Friday, January 30, 2009

Remote Voting or Just Remote

I get the distinct impression, from reading all of this morning's papers, The Guardian and Daily Mail included, that as a nation we are on a headlong bob-sleigh ride into a financial chasm!

Meanwhile, the lovely Government commissar, Hazel Blears, announces that she is about is to give local councillors the right to claim their expenses even if they never turn up to a meeting.

According to the  report, "Ministers said yesterday that they will push ahead with new rules which will mean council members can take part in votes by mobile phone or over the internet."

They are to introduce laws to allow remote voting in council chambers despite the opposition of a majority of local authorities.

Critics of the plan say it will allow 'couch potato councillors' to obey their party whips while sitting in front of the TV or drinking in a pub.

The Conservatives claim that Labour wants its councillors to be able to work while still claiming the taxpayerfunded allowances ."

Hazel's other plans to improve local democracy includes handing out doughnuts to voters at polling stations.

Call me old-fashioned but as a local councillor, I think it's only reasonable that I be expected to turn-up to vote at council meetings while I recognise that there are rare occasions when the day-job can mean I'm away and can't reasonably get back in time. Allowing remote voting I think sets a dangerous precedent for local democracy, as councils across the country already have far too many members who are conspicuous by their absence on a regular basis or are simply inactive, period. 

Naturally, a preferred career route for an ambitious local councillor of any party, is to become a Labour member of the House of Lords but that particular story has received enough attention this week as I'm sure you'll agree.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Try Jumping

Not so long ago I watched an experiment on the Discovery Channel's 'Mythbusters' programme.

If you are trapped in a falling lift, would jumping at the exact moment before it hit the bottom of the shaft save your life?

It did rather remind me of the UK's economy and the desparate measures being taken by the Government to solve the rapidly accelerating problems of the national finances(the falling lift) as we plunged into 2009.

A wise man once said that a recession is what happens when people you know become unemployed and a depression is when you lose your job as well! Each week that passes delivers what appears to be a new record number of workers being handed their P45s and I know at least three of these in the last month.

If we watch the profitable steel industry collapse then we have a huge problem for the future when the demand for raw materials in the Far East recovers, which it will. Unfortunately, thanks to the EU we can't protect our domestic industries anymore; it's illegal, although you can bet that other EU countries will be creative about such things.

Last week, I heard a story about a pilot who recently applied for a job flying for Air France, who have been recruiting. He had an Airbus rating and the airline reportedly told him that they would employ him but he had to visit the French equivalent of the CAA first and have his license endorsed for employment by a French airline.

In Europe, pilots are covered by something called the JAR-FCL, which means that all States are bound by the same common flight crew licenses and exams, much the same as driving licenses. Anyway our pilot tripped into Paris and was politely informed that his CAA issued JAR license wasn't in order until he re-sat the JAR ATPL exams, in French. - English is of course the language of aviation.

Back to the lift experiment then and 'Mythbusters' demonstrated quite conclusively that the small upward acceleration involved in jumping vertically was quite insufficient to offset the larger acceleration of the lift hittting the bottom of the shaft and wrecking the crash dummy.

I wonder how high the Chancellor, Mr Darling, can jump?

My thanks to one of our readers, Rob, for sending in this photo of the high-speed Javelin train, sighted in Thanet recently. I can't wait to see how fast it will whisk me into London.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Invasion of the Killer Tomatoes

While I was about earlier today I took some updated photos of the progress at Thanet Earth. This is what the world's largest greenhouse looks like today the set of one of the earlier James Bond movies I thought.

Perhaps the tomatoes are a clever ruse and it's really a secret facility for world domination or perhaps I shouldn't have had that beer with my dinner tonight!

First Look - Sinegorsk Driftwood From Above

I've been up taking photos of the wood washed ashore at Ramsgate for the papers this afternoon. (photo is copyright) but I thought readers might like to see the results.

Thanet District Council have also issued a press release:

"People are being urged to stay away from the Thanet shoreline, where timber is being washed ashore and are being warned not to remove any of the timber.

