Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Wild Wild Thanet

A little distracted today. On the one hand, Silicon.com are running my thoughts on government's plans for a national ID card and then, with some irony, I've been asked to block my diary in June to meet with members of the Jordanian government in Amman, to discuss their own plans for electronic government and the internet, which also embraces the subject of citizen ID cards. Trapped then between a rock and a hard place, I decided that the best course of action, was to avoid thinking about either today, enjoy the sunshine and take Charlotte over to Wildwood in Herne Bay instead.

Anybody know what the animal asleep in the picture is? Apparently an Arctic Fox, one of the many rare creatures you'll find at Wildwood. Worth a visit, day or even at night, when the badgers are out. One thing I discovered today, is that if an ambulance passes down the road between Herne Bay and Canterbury with its siren going, then this sets off the wolves howling as well. I would never have thought it!

Thanet Life
Another Thanet Photo Site

I stumbled across this photo album site today which has a number of interesting photos of Ramsgate, many of which are in Black and White.

Monday, May 30, 2005

A Prize Every Time

I've created a small collection of "Thanet" photos from the library as a slideshow but feel free to send me yours to add to the collection

A Prize Every Time
Originally uploaded by DrMoores.

Thanet Jedi News

For any potential Jedi Masters, of which there seem to be many in Thanet at present, try your skills with a selection of light sabres on this website:

New Baywatch

Kent police will be patrolling the bays this summer looking for signs of anti-social behaviour, which will include, loud music, alcohol consumption, vandalism and speedboats and jetskis making a nuisance of themselves in the popular beaches around Thanet.

Quite how the police will be able to catch a jetski, isn't quite clear yet but perhaps the old wooden pedalboats, that I worked on one season as a teenager, will be bought out of retirement?

Anyway, any police presence along our seafront, as a deterrence against anti-social behaviour, is better than none at all.

Thanet Life
BBC Radio Kent Interview on the New Dreamland Rides

BBC Radio Kent's Morning Show host, Steve Ladner, interviews Thanet Life's Children's Editor, Charlotte, about the re-opened Dreamland amusement park in Margate and its new rides.

MP3 File

Sunday, May 29, 2005

A Turner Sunset

Thanet at its best on a Bank Holiday Sunday evening at St Mildred's Bay, Westgate. A grey and overcast day is crowned by a breathtaking sunset of the kind that made this stretch of coastline famous in JMW Turner's paintings of the 19th century.

Red Arrows Fly-by

Thanks to the Red Arrows who gave Charlotte a small display on request this afternoon.

Originally uploaded by DrMoores.

We were coming back towards Manston, when I heard them returning on the same frequency, clearing the skies ahead of them as they hurtled at low level down the Thames Estuary towards Thanet.

"I've got a ten year old fan in my right hand seat", I told them and the Manston controller, "Do you mind if I position over the lakes and watch you come in?"

"Alright", said 'Red One', stay eight miles clear to the south and we'll do a fly-by", and they did, along the Manston runway and then up vertically, breaking in a starburst in front of us.

Lucky Charlotte says "Thank you!"

PS.. Don't forget that the Red Arrows will be among the aircraft displaying at next month's Thanet Airshow.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

First Photos of New Dreamland Rides
Tested by our Children's Editor

Dreamland Margate opened this evening for the first time in two years* and our children's editor Charlotte was there to test the new rides, many of which are bigger and scarier than ever before, to add to the old favourites, such as Dreamland's famous roller-coaster, the "Scenic Railway."

Test pilot Charlotte

The two biggest rides are G-Force and Megadrop and showing considerable courage, Charlotte, aged 10, was among the first to test "fly" the latter, which has a seat hauled-up parallel with the top of the Arlington tower and then released into free-fall, seconds later.

Waiting for the drop

Entry to Dreamland is by buying tokens at the gate and each ride costs anywhere between 2 and 4 tokens depending on how exotic it is. Best value is buying £20 worth of tokens which should see you around the major rides.

* Dreamland did open briefly as a funfair for a period last summer but with limited rides.

You can find a photo library and slideshow of all the new rides here.
Bay Watch

It's thirty years since I was a Thanet Lifeguard and I notice that there's nobody on duty on my bay, this weekend.

This afternoon, I was seconds away from making a decision over an unscheduled swim, as I watched a middle-aged man attempt to recover a football being blown out to sea in a wind that's gusting up to 40 knots.

I happened to be taking photos, as usual, when I caught him swimming after the ball, towards an area of water, on the incoming tide that can be best described as a washing machine. Fearing the worst, I started snapping photos at the extreme range of my telephoto lens as I walked quickly towards the spot.

The moment he swam across the breakwater into deep water, the waves started smashing him across the concrete and he started to struggle. Fortunately, he managed to pull himself along the breakwater, towards the promenade and an emergency ladder that was conveniently positioned for just such an occasion, finally emerging a little worse for wear and perhaps realising how lucky he was.

An offshore wind like today's is a particular problem in the summer, with so many children and adults now having inflatable rings, waterbeds, crocodiles and more, it's a water-safety nightmare at the best of times and without a Lifeguard on duty there's even more risk.

