Monday, October 31, 2005

Marine Drive Again

A man who indecently exposed himself to two teenage girls in Margate is being hunted by Kent Police.

The incident happened in Marine Drive during the early hours of Saturday when the man tried to get the 17-year-olds into his car.

The girls managed to walk quickly away from the man to safety.

Officers said he was wearing jeans and a dark-coloured padded jacket with a straight collar. Witnesses are being asked to come forward.

Marine Drive Assault - Police Ask for Witnesses

Why anyone might be doing reading a book at 10:30 pm in Marine Drive of all places, escapes me but a 48-year-old man was assaulted while doing just this in the well-known seated pavilion in Margate on Friday.

The victim was approached by two girls and asked if he had any cigarettes.

The man obliged but was then asked by the girls if they could use his mobile phone to call their friends. He again obliged.

Moments later a man, who appeared to be with the girls, ran up to the man and shouted at him, accusing him of assaulting a relation. The man punched the victim in the face.

The victim was assisted by a member of the public who helped walk him home.

The attacker is white, thought to be aged between 18-20, 5ft 8in tall, with dark hair and wearing a white top, possibly a t-shirt.

The girls are both white and aged between 15 and 19. One had ginger hair and was thin, while the other had black bushy hair.

The assault happened at around 10.30pm on Friday. Anyone who witnessed it or who knows the identities of the man or girls is asked to contact the police on (01843) 222 033. (ref 11731)

Charles Dickens Day

Back from the opening ceremony and tour of the Charles Dickens School buildings, attended by most, if not all of the usual suspects and local dignitaries, including , the Mayor and Mayoress, Sandy Ezekiel, leader of Thanet Council and Paul Carter, leader of KCC. I did suggest to Sandy that an occasional contribution to Thanet Life might be useful and that local councillors should keep an eye on it but he replied that they aren’t obliged to. I’m not convinced he’s yet grasped the connection between the internet and the future of local democracy but there’s always hope.

The school's new facilities are impressive and go some way to explaining why it is locally oversubscribed. The only thing that occurs to me, is that across the country, school roll numbers are falling once again and I’m rather wondering whether the arrival of these excellent facilities will coincide with falling levels of school children in Thanet. Mind you, the new sports hall will offer an excellent community resource and writing as both an ex-pupil and ex-teacher, the pupils are lucky to have it.

If you can't remember where the aerial photos of the school are then you can get them here.

Teenage Boy Rescued by Lifeboat

A teenage boy taking part in a yacht race needed hospital treatment yesterday morning after falling into the sea off Margate.

The 17-year-old was hit by the yacht’s a boom and knocked off the boat.

He was rescued by the lifeboat and taken to the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital with mild hypothermia.

Drink Ban on Public Transport - "Wrong policy, Wrong Target"

North Thanet`s MP, Roger Gale, has this weekend described the government’s proposal to ban the drinking of alcohol on trains and buses as "the wrong policy aimed at the wrong target".

The MP, who has served as a special constable with British Transport Police, said:

"There is most certainly a problem caused by drunks on trains and on other public transport and by the anti-social behaviour that they generate, but the majority of those who travel drunk have done their excessive drinking before they board the transport.”

“For a government that has effectively legalised 24-hour binge-drinking to suggest that preventing law-abiding travellers from enjoying a beer or a glass of wine with a sandwich or a meal is somehow going to solve the problem is a bit rich!”

“Once again, the target would appear to be the vast majority that behave responsibly while the minority that are the cause of the problems will still seek to board trains and buses, particularly late at night, while under the influence of drink.”

“It will be interesting to see whether the government, as part of its policy, also intends to shut all the bars and other licensed premises at coach depots , railway stations and ports! I cannot help feeling that many more drinks are consumed in station "pubs" prior to departure than are ever taken onto or bought on trains!”

“Once again it looks as though we are to be faced with a half-baked policy designed to add window-dressing to a regime that has failed, and continues to fail, to tackle the real problems".

Roger Gale has a point, where the law-abiding majority are concerned but I can’t help but notice, on my occasional train journeys to London and back that as we come closer to Thanet, there is a visible thinning-out of what one might describe as the respectable group and a proportional increase in those, who rather than use the train refreshments trolley, may be carrying their own packs of Tennants and Carlsberg along for the ride. Invariably, these are young men, scruffy and drunk but not always so.

From a Southern trains aspect and based purely on my own and others anecdotal experience, a ban on drinking alcohol on buses and trains would be a step in the constant battle against anti-social behaviour but raises awkward questions over what is necessary and what is sufficient in terms of the state’s involvement in directing our lives.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A £6.2 Million Facelift for The Charles Dickens School

The Charles Dickens School in Broadstairs opens its new £6.2 million buildings tomorrow morning and according to the invitation in front of me, it will be attended by a KCC Cabinet member, hooray!

I’ve posted a couple of the photos taken in last week’s over flight (available from the gallery) and I’m reaching back into my memory and the distant past to recall when the first temporary classrooms first went up, when I was in year three I think, a very long time ago.

Funnily enough I started teaching there too, before I moved on to a different career almost twenty-five years ago, so I’ve still retained a soft spot for the school. I can remember bringing in a Tandy TRS80 computer of my own into class in an effort to find a novel way of teaching maths to a class that had very little interest in the subject and had never seen a computer before. Computers, I told them were the future and far away on the other side of the world, two young men, roughly the same age as me, were thinking the same way but were rather more determined to do something about it. One was Steve Jobs, the other Bill Gates and the rest, I suppose is history!

That Concrete Feeling

I was watching the sun rising over St Mildred’s Bay this morning and the only thing that made my blood boil was the shadow cast by the six storey monstrosity (see photo left) that keeps the beachfront several degrees cooler and free of sunshine until the afternoon.

How this and neighbouring apartments thrown-up by the builders ever received planning permission from Thanet District Council is a mystery that I’ve commented on before but they did and perhaps the only comforting thought is that the buildings’ design leads me to doubt they will be able to resist the salt spray, sand blasting and the weather for more than fifty years.

For anyone wishing to protest against the plans to build another block of “Luxury retirement flats” on the present site of Sea Tower in St Mildred’s Bay, (see planning application)

there will be a council site visit at 11:45 on 4th November. I plan to be there to argue against the proposal but only if the local residents wish me to. You can see from the second picture (below and architect's drawing left) where the next block of housing will go, right in the gap I suspect,robbing the residents immediately opposite of their easterly view and sunshine.

It seems anyway that John Prescott’s plans to build four million new homes across the UK, half a million in the South-east alone, have been thrown into doubt after damning criticism by two key government agencies.

The Countryside Agency and English Nature will warn in a joint report this week that the east of England plan poses 'serious risk' of damage to 'nationally important landscapes and habitats'.

The scheme would cause 'significant harm' because it would degrade the character of the English landscape, fragment natural habitats, and require water supplies that would have an unsustainable impact on the environment.

The report is a serious blow to the credibility of the government's promise to provide affordable housing and calls for regions to assess how much growth their environment can cope with, and then plan measures to mitigate 'justified' damage.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Thames Pilot

Snapped the other day at low level, the estuary pilot vessel racing past Minnis Bay. They may have been a little surprised when we shot across their bow at low level to take this photograph.

For a history of the Thames, Trinity and Cinque Ports pilots, see here.

Turner Contemporary Website

If you haven’t yet seen the Turner Contemporary web site that lays out the plans for the gallery, then it’s worth a visit.

