Monday, May 31, 2010

Ace Day Out

There must be two thousand or more motorcycles parked along Margate seafront and the old town for the Ace Café ‘Margate Meltdown’ ride today. I took my own ageing BMW 1150GS along to meet with Cllr Alasdair Bruce, the ‘Rock Doc’ but couldn’t find him in the press. He’s out there somewhere, as is, I suspect, Eastcliff Richard! I must confess I’m suffering from a level of two wheel envy, looking at some of the magnificent machines, lovingly polished and cared-for, now parked along Marine Parade. Professional photographer and 'biker', Barrie Smith, has some great photos here.

This is a great day out for the town and it’s a pity that the weather is playing the usual ‘Great British Bank Holiday’ game. I was supposed to be tugging a banner along the beach but the winds-speeds and the low cloud have put paid to that. I did ask if we could have a Eurofighter Typhoon fly by the harbour but Tim Clements, the pilot just called me to say that his tasking won’t allow it. There are two Eurofighters sitting at Manston for the Southend air show, so it was worth a try, pilot to pilot and it was very kind of him to let me know.

We’ve only a matter of weeks to go before our own annual ‘Big Event’ air show and positioning it towards the middle of June may make us a little luckier than Southend with the weather.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wild and Windy

The great British Bank Holiday weekend and its almost predictably wild and windy, leaving me feeling rather sorry for the Southend Airshow which would have been praying for a repeat of last Sunday.

I was supposed to be flying a banner over the Spitfire museum at Manston in advance of the small air display this afternoon but the conditions make it too tricky to operate, with the wind speed forecast to hit 30mph some time around noon. Tomorrow, it's the Ace Café. 'Margate Meltdown', motorcycle ride and so if the weather permits, I'll try again, with a banner for a new local business, www.tradeshop.org.uk . Otherwise I'll be on my old BMW to welcome the riders.

On the near empty beach, a little earlier, I spotted two young boys, with their heads protruding from 'foxholes' about ten feet apart. A thought popped into my mind on seeing this and I wondered over to admire their efforts and gently coax out of them what they were up to. In fact my suspicion was right. The two had the bright idea of digging two deep holes, roughly up to their shoulder heights and the older one had starting tunneling between the two. The idea, they proudly told me was to create a tunnel for the incoming tide. Quite relieved I had caught the one lad before he tunneled in any further, I gently explained how dangerous this was and that every year, one or two children die trying the same thing, when the tunnel collapses on top of the digger. Thankfully, they seemed to grasp the idea and when I left, they were skimming stones instead.

Watching Diane Abbot on the Andrew Marr show this morning, I was left with the curious thought that I would vote for her as leader of the Labour Party, which either says a great deal about Diane or rather less about the other leadership contenders, Ed Balls, the Millibands and the 'also-rans'! And I'm a Conservative which makes it even more bizarre! Perhaps she'll have Michael Portillo as her deputy if she wins? Now there's an even stranger idea!

I'm off to Manston and the Spitfire museum a little later to enjoy the show and hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Traveller Returns

Dubai was hot, unbearably so with no real chance to acclimatize and the air conditioning in the hotels simply making things worse, with the temperature gap between outdoors and indoors being more than 20 degrees Celsius. In the photo, it's hard to be sure whether the man lying on the trolley has either expired from the heat or is having a siesta.

Across my own hotel was the world's tallest building, only recently opened and you can quickly get a stiff neck from looking up at it. Whether it's possible to walk-up the stairs to the top without the aid of oxygen I don't know but I did rather think of the firefighters trying to climb the stairs after the 911 incident and this building dwarfs the likes of our own iconic 'Gherkin' and Post Office Tower .

Two O'clock in the morning and the enormous duty free mall at Dubai airport is busy. I notice that Apple's Ipad is already available there and if your eye catches a Porsche or a Rolex, they'll wrap that too! Thanks to the joys of modern airline travel, I'm already suffering from a racking cough and dosed-up on Panadol; I don't want to shop, I simply want to get home.

