Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Fishy Story

I think that with the Turner Centre being re-evaluated, the prevailing idea to turn the big saltwater pool opposite the Nayland Rock Hotel in Margate, into an open air ‘Margate SeaWorld” has its merits. However, I’m not so sure that the council tourism committee has given sufficient thought to what the exhibits will do when the tide comes in, leaving them free to roam across among the swimmers.

The Great Race

Westgate Pancake Day -4- 280306
Originally uploaded by

Great excitement at today's traditional "Pancake day" race in Westgate village.

I snapped-off a few photos and you can "click" on this one to see the others in the set. The video is a bit shaky I'm afraid as the "race marshalls" walked in front of me at the vital moment. Well spotted by one our more observant readers. The missing lorry in the background with £54 million from the Securitas robbery.

Pick-up Line

I have a charity banner I’ve been asked to run along the seafront at Folkestone on Friday, the idea being that lots of schoolchildren line-up on the cliff top and wave as it goes past, a moment to be captured by the local press and possibly Meridian TV.

The only problem is that the long-range forecast is looking awful for that afternoon and I don’t want to disappoint everyone. It’s one of the challenges doing something as weather-dependent as hauling a banner behind an aircraft. It’s tricky at the best of times and best requested in the Spring and Summer when the odds of good weather are much better.

If you’re interested, here’s a ‘Bird-eye’ view of a pickup. Note lucky plastic sheep on top of instrument panel and G-force effect of the sudden “pull-up” on the camera.


After using the swimming pool at Hartsdown for the first time in two decades last weekend, one thing struck me as visibly different to before, the body shape of many if not a near majority of the children swimming there at the time.

The Times newspaper reports today that red tape and a lack of leadership is jeopardising efforts to tackle Britain’s growing childhood obesity crisis, nearly two years after ministers promised to halt the rise in the number of the nation’s children classed as obese by 2010, It has already taken 31 experts 18 months, - struggling with political correctness perhaps - simply to agree how obesity should be measured.

On GMTV this morning, I see they are covering the same national concern story with one 13 stone eleven-year-old girl and a boy of thirteen who is 20 stone!

As a parent, one thing that alarmed me further at the sports centre was the enthusiastic line for the chip counter. Alright, we all get hungry after exercise and children most of all but it struck me that the very group at risk, who should avoid chips, fizzy drinks and chocolate, were being lured or taken to the place that was worst for them, “carbing-up” to a level that may actually have made their visit to the swimming pool a bad idea. They were taking on more calories on the way out than they would have lost through exercise on the way in.

Chronic obesity in children here in Thanet is possibly no different from anywhere else in the country but with “specialist” sports secondary schools and the health message projected by ‘Jamie’s School Dinners’ one might have hoped that more parents would start to recognise the present and future medical dangers that over-indulgence presents to the very person(s) they love most. I would hope so but where activities and sports used to be something that happened at school every day, it's a thing of the past and the Playstation is the exercise machine of choice today for millions of adults and children. And you can understand why. No mud, no rain, no cold and snacks at arms length.

I wonder if I might have fallen into the same trap if I had been born in this generation and not another?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Giant Rabbit Needs New Home

Due to the latest Wallace & Grommit film, rather too many people went out and bought vast-size rabbits. Clearly in some cases this was a very bad idea.

There are therefore a number of these poor rabbits now looking for permanent, kind and loving homes.

If you are able to help, or know of anyone who would give a really good home to a Giant Rabbit, please look at their website at www.giantrabbitrescue.co.uk

The contact there is called Sue, and you can email her on sue@giantrabbitrescue.co.uk

They are based in Sheppey in Kent and have 24 rabbits at present for re-homing.

In the Groove

I called up the tower at Manston a little earlier to suggest that the Virgin aircraft doing circuits today moves out to sea a little further. You’ll see he’s a little closer to the garden tree at Westgate than I would normally expect unless it’s an optical illusion. However, he’s sticking firmly to his track.

Easy Rider

A nice photo of Dreamland in the “Old days” for you to look at, courtesy of reader, Steve Kilbee. I have put a larger copy in the photo library.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to work out how many sacks of £50 notes I can squeeze into the back of my 'White van', a beaten-up Cessna 172, as some chap from Tonbridge has called and asked me for a lift to France and his baggage is a little heavy for EasyJet. Apparently, because he’s drawn all his life-savings out of the bank on a sudden impulse and plans to live abroad or so he tells me.

I thought he might be a Cabinet Minister at first because they have been known to prefer cash too or so I’m told.

Here's Charlotte road-testing the Dreamland Roller Coaster for BBC Radio Kent last Summer when it opened.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Tea With Mussolini

So let me see if I have the story right? Allegedly, a politician’s 'other half', just happens to be the investment lawyer for the very dodgy owner of a large Italian restaurant, AKA, ‘Mussolini’, being investigated by his friendly local public prosecutor for bribery, corruption and bent spaghetti.

Mussolini, out of gratitude for his lawyer’s excellent services, gives him a large brown envelope with £340,000 of 'readies' in it, as one does. That’s a bit of a problem over here these days, as one women discovered last week when she tried to pay £5,000 in cash into the Maidstone branch of the Halifax and was promptly arrested. So in order to smooth the investment and avoid all those troublesome money-laundering forms we have to fill in since 911, the lawyer, let’s call him “Kev”, arranges a mortgage on the home he shares with his partner, “Bev” for the coincidental amount of £340,000, allegedly.

Having signed the loan agreement with their Building Society, Kev and Bev are given a cheque which they reportedly pay into an offshore hedge fund, you know, the kind of fund that the Inland Revenue are really very interested in these days.

All of a sudden, Kev and Bev remember that they have that £340,000 that their old friend Mussolini gave them, gathering dust and interest in a second offshore fund. Well blow me, they decide that they don’t need that loan after all and after a couple of weeks, pay the full £340,000 back to the Building Society.

Mussolini is happy, Kev and Bev are both delighted with the clever wheeze and Bev’s boss, Tony doesn’t know about their good fortune until one day it makes the front page of his favourite ‘Beano’ magazine.

