Catching Fire – Peace down the Chimney?

De Hems2

Dutch bar in Soho

Mac is sorry for the brief hiatus, but has been quite busy assembling his own focus group of independents to contemplate and propose ‘standards of conduct expected in local councils’. He has finally managed to book the Dutch Bar in Soho for next week, which he felt was important for three reasons. Firstly it is on neutral ground. Secondly it was the centre of Dutch resistance during World War Two. Thirdly they serve plenty of bitterballen, which seemed quite appropriate to this discussion.

Mac had begun to circulate the topics to the group but unfortunately began the list with a response from one of his old friends to his last blog, “Does Thanet need a Birgitte Nyborg?” His friend had replied, rather bluntly Mac thought, “Screw Birgitte Nyborg, we need a Katniss Everdeen”. Katniss Everdeen is, as you will doubtless know, the heroine of the recent release “Hunger Games – Catching Fire”. Sadly the other would-be attendants then indulged in a round of online discussion about whether they would like to screw Ms Nyborg, totally disregarding the health and safety implications at their age, and also completely derailing any discussion about the rest of the points. Ms Everdeen, they thought, was far too young and in any case would be less impressed with their bus passes.


Katniss and her quiver

In the “Hunger Games” trilogy the people are treated with disdain and contempt by the ruling classes, which is one of the reasons Katniss reaches for her bow and arrows. Now you may well remember the theory aired this year that Robin Hood was actually from Kent and was one William of Kensham, so Kent has probably always been pretty good at this bow and arrow stuff. (Editor’s note – for older readers, Kensham is not where Horace Batchelor advertised his football pools on Radio Luxembourg, but a small hamlet near Sandhurst in the west of the county). To balance the argument, Mac has circulated some lists of impressive achievements  by various random council leaders, although he is not sure that anything can match the list that includes a claim to have installed a new microphone system in the council chamber. He supposes that will mean that people can now stop yah-booing each other or getting involved in fisticuffs. That at least might improve public perception of local standards.


Klingons – not great at integration

All of the focus group were born and bred in Thanet and some of them, against all the odds, still live there. Mac will be reporting back on his findings and will be also publishing them in Klingonese, as at least two of the national papers are warning of a significant influx of Klingons early in the New Year. Klingons, as Star Trek fans will be aware, do not marry non-Klingons, but fly their spouses in from outer space to wherever they currently reside. Vulcans do something similar. Neither of them are great advocates for integration but at least the Vulcans have lovely earlobes.

Mac has asked Santa this year if there was any chance of a ‘Buzz Lightyear’ Xmas – a sort of ‘to nativity and beyond’. You still get to keep the bright star, the lowly stable and the manger, but this time the infant is a girl. A baby Katniss. The wise men have brought a longbow and a full quiver of arrows. Forget the gold, frankincense and myrhh – they were always just for the donkeys and knobheads. That might just give us a future of tidings of comfort and joy, raising standards everywhere. So may your Xmas bring you everything you desire. But goodwill to all men? That’s a cracker.

50501-Santa-Going-Down-A-ChimneyJust one final thought. Apparently as a part of the tribute to Madiba, Santa will be attempting against the odds to deliver a gift of peace to every household in the universe this year. Just think on that. Peace down every chimney. Which if you were tempted to re-enact some of the ‘Catching Fire’ scenes as part of your Wii games, might be quite appropriate and just save the day.


Does Thanet need a Birgitte Nyborg?

418ZXJ3SX5LMac had thought that the local blog associating the 1950 James Stewart film “Harvey”  with one of the Thanet Council team was very funny. He was three at the time it was released, possibly showing at the Dreamland cinema, but caught up with it later in life, hoping that it was another of Stewart’s westerns like ‘Winchester 73’ or one of those Russ Meyer films like ‘Chesty 69’. It was said to be one of James Stewart’s finest. Then he began to reflect that the blog was probably quite unfair. The six foot rabbit that only Elwood P Dowd can see, normally during sessions at his local bar, is actually a pooka. Pookas are creatures from Scandinavian and Celtic mythology, aren’t actually that benign and can assume a variety of forms. They mostly appear in animal form, but also as goblins, and are very obstructive. In fact they can cause havoc wherever they go, creating harm and mischief. In Ireland only the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru, was ever able to tame and ride a pooka, by using three hairs from its tail. Elwood must have just been very lucky to have met this particular Harvey when it was on its best behaviour, drinking Martinis and spending long sessions with him in the pub.  So the comparison that is being made between the two Harvey’s is grossly unfair.  One is largely invisible, spends much of his time being obstructive and can cause untold damage. Enough said.

