Saturday, December 31, 2005

Art With a Start

The snow has gone and the Christmas sales are in full swing. I was surprised to see how busy Margate High Street was this morning but it looked as if Woolworth rather than the tattoo and piercing parlour was drawing much of the pedestrian traffic. Mind you, with a special offer on a while you wait nose piercing and tattoo combination, who wouldn’t be tempted by such an interesting way to start the New Year?

The lady in the photo looks a little undecided though.

The open air harbour exhibition of local graffiti - see photo - has now opened opposite the Turner, which has its sign for the visitor centre prominently displayed. Entitled "Art with a Start" and visible to passing ships, it hasn't quite captured my imagination yet but time will tell whether it catches on.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Big Bird

In case you missed it, a very large Russian-built Antonov 124, big enough to swallow a couple of 747s, made a visit to Manston over the Christmas holiday. En-route to sunny Dubai it was collecting a super-size load of freight. Gold or Turkeys perhaps but more likely picking up stocking –fillers, such as Aston Martins’ for the start of next week’s Dubai Shopping Festival, which, if you are not familiar with it, is sort of like the Harrods’ sale, but scaled up to the size and extravagance of a small Gulf state and given the present weather, exactly where I would like to be today?

A Look into My Crystal Ball

It’s as cold as ever I can remember it in Thanet outside this morning and the covered shop awnings in the village at Westgate are providing a little relief from the biting wind and sleet.

The bad weather apparently wasn’t enough to prevent vandals having “a go” at the repairs to Westgate station and I suspect that any efforts there will be two steps forward one step backwards attempt at bringing it up to standard, whatever that might be in this day and age.

Manston’s weather is giving a temperature of zero Celsius and the Birchington weather station is giving -5.7 degrees C with the wind chill. Anyway you look at it, there’s very little reason to venture outside, as I keep telling my dog.

The local paper is full of optimistic New Year predictions from the usual suspects, which with several of the “mug shots”, somehow reminds me of the film “The Adams Family Reunion.” Council Leader, Sandy Ezekiel desperately needs a new and more reader friendly press photograph which is less like Fester Adams and I’ll leave you to make up your own minds on the others.



My own prediction for 2006 is that work progress on building on the Turner Contemporary will be, well exactly where it is today and that the traffic chaos around Westwood Cross will increase. Of course, my predictions are notoriously inaccurate but I wonder?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Missing Women Found Dead at Pegwell Bay

The body of a woman missing from her home since mid-December has been found dead at the Pegwell Bay nature reserve.

Walkers found the body of 58-year old Sandra Barratt from Alexandra Road, Ramsgate who has now, has been formally identified and her next of kin informed.

Kent Police say was due to meet a friend on Friday, December 16 but never arrived.

Police are not treating her death as suspicious.

Manston RAF Fire Station Museum

The Ministry Of Defence Fire Services Central Training Establishment (MODFSCTE) and fire station at Manston has a museum, which I only found out about today. Apparently, to book a visit, one has to telephone the volunteer curator: on 01843 823351 Ext. 6394. According to the website, “When nobody's around to answer the phone, please allow 20 rings before the answer phone kicks in.”

The email address is mailto:manstonfiremuseum@hotmail.com

I’ll try and book a visit and take some photos. The website URL is:
http://www.manstonfiremuseum.com/


Below is a short video of an exercise taking place at Manston RAF fire station involving a burning aircraft

Perhaps it's a Secret

Driving along past Manston this morning I noticed for the first time that the heavily fenced and guarded building past the MOD fire station is the home of Charles River Laboratories. They’ve kept that very quiet.

In case you didn’t know, Charles River Labs is described as a “reputable supplier of small mammals” and produces reports such as “Pharmacokinetics and metabolism of sildenafil in mouse, rat, rabbit, dog and man.”

Entertaining bed-time reading, unless of course you happen to be one of the mammals at the sharp end of the experiment I suppose, Charles River Labs is best known in the UK as the parent company of Shamrock Farm, a holding centre for primates closed down after a vigorous campaign several years ago, which might explain the near military level of security to deter the attentions of the animal rights movement.

Long Delays and No Hot Chocolate

More trains misery yesterday when a group of twenty passengers on the service from Ramsgate to London Victoria was stranded for four hours by ice on the third rail.

Commuters returning to work were greeted at stations by notices that read: "All services are subjected to long delays and cancellations. Please do not purchase tickets until further notice."

It was not only petrol that was in demand. Tesco has had to order extra supplies of "winter warmer" foods after its stores began to run out of soups and hot chocolate

To add to the problems there were lane closures on the M20 and disruption on the A2 and A20 and the forecast for today, Thursday is that there is more to come until the thaw arrives late on Friday.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Martial Arts - The Thanet Way

Thanet has a rich martial arts environment and I remember that as a bored teenager in the days when Margate High Street offered the most exciting shopping experience for miles around, it was the discipline of the local Karate dojo that kept me physically occupied.

When I came back from living in London, where I attended what is now the Kashiwa dojo in Wandsworth under the expert tuition of Senseis Dr. Ahloi Lee and Vito Tattoli, I didn’t expect to find Iaido being practised in Thanet, as it’s a fairly esoteric art. Instead I was surprised that together with Jodo, another martial art, it thrives here, with members of the British team living and training in Thanet.

As I often get asked what Iaido is, here’s a video clip of my good friend, Dave Roe demonstrating one of the forms, of which there are many to master, called Soe-Te-Tsuki.

Broadstairs - Stella Maris

I’ve just stumbled across a nice personal website for Broadstairs, www.stella-maris.org.uk/Broadstairs.shtml .

