Friday, April 18, 2014

A Local Fossil

Rather than attach one of my GoPro video cameras to my aircraft, I've been walking around with it this week and used the opportunity, to record, for posterity, the position of the dinosaur fossil at Westgate's St Mildred's Bay.

More accurately, it's the space left by the remains of the fossil skull, once it was removed and taken to the Natural History museum, I think.

This was, I think in 1973 or thereabouts. One of our local characters, 'John' the beach philosopher, discovered it. He was a lovely old chap who always wore shorts the year around, carried a guitar and rode a battered bicycle.

I'm told it was the remains of a small Plesiosaur and unusual because it was found in a chalk deposit. If we have any paleontologists or geologists reading this, perhaps you can lend an expert opinion in the comments section for other readers?

I'm assuming the remainder of the find is buried deep in the cliff and not available for excavation without causing a collapse. When I was a teenager, the outline was very distinct indeed and people mistook the marks of the sinus cavities for the eyes. Today, it's so deeply weathered, you might miss it completely and so, as quite possibly the last person to remember where it is, you can use the video to work out where to find it and perhaps show it to your children or grandchildren before its gone?

Walk west, past the boating pool in St Mildreds Bay and you will find it just before the next set of steps leading down from the promenade to the rocks and beach below. Anyone want to give our Plesiosaur a name?

The next video is from yesterday. I was over at Rochester airport for my annual multi-engine rating renewal test and used the GoPro for a little walk around the often temperamental GA7 Cougar I was flying.

This flight was more interesting and uneventful than most, as this year, high over the Isle of Sheppey, the examiner suggested that for the mandatory loss of an engine drill, that I turn one off completely and restart it, rather than simulate it. Ok, no problem, I shut down the port engine, run through the emergency asymmetric drills, re-balance the aircraft and go through the check list to re-start it. And do you think it would start again?  Err... No.

Not so much a problem or anything unsafe as a mild annoyance, as we then headed back to Rochester to land the aircraft asymmetric, for real rather than as a drill; trying to coax the engine back to life on the way. If this were a real emergency, then Manston would be the obvious choice of runway and let's not forget this in these difficult days for the airport.

Finally, by using a steep turning descent to the left, to windmill the propellor and adding more primer fuel than I would usually expect, the engine sputtered back to life and so that proved to be a very useful and practical lesson, that might one day come-in handy.

But I wasn't going to get off lightly after that and having done so well flying around on one engine that far, the examiner decided that I might as well go the whole way and land back on just one, to finish the test but this time, keeping the offending engine idled back and not shut-down; a much better idea I thought.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, I have to go and play havoc at another football match. Since Old Trafford and then Anfield last week, it's the latest 'Must have' expression for football fans as we approach the end of the season.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gone Saving - Back Soon

Press to Save
The early shots in the 2015 General Election campaign appear to have started a year early, here in Thanet, with Labour's North Thanet candidate, Frances Rehal out and about delivering letters and raising a petition to "Save the QEQM Hospital."

Like many readers, I didn't know the hospital needed urgent saving, as I thought it had previously been saved and at least twice now, by the personal intervention of Cllr Ian Driver and then Cllr Will Scobie in quick succession. In fact it was a Labour government that first started tinkering with the QEQM and if I hadn't been running this weblog for over a decade now, you might easily have forgotten.

Westgate residents may also recall that Cllr Jodie Hibbert, now Cllr Jodie Scobie, had also worked tirelessly to 'Save' the Minnis Bay Day centre during the last local council elections and had camped outside Westgate library (see photo) to save that too during the County Council elections. Both were of course promptly 'Saved' and that was possibly the last, the good people of Westgate saw of Mrs Scobie this side of 2015. However, there's still time for a further visit before the General Election and an opportunity to "Save" something useful in the town, which needs all the 'Saving' it can get.

