‘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”.

Watergate Revisited


“They got caught”

Back in the 1960’s Mac and his friend Brian used to belong to a ship-spotting club in Walpole Bay. They used to cycle there most days during the summer holidays to look out at the vast array of ships steaming up and round North Foreland, many often anchored out in the bay. I guess if you have grown up in Margate, you do tend to see ferries at the bottom of every garden. Watergate, for those of you who remember, had nothing to do with any murky business at sea, but was merely the name of the office complex that Richard Nixon’s men burgled in June 1972. He once famously said, “I admit my men made a sad mistake. They got caught”. Mac said they had touched on it last week whilst sitting overlooking Kingsgate Bay discussing cosmic microwave theories, as his brother was often in Washington in those days and had seen it from close range. The tragic affair was not so much about the bugging and the notorious tapes (for we know that all governments feel they have the right to intercept everything we write or say, in our own best interests naturally) but about the subsequent deception and cover-up. Recordings from the Watergate tapes implicated the president, revealing he had attempted to cover up the questionable (and illegal) goings-on that had taken place after the break-in. So the moral of the tale is very apt for those of us who grew up on the beach with buckets and spades. If you are in a hole, stop digging.

Winston Churchill

Whisky chaser?

Mac researched Winston Churchill’s speech in Margate at the Conservative Party Conference for his book, although he is not certain about the old boy dropping into the Ruby Lounge for a whisky chaser. When he rang the security services to check the details, some tosser mumbled something about freedom of information or some sort of crap like that, a standard ploy whenever people try to hush things up. Amazingly Winston did though begin his speech with a bit about British Guiana, which is where his cricketer friend Mike was born. Little did Churchill know the whirlwind he was about to unleash, although Margate Cricket Club certainly benefited, as did the UK gambling and brewing industries. What Mac also found was Winnie’s great quote, “they are not fit to run a whelk stall”. Sounds as if it was conceived in a seaside town, doesn’t it? But just what are the standards that we require from public servants? How do we judge (or even spell) words like probity and reputation? Surely any politician, whether local or national, enters dangerous waters in debating such issues, as most of the public believe, along with Groucho Marx, that their principles are as shifting as the Goodwin Sands. Amusingly if you google ‘Vocabulary.com’, you get the wonderful comment that the word ‘probity’ sounds like what you might do with a sharp stick, although they go on to say that it actually means being morally and ethically above reproach, having integrity. Mac thinks he prefers the sharp stick.

the whoIn these days of instant media with blogs, tweets and twitters, the media can give us extremely personal details of celebrities or victims. Nothing is sacrosanct. Yet in 1965, when a girl died in Dane Park, the newspapers were much better at allowing families to keep their dignity. Sadly, however, the focus then was on the drugs which were really a new phenomenon for our area. Soldiers from all forces during the war had been given huge quantities of stimulants to combat tiredness and to instill courage, an amazing 72 million tablets used by British troops alone, but we were still learning about the damage that long term addiction could bring. Amphetamines were banned the year before “Quadrophenia” is set, the film inspired by The Who album, much of the story set in Margate. The Who also visited Margate ten days before ‘Julie’ died. She belonged to the Dreamland Rendezvous Club and may well have seen them performing there. She met the group who were residing in the Mad House about the same time, according to her mother, the Birmingham youngsters who would have introduced her to the drugs. At the time Justice Sachs condemned them all, including Julie, but she was just a sixteen year old kid looking to explore life. One of the group certainly introduced her to the drugs and then took advantage, before casting her adrift. His apparent rejection triggered  her despair and the sequence of events that led her to be in the park at two o’clock in the morning with a man she knew very little about. She would not have known that he had a criminal record or that he might lash out, breaking her jaw. There is just very little in the records about the type of person Julie was. She deserved a better press. It is the bastards who sucked her in that escaped scot-free.  Ain’t it always the same.

Tracy beaker

Tracy Beaker?

On a lighter note Mac has now finished his thesis on the Big Bang and is submitting it for verification. He hopes to be able to reveal how the universe began in his next book which is currently under development and will also largely cover more of the history of Thanet. More to the point he has begun to discover new material, previously unknown to local scholars. For a long period in Garlinge there was a small ruined house on the right hand side as you walk down towards the Hussar, which had been bombed during the war. It became a sort of ‘dumping ground’ and in the rubble Mac had found a small pottery container which is now believed to have been an early Tracy Beaker. One of the Daundelyons had probably been caught short on his way to the public house and tea gardens and the container must have fallen into the bushes when he unstrapped himself. Mac always prefers to use the terminology ‘unleashed’, but we think the existence of a bus pass tends to gainsay that. Incidentally the main reason the noble Daundelyons became extinct was indeed their sexual brevity. Many of them just couldn’t reach their partners, male or female, although clearly that was no barrier if you have been watching ‘Game of Thrones’ and cheering on Tyrion Lannister. The Earl of Thanet had a similar problem, so it is rumoured, despite being a fine cricketer, as we believe he left his cricket box to posterity. The measurements revealed all. It may now be somewhere in the Quex Museum in Birchington (look in the stuffed display section) for all Mac knows, but if it could be found then it would confirm why the Earldom of Thanet ended back in the mid 19th century. Mac seemed to remember a renaissance briefly in the 1960’s with a Duke of Earl, but does not think Gene Chandler had any connection with Thanet. Top of the Pops though in 1961. Anyone who still remembers the song can begin chanting now, although the lyrics are unsophisticated, even if you are a boy from Margate. Just look out for a man with a cape, a top hat, a monocle and a cane. Now there is  a man who clearly understands the meaning of probity. Which is almost where we came in.

