will do things in a different way.”

So what needs to be done?

“Regeneration is the big one.”  He would “throw open” the Regeneration board, Invest in Thanet, empowering local people and tapping into the creative, artistic groups here, as well as the business-minded. “We’ve got quite an entrepreneurial community developing ‘despite the council’”. He doesn’t want Manston to be an airport but  a mix of housing and business park. His dream is to see Ramsgate develop a new modern marina and is vocal on how much the port costs compared to how much it is utilised. “Pound for pound it could create more jobs and business opportunities than anything else, and bring in more visitors…”

I realise we’ve not mentioned traditional “Green” issues much at all. “Housing!” he says. We need 2000 more homes in Thanet.  All new-builds  should be environmentally friendly with solar panels, rain water re-use, treble glazing, massive insulation. Thanet has the highest level of fuel poverty in South East England. Over-65s are dying because they can’t keep warm…”

I agree this is appalling but how will improvements be paid for?

By an end to Trident, he tells me.

“Affordable social housing – that’s what I’m passionate about.”

There is no denying his fervour. He seems genuinely upset and angry that there are people sleeping rough in Thanet and that Carers are denied a proper wage.

“You shouldn’t be in politics if you’re not passionate,” he says. “You shouldn’t be in politics if you don’t care…”

*

OVER IN NORTH THANET Ian’s counterpart Edward Targett also has a vision. The Green candidate says he will donate £1000 of his MP’s salary each month to local causes, if he is elected. The 32-year old has been working long hours at his day job as an editor –  motorcycling to and from the city from his home in Margate (he’d ride  a push bike if it wouldn’t take so long and use the train if he could afford it) – so we converse by email. He has no political experience but enthusiasm in spadeloads and a clear plan for what he would  do if elected. “I’d work ferociously hard to create quality jobs, make sure services are properly funded and regeneration money is handled transparently and allocated democratically.”  As well as giving to charities and  sports clubs he would want to “bring empty buildings back into use and plant thousands of trees”.IMG_0114 (2)

So what’s his big dream?  “Plenty of secure employment that pays the living wage, thriving and well maintained High Streets with affordable business rates, cheap, clean and efficient public transport; an egalitarian society with free access to education and higher education for all.” It all sounds wonderful but he hasn’t finished yet.

“Public services in public hands, not asset-stripping with nationalised losses but privatised profits. World-leading engineering and energy independence, reducing pollution, creating jobs and combating climate change. Flourishing, protected wildlife and green spaces. Robust, representative democracy, with civil liberties protected and the powerful held accountable.”

Phew. How is he going to pay for it?

He types back straight away: A ‘Robin Hood’ tax on financial transactions, along with a wealth tax on the richest 1%. I’d also crack down on large-scale corporate tax evasion.

VERDICT: Commitment shines from the Green Candidates. Everyone needs a dream.

Watch out for Mike on the Election Flipside – coming soon!

Plain Jane 250714: Royalty, politics, tourism and how not to waste money

Plain Jane 250714

Originally published last week but I’ve been away teaching at the fabulous Chez Castillon

HAPPY Birthday Prince George and congratulations on being able to walk.

The day before the smallest royal heir turned a year old, I was on BBC Radio Kent reviewing the papers, amused to see how the different publications approached the anniversary.

Beneath the official photo of the toddler strutting his stuff, the Daily Mail made much of the fact that Prince William was getting a job nearer home so he could be a hands-on dad (jolly good!) and informed us that the baby’s fetching blue dungarees cost £27; the Times pointed out that the Queen is ahead of her grandson when it comes to shifting royal memorabilia on eBay (8,716 items sold featuring Queenie, only 1,202 for young George), while The Sun was able to reveal that Andrew Morton, late biographer to Diana, Princess of Wales, was predicting that Prince William would one day abdicate in favour of his son (goodness and we haven’t even got Charles on the throne yet). Apparently above having its head turned by any sort of Windsor excitement, The Guardian appeared to ignore the entire event and was more interested in the fact that students in Massachusetts have developed a printer that can churn out 3D ice-cream. John Warnett, Radio Kent’s Breakfast Show presenter, seemed rather more enlivened by this too.

THERE has also been much in the news about the need to increase funding for the NHS. A recent poll suggested that 48 per cent of those questioned thought this should be done by raising taxes while 21 per cent considered patients should be charged. For the 12 per cent who answered “don’t know”, can I suggest some basic savings. Last week my husband received a letter informing him who his GP was, despite us having had the same (wonderful) doctor for the last 24 years. He was being told this, the letter said, because he is now over 75. Whether it was thought he’d forget his doctor’s name at this great age, who knows, but with an ever-increasing elderly population, with those over 75 set to double in the next 30 years, and second class stamps costing 53p, please don’t start writing to them all…

SOMEONE at the Times must like Thanet. The isle has made no fewer than three “best of” lists published by the national newspaper, with Kingsgate Bay appearing on Best Hidden Beaches (won’t be quite so secret now); the fab Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate coming in at a well-deserved number ten for the best places to stay on the beach (overlooking the sea, would be a more accurate description, but we know what you mean) and the new Sands Hotel in Margate scooping a spot on Best Beach Restaurant for its Romney Marsh lamb and Kent cheeses. Hurrah and well done to all concerned. I trust the powers that be at our esteemed council are suitably thrilled. And fully primed to meet the influx of eager trippers, anxious to try these gems. Never one to shirk my responsibility to state the bleedin’ obvious, I would remind them that visitors to the area will want available parking, clean loos (that stay open) and a spot of tourist information, easily gleaned. Just saying…

WHAT I can’t say is that I was overly gripped by the comings and goings of David Cameron’s reshuffle, which is perhaps why I was only half listening to Radio Four and misheard. For a brief, joyful moment I thought our Prime Minister had displayed a stroke of genius and it was not Liz, but Lynne Truss who was to join the cabinet. Imagine my delight at the thought of the novelist, journalist and expert on punctuation being in a position of influence. At last, someone in power who would haul the BBC over the coals if they dared allow reporters to say “less” when it should be “fewer”. And who could be relied upon to take decisive action against any greengrocer found wantonly using an apostrophe to make a plural from potato.

***

You can read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Royalty-politics-tourism-waste-money/story-21937654-detail/story.html

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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