Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Great Loss

Other than CBS News, there's a whole generation of young people who won't instantly recognise the name of Neil Armstrong. At best, many might think he was a singer or a famous cyclist who won the Tour de France. At worst, they won't care.

Perhaps that's a deeply cynical view to adopt but yesterday, the world lost one of its true heroes and reminded us that life, however remarkable and momentous it might be for a few, is fleeting and far too short in the true Shakespearian sense.

One day, maybe even within my own lifetime, a man, maybe not yet born, may step upon the surface of Mars and mankind will have another name to add to a roll that includes, Columbus and Magellan and Hilary and more who defined the apex of human exploration and achievement but until that day comes we are collectively poorer for the loss of a modest hero who took that first step towards a galaxy of a billion stars beyond our own small backwater of the universe.

Here on earth, in our little corner of the South-east, you might be forgiven for not remembering it's a Bank Holiday, with the wind sweeping the beaches and a string of large vessels moored offshore. All in start contrast to the southern European heatwave of last weekend, which may have been the summer in a single short weekend.

I've just been browsing through one of Michael Child's excellent reprints of "Westgate on Sea - A Descriptive Booklet & Official Guide" from 1923.

I've decided that when my turn finally comes to win the Euromillions lottery, that I will donate the funds are required to help turn Westgate, at least in part, back into the tree-lined, 'Pleasure garden' paradise it once was and made it such a remarkable and popular tourist attraction of its age.

I might have to wait a little while as the queue for winning lottery tickets seems to be rather long these days.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Just  managed to reach the Kaigan Dojo in Broadstairs after last night's Council Cabinet, in time to help judge the grading that was taking place.

I wanted to congratulate, Mark, young Charlie and Bob in the front row, on their new grades and the hard work they put in to achieve them.

The martial arts have played a large part in my own life since I was first introduced to Judo at Cliftonville's Quarterdeck at the age of ten and Shutokai Karate at Ramsgate when I was seventeen.

Forty years further on and the greatest pleasure lies in seeing how the principles of self-discipline and training can, in a relatively short period of time, visibly transform a student in fitness, posture and confidence.

Perhaps the legacy of the London Olympics will deliver a new generation of athletes, like young Charlie in the photo, tempted away from the virtual world of the X-Box and the Playstation to a real world of much greater personal reward and satisfaction.

We meet at the Methodist Church Hall in Broadstairs' York St, every Thursday evening at 7.30 pm to practise Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū with Richard Obbard as our Sensei and beginners are welcome.

Off Limits

It appears that we have a subject that is not available for debate at Thanet District Council, for any reason and that is the performance of our Diversity Champion, Councillor John Worrow.

I'm waiting to read, with interest, what fellow bloggers in the public gallery, Tony Flaig and James Maskell made of last night's farcical performance on the part of the Labour Cabinet, which led Westgate's Cllr Tom King to storm out of the Council Chamber in a visible mix of rage and frustration.

The item on the agenda was the performance of the Diversity Champion, who had been the subject of a motion of no confidence - thrown-out by Labour - at the last full Council meeting.

Cllr Michelle Fenner, who holds the portfolio, managed to deliver one of her trademark, lengthy monologues on equalities on how the wicked Conservatives had done nothing to address the sad state of affairs that Labour had inherited in Thanet. She finally mentioned Cllr Worrow, by name, in the last sixty seconds, as an outstanding champion of anything and everything that was diverse on the island. While Cllr Johnston, never short of a word or three, chipped in exclaiming she knew what it was like to be bullied.

Cllr King attempted to question Cllr Worrow's record of achievement, asking what he had actually done but Council Leader, Clive Hart, decided that any debate was inappropriate and that Cllr Worrow was 'The subject of a personal vendetta,' with 'No evidence' against him whatsoever.

This swiftly descended into a heated shouting match, leading Cllr King to stalk out of the Chamber and Cllr Hart to launch on to a rambling self justification for not allowing Cllr King to speak on the item, claiming that Cllr King had threatened him and he wouldn't give in to threats. In the back row, Labour's Cllr Peter Campbell, visibly dressed for serious Council business, in a pair of bright red swim shorts and a loose beach shirt offered a stream of facetious remarks, much like a dated character from the Muppet show.

Finally, it was my  turn to speak and I expressed my concern at a role and an individual, surrounded by ever-growing rumour and salacious comment, which reflected poorly on the reputation of the council. Could he not, I asked, go and meet the local Imam rather than use his role as a club with which to beat anyone who challenges him with the serious allegation of homophobia.

'That's enough' said Clive, we're not discussing this any further, the man's a saint and he's being persecuted by the lot of you.

