Mac 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 the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.