As you might expect, it’s an artistic looking presentation but I suspect they need to adjust the figures on the front page before anyone else notices the £25 million price tag attached to its construction, now five million adrift.

There is a page on the website for you to send in your comments and suggestions as well if you wish to.

If You Hate Bank Charges

Here’s an interesting argument that banks have no rights under law to impose penalties on customers in excess of the underlying cost of the overdraft or handling a bounced cheque.

According to  a website devoted to the fight against bank’s penalty charges, consumers have won overdraft charge fights against banks such as Alliance & Leicester, Yorkshire Bank, Intelligent Finance and LloydsTSB. RBS and Halifax have paid up on credit card claims.

Customers have to be prepared to fight, often for months. But banks appear reluctant to test the legality of their penalties in the legal arena, usually settling in full just before the case is due for hearing.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Hello Patricia

Trinity House flagship Patricia is moored just off St Mildred’s Bay this morning. You may remember that she carried Prince Charles and Camilla at the Trafalgar Day review in June around the Solent. If you look at the first photo of Patricia, you may see Camilla in a white dress in the stern. If the picture is enlarged it's much easier to spot her.

Here’s a photo on the left of Patricia as she is this morning and a photo of the Royal Navy Lynx helicopter, taken during the fleet review, which objected to us flying right over the top of the Queen in HMS Endurance and the Patricia, even though we were in open airspace.

Since 2003, Patricia has also carried passengers. Her normal duties involve the maintenance of navigational buoys, the attendance and refuelling of offshore lighthouses and dealing with emergencies, including the marking of wrecks. She is fitted with towing winches providing a routine capability for moving light vessels to and from their stations. She has a 20 tonne speed crane capable of lifting the largest navigational buoys. There is a helideck aft.

With just six cabins, only small numbers of guests are able to experience a voyage and this, coupled with the type of work the ship undertakes, makes a voyage aboard Patricia an unusual experience.

When 90% Failure Equals "Working"

The government's community punishment programme to tackle the most hardcore teenage criminals has a failure rate of 91%, it was revealed yesterday.

The Youth Justice Board, which runs the intensive supervision and surveillance programme, admitted yesterday that the reconviction rate was "very high". But it insisted the £98m scheme was working because those who had been on it were committing fewer and less serious crimes.

The Oxford University study of 900 young offenders on the community punishment programme up to April 2003, shows that 91% of those who went through the scheme were reconvicted at least once within two years.

Just Say "Non"

If you thought the European Constitution was dead, buried under large French “Non”, then you’d be wrong.

This week the Swedish European Commissioner responsible for communication, launched the Commission's response to the rejection of the constitution. Called Plan D (Democracy, Dialogue and Debate) it will involve the EU leadership conducting a round Europe tour, which is aimed at getting the ill fated constitution back on track with the citizens of Europe.

Our MEP, Richard Ashworth has discovered an “Outrageous provision in next year’s budget to spend 6 million Euros on "promoting the European Constitution". He’s even more outraged that the combined vote of Labour and Liberal MEPs defeated his amendment which would have deleted this spending.

“It’s outrageous, say Richard, “that EU taxpayers' money should be used to fund pro-constitution propaganda campaigns. This is an idiotic waste of money, promoting a project that’s seen as dead and buried. Some idealistic politicians still insist on trying to breathe life into this constitution with public money to boot?”

He regards the information campaigns as a huge and immoral waste of money.

“People in France and the Netherlands knew what they were voting for. It’s patronising in the extreme to suggest they and the rest of us in other EU countries are not sufficiently well-informed."

So there you have it, you might have thought that the EU Constitution, the risk of being ruled from Brussels for good, was as dead as the proverbial parrot but this particular parrot hasn’t seen the Monty Python sketch and won’t give up, ever!


It's Called Reality Vertigo

Cllr Chris Wells offers a lucid defense of the Turner Contemporary (TC) project as an instrument of regeneration in a comment attached to Wednesday’s story, “Turner Troubles”, which is worth a read, as is the alternative view expressed by reader Tony Carpenter.

Having the benefit of the last word, I would like to add that while in principle, the concept that lies behind the TC project appears a fine idea, in practise, sensible financial control of what is, after all tax payer’s money, is slipping away and if this were a business and not an exercise in the spending of public funds, serious questions of cost versus benefit would be asked in the boardroom.

If the TC is to be late and acutely over-budget, would it not be more sensible to call for a moratorium and make a decision on whether the present architectural plan is a viable one? Could an equally attractive gallery be built for less money and risk on dry land rather than the beach opposite the harbour wall?

There is an expression, I have used in the past that I call “reality vertigo” to describe public-sector projects faced by the real possibility of failure or uncontrollable costs that proceed inexorably towards disaster because those in control are unable to press the project equivalent of the “Escape” key. This is, I would suggest, exactly what is happening with the TC at present and someone in authority needs to find the courage to shout “stop the bus” in order to provide a the breathing space that is needed to reflect on the project and its future.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Get Safe with Top Gear

I was at the Get Safe Online launch in London today, where not only did I get to meet Top Gear’s high-speed Richard Hammond over a coffee but also recorded his little speech on internet safety for you.

The idea is of course that everyone goes online, checks out the website and learns to avoid all the nasty pitfalls that go hand in hand with the internet. In fact the timing couldn’t be better, as I have to go and help rescue Captain Bob’s PC tomorrow, as he tells me a virus has eaten all his email!

One good quip this morning was from Sharon Lemon, the head of the national Hi-tech Crime Unit, who, referring to the dangers presented by internet chat rooms, said there’s no other place “Where you’ll make up a name for yourself and start talking smut to complete strangers.”

Of course, the high point of the meeting, with about fifty of us there, was a personal webcast from President Tony from No10. He had sent Home Office Minister John Hutton along to make a speech endorsing the importance of the project but Tony wanted to remind us that he was pretty keen on it too and that he was still Prime Minister, possibly because Gordon Brown was having breakfast with Bill Gates at the same time. I rather wonder what they spoke about. Africa, U2 or Gordon’s election plans perhaps?

Richard Hammond, BBC Top Gear and Brainiac presenter launches the Get Safe Online Initiative in London on 28th October 2005

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

APR - It's Not April

Today’s figures on mortgage repossession from the government shows a 66% leap on the previous year, with 10,000 actions taken by mortgage lenders. This shows that people are stretched to the hilt and there are record levels of consumer debt built on cheap credit and credit cards. With a downturn in the economy and interest rates predicted to rise in the coming months the writing is on the wall; as a nation, we’re seemingly running out of credit and many households simply aren’t prepared or even able to deal with a small rise in interest rates, in tandem with higher council tax charges and utility bills over the next twelve months.

A Quick Puff

It will be interesting to see how Thanet handles the introduction of a smoking ban in pubs and cafes. From an observer’s perspective, smoking appears to be a mass participation activity on the island and visit any local café at lunchtime or even breakfast and you’ll see a large proportion of people “lighting-up” and enjoying a fag. – That’s a cigarette for any American readers.

I suppose if it can be made to work in Ireland, then it can work here but it will be a challenge I’m sure, to enforce in the network of small workmen’s’ cafes across the island.

Photo Fiesta

You might have noticed Captain Bob and I tearing around the overhead this morning taking photographs and the results are up in the photo library like the one on the left of the Ursuline College in Westgate. These are very high resolution photos that I have to reduce to a resolution that won’t kill the photo server in terms of file size, so super detail enlargement shots, almost to car number plate level are available on request.

