Friday, 23 December 2011

MERRY XMAS EVERYBODY!

Things are getting decidedly un-festive on the blogs lately. Hearing talk of legal advice being sought by someone due to a comment made on 'Ville Views has troubled me considerably. It's hardly an example of peace and goodwill to all men, is it? For that reason, here's a little bit of light relief:



Merry Christmas everybody! And yes, that is my son. His name is Reece, in case you'd forgotten. He's nearly 6 months old now and, as you can see, he seems to be quite enjoying the festive season. I got him a lump of coal for Christmas. I hope he likes it. Still, it could have been worse... it could've been an orange

Anyway, I'll be back blogging in a few days time. Try not to eat too much turkey everyone. Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to offend the vegetarians by that last comment. I'm equally tolerant towards those who eat nut roasts too. Anyway, hope you all have a good one. Peace and love. xxx

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

MARY PORTAS WAVES WHITE FLAG TO TESCO

I see that Mary Portas has been doing some more PR legwork for the government and has waved the white flag of surrender by saying that supermarkets should be forced to build in town centres. I imagine that the residents of Arlington House who are campaigning against plans to build a Tesco superstore on their doorstep will be beside themselves with annoyance.

Mary Portas did have some kind words to say about Margate Old Town, and admittedly there are a handful of constructive suggestions in her report, but the suggestion that High Streets will be reinvigorated by forcing the likes of Tesco to build more stores in town centres and discouraging out-of-town hubs is pure lunacy. Does the report make mention of the fact that a Parliamentary briefing paper from last month called Supermarkets: Competition Enquiries into the Groceries Market acknowledged that “many critics have argued that the supermarkets have exploited their dominant market position in a way that is contrary to the public interest”?

Is it so hard for people to see that giving supermarkets and chain stores the nod to set up stall in our town centres like Mary Portas suggests may end up further crushing local competition and will have a negative impact on small businesses and independent traders? Here was me thinking part of the problem with High Streets was the rise of Clone Town Britain where, as the New Economics Foundation states, “real local shops have been replaced by swathes of identikit chain stores that seem to spread like economic weeds, making high streets up and down the country virtually indistinguishable from one another.” Does Mary Portas not see anything inherently wrong with this? Clearly not.

Then again, maybe it's got something to do with the fact that Mary Portas had a small role to play in the downfall of the British High Street given her track record with chain stores such as Oasis, Clarks and Louis Vuitton in helping with the development of Westfield Shopping Centre. “Not only is Portas promoting the very clone stores she's supposed to be preventing,” said PR blogger Simon Francis, “she's a champion of the shopping centres which are destroying the high streets.” So, Mary Portas has worked on behalf of big shopping centres and chain stores in the past, and now she's calling for us to roll over and let big supermarkets tickle our bellies? Funny thing that.

Something that bugs me is the suggestion that it is only Labour Party supporters who oppose or have antipathy towards the development of a Tesco superstore near Arlington House. Sure, it's a safe bet that the allure of private sector expansionism and the promise of more jobs is tempting enough to make a Conservative Party member drool and give Tesco the thumbs-up. But what is it that makes people think that those on the Right won't oppose such plans made by Tesco? Is it really only those on the Left who sway towards being anti-corporate and willing to challenge supermarket chains?

Let's remember for a moment that the Conservative Party contains many right-wing libertarians. Traditionally, they're the ones who are likely to champion the private sector by calling for a smaller state and demanding more privatisation and less government intervention. The late ex-Trotskyist Christopher Hitchens who died recently of oesophageal cancer once said: “I find libertarians more worried about the over-mighty state than the unaccountable corporation.” So, tell me this, what is it about the power of the state which so repulses these libertarians, but when it comes the power of Tesco, they remain strangely silent?

Is there anyone on the Right who opposes the runaway expansion of corporate monopolies like the big four supermarket chains? After all, since most corporations are only accountable to shareholders, you'd think that if right-wingers value the concept of democracy they'd be willing to challenge the status quo, but alas, there seems to be few who are willing to poke their heads above the parapet. Funnily enough, however, as I was searching, I found this quote:

“All corporatism - even when practised in societies where hard work, enterprise and cooperation are as highly valued as in Korea - encourages inflexibility, discourages individual accountability, and risks magnifying errors by concealing them.”
Margaret Thatcher, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World, pg. 121

Yes, that's right – Maggie Thatcher. It seems that old Madge – icon of free market fundamentalists and right-wing libertarians alike – wasn't particularly enamoured with corporatism. Obviously, I have no idea how she feels about the rise of this particular cabal of supermarket chains we call the 'Big Four', but surely her words suggest that being sceptical about corporate power is not wholly the domain of the Left? So why is it only Labour Party supporters who get lumped into the anti-corporate box? Why aren't Conservative Party supporters equally capable of seeing how the disproportionate power of supermarkets unjustly distorts the market in a way which undermines local entrepreneurship? Is that so much to ask?

Monday, 12 December 2011

ANARCHY IN ARLINGTON

Ever heard of local author and cult novelist Terry Finch? Nope, me neither. Apparently, according to this website, Terry Finch wrote a series of pulp paperbacks in the late 1970s called The Reprisalizer, beginning with 'The Fury': “a tough, uncompromising tale of gangland violence and ruthless retribution on the streets of Margate.”

In the books, The Reprisalizer was the pseudonym embraced by its main protagonist Bob Shuter, a man seeking revenge for the electrification of his twin brother's testicles, who sets about “blasting Thanet's underworld apart in a hail of .38 slugs” and becoming “a vigilante whose war of vengeance is brutal." Sounds rather like your average Friday night out in Escape, doesn't it?

