Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Remembering Barbara

Remembering Barbara Whitlock
With the sad news of the passing of one of Westgate's most loyal residents, Barbara Whitlock yesterday, at the QEQM, I thought it appropriate to remember her with the newsworthy photograph that earned her a brief moment of global internet fame at the Queen's Jubilee celebrations.

I'm sure many readers, will have fond memories of a friendly, lively and quite remarkable local character, who will be much missed around the town.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Remove Before Flight

It's been quiet on this weblog again and principally, because I've been busy at work. My apologies for missing yesterday's meeting on Manston at the Winter Gardens and a few readers may have noticed that I had some flying to do of my own.

Manston has been covered in glorious detail elsewhere - see video - (Thanks to Duncan Smithson) having already added my thoughts to the debate, I really can't add more, other than opinions are visibly polarised and the bad language employed by some on other blogs, is quite unnecessary and damaging to any argument, in favour or against the airport.

Locally, here in Westgate, we are into the start of the vandalism and arson season again. A big fire at the derelict building site in Sea Road, beach-huts being broken-into, now they have been assembled for the summer and the woodwork of the blue former putting green shed at St Mildred's Bay, succumbing to a flint, rock throwing attack by four boys. In fact I spotted them and I have seen them up to destructive mischief before, so I need to have a word with our PCSO.

New Pilot at Airads?
With the Euro-elections just around the corner, I'm not permitted to pass any real comment other than noticing today, the Daily Mail reporting Nigel Farage has his eyes on Folkestone as a possible Parliamentary seat at the General Election. I see he's coming to a rally in the Winter Gardens very soon but given the welcome he received from our wild-eyed collection of Red Hall inspired anarchists and militant Trotskyists, you just know it's going to be a political, placard-waving circus all over again. A hard hat is well-advised.

My own 'small gigs' in the next week take me to Newmarket, Northampton, Southampton and Dubai; one being a little further than the others and demanding a larger aircraft to get me there. I suppose, I should offer a vote of thanks to David Moyes for single-handedly boosting the fortunes of the aerial advertising industry across the country. Next Saturday alone, I have three aircraft advertising over three separate football matches across the country but thankfully, nothing controversial this time around.

Back to work then. Have a good week all.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Local Fossil

Rather than attach one of my GoPro video cameras to my aircraft, I've been walking around with it this week and used the opportunity, to record, for posterity, the position of the dinosaur fossil at Westgate's St Mildred's Bay.

More accurately, it's the space left by the remains of the fossil skull, once it was removed and taken to the Natural History museum, I think.

This was, I think in 1973 or thereabouts. One of our local characters, 'John' the beach philosopher, discovered it. He was a lovely old chap who always wore shorts the year around, carried a guitar and rode a battered bicycle.

I'm told it was the remains of a small Plesiosaur and unusual because it was found in a chalk deposit. If we have any paleontologists or geologists reading this, perhaps you can lend an expert opinion in the comments section for other readers?

I'm assuming the remainder of the find is buried deep in the cliff and not available for excavation without causing a collapse. When I was a teenager, the outline was very distinct indeed and people mistook the marks of the sinus cavities for the eyes. Today, it's so deeply weathered, you might miss it completely and so, as quite possibly the last person to remember where it is, you can use the video to work out where to find it and perhaps show it to your children or grandchildren before its gone?

Walk west, past the boating pool in St Mildreds Bay and you will find it just before the next set of steps leading down from the promenade to the rocks and beach below. Anyone want to give our Plesiosaur a name?

The next video is from yesterday. I was over at Rochester airport for my annual multi-engine rating renewal test and used the GoPro for a little walk around the often temperamental GA7 Cougar I was flying.

This flight was more interesting and uneventful than most, as this year, high over the Isle of Sheppey, the examiner suggested that for the mandatory loss of an engine drill, that I turn one off completely and restart it, rather than simulate it. Ok, no problem, I shut down the port engine, run through the emergency asymmetric drills, re-balance the aircraft and go through the check list to re-start it. And do you think it would start again?  Err... No.

Not so much a problem or anything unsafe as a mild annoyance, as we then headed back to Rochester to land the aircraft asymmetric, for real rather than as a drill; trying to coax the engine back to life on the way. If this were a real emergency, then Manston would be the obvious choice of runway and let's not forget this in these difficult days for the airport.

Finally, by using a steep turning descent to the left, to windmill the propellor and adding more primer fuel than I would usually expect, the engine sputtered back to life and so that proved to be a very useful and practical lesson, that might one day come-in handy.