So what does Tony another good friend of Mussolini do? Hang Kev and Bev out to dry? Insist that Bev’s actions were entirely innocent and proper or simply give up and hand the office keys to his neighbour Gordon, who would really like to have that 40% of the £340,000 that Kev and Bev may have forgotten to mention at the Christmas party?

A Little Light Demolition

Under cover of the gale, I see that the bus stop in Westgate’s Westbrook Avenue has been almost demolished by vandals. They must have been using a lump hammer. One might have thought though that the residents of the houses opposite might have heard or seen something?

Out in The Cold

An interesting story from today’s Sunday Times:

“An average two-income couple with a mortgage and two young children pay £7,600 more a year in tax than they receive in benefits. If they break up, the two households can receive £400 more in benefits than they pay in tax.”

The story adds:

“Encouraging the nuclear family is crucial. Studies show that, irrespective of social class, children from broken homes are twice as likely to have behavioural and mental health problems, to perform less well in school, to become sexually active younger, and turn to drugs, smoking and heavy drinking.”

Read on....

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Farewell Sea Tower

TG Stearman 19 Airads - June 2005
Originally uploaded by DrMoores.

Possibly your last view of the Sea Tower site in Westgate - you can make out the pool in the garden - the builder's notices are up promising the arrival of luxury flats to come.

Coincidence perhaps but I count at least three "For Sale" signs in the surrounding houses.

Flat Earth View

An interesting letter in Kent on Sunday this week. Apparently the future is rosy for Cliftonville but I’m sure others may have a different opinion on the subject?

Support Your Local Peasants

It was at a meeting at the European Parliament offices in London before Christmas that I heard that Local Authorities would be going the same way as the Dodo if young Miliband (Pitt the even younger) is set loose on them by Downing Street. It now appears that there is little point in thinking about next year’s local council elections, as they are likely to be called-off.

Tomorrow’s Kent on Sunday has the story and an ‘exclusive’ report on the subject but the evidence points to local democracy as we know it being quickly extinguished in the next twelve months. Alright, we moan about the sorry state of politics in Thanet but at least we have something to ‘winge’ about. In future our lives could well be controlled from a distance or more so than they are today.

Perhaps one of our local politicians will be promoted to the role of “Commissar”. It does sound much better than “Councillor” and I’m sure we’ll have a five year plan to follow from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister as well.

I’m reminded that the Peasant’s Revolt had its roots in Kent and funnily enough, the records show that a number of the instigators came from Thanet. This was of course a revolt against the imposition of a ‘Poll Tax’ and it was really the small landowners, the emerging middle class of the time, that rose up against the rapacious greed of the government of King Richard the second or more accurately, his Deputy Prime Minister, his uncle, John of Gaunt.

Perhaps it’s time for the people of Kent to march on London once again in protest against the poll tax, the potential loss of local democracy, energy prices, income tax and much much more.... You tell me.

Whistle and Flute

I just stumbled across an old BBC news interview with me on the Yahoo video site, so for anyone who might think I wear a flying suit and leather jacket all the time, close your eyes now.

You'll need RealPlayer installed though as the BBC doesn't support Microsoft's Windows Media Player, funny that.. it's exactly what I'm talking about.

Dry and Drier Warning

It all looks rather serious. South East Water is banning the use of hosepipes in its Sussex and west Kent supply areas and the government may mandate water meters for all households if the situation does not improve in the next month or so.

If you were thinking of going out to the garden centre to buy bedding plants for your garden for the spring and summer, you may want to reconsider as watering the garden is now very much out of the question this year.

Skype Out

For any of you that haven’t come around to using your PC as a telephone, with Voice over IP (VoIP) with Skype or any similar popular service, it might be time to give it a try.

This morning, as I was reading the papers, my PC “Rang” and it was a business contact from Bahrain. Saturday is a working day there. He had a webcam attached to his PC, which reminded me to turn my own on too, so we had a video conference call, which cost.. well absolutely nothing, as we are both Skype users connected over the internet with VoIP.

When I was in the Middle-east two weeks ago, I took a headset with me and used Skype to make most of my calls to work and home from the hotel lobby, with its wireless network connection. Historically, a visit to the area means that I arrive home to find a huge Vodafone bill and I reckon that simply using VoIP saves me at least £100 on each trip, with my Skype calls being either free, or tiny small if I’m calling out from the PC to a landline or a mobile phone.

The next thing I’m looking for is a Skype handset for the house. I hear that both Tesco and Argos are now doing them. This means of course that the family can use the home wireless network to make free calls over VoIP and I rather wonder what my BT standing line rental charges mean anymore in contrast. Daylight robbery may be another word for it.

So if you want the convenience of free video calls to friends and family in future perhaps it’s time to join the Skype generation? Ultimately, all telephony will go this way by 2010 as BT upgrades its network but by then, companies like Skype will have stolen the ham from between BTs sandwich I suspect!?

Friday, February 24, 2006

A Shark's Tale

An interesting idea for promoting Thanet more widely as a popular seaside tourist destination. The helicopter we could possibly borrow from Helicharter, the costumes from the fancy dress shop in Margate’s Old Town and the shark? This may be a little more difficult but I’m open to suggestions from the local angling community.

Softly Softly

Apparently and according to the "Beeb", "Extra police patrols have begun in Thanet on Friday and Saturday nights to provide a boost to frontline policing."

Kent Police said an extra team would be supporting frontline officers once a month, targeting burglary, criminal damage and drink-fuelled crime.

The team includes ten constables and two sergeants, led by an inspector.

Police said it would ensure a response to calls for assistance and drive down crime. The "all out" initiative involves all officers based at Margate.

Ed: Was it something I said or just a happy coincidence? law and order or simply ‘order’, may be a new and pleasant experience in some parts of Thanet over the weekend. Enjoy it while it lasts, I suppose!

Morning After Moment

Walk into Margate High Street, Northdown Road or even Ramsgate this morning and you’ll probably see the same picture, lots of teenagers pushing prams, their life prospects and those of their children trapped in the cycle of welfare payments that makes Britain Europe’s leader in teenage pregnancy and the social problems that accompany it.

