In case you haven’t heard yet, Kent County Council are planning to close the pedestrian crossing over the railway line between Glebe Way and Clifton Road in Whitstable.
This is being done at the request of Network Rail, who cite safety issues. These include: the high level of use and the time it takes to cross; possible difficulties in the sighting of trains, and the suggestion that the sound of trains might be obscured by background noise, amongst other things.
I have to say this last one seems a little exaggerated as neither Clifton Road nor Glebe Way are busy, and I can’t imagine a time when the hiss of the wind or the twittering of bird song would be loud enough to drown out the roar of a passing train.
But I do understand why this is being done. Network Rail refer to 33 incidents between 1998 and 2016…
By the time you read this it will be New Year. As I’ve said before, when you start the year is arbitrary. Where does a circle begin or end? I start mine the day after solstice, when the light returns and the days are getting longer.
This year I went to see my friend Bapu up in London. He is an astrologer with an uncanny ability to read your innermost thoughts. He is also severely disabled and lives in a state of extreme poverty.
A few weeks ago he discovered that his benefits had been cut. No one told him this was going to happen, nor why. His only guess is that it must have something to do with Universal Credit.
His money was reduced from around £500 a month to a little more than £300. This is supposed to cover all his needs, including food, heating, lighting…
The “Exclusive” in the Guardian featuring my Canterbury Labour MP Rosie Duffield, on Thursday 13th September, came just a day after I attended the important demo in London, to stand alongside women who had travelled to Westminster all the way from Lancashire, in order to raise awareness not only of the dangers of fracking but of an important debate that was taking place in parliament that day.
As a Canterbury constituent and someone who has been fighting fracking in East Kent and elsewhere for the past 6 years, I had written to my MP asking for her to lend support to us at the debate. But I received a reply from her office on 10th September explaining: “Unfortunately Rosie is unable to attend the debate on Wednesday 12 September as she already has another event in her diary.”
I was appalled to read in the Guardian article that in spite of having “had a lot of constituents asking me to be part of it” (ie the fracking debate) Rosie Duffield didn’t feel she could attend as she “didn’t get to write a decent speech,” because she was dealing “with the media” following a motion of censure from her local party members.
Really? What a slap in the face to all those constituents who wrote to her for support on this important issue to discover she failed to attend an important debate because she was too busy putting out “exclusives” like this one? Can she not see that her job is, principally, to support constituents rather than plastering herself all over the papers? It’s really very simple – it’s called prioritisation.
Rosie, if you had really cared about missing this debate I would have happily written your speech for you, as would any of the women who had travelled in 2 coaches all the way from Lancashire – and who have been active in fighting fracking for the sake of their families, on the front line in Lancashire and elsewhere, and who know far more about it than you could ever hope to know.
Take a lesson from campaigner, Anne Power, who, at almost 87 years of age, sat in Parliament Square all day on Wednesday 12th to draw attention to that important debate. Take another lesson from Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, who actually found time to leave parliament and come and talk to all on the demo and to assure us all that we have his support.
Please don’t use a Guardian “exclusive” to opine about a local censure motion having prevented you from doing your job. That job is to support constituents – not whine about the fact that a group of Labour Party members was so concerned about your recent conduct and press statements bringing unnecessary and unwarranted pressure on the leader of your own party, they put forward that censure motion in the first place. It’s my understanding that the motion was withdrawn almost immediately so why the great need for you to keep dealing with “the media” three days after the event? Are you using that motion to advance your own victimhood for your own purposes?
If so, it’s not working. It’s clear your actions have already alienated local party members but all you have now done with this Guardian exclusive is alienate ordinary constituents, like me, who actually worked hard to get you elected. We campaigned for you, not because you are Rosie Duffield (most constituents didn’t have a clue who you were) we did so because you were a representative of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Voters may have put a cross beside your name on the ballot paper but their vote was for Jeremy. That’s why they accepted Labour posters in their windows and their homes. How do I know that? Because they told me. Why did they tell me? Because I distributed those posters. That’s how I know.
