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

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

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

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

Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-don-t-want-new-town/story-28898016-detail/story.html
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Plain Jane 260216: Should we, shouldn’t we? EU decide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-shouldn-t-EU-decide/story-28807743-detail/story.html#ixzz41UN6Svbk
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Plain Jane 041215: Manston, driving and, well, Manston again

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

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

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

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

Plain Jane 201115: Its vs it’s

Plain Jane 201115Who knew? Our sewage systems are positively awash with precious metals. Analysts at Thames Water have discovered that when we wash our hands or clean our teeth, microscopic particles are rubbed away from wedding rings and expensive fillings and disappear in waste water, leaving sewage sludge as high in the valuable stuff as an economically viable goldmine. A bounty worth a whopping 13 million pounds worth a year if it could just be harvested without anyone honking up or getting  e coli.  I see another potential too. When listening to the ramblings of members of our local government, one need no longer be tempted by the somewhat crass summary  that our elected representatives are “full of ****”  Now, instead, one  can simply look enthralled and smile beatifically while murmuring softly: “Pure gold.”

I NEVER MET Cynthia Payne but it’s always sad when another character is lost. The infamous brothel-keeper and party-giver had many fans in Thanet who do not necessarily want to stand up and be counted. I  have therefore promised not to name the elderly gent who, in a triumph of optimism, bless him, still has a collection of  luncheon vouchers…

THERE WAS much dismay on the Thanet Gazette Facebook page this week at the news that a massive new Poundland was to grace Margate’s High Street. For those fretting about  a lowering of the tone I sympathise (I still wince every time I pass the front of Iceland here in Broadstairs) and I found myself nodding sagely as Sue Jane Windsor bemoaned the resultant loss of Superdrug and Victoria Cove proposed the alternative vision of an M&S with a café. But the postings that brought me out in a spontaneous rash came courtesy of one Dave Hollands, promptly supported by Colin Forbes. Following a typo on the original news story  “A new budget superstore could be on its way to Margate…“ in which “its’” was erroneously spelled “it’s”  and quickly corrected, Dave made the following observation.  “… the apostrophe is actually correct on this occasion. The ‘it’s’ is possessive. The shop is making the way (possessed by it) to the High Street.” While I was still having a small lie down to get my breathing back under control, he was pronounced “correct” by Colin.  I haven’t felt such a rush of blood to the head since Councillor Ken Gregory displayed his lack of education by attempting to debate the same point with me, after having ruined his quite amusing announcement  that he used my column to line his cat’s litter tray by also failing to grasp the concept of basic punctuation.  Please gather round and listen carefully. IT’S is a shortened version of  IT IS.  You wouldn’t say the dog ate it is bone, now, would you? Or the education system in this country has totally lost it is way. Or, come to that, the pound shop has made it is way anywhere, however unfortunate. Before we get too depressed, however, about standards, and the demise of civilisation as we know it, there is a small glimmer of hope. Mr Hollands,  has, behind his profile picture, a banner in support of the National Sarcasm Society. I can therefore only pray that he was joking…

WHILE ON FACEBOOK  I hesitated, mindful of the various  views on the subject, over whether to add a blue, red and white filter to my photograph, in support of the people of France. Was it simply a gimmick, a glib social media way of doing nothing very much, or was it even running the risk of “cheapening” the atrocity, as one blogger I’d read had suggested?  In the end I decided that were I Parisian, or personally involved in the hideous events of Friday night, I would be touched by others around the world  making some tiny gesture, however  – realistically speaking –  ineffectual. We do something small online because at this stage what else can we do? Except be united in our horror and our thoughts for those killed and injured and our determination to support whatever it takes to bring an end to evil and insanity.  I put the colours on. Solidarité.

Plain Jane 091015: Rehabilitation not squalor for those in prison

Plain Jane 041015Oh Lord, I agree with Michael Gove. Prisons do need reforming and should not be, as Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons puts it, “places of violence, squalor and idleness”. Surely it’s punishment enough to be locked up in the first place.