It’s reported today that the £150 million campaign to reduce pregnancies among young girls has been an embarrassing failure and now ministers are under pressure to close the discredited Teenage Pregnancy Unit.

Government statistics show a rising number of girls under 14 becoming pregnant missing its target of cutting the under-18 pregnancy rate by 15 per cent from its 1998 level.

Beverly Hughes, the minister for children, young people and families has defended the Government's strategy of making the morning-after pill, condoms and sex education more easily available but perhaps she’s never walked along the length of Margate High Street on a weekday?

Hughes is particularly pleased with the "significant reduction" in the conception rates for younger teenagers. There has, she says, been an overall decline of 15.2 per cent in conceptions for under-16s since 1998, she said. The decline for under-18s was 11 per cent - short of the 15 per cent interim target.

"Our teenage pregnancy strategy focuses on deprived areas with high rates of conceptions, so I am also pleased that overall it is high-rate areas that have shown most progress."

Critics however say the fall in pregnancy "rates" - the number of pregnancies per thousand - could be attributed in part to an increasing population. This includes a large number of Muslim families where teenage pregnancy is rare.

Back in the old days, the 1980s, doctors regarded pregnant women over 30 as geriatric mothers but the term now used is "elderly prima gravida" (older mother, first baby) for anyone over 35. Meanwhile, it seems that in Britain, the near abolition of marriage and the nuclear family as we knew it, is certainly adding to the population but not quite in the constructive ways that government might have imagined.

On another note, a poll by You.Gov shows that parents (in London) are prepared to pay up to £43,000 extra for a house in the catchment area of a good state school, the national average is £15,000 or more as regardless of government efforts, to prevent it with social engineering, there is a visible polarisation, as aspirational parents attempt to achieve the best possible start for their children, as it has always been so since the first classes in writing in the Biblical city of Ur.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

New Fears Over Dreamland Future

The BBC reports that campaigners fighting to save Dreamland have raised fears that the site could still be re-developed.

Thanet council published a local plan this month and is running consultation until 31st March.

The Save Dreamland Campaign has said the plan still allows redevelopment while they want that option to end.

The council has said the intention is for the site to remain an amusement park unless it proves not to be viable.

Sarah Vickery, from the Save Dreamland Campaign, said: "The fact that they haven't closed the door on redevelopment is our primary concern.

"They have said the Scenic Railway must be protected which we are really happy about.

"But they have said if the redevelopers can prove an amusement park is not viable on the site then they will be allowed to develop the site."

In January, Councillor John Kirby, cabinet member for development services, said: "The intention is that it will remain an amusement park but with leisure facilities that will complement those in place now.

"If it can be proved that an amusement park will not be viable, then we have to look at other ways to get the best from this site.

"If we get a leisure developer coming forward who can guarantee its use 365 days a year, that's what we're looking for."

Ed: You'll find a dedicated comment thread on the present and future of Dreamland here.

The Big Retirement Plan

Twenty-something years ago when the Lotus 1-2-3 integrated spreadsheet and graphic program knocked the socks off the business world, I used to teach people how to use it and even wrote a book on the subject. One exercise I had involved global population growth and how many of us the planet could tolerate before the ecosystem collapsed. The magic number in this case was 7 billion and the estimate to achieving it was around 2012

The planet's population is projected to reach 6.5 billion at 7:16 p.m. EST this Saturday, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and its World Population Clock.

Thomas Malthus, the 18th-century thinker who famously predicted the human population would outrun its food supply, would be astounded.

In 1798, when Malthus wrote his classic An Essay on the Principle of Population, barely a billion humans lived. Today, Earth's population teeters on the brink of a new milestone with 6.5 billion of us.

The clock, which operates continuously, estimates that each second 4.1 people are born and 1.8 people die. The clock figures are estimates, subject to error, given the difficulties of maintaining an accurate global population count.

However, the key concept -- that population levels are growing, but at a slower rate than in the past few decades -- reflects the consensus view of demographers. The current growth of world population, estimated at 1.1 percent a year, has slowed significantly from its peak of 2.1 percent annual growth between 1965 and 1970.

Today, a large portion of the world's population lives in nations that are at sub-replacement fertility, meaning the average woman has fewer than two children in her lifetime. Countries in this camp include former members of the Soviet Union, Japan and most of Europe.

The highest population growth rates emanate disproportionately from the poorest regions of Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

In 1950, less than 30 percent of people lived in areas defined as urban. Next year, the United Nations projects that more than half the world's population will be urban. Read more in Wired Magazine

This question of population leads us on to something called the 'Carter Catastrophe'. From what I can read and understand in an essay on the subject I read by Jim Holt, we shouldn't be worrying to much about those mounting credit card debts.

The end of the human race appears to be on the cards, statistically speaking at least and there's some rather compelling mathematics which suggests that the end is not too far away.

Do you ever lie awake at night wondering why you happen to be alive just now? Why it should be that your own particular bit of self-consciousness popped into e existence in the twentieth century and not, say, during the time of Cleopatra or 10 million years hence? If you do, and your musings take a sufficiently rigorous form, you might arrive at the conclusion that the human race is doomed to die out - and quickly.

A handful of cosmologists and philosophers have reached the same conclusion. Their reasoning is known as the Doomsday Argument. It goes like this:

Suppose humanity were to have a happier future, surviving thousands or millions of years into the future. And why not? The sun still has half its 10-billion-year life span to go. The earth's population might stabilise at 15 billion or so, and our successors could even colonise other parts of the galaxy, allowing a far greater increase in their numbers. But think what that means: Nearly every human who will ever exist will live in the distant future. This would make us unusual in the extreme.

Assume, quite conservatively, that a billion new people will be born every decade until the sun burns out. That makes a total of 500 quadrillion people. At most, 40 billion people have either lived in the past or are living now. Thus we would be among the first 0.00001 percent of all members of the human species to exist. Are we really so special?