Waiting for my bags eight hours later beside the carousel at Heathrow Terminal 3, the alarm suddenly goes-off and the baggage stops rolling. A woman in rainbow garb, from a family which appears to originate from some brighter and more distant land, has pressed the big red 'Emergency Stop' button so that she can collect her bag. She presses it several more times perhaps thinking that the carousel will restart but instead, a disembodied voice announces that the emergency stop system has been activated and that technicians have been called to reset the system. In our Health & Safety culture you don't simply turn-up and switch it on again. No, reports have to be made and a specially qualified individual with a reset code has to be summoned from somewhere in the bowels of the airport. Passengers mutter and stare angrily in the direction of the culprit who remains quite oblivious; it appears to the connection between her pressing the big red button and the baggage system stopping. It takes fifteen minutes before the bags start rolling again.

Within sight of my home at the top of Westgate bay Avenue, I spot a figure rolling by the side of the road at the junction of Sea Road, Several cars pass by and ignore him before I pull my motorcycle into the kerb and stop. It's an elderly gentleman that I recognize from the town. He's fallen and has a badly gashed head that is bleeding profusely. He's conscious but quite shaken and otherwise unhurt. An ambulance is called and several passers-by come and help while we wait for it to appear. Fortunately, I have a clean duster in my motorcycle top-box and can use this to apply pressure and staunch the flow of blood. He's one of the 'Old-school', 79 and doesn't like to make a fuss. The ambulance arrives and I leave him in their capable hands, quickly passing them the necessary protocol details, "AMPLE", before I finally drive the last few hundred yards to my home and the first cup of tea since Sunday.

Just a thought though after a ride to Heathrow and back. People have been telling me the traffic is much lighter these days, possibly a consequence of the economy but on Sunday evening I expected the roads to be packed with people coming home from the coast and they weren't and today, at the peak of rush hour, there were no stoppages whatsoever on the M25. I sped straight home. So there is something we can thank the last Labour government for. They appear to have solved the M25 traffic jam problem through a clever tweak of the economy. Quite brilliant!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Catching-up

Finally, a free moment to write a Blog entry! I've been rather busy over the last week and today was no exception. Following-on from a flying job on the Eastern edge of London in the morning, I met-up with our new Thanet South Conservative Member of Parliament, Laura Sandys, at Miles bar, overlooking the Marina in Ramsgate. Between the two of us and the others present, we both listened and had a useful hour's discussion surrounding the key local issues and concerns relating to the harbour.

I arrived home to find a book in my post. This was a signed copy of 'Beaufighter Over the Balkans' by Steve Stevens DFC. Steve is now in his nineties. I got talking to him when he enquired about booking a banner for the Christian party before the General Election. He's a fascinating character who caused havoc flying missions against enemy shipping, gun emplacements and tactical targets in low-level, surprise rocket attacks in occupied Yugoslavia. I must admit that it's a privilege and a pleasure not only to have him send me a copy of his book but to have spoken with him several times on the telephone, pilot to pilot and hear him reminisce on some of the remarkable 'scrapes' he found himself in. My father's best friend was a famous Mosquito pilot who lived quietly in Broadstairs until his death. John Brown was mentioned for his role in 'Operation Hydra', the famous raid on the Peenemunde rocket site in 1943.

You may have read about the robbery at Westgate at Paydens, earlier in the week. I 'Tweeted' about it just after it happened. In fact I missed the raid by a matter of minutes and arrived at the Post Office with a prescription to fill at the same moment as the police, which did come as a surprise. Like everyone else, I'm horrified that such a violently aggressive incident should take place in Westgate and I returned when the dust had settled a little to enquire if everyone was alright. Ironically, Inspector Pearson tells me that crime is generally down in the area, which is encouraging but an incident like this one at Paydens, is bound to colour people's perceptions and fear of crime. It very much sounds as if the robbers were young, very stupid and possibly local and so I very much look forward to reading of swift results by the police in bringing them to justice.

