A New Hall by the Sea


Jack Cohen grabbing his customers with a bargain

Mac was concerned that the publication of “The Vagaries of Swing”, which partly concerned the sad death of a young girl in Dane Park, might have triggered a spate of incidents where people were grabbed by the throat. He thought he’d seen something similar in the news about someone called Nutella, but we think he’s got that wrong. Mind you, it’s not just confined to the lower orders you know. Indeed many years ago Jack Cohen, the founder of Tesco, apparently had young Ian MacLaurin by the throat after a board meeting. Unlike Mac’s friend Brian, who had correctly researched the badge for Thanet Crusaders FC (red cross on white), Ian had voted for some sort of Green Shield in his quest to unhorse Lord John Sainsbury and the sprawling Cooperative Society, the two top retailers. Ian not only successfully fought off Jack but went on to slay both dragons, an event commemorated by a special green shield stamp which many people collected. Thus began Tesco’s long march to the top, foiled only in France (they could never handle the perfidious French) and latterly in the States. There is no dispute that supermarkets have brought convenience, choice and variety to consumers and forced food prices down. In addition if you are going to have an anchor tenant to drive footfall then Tesco is a strong one. They will be open all year round and they are a first class operator. But there is always a price to be paid and very few people really understand the quantum mechanics of supermarket retailing unless they have seen it at first hand.


Donkey rides in the car park?

So now Tesco are massing their big guns on the Margate Sands, although to glance at the structures still standing, you might have thought that a few thunderflashes had already been let off. Mac said he once knew a bit about supermarkets so he had a few suggestions about that 82,000 square feet superstore planned for the Margate seafront. Well, he did grow up in the old town and every little helps. He thought that Mary P might like to return with those Channel Four gag writers (or was it gagging writers?) and help the new venture blend in with the environment. Splash a bit of paint around and inspire the old Dreamland seaside magic and theming that the other Lord John began. You know the sort of thing. Donkey rides from the carpark or perhaps a little Ghost Train ferrying punters to and fro; off your trolley races down a small Scenic Railway; scan your loyalty card and get a free candy floss; install a Cliffhanger ride at the entrance and do a Max Miller on a purpose-built cafe clifftop path. Just remember, never block anyone’s passage – not when Mac is pushing the trolley. The staff  could also all dress up in the summer in kiss-me-quick hats and Baywatch gear, each check-out being designed as a small Tunnel of Love. They might even be allowed to help customers pack their goods away – that would be a novelty.

What supermarkets do really well is to manage to turn over much of their stock weekly or two weekly and then take six to eight weeks to pay their suppliers. This makes them an enormous cash generating machine so we could have banks of one armed bandits in the new seaside store just for fun, but also to give customers a flavour of the negotiations that go on at head office. An education and definitely a lottery. Then they could have internal structures based on the Hall of Mirrors where the Buying, Marketing and Accounts teams all work disfunctionally and money that is owed is regularly delayed or refused. This means that at the end of each year there is a large amount of money legitimately owed to suppliers which the supermarkets claim is in dispute, that then becomes part of a separate negotiation. It really does make  the supermarket environment a cheery experience. Quite a roller coaster ride.

London Dungeon

Supermarket negotiation equipment

In addition, what they do brilliantly could be illustrated by one of those London dungeon experiences, where you sit in a metal chair with bands around your head and they keep turning the screws. Most companies will take two to three years to pay back on innovation so the supermarkets really help here by stealing any new ideas and then producing their own label versions. They are better even than the Chinese at this sort of subterfuge and any complaining means that you can just get limbs lopped off or sent down to some form of inquisition where your contract gets terminated. Imagine that you have just invented a new type of chocolate willie, maybe one with a vibrating stick. You have worked out exactly where your new product will fit (suggestions on a postcard) and how much money you need to make to cover the costs of the research you did on achieving good vibrations (tested on some beachboys) and to payback on the new machinery required. The supermarket you try and sell it to immediately asks for an own label version. If you refuse, then the minute you’re gone (cue for a song), they’ll ask their engineers and chemists to analyse it and ask some low cost manufacturer to produce something similar. Whichever way you go, they have effectively reduced your market potential and future profitability  You are essentially buggered, but perhaps that’s chocolate willies for you. Companies thus tend to either move factories to lower cost countries or just opt for short term development in order to stay in business and compete. There is innovation, but the suppliers bear nearly all the risk. All the fun of the fair.