Bob and I have also taken detailed photographs of the Charles Dickens School in Broadstairs, ready for its £6.2 million opening of new building on Monday. Also included are St Georges School, The Ramsgate School and Marlow Academy, a better look at the Sea Bathing hospital building work, Margate Clocktower, Westwood, Minnis Bay, the Arlington tower and more.

Turner Troubles

The rising cost of the Turner Contemporary (TC) in Margate featured in this morning’s BBC South-east news. Apparently this is now a touching the £30 million mark and shows no sign of stopping. I had thought that work was supposed to have started a month ago or that’s what they said during the press conference if I remember correctly. This might however refer to the creation of a brand new A2990 traffic sign now proudly pointing to it on the St Nicholas roundabout.

News coming out during the course of today reveals that the TC is now expected to open in the first six months of 2008, four years later than first forecast. and Kent County Council has admitted to a £9.8million shortfall of what it needs to build the gallery and visitor centre, already advertised for early visitors on the A2990.

It appears that rising steel prices and protracted wrangles over the constuction contract with enginners Edmund Nuttall have driven-up costs and KCC could still be left with a bill for £20million if sponsors are not prepared to supplement the £4.1million that has already been pledged by the Arts Council and a further £4million from SEEDA - the South East England Development Agency.

Wartime Tunnels

On the subject of hidden, wartime tunnels in Thanet, Reader Pete K. points out:

“There's a good site here that shows the Ramsgate shelters in detail.”

“I remember as kids we were able to sneak in to the ones at Sarre which were the South East Army Command Brigade Headquarters. The entrance has been filled in now, which is probably a good thing to keep naturally inquisitive youngsters out. God knows what could have happened to us down there; No-one knew we were there (because we weren't allowed down there) and our provisions consisted of a candle each to see!”

Photo by Nick Catford

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Glimpses of History

Ramsgate Regatta circa 1915, a photo courtesy of Michael’s bookshop. I’ve just been reading through one of the many local history publications that he publishes and discovered I knew nothing about the sheer size of the Ramsgate tunnel system from the last war. There’s a remarkable amount of local Thanet history that most of us know little or nothing about and perhaps we should.

Many of these local bookshop publications with their old photographs and illustrations would make excellent “stocking-fillers” for Christmas so go and have a browse through his catalogue. When you have the opportunity.

The Man with the White Beard

I found myself talking with one of Thanet`s homeless this morning. I offered to bring his plight to the attention of the council but he’s a proud man, even though he looks like Robinson Crusoe and bureaucracy, he says mostly makes things worse for him rather than better.

He’s not from round here. Beneath the huge white beard, he’s middle class, educated and obviously well-travelled enough to swap stories of the Sahara desert with me; a little warmer and less wet than the sea front alcove he’s huddled in at present. I gave him a thermal blanket and some dry thermal underwear; it’s been a very wet night and left him to enjoy his seafront view.

Further along the coast, I think the caravan with the homeless family is still in Westbrook, I think I saw it from the air again this weekend and I wonder about the housing pressures facing Social Services. Stuart tells me he’d be happy with a flat or somewhere dry to sleep but like thousands of others around the country, he’s fallen far enough out of the system to make it almost impossible to recover and without direct intervention, the only way is down.

More Dentists by Month's End

It’s a miracle, almost, the news that NHS Dental contracts will deliver five internationally recruited dentists for Thanet by month’s end.  That is the message contained in a letter from the Chief Executive of the Kent and Medway NHS Trust (Candy Morris) to North Thanet`s MP Roger Gale.

The letter follows an appeal by the MP to the Strategic Health Authority to deliver on promises of better NHS services.

"Your constituents in North Thanet will shortly benefit from the successful negotiation of contracts for the Primary Care Trust" says the letter.  “The employment of five international recruits will enable an extra 7,700 patients to register with a dentist and will provide an additional 26 hours of access sessions for those not registered.  Two contracts will go live at the end of October 2005, one in Margate and one in Westgate. Between them these two practices will take an additional 400 patients every year for the next year and provide 7 hours per week of access to non-registered patients requiring emergency treatment"

"This has been a long time coming" says Roger Gale "but it looks as though at last we may be about to make some real progress towards honouring government promises. I hope very much that these new contracts will make a real difference to the treatment available to my constituents".

Patients requiring a dentist or those needing emergency treatment and who are not registered with a dentist should contact the Primary Care Trust on 01843-855460. The PCT will then inform them where there is capacity in their local area".

£5,000 Fine For Breaching New Fireworks Regulations

I notice that the fireworks are already starting to go “bang” after dark and the Conservative Animal Group (CAWG) is this week reminding the public that the new Fireworks (Safety) Regulations that followed the 2003 Fireworks Act are now in force and that breaches of the regulations carry a fine of up to £5,000 for each offence.
The regulations:

Ban the sale to the general public of aerial shells, maroons, mortars and "combination" fireworks.

Ban the supply to the public of bangers, including flash bangers and jumping crackers and Chinese crackers.

Ban the supply to the public of mini rockets.

Set 18 as the minimum age for purchasing fireworks.

Ban retailers from splitting display boxes and selling them individually.

Introduce curfews on the use of fireworks with specific extensions for certain dates (such as Diwali, Chinese New Year and November 5th) only.

The provisions of the Protection of Animals Act (which also carry the potential for a £5000 fine or six months imprisonment) also remain in force until, possibly, amended by a new Animal Welfare Bill.

"We trust that the new provisions will lead to an improvement in the protection of the public and of animals while permitting people to continue to enjoy safe and well-organised public displays" says the President of the CAWG, Roger Gale, MP (North Thanet).

"We know that in the past the irresponsible use of, particularly, very loud bangers has caused distress to the elderly and to animals. The Guide Dogs Association, specifically, has expressed concern over this issue and we know of instances when working assistance dogs have been traumatised by fireworks let off by youths in the street. "

"We need to get across the very clear message that there are now a number of offences that carry very considerable penalties and that the police no longer have to establish that criminal damage or injury, alarm or distress etc. has actually been committee before taking action. "

"The police now have the power to stop, search, seize and confiscate fireworks where they have reasonable suspicion that the offences created by the Fireworks Act 2003 are being committed. We hope and believe that these powers will be used, if necessary, in the next couple of weeks”.

Mind you, I’m not sure that any member of the gang of about a dozen “hoodies” lurking around Westbrook just before ten last night had read or were particularly worried by the new regulations and I’m almost sure that we can look forward to “business as usual” where the anti-social use of fireworks is involved over the coming ten days or so.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Thanet Jobless Up - Slightly

Thanet may have added only two more people to the county’s jobless total but it’s worth considering, that as a whole, the number of manufacturing jobs in the UK has fallen by 99,000 since August 2004

In fact, in Kent in total, more than 300 more people registered as unemployed in September, taking the total across Kent and Medway to 19,261. The latest rise follows a 405 increase in August.

The Government’s own preferred quarterly measure of unemployment showed a fall of 7,000 from 1.42 million in the three months to August but up 21,000 from the same time in 2004.

Police Ask for Witnesses in Motorcycle Crash

A 30-year-old man died on Sunday after his motorcycle was in collision with a car.

His yellow Triumph motorcycle and a blue Ford Mondeo collided at the junction of College Road and Ramsgate Road at about 9.20pm. The victim died from his injuries at the scene.

Police arrested the 23-year-old driver of the Ford Mondeo. Who is now assisting officers with their enquiries.

