Friday, 30 October 2009

IRONING OUT THE KINKS


I'm off to see The Kast Off Kinks play at The Westcoast Bar tonight. Needless to say, regardless of the fact that Ray and Dave Davies won't be putting in an appearance, I'm still tremendously excited about it. The lineup consists of former Kinks members Mick Avory (drummer), Jim Rodford (bass), Ian Gibbons (keyboards) and Dave Clarke (lead guitar), so they undoubtedly look set deliver a wholly authentic performance of quintessentially British rock & roll.

Each Kast Off member has earned their chops playing in The Kinks ever-fluctuating lineup during the course of their 31-year tenure, so I'm guessing that it'll be the next best thing to seeing the original lineup (of which drummer Mick Avory will be the only founding member present). However, Ray Davies has been known to drop by to perform with the band on special occasions, so since it's so close to Hallowe'en, I'm secretly hoping he pops by to spook us, though I'm doubtful that'll happen.

I have a big soft spot for '60s British Invasion bands (and the subsequent wave of U.S. garage rock bands inspired by them), and if I had to name my favourite band, The Kinks would be the ones I'd single out. For me, Ray Davies is possibly the best songwriter of his era, vastly underrated in some quarters, capable of occasional flashes of social commentary, cynicism and satire. It's no secret that even Paul McCartney attempted to crib elements of Ray Davies's social observation skills with “Penny Lane” and The Who's Pete Townshend even jokingly called for Ray Davies to be nominated to be Britain's Poet Laureate.

Oh, and lest we forget, they rock. Their initial hard rock hits “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night” practically invented the heavy metal riff, so The Kinks do possess a rare mix of hard-rocking energy and intelligent lyricism that makes them without peer. Were it not for the Britpop boom in the 1990s, I doubt somebody my age would've discovered bands like The Kinks, so I'm hoping that this gig is gonna be a chance to get a genuine flavour of what the experience of seeing The Kinks play live is truly like. In fact, if I could be in a tribute band, it would be a Kinks tribute band, without a doubt. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to sip my ice cool beer and have a good ol' knees-up.

Monday, 26 October 2009

BITING THE ORANGE HAND THAT FEEDS

I don't intend to bite the hand that feeds me, especially since I'm not actually paying a penny for it, but I've only just realized how rubbish my Orange internet broadband service is. My girlfriend and I have been using our trusty Orange livebox for quite some time now – it was a free gift from Orange for setting up a mobile contract phone while we were both at university in Leicester. When we moved back to Thanet recently, we decided to bring the Livebox with us to our flat, though I'm not quite sure if we realized exactly what we were letting ourselves in for, if I'm honest.

The thing is, despite our broadband being a freebie, it advertises itself as having speeds of up to 2MB. It's a similar package to Orange's Home Starter kit, albeit with a lower download limit of 2GB, but this didn't strike me as being too much of an issue. The problem is our speed doesn't even come close to 2MB, not one single solitary bit. In fact, a quick analysis of our download speeds indictates that, on a good day, we get 416kbps (download speeds) and 39kbps (upload speeds). So, correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks as though our broadband is actually supplying us with ¼ of its advertised speed of 2MB.

If I were paying for this, needless to say, I'd be outraged. Since I'm not, I'm merely a little bit peeved, at the very least. I honestly can't really afford (or be bothered) to change ISPs, and even if I could, I think the fastest broadband speeds you can get in Thanet are approximately 6MB. That being said, there's no guaranteeing that internet speeds will reach that kind of velocity – after all, I'm supposed to be getting 2MB from Orange, but I'm not. If this experience with Orange is anything to go by, I'd wager that if I were to switch ISPs and set up (and pay for) broadband with advertised speeds of 6MB, I'll probably be lucky to get only half of that.

I only really started noticing how useless my internet speeds were when I started playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare online. The multiplayer game keeps on freezing up, making my character skittish and jittery in the middle of battles, making it virtually impossible to control my actions, often prompting me to quit the game out of sheer frustration and annoyance. Initially, I thought it was other online players (perhaps foreigners) and their crappy internet connections, but then I realized it was actually me who was the culprit.

The argument that ISPs don't always supply its customers with the internet speeds they advertise has begun to surface in the news recently. Ofcom did a research project where they concluded that “on average, the real broadband speed for most consumers is just 45% of that advertised.” Clearly, now I've discovered my own internet speeds mirror Ofcom's findings, I'm mindful that this matter really needs to be resolved. Since I'm not paying for my broadband, I don't hold as much consumer sway as those who pay, but I still think that ISPs should be trying harder to give us speeds which are far closer to (or exactly) the speeds they advertise. In other words, I shouldn't be putting up with 416kbps when Orange have promised me 2MB, even if it is free.

I'm very aware of the fact that broadband speeds also depend on location, so in other words, our local area is seemingly quite crap for decent internet connections at the moment, possibly due to the fact that our phone lines are relatively ancient and in dire need of updating. Or can anybody else recommend an ISP for Thanet locals like myself which is not only cheap, but also accurately delivers the speeds it promises its customers? I suppose my only other option is to pay for a broadband service via cable; say, Virgin Media, for instance, since they appear to have a higher success rate in delivering faster internet speeds. Oh, wait, we can't get cable in this area, can we? Damn and blast. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to put up with it.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

TIME TO MAKE SOME NOISE

It's been brought to my attention that Thanet District Council are offering local people the opportunity to have their say on the future of Thanet. This is a logical progression from TDC's crystal ball-gazing antics last month, where they outlined a vision of what they expect Thanet to be like in 2030, whereas this is perhaps something more tangible. Their hope is that through engaging with the public – hopefully taking into consideration our views – they'll be able to come up with a Core Strategy of preferred options, forming the basis of a Local Development Framework which will possibly culminate in transforming our local area into – dare I say it – a better place.