Finally, if you haven't noticed, the foundations for the wooden seaplane pier in St Mildred's Bay have been completely uncovered by wave action and a shifting of the sands. I've never seen the whole length of the pilings exposed before and now you can clearly see how wide it was, extending from where the small bridge in front of the car park was further out onto the sands, allowing the aircraft to be winched in and out in 1915.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mooching About

I thought I might go and celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary together with my long-suffering wife by dropping in at a pleasantly sunny Ramsgate harbour this afternoon. From all accounts, Thanet's top-blogger, Eastcliff Richard was woken from his afternoon nap by the growl of the passing Harvard in the photos delivering its impromptu air display for the benefit of everyone along the seafront!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Two Wheels Good

Making the best of the good weather, I cycled over to Ramsgate harbour yesterday lunchtime, sitting uncomfortably astride the titanium razor-blade that is my triathlon bike.

It's been in sitting in the cellar for the last three years while the local sea air eats away at the mountain bike I normally get around with and yesterday I wondered how on earth I once managed to race the speed machine with its oversized main gear. It's been a good ten years since I last competed, I think and advancing late middle-age is catching-up as I wondered where the energy in my legs had gone since I last rode it

The first triathlon I competed in was a strange one indeed. The swim was a mile across Dover harbour, the cycle race was from Disneyland Paris and the run was around Regent's Park. The worst swim in any event was without doubt, the Windsor Triathlon, which involved fighting the muddy current of the river Thames and the occasional floating dead rat and I recall that the water for the inaugural London triathlon at docklands was absolutely freezing.

My racing cycle with its narrow tyres isn't really meant for anything but straight routes and I've the scars from two nasty crashes to prove it doesn't like corners or potholes. However, when it gets going it can be one of the quickest ways of moving around bar a motorcycle in this increasingly traffic-congested island of ours.

Ramsgate marina rather reminded me of ports in the south of France yesterday. I sat down at a busy Miles bar for a drink and admired the view and the cosmopolitan atmosphere before wandering around the harbour. It's without doubt one of the island's gems and perhaps illustrates the potential of Margate once the Turner is built and Dreamland resurrected. Both town are of course very different in character and nature but with tourism now increasingly looking inward as a consequence or recession, airline problems and a weak pound, Thanet and our towns, have a tremendous amount to offer, if we can solve the many problems and challenges that face our community within the increasingly limited budgets we have available.

Last week, you may have seen we had a new MP in Thanet South, a change of Leader and changes in the Conservative cabinet. Reflecting in a minor way what also happened at Westminster, this opens a new chapter for the island in terms of style, new ideas and policy. We all recognize that money is going to be tighter than ever before and some difficult decisions are going to have to be made for us to live within our means. There are opportunities and reasons for optimism and those of us involved in the local political decision making process will be doing what we have to do to soften the pain that will accompany the largest public sector deficit in history and leverage any sensible opportunity to make Thanet a better place for everyone who lives and works here.



And while a new Government may stimulate a sigh of relief among many, I'll finish by quoting today's papers:

'The government last night accused Labour of pursuing a “scorched earth policy” before the general election, leaving behind billions of pounds of previously hidden spending commitments.

The newly discovered Whitehall “black holes” could force even more severe public spending cuts, or higher tax rises, ministers fear.

Vince Cable, the business secretary, said: “I fear that a lot of bad news about the public finances has been hidden and stored up for the new government. The skeletons are starting to fall out of the cupboard.”'

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Road to 2012

Up and about on various jobs today and I thought I would share a photo (copyright) showing the progress of the London Olympic site, as the sporting clock counts down towards the summer of  2012.

How on earth we are going to pay for this sporting extravaganza though is anyone's guess! Just look what the Olympics did for Greece as a lesson in optimism over financial prudence.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

All Change

For readers with a political interest, the new Conservative Cabinet at Thanet District Council was revealed at the annual meeting of the council this evening.