Westgate Library 'Saved'
So, Labour's letter concludes, "We can all save the QEQM if we work together," which is nice but clearly, the elephant in the room, Manston airport, is beyond saving or even comment from Mrs Rehal, who appears quite intent on spinning-up a non-story to frighten the vulnerable in my own ward and elsewhere.

It's all over concerns to move emergency surgical services to Canterbury, which is rather different than 'saving' the QEQM as I'm sure you will agree. The hospital trust believes this to be a more efficient way of managing stretched resources but local politicians, have quite justifiable concerns over further centralisation of the more sophisticated services in hub hospitals, like the William Harvey. However, it's not a political decision and pretending otherwise and that a Labour PPC has any influence over the hospital trust's policies, is both cynical and manipulative; much like the last local elections, here in Westgate, where I discovered people were being told that a vote for a Labour councillor, would see a reversal of the Government's benefits cap policies here in Thanet.

An Eco Friendly Solution to the Cargo Flight Problem
So, let's see a little less 'Saving' the un-endangered and rather more substance on policies, jobs, the economy and those small issues of real public interest, such as the future of Manston airport, which of all things locally, needs saving, more than any other at present. This doesn't appear at all for discussion, on the agenda of Thursday's full council meeting, while elsewhere, Thanet North MP, Sir Roger Gale and Tahnet South MP, Laura Sandys are meeting with Anne Gloag today.

Once again, looking back through the ThanetLife archive, I'll remind you of an entry from the recent past: "What the German Luftwaffe failed to do in 1940, Clive Hart's minority Labour administration in Thanet, is well on its way to achieving in 2012."

Much of what happens politically on the island is predictable as you can gather looking back on earlier stories but I find that when the administration and the political leadership, has an opportunity to act in a decisive and intelligent manner, it invariably shoots itself in both feet before the day has passed. This can only lead me to ask whether its really the people of Thanet and its economy, who need urgent saving from the hollow promises of Frances Rehal and William Scobie

Monday, April 14, 2014

Street Scene

A walk to Margate this afternoon and an opportunity to test a new premium telephoto lens from Pentax. It's an 18-270mm and compares very well with the fixed 200mm I have started using to take aerial photos, with the highest definition from a fast-moving platform.

The beach at Margate is quite busy in the bright holiday sunshine and it's pretty obvious that school is out for Easter from some of the young people along the High Street. There were other characters I would like to have caught on camera but they appeared unusually aware of what was going on around them and equally sensitive to a telephoto lens, even at a distance. They rapidly evaporated from the shop doorways when they spotted me.

These shots now represent a part of the street-scene that I'm sure most of us are aware of but which is rarely if every captured, as we prefer to concentrate on the type of seafront photo, by way of contrast further below, that everyone else recognises.

What I wanted to illustrate, are some of the harsher contrasts in the small world that is the town and if you visit my photo library here, you'll see my attempt to capture life in Margate, in every sense.

No more news of Manston yet but I'm sure some readers will be interested in this video, which explains the Stagecoach business model. It did come as quite a surprise to me and illustrates what a shrewd business-women, Anne Gloag is.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Passing Through

Iaido Seminar
One thing I've noticed, living in Thanet, is that the most unusual activities pop-up here and many can be world-class and go quietly unnoticed by the wider population.

As an example, this weekend, over at Margate's hartsdown leisure centre, the much-respected martial arts instructor, 'Kyoshi' Carl Long, is here from the United States, conducting a two day,  expert, Japanese swordsmanship seminar (Iaido) for practitioners and instructors from across the UK and Europe.

Kyoshi Long with fellow US instructors at Hartsdown
Thanet has a well-established presence in this martial art, as it does for the likes of Taekwondo and Karate and if anyone is interested in learning, you can find the details of our local 'Kaigan' dojo here.

Meanwhile, up at Anfield, this afternoon, it's another plane banner day, this time commissioned by a Liverpool fan from Singapore. There's been some chatter on the fans forums as to whether its appropriate or not but it's certainly not as controversial as the Moyes banner flown at Old Trafford two weeks ago.