Anyway, I stumbled across this fansite dedicated to Terry Finch's work, and noticed that Arlington House features quite prominently on a particular section of the site. When I asked the site's administrator if Arlington House really was the inspiration for some of the artwork, I got an email from Frank Barrow, President of The Terry Finch Appreciation Society, who said the following:

“It is indeed Arlington House in Margate. Terry actually used to live there in the mid '70s and set quite a few of his novelettes in and around the building – the most famous ones, of course, being 'Anarchy in Arlington' and its sequel 'Arlington Apocalypse' – two of Terry's key police siege stories.”

Wow, how excellent is that?! I can't wait until the eBooks are made available! Word has it that a film adaptation of The Reprisalizer is currently in the works by writer and director Matthew Holness, the man behind spoof Channel 4 TV show Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, with shooting expected to begin next yearOne might even speculate that the creation of this fansite is no mere coincidence...

Wait a minute – isn't that the same Matthew Holness who upon winning a Perrier Comedy Award for his portrayal of the fictitious pulp horror novelist Garth Marenghi famously refused to speak out of character? The same Matthew Holness who has previously been known to embrace a literary technique called false document to add a layer of mystery and intrigue around his comic creations, blurring the line between fact and fiction?

Hmm... Garth Marenghi... Terry Finch... Has the penny dropped yet? Well, you never know, if we're lucky, we might actually get to see what Arlington House looks like on the big screen when The Reprisalizer hits our local cinemas in summer 2013. That's if Tesco don't interfere, of course.

In the meantime, of course, as Frank Barrow said to me: “Here's to Finch, Thanet and preserving Brutalist architecture throughout Kent!” And who could argue with that?!

Please make sure you visit The Reprisalizer website... and prepare to be amazed!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

CLIVE HART WILL GO ON

In the words of Celine Dion: Near, far, wherever you are, Clive Hart will go on... to become leader of Thanet District Council. This surprise result in tonight's council meeting comes after the Thanet Labour Group put forward a motion to remove Tory Bob Bayford as Leader of the Council last week following John Worrow's resignation from the Conservative Party. 

The result pretty much rested on which way the four Independent candidates would vote and, as it happened, Labour's Clive Hart got 28 votes (garnering votes from Independents Jack Cohen and ex-Tory John Worrow) and Bob Bayford got 26 (with one vote from Independent Bob Grove), with one absention (from Tom King), so that officially means our council has a new leader. It's a result I certainly wasn't expecting.

It's worth remembering that the timing of Clive Hart's arrival as new Leader of Thanet District Council is quite unprecedented. I believe that Thanet is now one of the only councils in Kent to be controlled – albeit in part (I assume in coalition with the Independents) – by a local Labour Party, breaking from the true blue hegemony we've become accustomed to since last year's local election results. I'll be the first to say that it would've been nicer if Labour had took control in a fashion that wasn't comparable to a coup d'etat (i.e. being decided definitively at the ballot box instead). Nonetheless, it'll be interesting to see how much of a difference this makes to local politics.

As you can tell, I was present at the council meeting to witness proceedings. It felt a bit like I was sitting on bloggers row, as I had the chance to watch the decision unfold sitting alongside 'Ville Views blogger James Maskell and Tony Flaig of Big News Margate. I didn't know what Michael Child looks like, but I assume he was there, as I notice he has already posted a blog entry about Clive Hart being declared the new leader. Tony's piped up about it too. I guess I'm just a bit slower on the uptake than they are.

Anyway, I'm sure there will be plenty more to discuss about this momentous decision in due course. Until then, as far as district councils go, it looks like Kent is no longer a true blue county. How does everybody feel about that?

NOTE: The other Labour-controlled council in Kent is, of course, Gravesham Council, which makes Thanet Council the second local authority to go red.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

WHAT SORT OF ARSE IS LOYAL TO TESCO?

I've just finished reading Big Babies Or: Why Can't We Just Grow Up by Michael Bywater, a witty but barbed indictment of 'the infantilisation of Western culture.' He argued on this New Statesman article that the Baby Boomer generation is guilty of being "greedy, trivial, venal, cosseted" and wrote in the Telegraph that we are "patronised, spoon-fed, our responses pre-empted and our autonomy eroded with a fine, rich, heavily funded contempt." The reason I thought I'd mention it is I couldn't help but think of local plans to build a Tesco superstore near Arlington House when I read a passage in the book in which Bywater writes about Tesco 'bespoiling another town' and jesting that:

"Store chains offer 'loyalty' cards, as though a giant corporation run by megalomaniacs is worthy of 'loyalty' (merciful heavens, what sort of arse is loyal to Tesco?)."

Quite right. My 'loyalty' was certainly tested when the Arlington House blog reported that an 'independent' heritage report commissioned by TDC on the upgraded listing of the Scenic Railway was authored by Dr Chris Miele, a partner in the legal firm Montagu Evans, which lists Tesco Stores as one of their main clients. Unsurprisingly, given the 'independent' nature of the report, it concluded that the Scenic Railway would not be affected by building a Tesco superstore. I wonder what helped Dr Chris Miele reach that conclusion? Oh well, never mind, just think how pretty the seafront will look with a giant Tesco staring back at us, eh? 

Anyway, why is it that Tesco deserve our loyalty? Is merely offering us cheap food and the promise of 'more jobs' an honest way to win over hearts and minds, or is it just a confidence trick? If you ask me, the expansion of big corporate behemoths like many UK supermarkets bear much resemblance to the growth of Attila the Hun's Huhnic Empire, invading all walks of life until we are forced to submit to their ubiquity. And let's face it, if the Huns turned up on your doorstep and set up a military outpost in your front garden, would you welcome them? I doubt it. For that reason, I see the "Big Four" supermarkets as being no different to the Empire builders of old. A good bit of Celtish resistance is healthy.