TDC have re-scaled their vision slightly from their initial predictions, bringing it forward a few years to 2026, but their hopes and aspirations largely remain the same. Something which has caused a considerable stir in the local press is their intention to establish Westwood Cross as the isle's “principal town centre.” I've spoken on this subject before, and though I'm aware that traffic is absolutely choc-a-bloc around Westwood, I still mildly support this idea. Obviously, I think more needs to be done to resolve the issue of commuters to and from Westwood Cross, maybe widening some of the roads, for instance, ensuring that it doesn't continue to be the jam-packed and queue-riddled nightmare it currently is.

However, at the same time, I do feel Margate High Street should not be abandoned completely. It does need more shops, but perhaps if TDC are channelling all their energies into transforming Westwood Cross into a “principal town centre” (i.e. if Westwood is their primary focus on establishing shops, retail outlets and/or businesses), then maybe they should consider setting in place measures which make it easier for local businesses to set up shop in Margate High Street. I'm not 100% up on my facts, so I don't know exactly how much money it is to rent out shops, but if it's currently too expensive then lowering shop rental costs would be a good idea. It'd be a great way to lend support to local and independent businesses, would it not?

Currently, I think all TDC is doing with Margate High Street is converting some of the empty shops into flats. In a way, that's not particularly good news, especially since they've also announced their intention to create 7,500 new homes around Westwood. What about shops in Margate High Street? Has that entered into TDC's vision? What they'd ideally need, in my opinion, is a plan to make Margate appealing to tourists once again; after all, if they hope the Dreamland Heritage Park and the Turner Contemporary will bring in extra visitors, then what's the use of converting empty shops into flats and leaving the rest of Margate High Street to rot?

Then again, I could waffle on for hours on this subject, as I'm sure you could too, which is why I thought I'd tell you that this opportunity to speak up and tell the Council how you feel about their plans is a rare chance to make some noise. So, feel free to visit Thanet Council's official website, register your details, fill out the necessary forms, and make a difference. I'd like to feel as though all your views will be taken into account, but I'm not naïve, I'm aware that you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can't please all the people all of the time. Inevitably, some opinions will be probably be left on the scrapheap. But nonetheless, it's still a great chance to get your voice heard. What do you want for Thanet's future? Now's your chance to tell them. Go on, do it. What have you got to lose?

Saturday, 24 October 2009

SKIFFLE LITTLE FINGERS
























I've already been beaten to the punch by Peter Checksfield's Margate Music Man post on this subject, but I thought I'd take the opportunity to remind you that Lonnie Donegan Jnr is playing in Birchington on November 7th. Tickets, from what I understand, are still available to buy from Framing Plus, 8 Station Approach in Birchington (£10 each) so feel free to call the telephone number on the poster above if you have any further enquiries on attending the gig.

Needless to say, it looks set to be a great night, so I urge you to buy tickets if you have some spare cash. I myself will be putting in an appearance and, in fact, I've even written an article for next week's Thanet Extra which shares a few of my thoughts on the event after I interviewed Lonnie Donegan Jnr last week. He was a great bloke, we had a really interesting conversation about the history of music in general, in particular, how music evolves and develops, appropriating different idioms to accommodate different fashions or whims, and the lasting legacy his father made on the music industry.

His father, Lonnie Donegan, lest we forget, was the self-professed King of Skiffle, arguably the first British pop star of his kind, inspiring a crop of fifties kids already enamoured with rock 'n' roll to pick up guitars and become musicians themselves. The skiffle boom, spearheaded by Lonnie, led to a boom in guitar sales, and it's fair to say that without it, musical legends like Lennon & McCartney and Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin would probably not even have considered music as a viable career. That kind of influence should not be underestimated, nor forgotten.

I've had an interest in skiffle for quite some time. I'm not an aficionado, I don't dig up old 45's of crackly 1930s records, or meticulously learn the jazz diddlings of Django Reinhardt on my guitar, but I do have a solid appreciation for it. When I first learnt the guitar, I was initially inspired by the DIY ethic of punk, the idea that three chords is all you need, etc. For what it's worth, the first song I learnt was "Sweet Jane" by The Velvet Underground (later covered perhaps more famously in the '70s by Mott the Hoople), which while not punk per se, could be described by some as being proto-punk, with its emphasis on power chords and simple arrangements.

Now, I'm aware that there's a lot of revisionism surrounding punk, in particular attempts by music critics to glamorize it or nostalgically attach too much meaning onto something which I'm certain was rather shambolic, but what appeals to me is the notion that punk inspired lots of young kids to pick up a guitar. It abandoned the restricting idea that you had to be Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton in order to play and create your own music. In its heyday, Sniffin' Glue magazine famously printed an article saying: "Here's one chord, here's another, and another. Now form a band."

Punk eschewed traditional concepts of musicianship, and embraced the idea that amateurism should be no barrier to originality or freedom of expression in music. If you had something to say, regardless of your music ability, you got up and did it, and that's what appealed to me. That's why I learnt the guitar. The other side of punk, of course, is its politically and socially aware lyrics, which possess certain similarities with folk music, so despite its lo-fi, noisy and rough-hewn nature, I don't think it was too much of a radical departure of what came before it really. Punk just gave rock 'n' roll the shot in the arm it needed to reinvigorate itself, much like skiffle spurred people on to go out and buy guitars.