Anyone who witnessed the collision is asked to contact the Serious Collision Investigation Unit’s witness line on (01622) 600 970.

Ramsgate's FA Cup Return

For the first time on thirty-six years, Ramsgate Football Club booked themselves a place in the 1st Round Proper of the FA Cup on Saturday, beating Cirencester Town 3 – 0 and equaling the Club's FA Cup record, set by Jimmy Blair fifty years ago when Ramsgate Athletic beat Guildford City 3-2 in a 4th Qualifying Round Replay at Southwood, before being beaten 5-3 away by Watford in November 1955.
The Ramsgate 1st Team returns to the serious business of League football for the first time in 3 weeks on Tuesday night (25th October), when it is at home to Dulwich Hamlet (the team who put it out of the FA Cup last season) - 7.45pm kickoff.  

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Stay Warm this Winter

It’s rarely that you see the Met Office stretch its neck out so far but when forecasts are rarely more accurate than five days in advance, they are predicting the arrival of what could be the harshest winter since 1963.

Why, because they have fifteen hundred thermo-sensor buoys floating around the Atlantic and these are telling them that the sea temperature is one degree cooler than it should be. To me, this suggests that an awful lot of ice must be melting from the Greenland glaciers; what the global warming lobby has been warning for some time and alsotrue of the Antarctic with a sudden temperature rise at the opposite end of the globe which threatens the survival or the Antarctic ecology.

But to cut a long story short, a uniform one degree temperature loss in the Atlantic could logically spell very bad news for us by January if you recall your school geography lessons and remember that we sit on the same latitude as northern Canada but are saved from a frozen fate in the winter by the warming effect of the Atlantic current. Without this Scotland is best left to the penguins and the Polar bears may yet stroll along a frozen North Sea towards Margate.

Now as the government has admitted this weekend that it only has five weeks emergency reserve of gas, it may be wise to stock to up on woolly underwear and firelighters, just in case. I certainly will because on this occasion we aren’t looking at a forecast from an optimistic, ‘”hurricane, what hurricane”, Michael Fish but hard facts which tell the Met office that something is very wrong with the sea temperatures that keep us all from freezing in winter.

New Aerial Photos of Thanet

I’ve just uploaded more aerial photographs of Margate, Broadstairs and Cliftonville to the photo library and here’s the link.

Today, you can see what’s been or being done to the Sea Bathing Hospital construction, site, the enormous pipeline trench being dug across the grass in Palm Bay from the Foreness pumping station and lots of photos of Broadstairs harbour. The sun wasn’t that cooperative this morning and so a number aren’t as clear as I might have liked.

Thanks to my co-pilot Charlotte, who, aged ten, can’t drive a car but is quite capable of flying an aircraft around and holding it in position while I take the photographs – under strict supervision of course. Opposite Minnis Bay, we counted two large adults (baby sitting?) and around twenty young seals on the sands exposed by the low tide and so the seal population looks quite healthy if one considers that possibly a dozen more adult seals must be out hunting.

Sunday Stories

I suggested some time ago that young David Miliband was clearly being groomed as a potential successor to Tony Blair and now it appears the odds are shortening with the possibility that the Conservatives might vote-in David Cameron as their new leader.

Bookies, William Hill said there had been an increase in betting interest in Miliband, the 40-year-old communities minister, in recent days, cutting his odds to win the leadership after Blair steps down from 50-1 to 25-1. Brown remains the heavy favourite.

Miliband is seen by some close to Blair as man who would 'skip a generation' in a similar way to Cameron, though other sources were suggesting the possibility of a 'dream ticket' with Miliband as Gordon Brown's number two.

Another piece of unsettling national news this morning is that the drinks industry is planning an energetic campaign of economic incentives and psychological ploys to encourage customers to drink as much as possible when licensing laws are relaxed according to The Observer newspaper.

Managers of massive 'vertical drinking' pubs are reportedly  being offered bonuses worth up to £20,000 a year if they beat targets as the industry moves to exploit Britain's binge drinking culture.

Pub Managers in many of the big chain pubs dominating Britain's city centres are being ordered to draw up business development plans explaining how they will keep people in their pubs after 11pm and offered shares of the profits if they beat sales targets. One manager told of races between bar staff to sell as many 'shots' of spirits as possible within a set time and constant pressure to 'upsell' singles to doubles.

So what, I ask, are the plans if any contemplated by the pub trade in Thanet to exploit what is already a problem culture of binge-drinking to greater economic advantage?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Help Thanet Life Towards 100,000 Visits

Thanet Life blew past the 35,000 figure last week without really noticing but I recognise that it’s difficult for people to find the website unless they know about it first and then, many insist on typing “” and get nowhere at all because it’s nothing to do with me and just “sits there”, rather like a wrong turning on a busy highway.

As this website grows organically, by word of mouth or recommendation, perhaps you can help me move it closer towards the magic 100,000 mark by Christmas? Simply tell two friends about it and ask if they can also tell two friends. Increasingly, I can see local papers picking-up from it as a news source and the more traffic it receives, by way of attention, the more of a voice it can give the people of Thanet, politically, socially and environmentally in a way that the traditional media can’t. All help is of course much appreciated. Thank you – Simon Moores.

We Need Zero Tolerance

Violent crime is rising faster in Kent than anywhere else in the country according to the latest figures. Kent police reveal 6,746 assaults were committed between April and June of this year, compared with 5,555 during the same period in 2004.

And the common denominator is? Well you guessed it, booze and drugs, according to Conservative leadership contender, David Davis.

While violent crime soared in Kent, 21.4% compared to 6% elsewhere in the UK, only 48% of the perpetrators were caught, possibly those too drunk or drugged to escape from the police who have an impossible task trying to control this local epidemic.

Money Well Spent

Head teachers from Kent schools have arrived back from a £150,000 trip to the United States, funded by taxpayer’s money. Their verdict: “They (US Schools) were all totally different from each other and British schools.”

Money well-spent then, I’m sure you’ll agree!

Capitalism at It's Socialist Best

Why is anybody surprised that private companies, investing in Kent schools will make £300 million from an £82 million investment? I wrote about this ages ago in regard to academy schools and now that business has “invested” in a major school re-building programme under the Private Finance Investment scheme (PFI) business will reap the rewards at the taxpayers expense. Nice work if you can get it!

Businesses after all, have a duty to their shareholders and what business is going to ‘invest’ in the crumbling edifice of our education system without a return on investment, namely the lucrative playing fields, available for potential development and handed over as part of the deal. But I warned of this before and Ellington school in Ramsgate is one of the six that will benefit from the deal.

And before I forget, there’s that little problem I raised two weeks ago, VAT. The plan is also predicated on schools being “Rented out in the evenings and at weekends for adult classes business and sports” but my understanding of this nd do correct me if I’m wrong, is that this falls foul of EU VAT regulations and makes the school liable to an unsustainable VAT bill from a Chancellor who at present, shows no signs of resolving the problem.

So, local schools will improve, a good thing but you and I are gong to foot the bill for almost a quarter of a £billion in return, not a good thing. And if you happen to be anyone of several sharp, perfectly respectable and philanthropic businessman, feted by the county council, then it’s time to break out the champagne and buy a new home in Monaco I suppose. Wish I’d thought of it first!

Armed Forces in Iraq - Gale backs Clare Short`s Bill

Staying with the Middle-east, North Thanet`s MP, Roger Gale, will be supporting a private Member’s Bill to be introduced by former Labour Minister Clare Short to give parliament the right to vote before UK troops are committed to conflict.