Don't get me wrong, supermarkets do have their place in society, but it sure as hell shouldn't be slap bang on the seafront, in the hope that it's the first thing tourists see the moment they arrive at Margate train station. What sort of postcard for the town is that? And another thing, don't Tesco have enough bloody supermarkets on our doorstep anyway? They already have a big one in the heart of Thanet - at Westwood Cross - not to mention the little Metro in Cliftonville and the small ones in Ramsgate and Broadstairs. Why build more? This isn't a case of business expansionism, it's an incursion, and it'll only make local businesses on the seafront suffer, from Margate's shops all the way along to those in Westbrook and Westgate. And they expect us to be loyal?!

Anyway, I recommend you buy Michael Bywater's book. What could easily have been a one-sided nanny state diatribe makes some very thought-provoking points about how a mixture of needless government policy-making; a PC brigade which often borders on the absurd; obsession with fashion, celebrity and consumerism; a belittling PR industry spin machine which mollycoddles and hoodwinks the public into herd-like conformity; and the condescending nature of mass media advertising have led to an absurd state of affairs in which grown adults take permanent flights from maturity and expect to be treated like Big Babies. I think it's about time we all grew up, don't you?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

DOLE-BY-THE-SEA PART II: THE SEQUEL?

The Guardian have published a nightmarish vision of the future inspired by George Osborne's austerity measures in which Margate gets a brief mention. It predicts:

"The housing benefit reforms of 2012 and 2013 had swept tens of thousands of lower income families out of inner London, to the fringes of the capital and beyond to Margate, Hastings, Milton Keynes and Luton."

Lovely... so Margate will return to being a 'dole-by-the-sea' resort for dumping benefit claimants and low income families, will it? Surely that risks derailing a lot of the great effort being done to regenerate our area and will bring us right back to square one. Even BBC Newsnight recently claimed Thanet will be among the 20 most-affected areas likely to be hit by spending cuts, so this prediction appears to be fitting a pattern of doomsaying. I hope it can be avoided.

Sadly, however, I remember reading a piece on Inside Housing in which David Farmer, Thanet Council's head of housing regeneration, admitted that historically tenants in Cliftonville have been “bussed into Margate by London boroughs as we have landlords who will house them” and that he feared cuts in housing benefit across the south east will only increase their number. “We are aware of it,” he said, “and we are worried.”

Oh well... at least they'll have a nice art gallery to look at...

Monday, 5 December 2011

THANET GAZETTE ON THE VERGE OF A MERGER?

The Isle of Thanet Gazette could very well be sailing into choppy waters, if UK regional journalism news website HoldtheFrontPage is to be believed. In an article published last week, it claims plans may be afoot to merge the Isle of Thanet Gazette and its sister paper, the Thanet Times, with the Canterbury Times, the Faversham Times and the Herne Bay & Whitstable Times.

Could that mean our beloved local newspaper will be subsumed into a cross-regional North East Kent rag? If so, I feel this occurrence could potentially have calamitous consequences for grassroots local news reporting in our area. John Nurden, Editor at Kent Regional News and Media, didn't seem pleased with the news either, tweeting about the merger by saying: "The words fire and frying pan come to mind."

You may remember the blog article I wrote a few months ago in which I stated my opposition to Kent Messenger Group's attempt to buy several Northcliffe Media newspapers, of which the Isle of Thanet Gazette was one. In the end, KM pulled out of the deal in October after it was referred to a full Competition Commission inquiry. As Roy Greenslade has stated: “The companies decided they could not afford, in terms of either money or time, to argue their case through a commission inquiry.”

Greenslade seems to presume that talks of merging the Isle of Thanet Gazette with other regional titles are part of “the gloomy fall-out from Northcliffe Media's blocked attempt to sell seven Kent titles to the KM group.” I can't help but feel that should a merger come to pass it could prove hugely detrimental to local journalism in the long run. After all, since a North East Kent rag would spread news reporting thinly over a large geographical area, how will we be able to call it genuinely local at all?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

FUELLISH BEHAVIOUR

Since a bunch of Iranian protesters have provoked international outrage by storming the UK Embassy in Tehran – ransacking offices and burning the Union flag – wasn't it heartening to see that until very recently our friends at Manston Airport were allowing Iranian passenger planes to refuel in Thanet? What a lovely gesture that was.

According to the Daily Mail, since Manston Airport is privately-owned by Infatril, the deal struck with Iran Air dodged international sanctions which were imposed due to fears that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. In the diplomatic fallout to the Embassy raid, however, there are fresh calls by Foreign Secretary William Hague to impose tougher sanctions against Iran. These calls seem to be heeded now the EU is pursuing a similar tough line against Ahmedinijad and the Iranian regime, so in the midst of this ongoing and rather embarrassing situation, Manston Airport Chief Executive Charles Buchanan stopped allowing Iran Air to make refuelling stops, admitting on BBC News:

"As a commercial enterprise this was a profitable exercise for us but the sensitivities of dealing with Iran have changed."

It's easy to be wise after the event, isn't it? Let's just pray a new deal isn't struck which ends up being similarly at odds with the rest of the international community!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

STRIKE A POSE

It was the day of strike action today, in case you hadn't noticed. Call me a fence-sitter if you want, but I'm not going to comment publicly on whether I think the teachers, as one example, are right or wrong to withdraw their labour at the urging of the unions. Obviously, for many parents up and down the country the strike seems to be viewed as an inconvenience they could well do without, particularly when you consider that a whopping 24 Thanet schools are believed to have been closed today.

However, it's worth remembering the vitally important role that teachers have in society and how we owe it to our children to take heed of their understandable concerns about pension reforms. Whether going on strike is a suitable way to address those concerns is up for you to decide, but I do err on the side of sympathy.