Of course Dr Sanderson in the film, having locked Elwood away in the sanatorium, eventually injects him with a serum to stop him “seeing the rabbit”. Mac only wishes that some of that had been around when he used to spend his formative years in Dreamland, although he seems to remember using a different terminology. Lord George Sanger might have referred to it as “seeing the elephant”. Before they split, the Sanger Brothers put on a series of spectacular shows in London, their pantomime at the Agricultural Hall in London, Aladdin, featuring eleven elephants. They also had one of the largest circuses in England, with a stud of two hundred horses, but eventually Barnum bought much of their equipment and props for use in the States. Not sure Lord George would have appreciated them, but it was fascinating to see cult4the video footage of all the scooters on display at Dreamland recently. Whitsun 1964 of course was the march of the Mods, dozens of them down from South London, outnumbering the Rockers with their Triumphs and Nortons. Seemed significant at the time, but a bit pathetic when you look back at the actual television footage. The master draftsman Giles in the Daily Express based a cartoon on the riots. Mind you, the Mods didn’t burn down embassies just because he had drawn a cartoon of them but hey, different culture. I can’t explain, talking about my generation.


Birgitte Nyborg

One of the other rather eloquent bloggers wrote of his belief that “Thanet is still living in some dreadful eighties, tribal politics drama, where many local councillors and their supporters are involved. We can’t move on because quite simply, a number of our elected representatives have a deficit in imagination, are unwilling to leave the past behind or the personal differences built-up over thirty years”. Mind you, he then followed that in his next piece with a shot from  Dad’s Army and a derogatory remark about that nice Captain Mainwaring. Mac says he has no doubt that had the Germans invaded St Mildred’s Bay, that the good Captain would have actually have been stood by Pav’s Cafe firing his revolver out to sea. Never lacked courage did our trusty bank manager, whatever else his failings. But the point is worth making and you wonder if Thanet could learn anything from ‘Borgen’ and the wonderful Birgitte Nyborg. And no, this is not an argument for parts of Thanet to consider communicating with sub-titles, however appropriate. Is there room for a party of New Democrats, coming together possibly in Dane Park to create a spirit of togetherness, putting behind them the petty politics and tribal drama? What odds do you think Paddy Power would give? Don’t hold your breath.

Actually this blogger also mentions the miners’ strike. It is perhaps worth remembering that in 1965 Margate hosted the National Union of Miners conference, the lower orders. They were welcomed warmly at the time by all parties, despite the cloth caps and heavy boots. Kent then had its own mining traditions to maintain. No batons and riot shields required from the police in those days. They were reserved for the Mods on all those scooters. Bloody nuisance the Mods were, actually, so the odd bit of truncheon waving was often much appreciated. Mac says that most people will be aware that until very recently Thanet, like the rest of the South East, was solidly Conservative.

Billy having the future foretold..?

Billy having the future foretold..?

The longest-serving MP, Billy was also a war hero, having lost his arm in the war, with the Welsh Guards. He had been a cricket blue at Cambridge before that, so even if he struggled to read spin as a batsmen, he sure could deliver it and he had become a barrister. Topically he was said to be the first MP to raise the alarm about Profumo and poor Stephen Ward (Lloyd Webber musical imminent).

There were lots of rumours about Rees Davies. Google him now and you will find only reference to his ‘louche’ chambers. An odd choice of word, ‘louche’, signifying questionable morals. Further on you will find reference to a man who was described as garrulous, a maverick, a man about town. He had close contact with the criminal fraternity, too close some said, defending the indefensible. Yet he was a pillar of our establishment, a barrister and our MP for over thirty years, although many in the area were uncomfortable with him. The strange thing is that the public like characters and celebrities, often without substance, and you might have noted that the Mayor of Toronto, who is currently in the news, actually increased his ratings after confessing to taking crack cocaine. There was, however, at the time, a feeling that the men and women serving the country, however wealthy or eccentric, had been through the war and at least understood society. They had fought, suffered, known personal tragedy and generally came into politics to improve things. More importantly, many of them had experience outside of politics.

Posh boys

Posh boys

Now the perception is that we just have so-called ‘posh’ boys and political geeks leading our parties. While most of us were outside in the fresh air, they were becoming political careerists, research assistants and advisors, studying the small print, sat in committees in darkened rooms. Career politicians. Normal folk wouldn’t touch it, but it is nice work if you can exploit your contacts, make a fast buck from your information. Oppose any motion or anything that is not your initiative, no matter whether it will be successful or not and always ask a price. That’s the problem. Confrontational politics. The Thanet Standards Committee notes that, “the Council is held in low regard by the public … a local suspicion of secrecy, corruption … a siege mentality”. Listen boys and girls, it’s the same the world over now. Just read yesterday’s interview in one of the nationals with veteran actor Donald Sutherland (who plays President Snow in The Hunger Games – Catching Fire), wanting to see a youth-led uprising against injustice in the States. It’s always ever just about power and what people have done with it when given the opportunity. You’ve just drawn a particularly bad hand. In addition the standards in society have changed. No-one takes responsibility or seems to be accountable. No-one wants to resign, largely waiting for yet another contractual pay-out or an opportunity to sue.

Who are those guys?

Who are those guys?

