Saturday, November 29, 2008

Viva Bob!

What a great speech by Sir Bob Geldof this afternoon before he turned on the Margate Christmas lights. He didn't pull any punches with his remarks and it was both funny and entertaining at the same time.

All in all the whole event went very well I thought. Well attended with no howling wind and a mild afternoon temperature, the crowd included, I found myself standing next to Gazette columnist Jane Wenham Jones and 'Rock Doc', councillor Alasdair Bruce. In fact, Alasdair and I were both supposed to be somewhere else today and managed to get back to Margate in time for the grand switching on of the lights. These duly came on when Sir Bob squeezed the "six inch knob" that was handed to him - his joke not mine I should add - and whether this was the most exciting part of his evening, as he left rapidly for Heathrow, we'll never know!

As I left, the musical entertainment was in full swing on the piazza and twenty or more Honda Gold Wing motorcycles were lined-up on the harbour arm flashing their lights.

All credit I think to the Margate Charter Trustees and the Mayor's office for putting-on such a good show. At a difficult time there was a noticeably warm and enthusiastic spirit from everyone gathered around the piazza and the open-top bus for the ceremony.

On a more sombre note, to illustrate how tough it's getting out there in the economy, two good friends of mine both lost their jobs this week. They join thousands more workers around the country faced with the worst possible news before Christmas but in this case, what's so unusual, is that they are both UK directors of one of the world's best-known US computer software companies. Not the type of persons - both highly qualified - that you might expect to be made suddenly redundant and illustrative of the bloodbath that is presently sweeping the IT industry as companies suddenly see huge orders cancelled.

The knock-on effect of all this will only start to be seen, I estimate in about March. It's a slow train-crash we are seeing now and if the Government's emergency financial measures, announced last week, don't have an immediate effect over the Christmas shopping period, then we'll see the supply chain impact in about three months. As an example, the business of another person I know has become a sudden casualty of one of the two high profile retail chains that collapsed last week. He's owed, I understand, close to £750,000.

It all rather explains why it's rumoured that the Chinese plan to buy huge amount of gold bullion as an insurance against any further financial meltdown Of course, we can't buy anything significant in this country, firstly because as a nation we are only one-step above selling 'The Big Issue' outside Somerfield and secondly because our Prime Minister, the fiscally prudent Gordon Brown, sold-off most of our gold at a baragain price, soon after becoming Chancellor.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sir Bob Cometh

"Who honestly belived", writes one of our Thanet Blogs, that Bob Geldorf would be switching on the Margate Xmas lights ?!The bloke who earlier in the year called it a dump, never on the cards was it really, and it was daft of TDC to think that they had him booked, unless of course it was just a big joke on the media anyway."

Well I for one believe or is that "belive" in Sir Bob Geldof or even his look-alike cousin, "Bob Geldorf" because I've just heard that he will be in Margate on Saturday 29th November, to turn on the Christmas Lights.

Margate Mayor, Brian Sullivan tells me: "The office has been in contact with Sir Bob's team, and Sir Bob was very concerned at letting us down, and through the efforts of both the Mayor’s Office and Sir Bob's team, the timings have been slightly changed so that he can turn on the lights and get his flight to Doha on Saturday night. “ He added “We are very pleased that Sir Bob has changed his plans to be with us on Saturday”

So Margate's lights lights will now be switched on at 4.30pm by Sir Bob, and the Shell Lady and Fireworks will be presented by Ben Mills and Mark Arden later in the evening. KMFM will be promoting local bands on their Roadshowand the Craft Fayre in the Old Town, the whole day will I hope, be a positive one for Margate, and I'm sure everyone will look forward to giving Sir Bob, Ben and Mark a traditional Margate welcome!!!

Burning Our Money

I happened to be at Westminster during the Chancellor's pre-budget speech yesterday and caught the train home to Thanet from Victoria, feeling somewhat poorer in anticipation of harsher taxes yet to come.

There's a 'Blog' I recommend reading on the subject called 'They're Burning Our Money' and it does a much better job of explaining what happened yesterday than I could possibly even try.

Should you, good reader, still have any doubts over the financial mess that surrounds us, then I suggest a quick visit to HM Treasury's website and a concentrated browse of the 'Crosby Report.'

The Crosby report into mortgage financing, named after its author the former HBOS chief Sir James Crosby, said repayments and redemptions will outpace lending in 2009 as the slump in the housing market deepens.

In his report for the Government, Sir James said that, in the current economic climate, it would be hard for banks to finance loans. Well we know that but here's the stark warning to the Chancellor:

"Therefore I believe that new net mortgage lending is likely to fall below zero in 2009, with only a modest recovery likely in 2010."

In other words there may be 'No' mortgage lending next year by financial institutions or in plain English, there's a risk of the wheels coming off the property-driven economy in which we live.