But suppose, contrariwise, that humanity will be wiped out imminently, that some sort of apocalypse is around the corner. Then it is quite reasonable, statistically speaking, that our moment is the present. After all, more than 6 billion of the 40 billion humans who have ever lived are alive today, and with no future epochs to live in, this is far and away the most likely time to exist. Conclusion: Doom soon.

Even as transcendental 'a priori' arguments go, this one is pretty breathtaking. For economy of premise and extravagance of conclusion, it rivals Saint Anselm's derivation of God's existence from the idea of perfection and Donald Davidson's proof that most of what we believe must be true or else our words would not refer to the right things.

As far as anyone knows, the Doomsday Argument was first publicly broached in 1983 at a meeting of the Royal Society in London. Its apparent author was Brandon Carter, a British astrophysicist (now living in France) famous for his work on black holes. A decade earlier, Carter had baptized the much-debated anthropic principle, which purports to explain why the laws of physics look the way they do: If they were any different, life could not have emerged, and, hence, we would not be here to observe them.

Perhaps you are skeptical about the Doomsday Argument. It looks like a logical trick. How could an abstract argument have such an experientially rich upshot? Yet it is difficult to find anything amiss in its logic. The sole assumption it requires - an eminently plausible one - is that if humanity endures, our cumulative numbers will increase. And the inference it makes is justified by the principle of probability known as Bayes' theorem, which dictates how a piece of evidence (we are living now) should affect the likelihoods we assign to competing hypotheses (doom sooner versus doom later).

Furthermore, the Doomsday Argument may not seem so unlikely once you consider all the forms doom could actually take. Don't think H5N1 greenhouse gases, weapons of mass destruction - just look up. An asteroid might bump into our planet (one wonders whether the Doomsday Argument occurred to the dinosaurs 65 million years ago). The Swift-Tuttle comet - dubbed the "Doomsday Rock" by the media - will be swinging awfully close on or about 14 August 2126.

"Kilometrication" - "Take a Running One-mile Jump" - Gale

Ex-Commissioner Kinnock should "take a running one-mile jump" over his support for the conversion of UK road signs from miles to kilometres, says North Thanet's MP, Roger Gale.

Commenting this morning the MP said:

"As a European Commissioner Mr. Kinnock signally failed to get to grips with `Spanish practices` that cost our taxpayers millions. Now it seems that he wants to waste more millions on the futile conversion of every road sign - and no doubt every historic milestone -in our country from miles to kilometres, presumably in the interests of harmonisation. As an exercise in "windbaggery" it may be spectacular but I have a hunch that the Great English Public will feel, as I do, that there's a place for ex-Commissioners and that it does not include meddling in our traditions, our customs, our yardsticks and our way of life.”

Ed: We would like to wish Roger’s wife Suzy our best for a speedy recovery following her car accident on Monday.

Who Pays?

Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, former Conservative leader of Kent county council and chairman of the Local Government Association, has urged the Chancellor to repeat last year's payment of £200 in council tax aid per pensioner household.

He claims that since 1997, the Chancellor had deliberately used council tax and other "stealth taxes" to fund Labour's huge increase in public spending, placing a disproportionate burden on council tax payers, and especially on pensioners and those on fixed incomes.

This comes at a time when the Spectator Magazine reveals that Forty four per cent of the working population are now employed directly or indirectly by the public sector or depend on state benefits for much of their livelihood.

The state-dependency research, based on 2005 official figures -Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) & Office for National Statistics (ONS) - and broken down by parliamentary constituencies, showed that more than 60 per cent of people work for or live off the State in some of Britain's poorer areas and has led to suggestions that the government has deliberately built up the public sector to boost the number of people who vote Labour, which has also increased the overall public sector payroll by 784,000 since 1997.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Farewell to Mr Television

Thanet said farewell to “Mr Television” today, wrestling legend Jackie Pallo at a funeral service in Margate. He died at his home in Ramsgate on Saturday after battling with cancer.

One of the best known wrestlers of his era, a regular figure on the Saturday afternoon ITV sports in the sixties and seventies which attracted up to fifteen million viewers. He was immediately recognisable for his blonde hair tied back with a black velvet ribbon, his candy-striped Y-fronts and his gold-spangled boots.

Only 5 ft 6 in tall and 11½ stones in weight, Pallo was a gifted performer famous for his backchat. One night a woman at ringside shouted: "You're getting big-headed, Pallo." He shouted back: "If my head was in your mouth it would rattle."

Another woman was told: "Go and live in India, darling - you'd be sacred over there."

Pallo was born Jack Gutteridge on June 12 1926 above a gym at Islington. His father, also Jack, was a boxing trainer who worked alongside his twin brother Dick.

In the mid-1990s he and his son set up a company called ‘Wrestling Around the World’ (WAW), with the aim of staging wrestling matches, taping them and then selling the film to foreign television companies, including American cable channels.

"Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another. ." - Ernest Hemingway

Out of Sight

Possibly the same Cliftonville teenager who has been mentioned here before, carrying an ASBO like a war medal, has admitted ignoring the conditions he is under and is carrying on a private campaign of threatening and violent behaviour along Clintonville’s Northdown road, having admitted to at least three breaches already.

The Thanet Times is launching a legal bid to name the teenager when he returns to a Thanet court to be sentenced on Wednesday March 8th and you can text your views, on whether he should be granted legal anononymity or not to 84080, starting with the word “Thanet.”

My own view is that with an ASBO proving useless, he should be properly removed from the community until such a time as his behaviour improves. I suspect that he’s not actually from Thanet originally and is one of those many poor unfortunate children with chronic behavioural problems who have been ‘dumped’ on our doorstep by a London local authority. ”Out of sight is out of mind being their policy”.

Missing Stacie Appeal

The family of missing Stacie Haynes are distraught over her disappearance last Wednesday. Apparently, the fifteen-year-old St George’s pupil has been sending text messages telling her parents not to worry.

Stacie lives in Prince Charles Road St Peter’s with her father and was last seen on a train coming home from Sittingbourne with a friend who left the train at Birchington.

Anyone with news of her please call the police on 222033.