That’s what has changed. We have a bullying culture in the NHS (finally spotted by parliament) and in the Civil Service. We have been screwed by the bankers, who in their turn had their accounts signed off by the giant accounting and auditing firms. Tax evasion has become a fine art and everywhere is being bought up by the Chinese or foreign developers, sometimes with money from dubious sources. On top of that many people now can’t afford to heat their homes and some argue that the lights might well go out in future years. And what do we get from our politicians in return? All too often we get grown men and women standing in chambers, national and local, shouting at each other, yah-boohing. Mac says that when he has had briefings from local council officials they will largely tell you the truth off the record, but when you ask them why they can’t challenge the garbage, they always say that dissension will cost them their jobs. There seems very little room for common sense. Using your discretion to change things that are clearly wrong seems to be ruthlessly punished and will get you fired. Just who is setting these rules, these standards? As Butch and Sundance said, “Who are those guys?”

So by all means call for a new beginning, maybe a new coalition to put the interests of the public and the area before party politics and self-interest. We would surely all follow a Birgitte if she emerged, wherever we lived. But get the culture right first.  Many of us who were brought up in the area and come back regularly to visit family or drink with  friends would love for the old place to be restored to part of its former glory. Some people are really trying to do that and that at least should be above party politics. Committing to high standards takes real leadership and re-training won’t work unless everyone embraces the principles of respect and integrity. Many residents may well be praying for a change of hart, (Editor’s note – we think this is a spelling error but too late to correct), but just  one small suggestion. If anyone really wishes to spread concord and unity between different parties, a new democracy, become the new Birgitte, then it is probably best not to refer to the ‘glory days’ of Margaret Thatcher. That’s just part of the tribal politics. If they persist with that line of argument, then they might need to learn from Harvey the art of being invisible in the high street. For many people Margaret Thatcher is one pooka too many.

One pooka too many

One pooka too many

Moving the goalposts

Mac said that the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, had posted a really amusing little poem recently. You may well have seen the ditty in your national newspaper, beginning with the words:


Goalpost-moving badgers

“Because the Badgers are moving the goalposts,

The Ferrets are bending the rules,

The Weasels are taking the hindmost,

The Otters are downing tools”

It continues quite charmingly through another eighteen animals, some twisting the facts, some losing the plot and some passing the blame. Sounds more and more familiar, every time he looks at it. It finishes with the Bustards. Well we all know who they are. Worth googling and reading more than once, although it turns out it’s inspired by this bedroom tax. Mac says he had no idea you could be taxed for having a bit of spare in the bedroom. Seems a little unnecessary as if any of the junior or indeed senior wives found out, taxidermy would be a more appropriate application.  By the way, Mrs Carty is still resisting the offer of becoming a junior wife, muttering that it’s exactly the sort of thing an oily git would get up to. She thought he’d be trying to stop her driving next. Mac incidentally had just begun excavating the garden looking for sources of new energy, maybe a fracking well, but has decided to stop digging. Well there’s always a first time.

Apparently the original phrase about badgers and goalposts was conjured up by that Owen Paterson, the Walter Gabriel of the countryside, providing the nation with light comic relief. He seems to know a fair bit about horses, wearing leather and fox hunting, so perhaps he’s on to something with this theory on football pitches. He obviously fills one of those unique traditional roles within his own village. When Mac was playing for the likes of Hartsdown Athletic or Thanet Hotspur at grounds like Garlinge Rec, he had also often wondered whether someone was moving the goalposts, other than the groundsmen of course. See, he’s always been rather short-sighted and most teams encouraged him to play at the back. Not sure why, because at least one of his extended family is buried in the next grave to George Best. There’ll always be a celestial kick-around somewhere in the skies above Belfast and probably a pint or two of George BestGuinness or perhaps Hobgoblin, to be topical. We draw the line at Bishop’s Finger. Peter Millsted, son of Mac’s eccentric Chatham House music teacher Harold, played for many years for Cheam Hockey Club and George would apparently slip in to drink quietly at their bar most weekends. Even when supposedly on the wagon. His in-laws lived just around the corner.

Harold Millsted belonged to the days before recycling and would roll his own with great ceremony, smoking the cigarettes down to the stub and then keeping all of the fag-ends. This he did religiously, keeping them in a small tobacco tin, probably Old Holborn, which was described as having a rich flavour with dark earthy notes. Very appropriate for a music master. Heaven knows what else he kept in his tin. He retired from the school shortly after a pompous new head arrived, who decided to ban the school song. Sadly most of the reprobates who meet quarterly in the Albion or up in town can still sing every damn word. “Here where the feet of Englishmen first trod the English soil, etc etc.”. Those were the days when there were lots of  fuzzy-wuzzy’s and they didn’t like it up ’em. Now they would probably be claiming for the whiplash injuries. At the very next assembly, Harold apparently waitedpiano hands at the piano until the new head paused for breath, struck up the opening chords of the old battle hymn and the whole school joined in, marching in strong battalions on the foe, seemingly the new head. Wonderful man, Harold, but he left shortly after.