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.

The Vagaries of Swing


In February this year a slim volume called ‘The Vagaries of Swing’ was quietly slipped into the public domain. Its author, Mac Carty, was unknown and had chosen to self-publish rather than to try and negotiate between the different publishing houses and compete with the likes of Hilary Mantel. At first sight the book appeared to be an attempt to record cricketing and occasional hockey tales from the Sixties, when life was largely about being irresponsible and revolved around sport, alcohol and girls if you were lucky. However it became apparent from the sub-title, ‘Footprints on the Margate Sands of Time’ that the stories revolved around the seaside town of Margate and that Mac Carty had been born and grown up there. Coincidentally the Rough Travel Guide had identified the town as one of the ‘must-see’ destinations not just in the UK but in the world. What on earth had caused them to make such an explosive statement and was it time to re-evaluate the role that Margate has played historically?

The Thanet Vagaries Blog will over the next few months try and penetrate some of the mysteries. We have an exclusive and intimate relationship with Mac Carty and will probe some of the assertions made in the book. For example, is it at all possible that the Big Bang originated near Cecil Square and did Thomas Paine really get the inspiration for much of his writing (which of course had a significant influence in both the American and French revolutions) from time spent in the town? Was he ever in the Ruby Lounge? In addition what role did the island of Thanet play in the development of cricket and why was Kenneth Horne not better briefed by the town council in the 1965 seasonal promotional video? Who was Biff Ford, did he really work for the Ministry of Defence and more importantly did anyone ever see him wearing a suit?

In this post we should perhaps focus on the comment regarding Thomas Paine, which at first sight just appears to have been tossed into the mix mischievously. However when we actually took down our tattered copy of ‘The American Crisis’ by Common Sense, a principle rarely embraced by politicians both local or national, we found two interesting quotations. The Common Sense pamphlets, commencing in 1775 rocketed Paine into the American public domain. They were described as abusive and seditious, questioning the legitimacy of control by organised religion and monarchy (the latter something kept behind a curtain – presumably like the Wizard of Oz). He asked, “Have you lost a parent or child by their hands and yourself the ruined and wretched survivor?”

It was, of course, Paine himself who saw his wife, Mary Lambert, die in childbirth in Margate in early 1760. There is also some comment that the local gossip seemed to indicate that he may have contributed to his wife’s ill-health by his attitude to her  and so he may well have spent those lonely months there after her death in deep and painful reflection. We know that he would have had no work there as a stay-maker as Thanet women then rarely wore stays – nothing changes does it? He would have been 23 then and, very much like Biff Ford, thereafter had very little to do with women. What better time, in between a few halves in the Ruby Lounge or its predecessor and bathing in the sea and swallowing the health-giving water, than to contemplate the vagaries of life. Doubtless too he caught sight of the donkeys toiling inland with their smuggled wares and that may well have been the trigger (wasn’t that the singing cowboy Roy Roger’s horse?) that caused him to write to his father-in-law seeking a job in the Excise. He left Thanet shortly afterwards, never to return.

‘Common Sense’ had a significant following not only in Boston but also in Paris and in London. The clinching argument about his inspiration though comes from the second quotation. “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot ….”. Any man who can envisage a sunshine patriot would surely have spent time in Margate, with its wonderful record of hours of sunshine unrivalled in the country. Indeed the concept of a summer soldier – working in the summer and on the dole in the winter – sounds exactly right. Nelson complained of something similar when he had control of the coastline defences in the South East so Paine must have recognised an identical trait. So there we have it. Margate may well have played a hand in both the American and French revolutions and this seems to have been missed by historians down the generations. Perhaps more important than doing a bit of painting on the jetty, splashing odd colours on a bit of old canvas.

Mac Carty’s book itself, ‘The Vagaries of Swing’, has received a widely differing reception from those who have had the dubious privilege of reading it. The author has been described by one old friend as demented and the book by another as rambling and confused. However others have described it as clever and scholarly, thought-provoking and occasionally hilarious and having brilliant humour and devastating satire. One of our senior judges commented that he had enjoyed the book immensely but that he would have preferred less cock and dick. So what are we to make of this conundrum? Each week we intend to analyse a chapter and try to bring some clarity to some of the issues raised. On a more mundane level we will try and bring some sense to some of the characters and references in the book, as clearly if you weren’t alive in the 1960’s and more specifically in 1965 then some of the comments need further explanation.

Mac Carty does say that Margate was actually a great place to grow up. The beaches, as you well know, are splendid, the climate healthy and the views of the ever-changing seas and skies had attracted the likes of J W Turner. It was lively, raucous but sadly in decline. Once an elegant and favoured resort, it very quickly moved to the realms of a culture best described as kiss me quick. In its time though it has attracted many famous visitors and he decided to weave into his tale some of the history, using poetic licence to extend the work. There are references to John Wayne, General Custer, Lincoln, P T Barnum, Putin, Pope Benedict, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, Michael Caine, The Who, Biggles, Popeye, the Wizard of Oz and a cast of many others. Surely not all of them came to visit? Apparently some did which adds to the mystery. The year of 1965 was Mac Carty’s last year before university but was memorable not just for the great music but also because the cricket club almost split and a girl was murdered in the local park. That drew him firmly into the subject of violence against women and in trying to effectively identify the causes, he strayed into thoughts of cricket played celestially. The humour is broad, as maybe you would expect from a place where Donald McGill’s seaside postcards sail close to the wind – or to the sea breeze. We look forward in future posts to unravelling more of the story and placing the Isle of Thanet very firmly at the centre of civilisation.