I also know that there are many who will not lift a finger to help you fight another election in this constituency. And they will never vote for you again either. With your comments in this article, you now owe an apology to every single fracking campaigner who turned out to Westminster last Wednesday while you kept away with “another event in your diary” to brief “the media” instead.
And remember that wafer thin majority of 186 votes you keep going on about? Congratulations on making it even thinner. I’m ashamed to say we might as well have had a Tory MP here for all the good you were to us in Westminster this week. But most of all I am ashamed that my Labour MP should have given the finger to all the brave, fearless campaigners in communities in Lancashire who have Cuadrilla’s fracking rig as an uninvited neighbour.
At the #100Women demo, we wore the colours of the suffragettes. And the motto of the suffragettes was “Deeds not Words.” Maybe from now on you might try spending less time offering “words” to the media – and more time on “deeds” for others – especially those who are desperately fighting a toxic industry – and they do that for you too.
So, regrettably I say shame on you, Rosie Duffield.
I’m sitting in the Whitstable Labour Club, looking at the board above the fireplace on which is written the names of the honorary and founder life members. Of the 33 names up there, I recognise 19.
So, just to give you a flavour: there’s Peter Seymour, who had been a communist but who converted to Labour. He was also a member of the Co-op Party. I remember one conversation with him, when he told me about the years after the war, when the council estates were being built, and the Co-op was in the ascendency. “It was like the revolution had already happened,” he said.
There’s Maud Ehrenstein, who was like this dowager socialist from the 30s. Rumour has it that on her death bed she ripped off her oxygen mask and shouted: “up the Miners!” She was very impressive to my younger mind: this older person with real dignity, still ferociously committed to her core ideals.
Then there’s Fred Rowden – Rowden is a Whitstable name – who was the first customer. Fred told me the story of when the Black Shirts came to Whitstable. They held a rally at the Horsebridge, but were greeted by the Fire Brigade’s Union, who hosed them down, sending them scuttling from the town.
One of my favourites was Griffith Roberts, a toothless Welshman who everyone knew as Taff. He, in turn, called everyone “Vic”. One day my sister asked him what his real name was. “Griffith Owen Roberts,” he told her, in his gloriously melodic Welsh accent. After that I always called him Griff and he always called me Chris.
Or there was Stan Guildford, who was the Chair for a while, with his pork-pie hat, his Groucho Marx moustache and his pipe. “A witty curmudgeon who wanted a better world,” as a mutual friend, Andrew Ling, described him.
This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the club’s foundation, on the August bank holiday 1978. There were 20 founder members, who each put in £20. A further £300 was donated by the local Labour Party branch, and then more money elicited to provide the cash float and to fill up the fruit machine. It is said that the jackpot was won on the first night.
The place very nearly didn’t open as – ironically – the draymen were on strike. They had to find an alternative brewery and buy in stock from the cash and carry.
Older readers will remember that it was originally situated under the railway arches, where the Alimo restaurant is now. You could tell the time by the trains rumbling by overhead and rattling the glasses.
I first became involved in 1984 when I moved to Whitstable. I was in the Miner’s support group, which used to meet in the club on a Friday evening. So my first public experience of Whitstable was standing outside the Co-op, shaking a bucket, collecting money for the Kent Miners.
We held a benefit, and got an extension to the license, which had the club packed out with students and young people. After that we held benefits on a regular basis.
I referred to this as the win-win economy. The club made money. The benefit made money. The bands used the back room for practice and played for free, while the club provided a venue for the town. Everyone had a good time and nobody lost. Imagine if all economic activity was like this!
The club has always been as a much a community resource as a Labour one.
Our first anti-war meetings after 9/11 were held down there. We had people from all parties and all faiths: Christians of all denominations, Buddhists, Greens, Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, the lot. It was like an ecumenical gathering for everyone with an alternative point of view. It was after we left the club that the anti-war movement in Whitstable fell apart.
I’m personally convinced that the reason Whitstable remains a Labour stronghold is because of the club.
My dad loved it here. It was me who introduced him. In his last years, as he became increasingly fragile, everyone was very protective of him, making sure he got home all right, and that, when he left his wallet or his phone, he always got them back. As part of his eulogy I read out some words from him thanking the club for all that it had done.