Badger or beaver

To get back to the original tale, fullbacks were in those days not encouraged to cross the halfway line, unless needing to go to the toilet or slip off for a crafty puff. Mac always tried to get into the opposing box at least twice every game, but it appears that his finishing was always thought to be one of the reasons why he was a full back. Corner flags were regularly struck and broken. He had always wondered whether it was nothing to do with his shooting at all, but rather that indeed someone up there was moving the goalposts. Now he’s convinced it could have been the badgers. However his friend Andrew, who fancies himself as an ecologist, claims that there are very few badgers in Garlinge or indeed Thanet and it is more likely to have been beavers. Well he should know I suppose. If you look at the rather strange lists of animals and birds in the original Hall by the Sea, it was often a very unusual menagerie, so maybe some of the beavers mated and stayed in the area. It’s legal now anyway. Mac seems to remember the Cinque Ports pub having its fair share of beaver, including the barmaids. Obviously close to the water and six inches below sea level. In hindsight it might well have been an important historical beaver dam.

DreamlandThe Dreamland project is a wonderful and interesting challenge. Do you try to recreate a slightly smaller version of the original amusement park, charming and nostalgic, or do you look to newer forms of entertainment with games and simulation that could extend its usage all year round? A Dreamland can be whatever you want it to be. Mac said he had been flicking through the Dreamland Trust posts. He was glad to see that the team contained people who understood the industry and had been up to Blackpool just recently to talk to the professionals. Mac actually ran a two day creative session there when Geoffrey Thompson was alive and if they spent some time with the delightful David Cam, the Company Secretary, they will at least have come back with a full joke book. The giant Merlin team are probably worth a call as well, as the boys running it came up through Tussauds and were good guys as well. Not all of the folk in the industry are good guys.


A flying Tracey Emin bed?

Huge opportunity though for local association and sponsorship. Transeuropa will obviously want ownership of any ‘Wipeout’ ride and perhaps the neighbouring anchor tenant, Tesco, would be interested in a ‘Freefall’ attraction, given their current sales performance. The council will want to be involved in any ‘Hall of Mirrors’, where you can elude any scrutiny for days on end, or perhaps an  ‘Octopus’ ride. Plenty of spin there too. Not sure though if any of the political parties would want to co-operate in a ‘Tunnel of Love’, but they will all surely want to take their turn on “Muffin the Mule”, which is apparently one of the rides already purchased by the Trust. There’ll be quite a fight as to who gets to wear the ‘Mule’ costume.  Suggestions please on a postcard for sponsorship of other rides like ‘The Black Hole’, ‘The Whip’ or an ‘Oblivion’. Mac is also fairly sure there used to be a large pirate ship in Dreamland which swung lengthways. Why not replace that with a large flying Tracey Emin bed? A Vagina Monologue Flume?

Mac says he used to know a fair amount about the visitor attraction business and saw most of the larger concerns at close hand, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Some wonderful people with great passion, but not easy getting it right or keeping the numbers up.  There is some talk in the Dreamland archives that they may include a new menagerie in the restored park. That won’t be easy and may provoke some heated discussion. By the way, the original bills for the Hall by the Sea do claim amusingly that there was at least one badger on display in the cages. Mind you, whatever you decide about the involvement of animals, keep the Bustards well away. They just tend to images-2break the bank and the evidence is often as black and white as the badgers. Mac thinks that Owen, ‘me old pal, me old beauty’, might well have shot the wrong species and he’s probably not alone in that view. Still, he’s glad you’ve won your court case. Just don’t let anyone move those goalposts.

‘You Stupid Woman’

Throne room

Mac apologised for the brief hiatus, but had had problems getting out and about. To be more accurate, he had been trapped in the smallest room in the house for two days, under siege. He had  been watching re-runs of ‘Allo Allo’, admiring René’s domestic arrangements and then read in the nationals that some of our world leaders in long flowing robes have such a thing as junior wives. He unfortunately wondered aloud whether Mrs C might like to consider a similar position in the Carty household, but then was forced to beat a retreat to the only room with a lock on the door. More alarmingly he found himself without food or drink, but managed to sustain himself by resorting to the stack of surplus veterinary products he has been stockpiling in the medicine cabinet. He has been worried for some time about the quality of his social drinking (and his prostate), as he struggles now to keep pace with his fitter school and college friends when imbibing up in town or in the Albion. He just can’t take the volume any more and very quickly resorts to half-pints. He then noticed this Arabic website in Newmarket offering performance enhancing drugs cheap and he thought that it might at least strengthen his pastern and fetlocks and tighten up his withers. His wife has now relented, but has taken the precaution of entering him for the Grand National.


Officer Crabtree

Mac says he had noticed a recent comment about blog fatigue by one of the regular high-flying contributors. As he does quite a lot of work on disability as a volunteer, he sympathised. Then it turned out that the guy had apparently just spent a few days in the Ukraine over Kev. No wonder he’s tired. (Editor’s note – this is either a mis-spelling or Mac is getting his Thanet blogs mixed up). The unexploded Second World War bomb at the Ramsgate station also attracted his attention. He guesses Officer Crabtree would have called it an unexploded ‘bum’, if you ever watched ‘Allo ‘Allo, Britain’s 13th best sitcom. David Croft, who had also co-written Dad’s Army of course, went on to co-write epics like ‘Are You Being Served’ and ‘Hi de Hi’. Croft apparently had once been a Redcoat somewhere in the region of Gladys Pugh, but never came anywhere near the Butlins’ sites in Margate. Thank goodness it wasn’t the bomb in the Gateau from the Chateau, from the plot to kill General Klinkerhoffen.