There's a whole run of these now coming-up at football matches over the next month as either businesses or lots of fans groups crowd-source the funds to have their own flights. On one particular afternoon in May, I have three aircraft, over three matches simultaneously. These things run in cycles and I was amused when the UPS delivery driver delivering some new banner kit, a West Ham fan,  realised that I was responsible for the legendary 'Avram Grant, Millwall Hero' flight in 2011. He promptly asked if I could fly over his wedding.

Everyone asks what I know about the future of Manston and my answer is very much the same. I'm worried by the loss of services, such as KLM but encouraged by an extension of the consultation period.

A week ago, I was deeply pessimistic but since then, I've found more room for optimism as a broad church of interests suddenly realise what might be lost for ever if the the airport is closed. Of course, what's needed is an interested party and a sensible business plan, with the money and vision to make it a success and the political support to achieve it. Without these essential ingredients for recovery, it's all talk. However, I would like to pay credit to both our Members of Parliament, who have been working very hard behind the scenes to try and find a solution and presently I would describe Manston as hanging-on by its fingernails.

'Why', one American visitor asked astutely yesterday, 'would you close the airport? 'There's not much going for the economy here apart from tourism is there?' 'It's a long story; I replied 'and might take rather longer than you have to listen, with a plane back to San Francisco on Tuesday.'

Cherry Blossoms in Westgate
On a more positive side, the island is looking fabulous in the early spring sunshine this week and our environment remains one of our strongest assets, with visitors remarking on how beautiful our local scenery is. The cherry blossom trees blooming along Westbrook Avenue is Westgate are particularly impressive this year and perhaps worth a visit in their own right.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

On the Fiddle

I'll bet you didn't know an airport could be 'Tory'? I didn't but according to a wild-eyed Labour PPC for Brighton, appearing on today's BBC Sunday Politics show, North Kent could be the home of one.

If that isn't wild enough, I read in the letters page of the Thanet Gazette, that my personal motivation for wishing to save Manston airport from closure, is not a fear of developers or the loss of jobs or even economic potential for the island. No, it's to protect the interests of my political 'cronies.' I have heard it all now.

That all rather leaves me with a singular lack of enthusiasm to blog about anything at the moment and at Thursday evening's council cabinet meeting, I reflected on the Emperor Nero, 'fiddling while Rome burned,' although I think it was actually a lyre and reportedly quite good at it too, given that anyone who thought otherwise ended-up as snack for the lions. Whether council leader Clive Hart owns a fiddle, I couldn't say but between them all, I'm certain we could find enough talent for a small orchestra.

Since my little outing to Old Trafford last week, there's been a never ending series of calls from businesses or football fans, wanting something similar over their club; even one this afternoon. On May 3rd, I have three aircraft over three separate games in the midlands, one Saturday afternoon and all at the same time, which must be a first.

On the flip-side of the coin, I struggle to grasp the mental processes of one group of  fans, wanting to crowd-fund a flying banner to 'Kick-off' with another's team's fans, No, I said, you can't use the 'F' word on a banner, it's not funny. Funny is good, the 'F' word is not. Think of 'Avram Grant - Millwall Hero or 'We Only Had Ten Men'  both of which worked well. On top of that, I took a call from a business wanting to promote itself with another flight to Old Trafford, once again with a message attacking David Moyes, followed by its website URL. Not original, not clever, not happening!

Just to remind everyone, I didn't fly the Moyes banner last week but the Paddy Power message "Fergie Back 6/1". However, I should thank the Thanet Gazette for telling the world I was the pilot of the first aircraft and if one's success can be measured in the volume and intensity of colourful language on Twitter, then I think I did quite well. Once again and like the 'Tory' airport mentioned earlier, the fact that I'm a Conservative councillor, here in Thanet, proves quite conclusively in the eyes of many verbally-challenged fans in the Manchester area that I'm a completely incompetent pilot and a ****** too. It all makes perfect sense.