Dane Park – scene of the tragedy

We wondered if this wasn’t all pretty boring to our readers, so we tried to get Mac back on track by asking him about the girl who was murdered in Dane Park. He changed the name of the girl as there might still be folk around or relatives who remembered her. She was just a kid who fell into bad company and chose the wrong companion to walk her home. Mac thought on reading all of the witness statements that she deserved a better press as everything at the time focused on the drugs. The group introduced her to the tablets, one of them took advantage and then you have the classic “will you still love me tomorrow” scene. Tragic when you are just sixteen. The guy in the park broke her jaw before he strangled her and if you read the book you will realise that it wasn’t a casual movement. Even if you can put your hands around someone’s throat with impunity these days,  you have to hold on for some time if the ‘bounce back reflexes’  aren’t to kick in. That’s quite a critical point. The Isle of Thanet Gazette actually devoted quite a few pages to the trial back in 1965  but in the nationals the case was over-shadowed by the revelations about Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.


The panel of experts

We did ask about the ‘Big Bang’ results and Mac had actually convened a panel of experts at the Fayreness in Kingsgate Bay this week, including one from Belgium and one from Estonia. Sadly the group had misunderstood the request and reminisced about having student jobs in Margate on the buses, the deckchairs and the pedaloes – all of our young people could get seasonal jobs back then. Then they began to relate their brief encounters (Trevor Howard was born in Margate) with the ladies but Mac said he had to stop them as they seemed to have an Encyclopedia Britannica of encounters and the pub was wanting to close. Mac tried to pull them back to rapid expansion, cosmic microwaves and huge explosions and all he got from one of them was a tattered copy of a recent Defence Posture Review. Now two of these old boys had played international hockey, one at left half and one at right half (different countries though) so he thought they would know a thing or two about defence. Turned out it was about nuclear deterrence and NATO. Completely the wrong sort of ‘Big Bang’. Mac said that after five pints of Spitfire, he wasn’t having anyone reviewing his posture so he caught the train home. Mind you, if you are wondering what we should do with our tridents, there’s a few world leaders who deserve a sharp upward thrust. To be continued. Obviously.


There’s always the demon drink!

This is the third post concerning the book “The Vagaries of Swing”, treading gently where Lord Chancellor Edward Thurlow’s curling surges once faltered and were absorbed into the golden sands. Nine miles worth mush, as Tony Hancock would have said, better than sitting uncomfortably on those bloody awful Brighton pebbles. Stone me, call that a beach? One of Germoloid’s best sales areas, that part of the Sussex coast, and probably not the best site for a chocolate willie shop, despite appearances. Margate Sands rule! Mac was still reluctant to be drawn into comments on local politics as his own council leaves a lot to be desired, but coincidentally he has been reading about a certain McGonagall, often acclaimed as the ‘world’s worst poet’. William Topez McGonagall, to be correct, the author of “The Tay Bridge Disaster”, “The Demon Drink” and “The Collision in the English Channel”. He was wondering whether the collision might have caused the problem with those Transeuropa ferries and perhaps they might be able to recover the money the council have lost when the tide goes out. He and his friend Brian had unearthed a horde of lost pennies down by Walpole Bay when they were ship-spotting – it’s the bit in the book just before Mac meets King Ethelbert – so nil desperandum, you Thanet taxpayers. You can always trust an accountant, so get those buckets and spades out and head down to the beach.