Of course, this has little to do with skiffle in some respects, but in my opinion, what I like about skiffle was it was arguably to the 1950s what punk was to the 1970s. Even the respected film critic Mark Kermode, who plays in a skiffle band called The Dodge Brothers, acknowledged this in an article on The Guardian, stating:

"Crucially, no matter how talented the musicians were, the underlying message [of skiffle] was simple - anyone can play these songs, and you don't need proper training or fancy instruments to do so. It was an ethos which would give birth to British rock 'n' roll, and go on to inform punk's anti-establishment call to arms: 'Here are three chords - now form a band.'"

I suppose what Kermode captures, in essence, is the attraction of skiffle to some fans of punk, myself included. Both musical genres are certainly comparable, although Lonnie Jnr was sure to remind me that his father's band were actually professional jazz musicians, playing three chords, so it was deceptively simple musically, but the musicianship was always very accomplished, so I don't refute that. Punk didn't always have accomplished musicianship, or perhaps even the sense of songcraft like skiffle did (drawing upon folk, blues or country) but I still think comparisons are valid. Skiffle and punk were inspirational for very similar reasons, in my view.

For this reason, I appreciate skiffle. It's joyous, wonderful, inspirational music, and Lonnie Donegan deserves to be venerated for the impact he made on music, not just for the immediate British Invasion generation which followed him, but for the generation of punk kids who came after that, probably little realizing that they inadvertently owe Lonnie a musical debt themselves. So I urge you to buy tickets, especially those who haven't even heard Lonnie's music before, and especially if you're my age, are a fan of punk music (the real stuff, not Blink-182), and wanna see what all the fuss of skiffle is truly about. I'm sure you won't regret it.

In fact, who knows? It might even persuade some people to start a skiffle band yourselves, drumming with cardboard boxes and baked bean tins. After all, according to the newspapers, we are officially still in a recession, so we probably won't even be able to afford musical instruments soon anyway, so I say it's time for a skiffle revival, wouldn't you say? Grab your kazoos, everyone. Our time has come.

Friday, 23 October 2009

GALE FORCE WINDS

I don't want to get into the increasingly fashionable habit of ranting about MPs. It's an easy thing to do – especially in light of the current political climate of expenses scandals – but I thought I'd chime in on something I've read in today's copy of the Isle of Thanet Gazette. It turns out that North Thanet Tory MP, Roger Gale, has been employing his wife, Suzy, to work for him, so I wanted to write about the recent news that the Committee on Standards in Public Life is planning to outlaw MPs from employing relatives.

Needless to say, Gale's wife has threatened legal action if she is banned from working for her husband, but this raises some interesting questions on the ethicality of hiring relatives to work for you, in any capacity, let alone in the public sector or in local government. According to the Isle of Thanet Gazette, about 200 MPs currently employ their relatives (of which South Thanet Labour MP, Stephen Ladyman, is one, since he's hired his wife too), so this news is definitely gonna ruffle some more feathers in the near future, perhaps more so than the expenses scandal.

I've always grown up with the phrase “it ain't what you know, it's who you know” and this rings a bell on this subject. Most jobs fall into your lap merely by knowing somebody in the right place, at the right time. In the private sector, I think it's safe to say employers thrive on this doctrine, and hire whoever the hell they bloody well want, whether they be relatives or not; in fact, I've known some instances where people who've owned local businesses have pushed their relatives to the front of the job queue whenever there's a vacancy without a second thought. There is, after all, a reason why James Murdoch, the son of media baron Rupert Murdoch, is poised to inherit his father's enormous business empire upon his demise.

Let's be honest, if you're in a position of power, it's very easy to use that power to your advantage (i.e. to employ those in your immediate circle at the behest of other outside candidates). This is why MPs have got away with doing it. On the other hand, the advantages of hiring your relatives is a question of trust – you could argue that you can trust your relatives more than you could most employees, so it is justifiable on that count. But the “ain't what you know, it's who you know” mentality arguably belongs to the private sector. In the business world, it's the law of the jungle. Sink or swim. If you snooze, you lose. If you're in a position to be given a job merely because your boss is related to you by blood, then that's just tough luck to everybody else. Hard cheese.

However, in local government, or more specifically in the realm of politics, the rules are considerably more hazy. I suppose what I'm trying to say is, the decision to outlaw MPs from hiring their relatives is slightly understandable, because politics is supposed to be an inclusionary process, and the “ain't what you know, it's who you know” mentality doesn't quite sit right with the participatory nature of democracy. Those working for MPs should arguably be members of the community who wish to help their elected representative to achieve their aims and objectives, not those who are either related to them, or those who conveniently hang onto the coat-tails of their reputation.

But if MPs are outlawed from hiring their relatives, why not expect the same from the private sector? Can you imagine laws being set in place to restrict business owners from favouring their relatives when recruiting new workers? I doubt it. Come on, it's no secret, it happens every day. Somewhere today, there is someone working in a branch of Tescos who has got the job merely because their uncle happens to be the branch manager. It's just the way it goes. But somehow I cannot imagine that business owners are likely to be outlawed from doing so. Why? Because they'll argue it's an affront to free enterprise.

Therefore, I understand MPs who are likely to be outraged from being restricted from hiring their relatives. All this proves is there a clear line being drawn in the sand, separating the “ain't what you know, it's who you know” law of the jungle mentality of the private sector, and the supposedly more democratic, fair, inclusive and accountable nature of the public sector. Whether it's agreeable is another matter together. Some would argue it matters not whether those who work for you are related to you; all that matters is the quality of work that is being done; but I suppose it depends on your perspective.