Not updated on a regular basis, it does feature a useful local history page, links and news on local events. It also has local weather and some nice photos, which I'm rather disappointed to see are copyrighted and chargeable rather than available for all to share freely under the same type of non-commercial Creative Commons license available for the photos you can find in the Thanet Life archive. So I have to use one of my own photos as an illustration instead, Broadstairs in 1938.

I assume the Website title comes from the song "Broadstairs, Star of the Sea, that we used to sing as children once upon a time at the Charles Dickens School?

Certainly worth a quick interest visit.

Your Return is Our Reward

The days after Christmas are possibly those where one is most in need of a little exercise and reminds me that it's a quarter of a century since I made a modest living out of tennis. So today, I ventured out to Hartsdown at lunchtime and was pleased to see that the sports centre was full of people and the pool was working. Naturally, I tried to go in but the door was locked. “That’s odd” I thought eventually managing to get in through the door marked “Out.”

“Sorry we’re closed”, said a man sitting with his wife at a table by the door. “It doesn’t re-open until tomorrow”. Feeling more than a little unwelcome, perhaps it was the Klu Klux Clan outfit I was wearing? I quickly left, wondering why Thanet’s one and only public sports centre was open but not to the public.

Alright then, I’ll try the gym, with its advertised cardiovascular training, treadmills, steppers, rowers, bikes, recumbent bikes, cross trainers, a wide range of resistance equipment and an excellent choice of free weights and unusually grubby men’s showers, for which I pay £19 a month. No, that’s closed over Christmas week too. I should have guessed. All that's left is what I had to do thirty years ago, go running along the seafront.

A few thoughts now on our recreational services. “Your return is our reward” is the Thanet Leisureforce motto but to be honest we have very little to be really proud of in regard to the availability, costs and appearance of our local sports facilities. The gym in particular can’t truly be considered an inclusive and ‘female-friendly’ zone and while some staff and members are adult or professional enough to grasp the fundamentals of socially acceptable behaviour in front of women, others are clearly not. As an observer, I would suggest we need some changes that might begin with a little imagination, initiative and direction from the top, those three vital characteristics that are frequently most absent in addressing even the simplest local challenges in Thanet.

In the News

Just browsing through the news stories this morning and the ones that catch my eye start with South Eastern trains cancelling all routes from the coast because of the bad weather. It’s hardly a surprise. A touch of frost is normally enough to interrupt the train service and one wonders how the Victorians coped, running a more efficient, cleaner, timely and often faster service.

Apparently the Green Belt is being built on faster than ever before, a 60 per cent increase in house building, leading Caroline Spelman, the Conservative local government spokesman, to comment: "Under John Prescott's watch, Green Belt protection has become worthless.”

Not helped of course by “Big John” with his own slip of the tongue: “'The Green Belt is a Labour policy and we intend to build on it". Very funny I’m sure!

Immigration is once again in the news and, 2004 saw the highest net migration on record, with an inflow of 223,000 - 72,000 more than the previous year, largely as a result of the EU's expansion.

The number of Britons alone leaving increased to 208,000 - the highest annual outflow on record. This year, 2005, net migration is forecast to be even higher at 255,000, before reducing to an annual rate of about 145,000 from 2008.

Government figures indicate that the population is projected to rise by more than seven million in the next 25 years and more than half of this will be the direct result of immigration, with another 30 per cent formed by the children of recent immigrants.

Concerns over social tensions, the low-skills base offered by immigration and the resulting strain on public services and the welfare state started to appear in 2005 but politicians generally concede that it’s now too late to do anything practical to the system to better suit the needs of the country and the demands of business.

Bad news for pension holders as leading companies saw their pensions black hole grow by £10 billion to £75 billion this year. A new report highlights the pensions crisis which has led to two large companies, Rentokil and Provident Financial, taking dramatic action over the past few weeks.

Rentokil has closed its final salary scheme to existing members; while Provident has said that existing members must double their contributions if they are to stay in the scheme.

The harsher message to everyone is that there’s not enough money in the pot to keep anyone now approaching fifty, comfortably in retirement and the government hasn’t the money either, without significantly raising taxes or forcing people to lay aside a significant portion of their salaries in a private pension scheme each month. It leaves on to wonder why one pays National Insurance in the first place?

Being elderly with a pension isn’t an option either as another report reveals than 2,500 care homes for the elderly are failing to meet minimum standards on meals and one in five has not met a target designed to maintain dignity and autonomy.

There must be a ray of sunshine out there somewhere?


Monday, December 26, 2005

Dent De Lion or Dandelion

Manston was closed today, the controllers being allowed out of their box for the Bank Holiday, which gave me a chance to buzz around it with my camera, which promptly announced that the batteries expired within moments of my turning it on. I had forgotten that Christmas is inclined to wear heavily on digital cameras.

I managed to fire off a couple of shots but only managed some poor quality, blurry images of what remains of Thanet’s only castle, the remains of Dent De Lion in Garlinge. Historically, it was more of a 14th century medieval manor than a true castle for the Dent De Lion family; I wonder what happened to them I can see that the name was at one point changed to Dandelion in 1847. Dandelion is an adaptation of the French name, ‘dent de lion’ and was referred to as ‘dens leonis’ in Medieval Latin, meaning lion's tooth.

You can see from one of the old photos what it used to look like and you can find more old photos, I’ve restored of Thanet and Garlinge and Dent De Lion in the photo library here.

Heavy snow is forecast for the morning and up in the air at least you can see some heavy cold weather moving in. Thanet has been sitting in a circle of sunlight most of this afternoon. Rather too cold for me to go and watch the football at Hartsdown, so would anyone like to offer a match report?