In the summer of 1975 I went into the same sea to rescue a twelve year old girl who had been spotted, face down in the water, in the unpatrolled area of the waterfront, North of the St Mildred's boating pool, on a rising tide. I found her but was too late to save her.
Dreamland Opening

I've just dropped-in to the Dreamland amusement park in Margate and it's unlikely to be opening before late afternoon or early evening today, I'm told by Harry Ayers, the concessionaire.

Once it opens, I'll take photos of the new rides and place them up in a photo library for readers to view.

Margate's Dreamland, May 2005
Swimming Alert as More Beaches Fail Water Test

The Guardian reports those heading to the coast for the bank holiday weekend might like to think twice before taking advantage of rising temperatures by having a dip in the sea.

The quality of the water at British beaches has declined for the first time in eight years, according to the Marine Conservation Society.

The Isle of Thanet

The society revealed yesterday that 52 of the 800 beaches tested for its 2005 Good Beach Guide failed to meet the European commission mandatory standard for water quality. Last year only 26 beaches failed to make the grade

On the Marine Conservation website, Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate fail to receive a yellow recommendation flag but Reculver, Westbrook, Westgate and Minnis Bay are given high water quality awards.

Beaches which were failed by the guide this year ranged from Church Beach in Lyme Regis, Dorset, to Hele Beach in Ilfracombe, Devon; Haverigg in Cumbria and Viking Bay in Kent.

The BBC reports Viking Bay was the only beach in south east England to fail and Thanet District Council says it had been working with the Environment Agency and Southern Water since August to solve the problem. Council investigations will continue this summer, including a tidal survey in August with samples checked every half hour.

Thanet's 26-mile coastline scooped nine Seaside Awards last month.

Thanet Life

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Oracle

A small boy consulting the famous St Mildred's oracle for clues about his future, the truth about Father Christmas and the likelihood of a very warm bank holiday weekend.

Apparently, Tesco has sold-out of BBQ sets and there is good reason to expect Thanet to go up in charcoal-scented flames this weekend, early preparation having already started outside many of the beach huts along the seafront.
Have I Got News for You

The main headlines this week from around Thanet.

Stop press.. Thanet becomes centre of African international fish trade! Fish to claim asylum.

MP3 File
Even More Photos

A whole new collection of aerial photos, taking in the Thanet coastline from Palm Bay to Herne Bay has just been added to the library. If you happen to live anywhere between the two, along the seafront, then you might just see your house.

Visit the aerial photo section here to view and download the photos.
Tongue Sands

If you ever wondered what the Tongue Sands north of Margate looked like at low tide, then here's a photo of one of the sandbanks with its distinct red colour. There used to be a lightship anchored there many years ago.

Tongue Sands

The sandbanks stretch west towards Reculver and the one below, where you'll find the sleeping seals today, is just in-front of Minnis Bay, Birchington. In fact, if you download a better resolution photo from the library, you can just make out a family of seals on the sands. The higher resolution image I took yesterday allows you to count them individually.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Slow Down

Kent police have been busy all morning with a traffic operation on the A299 towards the St Nicholas roundabout. There are brand new police motorcycles tucked in behind the exit before the roundabout and two policeman by the side of the road tracking incoming cars, with "captured" vehicles being pulled off into the layby hidden behind the roundabout.

What's unusual today is that coming and going this morning, I noticed that the police officer on "point" is not wearing his high visibility jacket and has it tucked behind him. I have asked for a comment from the Press Office at Kent Police but they appear reluctant to answer the very direct question as to whether the traffic officer is breaching regulations by not wearing his regulation jacket on road traffic duty and within a metre of a dual carriageway.

"After all", I said to the PR girl "they are supposed to play fair."

Thanet Life has just breezed by its 15,000 visit. That's an extra 5,000 in just under the month. Its growing nicely but we do need more contributions because when I'm away, it stops. Does anyone want to volunteer as a deputy editor?

Ed: Dougal Bell of Thanet Police tells me: "An officer is not required by law to wear his high visibility jacket if he is not on the highway but it is a discretionary Health & Safety issue in an operational role. It would have been adverse to the operation for the officer to have been wearing his jacket in the circumstances."

Thanet Life
Above the Below

I've been busy this morning taking photos of Thanet and the sands offshore. New photos in the collection of almost a hundred, include Margate's Dreamland, waiting to open this weekend, The Sea Bathing Hospital area, Westgate, Margate, North Foreland and Cliftonville and some very large seals dozing on the sandbank offshore.

You can find the photo library here to view or download.

Dreamland Roller Coaster

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A Bohemian Rhapsody

We used to call it a “sanity check”, you take a business idea to a group of colleagues and then they pull it apart, looking for weaknesses in the proposition.

Tonight, I listened to Sam Thomas, Thanet District Council’s “Regeneration Officer” at a CIBAS event, “Inspired Thanet”, at the Media Centre in King Street, Margate and wondered at the size of the gap that sometimes occupies the space between imagination and reality.