And even if you’re of the “hanging’s too good for ’em” persuasion and rolling your eyes in despair at my bleeding heart liberalism, then let statistics persuade you that a brutal environment does nothing to prevent reoffending. Education and training is vital to help prevent inmates from coming back and I know from my own limited experience of giving writing workshops behind bars, how life-changing even a small input can be. (And how complex the bureaucracy that surrounds efforts to provide it. It was only this summer, for heaven’s sake, that prisoners were finally permitted to receive a direct gift of books). Proportionally, we have the highest prison population in Europe – madness when a community service order is both cheaper and more useful to society – and have seemed to be doing little to turn this whole disaster around. So a thumbs-up for the new proposals in general and I was struck by one in particular. The idea of selling off the areas of land – now at a premium – on which stand the worst of our outdated and dilapidated jails, and putting up more modern facilities out of town ticks many boxes. Better conditions more conducive to rehabilitation, a cash injection from prime city building plots and an answer perhaps, if it’s done right, to the desperate need for affordable housing. We could do worse to look at this as a principle for Thanet. The idea of a mass of new builds plonked in the middle of our green fields appeals to no one but the developers but much could be done with existing empty buildings and shops, simultaneously removing some eyesores from our towns and providing some of these thousands of homes we are told we need. The hot topic on Facebook last week was whether the old Margate Woolworths should become a gym. No it shouldn’t. We’ve enough muscle-bound, protein-shake-filled primates prancing about in lycra already. Turn it into flats.

So now, even the flimsiest split-if-I-look-at-you carrier bag, costs 5p – a move that promises to raise millions for “good causes” and cut down on the seven billion bags given away freely last year.

I have to admit that quite a few of them came to me. It’s not that I don’t believe in Bags-for-Life – I have a fine collection in different colours and sizes. The boot of my car also boasts a hessian carrier, a large black cloth one, some reinforced reusable cold-bags for transporting frozen goods and a selection of wine-bottle holders in various shades of cardboard and plastic. The problem is they tend to stay there. I don’t know why I have a mental block about getting them out of said boot and into my trolley but I invariably pitch up at the checkout with no means of packing a hundred quid’s worth of impulse purchases and needing what will now be up to 50p worth of high density polythene. Before you rush me to the Green Police, however, consider this: I never simply throw these bags away. Every one is recycled as a kitchen pedal bin liner. I have not bought a packet of those for as long as I can remember. So what is better for the environment? For me to now pay for the flimsies – contributing probably in excess of £20 to the good-cause coffers in the next 12 months or revert to paying for proper bin liners that are bigger, sturdier (thus wasting more plastic) and will line the pockets of retailers instead? Answers on a postcard – recycled, re-pulped, reclaimed, organic and from a suitably sustainable source – please!

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

Am all behind on this blogging lark – as I am on so many things – but I have a small array of excuses. Been away in Manchester doing workshops for Woman’s Weekly at their live show and  London where I’ve been recording a podcast with lovely Sue Cook of Write Lines as part of National Short Story Week.  As I had one one foot out of the hotel door, when writing this, clever Morgen is going to post this up and do the twiddly bits as she so often does and I’ve been writing things for other people’s blogs too. Thank you Vanessa O’Loughlin for this one.

I shall try to do better once I get to France – still one last place left. Remember the ever-wonderful Katie Fforde is coming too – and hot off the press there’ll be a session with agent David Headley – so if you know anyone…

In the meantime I leave you with my latest piece of fan mail, left on Thanetonline blog and relating to the Isle of Thanet Gazette where I am one of the two  mentioned – guess which?  “When will they appoint a professional editor and sack those two whinging columnists … the alcoholic obsessed novelist and the grumpy old git?” (I presume he means “alcohol-obsessed” but still entertaining all the same :-))

More soon…. xx

 

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