Roger comments: "I have very grave concerns about the manner in which we sent troops into Iraq and about the legality of the manner in which we did so.  I believe that the House of Commons was misled by the Prime Minister both about the level of threat to UK security (the "forty five minutes from attack" argument) and about the evidence supporting the existence of weapons of mass destruction.  I think that had we known when we voted what we now know then the result of the vote might have been very different. “

He adds, “It looks very much as though the decision to commit UK troops in support of the US-led adventure in Iraq was agreed between President Bush and Mr. Blair many months before Parliament was consulted or even informed.”

“We can argue about the rights and wrongs of regime change but I believe that Blair’s actions constitute an abuse of the use of "royal prerogative" that must not be allowed to be repeated.”

“Of course there may be occasions in the future when, in the national interest, immediate action will need to be taken but Clare Short’s Bill makes provision for that.”

"Those serving in our armed forces know the risks that they undertake" says Gale. "But they have a right to know that the causes in which they are asked to risk and give their lives are legal and have the support of parliament.  And the families of the bereaved have a right to know that those that they have lost have died in a just and honourable cause and that their sacrifice has not been tarnished or in vain.

“On Trafalgar Day we should remember that if England expects that every man shall do his duty then it must also be the case that we do our duty by those who serve".

On The Road to Damascus

On the same morning that the Guardian newspaper runs the headline “Rogue Syrians must be held to account, says US”, I’ve been on the phone to Damascus discussing the possibility of assisting with their electronic government project. You might say that the situation is both fluid and delicate, so I’ll drop a note to our Ambassador in Syria and their Ambassador in London and ask for both opinions once the details of the project come through to make sure I’m not treading on any sensitive diplomatic toes. If that isn’t enough, I was asked on Friday, if I might be interested in doing the same in Islamabad, leading me to think that eGovernment projects are like buses, you sit waiting for them for ages and then, all of a sudden two come along at once.

Friday, October 21, 2005

What's Up With Pleasurama?

What’s happening with Pleasurama in Ramsgate I wonder and in particular, the status of the £550K "security" payment that was due to be paid to the Council "on the signing of the development agreement”. Apparently new documentation issued by the council states something different to what Council originally agreed and so what does this change mean precisely, why the change, and should this not go back to full Council for review?

Shouldn’t the precise meaning of any changes in the Pleasurama development agreement be clearly explained to the people of Ramsgate, i.e. no building above the cliff top and landscaped roofing?

Don't Forget to Duck

Whack. I thought it was a gunshot hitting one of the trees opposite the Westgate community centre, where I had just parked to collect my daughter from school. Then a small boy carrying a golf club ran past and shouted, “Sorry mate” as he started looking for a lost golf ball.

In the middle of the public common in Minster road was what was probably his brother. Aged about nineteen, over six feet tall and swinging a very large No#1 driver, practising for his next shot between passing primary children.

I went up to him and said, “It’s probably not a good idea to use real golf balls here, you might hurt someone or cause some damage.” He looked at me blankly and replied, “I’ve been doing this for ages, and you’re the first person to complain.” Looking at the size of him, with an attitude to match, I can guess why.

“Probably a good idea to practise somewhere else where there’s less chance of an accident”, I said and left with my daughter, looking for a community warden on the way home to report it to but finding none.

I wonder, does driving golf balls around a very small public park qualify as anti-social behaviour or is the Anti-terrorism legislation better suited to deal with such activities?

Michael's Bookshop

Some old photos of Margate courtesy of Michael's Bookshop. I sent them all my aerial photos on CD today and they are planning to add these to a small book of Thanet from above.

The two photos here obviously show Margate over a hundred years ago, the pier and "The Promenade." Hearing that two more of the palm trees have been vandalised since I mentioned the subject the other day, I wonder what what would have happened in Victorian times if someone tried such a thing and was caught? Well of course they wouldn't because it would not have been worth the risk, the sentence and the social stigma that such an action would carry with it. Today, we have the Human Rights Act and no palm tree is safe.

Trafalgar Day in Thanet

Celebrating the 200th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar, many schools in Thanet are having their children dress-up with a navy theme today, as you can see from this photo taken at Chartfield School in Westgate. The complete photo set can be found to view and download by following the link.

Known worldwide for its historical accuracy, the BBC just reported the end of the battle as “The ships parked side by side and then they went downstairs.” This is of course why they wish to raise the license fee to almost £200 a year, to be able to employ a journalist with some grasp of basic nautical expressions, such as “moored” and “below-decks”, which I suspect even the primary school in the photo children may be familiar with.

In the Finest Tradition of Double Standards

In my Thanet Gazette column “From Marx to Margate” today, I’m exploring some of the local aspects of poverty but I notice that the infamous “Tax Credits” system, which has contributed to the problem, is back in the papers today.

In Thanet North, I know that many families have been badly hit by overpayment errors made by the Inland Revenue, who then attempt to claw any money back, regardless of any ability to pay.

Earlier this month it emerged that in 2003-04, overpayments totalled £2.2bn - higher than previously thought - affecting 1.9 million families, with similar levels anticipated for 2004-05.

I wonder what damage is being done in Thanet South, which may have a proportionately greater problem with the problem than Thanet North? Would Dr Ladyman like to comment?

The parliamentary ombudsman hit out at the government yesterday for seemingly "picking and choosing" which of her recommendations on repairing the damage it wanted to accept. There has not been such a devastating report from an ombudsman in recent times than the one on the tax credits system but it’s no great surprise that HM Revenue & Customs has refused to accept her key recommendation that officials should consider writing off all tax credit overpayments resulting from errors since the system began.

In an attempt to improve the way it claws back this wrongly paid cash too poor families, Revenue & Customs is planning to introduce a fully-automated computerised system to suspend recovery of disputed overpayments - but this is likely to take a year to start. The Ombudsman described the process as one of “systemic maladministration," “and the mess will take years to put right.”

Meanwhile a government department, with more tax inspectors than front-line troops and led by the man who is likely to become our next Prime Minister, will continue to bully almost two million of the poorest members of our own society, while enthusiastically talking of his plans to end world poverty by writing-off the debts of third-world countries. Double standards that we should take for granted by now.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Room for Improvement

There’s a thought, according unpublished school results, obtained by the BBC, one in six of the schools that are supposed to have improved since 2001 have actually got worse at English and Maths – including some officially listed as ‘most improved’.

It’s reported that the actual number of pupils gaining 5 GCSEs at Grades A-C, (including the key subjects of English and Maths) is 42.7 per cent, not 53.7 per cent as the Government had previously claimed. Out of almost 2,000 mainstream state schools that have claimed improved GCSE-level results in the past four years, teenagers’ performance in English and Maths worsened in one in six.

Having once taught English, IT and other subjects in Thanet and having gaps in my diary between projects, I had offered to both KCC and to local schools some of my time to go in and help but it’s not that easy anymore and nothing happened as a result.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Pro Bono Publico

Criminal and exorbitant, two words I heard tonight to describe the cost of parking at Margate QEQM hospital. Would you agree? Apparently the hospital trust, over three sites, rakes in £800,000 a year from parking charges and possibly like you, I have had the shock of arriving at casualty and realising that I wasn’t carrying enough change to pay for four hours in the car park, close to half a day’s wages for some!