Whether a two and a half point decrease in the rate of VAT is enough to bump-start an economy that has four flat tyres is another question altogether!

Meanwhile, Westwood Cross was busy this morning, which may be a good sign of returning consumer confidence or perhaps people are spending all they have left before Government asks them for it back again with interest?

Turner Contemporary Ground Breaking

Fresh from the ground-breaking ceremony for the Turner Contemporary Gallery at the Rendezvous car-park on Margate seafront, the first pictures.

It's a howling North-easterly gale out there today, as you may have noticed and there was some risk of the councillors and small children in the picture being blown over or swept away by the incoming tide! The lifeboat was standing by, just in case!

You may notice from the photo that there is now some considrable digging left to do before the gallery appears but at least its a positive start after all these years, controversy and money being spent on the project.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Live Now - Pay Later

I ventured out into the gale and the near-zero temperatures for a run along the coast this morning. What three kayakers were doing in the bay was anyone's guess; members of the Special Boat Service practising perhaps? I didn't last long as the appearance of sleet drove me back inside but from the direction of Margate, I could still hear the muffled roar from the 'Big Sky' beach races taking place on the sands. I'm not convinced that the end of November is such a great date to put on a public spectacle of this kind but I take my hat off to everyone involved in such a spectacular battle against the forces of nature.



Summer is now a long way off and there's not much flying to be had either. The embedded video is from another weekend, Radio One's 'Big Weekend' last May, where the weather was warmer and kinder and I had two aircraft sitting over Maidstone. You can see from the video two banners laid out between two sets of poles as one aircraft after the other dropped down to collect them. You can also see how uncomfortably close those same poles are from a pilot's view as I fly between them. Roll-on summer I say but we've Christmas and the New Year holiday to get out of the way first and the promise, tomorrow, of dramatic tax cuts to get us all out there spending money in the sales; making our own small contribution to re-starting the economy.

What I can't quite grasp is why, if I'm suddenly given a little extra money to spend at the end of the month by the generous Mr Darling, I should go out and spend it, rather than putting it away to anticipate the harsher days ahead?

I know the economy needs a sudden jump-start, rather like a cardiac patient going into arrest but all the well-placed people I speak to in finance are expecting to see another half a million or so unemployed by the end of next year with a recession to match. So while stimulating the economy with tax cuts, is this really the right time for us all to spend the largesse on a new wide screen television for Christmas or simply save it against the worst to come?

It's really a 'Catch-22' problem for any Government of any colour, "Damned if you do and damned if you don't", so best call me Ebenezer Scrooge I suppose!

Catch 22” — the twenty-second of the guidelines used by military surgeons to “catch” those falsely claiming to be insane — is that an insane person should not believe or suspect that they are insane. Thus, to be recognised as insane, a person must not ask for an evaluation, because doing so implicitly shows that they suspect themselves to be insane. But, if a person does not ask for an evaluation, they cannot be recognised as insane because the evaluation is the method by which such recognition would occur. Thus, nobody can ever classify themselves as insane (even if they genuinely are), and thus nobody may ever use an insanity diagnosis to escape flying combat missions.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Big Sky - Cold Weather

What a bitterly cold day!

I've been down at Margate seafront for the start of the 'Big Sky' beach races, along with Cllr's Bruce and Ezekiel and now I've retreated back into the warmth of my house.

Outside on the beach, brave souls are challenging the cold and a fierce sandstorm to compete along a course of man-made sand dunes. It's a great shame about the weather because it's an exciting spectacle and conditions have kept the crowds away.

In the photograph, council leader, Sandy Ezekiel is seen taking a turn on one of the powerful quad-bikes competing in the events together with the familiar trail motorcycles seen in the second photograph.
I've been asked to do the prize-giving at the end of the event on Sunday afternoon but with snow forecast the conditions for the racers could prove very challenging indeed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On the Beat

I wonder whether the members of the Westgate Residents Association had, in recent times, seen so many police officers squeezed into one place but last week it welcomed a constable, a PCSO, a sergeant and an inspector, all ready to field questions from an often hostile audience which felt that the town had become a waypoint on the map between Birchington and Margate in simple community policing terms.

To be honest, Westgate shares many of the same concerns as other parts of Thanet. People are unhappy with the steady background hum of low intensity anti-social behaviour in their communities; mostly involving teenagers and cheap alcohol. Several well-publicised areas of the island have problems with crime that are orders of magnitude higher than others and the police, with only limited resources, have to sensibly prioritise their efforts but to many local people this can feel like neglect.

Last week, we heard in forceful terms from Mr Bell, the owner an off-license in Station road, that since Westgate had lost its police officer, PC Chris Bungard to new duties at Millmead and its popular warden, Tony Bailey to a new career, that the modern urban curses of anti-social behaviour and under-age drinking were once again the increase. Incidents aren’t being reported, said Mr Bell, simply because it was pointless to do so, as it is commonly believed, that the police, busy elsewhere in Thanet with more important matters, simply aren’t able to respond.