But I wasn't going to get off lightly after that and having done so well flying around on one engine that far, the examiner decided that I might as well go the whole way and land back on just one, to finish the test but this time, keeping the offending engine idled back and not shut-down; a much better idea I thought.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, I have to go and play havoc at another football match. Since Old Trafford and then Anfield last week, it's the latest 'Must have' expression for football fans as we approach the end of the season.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gone Saving - Back Soon

Press to Save
The early shots in the 2015 General Election campaign appear to have started a year early, here in Thanet, with Labour's North Thanet candidate, Frances Rehal out and about delivering letters and raising a petition to "Save the QEQM Hospital."

Like many readers, I didn't know the hospital needed urgent saving, as I thought it had previously been saved and at least twice now, by the personal intervention of Cllr Ian Driver and then Cllr Will Scobie in quick succession. In fact it was a Labour government that first started tinkering with the QEQM and if I hadn't been running this weblog for over a decade now, you might easily have forgotten.

Westgate residents may also recall that Cllr Jodie Hibbert, now Cllr Jodie Scobie, had also worked tirelessly to 'Save' the Minnis Bay Day centre during the last local council elections and had camped outside Westgate library (see photo) to save that too during the County Council elections. Both were of course promptly 'Saved' and that was possibly the last, the good people of Westgate saw of Mrs Scobie this side of 2015. However, there's still time for a further visit before the General Election and an opportunity to "Save" something useful in the town, which needs all the 'Saving' it can get.

Westgate Library 'Saved'
So, Labour's letter concludes, "We can all save the QEQM if we work together," which is nice but clearly, the elephant in the room, Manston airport, is beyond saving or even comment from Mrs Rehal, who appears quite intent on spinning-up a non-story to frighten the vulnerable in my own ward and elsewhere.

It's all over concerns to move emergency surgical services to Canterbury, which is rather different than 'saving' the QEQM as I'm sure you will agree. The hospital trust believes this to be a more efficient way of managing stretched resources but local politicians, have quite justifiable concerns over further centralisation of the more sophisticated services in hub hospitals, like the William Harvey. However, it's not a political decision and pretending otherwise and that a Labour PPC has any influence over the hospital trust's policies, is both cynical and manipulative; much like the last local elections, here in Westgate, where I discovered people were being told that a vote for a Labour councillor, would see a reversal of the Government's benefits cap policies here in Thanet.

An Eco Friendly Solution to the Cargo Flight Problem
So, let's see a little less 'Saving' the un-endangered and rather more substance on policies, jobs, the economy and those small issues of real public interest, such as the future of Manston airport, which of all things locally, needs saving, more than any other at present. This doesn't appear at all for discussion, on the agenda of Thursday's full council meeting, while elsewhere, Thanet North MP, Sir Roger Gale and Tahnet South MP, Laura Sandys are meeting with Anne Gloag today.

Once again, looking back through the ThanetLife archive, I'll remind you of an entry from the recent past: "What the German Luftwaffe failed to do in 1940, Clive Hart's minority Labour administration in Thanet, is well on its way to achieving in 2012."

Much of what happens politically on the island is predictable as you can gather looking back on earlier stories but I find that when the administration and the political leadership, has an opportunity to act in a decisive and intelligent manner, it invariably shoots itself in both feet before the day has passed. This can only lead me to ask whether its really the people of Thanet and its economy, who need urgent saving from the hollow promises of Frances Rehal and William Scobie

Monday, April 14, 2014

Street Scene

A walk to Margate this afternoon and an opportunity to test a new premium telephoto lens from Pentax. It's an 18-270mm and compares very well with the fixed 200mm I have started using to take aerial photos, with the highest definition from a fast-moving platform.

The beach at Margate is quite busy in the bright holiday sunshine and it's pretty obvious that school is out for Easter from some of the young people along the High Street. There were other characters I would like to have caught on camera but they appeared unusually aware of what was going on around them and equally sensitive to a telephoto lens, even at a distance. They rapidly evaporated from the shop doorways when they spotted me.

These shots now represent a part of the street-scene that I'm sure most of us are aware of but which is rarely if every captured, as we prefer to concentrate on the type of seafront photo, by way of contrast further below, that everyone else recognises.

What I wanted to illustrate, are some of the harsher contrasts in the small world that is the town and if you visit my photo library here, you'll see my attempt to capture life in Margate, in every sense.

No more news of Manston yet but I'm sure some readers will be interested in this video, which explains the Stagecoach business model. It did come as quite a surprise to me and illustrates what a shrewd business-women, Anne Gloag is.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Passing Through

Iaido Seminar
One thing I've noticed, living in Thanet, is that the most unusual activities pop-up here and many can be world-class and go quietly unnoticed by the wider population.

As an example, this weekend, over at Margate's hartsdown leisure centre, the much-respected martial arts instructor, 'Kyoshi' Carl Long, is here from the United States, conducting a two day,  expert, Japanese swordsmanship seminar (Iaido) for practitioners and instructors from across the UK and Europe.