I've included an unusual video here, a first from my good friend and ace display pilot, Guy Westgate, as he chucks a parachutist out of his Fox glider in Spain last month. You may have seen Guy a couple of times on TV recently and the next part of this project is to have the parachutist wearing a wing-suit and then race the glider back towards the earth, flying side by side. Don't try this at home folks.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Kept in the Dark

An opportunity to write a quick blog entry on the train from Victoria this evening. I have been over at Westminster and it's a pleasant change to see dusk at seven O'clock at last.

On the way to London earlier, I discovered, quite by accident that we have a secure home for vulnerable boys in Westgate, I was quite unaware of.

Lately I had spotted some very young characters hanging around the station during school hours and others locally had remarked on the same. However, it appears that one lad, who I saw when buying my ticket, had absconded because I came across the search party looking for him.

Just as I got on my own train, I spotted him again, so with the name of the home clearly ex-directory or Google search, I quickly called our local police inspector to pass on his whereabouts to the home and told him where to find it.

I had a quick phone chat with Cllr King and he was equally unaware of the home's presence. They are not obliged to tell anyone of course but local readers with a long memory, will recall that at one point we had twelve such homes in the immediate area and that had consequences for Westgate before this number was reduced.

We are supposed to have a policy now that either prevents or discourages the placing of vulnerable children from outside Thanet but I am concerned by the possibility of these 'Slipping under the radar' because there is no duty to declare their presence to the authorities or council.

Westgate always stands in danger of being over-subscribed in the treatment of problems that start elsewhere, principally because of its large houses from another era. A week or two ago, I saw the same lad, of about twelve, sharing a cigarette at the station, during school hours, with one of our 'Recovering' alcoholics who had clearly put recovery behind him. This is exactly the same type of risk that put the Cliftonville homes in the national spotlight and should not be happening. It's absolute madness, to mix the vulnerable with the recovering and possibly even those on the register or early release as we have seen too often in other parts of Thanet.

Where do we go from here. I honestly don't know. In the time I have been a councillor, the question, keeps reappearing and the answer remains the same, that the local community and the council has no right to know about such matters, even when density or proximity to risk factors might make this a matter of common sense or even basic child protection. It's only when things go awry that the hand-wringing and finger-pointing begins; somebody comes-up with a policy of a kind; promptly forgotten or ignored and the problem starts all over again after a decent pause.

As a Westgate councillor, I would very much like to know about facilities of every kind that might have a bearing on the health, well-being and ordered life of my community but instead, I can only play the part of a political mushroom, kept in the dark with so many questions left unanswered.

Finally, if you live in Westgate and Westbrook, please keep your eyes peeled for unusual activity during the day. One of our local locksmiths was burgled this week and despite the highest possible levels of deterrence,  I'm told that it appears that entry was gained through a forced side window, much too small for an adult. Whoever went through there, then opened the house-up to accomplices to ransack. All rather reminds me of the 'Artful Dodger' character in a Dickens novel, except that this is devastating to people's lives; I spoke to someone else recently whose home had been burgled.

Please make sure you take every precaution as we may have an organised gang working the area, looking for opportunities during the day. If you see anything suspicious, please call the police.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Serious Game of Two Halves

I have been a little busy today as you may have seen from the papers and the  sports news.

I'm not quite sure when I 'm going to have a chance to write a proper blog entry but please consider this a holding page until I surface for air.

The video is of the banner pickup from Blackpool. Very windy and very bumpy it was too but it also got me from Thanet to Blackpool in under two hours with a strong tailwind.

Group Photo 
I was terrified of missing and throwing-out the arrival timing at Old Trafford but fortunately, for me at least, it was my lucky day and all went smoothly and as planned. More in the Sunday papers I expect!

(c) Jim Bennett

Monday, March 24, 2014

Manston's Final Fears

While the local paper carried several of my comments on the news of Manston's threatened closure, I've been a little reluctant to add much more, when I'm aware of so much effort going on in the background, to save both an important piece of local history and one of the few, unrealized and large potential economic opportunities that exists on the island outside of tourism.