I pointed out, that on one occasion at the end of the summer; I had called the police three times in regard to the same noisy, under-age party on the beach at Westgate. The police, I was told, with their meagre resources committed to an incident in Ramsgate, were unable to respond at all but from my own perspective as a local councillor, that’s not good enough. We live in a democracy or at least the remains of one and in theory at least, the police should give appropriate weight to an attendance request from an elected representative of the community, even if this only means a ‘drive-by’ wave on the way to somewhere else.

We all pay our council taxes and explaining-away a change in our local policing on the basis that an area such as Westgate has a proportionally lower level of crime and anti-social behaviour than elsewhere, fails to recognise the rights of all residents everywhere to receive an identical level of service, the one described in the Government’s so-called ‘policing pledge’, a shiny new promise to the population of a new and ‘transformative’ service level agreement from the police “At a local level to meet the needs of communities.”

Our police do a great job with what they have and mostly with their hands tied with the red-tape of constant Government interference. If there’s a gap between the Home Office statement shown below and what we actually witness at a local level then perhaps it’s the politicians and not the Police Service that we should call to account for the results.

"It's important that neighbourhood policing is locally led. Engaging effectively with local people, and involving them in agreeing and tackling local policing priorities are vital elements of the national neighbourhood policing programme.” (Home Office)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A View of Thanet Earth

Having revalidated my night rating at Manston yesterday evening, I decided to try out the new camera on the 'Thanet Earth' construction site on the way back to Maypole this morning.

Not the best of days to take photos with a 1,500 cloud base but I thought that some readers might like to see the current progress and the only place you are likely to have a bird's eye view of it all is here I suspect.

And should anyone ask, "Yes", I'm making the occasional posting like this one when something interesting turns up but "No" I don't plan to be making a habit of it. I'll leave that pleasure to others!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Unwilling Passenger

Remembrance Sunday and I noticed that the sound of the canon from the ceremony at Margate echoed toward the war memorial on the clifftop here at Westgate.

I'm reminded of three members of my own family who took part in World War I. There was my paternal grandfather, pictured as a young officer fresh from public school, who was wounded and never spoke once about his experiences.

My maternal great grand-father, who lived here in Westgate and London and who volunteered, like the novellist Ernest Hemingway, to be an ambulance driver for the Belgian army at the very start of the war in 1914. From there, he became one of the first official war photographers, working for the Illustrated London News and survived, unscathed, retiring back to a quieter life in Westgate on Sea.

I still have his small Kodak camera, in excellent working condition, in its original leather case sitting on the shelf opposite, marked with the magazine's name on the inside.

Then there was Arthur Carr Osburn DSO, my Grandmother's brother, a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps and a regular officer. He'd seen the end of the Boer War in South Africa and joined the war in France at the battle of Mons (unknown to  the great Grandfather mentioned earlier who had a 'Mons Star' medal in his own collection). Arthur wrote a remarkable book about his experiences "The retreat from Mons", with the title: 'Unwilling Passenger' and having read one of the few surviving copies, I believe it's as good or perhaps even better than that of the poet and novelist Robert Graves, 'Goodbye to All That.'

For Arthur (whose brother Harold, was Captain of HMS Gary, pictured below) to have survived as a medical officer through all the major engagements and horrors of the Somme and Paschendale was nothing less than remarkable.Perhaps even more remarkable was how he maintained his sanity and ability to function as a doctor when faced with so many casualties under fire.

The expression: "Lest we forget", is an appropriate thought to keep in mind for all of those men and women who experienced the horrors and suffering of the 'War to end all wars.'

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Beached

I was on my regular lunchtime run today and came across a small drama unfolding on the beach opposite the car park at Westbrook.

A young Porpoise had been spotted stranded on the sands at around 10:30am by two dog walkers and by the time I arrived, the Police, Coastguard and British Divers Marine Rescue, were in full swing attempting to keep the animal comfortable while they waited for a vet to arrive and make the final prognosis on its condition.

It still had a visible amount of energy left and why it was beached its hard to say as the sea conditions aren't excessive today. I'm sure you'll discover what happened next in the local papers, as I sent copies of my photographs to them.

A little later, Marine Mammal Medic, Jon Brooks, emailed  and writes: "Our vet on site felt, at the time, that the mammal was in a good condition and stood a vey good chance of being refloated. Sadly it later came to light that he was not" - and it was put down - . "This was not due to a lack of a sanctuary", as was previously suggested by an earlier reader. All very sad given the remarkable efforts that everyone involved made to save it. As an interested observer, I would like to thank them all for what they did this morning in visibly difficult conditions.