I'm not usually one to go in for these internet-based viral things, but I saw that a friend of mine on Facebook had posted this, so I felt compelled to share it:

Are you sick of highly paid teachers? 

Teachers' hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year! It's time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do – babysit! 

We can get that for less than minimum wage. 

That's right. Let's give them £5.93 an hour and only the hours they work; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be £41.51 a day (8.30 am to 3:30pm with 60 minutes off for lunch and play – that equals 7½ hours). 

Each parent could pay £41.51 a day for these teachers to babysit their children. Now how many children do they teach in a day... maybe 32? So that's £41.51 x 32 = £1328.32 a day. 

However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any holidays. 

LET'S SEE.... 

That's £1328.32 x 180 = £239,097.60 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries). 

What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master's degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage (£6.90), and just to be fair, round it off to £7.00 an hour. That would be £7.00 x 7½ hours x 32 children x 180 days = £ 302,400 per year. 

Wait a minute – there's something wrong here! There sure is! 

The average teacher's salary (nationwide) is £25,000 ÷ 180 days = £138.90 per day ÷ 32 children = £4.34 ÷ 7½ hours = £0.58 per hour per student – a very inexpensive babysitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!) WHAT A DEAL!!!!

Make a teacher smile (or cry!); repost this to show appreciation!

Clearly, if the above is true, we should consider ourselves lucky that we pay teachers as modestly as we do. Just remember – not all of those who work in education or the public sector are riding a gravy train. Most are not-so-lucky. 

If a teacher can walk away from a long career at the age of 65 with an average pension of around £9,806 (as the Hutton report states) then the whole 'gold-plated' argument much-loved by the gutter-press falls apart like a stale cookie. At the very least, that should be a reason to listen to the strikers rather than berate them, should it not?

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

DEV BISWAL GETS SAUCY

It's been brought to my attention that Dev Biswal – Thanet restauranteur and head chef at The Ambrette – featured in an issue of The Grocer magazine earlier this month in which he slams some of the own-label curry sauces sold in supermarkets. In an investigation into the quality of said sauces, the Michelin Guide-recommended kitchen maestro tasted some of the offerings from Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Morrisons and concluded that they could barely be considered 'curry' at all:

"The leading supermarkets make a big contribution to the degredation of so-called 'curries' by introducing such uncared for and low-end products. The general public has a right to eat authentic, healthy, affordable and good-tasting food."

I'm sure Mr. Biswal will be mighty pleased if the day finally comes when the masses descend upon Margate's proposed Arlington Tescos with bagfulls of Tesco Value Curry Sauce at 17p a tin, don't you?!

Many thanks to Dev Biswal who granted me permission to use the above image for this post. Please make sure you read his blog.

Friday, 25 November 2011

CLLR JOHN WORROW RESIGNS THE WHIP

I see that councillor for Birchington South Ward, John Worrow, recently set up a local blog and has dropped the bombshell today that he is resigning the whip of Thanet's local Conservative group. The implications of this on our 'hung' council could be seismic in that it brings the amount of Labour and Conservative councillors to level pegging with 26 councillors on both sides. Since neither party has a majority, what's to say John's resignation won't lead to a future council leadership struggle? Interesting times indeed. 

Perhaps John's entry to the blogging scene was due to all the glowing adulation he received after being voted TDC's 2nd 'sexiest' councillor here on Thanet Waves back in June. Maybe the allure of social media channels proved so strong that John simply couldn't resist reaching out to his online fanbase. Don't let the newfound fame and independence get to your head, John! I'm kidding, of course, but in all seriousness, please make sure you visit John's blog. It's well worth a read. He accuses the current local Conservative administation of behaving in an "unbending, unrealistic, and unsympathetic manner" particularly towards live animal exports protesters and small business owners within John's Birchington South Ward.

On a separate note, it is refreshing to see local councillors engaging with their constituents through the medium of blogging. I honestly think that the majority of councillors should embrace blogging as it is undeniably good for democracy and enables voters to find out more about their elected representatives. To their credit, Thanet Labour Group have been using the Thanet Lab blog in a very collaborative fashion to air the views of a number of Labour councillors. In fact, according to my analysis, 14 local Labour councillors out of a potential 26 have either contributed to or ran a local Thanet blog of their own.

It's just a shame that the local Conservative group don't appear to have been as unified in their embrace of blogging. At the moment, we have Simon Moores and Ken Gregory. They could've had John Worrow joining their ranks but his resignation now means that only 2 Tory councillors out of a potential 26 are now blogging. Well, I suppose it's a start, isn't it?!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

NICK ROBINSON CALLS TURNER 'A BIT OF FLUFF'


Nick Robinson did a rekkie to Margate as part of Your Money and How They Spend It, a documentary investigating how taxpayer's money is spent, which aired on BBC2 last night. As Daily Mirror columnist Jane Simon has noted, the bespectacled Political Editor "smugly zeroes in on some spending decisions that seem particularly unsound" with one such 'example' being the Turner Contemporary which Jane describes as "a multi-million pound art gallery in struggling Margate."

Standing in front of the Daniel Buren window installation, Gallery Director Victoria Pomery was interviewed by Nick Robinson and did a fairly good job dealing with some tricky questions thrown at her. After referring to the £14m of public money that went into building the Turner Contemporary, Nick went into 'attack dog' mode. Here is a transcript of how the conversation went:

NICK: You must at times see the real poverty that there is here [in Margate]. How, in a sense, do you argue to yourself the reason why people in very low-paid jobs should pay their taxes to build what is in a sense a real luxury?
VICTORIA: I don't see any of the arts as a luxury. I see the arts as integral to our lives, all of our lives, whoever we are. And I think for me it's really important that everyone can access fantastic arts that make them think in different ways about themselves and the world that they live in.