Off Street Parking

Tearaway children will be subject to tough control orders and night-time curfews even before they commit a criminal offence under a new drive against anti-social behaviour.

Under measures directed by the Prime Minister to be introduced next month, the authorities would be able to intervene when they suspected a child was having problems, not once an offence had been committed.

Under a series of new orders backed up by a threat of a fine or even a jail sentence, parents of troublesome children will be required to attend parenting lessons, make their children attend school and ensure they obey curfews.

Parents will also be required to ensure that children attend literacy or numeracy clubs, or programmes dealing with anger management or drug or alcohol misuse.

Parenting orders can also stop children visiting areas such as shopping centres, or require them to stay at home at night under supervision.

Parents can be forced by the order to accept support and advice on how to bring discipline to their child's life. They can also be compelled to attend school meetings to deal with misbehavior.

Given the number and frequency of problems facing communities across the country where ASBOs are collected rather like combat awards by some teenagers, I rather wonder if we have the will or the resources to carry through the Prime Minister’s programme. After all, if we can’t put enough policeman and community wardens on the streets of Thanet to “hoover” up the truant son a weekly basis, how one earth are we going to find the resources to make this plan, however sensible it might appear to some, work.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Wishing You a Merry Christmas

Everyone gets their turn at Christmas dinner at my house, as you can see from the photograph. Even the Hamster had a special bag of mixed nuts and a small cracker.

Before I collapse in an exhausted over-indulged heap in front of the televison for the remainder of the day, can I wish a Merry Christmas to all those who have helped make this website such a success in 2005 and a happy and prosperous year ahead.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Views of Thanet

If you were out and about this morning in Thanet then you may have spotted me above you taking pictures before the clouds hid the Sun at lunchtime.

I took quite a few of Westwood Cross and the traffic jam on the roundabout, took some new photos of Margate Football Club and also hovered above Margate and Cliftonville snapping many more high-resolution photos of Margate, High Street, Cecil Square, the Old Town and Northdown Road.

You can of course download or view all of these from the photo library here. Can anyone tell me what is being built in the Dreamland area behind the amusement arcade in the photo. You an see a larger view if you go and look at the aerial photos of Margate seafront and Dreamland that I took today.

Santa Santa

Out and about this morning with my pocket camera looking for photo opportunities and in order, you’ll see there’s no shortage of Santa look-alikes at HeadKases and the Budget Bazaar in Westgate village.

The Mad rush is on before the shops close and the festive bottles openers staret to appear after midday but there appears to be no shortage of Christmas spirit already in evidence around the island. I'll be taking an aerial view of the situation a little later and perhaps add some more photos to the collection in the online library.











I just noticed that Angelo, seen here outside his delicatessen, was giving away free mince pies and I forgot to take one on the way through. You’ll notice that the Rotary club charity collectors are strategically positioned to take advantage of the free food though!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Photo Competition

With so many people likely to receive new digital cameras for Christmas, I’m going to run a photo and caption competition over the holiday and will post the best and most unusual shots on the website, with the winners’ names of course.

I’m looking for something different which doesn’t necessarily have to have snow or Father Christmas in the photo but says something interesting, 'wacky 'or unusual about life in Thanet perhaps. Any caption offers for the photo shown here? Send them in.

Hidden Thanet

I stumbled across the UK Online site for the BBC project "The Peoples War" which proved to have been a great success in Thanet. There have been over one hundred stories uploaded to the web site enriching the archive with stories mainly about Thanet during the war. For two months staff and volunteers from libraries and UK-Online centres have listened to the fascinating stories from the people of Thanet and you can find it all here.

Another Gang Assault Puts Local Man in Hospital

Another brutal gang assault has taken place in Thanet to add to what seems a commonplace occurrence. Last night, Thursday, in Ramsgate, a 49-year-old man was badly beaten in a late-night attack and left in an alleyway overnight with severe injuries.

A passer-by found the victim slumped over a wall in the alley off Wilfred Road, near the railway station shortly after 6.20am this morning.

It is believed the attack took place some time after 11pm the previous night when he was walking to his home in Highfield Court after leaving the station.

The victim suffered serious injuries, including broken ribs, bruising and cuts around his chest. He was taken to the Queen Mother hospital at Margate for treatment.

According to the police, he was attacked by a group of at least three men in their late teens or early twenties after being approached for a cigarette. This now appears to be a common pattern with no other reason than amusement for groups of youths to inflict life-threatening injuries on members of the public in the Thanet area..

Anyone who witnessed the assault or who has information about the incident is asked to contact Det Sgt Marcus Whitnell at Thanet police headquarters, 01843 222 192.

Fifty Thousand Plus

I see we sprinted by the fifty-thousand visit mark while I was in bed last night. Thank you everyone for helping Thanet Life to reach this mark so quickly and I wonder what 2006 holds for it as a local resource.

One big challenge remains that of letting more people know that its there as Google is pretty obstinate over finding it against the “Thanet” background noise. If you do link to it, then please link to the main URL http://www.thanetlife.com/ and NOT the server at http://www.birchington.blogspot.com/ which simply hosts it, otherwise there is no chance of it rising up the rankings.

Thanet Extra has done a nice review of the book “Thanet from the Air”, now being sold by Michael’s bookshop (01843 589500) and as I’m writing this, I’m interrupted by the doorbell and the cheery face of Jason the postman who has, by complete coincidence, a packet of books from Michael himself with several copies of “Thanet from the Air” and a new publication for me to look at, with the title, “The Petrified Haystack of Broadstairs”, the only history of the town in print, and with photographs at present. "Your book then", says Jason. Confirming my suspicion that postmen know everything!