Kyoshi Long with fellow US instructors at Hartsdown
Thanet has a well-established presence in this martial art, as it does for the likes of Taekwondo and Karate and if anyone is interested in learning, you can find the details of our local 'Kaigan' dojo here.

Meanwhile, up at Anfield, this afternoon, it's another plane banner day, this time commissioned by a Liverpool fan from Singapore. There's been some chatter on the fans forums as to whether its appropriate or not but it's certainly not as controversial as the Moyes banner flown at Old Trafford two weeks ago.

There's a whole run of these now coming-up at football matches over the next month as either businesses or lots of fans groups crowd-source the funds to have their own flights. On one particular afternoon in May, I have three aircraft, over three matches simultaneously. These things run in cycles and I was amused when the UPS delivery driver delivering some new banner kit, a West Ham fan,  realised that I was responsible for the legendary 'Avram Grant, Millwall Hero' flight in 2011. He promptly asked if I could fly over his wedding.

Everyone asks what I know about the future of Manston and my answer is very much the same. I'm worried by the loss of services, such as KLM but encouraged by an extension of the consultation period.

A week ago, I was deeply pessimistic but since then, I've found more room for optimism as a broad church of interests suddenly realise what might be lost for ever if the the airport is closed. Of course, what's needed is an interested party and a sensible business plan, with the money and vision to make it a success and the political support to achieve it. Without these essential ingredients for recovery, it's all talk. However, I would like to pay credit to both our Members of Parliament, who have been working very hard behind the scenes to try and find a solution and presently I would describe Manston as hanging-on by its fingernails.

'Why', one American visitor asked astutely yesterday, 'would you close the airport? 'There's not much going for the economy here apart from tourism is there?' 'It's a long story; I replied 'and might take rather longer than you have to listen, with a plane back to San Francisco on Tuesday.'

Cherry Blossoms in Westgate
On a more positive side, the island is looking fabulous in the early spring sunshine this week and our environment remains one of our strongest assets, with visitors remarking on how beautiful our local scenery is. The cherry blossom trees blooming along Westbrook Avenue is Westgate are particularly impressive this year and perhaps worth a visit in their own right.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

On the Fiddle

I'll bet you didn't know an airport could be 'Tory'? I didn't but according to a wild-eyed Labour PPC for Brighton, appearing on today's BBC Sunday Politics show, North Kent could be the home of one.

If that isn't wild enough, I read in the letters page of the Thanet Gazette, that my personal motivation for wishing to save Manston airport from closure, is not a fear of developers or the loss of jobs or even economic potential for the island. No, it's to protect the interests of my political 'cronies.' I have heard it all now.

That all rather leaves me with a singular lack of enthusiasm to blog about anything at the moment and at Thursday evening's council cabinet meeting, I reflected on the Emperor Nero, 'fiddling while Rome burned,' although I think it was actually a lyre and reportedly quite good at it too, given that anyone who thought otherwise ended-up as snack for the lions. Whether council leader Clive Hart owns a fiddle, I couldn't say but between them all, I'm certain we could find enough talent for a small orchestra.

Since my little outing to Old Trafford last week, there's been a never ending series of calls from businesses or football fans, wanting something similar over their club; even one this afternoon. On May 3rd, I have three aircraft over three separate games in the midlands, one Saturday afternoon and all at the same time, which must be a first.

On the flip-side of the coin, I struggle to grasp the mental processes of one group of  fans, wanting to crowd-fund a flying banner to 'Kick-off' with another's team's fans, No, I said, you can't use the 'F' word on a banner, it's not funny. Funny is good, the 'F' word is not. Think of 'Avram Grant - Millwall Hero or 'We Only Had Ten Men'  both of which worked well. On top of that, I took a call from a business wanting to promote itself with another flight to Old Trafford, once again with a message attacking David Moyes, followed by its website URL. Not original, not clever, not happening!

Just to remind everyone, I didn't fly the Moyes banner last week but the Paddy Power message "Fergie Back 6/1". However, I should thank the Thanet Gazette for telling the world I was the pilot of the first aircraft and if one's success can be measured in the volume and intensity of colourful language on Twitter, then I think I did quite well. Once again and like the 'Tory' airport mentioned earlier, the fact that I'm a Conservative councillor, here in Thanet, proves quite conclusively in the eyes of many verbally-challenged fans in the Manchester area that I'm a completely incompetent pilot and a ****** too. It all makes perfect sense.

I've included an unusual video here, a first from my good friend and ace display pilot, Guy Westgate, as he chucks a parachutist out of his Fox glider in Spain last month. You may have seen Guy a couple of times on TV recently and the next part of this project is to have the parachutist wearing a wing-suit and then race the glider back towards the earth, flying side by side. Don't try this at home folks.