Ed: Just a thought people.

I’ve seen the “Missing Stacie” poster up for a few days now but didn’t mention it earlier because I had seen no supporting information.

Almost a week has passed since she went missing and I can put an appeal like this up within minutes without having to wait for the police or the local paper.

I can even see the local radio stations, BBC, KMFM et al, dipping-in each day to see what news is being carried.

So please let others know that this is something that the website can be used for in an emergency.

The Cruel Sea

Watching Meridian News last night, I was horrified to learn that the RNLI is struggling to maintain services with the £3.9 million VAT bill it is carrying.

Lifeboat crews in the South East had their busiest year on record in 2005, rescuing more than 1,400 people. The busiest station in Kent was Sheerness, carrying out 86 launches and rescuing 87 people, and in West Sussex, Littlehampton had 81 launches.

While the Inland Revenue apparently gives it relief for new buildings, this does not apply to repairs and the everyday cost of running what is a voluntary emergency service.

Is our government so short of money that it’s prepared to tax the lifeboat service, which relieves the same government of having to provide a similar service at ten or a hundred times the price?

This is to me, an appalling state of affairs and MPs, including government Ministers with a local constituency responsibility, should stand-up and declare the practice as morally indefensible?

From the record of the House of Commons Hansard from March 1998, excerpts below, You’ll see that government is still dragging its feet, eight years later.

Mr. Russell: “I join the Minister in congratulating the RNLI. It is a happy coincidence that today is that anniversary. May I suggest to the Minister that it is unfair to put VAT on saving lives at sea? For every person saved in the past year, the VAT cost was £110. That may be a drop in the ocean in terms of the Chancellor's expenditure, but perhaps that money could be better spent. After all, it comes from voluntary donations from the public. The VAT that the Chancellor collects is the equivalent of the cost of 13 new inshore lifeboats. Will the Minister consider introducing a nil rate for organisations engaged in saving life? If she wanted to, she could find a way through the red tape.”

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle): “Why should British people who want to maximise their support for the RNLI or, for example, church repairs, be thwarted simply because European Commission officials want a neat and tidy common VAT regime and oppose selective zero rating? Which comes first: the wishes of British people doing good work in their communities, or Brussels?”

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Thanet Wind Farm Array

Councillor David Green would like to encourage public discussion of The Thanet Offshore Wind (Thanet) project to be located 11.3km offshore from Foreness Point, the eastern most part of the Kent coastline. He writes, “Between 60 and 100 wind turbines would make up the wind farm, depending upon the size of turbine chosen and based on a maximum output of 300mW. This is enough to provide electricity for 240,000 average homes, which will account for a significant proportion of the energy needs of East Kent.”

See brochure on the subject.

David continues: “I want to regard the proposed wind farm as a positive development especially if Port Ramsgate gets the maintenance work and even better if it gets some of the installation work. I think we need to be a little sanguine about the scale of any economic impact in terms of jobs created and so judge how much disruption and investment is justified at the Port accordingly. I understand that most of the maintenance is done "on site".

If the cable comes ashore in Pegwell then I think that is probably manageable - but we'd need a close look at the detailed plans and their mitigation measures. If there was no "gain" such as them paying substantially towards clearing up the Hoverport site then I would be reluctant to support. Remember that the whole of the Hoverport concrete area is built on waste coal shale including the road down to it. It all needs to be removed if the pollution risk is to be removed.

In terms of environmental impact, obviously measures will be needed to control the spread of pollution whilst the shale is removed.

A lot depends on the depth of the cable (reported above as being 1 to 3 m). If it laid in the mud then there may be little impact, but if it needs to go deeper then it is much more of a problem in terms of disturbing fresh water aquifers and the chalk itself which is fluid in nature. There must be people that know far more about the dynamics of the bay than me.

If they are to come ashore at Pegwell and take up the Hoverport - then obviously it will need co-coordinating with the 'Landings' project. We don't want them returning the site to nature and then Landings coming along and proposing its redeveloped!”

In the Post

The short video clip below reminds me a little of Thanet in the late 1970’s. Certainly, if you look hard enough around the fringes of Margate’s Cecil Square today, you may find the two characters sitting on a bench, vigorously discussing the merits of Old Town regeneration between sips of warm Carlsberg.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Fast Cars and Top Gear

The future of Top Gear, the BBC television motoring series, is in doubt because of concerns over noise and pollution created by the high-speed car tests of presenter Jeremy Clarkson.

The programme had hoped to relocate to an airfield near Jeremy Clarkson's home in Oxfordshire as part of a proposal by an independent company to create a circuit for high-performance cars but the residents have thrown the idea out.

So why don’t we offer the programme a home at Manston and put Thanet on the map? I have their number. It can’t be any noisier than the existing aircraft traffic and there’s space out towards helicharter for a circuit. In between landing aircraft, which are few and far between, we have the third longest runway in the country to test high speed cars on.

Tax and be Damned

Council tax has gone past the pain threshold and more rises will be unacceptable.” Tony Travers, London School of Economics

Council tax bills are to increase by more than twice the level of inflation this year, marking a doubling of the property tax in just ten years. Kent performs better than most but the national landscape leaves one wondering why we are putting up with this. The French and the Spanish would probably be setting up barricades in the streets if their governments tried to do the same there.

A Times newspaper reports that the average bill will rise by 4.3 per cent in April, equal to a £50 increase on a Band D property and let’s not forget, that very soon, so called “Council Tax Inspectors” may be demanding entry to your home to re-assess its value in order to be able to charge you even more tax. Where does it stop I wonder? In the future will such inspectors also have the power to value your furniture or even the contents of your wife’s jewelry box?

Since 1996-07, the year before this government came to power, the average council tax bill will have risen from £525 to £1,053.

With gas and electricity prices due to increase by up to 22 per cent this year, the average family will be paying more than £2,000 on domestic bills and pensioners will continue to suffer; the £200 rebate for council tax that Gordon Brown gave them last year as a pre-election sweetener being taken away in new energy and tax bills as swiftly as it was given.