As you can imagine, this weekend will be a celebration of the club’s history and its connection to the town.
There’s something happening every day and I’m sure, if you want to visit, you’ll be made very welcome.
By the time you read this I will no longer be a postman. I will be a retired person instead.
So this is my goodbye letter to everyone I’ve delivered mail to over the last 13 years.
I’ve done many rounds and pushed many letters through many letter boxes all over Whitstable.
Most recently I’ve been delivering to Borstal Hill, Harbour Street and Sydenham Street. In the past I’ve delivered to Herne Bay Road, Ham Shades Lane, Canterbury Road, Island Wall, Middle Wall and the High Street. And those are only the main roads. There have been many others, too numerous to mention.
I’ve delivered to Whitstable, Tankerton, Seasalter, Swalecliffe and Chestfield.
Perhaps some of you will recognise me. Perhaps, even, some of you will remember me with affection.
I dread to think how many letters I’ve delivered in that time. Millions.
Most of it has been complete rubbish – advertising mail, junk mail, sales brochures and the like – but some of it has been important.
I’ve delivered Christmas cards, birthday cards, Mother’s Day cards, Easter cards and New Year’s greetings. I’ve delivered postcards from around the world. I’ve delivered hospital appointments, letters from loved ones, invitations, commiserations, congratulations and heartfelt thanks. I’ve delivered people’s wage slips and winnings; maybe even a love letter or two, who knows?
I’ve seen many changes.
Probably the most significant change has been the move from Whitstable to Canterbury, which, some of you will remember, I campaigned against vigorously.
Associated with that has been the move from delivering from a bicycle to delivering from a van. This has completely changed the nature of the job.
We used to start early, now we start late. We used to be out on our own, now we work in pairs. We used to be able to walk or cycle to work, now we have to drive. Its like someone looked at all the parts of the job that used to give us pleasure and a sense of pride and decided that those were the very things that needed getting rid of.
The atmosphere in the Canterbury office has been toxic at times. Nothing like the old Whitstable office, which used to be fun. Many old posties have left as a consequence.
The other great change has been the privatisation of the Royal Mail; although, I have to say, this hasn’t affected the job in any material way.
We still push letters through letter boxes. We still walk up and down garden paths; the difference being that these days the profits go to private institutions instead of back into the service as they used to.
Of course, if you remember, the ostensible reason the company was privatised was that letter volumes were down due to the fact that we all use emails and texts these days.
What no one predicted at the time was that the same technology which dispensed with the need for envelopes and stamps, also allowed us to do our shopping on-line, which has lead to a significant growth in the volume of packets.
In fact the Royal Mail has seen a healthy increase in profits since privatisation, and not because of anything the private owners have done – not because of efficiency savings or modernisation, most of which was done previously at public expense – merely as a natural by-product of new technology.
As for the future: who knows? It’s not my concern any more.
So that’s me: signing off as a postman for the very last time. I do hope to be delivering these words of wit and wisdom however, via your newspaper, or on the internet, for some time to come.
I went along to Whitstable harbour to greet Nigel Farage on Sunday. He was there ostensibly to support the local fishermen in their protest about the transitional deal being imposed upon them by the EU, which the fishermen oppose.
It was a colourful affair with Whitstable’s fishing vessels circling picturesquely outside the harbour, setting off flares and smoke bombs and firing distress signals into the air, which shrieked upward in an arc of smoke and then exploded with a loud crack.
The fishermen seemed to be enjoying themselves, and I saw a number of them clutching cans. Is there such a thing as being drunk in charge of a fishing boat, I wonder?
There were people from both sides of the argument there, both Brexiteers and Remainers, plus at least one – namely me – caught firmly in the middle, having voted for Brexit, but from a Left Exit, not a Ukip, point of view.
The contradictions within the crowd were evident. The Remainers were holding EU flags, while the Brexiteers were flying Union Jacks. Both claimed to be on the side of the fishermen.
The fishermen, meanwhile, while they probably voted to leave, are actually left in the worst of all possible worlds: the British Fishing Industry having been being locked into the Common Fisheries Policy by the transitional deal until the end of 2020, but without a say on quotas. By that time the entire industry could be decimated. No wonder they feel betrayed.