The response to the situation is being coordinated through Thanet District Council, Kent Police, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Kent County Council, with Kent Police authorised by the Receiver of Wreck to act on her behalf. People failing to comply with their directions could be committing an offence and may be arrested, and failure to report recovery of timber to the Receiver of Wreck is a criminal offence, on conviction, you may be fined up to £2,500.

The timber, which came from the cargo ship Sinegorsk in the English Channel, began washing ashore on beaches around Ramsgate and Broadstairs following the strong southerly winds overnight. Warnings have already been issued from the police that stealing the timber is a criminal offence. Beaches where the timber has been washed ashore have been closed to vehicles and officers from Kent Police and Thanet District Council are patrolling these areas to keep people away from the timber for their own safety. Contractors have been appointed by the Insurers to recover the lost cargo.

A timber reporting line has been established by Kent County Council. Any member of the public sighting washed up timber cargo are requested to call 08458 247247.

Area Commander for East Kent, Chief Superintendent John Molloy, said: ‘We are working with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and our partner agencies to make the beaches safe. I would like to remind people that the shoreline can be a dangerous place, particularly with the current poor weather and people could be putting themselves at an unnecessary risk by venturing into the sea to salvage the timber. This cargo remains the property of the original owner and to steal it is not only foolhardy, but also a criminal offence.

“Whilst I appreciate that this sight is not commonplace and people may wish to take a look, we ask that they do this from a safe distance and leave the timber alone. Where appropriate, we will also take action against those who create a nuisance, park dangerously or trespass. Anyone who does venture to the shore to look should park their car considerately so that emergency vehicles could gain access to the area should they be required.

Leader of Thanet District Council, Cllr. Sandy Ezekiel, said: “Council officers are down at the affected beaches with colleagues from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the police. It’s really important that people stay away from the coastline at the moment. Having been down to check the scene for myself, I know how poor the weather conditions are right now and anyone who tries to get near the timber will be putting themselves at risk. We’d also like to echo the warnings that the police have already given out to anyone thinking of removing timber from the beaches.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

All Used Up

Several weeks ago one source I know, suggested that the falling pound might hit $1.25 but this now appears a trifle optimistic with predictions now surrounding £1 = $1 =1EU - what's now being described as 'Triple parity.'

In today's papers, Jim Rogers, former partner of George Soros and something of an investment guru in his own right, has again been sounding off about sterling and the UK economy, which he believes essentially finished. "Sell sterling", he says. "Sell all UK assets. The country is bankrupt. North Sea oil is all used up, and the financial services industry is now gone too. The country has nothing left to sell."

This is a pretty gloomy assessment by anyone's standards and a worrying one too. If he's even partly correct, then the impact will be felt by the great majority of people in this country and by the poorest most of all.

We are a society that has become dependent on a generous public sector which in areas such as Thanet which employs a substantial proportion of the population, both directly and indirectly. Left to a policy of 'Quantitative easing' printing money to you and me, we are faced with a stark reminder of post-war Britain in the late 1940s.

As the political opposition points out to Government, we've spent all that we should have saved and a great deal of this has been wasted on multi billion pound IT failures, wild new projects such as 'eco-towns' and many thousands of Guardian newspaper-advertised highly paid and unproductive public sector jobs. Today, Government worries that it will soon no longer be able to meet its public sector pension commitments either!

So when people start telling me that local councils should start spending more money, I ask them where they think the money will be coming from in a future and an economy where perhaps only Standard Chartered and HSBC remain as the sole survivors of Britain's great  banking collapse of 2009.?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Northern Exposure

One hell of a gale last night. Enough to take my big BMW 1150 motorcycle and throw on its side. Fortunately those things are built to take considerable abuse, as you may have seen in the series 'Long Way Round' but it took two of us to get it upright again.

Offshore I can count at least twenty ships sheltering from the wind and what looks like two Dutch or Belgian coastguard vessels among them. The inshore rescue craft also seems to be conducting an exercise off St Mildred's Bay, either that or they are fishing for Lobster!