Sam Thomas

Jan Dunn of Spotty Dog Films sees Thanet as a location of limitless possibilities, a Bohemian quarter of enormous potential, with cheap properties of the kind that attract artists but back to Sam who views the Turner Centre in much the same light as Tony Blair waxed lyrical over the Millennium Dome, pointing enthusiastically at the artist’s impression of a seaside vista to match Cannes at its finest. As for the Arlington tower, well, if you cover it in smoked glass, he quipped, perhaps nobody will notice or perhaps a little sculpting could deliver a Burj Al Arab effect that mimics the best of Dubai?

TDC Artist's Impression of the New Arlington Tower

Of course we need regeneration and the efforts of the arts community who assembled at the Media Centre tonight but I don’t quite see how the miracle of The Turner Centre will bootstrap Thanet as the new Brighton unless we start by telling eighty other local councils to stop dumping their Social Services problems on our doorstep and to give us their artists instead. But then, would the introduction of a thousand Tracey Emins’ make Thanet a better, more cultured and more prosperous place in which to live?

Here to There - With Luck

Worrying about identity cards and more, I had to go to London today, an invitation to lunch with three MPs, one ex-MP, Richard Allan, and the legendary Guy "Bud" Tribble, Apple Computer's Vice President of Software Technology. Forget driving I thought, "Let the train take the strain" and I did, as far as Sittingbourne, that is, where it broke down.

I wouldn't complain but this has happened three times to me in the past twelve months, thanks to the the new rolling stock which doesn't much like snow, leaves, stations and of course, passengers or "customers", as South East Trains calls us. Airads' Captain Bob, tells me that one of his mates was marooned at Faversham for two hours yesterday, same problem, the doors on the train were stuck.

The irony is that one of the MP's who joined us for lunch - I finally arrived in London but late - is Derek Wyatt the MP for Sittingbourne and he's been making a fuss about the quality of the trains and the train service that serves his constituency,which lies between us and London.

From my own point of view, this 1 in 3 chance of finding a train to London that actually gets there on time and as advertised and without breaking down has moved beyond a joke. How on earth can we encourage businesses, like my own, to operate from Thanet, if public transport is delivered at third-world levels?

Thanet Life
Laws of Libel

I've just taken-down one of our comment threads which has potentially libelous content and in my view, breaks the simple rules I have asked contributors to follow.

Having fought and won two libel actions in the past, I'm conscious, that if any person wishes to make allegations against another, then such content should be capable of scrutiny in a court of law and that this website should not be used as a vehicle for hearsay.

Thank you Ed.

Thanet Life
Dunkirk Anniversary on Thursday
Fleet of little ships top leave from Ramsgate

Barrie Smith reminds us that tomorrow morning, an armada of small boats will leave Ramsgate for Dunkirk for the 60th anniversary of the evacuation of the wartime evacuation, a spectacle worth seeing.

Safely home for some

The Battle of Dunkirk (in French: Dunkerque, and in Britain normally referred to simply as Dunkirk) was a major battle during World War II which lasted from around May 26 to June 4, 1940. A large force of British and French was cut off in north-east France by a German armoured advance to the Channel coast at Calais. Over 330,000 Allied troops were evacuated by sea.

French soldiers arriving at Margate station

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Photo Call

Originally uploaded by DrMoores.

Angel, the Doolittle's Hamster, has been having a modelling session.

Unusual for a Hamster, Angel, has a habit of hanging upside-down from the bars of her cage, like a bat, grasping a chocolate button in her paws, which is quite possibly how they evolved in the first place but without the chocolate!

One piece of local news, I notice that English Heritage will be running a "Roman" experience for children at Richborough over the Bank Holiday weekend, entrance is £3.00.

If you know of any other activities taking place, there must be many, let me know.

Gale`s View

North Thanet Conservative MP, Roger Gale's Regular Column

"Respect" is the buzzword that was generated by comment upon the Queen`s Speech. "We want,” said the Prime Minister "a society with the rules, order and proper respect due to each other as equal citizens".

We can all, I am sure, agree with the sentiment but respect, Prime Minister, is not something that can be demanded or legislated for. Respect has to be earned......and can be squandered.

If the man or woman at the top cannot be trusted then the institutions over which, effectively, he or she presides are diminished. That applies to politicians as it applies to policemen or doctors or teachers or lawyers or any of those charged with a duty of professional care, public office and responsibility or confidentiality.

I met, at the weekend, with two astute and committed representatives of a local youth council. We discussed, amongst many other matters, attitudes to the dress, demeanour and behaviour of those in public life and service and in close contact with young people. I had expected that my own views might be regarded as Out of the Ark if not Off The Wall and was pleasantly surprised to discover that my young friends were no more impressed, as today`s teenagers, by dressing down and dumbing down in the interests of trying to appear "trendy" than I had been myself at the same age.

In tandem with "respect" rides "modernisation". I have asked many Members of Parliament and several journalists what they mean by "modernisation" and apart from, in the minds of some, not wearing a jacket and tie (!) it is clear that "modernisation" means whatever you want it to mean so long as it does not owe too much to what used to be described as "traditional values".

But wanting "a modern society", to use the Prime Minister`s words, does not have to involve lowering aspirations and standards to the lowest common soap opera or "celebrity" challenge script.