MT. 154. Bathers c1920

Mick Twyman’s bathers

Listen very carefully, we shall say zis only once. The Thanet Coastlife website is also one put together with a great amount of passion – and we’re not talking about fallen madonnas here. Mac ploughed through the Mick Twyman shots of the seaside bathers and revellers, with the men in their suits and the women vastly over-dressed. Wonderful stuff. Reminded him of his grandparents, but probably just too early for them as they both came separately to town in 1913. One opened a grocer’s shop, but Mac is fairly sure that Officer Crabtree never made it to Coffin House Corner. P C Dixon did call in on the shop regularly, on his way back from the film studios in the 1950’s and 60’s, Jack Warner living in Broadstairs. Evening all. The shop’s gone now, with its coffin style design, apparently built by a grieving father, yet it was always a bit of a landmark. There were always the odd car accidents at the crossways, but fortunately never far to drag the bodies. There’s an interesting photo in the Margate archives of the old shop, surrounded by the mourners who attended Lord Sanger’s funeral. Must have been hundreds of them on the day.

Mac says he does have shots of 1930’s Margate and Westbrook bathers in the family albums, but all appropriately dressed. If you think that in the very early days when sea-bathing became a fashion, some of the bathers might have very few clothes on, you get a feeling of how the Victorians influenced the whole moral climate and drove the agenda. The religions were only too keen to put a veil over all sorts of things and would have had no truck with fallen madonnas or any sorts of boobies. Isn’t it always the same? It is I, LeCleric. By the 1860’s Margate certainly had by-laws against nude bathing, yet there is still a comment in the 1876 Keble’s Gazette of women and single girls standing on the Margate cliffs looking at the naked men. Some even had opera glasses. It must have been ‘ze flashing knobs’ that attracted them.


Gladstone’s donkey ride

Mac bets that when both Gladstone and Disraeli separately visited Margate that there was none of that. They would have worn their best clothes for a donkey ride or a stroll across the sands. Gladstone was known to regularly walk home from his local stations after a session at the House of Commons, so it would have been an easier task for him. Depending on his residence at the time, it could be between six to twelve miles from the railway station to his house. Perhaps a few of our local MP’s might like to emulate him. Would certainly keep the generous expenses in check and might even help with the tendency to obesity, which inevitably comes from sitting for long periods and the good lunches. None of the old René Artois cafe nonsense for them.  Gladstone did, by the way, spend one extended family holiday in Thanet in 1854 but never returned again except for fleeting visits. I suppose he might have been tempted whilst bathing to have given his famous ‘Gladstone’ bag an airing.  One of his early girl friends is said to have exclaimed, “Mama, I cannot marry a man who carries his bag like that”. Enough said. But she apparently was a Farquhar, silly one by all accounts.


“You stupid woman”

The English airmen in ‘Allo Allo’, Fairfax and Carstairs, were also always shown as brave but clueless. Is it an upper class tradition? Well Jeremy Lloyd, the other writer on ‘Allo Allo’, was famous for portraying public school idiots. He would have had it off to a tee and probably did, judging by his playboy image. Then again, it is party conference time and our screens are full of possible comparisons. And what about poor old René? Whenever he was caught red-handed holding the knockwurst, he would invariably turn to Edith and shrug, “You stupid woman”. At least he never called her a slut. Not sure Mrs C would countenance any of that anyway, she’s only just got over the bit about becoming a junior wife. Perhaps the size of René’s sausage might give her some encouragement. Probably related to anabolic steroids in the horsemeat anyway, supplied illegally by Herr Flick, but you just hope these racehorse trainers aren’t all at it. Is the system long overdue for a sheikh-up, or realistically is it no “good moaning”? Where’s John McCririck when you need him?

You stupid boy

Ramsgate Volunteers

The Ramsgate Volunteer

Mac said how much he had enjoyed the recent post by the Ramsgate Historical Society about ‘The Ramsgate Volunteer’, edited by J P Kelleher. This was a wonderful mine of information about the local militia, which were first organised to defend the coastline against the threat of Napoleon and the French. Many of the names of the volunteers seemed familiar – Bing, Sackett, Mockett, for example. At least two of those were strong sporting families in the area when Mac grew up (Editor’s note – the term ‘grew up’ is subjective and might be challenged), so maybe have been there for generations. If you scrolled down the information, you found that by 1887 the militia had become the 1st Volunteer Battalion The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) and seven years later a Cadet Corps was even attached from Chatham House College. By then the last two Colonels had been from the Knocker family, so you can only imagine that the schoolboys were motivated to join by the reputation of the Knockers. Would have been the same in Mac’s day. Mac’s friend, Andrew, who actually taught at Chatham House as well as being a student, always used to fall about when acting in the school play, at the thought that a titter could run round the audience. Mac says he never quite understood the joke.