In my view, politics should reach beyond the private sector for inspiration, and quite rightly, since it is in theory a profession built upon accountability and public interest, but that's no real cause for outlawing the hiring of their relatives. After all, we wouldn't expect businesses to sing from the same hymn sheet, or would we? Nevertheless, all we can hope is that Roger Gale MP isn't hiring his dog, Lollie, to work for him, judging by the flattering picture of him snogging his pooch at a Westminster dog of the year competition. Is that a good enough cause to outlaw MPs from locking lips with canines in public? Feel free to share your thoughts on the subject.

Monday, 19 October 2009

BYE BYE BROADHURST

Well, it's taken a considerable amount of time, but Thanet District Council have decided to pull their fingers out today (Oct 19) and have finally advertised a vacancy for a councillor in Dane Valley Ward. The fact that TDC have done this officially recognizes the permanent absence of Stephen 'Panama Man' Broadhurst – Dane Valley's previous councillor – after he went AWOL and left his constituents up a creek without a paddle.


I'm not pretending to be an expert on the whole affair, but putting it simply, if we're hoping that our elected representatives in the council should remain accountable to us, then the strange story of Conservative Cllr Stephen Broadhurst should forever remain in etched in our memories. The people of Dane Valley Ward have quite rightly been outraged for a long time that their former councillor (who, lest we forget, should've been representing the interests of his constituents) spent far more time tending to his business interests in Panama than he did fulfilling his responsibilities at home.

Labour Group Leader Cllr. Clive Hart tried to get the ball rolling on this subject back in July, prompting Cllr. Ezekiel to respond saying: “If and when it should become a problem, I'll ask him for his resignation.” The following month, Conservative Deputy leader Cllr. Roger Latchford contacted Clive to tell him that Cllr. Broadhurst will be resigning but “the resignation letter may take a little time; it's got to come by snail mail from Panama.”

Sure enough, with shell in tow, a resignation letter did finally arrive in early September, but absurdly it was ruled ineffective by Thanet District Council due to the fact that it wasn't signed by Cllr. Broadhurst himself. Who the hell did sign it? A snail?! Tonight, I've received an e-mail from Clive informing me that a second resignation letter has since been received – I'm assuming with a proper signature this time – and this is probably what has facilitated Thanet District Council's announcement of a vacancy today (Oct 19).

Funnily enough, I remember reading in the paper last week that if an official resignation hadn't been received by Cllr. Broadhurst, it would've been six months that he hadn't attended any Council meetings in a few days time, so he could've legitimately faced being dismissed (or sacked) by TDC. Snail mail or otherwise, it seems this second resignation letter has been received just in the nick of time, though in my opinion Cllr. Broadhurst's reputation is arguably in tatters as a result of his whole charade. Let's be hopeful that we can't anticipate any future forays into politics from him, eh?

Doubtlessly, TDC's announcement is a victory that I'm sure the long-suffering residents of Dane Valley Ward will relish with some delight. It's been a long hard struggle, but at least some progress has finally been made, it's just a shame it's taken such a bloody long time. But at least now we can officially look forward to a by-election, of whom I believe the prospective candidates will be: Ingrid Spencer (Conservatives), Wendy Allen (Independent), Sandra Hart (Labour) and Bill Furness (Lib Dems). I will write more on each of the candidates and their manifestos in the near future.

In the meantime, Cllr. Clive Hart has called for an investigation into Cllr. Broadhurst's behaviour, stating: “With the current feeling in the country as a whole regarding MP's and their expenses, I demand a full enquiry into Councillor Stephen Broadhurst, his actual home/residence during his years as a councillor at TDC and up to what point his allowance will or is being paid by TDC.” In my view, Cllr. Broadhurst's farcical disappearances on a business jolly to Panama every five minutes makes a mockery of everyone who'd entrusted him with the responsibility of being an elected representative. If Cllr. Broadhurst needed to lord it up in Panama so badly, why did he even bother campaigning to get elected in the first place? Or, if he found it difficult to juggle his business interests with his role as a councillor, why didn't he just resign his post long before his councillorship became the butt of all jokes?

It's completely reprehensible, so it's hard not to agree with Cllr. Clive Hart's call for an investigation, but I'm still bewildered as to why it's dragged on for so long. But I suppose all we can try and be sure of is that this kind of thing is prevented from happening again, so if an investigation can yield some productive results on this front, then I welcome it. Until then, let's crack open a beer and celebrate the news. Speaking of beer, if Cllr. Broadhurst were a beer, which type of beer would he be? I say Carlsberg - but, in this instance, I'm sure the Danes are glad to to see him leave.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

BE PART OF AN ACTIVE THANET

It's easy to sneer and say there's nothing to do in Thanet, or that there's not much to entertain us. But on the contrary, there's plenty we can do to keep ourselves busy. And no, I don't mean getting drunk, or playing Xbox 360, I mean joining one of the many clubs and societies which, unbeknownst to a lot of us, exist right on our very doorstep.


I've been e-mailed by Parker Jones, who has made me aware of a local online directory called Active Thanet. Parker's mission is to gather together all of the clubs and societies in Thanet on a wiki, so I'm very pleased he's raised my awareness of this. I think it's fantastic that somebody is making an effort to maintain a directory of goings-on for people to peruse.