"Respect" and "modernisation" should mean a recognition of the hopes and fears and ambitions and responsibilities and rights not just of those at the more fortunate and affluent end of the social pile but of every citizen in the land. That recognition is not the monopoly of any one politician or any one political party. There are many on both sides of the House who have taken their seats in Parliament for the first time this month who are wholly committed to the cause for entirely the right reasons. It would be a good thing if those at the Government despatch box were now to lead by example.

On 15th March I wrote to the Home Office to ask why £14.8 million owed to Kent in payment for the provision of support to asylum seekers had not been paid. This was followed by parliamentary questions and the threat of legal action by Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart on behalf of the council taxpayers of Kent. This week the Minister has replied to say that "the Home Office has paid the Council £7.1 million and is in the process of making a further payment of £3.24 million". Why "in the process" and when will the debt be paid in full?

Thanet Life

Monday, May 23, 2005

Picture Postcard

Short on news today, beyond noticing that the entrance to Westgate library is surrounded by a dense jungle of grass and weeds which might conceal a lost tribe of South American indians.

Apparently, I've broken the Thanet Tourism website. Try this link.

Clever eh?

According to an email from the Tourism webmaster in reply to a letter from reader Barrie Smith: "Having had a look at your comments I noticed a very curious feature of browsing no matter what the platform or browser. I had a look at the page - on Thanet Life - where you found the link and noticed that on their absolute reference to the Thanet Tourism website, they have appended an additional "/" to the end of an explicit reference to a page (not just a domain or directory). When this is applied to any URL it produces the same result of broken links and images. Please use the following as a link to the Thanet Tourism website for a better browsing experience."

Which all means I've broken their website!

Picture postcard view of Margate

A tennis coaching scheme appears to have begun, in the afternoons and evenings at the tennis courts in Westgate. Local children and teenagers need more activities like this over the summer months and in countries like France and Sweden, there's a great deal more effort and of course budget placed behind keeping them busy with sporting activities.

Ironically, I first made my living from tennis a very long time ago but while its a great sport, it uses alot of space and I'd really encourage the council to think about putting-up basketball hoops in the public tennis courts for use by the local children when the courts are closed for business. Another idea would be to allow the courts to be turned into proper five-a-side space in the winter Westgate are already used this way, so why not encourage it?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Gone Crabbing

A quick crab census at St Mildred's Bay suggests that only one in ten of the creatures is alive and the green-backed crabs are virtually extinct. Very few live adult crabs for the time of year and whatever virus or toxin killed thousands two months ago, has wreaked havoc with the local ecology.

Still. There are some survivors and the children are having to work harder to find any of real size.

In the photo below, you can see a quick dance of victory from three local boys, as a crab is spotted in a rock pool.

A View from Above

What's happening in the air over Thanet and a quick weather forecast. Still testing the webcast technology, a pilot's pilot, so to speak!

RSS Feed Information

Margate Sands 1
Originally uploaded by DrMoores.

Thanet Life has an RSS newsfeed or more accurately, it uses ATOM, the Blogger/Google standard.

If you have RSS news reading software such as Newz Crawler, then paste "http://birchington.blogspot.com/atom.xml" into the feed address and new columns and comments will be delivered to your PC automatically. In fact, I'm using Newz Crawler to read all the available Sunday papers at once and for free this morning.

If you want the photo feed, this is "http://www.flickr.com/services/feeds/photos_public.gne?id=10233720@N00&format=atom_03"

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Must be Handball Ref..!

Joshua J -11 May 2
Originally uploaded by DrMoores.

Football fever grips Thanet on FA Cup Final afternoon but nobody has explained the handball rule to young Joshua!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Getting ready for the first experimental broadcast of Thanet Life's digital TV channel. It can only get better and promises an improvement on local weather webcams.


What the Thanet local paper is writing about on Friday 20th May

MP3 File

All At Sea

Volunteering for the Rum Ration
Originally uploaded by DrMoores.

Chartfield School's outing to the Grand Turk sailing ship anchored in Ramsgate harbour.

More photos and a slideshow on the website.

Local Newsflash

Harry Ayers the man behind the re-opening of Dreamland tells us that the amusement park will NOT open this weekend as planned. Delays in setting-up the amusements mean that Dreamland will only open Thursday of next week at the earliest but "Definitely" Friday, in time for the Bank Holiday weekend.

EUjet have just announced suspension of their flights to Budapest until further notice. Apparently, the Hungarian capitol's airport has raised its charges by three hundred percent, enough to make it unviable, as a destination for low cost airlines.

Stuart McGoldrick, EUjet’s Group Commercial Director, said: “The cancelling of Budapest is a disappointment, but the massive increase in airport charges has made it no longer a commercially viable route. We understand other airlines are pulling out of the Hungarian capital too."

A potentially damaging move for the Hungarian tourist industry I would have thought at a busy time of year.

EUjet has also chosen temporarily to change the frequency of flights to a number of domestic routes during the summer in line with customer demand. The number of flights to Edinburgh will be reduced from 12 to 11 per week and to Newcastle and Belfast from six to three.

Stuart McGoldrick continued: “Over the past two months our bookings and passengers carried have consistently increased, in particular to our Spanish destinations, Dublin, Edinburgh and Prague, and we are confident that this will continue.