The first I heard of the story was when the BBC called me on the high-speed train to London from Margate, characteristically crawling it's way towards Ashford behind a delayed Charing Cross-bound service from Ramsgate. As the holder of the 'Shadow; operations cabinet portfolio, this came as a big surprise and my Twitter followers will have seen me send of a quick 'Tweet' asking if anyone else knew of this.

Thanks to the immediacy of Twitter, I had my answer in minutes, which is of course what everyone else now knows after the event. It all seems to have happened in great secrecy; a 'Faites Accompli,' if you like and I'm not alone in being unhappy with the process, although if you look back on Thanet Life, and the many stories on the airport over ten years of blogging, you might see some level of predictability, following the last Council debate and vote on the airport.

Simon Moores - Thoughts on Manston Airport
I've read some comments from councillors on Facebook and elsewhere and quite frankly, I regard several as expressions of the problem rather than the solution; that's if we can find one. We know why we arrived at this point and we know that restricting the operations of the airport has been a pillar of Labour's policy.

I respect that many people feel strongly about the airport and would rather not have one and I've seen all kinds of suggestions, a Center Parc and a giant IKEA among them. I've also warned on many occasions that the existence of the airport protects Thanet from a significant housing development project in the middle of the island but already, an application is already in for these as predicted.

If I think of every similar case in the past, where the airports I knew once stood, there are now lines of neat Barratt Homes, spreading for acres.

I'm very impressed, that now the awful realisation has set in among the public, a petition of ten thousand signatures has been raised. However, regardless of the strength and feeling of public opinion, Mrs Gloag is seemingly holding all the cards at the moment; it's her airport and our two Members of Parliament are working very hard to try and identify a purchaser and potential source of rescue, - I had a chat with Sir Roger Gale on the subject - which might also allow it to become the Air Sea Rescue hub as reported last March.

Despite Labour's protestations, we arrived at this point for very narrow political reasons rather than economic ones. A strong pressure group, achieved the results it wanted and a poll of residents on the airport approach corridor, was offered as proof positive by Cllr Hart's minority Labour administration,that the people of Thanet were in favour of restricting Manston's operating hours.

Quoting from my blog entry at the time:

"Cllr Ian Driver of the Thanet Independent Group (TIG) suggested that the airport now be closed altogether and that in the near future, the aviation industry will cease to exist. It's worth noting that the survey of local opinion only took in less than 5% of Thanet's population directly under the flight path in Ramsgate and that Labour was already committed to this decision as part of their election manifesto."

This is a terrible situation for the two flying schools, TG Aviation and Polar helicopters to be in, as well as the many other businesses and families that rely on the airport for their income. I'm reassured by powerful desire of so many people to save Manston and allow it a chance to fulfill at least some of its potential as source of jobs and economic growth for Thanet. I do worry though, that we although Manston isn't going to go quietly and without a fight, we have been given so very little time to remedy a difficult situation and already, I'm told, that skilled staff are applying for jobs elsewhere.

For the majority of residents who wish to see Manston thrive, let's remember, we have been here once before and it's not over until we say so.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Don't Inhale Suddenly

I've been away, off and on, this month, which may explain the gap in my blogging coverage. I return to discover that a Ramsgate councillor, Ian Driver, wants to open a cannabis cafe in Margate and that our old friend, Birchington's Cllr John Worrow, is now blaming UKIP and perhaps even Nigel Farage personally, for attempting to 'poison' his political career, with an unfounded allegation of a serious sexual assault.

Of course, it all happens here, as we know and quite why Ian Driver would prefer to open the first smoking rooms, since the 19th century in Margate, rather than his home of Ramsgate, where he is a councillor, I can't quite follow. Neither it seems, can the BBC.

As for John Worrow, his video account of why police dropped charges, contradicts what I have heard, in regard to the evidence but I'm sure everyone will be happy to welcome him back to his seat in the council chamber as Cllr Hart's principal cheerleader.