Indeed, like Parker, I'm quite amazed by how much is actually happening, merely by taking a quick gander at the website. By last count, there's 374 clubs and societies, each gathered into categories pertaining to your hobbies or interests are (e.g. sports, music, art, writing, poetry, etc.). I've always been eager to discover a club or society which I could potentially join. As a guitarist who would ideally like to play in a band, I was hoping to find a group or a society of musicians on Active Thanet that I could join to play some music and have a good ol' knees up.

Alas, the closest I've come to finding something on Active Thanet is Island (Folk) Music Club. The other one, Pie Factory Music, to my memory, is hip hop or MC-related fare, or if not, then it's mainly targeted to young people under the age of 18. Since I'm 23, I'm a little bit over the required age bracket to muck in and rock out, but I still haven't given up hope. If anybody else can suggest a group of musicians or a local society who'd like meet up and have a jamming session, then I'd be more than happy to hear from you, and I'm sure Parker will obligingly add you to the wiki.

Nonetheless, I think Active Thanet is brilliant, and it really does open up your eyes to how much there is occurring in the local area which otherwise would've probably escaped people's notice. So I'd like to thank Parker Jones for e-mailing me and bringing it to my attention – setting up a local wiki is a real masterstroke and I can only hope it continues to grow and inspire more clubs and societies to pop up like grapes on a vine. Then we can drunk. On the wine of activity. From the grapes. If you'll pardon the crap metaphor.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

O'BRIAIN SURGERY


I'm enormously happy to discover that Irish comedian and Mock the Week presenter Dara O'Briain is coming to the Margate Winter Gardens in March 2010 as part of his stand-up comedy tour. He's an incredibly funny man; witty, intelligent and erudite, he's like a whirling dervish of wild ideas which I personally find apt and hilarious. I'm warning you a good few months in advance, as I'm guessing tickets will sell out pretty quickly, and since they go on sale tomorrow (Friday) at 10am and cost approximately £19.50 per head, I'd snap 'em up if I were you. Visit www.margatewintergardens.co.uk for more info.

Now, I'm a notoriously difficult bugger to please, but I'm gonna defy my natural inclination to be a cynical sod by applauding Paul Palmer, the entertainments and venues manager of the Margate Winter Gardens, for the fabulous job he's doing. He's done a sterling job in bringing fantastic acts to Margate, doubtlessly putting a feather in the cap of what's left of Thanet's reputation in due process. I know the Margate Winter Gardens always had a quite reputable history anyway, but I distinctly remember it going through a fallow period quite a few years ago, and it's only recently that some widely-acclaimed acts have started to perform at the venue (i.e. The Enemy, Kasabian, Stereophonics, The Specials, Paul Weller, Michael MacIntyre, Jimmy Carr, etc.), thanks largely to Paul's diligence and hard work.

Needless to say, the problem with booking mainstream acts like these is the tickets sell like hot cakes, so it's not always possible to muscle your way to the front of the queue, but that's just hard cheese, isn't it? My main point is we finally have a local venue which is successfully competing with other more prominent Kent-based venues based in, say, Canterbury, Chatham or Tonbridge Wells, so this in itself is doing our local community a great service by putting Thanet on the map and giving it a boost into eminence that it sorely needs.

I'm sure you'll agree, the music, comedy and events industries are very London-centric (or at least very urbane), so it's fantastic that Paul Palmer is still pulling his punches and getting lots of TKO's in his mission to boost the Margate Winter Gardens's reputation and I'm immensely impressed by the sheer number of brilliant acts he's coaxed onto the stage. I definitely think it's worth giving credit where credit's due; after all, it's one thing booking great acts, but it's another to maintain that level of consistency over time, so it's not just him who should be congratulated, it's the staff at the Margate Winter Gardens too, who I'm sure work hard to make it such a great venue that top acts feel compelled to perform at.

Regretfully, I doubt I'll be able to see Dara O'Briain perform his comedy schtick. I'm afraid my piggy bank's oinked out the last of its gold teeth, but I'm just as happy watching him on YouTube if I'm honest. I am, however, very pleased at the direction the Margate Winter Gardens is heading, so I just wanted to reflect this by celebrating the fact that our local venue's star is almost certainly rising. Long may it continue to do so.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

MONEY FOR OLD SOAP


I've just finished watching Episode 1 of Hollywould, Kent TV's new soap/internet drama based on Kent university life, so I thought I'd give you a flavour of what I thought of it. It started today (Oct 14) and I have to say, it's not as cringeworthy as R. Kelly's mind-numblingly awful rap opera Trapped in the Closet, but I'm not going to let that restrain me from dishing a bit of healthy criticism.

I have to say, I'm slightly in agreement with Tony Flaig's assessment that "Kent TV is an outrageous waste of taxpayer's money" (especially after TDC's decision to close the public toilets); and judging from the quality of Hollywould, it seems like it's a cheap experiment in amateur filmmaking. But is it an experiment that the taxpayer should fit the bill for (£20,000)? That's for somebody else to answer, I guess.

Generally, I'm hazarding a guess that those who wrote and filmed it are fans of Channel 4 sitcom, Spaced. The choppy, MTV-style editing, full of self-referential voiceovers and tech-savvy nods and winks (i.e. the robot dog, webcams, web browsers, etc.), make it very similar to Spaced, if a little bit desperate and clutching at straws. What made Spaced so brilliant was it was the first sitcom of its kind to feature British twentysomethings of a particular generation (Generation X), defined as they were by pop culture, video games and Hollywood blockbusters. This was the sole reason why Spaced was littered with in-jokes, movie references, witty asides, and lots of other bits and bobs which people of their age group can completely relate to (i.e. comic books, zombie flicks, etc.).