Are you surprised then that cars choke the Margate and Ramsgate roads outside the QEQM because drivers refuse to pay for what supposed to be access to the health service that we have all paid for already!

If Thanet residents aren’t a little more militant then the property developers are going to continue to walk all over us and there won’t be any green space, other than the beach, to leave to our children. Parking or the lack of it, is a huge problem with new developments and yet they often go ahead regardless. Sea Tower in Westgate will now benefit from a council (site) visit but in winter, let alone summer, there aren’t enough spaces available for the existing residents of Sussex gardens without building two more blocks of retirment flats

What was ommitted in the objection against the Sea Tower application last night was that the adjacent buildings (you can see in the photos further below) are built on a North - South alignment so that residents have a view east towards Margate and West towards Birchington out to sea. If the new blocks are given planning permission, then those same buildings will have no easterly sunlight in the mornings and will lose there easterly sea view. This seems like a more valid objection to me!

Members of the TDC planning committee, (see photo left) ‘Pro Bono Publico’, (forgive my bad Latin), please use the high resolution aerial photos that are available on this website to assist you in making your decisions on our rapidly changing landscape. If you don’t know about Thanet Life yet and what’s available from it then it’s time, as elected representatives, that you did.

The Future May Not Be Orange but Red Instead

Having narrowly avoided being knocked-off my motorcycle by a texting driver on Monday, I rather agree with ThanetLife reader Chris who writes:

There has been a lot in the media recently about driving whilst using a mobile phone and it has also been mentioned how often you see people in Thanet with a phone up to there ear whilst hurtling down the road in cars and vans.

Nobody complains about people smoking whilst driving and why they should after all, there is nothing to distract them by doing so and the only people to suffer the consequences are themselves and/or other people travelling in the car with them.

So what am I getting at here? Well I shall tell you as I have seen this new phenomenon today in Station Road Birchington, It goes like this:

  • Smoker in car = one hand on steering wheel and one hand flicking cigarette ash out of the window...

  • Mobile user = one hand on steering wheel the other hand holding mobile phone to ear and chatting...
And now the new phenomenon that I witnessed today, the smoker with a mobile phone!

The driver of said vehicle was driving down station road Birchington with a mobile phone in his left hand held to his ear and chatting whilst his right hand was out of the window flicking ash off the end of his cigarette, and just to make it a little more hazardous his window was only partly open so he had to look at he cigarette so as not to miss the gap in the window all the time whilst his vehicle was steering itself.

Even if he used the ash tray this scenario still involves driving no hands whist looking down making sure he does not miss the ash tray.

It’s obvious that some people will not give up using Mobile phones whilst driving even more smokers will not give up smoking whilst driving; so this is a phenomenon that we are likely to see a lot more of, and the consequences to pedestrians and other road users can only get worse.

Your Chance to Object

There’s a meeting this evening (7pm) at the Thanet District Council Offices in Margate (Cecil Square) to discuss and possibly object to the building of a block of flats on the site occupied by Seatower in Westgate.

You may remember that I have written about his before but to cut a long story short, it appears that the new owner wants to knock down this little piece of local history and put yet another block of seaside retirement flats in its place – There’s a surprise!

Look at the photo and decide whether the seafront view looks nicer with Seatower or without. It's the building in the photograph with the blue swimming pool! Does anyone care to bet how long the other patches of grass will last against the greed for seaside apartment blocks? Here is another view of the area in its heyday, one hundred years ago and the St Mildred's Hotel, now hidden behind the most recent architectural carbuncle that throws a shadow over the seafront in the summer mornings.

Tower Block Fall in Ramsgate

A tragic story from Ramsgate as a twenty-year old man fell to his death from the Ramsgate Trove Court, tower block early today.

According to the Police, the death is not being treated as suspicious and has been handed over to coroner’s officers to investigate.

Get Safe Online

Richard Hammond of the BBC's Top Gear will be fronting the launch of the government and business-sponsored GetSafeonline programme this month to warn people over the risk from online ID theft.

Nice billboard Richard, I’ll be going along for the launch but readers might like to visit the website and my own Netcrime report to take a view of the problem.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fawlty Towers

I notice that we have now have a nice collection of palm trees along the seafront in Margate, stretching into Westbrook and that already, one has fallen victim to the vandals, now snapped in half. Having the trees decorating the town is a nice touch, particularly in view of the Indian summer we’ve been experiencing but I rather think that left unguarded, their prospects of survival are poor.

This afternoon, on the way back from Margate, I saw a car, more accurately a Ford ‘Ka’, being driven around on the green between Bridge Road and Westbrook Avenue, off-road practise perhaps? I don’t know but sounding rather like the character of Ballard Berkeley aka “The Major” in Fawlty Towers, if we don’t adopt a tough, zero-tolerance policing approach to such behaviour, supported by the courts on a local basis, then as a community, Thanet will continue to suffer from a constant background rhythm of anti-social nuisance. It strikes me that the yobs now know where the CCTV coverage and the community wardens are working and simply act where they aren’t present.

Of course, the crusty Major in Fawlty Towers might have had his own eccentric ideas on how to put an end to anti-social behaviour and I rather wonder, tongue in cheek, how many people might vote to try his solution?

By the way, here's a clip from the series of the Major, who came from Margate and who could possibly win a council seat today..

“We loved this guy who was in his own world. He never quite understood what was going on, but always added his own interpretation of it.” — John Cleese

Chislet Mill Burns Down

The Chislet Mill windmill near Herne Bay, which was undergoing restoration, has burned-down.

The blaze, on Saturday night, engulfed the 200-year-old listed mill in the garden of the Old Mill House.

The windmill was being restored by the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings and the fire is thought to have been started by an electrical fault.

The mill and house used to be the property of the Ministry of Defence and in the 1940s was briefly home to bouncing bomb creator Barnes Wallis who used to watch trials of the bombs being dropped in the sea off Reculver towers from the top of the windmill.

Fatal Crash on Thanet Way

The Thanet Way (A2990) was closed this morning when one man was killed and several other people seriously injured.

Two vans reportedly collided and left the road at about 6am just past the Whitstable turning. One is seen on the right of a photograph of the scene taken by Chris Davey.

Fire crews, police officers and paramedics were called and used spinal boards to free the men, thought to be railway workers, from the vehicle.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Petrol Pressure

The Shell petrol station, London-bound, past Whitstable on the A299 has changed all its pumps to pre-pay. You have to go into the petrol station first, give them your card to swipe and then go back and fill up?

Why, because they have lost so much petrol recently to drivers not paying, this is I’m told the only solution they have left. Petrol stations make only a penny or two on a litre of fuel and theft on this scale apparently makes them run at a loss.

It’s a damning indictment of both society and the high price of fuel that some people now seemed forced to steal it as the only way to keep their car moving. It may have solved the problem but from a driver’s point of view, the wait is now so long (in and out and in and out) that I won’t use it unless I have to.


Caught in the shadows, Thanet North MP Roger Gale sitting next to Lord Harry Renwick at Portcullis House tonight. BT’s Michael Hill in the foreground appears to have dozed off. In fact, it was a meeting on the future of 21st century networks and Roger, as Secretary of PITCOM, the The Parliamentary Information Technology Committee, was there to lend his support.

BT, in the shape of Daryl Dunbar, their Director of Design and Development (seen below on the right with chair, Mark Pritchard MP) was explaining what lies around the corner for all of us, as BT does away with the network as we know it and creates a whole new means of delivering content and calls in the near future with a £10 billion investment.