The new leader is of course Bob Bayford and his deputy is Martin Wise who now passes his responsibility for finance to Cllr Bayford and instead, assumes the waste management and tourism portfolio formerly held by Shirley Tomlinson. Other members of the Cabinet are Cllr Chris Wells, who assumes responsibility for communities and housing from his predecessor, Cllr Zita Wiltshire. Cllr Roger Latchford  continues his good work on developing the local economy. The final member of the new team is me and I keep Customer Services, IT and Communications but with an immediate responsibility for regulatory matters.

In the coming weeks the Cabinet responsibilities will be further refined and distributed among the new team and we will be working on a new corporate plan for the year ahead.

So the Cabinet is much smaller than before and this represents part of the drive to cut costs from the democratic services budget. Cllr Wise has very generously chosen not to take the Deputy Leader's responsibility allowance. The council tonight also agreed that members would not take the recommended increase in their allowances. I understand this has now remained stationary for six years and irrespective of political party Members hope it sets an example for the difficult times that lie ahead.

Council tonight paid tribute to the outgoing leader, Sandy Ezekiel for the remarkable effort he has put into working for the people of Thanet for the last seven years. In the same week we have a new Government, we also have an opportunity to start a new chapter in Thanet's politics and policies and I for one look forward to the challenge of working with a new leader and my Cabinet colleagues and council officers; all of us devoted to the goal of making Thanet a better, more attractive and more prosperous home for us all.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Reasons to be Cheerful

A new chapter in our history begins with the youngest Prime Minister in two hundred years. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown was in and out of the palace in almost the time it takes to 'drive thru' a MacDonalds and order a Big Mac meal for two. I doubt Her Majesty has forgiven the new labour project for what it's done to her kingdom, several foreign wars, £167 billion of public debt, record youth unemployment, the highest overall unemployment since 1994 (8% of the population) a National Health Service which boasts cancer cure statistics on a par with Bulgaria and the Government's credibility on helping those struggling the most blown apart; a bleak picture of worsening poverty in Britain which was growing steadily even before the recession took root. The number of people living in poverty had climbed to 11 million by March 2008, a rise of 300,000 since 2006.

So what Gordon Brown had to smile about I really don't know. Perhaps he had forgotten we are a nation at war, suffocated by the weight of bureaucracy and taxes that under Labour, has made us a riven,  socially divided, uncompetitive and failing economy, quite  unprepared to meet the growing challenge from  Asia. I'm beginning to sound like Nick Clegg!

Now comes the hard part. While the market may recover confidence with the arrival of a Conservative-Liberal coalition prepared to deal with the economic problems head-on, the pain will be shared by us all. We've become used to a State that is so generous that people from as far away as China and sub-Saharan Africa, are prepared to risk death every day to reach this Promised Land where everyone has rights but increasingly few have responsibilities in the sense that our grandparents would have understood.

A Conservative-led government will aim to take the necessary steps to put this nation back on its feet but the damage done over the last decade now runs so deep that even the most optimistic of observers may wonder how long the patient will take to recover from the initiative numbing consequences that are the legacy of Blair and Brown; the legion of parasitic, self-indulgent socialist bureaucrats and party activists that have done oh so well at our expense.


Meanwhile the first Cabinet posts to be announced are:

FOREIGN SECRETARY: William Hague
CHANCELLOR: George Osborne
CHIEF SECRETARY: Vince Cable
EDUCATION: David Laws
HEALTH: Andrew Lansley

Monday, May 10, 2010

Flags of Convenience

With the political process in apparent meltdown this evening, I have to agree strongly with the following comment made by the Conservative, William Hague:

"It would be wrong to construct a government, which wouldn't be stable, which wouldn't have a prime minister elected by the people of this country and wouldn't be submitting a major constitutional change to a referendum of the country."

One can imagine that if Labour succeeded in reaching some kind of agreement with the LibDems, then suitcases full of money would leave this country towards the Celtic fringes, which would in turn hold the real balance of power! The predictable condition of their being part of any Labour and LibDem coalition to make-up the numbers, would be that the public sector cuts would fall most heavily on England rather than be shared across the United Kingdom or what remains left of it. Good reason enough for the creation of an English Parliament in the eyes of most observers and long overdue in the eyes of many.