NICK: Isn't this just in the end a bit of fluff?
VICTORIA: I don't think this is fluff at all. I think this is serious. We are really ambitious. We want to be part of Margate's history and part of its future. And we feel we can really help and support the wider regeneration and renewal of this area.

Exploring the opposite side of the argument, Nick Robinson interviewed Dawn McClaren, a local mum who said she was angry about the use of taxpayer's money to build an art gallery given the fact that her college-educated son can't get a job due to the chronic lack of jobs in the area. Also making a very brief appearance was Labour councillor Ian Driver who expressed optimism about the gallery and predicted we'd soon feel the benefit in a few years time when the local jobs market eventually picks up.

Concluding his investigation, Nick Robinson pointed out that arts funding for the whole of England adds up to about £447m which he describes as "a drop in the ocean of public spending, and a lot less than Winter Fuel Allowance." From that, I think we should take comfort in that as far as investment in the arts goes, there are far more cost-heavy areas of public expenditure that deserve far more scrutiny.

Besides, only a fool would have failed to notice the immediate impact the opening of Turner has had on the local area in such a short space of time. Personally, I'm of the view that the arts are vitally important to society, particularly in how those in the arts industry can engage with the education sector, so I couldn't be more pleased with the progress that Turner Contemporary is making and the effect it is having on the local area.

The rebirth of Margate is already starting to occur in the Old Town (for which the Margate Renewal Partnership recently received an award for Great Neighbourhood from the Academy of Urbanism at a national ceremony) and The British Guild of Travel Writers even gave an international tourism award to the Turner Contemporary earlier this month.

The proof  as they say  is in the pudding. Jobs may be sparse, sure, but Rome wasn't built in a day. Let's just count our blessings and be thankful that the Turner Contemporary isn't quite turning out to be the 'white elephant' that some people thought it would be.

You can still watch Episode 1 of Your Money and How They Spend It on BBC iPlayer and make up your own mind.

Friday, 11 November 2011

CAT-ASTROPHE!!!

I see that CCTV footage on Kent Online of the Ramsgate wastrel who was caught swinging a cat around by its tail has gone viral. Now, it seems, the national press have joined the chorus of outrage. The story has since been picked up by BBC News, Sky News, The Sun, Daily Mirror, The Independent and The Telegraph in the same sort of hysterical coverage that accompanied CCTV footage of a woman who dumped a cat in a wheelie bin last year.

The RSPCA has appealed for help to trace a man caught on CCTV in Kent swinging a cat by its tail.

This sort of sickening behaviour is appalling. The man deserves to be prosecuted, so I fully support the efforts of the RSPCA to catch him, bring him to justice and make him answerable for his actions. However, as much as I detest violence towards animals, isn't it odd how people who complain about animal cruelty to cats in this particular instance weren't so kind about Libyan tyrant Muammar Gaddafi when he was being swung around by rebels, kicked in the head until his hair dripped with blood and allegedly sodomized with an iron rod before being shot in the head?

As evil as Gaddafi's regime undoubtedly was, isn't it peculiar how some people seem to think it's OK to condone the abuse and near-torture of a human being – even if he was a despot – yet to swing a cat by its tail is suddenly beyond the pale? Has the world lost its sense of perspective? Surely if you agree that swinging a cat by its tail is morally deplorable, then the similar treatment of another human being should be treated as cruel in equal measure, no matter what level of wrongdoing Gaddafi was guilty of?

Needless to say, I feel that swinging a cat by its tail is a disgustingly heartless thing to do, but my point is cruelty to humans should be equally reviled. However, looking at some of the vile comments on Kent Online, it seems people are happy to embrace the same punitive braying mob mentality that the Libyan rebels were guilty of when they got hold of Gaddafi and beat him up, arguably making them morally no better than he was. "I would personally like to see the thug swung round by his neck!" says Ferry Tuckwit. "Absolutely disgusting," says JaneAnne. "What a vile little chav. He deserves to be locked up and tortured."

Be careful, folks. You might love cats, but I think you're getting a bit hysterical here. This isn't Libya, this is Britain. Civilised behaviour can't be taught to thugs by tit-for-tat violence. And why? Because in resorting to violence you become uncivilised and thus destroy the whole basis of civil obedience in the first place. We should remember that justice should not be vengeful. Don't form a vigilante group and bugger people with iron rods, OK? That won't solve anything! Just show a bit of bloody decorum, will you?!

Monday, 7 November 2011

EMIN PLANS 'HARDCORE' TURNER EXHIBITION

Tracey Emin has told BBC's The Culture Show that her exhibition at the Turner Contemporary next year will be rather naughty indeed. Never one to shy away from what may be considered a sexual faux pas, Emin suggested to interviewer Andrew Graham-Dixon that the 'hardcore' tone of the exhibition looks set to be quite raunchy, with her work featuring alongside J.M.W. Turner and Auguste Rodin. She told him:

“Basically, it's all erotic art. Not everyone knows that Turner did a lot of erotic paintings and watercolours – and, well, obviously Rodin did – but much more raunchy than people ever... All everyone knows is about The Kiss but his other stuff was really hardcore, you know. So I think they'll be bringing that out and I'll look like some placid nice young lady, I think, in comparison to them.”

I'm sure all the nation's perverts will be rubbing their trousers with great enthusiasm at the news. So there we have it – it looks like we'll be treated to lots of nudey bits and bobs being flashed in front of our faces to mark Tracey Emin's homecoming. Oh, joy of joys.

Friday, 4 November 2011

RIGHT ROYAL PALAVA

It's been reported by Kent Online that Queen Elizabeth II is planning to visit Margate for Remembrance Day on Friday 11 November. Though the announcement is official, there is no futher information on royal.gov.uk on the details of her visit, so nobody knows for certain what she'll be doing here. However, I have heard rumours that she may be visiting Margate Old Town to meet some war veterans from the local area. I think this is great news – given the poignancy of the occasion, I'm sure the media will be watching like hawks so it definitely stands to give our local area some positive publicity.