This was made evident by the old fishing boat they set light to on the beach, which they had renamed Thereason May: a clumsy pun on our Prime Minister’s name, obviously accusing her of treason.
Quite how the metaphor of “burning your boats” applies to this situation wasn’t made clear.
A number of good friends were there, including Julie Wassmer with her megaphone, and Christine Dorothy, who had made a sign based upon an acronym of Nigel Farage’s name. It said: “Fisherman’s Advocate? Real Agenda Gargantuan Ego!”
Farage himself arrived at six o’clock. He climbed on board the Site Seeker Whitstable Boat Trips vessel in the harbour. When he passed through the harbour entrance there were people on the jetty jeering.
What is it about this man? Up until this point the gathering had been mainly peaceful, but it was as if his presence galvanised the crowd, which became instantly divided into separate camps.
Fights started to break out, with people from both sides attempting to grab the others’ flags. I saw one Remainer woman being punched in the face, while one of the smaller boats edged close to the shore and sprayed the Remainers with sea water. I have a photo if anyone wants to make a complaint. Technically this was an assault.
Farage’s belated attempt to hi-jack the fishing industry’s concerns is belied by his voting record in the EU. Official records show that over the three years while he was a member of the European Parliament Fisheries Committee, he turned up for just one of 42 meetings.
Greenpeace states that “during three major votes to fix the flaws of the Common Fisheries Policy, Farage failed to vote in favour of improving the legislation.”
The irony of all this is that it isn’t only the EU that is at the bottom of the Whitstable fishermen’s woes. According to Greenpeace, fish quota allocation favours large over small vessels, with just three large fishing firms controlling nearly two-thirds of England’s fish quota.
“The distribution of fishing rights within the UK’s fleet is entirely the responsibility of the UK’s fisheries minister,” they say.
Quite how a public-school educated ex-commodity trader came to pose as the fishermen’s friend is another matter.
The NHS is under pressure. Figures from the National Audit Office show the income of NHS trusts “has not kept pace with growth in spending” but the governmentclaims it’s putting an extra £10billion into the NHS. Where does all our NHS money go?
A year ago, at a public meeting in Whitstable, I heard GP, Dr Coral Jones, explain to residents about the 44 Sustainability Transformation Plans (STPs) that had been put in place by the government to look for “efficiency savings”.
Campaigners were already asking why these plans for significant changes to patient care were being hidden from public view. One such campaigner, writer Diane Langford, had begun researching our own Kent STP only to find herself facing a wall of STP obfuscation, acronyms and “biz-speak”.
I teamed up with Diane and learned that a private consultancy, Carnall Farrar, had been contracted to work on our local Kent STP. Although NHS Trusts are obliged to publish payments over £25,000 which they make in any one month, no payments were logged on the trust’s website for Carnall Farrar. In fact, it took a year of submitting countless Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, coupled with help from the research organisation Spinwatch, before Diane and I were to discover just how much had been paid to the firm – and by whom…
Dame Ruth Carnall had become the “Independent” chair of our local STP’s Programme Board but her own company stood to profit from its work on the STP, so I asked Julian Brazier, (my MP at the time) to investigate this potential conflict of interest. I found him to be unequivocally supportive of the STP and defensive of Ruth Carnall’s involvement, but he did unwittingly open up a line of communication for me with Glenn Douglas, then Chief Executive of the Kent & Medway NHS Trust, who offered me a meeting which I took up with Diane on Dec 7th last year.
At the trust’s offices in Maidstone, Diane and I confronted senior executives, Glenn Douglas and Michael Ridgwell (then Programme Director of the Kent & Medway STP) with our findings – the trust had actually paid Carnall Farrar £6,051,199 – a staggering sum of local Kent NHS funding diverted to a single private consultancy.
I also cited the fact that Dame Ruth Carnall had been named by the Sunday Telegraph as one of the 660 NHS “Fat Cats” who, in 2011, had been earning more than the Prime Minister (in Carnall’s case, a tidy salary of £277,500) before she left the NHS to start up Carnall Farrar. Glenn Douglas also appeared on the same list – earning £200,200 at that time and when I mentioned this at our meeting, he responded: “Shall I let you into a little secret? I still am”.