In this sense, Spaced reflected youth culture and student life far more accurately than most sitcoms of its era – as a result, it arguably led Hollyoaks to crib some of its style and originality (with their penchant for fantasy sequences, flashbacks, using cutting edge pop/dance music, etc.). From what I can see, the makers of Hollywould have been influenced by both Hollyoaks and Spaced, but what Spaced succeeded in doing was juggling an ironic and unique approach to the sitcom format with interesting, funny and likeable characters. And If I'm honest, I didn't feel I liked any of the characters in Hollywould very much, particularly the central character, Holly. She seems a bit drippy. I'll admit that it's only the first episode and 4 minutes isn't much to base an opinion on, and if it is true that Hollywould wants to encourage viewer interactivity by voting for how they want stories to develop, then I for one would like to vote for Holly to actually become worth watching.

I also couldn't help but notice that Holly is jogging in a red Kent TV baseball cap during the opening sequence. How's that for product placement, eh? This automatically reminded me of Tony Flaig's prediction ""that poor acting, plot will be combined with heavy, none too subtle, public service messages." You certainly can't get more obvious a public service message than a red baseball cap with Kent TV emblazoned on it can you, Tony? I dunno, I don't quite feel Hollywould is in the same league as the stuff which it's clearly trying to ape and emulate. If you're trying too hard to make something cutting edge, rarely does it make the cut, in my opinion, so Hollywould needs to pull back its reins a bit. It can't just launch into being a Corrie for the Web 2.0 generation, especially if it doesn't bother to make its characters appealing or likeable enough.

Sure, it can pack in lots of self-referentialisms, lots of nods to mobile phones, PCs, techno gizmos and all the groovy stuff young 'Generation Y' college kids use, but ultimately, if all their energy's poured into appealing to its target demographic, then it's all style over substance, isn't it? I might even vote for the most outrageous plot developments imaginable, just to see if they take heed, in a futile attempt to make it more interesting. Anyway, I've embedded Episode 1 above in this blog entry for you to watch. You can be the judge of it, but in my view, Kent TV are having a bloody giraffe dabbling in this little bit of nonsense - it could easily have been left to one of the countless student TV stations up and down the country. The word 'desperate' springs to mind.

Monday, 12 October 2009

TOIL(ET) AND BOREDOM

I've got to be honest with you, on the local front, things have gone pretty quiet. I can practically see the tumbleweed whistling past my window. The local newspapers don't really yield any juicy gossip I can sink my teeth into, nor is there any trivial details to mull over and contemplate.

Peeking at the other local blogs, I've noticed a similar malaise has been creeping in, a general sense that not much is happening at all. How can I tell, you ask? Well, for one thing, blog posts have become less frequent. That usually indicates that our local bloggers are either too busy or, in my case, have run out of things to harp on about.

There are some interesting developments worth taking note of – you've probably already seen Eastcliff Samantha's post (and BBC South East's scoop*) about the Thanet Council binmen admonished for throwing blue recycle bags in with landfill rubbish. The other one is the AWOL Cllr Broadhurst fiasco, which appears to be getting more and more absurd by the minute. It turns out his resignation letter has been refused to be ratified by Thanet District Council because it was signed on Broadhurst's behalf, so his resignation won't officially stand for the time being. It's a farce, I tell thee. I've kept silent on the Cllr Broadhurst story for quite some time, largely because I felt I wasn't fully up to speed with all the details. But I am now in a position where I am getting to grips with the full story, so expect an entry dealing with this subject sometime this week.

In the meantime, being the crude and peurile person that I am, the biggest issue to grab my interest has been the Thanet District Council's decision to close public toilets to shore up public finances (see: Big News Margate). This, believe it or not, is gonna force people to waltz into public establishments (i.e. pubs, restaurants, etc.) to use the loo, without even buying food or drink, but seriously, who can blame 'em? In the Thanet Gazette recently, Andy Barrett, owner of the Belgian Cafe in Ramsgate, clearly does blame 'em, as he was quoted as saying: “I would start charging for people to use my toilets.” Come off it, mate. If you own an establishment where members of the public are likely to frequent (for bodily functions or otherwise), then you can't expect to get shirty about people using your facilities.

Goodness, how are people so willingly eager to exploit people's biological processes in such a monstrous way? I mean, sure, charge for food, drink, etc. but a piss? You seriously expect people to pay to have a wee? I've never understood that notion. Especially if you buy a drink first, then you have to pay again to squeeze it through your bladder. Surely, if they installed a rule where you can buy a drink, and then get a wee free, then I could understand. Then again, if the Thanet Council hadn't opted to close public loos in the first place, we wouldn't even be having this ridiculous discussion about people neglecting us the right to urinate free of charge.

In my opinion, shoring up public finances or not, I think the decision to close public toilets isn't the wisest of moves. Honestly, have they not heard of The Sims? Basically, it's a video game where you create avatars and, well, you build a house, create lives for them, get them jobs, feed them and – yes – prompt them to go to the toilet at a click of a mouse button. Now, what happens when you don't prompt them? Yes, that's right, they piss themselves, and they leave little yellow puddles on the floor.

So, if people are like sims, we need public toilets. Otherwise, don't be surprised if people piss on the streets. In fact, one quick whiff outside the closed doors of the public toilets and you'll discover that this has already started happening. Trust me, it'll be number twos next, and nobody wants that, so they better hurry up and resolve it, I say. They'd probably spend more money mopping up the faeces than they would've done keeping the bloody toilets open.