Don’t tell him, Pike

Most of the contemporary reports talked about the quality of the volunteers and their commanders and how ready the local men were to leap to the defence of their country. Initially all the companies were issued with pikes, so it was only a sad leap of imagination before Mac moved on to the subject of pikes and Dad’s Army. Of course, Captain Mainwaring’s, “Don’t tell him, Pike” was once said to be the funniest line in television comedy, but probably a little bland for today’s audiences. Do you remember the fuss at the end of last year, when it was announced that they were planning a remake of Dad’s Army? A woman was going to be in charge of the platoon and that Miranda was in the frame for the role of the Captain. That must be why the Intelligence Services detained her. Can you imagine a woman in charge of a seaside mission? The likes of Private Joe Walker and his developer friends would run rings round her. All those underhand deals. Could never happen, could it? By the way, if that Tom Ellis did hold Miranda for ten hours, he must be the most perfectly ruptured man in the country.  Not sure he’ll be able to get up the stairs in the new series of ‘Downton Abbey’ now.

They don't like it up 'em

They don’t like it up ’em

The Ramsgate piece was terrific, but Mac was a little cynical about the descriptions of the morale of the local volunteers, as described by their commanders. Leaders recruited naturally from the local aristocracy and the public schools. What was it Corporal Private Jones used to say? “They don’t like it up ’em”. Not sure you got that right, Jonesy. The joke, as you will well know, was that Captain Mainwaring was the grammar school boy, whilst Sergeant Wilson (the wonderful John Le Mesurier, who himself lived in Ramsgate) was the public schoolboy. However you get a much more accurate picture of the calibre of the local volunteers when you move on to the Sea Fencibles, also covered in the piece. They were founded in early 1798 as an anti-flotilla force from local watermen, fishermen and oystermen. Probably some deck-chair sellers and pedalo attendants amongst them. You learn more when Nelson himself was asked to command the south coast defences in 1801. He had up to eighty small craft at his disposal and was stationed for a while in the ‘Medusa’, directly off Margate. However Nelson steadfastly remained on board, except for one excursion to Deal, much to the disappointment of the local bigwigs.

British bulldog

So much for the British Bulldog

The reports of the Sea Fencibles show that they were tardy at turning out for training and reluctant to serve, despite all of Nelson’s encouragement and his reputation. They didn’t seem to realise that “they were all doomed”, if Boney ever crossed the Channel. These really were some sort of Dad’s Army. In one small ship, ‘L’Unite’, it was said that twelve had wooden legs; eight had ruptures and could not pull on ropes; and most were old and infirm. Indeed Nelson told St Vincent that only 385 of a possible 2,600 volunteers would serve offshore. Of those that agreed to serve, nearly all refused to serve for more than two days at a time. So much for the British Bulldog and Mac thought that was much more realistic than the glowing reports about the Army volunteers submitted by their commanders. You can only be grateful that Napoleon and his ruddy hooligans eventually decided to turn their attention to the Russians.

Lady Hamilton

Emma Hamilton

Lord Nelson

Lord Nelson

Mac wondered if his hero, Thomas Paine, would have enjoyed “Dad’s Army”. Having spent an unhappy time in Margate after his wife died in 1760, he might not have laughed at a comedy based on a Kent seaside resort. Or he might have concluded that nothing ever really changes and that we have always been governed by comedians. Much of Dad’s Army was also filmed in Thetford where Paine was born, so perhaps that would have been an attraction. By the way, in 1801 he was still in France, at least released from the Bastille death cell, but thoroughly disillusioned with Napoleon. Always a patriot, but a fierce critic of the Establishment, he was horrified at the thought of a French invasion of England and would have supported Nelson’s efforts. Nelson’s femme fatale, Emma Hamilton, was interestingly a regular visitor to Margate with her young daughter Horatia and in fact took her last holiday with Sir William Hamilton there just before he died. She bathed in the sea, took the ‘health-giving’ seawater and probably swallowed a great deal, so rumour has it. Amusingly Sir William was said to be missing his fishing back home and complained bitterly all the time they were there. Mind you, in 1801 Nelson had put in a strongly worded report from the ‘Medusa’ about the condition of the sick quarters at Margate, the quality of the local beer and the lack of bunting. Not sure what the local council was up to in those days. Perhaps there has always been some sort of dreamland they inhabit. Emma must have just come for the beaches – the nine miles of golden sands – and not for the quality of the local conveniences. Incidentally we do not know whether Nelson’s real wife ever visited Margate. There are no reports of Fanny being sighted in Thanet at all. Very different from the halcyon days of the 1960’s, so “don’t panic”.

It’s Bedlam out there!