Tread Carefully

Following the news that a woman, walking to her office in Dundee was arrested under the new anti-terrorism legislation, because she happened to be on a designated bicycle path, I shall be extra careful going to Westminster this evening, where I’m running a meeting for MPs et al. Padded motorcycle jackets are certainly out of the question I suspect!

Football Fireworks Night at Margate FC

Margate Football Club is holding a Community Firework Spectacular on Saturday 5th November 2005. There will also be a penalty shoot out competition for under 16’s against the 1st team goalkeepers. Application to enter must be made in advance to MFC as numbers are limited.

Tickets are £5.00 adults and £2.50 under 16 and are currently on sale at the following places:

Margate Football Club - Margate
Jesse Holness - Cliftonville
Image Hairdressers - Cliftonville
Padgets - Cliftonville
Secret Garden - Cliftonville
Crusties - Cliftonville
Big for Men – Westbrook
Westbrook Newsagents - Westbrook
Seaward Colour Copy Shop – St Peters
Harvey’s Newsagents – Broadstairs
Master Barber - Broadstairs
Krusty Kobb – Broadstairs

Gates open at 18:15, penalty shoot out will begin at 18:45 and the display will start at 20:00 (expected to last 30 mins)

Full refreshments and licensed bar will be available on the night.

Try Taking Lemsip

Listening to the news this morning, it’s a source of concern that the government’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, describes GPs as being in the front-line in the fight against avian flu but the doctors say that all they know about it is what they see and hear on the news.

The Tamiflu drug being stockpiled by the government will be enough to treat 25% of the population, (by next year) the proportion the Department of Health believes would be affected by the virus and at the same time, they don’t believe that it will present the threat of a pandemic this year or at least they hope so.

Given the relatively high proportion of elderly residents in Thanet, who are at general risk of catching influenza in winter without the added risk of avian flu, I wonder if we should be making some kind of contingency plans at a local level. Does anyone remember how bad the Hong Kong flu (HN32) outbreak in 1997 was? This was also an avian-human hybrid and certainly put me on my back for several days and I was training at the time for the Sahara marathon, so might be considered reasonably fit.

It occurs to me that no government has an answer to the problem, only hope that the worst doesn’t happen and catch them unprepared. But at least the civil servants, politicians and other essential personnel should have enough stocks of the retro-viral drug, Tamiflu, to give them a fighting chance if the worst happens. The rest of us will have to make do with Lemsip!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Night Flight

If your'e interested in what it's like to fly from Manston at night, I've put up the draft of a piece I'm writing for Pilot Magazine on this week's night training course at TG Aviation.

Why bother with a night rating? Much like the IMC rating, a night rating is a qualification which only a relatively small number of GA pilots bother to pursue, either because of the extra time and cost involved or because they can’t imagine themselves ever needing one.

But like having the benefit of IMC experience, there may come a day when the opportunity of landing after dark can make the difference between spending a night in a distant hotel or arriving home safely in time for dinner.

I’ve been flying since 1998 and although I have an IMC rating, which has rescued me from trouble more times than I can remember, I’ve never been too bothered about adding a night rating. More recently though, I’ve been using my Cessna 172 for business, as far away as, Cardiff, Leeds and Blackpool and as winter closes in, the available daylight becomes a problem. With the bright lights of Manston airport only eight miles away and open until late, I decided that adding a night-rating to my PPL would be a sensible step, removing some annoying time pressures on my flying and giving me an easy diversion choice if I needed one.

TG Aviation at Manston offers a night rating as part of its wider private pilot syllabus. Perched on the north-eastern tip of Kent, Manston, with its huge runway and ILS approach is a great spot to choose if you want to familiarise yourself with the procedures involved in flying to and from a large commercial airport in the dark.

My course instructor at TG Aviation was the affable Bob McChesney, having drawn the short straw, to stay behind and fly with me in the dark while everyone else went home. Welcoming me into a briefing room, Bob explained that the night rating is a minimum five hour course requiring at least three hours dual instruction, five solo take off and full stop landings, and finally one hour of dual navigation.

There are, said Bob, no written exams and no flying test but for pilots who don’t hold an IMC rating, a couple of extra hours instrument appreciation may be required and its important to remember that because VFR clearance can’t be issued after sunset, night flying comes under IFR rules and so I might want to brush up on privileges of a night qualification in Schedule 8 part B of the ANO and sections 29 – 32 dealing with (Special VFR) SVFR and IFR flight planning at night. - Night is of course for flying purposes thirty minutes after sunset but for ight rating training, the sun must be twelve degree below the horizon too.

Before sending me outside to walk around the aircraft, a PA28, with my most vital piece of equipment, a torch, Bob gives me a short briefing on both the importance of terrain clearance and gives a short lecture on night vision and darkness adaption in the cockpit. Map reading he warns me, will become a very different skill under a red cockpit light as all the main road features and other markings in red will disappear. “Although”, he adds, “it takes thirty minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark. This can be lost instantly, with exposure to bright light and so it’s important to minimize the use of white light in the cockpit and keep it as low as possible.”

Sitting inside the PA28, I find myself struggling to read the engine start checklist under the overhead red light. I lean forward, peering myopically at each instrument in turn, particularly the altimeter, checking the QNH setting given to me by the Manston ATIS. What should be familiar in daylight doesn’t feel quite as it should in the small cockpit and after the engine starts, I almost switch off the red master switch instead of the fuel pumpnext to it because they now share a dull monochrome colour.

My first flight will be a familiarisation and dual navigation exercise that will take us from Manston’s runway 10, in a climb over Ramsgate harbour, before following the coast at 2,500 feet to Whitstable before turning towards Canterbury, Ashford, Folkestone, Dover and then back into Manston to land. As we roll through the blackness towards the Bravo taxiway, Bob points out the different colours of the lights, blue for the taxiway, red for a hold and green for the threshold and centre-line lights. He explains that the Manston runway lights are bi-directional but that you can only see them when the aircraft is aligned with runway. Edge lights he tells me are white and the last six hundred metres of extended centre-line lights are orange for an instrument approach. Manston has a PAPI system and so for an approach, I’ll also be looking for two red and two white lights showing in the horizontal line of four, to place me on the correct glide path for the runway.

Leaving the apron and rocketing past the blue taxiway lights and control tower towards the ‘Echo’ hold, Bob remarks that one of the first things a pilot will fail to notice in the dark is how fast he’s taxiing. I take the hint.

Power checks complete, departure approved by the tower with a right turn, and we roll onto the runway and accelerate into the darkness with the white runway lights flicking past us on either side. As soon as we rotate, I instantly fall back on my IMC training, select a ten degree nose-up pitch and trim for eighty knots. As a proper outside visual reference becomes difficult, Bob tells me to maintain a positive rate of climb based on the airspeed indication, regardless of the attitude indicator might display. As the aircraft settles into its climb I start to enjoy the view of the coast below. It’s a perfect flying evening and Bob points out the flickering lights of Calais to my right and Southend to the left. Once the Warrior is trimmed and level at 2,500 feet, with a Flight Information Service from Manston, he sets about giving me more detailed instruction on the many different things I have to look out for at night.

Civil airfields, he tells me, have flashing white or green lights he tells me but military airfields show red. He also warns me that it is difficult to see and avoid bad weather in the dark and a first warning may be an apparent glow from the navigation lights, or a reflection of the strobes being diffused throughout a cloud.