As it happens, I'll be working that day, so I won't be available to say hello to our Queen, which I'm sure she'll be disappointed to hear. Unfortunately, I actually have to go out and earn my money rather than rely upon £40 million a year from the taxpayer to spend on lavish trips abroad to the likes of Australia, Canada, Bermuda and Trinidad under the guise of a 'royal visit'. Since becoming Queen, our monarch has been on approximately 386 trips abroad to far-flung corners of the globe. Nice work if you can get it, eh?! That being said, the Queen does work incredibly hard for an 85-year-old, but whether her work is worth £40 million a year is up for debate, as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, I'm not gonna rain on her parade. I'm beginning to sound like an anti-monarchist, which I'm not, as given my cynicism about politicians, I'm even struggling to see the benefits of republicanism, to be fair! By and large, I'm pleased with the news and I'm sure the Queen's visit will be wonderful for the town. I did notice that by an amazing coincidence, a quick visit to the Turner Contemporary website reveals an announcement which states:

'Due to exceptional circumstances Turner Contemporary will be closed to the public on Friday 11 November 2011. We apologise for any inconvenience that this may cause.'

Hmm, closed to the public? On the same day the Queen is visiting? Would it be fair to speculate that the reason Turner Contemporary is closing on that day is because the Queen is possibly planning to have a snoop around their Nothing in the World but Youth exhibition for a private viewing? I certainly wouldn't be surprised if that was the case. Of course, I'm not one to peddle mindless gossip, but it does make one wonder, does it not? Does anybody else think it's possible the Queen might visit the Turner Contemporary after shaking hands with the great and the good in Margate's Old Town?

If the Queen does fancy herself as a bit of an art lover, I'd be curious to find out what she thinks of Jamie Reid's poster for the Sex Pistols 1977 "Holidays in the Sun" single which is hanging up in Turner Contemporary's South Gallery. Jamie Reid, lest we forget, is the anarchic artist who created what The Observer's Sean O'Hagan described as "the single most iconic image of the punk era" by designing a picture which depicted Her Majesty with an added safety pin through her nose and swastikas in her eyes. Speaking of the Sex Pistols "God Save the Queen" single, Jamie Reid later said:

“That single made world wide news. In retrospect, it was probably the last public protest against the monarchy. We have really been duped in the last few years: royalty has taken over media space to the extent that they’re now a living soap opera”.

Oh dear. If our monarch does visit the Turner Contemporary, does that mean she could inadvertently be exposed to anti-monarchist propraganda? Good grief! Well, let's just hope Her Majesty doesn't happen to remember who Jamie Reid is if she happens to see the picture, shall we?! That could be very embarrassing! Then again, I'm probably wrong, she might not even be visiting the gallery after all. I'm only speculating. The Queen's probably got a very busy itinery for that day, what with it being Remembrance Day and everything, so the sudden announcement that the Turner Contemporary will be closed to the public on that day is probably just a coincidence. What do you think?

Sunday, 30 October 2011

ANY PORTAS IN A STORM

© Copyright Downing Street and licensed for reuse. This is not an endorsement of my post.
Mary Portas – Channel 4's Queen of Shops and the coalition government's retail champion – swung into town last month and was treated to something of a hero's welcome by shop owners in Margate's Old Town. Anyone who felt Mary Portas deserved being hailed as the saviour of our local High Street will be amply disappointed to discover that she has since admitted to KM Thanet Extra that the solution to Margate's empty shops could be to transform them into residential flats or business spaces. This begs me to ask the question: Did a visit by the Queen of Shops really do diddly squat for our local shops?

Leading a review into the future of the British High Street is one thing (which aims to 'bring back the bustle to our town centres' as her official website states), but to swan about calling herself a shopping guru while at the same time admitting that opening shops isn't her prerogative makes me feel as if her visit was little more than a shallow PR stunt. What exactly was the point of getting some consumer-friendly reality TV personality to spring this load of flannel on us? If he were alive today, they might as well have hired Fred Dibnah to do a tour of Margate only to tell us the solution is to raze the whole bloody lot to the ground. 

Of course, I don't agree with Dibnah's philosophy of demolition. I'd love to see Margate's High Street be completely regenerated, with new shops popping up by the dozen, but it seems to me that Mary Portas's comments only add to the suggestion that local shops have no real future ("many towns nowadays are over-retailed," she says). This taps into a sense of defeatism, the idea that Westwood Cross has won the war and that any shop which doesn't happen to be a chain store isn't worthy of our attention, so we might as well build ghettos of rented accomodation instead. To that, I say nonsense. As acute as the UK's housing needs may be, if the price we have to pay for more living spaces is the monotony of soulless shopping precincts, then I think we should disagree with Portas's comments.

I'm aware that Margate is still ranked as one of the UK's worst High Streets with 36% of its retail premises remaining shut, even though its reputation as a 'ghost town' has since been usurped by Leigh Park in Hampshire. But just look at Margate Old Town and see how fast those shops have flourished since the opening of the Turner Contemporary. What's to suggest that this won't create a domino effect towards the top-end of town that Mary Portas claims is "dying"? 

As far as regeneration goes, simply turning old shops into flats or offices for business hire seems to be the easier (and possibly most profitable) option in the short-term. But the real long-term challenge would be to lobby central government for the right to relieve business rates in the UK's most deprived high streets to encourage local entrepreneurs to set up independent shops, free from the tyranny of corporate multinationals. Would Mary Portas be willing to lend her name to that, I wonder? Or would she be too busy trying on frocks?