There’s also a Christmas message from the Inland Revenue telling me it would like to relieve me of more tax in 2006, which I suspect is an early prediction of the state of things to come next year as the Treasury struggles to meet Gordon Brown’s spending plans. I note that Thanet North MP Roger Gale, has his own comments to make on the Treasury, when commenting on Mr Blair's Xmas message to the faithful, he writes:

"Not content with fleecing the public through tax rises it seems that the Labour Party`s treasurer is now reduced to holding out the begging bowl on the back of Christmas to try to exploit the "festive" season to raise funds to replace falling membership and subscriptions. This "Christmas message" is a sure indicator of how low Blair`s star has sunk on the political horizon".

Keep sending in any interesting Thanet Christmas news please. One I missed was the police road blocks this week at Sandwich and St Nicholas as all vehicles in and out of the island were stopped and checked for any degree of dodginess. Apparently the police did quite well out of it too, if you count tax disks, illegal immigrants, MOTs and so on as a victory in the fight against crime. Personally, I would much rather see a greater presence on the high streets and I walked all the way from Westgate to Cliftonville and back, via Margate High Street yesterday without seeing one on the ground and only a passing patrol car in Northdown Road. That’s not good enough in mind and I wonder if you agree with me?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dogfish Date

I was walking into Margate to deliver the lost wallet to the police station when I came across the small boy in the photo who had just discovered two very dead and very smelly Dogfish on Westbrook beach and was carrying them home, with his friends as a kind of trophy. I’m sure his mother will be delighted with the find.

Up at the police station I had to wait my turn with an over-friendly and excitable Bull Terrier who took a liking to my leg. I found myself wondering, looking at the rough company I was in, whether I really wanted to be a good citizen or whether it was easier for me to simply post the lost or stolen wallet back to its owner.

The police assistant didn’t appear overly interested in hearing the details and I worry that the owner, who must be frantic with no credit cards before Xmas, won’t be contacted until the New Year if at all. So I insisted the police let me know what happens and that it is returned safely. I wonder if they will.

Place your bets please!

Flying Wallets

Funny I should be writing about crime figures as when I was walking along Station Rd in Westgate this morning with my daughter, a wallet flew out of a passing bus and landed at our feet.

I immediately tried Tony Bailey, our Community Warden on my mobile but he’s on holiday and the police, well, they are a little too busy to do anything about it other than record my details. There’s no money in the wallet but it holds the lady’s driving license, birth certificate, bank cards, supermarket cards and even National Insurance card among others. Enough in fact for me to clone her identity if I wished to, so she’s lucky it landed where it did, with me and not in front of anyone less honest.

Next step is to get the wallet back to her as she must be in a state, two days before the Christmas weekend, having it lost or perhaps stolen. The video card is one good clue, so I’ve asked the video shop to call her and tell her I have it. The driving license address may be out of date and she doesn’t exist on any of the online search services I have access to in either her married or maiden name.

Back to the police then and a quick word with the CID at Margate. I’ll drop the wallet in later to the front desk there, rather than deliver it to what might be the woman’s address, which is my first impulse. This is Thanet after all and there’s always a risk that being a Good Samaritan might backfire, i.e. I might possibly be accused of taking any money that was in the wallet in the first place.

I’ll let you know what happens next, if anything. By the way, the police tell me that there are two “Big incidents” taking place in Thanet this morning. Does anyone know what has sucked-away our police resources?

Losing the Battle - Lost the War

Depressing Home Office figures published in time to cheer us all up for Christmas, reveal that more than 60 per cent of young male thugs and muggers are convicted of another offence within two years of ending their sentence. Three quarters of young male burglars and thieves also re-offend.

A massive 90 per cent of offenders on the drug treatment and testing order, designed to tackle the link between drug use and prolific offending, go on to commit more crimes. The programme costs the Government £53 million annually. There is also a high dropout rate by offenders given the orders, which were introduced across England and Wales five years ago.

Given that law and order remain a central pillar of government policy and reform, the results clearly show that the battle is being lost or was lost several years ago.

Local Couple Scale Great Heights for Charity

A couple from Ramsgate are hoping to raise £3000 for the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association by climbing Mont Blanc.

Sharon aged 35 and Mick aged 58 will tackle the highest mountain in Europe between 7 and 11 September 2006. They resolved to take part because Sharon’s mother was diagnosed with this devastating disease.

Sharon said “Being given this opportunity to help the vital work of the MND association which is the only national (voluntary) organisation of its kind dedicated to working on behalf of people with MND has enabled me to become focused and get very excited about the challenge that lays ahead during a time which is otherwise very uncertain for our wider family and myself.

MND is a rapidly progressive, fatal disease that can affect any adult at any time. The cause of MND, which affects around 5,000 people in this country alone at any one time, is unknown and there is no known cure.

The disease leaves people unable to walk, talk or feed themselves, but the intellect and the senses are usually unaffected.

To prepare for the challenge Sharon and Mick are planning to subject their golden retriever ‘Meg’ to up to nine hours of walking in the Kent countryside and around the Thanet Coast so if you see them dig deep in your pockets and sponsor their efforts.

To sponsor Sharon and Mick please visit their official website at: www.justgiving.com/sharonandmickcairnsmnda or telephone Mick on 07966 225217 or Sharon on 07854 016661

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Non-Stop to Manston with GlobalFlyer

American adventurer Steve Fossett has announced that Kent will be the destination when he makes his next record-breaking bid in February.

He hopes to beat the non-stop flight record when he leaves Kennedy Space Centre in the single-seater Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer plane.

His flight will end on the Manston runway eighty hours later after a journey of over 26,000 miles.