Reaching Deal an hour later and with a fine view of Boulogne’s lights across the Channel, we’re cleared for a downwind approach to Manston’s runway 10. In daylight, I know this route like the back of my hand but at night, it’s a different matter. Where are the huge cooling towers at Richborough power station which mark the limit of the Manston circuit? I have to strain my eyes to spot the red navigation hazard lights and without these the towers are lost in the area of blackness that defines the airport boundary.

It’s not until we join downwind that I’m able to make out the runway lights clearly and on the base leg, Bob takes the controls and pushes the aircraft up and down to demonstrate the changes in colour of the PAPIs and how the spacing of the white runway lights changes, closing up when the aircraft is too low and becoming much wider the higher it gets. Finally, he tells me to watch where the runway edge lights are in relation to the wings as he lands the aircraft. “Keep the throttle slightly open”, he says, leave it flying just above the runway and wait for the lights to sink up around your ears, you’ll be doing this tomorrow.” The Warrior makes a gentle landing and taking back the controls, I slowly follow the green taxiway lights into the darkness towards the TG hangar.

Day two of the course and the bad weather has lifted sufficiently for the next stage of my training, dual circuits around Manston. We begin with the standard night pattern; climb to five hundred feet, turn right over Pegwell Bay and then level-off at one thousand feet to join downwind for Manston’s 10 runway. With the normal visual cues missing in the dark, I look for the lights of the golf driving range and the power-station cooling towers and fly due west between the two, which puts the aircraft at roughly the right distance from the runway. The base-leg reference is the lights on the second roundabout on the A299 and as I start the turn, I complete my landing checklist and slowly reduce the throttle to 1700 rpm, selecting two stages of flap and looking for seventy-five knots with a steady rate of descent. As the aircraft makes its turn onto final, I notice I’m being blown to the left of centreline by a crosswind and have to angle the nose into wind to bring me back on line, the PAPI lights are showing two red and two white lights, telling me my descent is correct and at three hundred feet, I extend the final stage of flap and check that the aircraft is flying at seventy knots.

As we pass over the threshold I wait for the centre line to become visible under the landing light and gently start to level out, After what seems to be a long time, the beam of the landing light picks-up the white line and so keeping the throttle cracked open slightly, I gently start to pull back on the yoke, watching the white runway lights streaming past in my peripheral vision. As these come level with the wingtips there’s a gentle bump of the tyres touching the runway and I’m down, thinking it’s not as difficult as I thought it might be. Flaps retracted and full power applied, we leave the runway and repeat the exercise.

After four successful “Touch and Go’s”, Bob decides to make my life more interesting by simulating emergencies and turning off the landing light. He even asks Manston Tower to turn off the PAPIs to see if I can calculate my descent angle from the gap between the runway lights, viewed on final approach. Finally, his ‘coup de grace’ is to simulate a total loss of electrical power in the cockpit. From my point of view this is ‘lights out’ and the only thing I am able to see out of the corner of my eye is the ASI or more accurately the white, VFE, flaps speed, line on its face. The RPM gauge is as good as invisible.

“You need to be able to work out your approach from the look of the runway lights and the descent attitude of the aircraft”, say Bob (pictured left). I can vaguely work out my airspeed from the shadow thrown by the needle of the ASI across the dial and so listening intently to the engine note, I go through the same procedure as before, using the PAPIs to adjust my descent, gripping the throttle and mumbling the mantra that my friend, aerobatics pilot Denny Dobson once taught me, “Attitude controls speed, power controls height”.

Once again, perhaps through luck, rather than judgement, the aircraft touches down perfectly and with the lights turned back on again, we continue with the circuit practise until its time for the airport to close for the evening.

The final day of the course, it’s a Saturday night and the airport will be open until late. The weather has been remarkable and a “Bombers’ Moon” is rising over the North Sea. Tonight I have to complete five take-offs and landings and then find my way to Norwich and back as my final navigation exercise. One personal lesson I’ve learned since starting the course is that you need to keep everything you need within easy and identifiable reach in a dark aircraft, so I’ve taken to wearing a photographer’s style jacket with lots of pockets, with my reading glasses, pens, ruler, stopwatch and maglite torch immediately to hand.

The solo take-off and landing exercise around the Manston circuit takes me just under an hour and other than an executive jet bringing in a pop star for a concert near Canterbury, I have the runway to myself. The landings, if a little heavier than before with a different aircraft, are uneventful and my one mistake occurs when I taxi back in towards TG Aviation and overshoot the turning in the dark, forcing a 180, much to my embarrassment.

Bob is happy for me to find way up towards Norwich and I draw some lines on my map, in black, so that I can see them under a red light and make a note of the navigational beacons and approach frequencies en-route. I’ll be leaving Manston’s runway 10, making a left turn to meet the north Kent coast and will be following a westerly heading towards Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey, before tracking the Southend NDB over the top of the airport and from there, out to Norwich on a heading of 342 degrees. On the way home, I’ll be tracking the Clacton VOR before picking up the Dover VOR to cross the Thames Estuary and then the Manston NDB straight into a base leg entry to land.

With a limited amount of feature information from my map, particularly over East Anglia, I find myself looking for motorways and large towns like Ipswich, constantly using my stopwatch to calculate where I should be every ten minutes or twenty nautical miles. Before I left, Bob also reminded me that at night, there can be a distortion of signals on the coastal NDBs and so make sure that I cross reference my position regularly.

Southend soon becomes visible from its pier and the flashing white airfield beacon. I’m the only person in the air it seems and when I ask the controller whether I should call RAF Wattisham next, he tells me they are closed and that if I want to talk to anyone en route at this time of night on a Saturday, I should stick with London Information.

The journey across East Anglia towards Norwich is very dark but uneventful and the lack of urban sprawl across Norfolk is actually a help, because bigger towns, such as Colchester and Ipswich are much more visible as large islands in a surrounding sea of darkness. Back towards Clacton, it’s easier to follow the VOR towards the coast at 2,500 feet and from the floodlit port of Harwich, identify the Dover VOR for the twenty minute sea crossing towards the Isle of Thanet and Manston. The Moon reflects off the sea, revealing occasional passing ship below and acts rather like a second light in the cockpit. I’m briefly reminded of Antoine Saint Exupery’s books, describing the early Aero Postal mail flights between South America and Africa in open biplanes.

As the lights of the Kent coast become brighter and Margate flickers into view, I start a slow rate of descent and Manston welcomes me back. I start to search for the green flashing light in the distance that will identify the airport. When I finally see it, it seems a little lost amid the sprawl of urban lights but I know where I am and head for the brightly lit roundabout on the A299 which marks the extended centre line of the runway. From here, the airport is brightly lit, consuming huge amounts of electrical power, just to guide me back down along a Christmas tree display of approach lights.

Back on the ground, I help Bob put the aircraft away and he give me the most difficult part of the exercise to finish, completing the CAA forms for the night rating and writing my credit card details down so that I can be relieved of £70 for the privilege.

So was it worth it? Now I have a night rating I think so. Every time you fly, you learn something new and the experience taught me a number of useful lessons involving preparation, orientation and navigation. I’m now confident that in conjunction with an IMC rating, I can now find my way around the UK safely in most conditions and at any time or the day or night. Having a night rating removes one more risk of an unexpected surprise and the temptation to rush one’s preparations as dusk approaches, often leading to flying situations best avoided. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever need a night rating, it’s not hard, doesn’t require one of those dreaded CAA exams and the extra experience must be worth the investment.