'Rock Doc', Alasdair Bruce, has explained why tens of thousands of green Velvet Crab died off along the Thanet coast last week. Apparently they are at the most northern limit of their migration here and when the temperature dropped, they froze, became disoriented and drowned. I recall this happened about three years ago as well when I recorded the same phenomenon on this weblog.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Day Tripping Along

As we ease our way into a 2009 surrounded, by a constant stream of economic bad news, there’s one ray of sunshine in the announcement that Ramsgate will be the home of a new fast ferry service to Boulogne next summer. Whether, in a recessed economy, there’s enough potential footfall to sustain such a service from our side of the channel remains to be seen but there’s good news for Ramsgate in a strong Euro that is likely to bring the French flocking back through the port towards Canterbury - and perhaps Westwood Cross - , in the way they did when I was much younger.

I can remember a time when school coach trips went straight to Boulogne by ferry and then abandoned we seasick teenagers to explore the town; the boys to spend their handful of Francs to buy fashionable flick-knives, cigarettes and ‘French’ magazines from the ‘Tabac’ and the girls? I don’t actually know what the girls did as there wasn’t exactly a lot to do in the Boulogne of 1972 but it’s changed a bit since then. Same lethal selection of flick-knives for sale though I’m sure!

As we start the year, Thanet has, I believe, two fundamental challenges to meet, those twin demons which worry people most, crime and decline. Both are very much a consequence of the prevailing economic conditions, which, thanks to a decade of suffering our Government’s own politically correct version of the Cultural Revolution, have delivered a social environment which increasingly mitigates against business, investment and above all, the country’s traditional sense of taking personal responsibility.

One in four councils in England is now reporting an increase in homelessness and more than half have experienced a rise in benefit claimants - reportedly up 37% in Thanet since November - as the recession starts to bite. Everywhere, local councils face similar problems, from Tower Hamlets to Thanet as the irreversible nature of the damage done to our debt-ridden and dependent society becomes clear. In headlong and headstrong pursuit of social equality and fiscal prudence, the ‘wheels have come off the train’ at Westminster. As a nation we’ve fallen among tax collectors and thieves and everywhere one looks, the justice system, education, health, state pensions and more, the clunking administrative machine of central Government, appears to be at best, unfit for purpose and at worst, broken beyond any hope of reasonable repair in the foreseeable future.

So where do we go from here I wonder? Government is going to be desperately short of money this year as tax revenues from struggling businesses start to dry-up. The consequences are bound to ripple through the public sector and rather than streamline the workforce and risk even greater unemployment, it’s far more likely that public services and their supporting budgets will bear the brunt of any costs cutting while thousands of non-jobs or internships are created elsewhere with even more public money.

And people will continue to ask why they will pay higher taxes and receive less in return and the reply will be that our taxes pay for the privilege of being governed and for the privileges of Government and increasingly less for the privilege of shrinking public services.

Canterbury Road Closures

This morning, I received notification from the Kent County Council Highways Department that they plan to resurface the Canterbury Road in Westgate, London bound at its junction with Cambourne Avenue and Coast bound at its junction with Domneva Road.

Work, due to commence on 11 February 2009 for two nights, will be carried out between the hours of 8pm and midnight with a signed diversion route in operation. Disruption will be kept to a minimum but vehicle access will be restricted whilst the works are being undertaken. 

Kent Highway Services 24 hour helpline  is 08458 247 800 - Project Reference: - 021

Friday, January 09, 2009

Cold Snap

The good news is that it's visibly clearer and a little warmer here in Thanet than elsewhere.

I took one of the aircraft up a little earlier to give the battery a good charge before tonight's anticipated sub-zero temperatures and you can see from the photo that the cathedral looks impressive in the sharp winter's sunlight.

The lakes around Sturry are frozen solid and as one looks past Canterbury towards Dover and the higher ground at Ashford, the fields look as if they have had a light dusting of snow.

I can't quite remember winter weather as cold as this in a very long time. There's a photo of me as a small boy standing on the sea ice at Westgate in the 60's but that was a very long time ago.