“One example of the growing demand for the EUjet service from Kent International Airport is that all our flights during the forthcoming Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend are full.”

Since EUjet began flights from Kent International Airport on 1 September, 2004, the airline has already taken over 360,000 passenger bookings and currently more than 90% of its flights arrive in on time – better than any other UK airline – and 76% of all flights are early.

The EUjet Customer Services team will be contacting all passengers affected by the suspension of the Budapest route and other changes to arrange alternative itineraries, routes or refunds. In the meantime passengers can visit www.EUjet.com or call 0870 414 1414 for further information.

Thanet Life
Westgate on Sea Station Update
South Eastern Trains response to "Clean-up" call

The Managing Director of South East Trains, Michael Holden, has this week responded to a call from the village`s MP, Roger Gale and local Councillor Brian Goodwin to take steps to clean up the station and to make it safe.

Following complaints from local resident Geoffrey Shaw Case and a site visit the MP wrote to Network Rail and South Eastern on 27th April saying:

"I am appalled to see how very seriously and dangerously this station has deteriorated since I last visited not so very many months ago".

The MP and Cllr. Goodwin drew attention to poor CCTV coverage and broken platform lighting, and a lack of manning and referred to a use of part of the downside platform as "a shanty youth club with a broken sofa, armchair and other paraphernalia obviously used by those who at night vandalise the station".

In reply this week Michael Holden, accepting responsibility for the problems, says:

" We have been putting a great deal of time and effort into station presentation over the past 12 months and I am disappointed that Westgate on Sea station was in such poor condition on your visit. I have instructed the station Manager to attend to the repair issues and the removal of dumped items of furniture. I have also asked our Head of Security to check that the CCTV does cover all areas of the station and to liase with British Transport Police and TDC`s community warden for the area regarding the station`s use as an after-hours hang-out by local youths"

"I am pleased that South Eastern are responding swiftly to this situation" says Roger Gale " and that they are meeting with Thanet`s community safety officers and area manager to draw up an action plan. Westgate Station ought to be a credit to the village and an asset: at present it is a potentially dangerous eyesore"

Thanet Life
Snow Scene

With summer struggling to make an appearance, here's a nice and rather chilly photo of a Margate snow scene submitted by Philip Page.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Weald's Favourite Airline

It came as a surprise. Walking onto the apron at Manston with the other passengers for EUjet’s flight to Dublin, we walked past the two Fokker 100 jets and on towards the squat-looking Airlinair ATR 42-500 turbo-prop aircraft that I had previously wondered about, tucked-away in the corner.

Photo of the ATR taken at Dublin - Not Manston.

Can I take a photo I asked our escort? “No” she replied, “Security”, and I nodded knowingly, EUjet having confiscated my blunt nail scissors half an hour before.

Where the BAA have now re-allowed blunt nail scissors to be carried on passenger flights, EUjet, which has it’s aircraft under an Irish registration, is still bound by Irish regulations, so no scissors or anything vaguely metallic or pointed that may pose a security risk to the aircraft or its crew.

I recently interviewed Stuart McGoldrick for Airliner World and Thanet Life and knowing a number of people, management and crew at the airline, I have been asking EUjet if it might be possible to fly the right seat of one of their Fokker 100’s for Pilot Magazine review of the aircraft. - not on a passenger flight of course - and they’re looking into it but the ATR was an extra unexpected bonus, as I was thinking of approaching Air Atlantique for ride in theirs.

Comfortably settled down in my seat at the front of the aircraft, I asked the two flight attendants if I might take their photos for ThanetLife. One, Aofe Larkin, is Irish and her colleague, Elodie Tatara is French. Airlinair is an Air France company and apparently, the ATR is leased-out to EUjet for a week while they take a view on using such aircraft for short-haul flights. With a cruising speed of 260 to 300 knots, it’s not much slower than a Fokker 100 which can do the Dublin run in sixty minutes as opposed to ninety and can take-off and land on a billiard table.

Having introduced myself to the girls and my loose connection with the airline and aviation, - I've done aviation news reports for both Sky and CNN - Elodie asked if I would like to meet the rest of the crew and called the Captain for his permission. Once the aircraft was settled en-route, I was escorted forward to meet Francois Roubes, the ATR’s Captain and his First Officer, Claudio Dumay.

Francois, who was a helicopter pilot in the French navy has been a Captain on the ATR for five years, while Claudio, who was a flight engineer, has two years on type. Both are based at Orly, outside Paris.

ATR First Officer Claudio Dumay

We arrived in Dublin “on the dot” and as passengers Chris and Nicky Ewings commented on the way in to passport control, “We’ve had about sixteen flights with EUjet now and have never had any problems, they’re really excellent.”

I then got on with my real job, meeting Irish Trade Minister Michael Ahern TD and others at a conference on the Irish economy, I was addressing at the Croke Park Stadium before making my way back through the traffic to the airport again this afternoon.

