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.


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”.

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.