On a different note altogether and a bit of a mystery! I hear from reports, that my fellow Westgate ward councillor, our hard-working and diligent Tom King, was a reluctant star of the BBC's election night coverage when he was filmed wearing a large red Labour rosette during the count at Wandsworth. Now, to be simply invited into the count, one has to be some way up the ladder of any local political organisation, as numbers are tightly restricted, so I guess the secret is out and being an independent councillor here in Thanet may simply be compared to a flag of convenience? With Westgate such a firmly traditional Conservative-leaning ward one can perhaps understand why.

Laughing Tuesday

The political saga in Westminster drags on and I'm vaguely reminded of the film, 'Dr Strangelove.' A little earlier, the Sky News helicopter spotted Lord Mandleson digging what appeared to be a shallow pit in the grounds of No10 and one wonders when the tattered remains of the Labour Party will finally have the courage to rush the bunker and replace Gordon with one of their own. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg is clearly pushing David Cameron hard for important political concessions such as the compulsory wearing of baggy trousers on 'Laughing Tuesdays', while in Brussels, Alasdair Darling says a firm 'Non' to any suggestion that we in Britain might contribute to the bail-out Greece's rather large credit-card bill.

Here in Thanet, the political landscape will experience some changes of its own this week with the annual meeting of the council and the rearrangements of portfolios and special responsibilities that invariably accompanies it. By then of course, I rather hope we have a new Government in place or at least agreed in order to build some level of confidence back into the shaky markets.

Both Nigel Farage and his pilot, Justin, are now out of hospital, which is a relief. I was in touch with the latter at his home last night and he's battered, bruised and burned but thankful to be still breathing. Aviation is far safer than driving a car but accidents can and do happen and I'm personally very conscious of the probability statistics that weigh against pilots in the same way that they do against car-drivers and motorcyclists. Meanwhile, Aviva have asked if I can tow a banner for Norwich football club this week but I'm not entirely convinced by the weather forecast for the days ahead!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Thanet Turns Blue

By day's end, I suspect everyone will be bored rigid with political comment on the results of the General Election and so beyond offering my congratulations to both Laura Sandy's for winning Thanet South for the Conservatives and Roger Gale, for retaining his Thanet North constituency, I plan to say very little on the subject.

I do wish to recognize however, the efforts of all those who made the results in Thanet possible for a Conservative win. Here in Westgate and Westbrook, the committee room in my home, opened a 7am and closed at 9pm and in between volunteers spent their day at the polling stations as 'tellers' or providing lifts to the elderly and disabled so that these could cast their votes. These volunteers in the community are the unsung heroes of any election process and I really would like to offer my thanks for what they achieved yesterday.

On a separate note, here in Westgate, KCC County Councillor, Robert Burgess, told me that he believes that he will be able to part-fund a weekend bus route in the Lymington and Linksfield road areas from his County Council grant and talks are now in progress with Eastonways bus service to move the plan from possibility to reality. You may recall that a few weeks ago there was a meeting held on the same subject and so good progress has been made in the background since then.

Before I go back to watching the results of the BBC's General Election coverage as we wait to see if Gordon Brown, some two million votes down on the Conservatives can be prised from his bunker at No10, I would also like to thank everyone who enquired yesterday, after the news of the Nigel Farage air crash, as to whether I was in one piece. Some readers may have heard an interview I gave on the BBC on the topic of flying aircraft banners and ironically, I turned down flying this particular election banner for UKIP. Justin the pilot from another company, is now recovering in hospital from his injuries as is UKIP's Nigel Farage and I wish them both a speedy recovery.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Nigel Farage Plane Banner Incident

Just in case anyone is wondering, it wasn't me or indeed Airads flying the UKIP banner today with Nigel Farage in Northampton.

I do know who was involved but won't be saying anything more until the details emerge. Thankfully both occupants are being treated for injuries in hospital

In fact, I'm running the committee room for the General Election here in Westgate, so please everyone go and vote!

More later!