Monday, 17 October 2011

THAT'S RICHBOROUGH

© Copyright Andreas-photography and licensed for reuse. This is not an endorsement.
Plans to demolish Richborough Power Station's three cooling towers and chimney have been submitted to Thanet Council, according to the Thanet Gazette. In the report, it's stated that they "cannot be retained in any future scheme, because of their location, size and speciality of use" and they are "surplus to the requirements of the site." Needless to say, this should come as no surprise to many of us, but I for one will be devastated to see the towers go. As ugly as they might seem, they are without a doubt an East Kent landmark and they've had a big and important role to play in my life.

I originally grew up in Deal and it only took a stroll from across where I lived to see the Richborough cooling towers on the horizon. Those towers are something I remember being part of my growing up experience and I fondly remember staring at them on many walks along the coast adjacent to the Goodwin Sands near the Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club. Not only that, but my connection to them is familial. My grandfather Bernard Edwards worked at Richborough Power Station for nearly thirty years – from 1962 onwards – and had worked his way up to becoming a Unit Operator in the control room.

Eventually, my grandfather was moved onto Sellindge when I was just a child and the rest, as they say, is history. Richborough Power Station was eventually closed in 1996 and left a large cooling tower-shaped hole in my grandfather's life from then onwards. The fact that I was raised by my grandparents only added to the sense of importance those cooling towers had to our family. Subsequently, hearing that plans have been submitted to Thanet Council to have the towers demolished has had a disheartening effect on me.

Obviously, it's nothing I didn't see coming, and it may seem ridiculous to some people, but in my opinion Richborough Power Station's stature as a landmark – both physically and psychologically – was overwhelmingly profound. Not only did it have a vital role to play in my Grandad's working life, but it also loomed large on the horizon for most of my childhood years and well into my adolescence. It was always there. The thought of it not being there is saddening, even though I've since moved away from where I grew up.

I am, however, for the most part, unsure of what could be done to stop this from happening. The towers have been in a state of disuse for so long now that getting nostalgic about them forgets the fact that the amount of maintenance required could spell the end of them anyway. It looks as though we'll be getting a Green Energy Park on the site once the towers are demolished and apparently it'll become a "recycling plant for household, commercial and industrial waste, biomass and gasification plants – where waste is converted through heat rather than incineration into electricity."

I can see some saying that it's foolish to cling onto big lumps of concrete and calling them a 'landmark' when it serves no real purpose. But what's to say the site owners couldn't make use of them somehow, perhaps as a testament to Britian's industrious past in electricity generation? I imagine that'd go down rather nicely alongside a 21st century 'green energy' recycling plant.

In short, I don't mind admitting I'll be sad to see the cooling towers go. Had my Grandad been alive today, he probably would've been just as upset as I am at the news. Sure, I will miss driving past the cooling towers on my way to work. My grandmother will also be sad not to see them in the distance when she takes her dog for a walk. But what do you think? Should we resist the change, or should we say 'RIP Richborough Power Station. Step up, Richborough 2.0'?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

IS ROGER GALE A LUDDITE?

Goodness me, Roger Gale's foolhardy war on technology looks set to continue. Is the MP for North Thanet becoming a luddite or something? A luddite tends, after all, to be described as "one who opposes technical or technological change" and Gale's latest call to ban Twitter from the Commons has made him look as daft as a brush. It seems like this is becoming something of a habit. Last month, Gale criticised the government's use of online e-petitions to determine parliamentary debates and now he's having a pop at social media.

Back in August, Gale had a moan about Twitter and blathered on about how he felt it made a "contributory and probably significant factor in the co-ordination of the recent criminal riots" and called upon the government to grant the police powers to terminate "the use of transmitters servicing trouble spots." It amazes me how some Tories claim to oppose a 'police state' but seem quite happy to grant them powers to ensure that "the rights of society to protection" - as Gale puts it - "have to take precedence over the rights of individuals." Funny thing that.

And now, alongside fellow Tory MP James Gray, Roger Gale has called for all mobile phones and iPads to be banned from the Commons. In particular, it appears that Gale doesn't like the fact that some MPs tweet from the Chamber as he claims it 'disrupts debates.' What, and falling asleep on live TV doesn't disrupt debates too? What does Gale propose to do about that, eh? I'd much rather have an MP who is engaged with modern technology to keep constituents informed of what's being discussed via Twitter rather than have some old fart not paying attention and snoring his head off on the green benches.

As it happens, as of today, the majority of MPs have voted in favour of allowing the use of Twitter in the Commons. As for Roger Gale... well, the story of King Canute springs to mind. It clearly looks like he was fighting a losing battle in this instance. Gale's prehistoric views on the use of modern technology risk turning him into a political dinosaur. Maybe we should rename him Roger Gallimimus.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

NO INTERNET CONNECTION

© Copyright Ben Dalton and licensed for reuse. This is not an endorsement of my post.
You might have noticed I haven't done much blogging lately. Don't worry, I have a good excuse. I moved house last month and unfortunately still haven't got a Sky Broadband connection set up. For some reason, Murdoch's minions have been dragging their feet setting up a new phone line for me. At first, they told me my house didn't have one and I'd need to pay BT Openreach to come and do some engineering work. Then, all of a sudden, Sky discovered I actually did have one, and sent me a letter telling me they'd be activating it at some point this week.

Obviously, once I have a phone line, there'll be a longer delay waiting for online access so... I doubt I'll have a permanent internet connection set up until the end of this month. Since it's been a heck of a long time that I've been surfing the World Wide Web, it's got me thinking about a few things. For one thing, why do internet service providers take so bloody long to set things up? I seem to remember reading an article on Wired.com about how a U.N. report declared internet access a human right. Using that logic, wouldn't that mean that my human rights have been violated by Sky's dilly-dallying?