Israel's Sol Gradman, Minister Ahern TD and Simon Moores

With some heavy weather and a strong headwind over the Irish Sea, EUjet UNI04W back to London, was twenty-five minutes late and it was ten minutes before seven before we were all on board ready for the flight home. This time, and about a quarter of an hour into the flight, I was invited to meet Captain Chris Kalisvaart, a Dutchman with over six thousand hours on the Fokker 100, who has been flying them since 1993 when he worked in Indonesia. His First Officer is Lee Salway, enjoying his first job flying jets. Lee built-up his own flying experience dropping parachutists before being accepted as an airline pilot, finally finding his way to Manston and a right seat on the EUjet fleet, where he tells me he’s enjoying life immensely. This was the aircraft’s second trip to Dublin of the day.

Lee Salway

We arrived at Manston only two minutes late, thanks to a strong tailwind. As a both passenger and a pilot, I can’t fault the EUjet experience of the last two days. The aircraft that gave them so much trouble earlier on in the year, with the undercarriage emergency, has now gone and with it, the many delays and technical problems that went with it. Every new business has its problems and if you watch the Airline series on TV, you’ll know how challenging a business this can be. However, what really marks out the EUjet experience from a local perspective, is how committed the people are to making our local airline a success and how much they want to show our local and frequently cynical, community what a good service they can offer.

You can see a collection of EUjet aircraft and crew photos here.

Thanet Life

Waiting for Aisle 9

Sitting here waiting for aisle 9 to open at Dublin airport so I can catch the 18:30 EUjet flight back to Manston.

Pictured, flight attendants, Aofe Larkin and her colleague, Elodie Tatara from yesterday's flight out which left and arrived exactly on time.

The flight had more surprises as I found myself chatting with the crew on the way to Dublin, which I'll write about in the two hours left before the flight opens. Perhaps with luck I will get to ride the ATR 42 the same way back again to Manston.

Nick Carter & Karmen Debauche

PS.. you can see a collection of EUjet aircraft and crew photos here. If EUjet crew want to send me their interesting destination "snaps", I'm quite happy to host them as a collection here, so you can share them.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Dreamland Countdown

I've just been to the Dreamland site in Margate to see the new amusement park owner, Harry Ayers. They're all busy down there working towards achieving the coming weekend's planned opening date and Harry has promised us a full progress update on Friday, as well as giving permission for a complete photo montage of all the new rides that we'll put up here as a slideshow on Thanet Life.

Thanet Life

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Bells of Westgate

"Hark, I hear the bells of Westgate,
I will tell you what they sigh,
Where those minarets and steeples
Prick the open Thanet sky."

Audio file of John Betjeman's poem, "The Bells of Westgate", written circa 1930.

MP3 File

It is probable that the future Poet Laureate, John Betjeman took a certain degree of poetic licence when writing his poem ‘Westgate on Sea’. At the time he visited the place, probably while staying at nearby Birchington, the church of St Saviour ( the only Anglican church in Westgate ), a prime example of the Victorian architecture which Betjeman so unfashionably advocated, only had one bell, and a rather high-pitched one at that. Furthermore, Westgate was still a Parish Council in the early 1930s when the poem was written. It has been suggested that ‘the bells of Westgate’ may have been augmented in the poet’s imagination by the bells of the many schools in existence there in those days, whose pupils appear in the poem. Notwithstanding, the poem charmingly evokes the orderly, genteel resort of the 1930s , with its balconied housefronts.

"Striving chains of ordered children
Purple by the sea-breeze made,
Striving on to prunes and suet
Past the shops on the Parade."

It's changed a little since 1930 but the covered shopfronts remain. when I was a boy, in the 60's, it was full of prep schools and now, the spaces where they stood and the playing fields where I once played cricket are crammed with houses.

if you want to find out how well the local schools rank in the OFSTED report, visit the BBC site which publishes all the figures. The complete Kent school primary listings are HERE.

Complete poems of John Betjeman.

Thanet Life
Don't Look Down

This is one view at the westerly end of the Manston runway. I hadn't realised that the chalk quarry on the roundabout had become such a "Des Res." What happens if it rains hard I wonder?

Several of our local quarries have a rich history associated with them and here's a link to more information if you would like to find out more.

There was also an underground brigade HQ located in a disused quarry at Sarre which you probably see on the way to Canterbury, which was subordinate to the Battle HQ at Canterbury. The area was fortified by Canadians who would help form the defence force if needed to reinforce South East Command forces if there was an invasion in 1940.
An Interview with Richard Samuel Part III

The third part of an interview with Richard Samuel, Chief Executive of Thanet District Council. Richard discusses the replacement of the Clock Tower traffic lights with a new roundabout and the issues surrounding traffic congestion at Westwood Cross.

"It has", Says Richard Samuel, "been a longstanding aspiration to construct a major new road through the EuroKent Business Park and the intention has always been to close the Haine Road, which is really unsuitable which is when the traffic can start to build up. When the Council approved us on price, it secured half a million pounds in traffic improvements around Westwood, but of course what these type of things do not do, they do not deliver what other things a lot of people think they should dual carriageways and things like that, that is going to be appropriate for that location. There has been a significant increase in the amount of investment for traffic improvements round there, just from the half million that has been provided by the Development Team to improve the traffic flow."