Well, he didn't exactly say those words but it's near enough to the truth for Government work and that's where we left it. The Diversity Champion is 'Off Limits' and enjoys a unique and special immunity from debate and criticism of any kind, as long as he holds the balance of political power at Thanet District Council.

I should add that the Labour Cabinet decision surrounding Pleasurama and the Royal Sands development appeared to be equally off-limits for intelligent debate and Conservative Leader, Cllr Bayford walked out before the meeting had concluded, followed by the rest of us.

If I had one final comment on last night's business, it's that democracy fails all of us, when those who are clearly ill-equipped to deal with the responsibilities of public life are promoted well beyond their ability.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ask Mr Lawrence

Westgate Sunset
A poignant and moving ceremony at St Peter's church in Broadstairs, this afternoon, for the funeral of  David Chamberlain, attended by friends, family, colleagues and well-wishers from as far as Afghanistan. I was pleased to see the church packed to capacity for this memorial service for another tragic victim of a war, which reaches out and touches so many lives.

I'm reminded that my own uncle was fighting with his Ghurkas against the tribesman in Afghanistan, as far back as 1947. He told me that every Friday, their holy day of rest, each side would call a truce and play cricket. Watching, the very powerful documentary 'Our War' on television this week, the conflict has changed so much that he might has well been there, a century before, with Rudyard Kipling; a lesson we don't yet appear to have learned.

Readers may recall that I'm a great fan of TE Lawrence, having followed his path by car and bicycle, across the deserts of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Lawrence wrote of a different war with an almost prescient redolence which lingers on:

"The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are today not far from a disaster."

The private view of the politicians and army officers I know, is that once we withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, the struggling nation will swiftly fall back into the state in which we found it, squeezed as it is by the interests of the superpowers, regional conflict, the influence of Iran and the unimaginable influence and wealth of the heroin trade controlled by powerful organised crime networks.

All that said, the role and personal sacrifices, of all our men and women serving there, is often unappreciated and unrecognised by the general public, perhaps because it's so distant and it's not on the news every day, unless perhaps a politician drops in for a photo-call or another soldier's name is added to the growing list of casualties.

However, today's very moving service at St Peter's in Broadstairs served as a reminder that Afghanistan is much closer to home than many of may think and I'll finish with those same famous lines from William Shakespeare that were read during the memorial service:

 "From this day to the ending of the world, 
But we in it shall be remember'd; 
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; 
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me 
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, 
This day shall gentle his condition: 
And gentlemen in England now a-bed 
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here"

Monday, August 20, 2012

Brief Intermission

I'm a little reluctant to 'Blog' simply for the sake of it, particularly when there's little to report that readers aren't aware of already.

This last weekend's heatwave was quite remarkable and it coincided with the busiest period of my own flying season and so, rather than being able to enjoy the sunshine and a possible swim in the sea, I was dashing around the south of Britain on various jobs, finding some relief from the heat up at 5,000 feet in between Exeter and Essex.

For any readers that may wish to pay their respects, it's the funeral of Westgate resident, Mr David Chamberlain, on Wednesday, at St Peters Church, Broadstairs at noon. You may recall hearing of his tragic death in Afghanistan, when he was killed by a rogue Afghan soldier in the western city of Herat, alongside two US colleagues when the soldier opened fire.

That said, anything else I might possibly write, pales into insignificance, so I will stop here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Posh Coptor

To be honest, it's too warm to blog this evening and likely to be a great deal warmer still by Sunday.

When I landed back from Essex this afternoon, the thermometer showed 28 degrees and I had a rather posh-looking neighbour, a very expensive, Harrods branded helicopter.

Was this the infamous 'Fake Sheikh,' making an unexpected return to Thanet to give Dreamland a quick once over or the personal delivery of a well-stocked Harrods picnic hamper to a local customer?

It's a mystery but to afford one of these as a run-around, keep buying those Euro Millions lottery tickets and maybe one day....!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gone but Not Forgotten

Reg Bell who Led the Campaign
An item of surprise local news this morning. Sainsbury's have withdrawn their application for a Westgate on Sea, supermarket (F/TH/12/0220 - Hundreds Farm House, Canterbury Road). Readers will recall that it was scheduled to come before the Planning Committee at Thanet District Council on Wednesday evening for decision.

I might speculate, the Supermarket giant felt that the weight of public opinion was against it, in the present circumstances and chose to withdraw; to live to fight another day. Returning perhaps, with a revised application, which I might bet, will make an appearance before the year ends. Sainsbury's tell me that a short statement, once they have digested the officer's report from Thanet Council.