The current record is held by the Breitling Orbiter balloon which travelled 25,361 miles in 1999.

Earlier this year he became the first person to fly solo non-stop around the world. As long as it's not the week I'm in Bahrain, then I'm hoping to be in the air taking photos for you as he comes in to Manston.

Boxing Day Football at Hartsdown

Here’s a Boxing Day preview for the Margate-Folkestone Invicta game on Boxing Day from James Maskell.

"Boxing Day sees a big fixture as Folkestone Invicta travel to Hartsdown Park to face the Gate in what promises to be an exciting encounter. Margate have found it tough in recent weeks but got a strong win on Saturday at Hendon. Folkestone have struggled too and lie just two points behind Margate.

Bring the family and cheer on the Gate this Boxing Day as they face Folkestone Invicta. Kick Off 3pm."

Wet Wet - Not

Margate swimming pool is closed until 29th December. I just took my daughter down there for the first time in ages and there’s a sign saying “Sorry pool closed Sports Hall open.”

Rumours that this is a Health & Safety issue – having water in a pool - or that someone has stolen the pool’s plug are quite unfounded but the Lido open air sea pool remains available for more enthusiastic and hardy swimmers.

Four days to Go

Four days to Christmas and already I’m seeing the email traffic slowing and people’s attention wandering. In fact I’m rather wondering if I should give-up getting anything serious done in the way of work between now and the New Year.

Looking for interesting local news is challenging as it seems very thin on the ground unless you want the normal diet of drunken thuggery and vandalism between here and Canterbury which rather spoils the appearance of the Christmas spirit.

I’m sure there’s lots of positive news to write about in Thanet over Christmas but from where I sit, it appears to be in hiding and so if you have some, anything bright and cheerful which shows Thanet off at its best over Christmas, then please share it with me.

Another three hundred or so visits to the website and we’ll pass the 50,000 mark, beating my predictions by at least a week. Thanks for all the support since it started properly in March

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Advent Calendar

Bit of a disaster today with the power supply on my Advent tower PC having failed. Not a good advert for the make and I'm told they have a bad reputation for this fault. Anyway, I rushed it over to M-Wise in Westbrook for emergency repairs and with luck, Mark will have it working for me again in the morning. I won't bother with the warranty, it's only four months old but you can imagine the grief involved in getting it over to PC World in Canterbury and trying to get something done about it; meanwhile, I can't work properly as a consequence and have to use my backup laptop.

Up to London this morning and guess what, the train sits at Faversham and goes nowhere for a long time while it waits for a stuck train to join it from Dover. Wrong kind of frost I assume and I'm late for a meeting in London again. Lord help us if we get a really bad winter as you may recall from this weblog that South East trains can be relied upon to break down at the first dusting of snow.

In town I'm struck by the fact that every service job I encounter, Smiths, McDonald's and even Hamleys, is run by Polish or possibly Estonian workers. No exaggeration here. At McDonald's I can't help but notice the very attractive Polish girl with a fluent command of spoken (BBC)English that put her native London co-workers in sharp contrast. And there you have a challenge for the future that I expressed a week ago. This girl and many like her are often highly educated and prepared to leave their countries in the tens of thousands to find work in London and the South-east. Quite prepared to take the low paid jobs and work-upwards, where does that leave our indigenous workforce where future opportunities for management jobs arise in the service sector? It's an uneasy question which raises a number of politically incorrect thoughts and social challenges that are possibly best left unexpressed in a public forum.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Two Ronnies and a Pelican

I bet you didn’t know you can jump start an aircraft with a car battery and a pair of jump leads. That’s what happened to me today but with the cold everyone seemed to be having low battery problems. Having finally got to Rochester and slotted into to the circuit to land, a pair of idiots on the ground then decided to start tinkering with the radio in their Pelican microlight aircraft. “What does the ‘T’ (transmit symbol) mean” says one to the other. “Dunno” says his friend and the conversation carries on like a two Ronnies sketch for a good ten minutes, locking up the approach frequency, while the control tower and other pilots queuing to land on runway 20, are losing their cool and like me are very tempted, to shout “Get off the air you stupid *****s.” But they can't hear anyway.

I had to do a go-around on the first approach as I couldn’t contact the tower and on the second, in the moments that the frequency cleared, was given permission to land at the next attempt at my own discretion.

By the time I had landed the air traffic control had identified them, parked-off to the side of the apron and had a word. At which point and for their own personal safety I suspect, they decided to escape quickly back to North Weald before the enraged landing pilots like me found them.

All in a day’s flying I suppose but weekends in the air, as I explained to my passenger, can be just as bad as weekends on the road; Sunday drivers!

Reindeer Power

It very much looks as if we are going to reach the magic fifty thousand hit mark by Christmas. I’m not sure how I should celebrate this. Any ideas?

A bright and bitterly cold day outside and I’m just about to take my local postman, Jason, for a ride, as he’s keen on aviation and I suspect wants to see what the view over Thanet is like from Santa’s perspective. I’m wondering whether my own 150HP Reindeer will start on day like this as I haven’t flown it since I went off to take photos of the oil fire last Sunday.

If I take any decent photos, I’ll put them up when I get back after lunch.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Camera Happy

Apparently Kent has pushed out £3.7 million worth of speeding fines this year, up £360,000 on 2003 – 2004, giving the Department of Transport a £750,000 windfall against the £286,000 the previous year.

Not everyone is keen to cough-up with 20% of fines unpaid. I wonder if like me, you have a sneaking feeling that road and motorway repairs are allowed to run over time because there’s so much money to be made in catching motorists while the speed camera remain in place?