Where will this stop I wonder and the answer, I fear, that it won’t, as Gordon Brown implied in an old-Labour style speech north of the border. The consequences of a personal debt mountain energy and tax rises are bound to push the UK towards the risk of a sudden recession and pictures of more protesting pensioners jailed because they won’t pay their community charge.

It’s ironic that a pensioner can be given 28 days in jail for failing to pay an extortionate hike in her council tax bill but commit mugging and aggravated assault on a retired person and it’s likely, as in a recent Thanet example, that you will receive a £250 fine and a suspended sentence.

Now we know how they must have felt in the days of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham. But there’s no good King Richard to return and rescue as from the growing burden of unlimited taxation. Only Prince John (Prescott) and the marauding Scottish robber barons from north of the border.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Herding Cats

Staying with the subject of ‘dognapping’, let’s not forget all you cat lovers out there. Cats present a different kind of challenge as the video demonstrates.

Top of the Class

With good written English appearing at the top of the national curriculum, are there any local schools that might like to try an experimental project with ThanetLife?

It’s simple, a class project. Send the pupils out to look for or write a local Thanet interest story of no more than 400 words with digital photographs if possible. Let the teacher and class judge the best two or three and then simply send them in to me to publish here.

As a one-time English teacher, I think that using the online medium is a great way of motivating today’s students and I’m very happy to help, if I can through this website. I’m certain that there are lots of interesting stories and experiences out there that deserve a place here, yours or perhaps the infantry in the classroom.

Very soon, we’ll reach 100,000 impressions on this website, so don’t be shy, help me make it more interesting and useful than it is today.

Desperate Dognap

Pet owners be warned, “dognapping” is on the rise and is reaching epidemic proportions.

With an estimated 2,000 pet dogs stolen every month, Insurance companies urging pet owners to ensure their pet insurance policies cover them and their pets adequately.

Even actress and model Elizabeth Hurley has reported her black Labrador missing.  A quick look at the Doglost website will give you an idea of the breeds that have gone missing recently, page after page of them!

For anyone who doesn't have a dog - or who dislikes dogs - the entire notion of "dognapping" may seem laughable, conjuring up images of a blindfolded pooch with a gun to its head, and a voice growling down a phone line: "Gimme the money or the mutt gets it." But for owners emotionally attached to their dogs the experience is traumatic. For some, it's as traumatic as having a child kidnapped.

The most-frequently targeted are Labradors, - I see there is one missing in Birchington with “Lost” adverts on the sea front lamposts - followed by Lurchers, then Staffordshire bull terriers, then Jack Russells, then Springer spaniels.

As many as 40,000 dogs are stolen in the UK each year. Each week about 50 are reported stolen in Southeast England. In many instances, the dognapping appears to be well-organised and in cases have been reportedly linked with the arrival of a particular group of visitors in the affected area, with many dogs apparently finding their way to breeding farms in Southern Ireland, if not ransomed directly for as much as £3,000 a pet. And people will pay this kind of money to get a family pet back.

So keep an eye on your dog as these desperate criminals will stop at nothing to grab man’s best friend, who may be worth rather more to you than you think.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Ask Mr Kipling

Before we send anymore British troops into an increasingly futile and highly risky conflict in Afghanistan, I rather think that our political leaders should be forced to watch the video clip below, in popular circulation both here and abroad, which illustrates rather well, the nature of the forces ranged against us in the region and their enthusiasm for the fight, in Afghanistan, Iraq and anywhere else come to that!

"Everyone here (Afghanistan) is convinced about jihad and to sacrifice his life, Once they sign in with us (Taleban), they do not need any special kind of indoctrination. They simply are to be clad with a jacket laden with dynamite sticks and to blow themselves up next to the target."

Rudyard Kipling knew all about Afghanistan and it hasn't changed that much a century later it seems.

Gateway to The Good Ol' USA

Tomorrow’s ‘Kent on Sunday newspaper will reveal that Manston could become the ‘Gateway’ to the United States, by the Spring, with advanced negotiations underway between Kent International Airport and Norfolk Virginia on the US east coast.

There’s also a withering attack from columnist David Mairs, on “Bob the builder filling his boots”, populating the island with concrete. Funnily enough, I notice that in the desperate search for new housing space, the tiny car park next to what was once the Kings Antiques shop in Westgate is being filled with a “deceptively spacious” house. Kent, by the way, will only receive 10% of the infrastructure costs needed for building the thousands of houses that will soon arrive or at least that’s what the paper reports, so you might want to run out and get a copy with your Sunday Paper tomorrow, it’s free.

Finally, I notice that both Kent on Sunday and the Gazette have picked-up as headline news, what I suggested here when the Turner Contemporary project went “tits up” the other week. I asked, if you recall, if there might be an exit clause and cost in the contract to build it and coincidentally noticed some interesting activity, visiting on the website from the Edmund Nuttall domain. It transpires of course that their will be an exit cost, which could rise by a further £1 million.

There’s a horribly smug temptation to write “told you so” but I won’t.

An Eye from the Sky

Airads Images has some excellent and unusual photographs of different subjects from the air in its gallery as with the photo of Richborough castle, seen here. You might like to give it a visit and admire pilot, Bob Shilling’s eye for a good photograph.

Crisis What Crisis

A Danish delegate very sensibly chose not to attend the conference I was chairing in Bahrain last week, even though I’m sure he would have been quite safe. His travel insurance company declined him any cover.

I see however, that in Pakistan, a cleric, Muhammad Yousef Qureshi, the leader of the hardline Jamia Ashrafia religious school in Peshawar has offered a £600,000 reward to anyone who kills the cartoonists from the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. The reward also included a Toyota car, which is very generous I’m sure but I doubt that Toyota would wish to be associated with this particular brand awareness exercise.

Remembering the tragedy of Theo Van Gogh in Holland, one wonders who might be first to drive away the Toyota in Copenhagen?