Billy Butlin comes to Margate


Margate cricket pavilion – may have seen better days


Sir William Heygate Edmund Colborne Butlin

Moving on, one of the other interesting facts to emerge from the publication of the book was the observation from the Chairman of the present Margate Cricket Club, who now play down at Tivoli Meadow, that Sir Billy Butlin had once been President of the Club. Chris Carter told Mac that they had a scorecard from the early 1960’s which showed this to be a fact. Mac says he has spoken to a number of old cricketers who had played for the club or were in the area and none of them can remember him being involved. However, apart from buying the hotels in Cliftonville, Billy was based at Sandgate when serving with the Canadian Army in the First World War, so may well have come over to Margate and formed an attraction in his spare time. If you ever had leave, why on earth would you want to spend time in Folkestone? He must also have come to Cliftonville occasionally in the late 50’s and early 60’s to visit his hotels and maybe the fact that Margate played at Dane Park attracted his attention. Billy had coincidentally lived at Dane Court in Hampstead for a while before moving to Grosvenor Square in 1951 so maybe felt an affinity. Margate Cricket Club was a strong side in those days with the likes of John Anscomb. One of Tommy Thomas’ old school friends, John, reminisced after reading the book about the crowds gathered around the slopes of Dane Park, sitting in deckchairs watching the cricket. On a Sunday the elegant park was packed. He also remembered encouraging a young girl to explore the bushes with him on a Sunday afternoon so again I guess nothing changes, although apparently she did wear stays. Leslie Wheeler, the band leader, whose young son Robert played for them in the late 60’s, was the President that they all remembered but if anyone can shed light on Billy’s brief involvement then please feel free.

A case of Billy-do


Chatham House School

The Billy that Mac mentioned was of course the very honourable Rees Davies, who served Thanet as its MP for over twenty one years. The problem with having a colourful character as your MP was that no matter what they did or what the rumours were, you could never get rid of them and Thanet was always such a strong Conservative area. You were effectively untouchable. Rees Davies liked to make an impression in and out of the courtroom and apparently had some interesting friends socially. He did go to Chatham House school to participate in their ‘mock Election days’ and all of the three candidates made speeches, but none made much of an impression when Mac was there. Surprising that, because Billy clearly could perform when he had to and there is an apocryphal story of a high court judge who had become irritated by his continual grand-standing. In mid-flow during the closing defence statement, the client in the dock had passed him a hand-written note which Billy opened ostentatiously with his one arm. “May I read out this billet doux” he asked the judge, who is said to have replied, “Mr Rees Davies, treat it as a billy don’t”. There is a film coming out soon covering the Profumo affair which he obviously got wind of, but whether it will shed light on his involvement, other than as a whistle-blower, remains to be seen. Hopefully it will give Stephen Ward a better posthumous press as the establishment effectively dumped on him. Plus ça change. Ward, if you are interested, went to Caius College, Cambridge in his youth, well before Stephen Hawking discovered that dark holes emit radiation. Not as much radiation as Christine Keeler emitted. One of Tracey Emin’s works is called ‘There’s a lot of money in chairs’ and particularly if Christine’s naked torso had been sat on it.

Big bang experiments


Professor Stephen Hawking

You will be pleased to know that the Big Bang experiments in the back garden have gone to plan, but may well have read recently of the detection by the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) of dark matter, more specifically the particle neutralino which barely ever interacts with ordinary matter. Mac says he has friends like that, one or two in Thanet. He is not really sure whether his readers (or reader) understand theoretical physics – he just never bothered to take the examinations – but he believes that Stephen Hawking may have been inspired by Mac’s metallurgist college friend, who once starred for Margate Cricket Club. He had learnt to save electricity by lighting his own methane and would retire to his college bedroom backwards using the blue flame for illumination. Brilliant really, until he set light to the duvet and then it took all sorts of quantum mechanics to douse the flames. Black holes everywhere, which may have started young Hawking off. Mac is quite adamant that the new AMS system will actually show part of the dark matter to be fragments of Kookaburra (the cricket ball, not the kingfisher). The Big Bang may well have been created by the ball hitting the Great Creator’s coal bunker in his own back garden with such force as to cause an enormous explosion. GC, as we humans know him, had a pretty lethal forward drive when practising. The conclusive proof that Mac was seeking though has had to be delayed for a further two weeks with the news that the Hadron Collider will shortly be replaced with the International Linear Collider. The Klingon, Worf, who he revealed had piloted the first prototype Hadron Collider, will doubtless be very disappointed. We will investigate.

Margate’s answer to the food of the Gods

This is the second post concerning the book “The Vagaries of Swing”, treading delicately in the footprints on the Margate sands of time. It has been somewhat of a struggle to elicit further explanation of Mac Carty’s sources from 1965 as he remains elusive and often grumpy. We did try to draw him on the more contemporary topic of Mary Portas and her recent Channel Four documentary about revitalising the old town but he felt it better to keep his own counsel. He did mutter something about seeing Mary on television dancing with a man who sold chocolate willies from a shop very close to the Ruby Lounge.Mary Portas kiss me quick