First Round to Westgate & Birchington
The Thanet Gazette, will have a photographer going to Corkscrew in Station Rd at 4.30pm for a 'People Power' photo. Obviously, if I hear anything further on the subject, I will keep readers posted but I now have Wednesday evening off, as I won't have to speak at the Planning Committee.

I see on my next set of Council cabinet papers that Clive and Company and attempting once again to whitewash the work of our 'Diversity Champion' having kicked out a motion of 'No Confidence' bought by Westgate's Cllr Tom King last month. For that particular sin, Cllr King now faces a standards complaint of 'homophobia and bullying'. One really has to wonder how far this Labour administration will go in supporting the role given some of the more salacious gossip in the public domain. One might argue that the political futures of Cllr Hart and Cllr Worrow are now inextricably connected in a clammy handshake of cynical expedience.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Local Matters

Some light housekeeping notes for people in Westgate this morning, so not much of a 'blog' today I'm afraid.

The first thing is that Canterbury Road, Sainsbury's development application comes before the Council's planning committee on Wednesday evening at 7pm. I'm down to speak, as are several others who wish to have their voices heard on this controversial application. Should you have anything extra to add, that I don't already know about, please send me an email .

It's not past 09:30 on a Monday morning and already, 'The Knott.' formerly known as 'The Nott' or The Nottingham Castle pub has been bought to my attention, although I was already aware of the 'nuisance' noise over this last weekend.

Apparently, licensing officers witnessed the noise on Friday evening and I witnessed the same on Saturday and so I have made a vigorous representation to the Council's head of licensing, on behalf of residents nearby and made it quite clear, that a return to the bad old days of constant complaints about the pub and noise are unacceptable under its new ownership. I did pop-in a couple of weeks ago to introduce myself and for a polite chat on the very same subject but this may not have been effective and I may not have been taken seriously. So if necessary, I will work with local people to raise a petition but hope that the management will instead work to address the immediate concerns of the surrounding community.

St Mildred's Bay - Westgate on Sea
This evening, it's the monthly WWRA Residents' Association meeting, which will take place at the Westbrook Bowls Club at 7pm. I think the micro-pub application for Lymington road is one of the items for discussion on the agenda.

Postscript... I've had a meeting with the landlord of 'The Nott' this afternoon, prompted by this weblog and we have agreed a number of immediate environmental remedies to reduce any noise nuisance to local residents. Among these is the planting of Lelyandii around the perimeter of the pub's garden. These will take a couple of seasons to mature but will prove an effective noise muffler in the year's to come. I'm delighted that we had an opportunity to work through some of the issues and was offered an immediate series of goodwill remedies.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Scorchio in Thanet

Heart FM Presenter Julian Jones
A little on the warm side here in Thanet, although the sea breeze should cool the atmosphere down a little less than it was in Birmingham, where I was earlier.

Arriving at the airfield at 6:30am for the radio programme, with Julian Jones, visibility could be measured in yards, with dense patches of fog.That soon lifted and we had the best two hour flight along the south-west side of Birmingham to date.

I'm now looking at the flowered field, that hides my garden, with some trepidation, as some rather determined lawn mowing or a small flock of sheep is required.

I'm told that the beach closure on Wednesday afternoon was a false alarm and there had been no sewage spill. However, there is a jellyfish warning, as the sea continues to warm-up, so keep your eyes peeled for the larger, purple type in shallow waters, just in case!

Halfpenny Green Airfield

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Train Games

I'm surprised at the number of people who have called or emailed me from as far afield as Ramsgate, over my comments on policing on this weblog in last week's Thanet Gazette.

The prevailing sentiment appears to be one of abandonment; that where vandalism and anti-social behaviour are involved and which often cause the greatest personal stress, "the police don't come" or "don't care" This provokes real frustration. when all the victim has to show, is a crime number for the insurers; that's if they have insurance.

In writing this, I have no intention of attacking our hard-working local Police service but as a Councillor, I believe I have a duty to reflect and report what people tell me and what they feel strongly about and vandalism and anti-social behaviour in Thanet, many see as immune from any real deterrent or possibility of being caught.

I had a meeting in London's Portland Place yesterday morning and caught the 08:20 train from Westgate to Victoria. Outside the station, it appears that one of our local characters 'J', with chronic mental health issues, has returned to the town from his last 'holiday' and was screaming abuse at passers-by. A thin, malnourished woman, who I'm told is his new partner, was busy experimenting with her personal chemistry set on the bench outside the hairdressers. Traders tell me today, that that the police were called a little later. A quick update, reveals that 'J' is now remanded in custody, which is a good result, at least until the revolving door of our overloaded criminal justice system, spits him back out again.