I would ask all of my readers to spare a thought for the wildlife and leave out a little food and particularly water if they can. Small birds suffer terribly from dehydration in these temperatures and so if you can keep your bird bath ice free or leave out a dish of water for them I'm sure you'll receive your reward in heaven!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Iaido Club Looking for New Members

Not many people know that one of Japan's greatest living Kendoists, Fujii Okimitsu Sensei, spent a great deal of time living anonymously in Ramsgate, while he established Kendo and Iaido clubs across the UK.

When, from a Dojo in London, I moved back to Thanet five years ago, I never expected to find that Iaido,a martial art that originated and developed in medieval Japan to train samurai in the use of the long-sword called katana, either for self-defense or to prepare them for battle would have so many expert practitioners on the island.

The Broadstairs-based club meets on Monday evenings and rather than martial artists finding it by accident, the club's instructor, Richard Obbard, has asked me to put a note online to see if there are people out there who might be interested in learning the highly disciplined skills involved. Richard can be found at richard.obbard@ and prospective new members are welcome.

I've embedded a generic video for interest. When you watch it, remember that at the higher levels of the sport, practitioners are invariably using 'Shinken', what the Japanese call a 'Live blade' of razor sharp steel.

Who's a Pretty Bird Then?

The green Parakeets are visibly feeling the cold today. Normally, they move around so much clamour and with such energy that trying to photograph them in one place can be quite difficult. Today they sensibly seem to be trying to keep warm but keeping movement and noise to a minimum.

Westgate appears to have has a Parakeet population explosion in the last year. The big colony at Westbrook appears to have expanded in our direction and these very intelligent birds look set to become a dominant species at the present rate.

I wonder if they have discovered the millionairies playground in the South of the island yet. Does anyone know?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A Siberian Interlude

Stunning Siberian weather over Thanet today and I'm worried about the batteries in my different modes of transportation going flat. Presently I have the motorcycle on a drip charge, as it's almost guaranteed to lose its limited power once the temperature drops below zero and starting aircraft presents an equally vexing problem after they've been standing around here on the Russian Front for a few days.

Lots of vessels moored off Margate this week, as you can see and several of these appear to be of Russian origin too.

I had heard from one resident last night that some unknown gentleman had been passing out leaflets in Westgate for a public meeting today at noon to protest about the council rubbish collection. If we have any problems here, then I'm not directly aware of them and I have made some enquiries.

I turned-up at the church at noon, as advised and found nobody there; the wrong church perhaps but if you are experiencing problems, the easiest route to a solution is to give me or either one of the other two Westgate councillors a call or send an email. A public protest is a last resort, particularly if we are unaware of any problems. My own rubbish has been collected over Xmas as scheduled and I for one would like to than the refuse collection crew for a job well done in my street at least.

What I would like the council to do however is send a cleanup-crew to the seafront to tidy up the areas adjacent to the re-cycling point in St Mildred's car park before the February gales turn it into a paper chase. I'm going to put in that request now.

Friday, January 02, 2009

In the New Year's Top Ten

Not quite the New Year's Honour's entry that the Isle of Thanet might have wished for, appearing as it does among the country's 'Top Ten' blackspots for alcohol-related anti-social behaviour and rates of "less serious wounding" crimes as a proxy for alcohol-related violence.

That other famous seaside resort, Blackpool leads the list of shame, with the deprived London Borough of Newham in second spot; two very different places, with contrasting night time economies and drinking cultures. According to the indespensible North West Public Health Observatory's Local Alcohol Profiles for England, Newham has the 17th lowest synthetic estimate of binge drinking in England whilst Blackpool has the 26th highest.

Locally, we have a zero-tolerance approach and try very hard to deal with the problems which include a record number of hospital admissions for under-age drinkers with measures such as the teenage group dispersal orders in towns like Broadstairs. However, we have a local alcohol culture that is firmly resistant to change, local supermarkets that appear to encourage excessive consumption through 'loss-leading' promotions and a Police Service that lacks the resources to act consistently, combined with court sentencing and a criminal justice system that fails to act as a deterrent.

  • Blackpool
  • Newham
  • North East Lincolnshire
  • Southampton
  • Thanet
  • Lincoln
  • Burnley
  • Wakefield
  • Weymouth & Portland
  • Mansfield