Have you noticed over the years how roads like the A2 and A3 out of London, that seemed perfectly safe at 60mph suddenly had their limits dropped to 50mph, which a more difficult speed to keep to in a car on or an bike in top gear?

My other hate is bus lane cameras in London. I was caught by one last year in Farringdon, when I took a wrong turning and made a U-turn on my motorcycle which crossed the white line. Logic and common sense fly out of the window with this technology which like a digital linesman, is only interested if you have crossed the white line and have put a foot “in touch” even momentarily so you can be fined. At least Thanet is relatively clear of such things although you might argue that the very places that technology is needed to reduce accidents, there’s none to be seen

A Merry Winterval to One and All

Reading some of the comments on one of our local schools, I’m struck by a columnist in The Times today who writes: “Education has ceased to be concerned with cultural enrichment, as it awards every dullard a coconut, just as scholarship has to battle its way through a business culture of outcomes and outputs. Welfare, dispensed by a State that has obliterated any sense of individual responsibility, has created new forms of appetency and an angry culture of perpetually frustrated rights.”

The column begins by looking at the “Resistance to politically correct attempts to expunge Christianity from our culture — the conversion of Christmas into ‘winterval’”, which I saw Cliff Richard complaining about yesterday, objecting to the London Christmas lights being renamed “Winter decorations”, a follow-on from what I was saying the other day from Amman, where even Arab taxi drivers think it’s lunacy!

Anyway, the column might be worth a read. You’ll find it here.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Breaking-up

In a bit of a coincidence, James Maskell writes:

“Just got back from Margate Train station and have seen groups of Hartsdown pupils (looked like juniors) knocking down parts of the wall between the Promenade and the station and throwing stones at the caravan neighbouring the Promenade. I’m shocked because I recognise one of the pupils. When I spoke to the first group about why they were kicking parts of the wall out (the slabs on top of the wall where people can sit), their reply was "So?" and carried on walking towards the station.”

“When I spoke to the group who were throwing stones at the caravan their response was "Its only Gypsies innit?". They claimed they didn’t do it, despite the fact that I saw them throwing the stones. A window was broken and they didn’t care.”

“Both of these incidents occurred within minutes of each other. I’m shocked to see that a school that was seen as one of the best improving schools in the country turns out pupils like this.”

Ed: Funnily enough, I’m not because as James was at Margate station, I happened to be on my lunchtime run to the gym at Hartsdown and was far from impressed by the general appearance and unruly behaviour of the Hartsdown pupils, who I assumed have just broken-up for Xmas. At one point this year I watched a group of them trying to demolish the glass in the Nayland Rock bus shelter over the school lunchtime. Sadly though, this kind of thing is not unusual from some schools in Thanet, which you might name as easily as me but please tell me I’m wrong.” I even taught P.E. at Hartsdown a very long time ago and standards of behaviour may have slipped a bit since then!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

8MB ADSL Soon

Thanet exchanges don’t yet seem able to support 8Mb ADSL connections offered by the likes of Bulldog and Nildram but with luck, the upgrades should start to appear in the New Year.

8Mb is of course an awesome speed in contrast to what we’re used to. Not as good as Hong Kong with up to 1GB available to consumers but god enough to stream high quality video to your PC and what those of us involved in politics have been calling for to achieve a “real” Broadband Britain

Thanet Open Christmas - Shelter to Open Again

The Thanet Open Christmas, run by the Scrine Foundation, will once again open its doors between 23rd December and 3rd January as a day and night shelter for homeless and rough sleepers in Thanet. North Thanet`s MP, Roger Gale, who has supported the "Open Christmas" project from its beginning, will attend the opening of the centre at 1.30 pm on 23rd December.

The Centre, adjacent to St. Paul`s Church in the Northdown Road, Cliftonville, will offer breakfast, lunch and an evening meal as well as clean bathing facilities throughout the Christmas period.

Terry Cavanagh, for the Scrine Foundation, is seeking gifts of Fresh meat, fruit and vegetables together with "Christmas goodies" such as sweets and biscuits.

The shelter will also welcome donations of bedding and clothing, toiletries, presents for clients, a Christmas tree and decorations, board games, a television, DVDs and, of course, cash donations to help provide a Christmas holiday for some of Thanet`s most disadvantaged people.

"The past years` experience has shown that there is a real need for this service in Thanet, particularly in mid-winter" says Roger Gale "and I am very pleased that once again Scrine Foundation will be trying to ensure that those without secure homes and food will be provided for throughout Christmas.”

Hartsdown Road Tragedy

In a pre-Christmas road tragedy in almost the exact spot I had a near miss last month, Kent Online reports that a teenager killed in an accident involving a car and a lorry has been identified by police.

Kelsey Murphy, from Ramsgate, died when the blue Renault Clio in which she was a passenger was involved in a collision with a lorry on Hartsdown Road, Margate, at around 10.35am yesterday.

Her brother, 18-year-old Aaron Murphy, who was driving the car, was taken to QEQM hospital this morning, but has since been transferred to the Royal Free Hospital in London. He is in a critical condition.

The driver of the lorry, a 31-year-old man from Rugby, was uninjured and has returned home.

Early Morning Cold Bath

If you think you are tough, spare a moment for the old chap swimming early this morning at Westgate. I caught him with my camera phone while walking the dog, wrapped-up in a sheepskin coat.

He does this every day I think, unless of course the seas are too high or the tide too far out for him to reach the water safely without his walking stick.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Lingua France

It was 05:30 when I left my hotel this morning and the three young soldiers on suicide bomber watch were busy praying on the pavement outside, the older singing the Moslem call to prayer in a display of devotion that sharply contrasts the different values that shape our two societies.