I was surprised to find that the train was already quite full when I boarded but I took a window seat and settled down with my Kindle reader for the the rest of the journey.

By the time, the train left Herne Bay, it was nearly full with families on the way to Stratford and Hyde Park, with a good smattering of Union Jacks and Olympic sportswear. By Sittingbourne, the train was quite full and by Chatham, the station tannoy was asking people to wait for the next service as it now resembled a Central Line underground train at the height of rush hour.

I could never have imagined that the train service from Kent could come under so much pressure for the Games and if you multiply this by every train heading to the main London stations, then the inflow of crowds must have been enormous.

Reaching Bromley South (pictured) about seven minutes late, people on the platform were becoming quite angry that they couldn't board the train and their were calls for passengers to 'Move along down inside.'This might work with a service carrying mostly adults but the train I was on was about a quarter full of children from the youngest toddler-upwards, push chairs and all and you can imagine that after ninety minutes, some of these were becoming quite fractious; the loaded expression, 'cattle truck', springing to mind.

When I finally cleared a very crowded Victoria Station concourse, I found that my destination, Oxford Circus, was very quiet indeed, like an early weekday morning after opening time. To give you an idea, I walked straight into Costa Coffee and ordered a drink and I was the only person at the counter; normally there's a queue and no seats inside.

Coming home at 15:50 was a little better and I only found a seat because I managed to board the train when it arrived at 15:40. Once again, it was a packed service on the way home but from the conversations in the carriage, everyone had a great day out at the Games, despite the travel challenges in between.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Indescret or Indiscrete?

Descret Services
In Westgate this morning the gossip now surrounds the whereabouts of a secret 'dungeon', offering the general public a range of  'Off the rack' personal services to anyone who might know where to find it. I'm quite mystified but pleased to hear that in the midst of recession, once again, our local entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking but not sure where this stands in regard to the Council's carefully-drafted business, health and safety regulations.

This does of course add to the enthusiasm 'Whipped-up' by another web-enabled adult-entertainment business in the town and some alleged 'naughty' housewife webcam notoriety in Westgate Bay Avenue, which is, I'm told, highly lucrative at premium rate phone call charges.

Today, my attention was drawn to an enigmatic 'Descret' massage service, advertised by the lovely but anonymous Kirstie, (pictured) in a news agent's window, I have edited out the complete number for fear she might be overwhelmed by the interest stimulated by such sudden and unprompted advertising.

As hard times continue, I wonder how many more may to follow Blackadder's example in exploring unorthodox new cash-generating opportunities at the seaside?

Adding to the news, I hear that Cllr John Worrow, Leader of the TIG party, has issued a council standards complaint against Westgate's Cllr Tom King, for the shocking political crimes of homophobia and bullying. This harks back to the Council meeting, last month, where Cllr King, called for a motion of 'No Confidence' in Cllr Worrow as Thanet Council's 'Diversity Champion.' You may have heard that Clive Hart's controlling Labour Group, threw this out but not before Cllr Worrow had labelled all the Conservative members at TDC as 'Homophobes', prompting yet another flurry of standards complaints against him, where I think he now holds the local record.

Meanwhile, you may have noticed there hasn't been a whisper in the press about Thanet's biggest political 'indiscretion' of all last month, where an unnamed councillor was allegedly thrown out of a well-known Margate seafront bar for inappropriate sexual behaviour. It does rather beg the question of why some determined bloodhound from the local paper hasn't asked any questions?

I'm prepared to bet that if it had been anyone else involved in something so overtly salacious, this would have been swiftly front page news in the Thanet Gazette and the presenters on BBC Newsroom South-east, would have been wearing their 'shocked' faces while reporting it.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Margate Carnival 2012

Young Leopards at Play
It's a lovely afternoon for the annual Margate carnival procession from Westbrook to Margate and I've been out, as usual, looking for photographs that capture the spirit of this popular event. I can remember sitting on a carnival float myself, aged thirteen, raising money for the Thanet Lions Club.

You can find the other photos here if you want to see more.

I'm delighted to see so many familiar faces along the seafront, fellow councillors and Thanet South MP, Laura Sandys, as well as the Mayor and Mayoress of Margate and lots of enthusiastic young people and carnival princesses, dressed-up in a wide range of costumes.

Absolutely Lovely

Game On

As we bask in the reflected glory of the largest Olympic gold medal hoard in 100 years, spare a thought for all those the small businesses that have been damaged, some beyond recovery, by the Games at absolutely the wrong time in our economic history.