If you watch the video, then John Worrow appears to be suggesting that the Conservatives and UKIP, somehow colluded, in an effort to remove him from the council chamber, so that together they might overturn Labour's very slim minority. If that was indeed the case, then you may have noticed that Labour remain very much in control of Thanet Council's political merry-go-round and John Worrow's absence to date, has made not one iota of difference beyond making the meetings a little shorter. For the administration to change would require all the independents to vote Labour out or a sudden illness to thin their ranks decisively at the next council meeting. Both of these appear somewhat unlikely.

Meanwhile, I see the criminal justice system is being used once again, this time with Cllr Driver, making a complaint to the Serious Economic Crime Unit of the Kent and Essex Police regarding possible misconduct in public office by a senior Thanet Council officer in relation to a planning application submitted by East Kent Opportunities LLP for development of 550 houses on land adjacent to the New Haine Road.

Daily Mail
I'm starting to wonder whether Kent Police may have to set-aside a budget for dealing with criminal complaints against both the council and its councillors, as it appears to be starting to become a habit. If you throw in Freedom of Information Requests and Subject Access Requests as well, then less than ten individuals here in Thanet, with a passionate and consuming interest in every small detail of the local government decision-making system, are using-up a remarkable level of resource indulging what I can only conclude in several well-worn cases, to be an obsessive hobby. I'm sure you will have seen these individuals popping-up on the local blogs with monotonous regularity.

I've heard nothing back from Kent police on my own case yet. It's somewhat ironic as I've now met two government ministers and spoken with several national newspapers.

The view from London, at least, is that Kent police are not covering themselves in glory, in what looks remarkably like a very minor version of 'Plebgate.' and I already have my first FOI back from the Police Commissioner's office, which I will ultimately share and which confirms, in my view that a contradiction exists between the Office of Ann Barnes and Kent Police. I'm waiting for Kent Police to produce the documents I have requested from their side of the conversation and then, I hope, I will have a complete picture of what happened on or around 15th October of last year, to suddenly encourage the police to resurrect a complaint they had already dropped and to it, explore a complaint of a conspiracy against three local councillors.

Finally, I see that both the Daily Mail and the local paper appears to be 'Bigging-up' the Broadstairs meeting this afternoon to discuss a cannabis cafe culture for Thanet. Quite why, I don't know, as nobody has a mandate and I doubt the government are poised to change the existing legislation to oil the publicity of Cllr Ian Driver's latest political bandwagon.

Thanet already has a problem with social displacement and some very odd characters wind-up on our doorstep, courtesy of the probation service and mental health units across the south-east, looking for cheap rented accommodation. Imagine for one moment what the consequences might be, for our children and most vulnerable residents  of de-criminalising public cannabis use locally? It would, I suspect, encourage a drugs culture in an area already struggling with deprivation and substance abuse statistics which are either the worst or among the worst in southern England.

How many people would wish to take that risk?

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Congratulations Kerry Boyd from Garlinge, Kent's Youth Commissioner

Hot off Twitter this morning, is that Kerry Boyd from Garlinge has been appointed by Ann Barnes as Kent's new youth commissioner. Kerry, aged 19, will start part-time as of the 5th March 2014, taking up the role full-time as of the beginning of April.

I saw Kerry, who has been working as a PE assistant at Hartsdown, only last week so this is a complete surprise and I would like to wish her the very best of luck in her important new role, representing Kent's young people.

Pancake Races Westgate 2014

It's been a bright and sunny morning for the annual pancake races at Westgate on Sea and the competitors, who have been training hard for the event since Christmas, were ready for a morning of highly competitive racing along Station Road.

I've shared some of my photos to Flickr and they are available for download if you wish.

Well done everyone involved and everyone who helped make it happen. I can remember the races over 50 years ago and it's wonderful to see the tradition maintained in the town.

The photos now appear to have 'Gone global' putting a little bit of Westgate in the news.

Westgate Goes Global