"This is a unanimous decision by all imams of Islam that whoever insults the prophet deserves to be killed and whoever will take this insulting man to his end, will get this prize," Mr Qureshi said in an interview, which I suppose is alright then. In reply, I can announce I have now reconsidered the suggestion that I might pop over to Pakistan and help them with the design of their national eGovernment project. I have been known to use Lurpak butter on my morning toast in the past and such visibly liberal Danish sympathies might prove too risky in the present emotional climate.

A week ago, the news agency, Reuters, took the conventional line: that the cartoons had created a "crisis" between Europe and the Islamic world but not only is Europe ill-prepared to wage a "clash of cultures," it is not even willing to admit that it is in one!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Margate is de Place

"Respec man, dem Birchington Massif kids ain’t dat good you avvin' a laff intcha? You tell me dat all dese well 'ard dudes is hangin outside de Powell Arms? I fink you wanna check dese kids out a bit more. 'Cos I don' wanna diss de fine people o' Birchington, but I took a look where you is livin an' it in a mingin' area. If you wanna see well ard geezers den you go drink dat brown fizzy stuff in Margate on Saturday night, 'Cos de hoodies you got in Birchington ain't dat cool and de Margate Massif got real attitude, bb guns and all dat. An' if any bloke or bird diss them he get rubbed out. Margate is de place man, we is on you side from now respec."

Ed. Does anyone want to attempt a translation?

Beware the Knocking Burglars

Detectives are reminding residents to make door-knocking strangers wait outside of their homes after two elderly women had their purses stolen by cold callers.

In the first instance, on 10 February, a young man knocked on the door of an 83-year-old Ramsgate woman and engaged her in conversation. Although the woman was weary of the man he found an opportunity to get inside the woman’s house by asking for a glass of water.

While inside he took the woman’s purse, containing a small amount of cash.

In the second case, the next day, a man knocked on the door of a 92-year-old Margate woman’s home and tried to sell her goods. When the woman went away from her door the man invited himself into the house and continued to try and sell items to the woman.

While inside the house he asked to use the toilet and have a drink of water, and went walking about the house.

At some point while he was in the house the man took the woman’s purse, containing a small amount of cash.

In both incidents the victims left the door open and unattended, allowing the men to get into their homes.

Detectives are reminding residents never to leave their doors open and unattended, and not to be afraid of closing the door on a caller and making them wait outside the house. (ref 1724, 1740)

Police Seek Owner of Mini-motorbike

Police officers are trying to find the rightful owner of a red mini motorbike that was seized yesterday morning and is believed to be stolen.

Officers stopped the bike as it was being ridden around the Cliffs End area of Ramsgate.

Two 16-year-old Sandwich boys were arrested on suspicion of stealing the motorbike. Both have been bailed until 22 March pending further enquiries.

Officers have released a picture of the bike in an effort to identify its rightful owner.

Anyone who thinks the motorbike may be theirs is asked to contact PC Nick Ward at Margate Police Station on (01843) 222 065.

Brave New World or Future Shock?

Identity management, says Professor Ian Angell of the LSE, is a ‘Gravy train.’

Ian is speaking at an event I’m chairing next month and he comments:

"Any companies involved in IT should stick their snout in the trough now, because it's going to be a gravy train," said Professor Ian Angell, head of the LSE's department of information systems. "Some companies are worried about the effect on their brand when the scheme fails, as it will. Don't worry — just blame the government."

"This is a huge opportunity for IT companies, as there are no downsides. Bid for everything — the system will be so huge; there won't be enough manpower in the country to deliver. And you can put in ridiculous prices, because the system won't work. It's a Mad Hatter's tea party," he adds:

“If you're a UK citizen it may be time to start thinking about a move to mainland Europe, where there are plenty of countries that aren't so intrusive about your life. Bless the Schengen agreement. If you're an American keep an eye on what happens here. It’s probably your future, too.”

One day soon perhaps, we’ll all have our own unique barcode tattooed on our heads. One government leader from the Middle-east told me that they are thinking of linking their national ID cards with a person’s DNA profile, once the technology becomes pervasive. So you ID card number become an algorithm of your DNA code. Welcome to the Brave New World of the future!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Robber Steals Cash from Ramsgate Bakery

Detectives are seeking witnesses and information to an alleged robbery at a bakery on Belmont Road, Ramsgate early this morning.

A man wearing a balaclava went into Mr. Pastry just before 8am, pointed what appeared to be a silver children’s toy pistol at the 55-year-old woman behind the counter and demanded cash.

The woman handed over a small amount of cash after which the man ran out of the shop and along Belmont Road toward the high street.

The woman was not hurt during the incident.

The man is described as being of slight build, about 5ft 3in-4in tall. He wore a black balaclava, a dark jumper with small logo on the front, grey jogging bottoms and dark woolly gloves.

Anyone who saw the man or who knows his identity is asked to contact Det Sgt Claire Munday at Margate Police Station (01843) 222 192.

Iraq War - Inquiry Call

North Thanet's MP, Roger Gale, is backing a motion that appears on the Commons Additional Orders today calling for the creation of a special select committee to investigate the conduct of Ministers in relation to the war against Iraq.

Gale, who has previously supported the demand for the impeachment of the Prime Minister over his conduct of the lead-up to the war, says:

"This is a serious Commons endeavour to hold the executive to account. It has the cross-party support of more than 150 members already and that number includes eight Privy Counsellors.

The intent is to establish a committee of seven Privy Counsellors with the remit to examine all the documents issued and statements made, particularly to the House, in the run up to the war.

There is a very strong feeling that Ministers have been less than forthright and that information leaked and released subsequent to the enquiries that have already been held - such as Hutton - is likely to cast fresh light into some very murky corners.

The results of such an enquiry - which will no doubt be resisted by Downing Street - could well open the way for another move to impeach Blair for his conduct. It is time that this Prime Minister was made answerable for his actions."

Another Gang Assault

In what looks very much like another random and shocking unprovoked “Hoodie attack on middle-aged adults”, Police are seeking witnesses to apparently unprovoked assaults outside a Margate pub in which two men and a woman were badly injured.

The first victim, a 42-year-old Margate man, had just left the Princess of Wales pub in Tivoli Road when he was attacked by the group of about five or six youths wearing "hoodies".