Over the last two days, I’ve had one taxi driver who was a graduate in Russian literature from the University of St Petersburg and another, whose business card states that he speaks English, Spanish, Greek, Italian and French. Not bad going for sure but not unusual in countries across the Middle-East with high-unemployment and where good graduates can’t find work. Hardly surprising then that those who can make a run for Dover in the back of a lorry but when they do, I suspect that the great majority are simply the poor and not the educated poor, who are less likely perhaps to accept the risks involved.

Therein lays the problem. The UK is chronically short of the ‘right’ kind of educated people with the skills to make us globally competitive over the next two decades. Instead, we’ve accepted, as we heard so often during the May General Election, a million or so permanent visitors who have among them a large proportion who may be quite happy to accept welfare in lieu of low-paid jobs that don’t exist and new social housing that has to be built to accommodate them.

What does all this mean for us perched out here on the Isle of Thanet? In my mind it says that unless our children ‘collectively’ achieve more highly than the school results across Kent show then they will have fewer employment opportunities as they grow up, in an increasingly cheap labour market which is heavily oversubscribed. This quite simply means that if you happen to be a low-achieving teenager with your back to the sea in Ramsgate, there’s nowhere to go to find work unless you have sufficient funds to climb on your bike and go looking for it in the direction of London.

On a local basis I find this worrying and I’m sure a number of readers will chip-in with comments here. From what I can see, Thanet has a fast growing young population of which many are the product of the young, single parent explosion, which can be seen along the Northdown road or the top end of Margate High Street at any time during the day. Still only a fraction of the hard-working population of Thanet this remains a dependent generation with nowhere to go and little to offer the rest of society beyond very small gaps between the generations.

How we can solve this problem I don’t know. Certainly government has failed at every turning leaving us with a potential unemployment time-bomb on our hands within the next ten years.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Christmas Carol

I’m sitting here in the hotel coffee lounge surrounded by at least thirty small schoolboys dressed as Father Christmas ready to sing Christmas carols in Arabic and English. This is a part of the world where education is important, school uniforms are neat, the children are polite and well-behaved and almost everyone celebrates Christmas, even though the average family wage is 300 a month and the population is mostly poor. I’ll try and upload a camera photo.



Some of these children are Christian, others are Moslem and when I told my driver this morning that in England, some religious groups are offended by the open celebration of Christmas. He couldn’t grasp the idea. “Why” he asked, “Christmas and Eid are for the Children” it shouldn’t matter what religion you are, why would anyone be offended?”

I tried to explain how in Britain that it’s very easy to be offended and that there’s a whole legal industry devoted to generously compensating those people in the minority who feel offended by the majority but he said and I quote, “If people come to live in your country they should follow your traditions and customs.”

Now this was an old Jordanian taxi driver, who perhaps the same acute level of common sense as the average London cabbie. Perhaps he should be advising our own government on what’s politically correct and what’s not.

The Labours of Hercules

Hotel security, here in Amman, is visibly tightas you might expect but otherwise, it's business as usual and in general, it's as safe a place to be as London, even safer perhaps.

I rather wonder if British Airways is taking the strain off the RAF these days, given the number of fellow passengers on my flight with desert boots and short haircuts, Americans included. Outside my hotel window, another Hercules transport aircraft roars off towards Baghdad and me, well, I've got a meeting at British Embassy in an hour.

Some speculation around in the website I notice as to whether the oil refinery explosion was an accident or not. My first reaction on Sunday, was the same as another visitor, that given our Health & Safety culture and paranoia an accident of this magnitude was unlikely and that it looked like a series of charges, but I hope my suspicions are wrong!

Off goes another Iraq-bound Hercules.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Stacking Tin

The good news is that you can make Skype VoIP telephone calls from a laptop PC here at Garfunkel’s in Heathrow’s Terminal 4, over the T-Mobile wireless network that covers the airport. The bad news is that it took me three hours to get here on a motorbike this morning!

A lorry fire on the westbound Thanet Way this morning, virtually closed it and one can, as usual, walk along the tops of the cars along the M25 from Sevenoaks to Staines. If I had taken a car, Id’ still be somewhere in Surrey!

The food is generally so poor on BMED, the middle-eastern arm of British airways that I’m filling-up with an English breakfast before catching my flight in 30 minutes. With luck, this should see me to Amman. Normal service should resume later in the week between attempts at wireless posting from Jordan.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Black Cloud from Luton

I’ve been up at three thousand feet looking down the Thames from Canvey Island at the pall of smoke coming the other way.

I’ve attached some photos and a video but suffice to say that it starts at 2,500 feet and is rolling past towards Belgium on the Essex side of the estuary.

The really big cloud and believe me, it’s “Biblical” a scene from a nuclear winter was still out towards Thurrock when I turned back and I’m estimating it will roll past us after 18:00, hopefully out to sea.

Towards Luton you can see this huge black cloud with a red glow at its centre.

The Smoke cloud from the Luton refinery fire approaches Canvey Island at 15:00 Sunday.

Out to Lunch

The website may be a little quiet until Wednesday but I’ll be back.

Shut that Door

Householders who close the door on or refuse to cooperate with bureaucrats sent to check their property for features that will increase their council tax bills could be fined £500 and receive a criminal record.

The fines will be imposed on anybody who "intentionally obstructs" Valuation Office Agency inspectors in their effort to record details of millions of homes. The move is likely to create more council tax rebels who refuse to pay fines, clog the courts and bring further chaos to the system.

Parliamentary answers given by Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister, show that anybody who refuses to let inspectors in could face a criminal charge.

She said: "A person who intentionally obstructs a valuation officer commits an offence and may be liable to a fine not exceeding level two [£500] on the standard scale."