"I think " continues Richard Samuel, "we are the victim as all local authorities are where infrastructure investment does not get funded through Government sources in advance of private sector development. The planning system here requires developers to contribute to the impact of their development, but it does not answer the sort of key questions. So if you had a big development in the town centre, you do not get your town centre revamped and improved on the back of that necessarily. So, really it is a plan-led system here of the developer-contribution system, doesn’t really provide the infrastructure that I think people expect to be provided."

Thanks to www.morningpapers.com for the transcription service.

MP3 File

The audio quality of the complete interview is grainy but I've now bought an MP3 recorder for future interviews.

Over a hundred local authorities have visited the website today as a result of the eGov monitor story that ran yesterday. One reader writes:

" Thank you for showing what the web can do for local democracy."
Stand and Deliver

The BBC news is reporting this morning that a man has claimed that he had his car "hijacked" on the A299 outside Herne Bay in the early hours of Monday morning by two armed men, dressed as policeman in a car with a blue flashing light!

There may be rather more to this story than meets the eye and it does seem a great deal of trouble to go to and a huge amount of potential jail time, to steal one car.

In the Queen's speech today, the Government will be introducing new legislation to address the "respect deficit" in our society, starting with a universal ban on teenagers in town centres if some MPs have their way.

Manston in May

Podcasting For Beginners.

MP3 File

Here's a link to a BBC site which explains RSS (Really Simple Syndication). In a nutshell, it's a way of speed-reading Web sites, such as the BBC News and there's an RSS feed built into Thanet Life.

With a free RSS newsreader you can, very simply, create your own newspaper, which in my own case, picks-up, the BBC, The Guardian, Wired Magazine, Thanet Life and the headline of a hundred other titles latest, quite automatically. As a result, newspapers are a thing of the past unless I really want to buy one to read on the train. Add in a Podcast feature as mentioned in the last post and you can take many of your favourite news and radio programmes and listen to them "offline" with your iPOD or MP3 player if you have one or on your PC's Windows Media Player or MAC equivalent.

It's certainly worth looking at and saves you having to visit a Website like this one to see if there have been any updates. Instead, they come to your PC directly.

Monday, May 16, 2005

An Audio Weblog, "Podcast" message to Thanet Life readers. Staying at the "Bleeding" edge of internet publishing technology. More content coming soon. I recommend a visit to iPodder to download the software that will let you capture this and other "Pod Content", now even from the BBC to your own iPOD, Media Player or PC quite automatically. It's free!

MP3 File

You can also find the longer , eGov monitor version of the interview with Richard Samuel HERE. The final part of the interview which deals with Westwood, building et al, should be published today.

One clever solution to the local traffic problem and the soaring cost of petrol

Humbug the Shetland pony runs on hay and water and does not require an MOT, insurance or regular servicing. Marginally faster and less prone to rust than a Rover 216, he can manage a breath-taking average speed of 10Mph between his Manston home and Westwood Cross.

Only a two seater though, he might be considered a hatchback as a basket can be attached at the rear for any Tesco or Sainsbury supermarket shopping.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

When Making Comments Please Note

Readers, please note that however strong your feelings might be on any subject, personal invective directed against any person or contribution is not permitted here. I've just taken down the conversation thread against one entry and in the interests of encouraging a healthy exchange of views and opinions, I would ask all visitors to keep to the rules, courtesy to others at all times please and absolutely NO personal remarks ar any time. Thank you. Ed:

Thanet Life
Up and Away with TGA

With the return of the good weather, the aircraft and the helicopters are out at Manston. Immediately below is a photograph and a slideshow of the Stearman biplane owned by TG Aviation, who offer flying training at Manston. You can find out about trial flights, getting your own pilot's license or even flying the Stearman by calling them on 01843 823520 or on the Web at www.tgaviation.com.

TG Aviation Stearman

Nicknamed the "Yellow Peril" thanks to its somewhat lively ground handling characteristics, the Stearman is a rugged classic of the pre and post world War II era. The Stearman "Kaydet", as it was officially named, was the only American aircraft used during World War II that was completely standardized for both Army and Navy use as the PT 13D (Army) and N2S-4 (Navy). Sold by the thousands after the war, the Stearman has found roles as as a trainer, crop duster and aerobatics trainer and this particular model in Navy colours, found its way to Thanet.

Fancy a Helicopter Ride?

Local company, Helicharter, 01843 822555 are also offering regular fifteen minute experience flights during weekends from the Spitfire Museum at Manston. I happened to catch them working a queue of people there at lunchtime today.

Remains of the Day

What now remains of the medieval manor of Dent De Lion in Garlinge between Westgate-on-Sea and Margate, now turned into apartments and houses on either side of the 14th century gatehouse that once looked into a very different world, the baronial fief of the local Dent De Lion (Tooth of the Lion) family.

Dent De Lion castle

Saturday, May 14, 2005

To Boldly Go - To Thanet

This one caught me by surprise but it's true. In the book, Star Trek: The Next Generation: Do Comets Dream? by S. P. Somtow:

"Every five thousand years, the people of the planet Thanet believe, the world ends in fire and a new cycle of creation begins. Now the Last Days are once again upon them, and a fiery star draws near. This is the Death-Bringer, whose coming heralds the end of all things.... But Captain Picard faces a dilemma: how can he save the Thanetians' civilization without destroying the very beliefs upon which their culture is based?"