Miranda held for 9 hours

Mac said he was struggling to write anything in the last few days, because he was still in shock at the arrest of Miranda. He couldn’t understand why the Intelligence Services (surely that contravenes the Trade Descriptions Act?) held her for nine hours. Mac has watched most of her programmes on the BBC and thought that she was actually quite funny. Why anyone would send in men with hammers to destroy the computer hard discs in her Joke Shop cellar beggars belief. Her comedy surely isn’t that bad. Holding her for all that time must also put a bit of a strain on the men involved too, cos she’s a large lass and tends to fall over quite a lot, breaking the furniture. She’s very well connected too, with loads of aristocrats and admirals in the family, so you would have thought that young Cameron would have been at Eton with them all. Well certainly the rear admirals. Maybe the effects of the cannabis he took there are longer lasting than we thought. Mind you it was probably that nasty Maggie May. Wake up, Maggie.

Larkin poe

Larkin Poe were a highlight

Talking of folk songs, didn’t the Broadstairs Folk Festival go well? Well, apart from the low life morons who put glass in the children’s play area. Mac spent three days there and enjoyed every minute. Larkin Poe were the highlight for him, two young American sisters who were simply terrific, but all of the acts were good. The costumes of the Morris Dancers were so colourful and contrasting, tatter jackets et al, and clearly put together with love, passion and presumably a fair amount of alcohol.  He didn’t see enough Loose Women for his liking, but there were Kent Korkers, Brooms, Bricks and Bowlers, and Wild Hunt Bedlamers to  ease the pain. Mac tried to look everything up, but then got confused between the Border and Cotswold styles, the Mollys and the North West Cloggers. We used to play football like that, because it was always easier to kick the man than the heavy leather ball we all used. ‘Clogging’ is good.


Happy memories

His friend John was going to drive him round the town in the Popemobile, but actually you needed to be on foot to enjoy the atmosphere. Good to see all the people on the sands, and the beach huts being used. Mac’s family had a beach hut down on Westbrook Sands during the 60’s and 70’s so it brought back happy memories. The Albion beer garden was a good base for the third day, with its wonderful views across the bay – until the band started up. Mac had been joined by a collection of very old school friends from Chatham House and one or two of them are a bit deaf now. One is actually a Mayor somewhere in East Sussex and had travelled to Broadstairs hoping for a free drink or a food bag.  We had hoped he might have brought some of the mayoral funds with him, as he could have argued he was beginning some form of new twinning relationship with St Peters, but nil desperandum. Anyway let’s hope they can recover the mayoral chain from the pawn shop at the end of his term. Mac also enjoyed Sunday lunch down in the harbour and he was convinced he saw one of those feisty female Guardian journalists at a neighbouring table. She writes some cracking prose. He wasn’t at all sure it was her but then she ordered the men’s testicles for a starter. Mac says he just had the pint of prawns. Very nice though.

A fertility rite..?

The original Morris Dance was, of course, thought to be based on some sort of circle dance around a female figure. Some think it a fertility rite, some an assertion of the ancient religions, others as some form of satirical protest against the national and local ruling dynasties and councils. It was the only form of protest ordinary folk could get away with. Strange though how so little changes with time.  Juvenal, the Roman poet, wrote a number of satires lamenting the value systems and morality of those who seek to govern us. He wrote scathingly of liars and crooks, and much about avarice. His very first satire claimed that since the dawn of history, greed and fiscal corruption have never been worse – so you could argue that Rome was no different to the present day. And you thought we were just unlucky with our current crop of great men and women.  Look more closely at the Morris troupes and you will see that many have a squire or leader, most have a bagman and there are always one or more fools. Surely that tradition could no longer be based on our local councils today? Thank goodness. Mind you, it’s a good idea to follow the bagman. See who benefits directly or indirectly from the financial dealings. See who joins the boards of the companies who have been granted the contracts. Sadly, integrity and probity are all too often trumped by cronyism and avarice. Mac went to images-4college with a guy whose sole ambition was to become an MP and he quickly succeeded. Became a Junior Minister. Still at least Attila the Hun had some company on the backbenches. You always hoped that as in the old films, justice would prevail ‘when the boat comes in’, but often by then the money has disappeared ‘over the hills and far away’.


Wild Hunt Bedlam

The Wild Hunt Bedlam troupe may look scary but at least they are inspired by great legends and traditional values. A simpler time when mostly a man’s word was his bond. Mind you, you could be hanged for just stealing a loaf.  The authorities could lock you up for hours on end with no rights at all. Thank goodness for Magna Carta. Tony Hancock’s wonderful aside, “Did she die in vain” is suddenly topical again. Now it is less bells, whistles and big sticks and much more a case of smoke and mirrors. Maybe that’s why they raided the Joke Shop. All in the cause of power and control. Madness. Don’t think Robert Owen was ever a Morris Dancer but he did know a thing or two about madness and Bedlam. As he rightly said, “All the world is queer save thee and me, and even thou art a little queer.” Or as Miranda succinctly put it, “Is it just me?” Hope they leave her alone in future or they’ll have that Patricia Hodge on their tail. OMG.

The Loveliest Skies in Europe

darinbobby“Every night I hope and pray, a dream liner will come my way”

Do you remember Bobby Darin? His real name was Walden Cassotto, from the Bronx, and he died tragically early from a heart condition almost forty years ago come December. As a successful song-writer, singer and actor he lit up our lives briefly in the 1960’s. I never knew that he was with Robert Kennedy when he was assassinated, or that he was the mentor of Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Mac says he played with a few sporting McGinns in his time in Thanet, but not sure they could ever hold a tune. A pint maybe or a young lady. ‘Dream Lover’ actually hit the number one spot in 1959, if there is anyone still alive who remembers those heady days.