I'm in London this week at Portland Place and I'm told that Oxford Street and Carnaby Street are as quiet as a grave as the tourists miss out the regular attractions and flock to the Games venues.

None-the-less, like everyone else, I'm looking forward to watching athletics and in particular, the men's 100 metres this evening. I'm hoping that the London Games will inspire a whole new generation of young athletes in the same way that the 1972 Olympic Games changed my own life for the better and broadened this parochial Thanet boy's horizons, by earning me a place at an American university and the career opportunities that followed it. The photo is me and my father a very long time ago, before what may have been the first Thanet half marathon, where I turned in a surprise 1:17:36 I think, behind the leader, Mike Gratton the winner of the London Marathon. Apple Computer has come on a bit since giving me a little sponsorship then

For those readers keeping an eye on the Sainsbury's application, it now comes before the Council's planning committee on the evening of 15th August and I have put my name down to speak. Any other representations, please direct to the Council's Democratic Services department.

There's also a hearing on the 14th August for an application for a premises license at 49 Station Road in Westgate, next-door to the Piggy Bank Nursery.

You may recall the anti-social behaviour that surrounded the premises in the past and the complaints of selling cigarettes and alcohol to minors that finally led to its license being withdrawn after lengthy efforts to prove the allegations. I have lodged an objection, on the grounds that Westgate is now, in my opinion, oversubscribed in licensed premises in a very small area indeed and I have no great confidence that the granting of a license will not lead to a repeat of the anti-social behaviour we saw in the past, that led to the rather controversial removal of a public bench from outside the nursery.

Finally, and before I grab my camera for the Margate carnival procession this afternoon, I've noticed that there has been some weed-spraying in the town from the dense growth of dead  growth along some of our pavements. It's a start!

Friday, August 03, 2012

Heart's Above

Control Tower at Wellesbourne Airfield
Somewhere over a misty Birmingham, an early morning breakfast show has been giving away family tickets for a day-out at Alton Towers. Here's the first week's flight with DJ, Julian, from the Radio Station's YouTube channel. This morning, fog forced us to stay to the south of Birmingham, near Stratford Upon Avon, Bromsgrove and Warwick and I still nurse the hope that one morning, summer will arrive up there!

Over the last 24-hours I must have had almost a dozen calls from the BBC's One Show with an unusual request which involves an aircraft but no banners. I'm doing my best to oblige but programmers and marketing agencies frequently ask for the impossible.

Staying with YouTube video's here's another, filmed at St Mildred's Bay in Westgate and much funkier than my Birmingham flying video I thought! It's a pretty good variation on the 'girl band' theme, quite original and deserves some attention beyond this blog.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Packed and Stacked

Following-on from the incident I blogged-about over the weekend, one of our local police inspectors called me yesterday for a chat and to hear some of my concerns over local policing, which is a good sign at least.

Like every other community in the South-east, I'm worried that we are losing scarce resources to police the Olympic games and I'm pretty sure that the criminal and anti-social element here in Thanet is pretty well-aware of the situation.

Yesterday, I was at the council offices to witness the opening of the tender for the engineering works at the harbour arches at Ramsgate and the Leader's new jacuzzi and commented to my opposition colleague, that around the town and the Gateway, I'm seeing what looks to me, like an acceleration in the number of new faces and families arriving here from eastern-Europe and beyond. He put this down to the new squeeze on housing benefit allowances in London and I'm sure he's right.

The Olympics, demonstrates beyond doubt that London is a global city; a 21st century population super-hub and it simply doesn't have the social housing space to accommodate the expanding migrant population that will do almost anything to reach it. Consequently and like a balloon being squeezed, the resultant bulge in population and social services pressure is now expanding beyond the Medway towns in our direction, as I've commented in the past.

If we are going to be realistic rather than simply aspirational, about the future, here in Thanet, without intervention of some kind by central Government to spread the flow outside and beyond the south-east, we are looking at a one-way-street for welfare migrants. This will have a measurable impact on the balance of opportunity and will in some already pressured locations, place an increased load on our schools, medical services, social housing and more. Successive administrations have, in the past, tried to address this without much success and the results are clearly visible to all in the Cliftonville West and Margate Central wards. However, in this age of austerity, I sense a new urgency and recognising the local implications, of the population growth forecast for the South-east in the decade ahead of us, would be a good place to start.

Finally, and as you can see from the photo and the news story, this week, Margate's beach suffered the attention of thousands of migrating plastic yellow ducks, all in the name of modern art, a form of expression which I find increasingly bizarre and elusive these days.