Now, I'm not pretending to be an expert on the financial motives behind their decision – number-crunching isn't my game – but I still think it's outrageous that an essential public convenience has been mercilessly ditched in this manner. After all, urination is a human bodily function as much as drinking water is. Would Thanet Council be so keen to neglect us of water just to save some dosh? I'd like to think not.

It's all very well emphasizing the poor state of public finances, but you can't use that as an excuse to deny us a place to heed nature's call. By the way, check out Cllr Mark Nottingham's inspired entry on From One End of Kent about Sandy Ezekiel and the public loo fiasco for a bit of a chuckle, it kind of throws things into a much-needed perspective.

Funny though, isn't it? Haven't you noticed that all of these stories I've touched upon have involved Thanet District Council? Their fingerprints are all over everything, like some sort of gruesome murder scene where you don't need a forensic team to know who the culprit is. It does to be a recurring trend whenever tempers are fraught and public outrage is afoot. The fingers automatically start wagging in the same direction. Hardly surprising though, is it?

* I was later informed BBC South East did not get the scoop. Respectively, Peter Checksfield and Lord Matt of Thanet Star have the honour of sniffing out the recycling/rubbish story. My only defence for my error is that the first I heard of the story was when I saw it on BBC South East News, watching TV, like the philistine I am. I suppose that's what happens when I do a sloppy, uninspired blog entry. Hey ho. Needs must.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

WATERSTONE'S OFF A DUCK'S BACK

I recently got an e-mail from Waterstone's in response to my online job application for a position as a Bookseller at Westwood Cross. Forgive me for sounding snooty, but considering I have a degree and had to devour a mountain of books during my time at university, I thought I'd be quite at home at Waterstone's and would at least get to the interview stages, but alas, it was not to be:

Dear Luke, Thank you for applying to join our team at Waterstone's. We have carefully considered your application and regret that we have no suitable vacancies to match your skills and experience at this time. Thank you for your interest in Waterstone's and we wish you every success in your search for suitable employment. Yours sincerely, Waterstone's Resourcing Team.

Needless to say, this isn't the first time I've been rejected via e-mail. But I'm beginning to get fed up with being rejected by employers for no other reason than the results of stupid questionnaires which have no bearing upon my ability to actually do the job. You see, when I applied for the Waterstone's vacancy, I was prompted to fill out an in-depth online questionnaire asking me a wide range of psychological questions designed to assess my character traits, my decision-making abilities and (I assume) my flaws.

Hand anyone those questionnaires and I'm sure a vast majority of you will give a few duff answers, largely because they rephrase and repeat the same questions on different pages to deliberately trip you up, making you forget what you answered originally, not to mention asking you trick questions which fool you into ticking the wrong boxes. Now, there's nothing wrong with normal questionnaires, don't get me wrong, but these ones rather slyly target psychology and aptitude, so it's all cloaked and disguised in ulterior motives.

If everybody were robots I'm sure we'd all get 100% at these tests, but we're not robots, we're individuals. Each person can look at those personality questionnaires and answer each question differently, based purely upon subjectivity and opinion, so for employers to dismiss applicants on the basis of a 'wrong answer' on these questionnaires is deeply underhand and immoral. In my opinion, the answers people can give on these tests are not an accurate indicator of how psychologically suitable a job applicant is, and to pretend otherwise is just unmitigated nonsense.

I believe they're professionally referred to as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessments. It's a craze that's swept the corporate world by storm, but if you trace its history deeper, the horrifying truth is that MBTI's originated from a theory on 'psychological types' proposed by famous psychologist Carl Jung. Never afraid of co-opting psychological techniques to tap into the ideals of marketing and big business, the likes of Tesco (and even, from personal experience, the Royal Mail) use different variants of MBTI's when they recruit new workers.

Some may fail to see a problem with businesses using MBTI's, but I distrust them intensely. My main reason for disliking them is that they are designed with a 'perfect candidate' in mind (i.e. questionnaires are engineered so only those who fit in with Tesco's preference for a 'psychological type' are eventually interviewed and selected). In short, it's a deeply impersonal method of filtering applicants, and that's why I despise them, mainly because they don't honour an employee's individuality, initiative, or the unique qualities they could potentially bring to the job, nor do they take into account prior qualifications or experience. Besides, some researchers and academics have also begun to question the accuracy and validity of MBTI's. The Skeptic's Dictionary website also gives a comprehensive overview on the legitimacy of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

I mean, whatever happened to interviewing prospective candidates based on their C.V.'s and hiring one of them after face to face meetings? Has the idea of hiring somebody based on the interviewer's personal impression vanished? At least then you could gauge the suitability of job applicants more accurately, rather than the farcical notion of running questionnaire results through a PC and saying “Computer says no,” potentially losing your company a future asset. I think that's why I felt compelled to write about it – MBTI's are inherently undemocratic – and their usage doesn't make it any easier for the unemployed to get jobs, even though some of those who fail the tests would probably make far better workers than those who pass with flying colours.

I thought I'd mention this because it's not the first time I've had to undergo a MBTI, and sadly it probably won't be the last. I reckon they should be scrapped. In my view, it's just as much a local concern as a national one. After all, job seekers all across the land will be aware of MBTI's as an unfortunate fact of life when you apply for jobs, so it's just as relevant to the 3,970 unemployed people in Thanet (of which I am unfortunately one) as it is to everyone else. Sadly, however, I can't imagine local MPs lobbying businesses and telling them what they can and cannot do, so I guess we'll just have to put up with it. But I don't think we should disguise how unnecessary and unfair MBTI's truly are. Does anyone agree, or am I just a lone voice in the wilderness?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

DO PARDON THE SHAMELESS PLUG

I just thought I'd mention that I'm featured in YourThanet newspaper this week. It's free of charge, so you won't exactly have to dig in your pockets to grab one during your trip to the local supermarket, and you'll find me in the YourThanetBlogger section on page 12. You can also read it online. Of course, if you've read my blog before, you'll probably recognize the article itself, since it draws upon my previous blog entry on the Turner Contemporary and my concerns on whether conceptual art will be widely appreciated by my fellow Thanetians.