If internet access truly is a human right, surely that'd give all ISPs a real kick up the backside to set up internet connections more speedily? Speaking figuratively, if I were being petty, I could write Sky a strongly-worded letter and use the U.N. report to argue that not being able to use the internet for the past month could be considered a human rights violation. Then again, if Theresa May gets her way with scrapping the Human Rights Act it looks like my pleas would probably fall on deaf ears. I am, of course, only kidding, but it does get you thinking. I rely on the internet for so much more than blogging, so it has felt like I've been without a limb for a good few weeks. Still, I'll be back before you know it. I'll try and post whenever I can. Hang tight.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

BANDS GEAR UP FOR TURNER'S LATE NIGHT LIVE

© Copyright St├ęphane Gueguen and licensed for reuse. This is not an endorsement of my post.
The band line-up for Turner Contemporary's Late Night Live music event Noise on September 30th was announced recently, with another mystery act yet to be announced following the unfortunate news that headliners Two Wounded Birds have had to postpone their appearance until early next year. Nonetheless, since the event itself is only a couple of days away, I thought I'd post a few YouTube videos to get you all excited. I know I'm definitely looking forward to it. It's sure to be a great night!

Gross Magic
Fans of shoegazing or noise pop will be in hog heaven with Gross Magic, who'll be treating us with their lo-fi penchant for drowning their luscious melodies with My Bloody Valentine-esque feedback. To me, Gross Magic seem to be inspired by early '90s alt. rock, Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, Nirvana (to a small extent) and a slew of other comparable C86 bands, but the accomplished pop songcraft also makes bizarre nods to glam rock and ELO. Watch the music video of their single 'Sweetest Touch' below (which has more than a touch of The Joy Formidable about it):



Juneau Projects
Playing an intriguing mixture of performance art and electro-psych folk, this experimental Beta Band-esque band have a distinctly avant-garde sound which is well worth a listen. Led by Ben Sadler and Phil Duckworth, the duo's previous musical performances at art centres such as Ceri Hand Gallery and the Tate Modern indicates they are eager to fuse artistic expressionism with noise, so you can expect nothing more than an inspiringly delightful racket of eye-opening proportions. This video of them performing "Sang de Bouef" in a live performance at Croft Castle will prepare you for what to expect:



Scream Don't Whisper
Admittedly, this is the kind of band that make me feel like an old man. Scream Don't Whisper are a Thanet-based pop punk act who play music in that uber-fashionable way beloved by BBC Radio 1, with all the hyper-emotive caterwauling we've come to expect from voguish bands like 30 Seconds to Mars, You Me at Six and Kids in Glass Houses. That being said, I must tip my hat off to lead singer Luke Burgess for defying the Americanized drawl favoured by many pop punk singers in their cover of Jessie J's "Price Tag." If you listen carefully, Luke pronounces the word 'dance' in the most English way possible. Good on him, I say:



Needless to say, I'm curious who the mystery act is they are yet to announce, but I'm willing to bet it's going to be someone special! Coinciding with Turner's fantastic new exhibition Nothing in the World But Youth, all of these bands are diverse, fresh and compliment the theme of youthful artistic expression down to a T. I'm quite confident that it promises to be a very enjoyable night, so please do come along. It's held from 6pm to 10pm at Sunley Gallery, Foyle Rooms and Clore Learning Studio at Turner Contemporary on September 30th, so there's no excuse not to turn up. Go on, you might just enjoy it! See you there!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

DID TURNER'S CURATORS LISTEN TO MY OPINION?!

DEXTER DALWOOD, The Poll Tax Riots, 2005
Oil on canvas, 98-1/2 x 134 inches (250 x 340 cm)
Copyright © Gagosian Gallery and used under these terms
Well, whaddya know! As I was strolling around Turner Contemporary's fascinating new exhibition Nothing in the World But Youth which launched yesterday, I saw this big canvas painting called Poll Tax Riots by artist and Turner Prize nominee Dexter Dalwood (see above). I'm a big fan of Dexter Dalwood's work and genuinely feel this painting – which originally appeared in the Gagosian gallery – fits in perfectly with Turner's youth-centric new expo so I was delighted to see it on display. 

What surprised me, though, is that I distinctly remember posting a comment on Turner Contemporary's Facebook page back in December 2010 which expressed my admiration for Dexter Dalwood's work and asked whether they could try and include him in any future art exhibitions. Believe it or not, at the time, I was even told that my request had been passed onto the curators.

So, as soon as I saw Poll Tax Riots hanging on the wall of the South Gallery, it got me wondering. Was it just a coincidence that Dexter Dalwood's painting appeared in the Nothing in the World But Youth exhibition, or did the Turner Contemporary's curators actually take my opinion onboard? Did what I say have some bearing upon Dexter Dalwood's inclusion in the gallery, or was it just mere happenstance? 

If you don't believe me, please take a look at the full Facebook exchange below (click to enlarge):

And there we have it. Obviously, I'm not arrogant enough to assume that an ordinary bloke like me could have possibly persuaded Turner's curators to include Dexter Dalwood's work on my urging alone, but if nothing else, I certainly feel validated. I mean, what are the odds?! I was agog when I saw Dexter Dalwood's painting staring back at me, I really was, especially considering its massive size. It almost made me feel like I'd had some small part to play in the creation of the exhibition itself, which only made my visit all the more rewarding, let me tell you. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. 

I'm going to write a more in-depth review exploring my thoughts on Nothing in the World But Youth at some point later this week. In the meantime, please pop and visit the Turner Contemporary and experience it for yourselves. There's plenty to see and I can't see any reason why anyone would leave feeling disappointed. 

I hope you enjoy seeing Poll Tax Riots by Dexter Dalwood up close as much as I did!