Moments later the second victim, a 53-year-old Margate woman, walked out of the pub and saw the first victim being assaulted. She went to his aid but was also attacked.

Several other people came out of the pub to assist the two victims and to chase off some of the youths. However, the youths turned on the group and a 43-year-old Ramsgate man, the third victim, was attacked and ended up on the ground.

The first victim suffered a fractured jaw, while the third victim suffered a badly broken jaw that needed surgery. The second victim was punched in face and suffered cuts to her knees.

The incident happened on February 11 about 12.10pm.

Anyone with information about the attack or who witnessed the incident is asked to contact Det Con Pip Harvey at Margate Police Station on 07989 992056 (ref 1674/76/77).

A Thorny Question

I asked for news on Ramsgate and although a couple of readers asked where they might actually find this up and coming millionaires playground, ‘Ramsgate Ronny’ came up with the goods and writes:

“One thing that is interesting to us simple Ramsgate folk is the new 'heritage' street lamps that are going up all along Victoria Parade on the East Cliff.

They look very nice, and I really don't want to complain, but they don't appear from a cursory glance to be quite so good at keeping down light pollution as the 60s efforts they're replacing. Then there's the thorny question of whether KCC will ever get around to taking down the old lamps (see Thanet Life passim).

Apart from that, they should be a great improvement.

Then there's all that Ramsgate First nonsense about a Parish Council. Everyone knows we'll be lumped in with Canterbury and Dover in a few years anyway, so what kind of say would a parish council have in a mega-council like that? Waste of money.

By the way, I haven't seen anything on here about the huge re-org that TDC is currently going through, people being re-assessed for their own jobs, positions going, whole departments going, etc. Does anyone have the inside news?”

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Closed Contemporarily

Is it my imagination or have the signs for the Turner Contemporary visitor centre disappeared from the Thanet Way. I can’t recall seeing them when I came back in from the airport this morning but the Sun was in my eyes.

By the way, I see that the Ursuline College has had it's sport's hall approved by KCC which is, I'm sure, a cause for celebration at the school as a specialist sports centre. How the road condition attached to the application will be resolved remains a mystery to me.?

Would anyone like to send me some Ramsgate news to put up?


I was just browsing the Google Earth service and look what I stumbled across just north of White Waltham in Berkshire. It shows how powerful these satellite cameras are.

Ladyman Welcomes Local MEHRA

The announcement that a Marine Environment High Risk Area is to be created from Ramsgate to South Foreland has been welcomed by local MP, Steve Ladyman.

“This is a beautiful area of coastline and an area of great natural value. That it will have this added protection in the future is good news.”

“A MEHRA is an area where skippers and others involved in maritime navigation are given special warning of the sensitivity of the area so that they can be extra careful to avoid accidents and risk of pollution.”

MEHRAs were suggested in the report of Lord Donaldson after he reviewed measures to protect the coastline following accidents like the grounding of the Sea Empress.

Steve Ladyman said:

“The recent sinking of the ECE shows us that accidents can still happen in the Channel and we need to always be vigilant. The creation of MEHRAs is an extra but welcome precaution.”

Silence of the Imams

“This, therefore, is a faded dream of the time when I went down into the dust and noise of the Eastern market-place and with my brain and muscles, with sweat and constant thinking, made others see my visions coming true. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible.”

There’s a small change in pressure as the aircraft door closes. It’s a British Airways Boeing 777 and I’m happy to settle-back in to my comfortable sleeper seat and type for a while, as I wait for the engines to spool-up at a little after 2am this morning. I’m looking forward to sleeping most of the way back to Heathrow after three days here in Bahrain.

Walking through the exhibition part of the conference today, I was struck by the truly multi-cultural nature of the environment. Arabs, Indians, Asians, Europeans all working together in a transparent ‘Star-trek’ like manner with a single purpose. English is the common language but you’ll frequently hear it interspersed with a second language, a burst of Arabic of Chinese perhaps. The point I’m making I suppose, is that this conference and exhibition is an example of a working multi-cultural meritocracy, with no visible ‘us’ or ‘them’ distinction between the ethnic groups, just a comfortable sense of ‘We’, which is at odds with the present situation we are presently experiencing in Europe.

In this dusty corner of the Arab world, there’s no evidence of religion or even cartoons being on the agenda either other than news coverage of the riots in Pakistan and Gaza. Here, along the Gulf coast there’s an easy tolerance and a sense of prevailing politeness almost an ‘Englishness’ that we may have lost at home. A firm handshake and a smile are important here. As a result, it’s not hard to understand why so many Europeans are looking for opportunities to live and work out here along what I’ve nicknamed the “Silicon Seaside’. It’s not all roses of course and you can’t beat the splendour of the Kent countryside in summer but with nearly unlimited public funds, no tax and almost no crime to speak of – I left my laptop lying unsupervised in a public place all day long - it’s amazing what people will exchange for a life in an autocracy

One funny thing I observed this week was in the elevator of my hotel. As I was on the way down to reception, it paused to collect a Saudi couple. The man in the traditional beard, white ‘thobe’ and head-dress and the woman, completely draped in her black ‘abaya’ from head to foot, complete with veil and gloves. Not an unusual sight here, because Saudi Arabia is just across the causeway from Bahrain but overhearing their quiet conversation in English, it was obvious that the woman was English or perhaps American. Who was she I wondered and how did she get here? It’s a mystery as one could never ask directly in this society.

Bahrain is setting itself up for the arrival of the Formula One racing circus next month. Already, my hotel was being prepared in advance, the pool area closed for re-painting and you can see the big team truck transporters parked outside the airport. This small island, the fabled home of ‘Dilmun’ and the Garden of Eden’ in biblical times. will become one of the most noisy, frantic and overcrowded spots on earth, with no hotel space left for love or money in race week.

Time to put my PC away, make sure that my seat is upright, my seatbelt is fastened and wait for the aircraft to launch itself through the night towards Heathrow and home to a very different climate and sea view. I wonder how many hours on type the first officer has? More than 150 I hope!