Needless to say, upon re-reading it in print, I couldn't help but realize that I put the boot into Tracey Emin (and not for the first time either), so it appears that Emin-bashing is becoming a recurring trend on this blog of mine. So much so, in fact, that an informant has told me on good authority that Emin's pink neon sign (which is allegedly due to be installed above Droit House) has been priced at £30,000. Doesn't anyone agree that there are better things we could be spending the money on? Anyway, I'm not one to pick up nasty habits, so I'm gonna have to try and change the subject more often in the future and stop moaning about Emin. But it's certainly nice to see myself in print, that's for sure, so I'd like to thank the editor Dave Mairs for making it happen. Let's hope it won't be the last time, eh?

In fact, Cllr. Clive Hart e-mailed me this morning to say: “I've just read your article on conceptual art in Yourthanet. An excellent balanced view and one that many living in Margate & Cliftonville will no doubt agree with. Keep it up!” Apparently, Clive tried to post it as a comment on this blog, but for some reason, it didn't work. Hmm, let's hope it's not something to do with that recent protocol proposed by Thanet District Council to prohibit and monitor councillors' blogging activities? Or maybe I'm just being paranoid.

Anyway, thank you very much for the support, Clive. I haven't quite run out of steam on the blogging front just yet, but all I am sure of is that I'm gonna try and leave Tracey Emin alone in future. The poor ol' girl has had a hard enough time as it is, what with her extravagant wealth being pillaged by the Inland Revenue. See? There I go again. Whoops. Anyway, if everyone could pick up a copy of YourThanet as a gesture of support for all of the bloggers on this fair Isle, then I'd be very appreciative. Ta ta for now.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

AU REVOIR, TRACEY

I see that Tracey Emin has told the BBC News website that she's thinking of quitting the UK in protest at being taxed too high. Oh dear. Perhaps a Tory decision to repeal the 50% tax rate may change her mind. Although, even Cameron's doubtful it'll happen until the end of his first term. But it's nice to see how everything I said about Tracey in my last post appears to be falling into place like dazzling little pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The tea leaves are in alignment for a Tory conversion, it seems. It certainly looks like not only is Tracey getting chummy with the Tories, she's also beginning to sound like one too. Oh well, c'est la vie. Auf wiedersehen, pet.

Friday, 2 October 2009

EMIN TO HUG A TORY?

I saw it announced on BBC News 24 last night that David Cameron has told The Spectator that he would like local Thanet [con] artist Tracey Emin to paint a portrait of him (possibly alongside their latest issue in which he tries to convince us that he's got revolutionary political ideas... hmm, really?). Needless to say, there's no official announcement of this painting actually happening, nor is there much evidence circulating online to corroborate this little nugget of gossip.

I did, however, find some proof. I once got told off by a fellow blogger (Northfleet) for citing a news article from The Daily Telegraph, so I'm fully expecting further abuse for citing this article from The Times which, unfortunately, is the only online source I can find which proves that David Cameron is indeed a big fan of Emin's work and would like to be painted by her. I'm not quite 100% sure what to make of this, to be honest. Make of it what you will.

But I'm suspicious that this is yet another example of David Cameron's ongoing PR campaign to win votes from those with perhaps more liberal sensibilities. After all, he's already claimed that there's not much which separates the Lib Dems and the Tories on policy, possibly in the hope that liberal voters will jump ship and vote for him instead. And let's face it, Tracey Emin's avant-gardist and controversial style isn't really, shall we say, suited to appeal to those with more conservative tastes, so I find it pretty bizarre that he's made this statement.

If perhaps – shock horror – Cameron is being honest about his admiration for Tracey Emin (unlikely, I know), then doubtlessly a painting done by her would definitely be interesting to see. Would she play it safe, or would she draw a turd protruding from his mouth, to metaphorically express what most of us are already thinking? Or would she just merely do a carbon copy of Tony Blair which, in some people's eyes, is all Cameron amounts to?

If this portrait does happen, I've got no doubt that the media coverage generated from Tracey Emin's association with David Cameron would hopefully create a knock-on effect and give Margate some much-needed publicity. However, since Emin has previously stated her hatred of Maggie Thatcher, I'm a bit doubtful whether it'll actually happen. Then again, I could be wrong – Tracey Emin attended a Tory arts dinner earlier this year and appears to be warming to the prospect of a Tory government. “The Tories today are different,” she said, just prior to her meeting with George Osbourne to discuss her concerns about taxes on British artists.

Since Emin certainly seems to have been rubbing shoulders with prominent Tories, I wouldn't be surprised if she was commissioned to do a portrait of David Cameron – after all, she is an artist who knows the value of controversy and the ability to shock, so jumping on the Tory bandwagon would certainly be an opportunistic way for her to send earthquakes through the traditionally left-leaning arts world. All I will say is that I don't think the more staunch Conservative voters will swallow some of the tripe that she passes off as art, so I think Cameron's appreciation of her is merely just a PR move on his part to get lefties to vote for him. If Emin's stupid enough to fool for that, then that's her prerogative.