It was never made clear whether the attraction was the retailing opportunity or the chocolate willies and felt that if the latter, she would have got on famously with his old Guyanan cricketing friend Mike. Although a very fine Margate cricketer, Mike though was never much of a dancer, apparently preferring some form of horizontal activity, maybe an early form of Caribbean break-dancing, probably accompanied on some form of squeezebox. Do you remember The Who’s 1975 Album and Squeeze Box? Of course, The Who play a key role in the book with their links to music, drugs and the Mods movement but we can’t explain.  To return to Mary, if a Mars Bar can help you work, rest and play, then maybe chocolate willies are the new energy food. Might be a useful challenge for some of those Apprentice candidates to market with the right packaging. Mind you, not sure Mary’s dancing partner stocked anything to do with bottoms as they would probably be more appropriate. Mary was very keen in the show to promote a local publication called Thanet Watch and in their June edition they talk about Margate retailers being asked to sign gagging orders. That’s what too many chocolate willies do for you.

Thanet – inspired by a Goddess?

t2We were intrigued by the references on Page 113 of the book to the Phoenician Goddess Tanit which Mac claims was the inspiration for the name Isle of Thanet. You may know that Tanit was a Punic Goddess although he thought that might be a mis-spelling. Mac had lunched some four weeks back at the Fayreness Hotel at Kingsgate with three old cricketers, one of whom was in his nineties, but none of them remembered her or indeed had ever been to Phoenix. All of them though had read the book and thought that they had met girls like her in Dreamland, particularly the ‘free on point of delivery’ bit. Many of the girls in the town seemed to be goddesses after six pints of Double Diamond, although its advertising claim to ‘work wonders’ did not seem to be reflected in any contemporary performance. Of course, Heineken and its ‘refreshes the parts that other beers cannot reach’ were well in the future. Mac said that he had just returned from a holiday with a group of very old college friends and he guessed any talk of alcohol ‘working wonders’ or ‘refreshing’ would just be met with hilarity. It would be more a case of a ‘resurrection shuffle’. Mind you he had been in so many Italian churches that he was all frescoed out with resurrection images. Nice money earner for the priests though as it certainly drew the crowds.

Padstow, polenta and Padua

The holiday, as you ask, was initially a little disappointing as he had thought that the villa they had booked was in Padstow. He didn’t think anything of the plane at Gatwick flying out to Venice as he guessed that it was a Ryanair flight and that Venice was the nearest airport they could find to Newquay. Then he realised that the toilets were free so it couldn’t be Ryanair.


Padua and polenta

Turned out the villa was actually in Padua, in a magnificent old place owned by one of the ancient Italian families. All those years spent learning English at Chatham House from the wonderful and eccentric Mr Boniface and he never once mentioned that he had Italian relatives (San Bonifacio). Mind you once the dust had settled (and there was a fair amount of dust) everything went splendidly, apart that is from the polenta. In the restaurants he managed to slip large quantities into his suitcase and is now busy replastering the kitchen with it.  To return to Padstow, you may recall that on Boxing Day it is a tradition for some residents to don blackface and parade through the town singing minstrel songs, an ancient midwinter celebration. This would have been a more appropriate holiday for Mac as the book does fondly recall those exciting times in 1965 singing along with the Black and White Minstrels and ‘paddlin Madeline home’.

Next time…

There will be another post in two weeks time when we will try to get Mac to explain his theory about the Big Bang, but he needs some time to do a couple of experiments in the back garden. Incidentally he was very pleased to get a reply this week from that nice Mr Lineker. You know that young lad who advertises all those crisps and apparently played a bit of football in his time. He’s mentioned in the book and Mac had asked him if he had an opinion on the Higgs Boson principle. Gary would have known and maybe played cricket against Ken Higgs in Leicestershire as he was a useful cricketer himself and has played a few club games in Kent. Mac initially had hoped that it was an invitation to take over from Roy Hodgson because before this week’s result against Brazil he had been championing a new tactical approach to win the World Cup where England field 32 players, ten of whom would play in goal. He was sure that Mr Blatter would agree and had actually gone so far as writing his name on the envelope he was planning to send. Fortunately he hadn’t yet got the postal order so no damage done. By the way Mr Blatter to our knowledge has never been to Margate. Closest ‘The Vagaries of Swing’ ever comes to anyone resembling him is probably the reference to the Wizard of Oz. L Frank Baum could tell wonderful stories too.