Fly through the air with Pleasurama?

Aeroplanes have been much in the news locally this summer. Air shows and traffic delays; BA training flights with 787 Dreamliners and A380 Airbuses; Manston trying to regenerate again. Before they built across the Garlinge allotments at the back of Goodban’s yard, you could just about see the airfield in the distance. The Americans had a base out there for a long time after the war and the All Saints church choir sang carols there a couple of times. Mac says he and his brother were rewarded with their first iconic bottles of Coca Cola and a burger each for their efforts, sadly not “If I were a Carpenter”, but more on the lines of “Ding Dong merrily on high”. Thanet even seems to have its own Biggles, flying merrily through the clouds and blogging the results. Maybe the business could support a sky diving venture, inviting holiday makers to plummet downwards through the loveliest skies in Europe. Pleasurama sky diving, eight miles high naturally, amongst the byrds. Fly through the air with Pleasurama and it is as if time stands still and nothing has ever happened. The brown envelopes stuffed down the seat in front of you are merely for travel sickness, just in case. If you wanted to match the Mary Portas initiative in the Margate chocolate willy shop, then perhaps give people a choice before pulling the ripcord. Fly with the Pleasurama sky diving team to complete your perfect dirty weekend.  Jump by yourself or be tossed off, by our specially trained crew. Well every little helps when you’re looking to publicise the recovery. Maybe Tesco would be the sponsors – their sales have been heading downwards for some time.

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Boris’s airport plans taking off?

More seriously, are JW Turner’s skies at risk now from the various airport schemes which guys like Boris Johnson throw out in such cavalier fashion? Yet back in 2012 the Air Traffic Chief Executive,  Richard Deakin, described the Thames Estuary schemes as,  “the very worst spot you could put an airport”.  He added rather amusingly, “we’re a little surprised that none of the architects thought it worthwhile to have a little chat”. Yet here we are again, still discussing the schemes and looking at potential flightpaths and their impact on people, wildlife and the environment. These are highly paid professionals. How often have we been told by assorted experts and consultants that if we don’t pay exorbitant sums of money we will not get the correct calibre of people to run our large corporations? So salaries escalated and the pay differentials soared. Performance schemes were required so that people were encouraged to do what most of us would consider a normal day’s work. What a joke. Wherever you look, hospital trusts, councils, government departments, we find the equivalent of the ‘knobhead’ world in the Premier League. Largely average players grossly over-paid. We are now paying a heavy price.  For example, look at the salary structure in the Kent County Council. How on earth did we allow this to happen?

EinsteinAlbert Einstein once memorably said, “not everything that can be counted, counts; and not everything that counts, can be counted”. Try telling that to accountants, who seem to dominate many of the senior positions in the business world. Most are normally pretty sound at holding the money (there are always exceptions) and cutting costs, but very few are at all entrepreneurial. Harvard some twenty years back did a serious piece of work on business ventures. They discovered that there was little difference between those who researched their projects and did test markets and those who just pushed on, changing and amending projects as they went, learning on their feet. Uncle AlbertAccountants like to know the outcomes before they invest, they are loath to take risks. Sometimes you need to be out there smelling the coffee to spot the opportunities. Politicians are not much better, unless they can sense a good sound bite, as much of their world is about image and perception. The world is sadly full of the other type of Uncle Albert and you wonder whether we are the real fools and horses.


…or should that be ‘a tragedy as a poet’?

By the way, Mac has now finished reading the entire works of McGonagall, the world’s worst poet, many of whose poems are about disasters. You may recall he mentioned the poet in an earlier blog so you should get the spelling right. William Topaz McGonagall, to be precise. ‘A Tale of the Sea’ is as awful as the rest and describes a tragedy where the survivors in a small boat turn on each other. These were not ferrymen though but fishermen. Men just trying to earn a living, not casting around for someone to blame. Strange how most council websites now contain the tagline, “What ward am I in?” Might be better to replace that with the words, “What planet am I on?” By the way, if you are ever tempted to pick up any of McGonagall’s works for holiday reading, you would do better to beat yourself over the head with a jar of Keiller Dundee marmalade. ‘Mack the Knife’ was fortunately not one of William’s compositions, but actually one of Bobby Darin’s greatest hits, written of course for the opera. However if you really want to read a book over the summer about how government has traditionally worked, then  Brecht’s ‘The Threepenny novel’ always amuses. For the record, Macheath had no connection to our own Edward Heath, who used often to be found in the Tartar Frigate at weekends. Now if ever he was a fan of Bobby Darin, it could have only been for ‘Beyond the Sea’. A dream lover and a girl to hold in my arms never ever seemed to feature in his repertoire. If your shoulders are continually shaking, as his uniquely seemed to do, a dream lover would quickly be ‘all shook up’. But that’s a different story.