Other parliamentary answers by the Government show that the valuation will also be used to assess liability for inheritance or capital gains tax.

Parliamentary replies show that the exercise is now under way. The revaluation carried out in Wales suggests that, in England, owners of a Band D property will face an extra £267 on their council tax bill if they go up two bands.

Ed: Now if everyone in Thanet shut their door to the inspectors, I wonder what the government would do then.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sergeant Pepper Was Here Too

Kent on Sunday has a photograph of John Lennon, captured a very long time ago, in 1963, when the Winter Gardens in Margate was on of THE big venues for pop stars like the Beatles.

Cllr Mick Tomlinson was actually there and they have his age as 50, the same as me, which is a surprise! I can remember the Mods and Rockers fighting it out on the beaches at Margate in the mid-sixties but I can’t remember John, Paul, George and Ringo, I was too young for anything else other than Mary Poppins. But instead of simply having a Turner Contemporary, what about building a Margate Beatles Contemporary too and turn the old town into a lively, sixties-style Carnaby Street celebration of the music industry. Dream on!

More Tank Traps

More wartime tanks traps are now surfacing on the beach at Westgate. A little local history designed to defeat the army of Adolf Hitler on the sands of St Mildred's Bay. Should we recover them or leave them to appear and disappear over the years for future generations to wonder over?

Clock Tower Chaos

The road around Margate Clocktower is being resurfaced this morning with “Stop”, “Go” traffic control.

It’s not nice out there and resurfacing two weekends before Christmas strikes me as daft or worse.

Avoid driving in to Margate unless you have to today or be prepared to wait in the queues along the seafront and from the High Street and Cecil Square.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Body on Beach

Police officers were called to the beach at Westbrook Bay, Margate, at around 7.30am, after a man out walking his dog found the fully clothed body washed up.

Detectives believe they know the identity of the man, who was aged in his late 40s or early 50s and from Thanet, but a formal identification has not yet taken place.

The death is being treated as unexplained, but not suspicious at this time. A post mortem will be carried out to determine the cause of death.

Hovering

A stunning afternoon and I could kick myself that I was flying without a camera, as the tide is very low today and the scenery and water colour a wonderful contrast of blues and browns. On the sands opposite Minnis Bay I counted ten adult seals, a little information for anyone from Thanet Coast Watch who might be visiting the site.

Michael of Michael’s bookshop has sent along a photo of the old Hoverport in Ramsgate, which brings back memories as the site of my first job when I left school, working the car-deck on those huge machines that were guaranteed to make the best sailor seasick in some of gales we crossed the channel in. It’s funny that there’s nothing left there now to remember it by.

On the Beat

I heard an interesting statistic from a contractor yesterday, that in Westgate alone, there are twenty childrens homes from just a single agency, which has forty-nine of these spread across Thanet, a fraction of the total number. Does anyone have the actual figures as the ‘Thanet Report’ on the KCC website doesn’t appear to be willing to share the true numbers which may or may not be reflected in the rising provision for special needs places in a number of local primary and secondary schools?

Meanwhile, on another matter, reading through the Thanet Gazette this morning, the people of Birchington are calling out for more visible and regular policing along the High Street in the evenings as gangs of youths continue to cause problems for local businesses and residents. Thanet police are, it appears overstretched and Birchington is suffering as a consequence. Policing is something we all pay for in our inflated community charges and each and every community has a right to it and not excuses in regard to available manpower.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Like Clockwork

Has anyone else noticed that the Margate Clocktower’s clock has stopped at 5:20?

Has someone forgotten to wind it up perhaps or has time simply stood still for the seaside town?

It’s a mystery and does anyone have the answer please?

Joined-up Not

I was wrong! Well almost. Council workers are obviously tidying up the green areas along the coast, which is very good news, the winter pruning I suppose.

The bad news is that there appears to be absolutely no evidence of them picking up the litter that covers many of the cliff tops and flowerbeds, as I thought yesterday.

I’ve just walked to Cliftonville and back and can confirm that rubbish is being left “in situ.” “Not my job mate, I’m in gardening not litter.”

Councillors reading this website. Can we have some intelligent, joined-up service thinking impressed on the management please.

Directionless Gov

The Guardian reveals that government websites are still struggling to attract visitors despite extensive spending. Information published today by Technology Guardian shows that many of the government's internet operations are underperforming, despite vast funding and investment. One website, UK World Heritage Sites (http://www.ukworldheritage.org.uk/) managed only 77 visitors last year and so in contrast, Thanetlife is doing rather well and on course to hit 50,000 by January 1st with a little luck.

Meanwhile such is the criticism aimed at the Directgov website that some disillusioned “wags”, members of Democracy.org.uk have created an alternative search engine for public sector websites called http://www.directionlessgov.com/

They write: “We got so fed up with the general uselessness of the multi-million pound shambles otherwise known as the Direct.gov.uk portal that we decided to build something better in under an hour. Sadly, we ran catastrophically behind schedule, but we still finished before lunch.”

“For free. Think of it as a gift. When it comes to searching for relevant UK Government resources, we think it beats Direct.gov.uk hands down. Don't believe us? Just compare the two. “

You might want to try it out!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Great Digital Challenge

The government has launched a £9m search for a local council to be held up as a shining example of best practice in e-government.

The winning council will receive £3m from government to put its ideas into practice - along with another £4m in cash or discounted goods and services from industry.

As part of the Digital Challenge, another 10 lucky regional finalists will bag £200,000 each.

Just to say, I’m only around the corner and TDC , if it plans to enter can have my help if it thinks it might be useful, time permitting, between working with foreign governments like Jordan next week.