I wonder if the author has a distant connection with any hotels in Cliftonville?

Thanet Life
An Interview with Richard Samuel Part II
Thanet District Council's Chief Executive speaks to Simon Moores on improving local services.

How can the council offer more efficient services?

"I recently spent a half day on our customer service desk and somebody rang up to have some bulky rubbish removed. I can’t book it direct. I have to take the information, pass it to our client team who in turn can’t pass it by computer to the contractor and eventually way down the chain the resident will have his rubbish picked-up. Now I want to change that to the type of situation that the first person you speak to, can book your appointment and take your money and do it all in one hit and at the other end, the contract work force will have their work booked in advance for them, leading to a much faster service and reflects where we will be moving to over the next year or so. "

"There is so much work to do to modernise this authority that you do have to break it up into separate pieces."

Margate Beach

Why has Thanet fallen so far behind in its ability to deliver joined-up online services?

“It’s certainly true that Thanet started late. When I arrived here three years ago, I think email was barely functioning, we had a very unstable IT network that was constantly failing and we were under-resourced in terms of people who we had to provide the IT service. And when you think that data has incredible value, not just monetary in terms of its purpose and use, modern organisations simply can’t survive without good IT. We’ve made it a priority to start putting those problems right we quite early on we engaged a consultancy firm to give us a health check and have followed their recommendations faithfully and put effort into creating a secure and stable network which we have now and have put much more work and effort into web publishing and information and increasingly starting to use internet applications to do business but we are behind, there’s no doubt about that."

Does the council have an anti-technology culture?

"I think there is a culture of a reluctance to learn, highlighted by the audit commission last year and which was spot on. A reluctance to accept that members of the public might have the answers to some of our problems and that it’s not wrong to take on-board those ideas in the interests of improvement. To try and get everyone to accept this is not easy as people have ingrained ways of working and it something I try to encourage but you can’t track six hundred people’s interaction with the public everyday to check they are doing the right thing."

"The senior team here is pretty clear about the direction it is trying to take the council but we have a pretty big task in terms of changing thirty years of culture - since 1974 - and I have found that people in Thanet can often be quite insular about the opportunities that exist in the world and we see this in the resistance to change here and I know that’s true because I talk to people and I talk to employers around Thanet but we can do what we can with our organisation."

Council officers don’t’ appear to have engaged the concept of the internet as a delivery mechanism?

It’s not all bad news out of 400 authorities ranked, our arrangement came out as the second best in Kent after KCC in the way our front-end call handling has improved since the last - unfavourable - audit commission report. What has happened is that the infrastructure has been assembled so the first point of customer access can do as much for the customer as possible, phone being our highest volume. We want to hit as many requests for service from the first point of contact but until this year we haven’t had the infrastructure to this, which we have now and which is being moved across incrementally to make sure it works and doesn’t fall over, so the change is starting. Behind that is really a complete reconfiguration of what is called the Back office, removing the duplication of resources, and ensuring that we have a single point of contact who can deal with a broad range of enquiries efficiently, giving people better service as a consequence."

"If you can’t deliver the service, contract or otherwise to the person who needs it, then you’ve failed and I’m not looking to move delay from the back to the front office. Instead, I’m looking to improve the whole flow of activity."

"We introduced new standards of service that we expect our staff to follow in dealing with the public at the end of last year and we are about to launch a detailed training programme with all staff to reinforce our expectations, which will, for the first time be a consistent standard. This has come very late to Thanet but it’s being done now and you will see an improvement from the end of this year onwards, in the way in which people deal with the public because I completely agree with your point on passing the buck and the message we are trying to get across to our staff is, ‘If you take an enquiry from the public, it’s not unreasonable that you give your name and what you do. It’s not unreasonable to ask, how can I help you and actually mean it' and if you have to do a little more work to follow it through, you have to deal with it seriously and not leave it lying in your in-tray."

Thanet Life
Speed Demon

When Stephenson demonstrated his first railway engine over two hundred years ago, serious scientific debate surrounded the danger of its passengers being suffocated, through being unable to breathe the air at speeds above 30 MPH. This is a danger which is unlikely to be experienced behind Thanet’s loyal community of elderly Rover drivers along the seafront between Cliftonville and Birchington on any day of the week.

Having just attempted to drive home from the Northdown Road at the reckless speed of 23 MPH behind two Rovers, who, at walking pace, just managed to get through the Clock Tower lights before they changed to red, I’m left wondering what will happen if the Government pushes through its plans to re-test everyone over the age of seventy? Thanet’s roads would be a great deal emptier than they are now and the regular accidents and the occasional award-winning reversing manoeuvre into High Street shop windows might become a thing of the past.

At least, before the demise of Rover, seeing one of its estate models, gave the driver following a visible warning, that he or she should add on several hours to his journey time to Westwood Cross but without the presence of a Rover brand, how are we to know that a five mile diversion around Manston might be quicker than risking the lights on Hartsdown’s Coffin Hill?

Perhaps the answer is to once again employ people to walk in front of cars with a red flag? It’s quite possible that a few of our local drivers can still remember those days when life was rather more unhurried and less stressful than it is today.