How many of us believe that the kind of 6 figure salary routinely earned in the private sector is appropriate for a health executive within a cash-strapped public service, in which nurses and junior doctors are having to fight for decent pay, conditions and bursaries for training?
And could Carnall Farrar’s work on the STP possibly justify the millions it has been paid of our local NHS money? How many more millions have been drained away from frontline NHS patient services across the UK to pay private consultancies working on 44 STPs – ironically, to find cuts?
Carnall Farrar’s work in London is characterised by the reorganisation of stroke services – which the company have also proposed here in Kent – principally by closing the stroke service at QEQM Hospital in Margate. But recently I read a letter sent to the Stroke Review Committee at the Kent & Medway STP by the campaign group, Save Our NHS in Kent (SONIK), requesting a “withdrawal of those costly proposals due to procedural flaws within the consultation process.”
Meanwhile, another campaign group, CHEK, (Concern for Health in East Kent) which seeks reinstatement of A & E services at Kent and Canterbury Hospital, is supporting a proposal from local property developer, Mark Quinn, to build a completely new hospital “shell” in return for permission for this developer to build 2,000 houses in the area. This deal would surely be far more lucrative for Quinn than our NHS Trust – which would have to find £250 million just to equip this “shell”. As one resident wrote, it’s like replacing an old car that doesn’t work properly with a new one with no engine…
Of Mr Quinn, a Conservative party donor, Diane Langford comments: “He stands to net hundreds of millions from the arrangement while his contribution to the building and kitting out of this shell would be relatively miniscule. In effect, he would be profiting at the expense of publicly owned assets, with Kent County Council handing over a swathe of valuable land adjacent to the existing hospital, while the latter would be allowed to languish due to lack of resource.” Diane claims she tried to make this point at a recent CHEK meeting only to have been silenced by CHEK’S chair, Ken Rogers. “Unfortunate”, she says, “that CHEK’s mission seems to have been diverted by this questionable offer from a developer.”
Amongst all this, the recent announcement of a new medical school, a joint venture between Christ Church University and Kent University, should be welcome news, judging by the joyful reactions of Faversham MP Helen Whately, North Kent’s Roger Gale, former Canterbury MP Julian Brazier – and his Labour successor Rosie Duffield.
Newly emerged from the revolving doors of the NHS executive system as Chief Executive of the Kent and Medway STP, Glenn Douglas claims that a local medical school “is known to provide an essential boost to recruitment and retention,” but a footnote in the university’s press release makes clear that medical students will not be going straight into local hospital roles at all, but into primary care, such as GP services.
Therefore, perhaps the last word should rightly go to GP, Dr Coral Jones, who tells me: “The decision to open a new medical school was down to Health Education England and the excellent proposal from the Canterbury universities. Tory MPs like Helen Whately, and Sir Roger Gale who supports the closure of the QEQM stroke service, should certainly not be congratulating themselves on this development. Students won’t begin studying until 2020, and any gains will not be seen for several years. In the meantime people continue to die due to this government’s NHS and social services cuts. There is little cause for celebration.”
A rally will be hosted by Save Our NHS in Kent on Sunday April 8th in Margate Old Town from noon onwards. All welcome.
She was a great campaigner for Whitstable, for the preservation of its green spaces, and for the quality of life of its residents.
Her and I struck up an unlikely friendship back in the 90s: me a dishevelled journalist with unsavoury habits, and her a grande dame of the old school, very proper, very neat, with formidable energy and a fierce, rapier-like intelligence.
She is commemorated in the town by having a right of way named after her: Wilks Way, between Island Wall and Wave Crest.
Sadly she passed away some years ago, but I often find myself thinking about her.
Most recently it was because of a letter I received containing a cheque for 50p. The letter also included the annual report for the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company (WOFC) and the Chairman’s statement, signed by GB Green.
The cheque was a dividend for the one share I hold in the company, which I bought on Anne Wilks’ recommendation, in order to be able to attend the AGM.
Here is a paragraph from the Chairman’s statement: “We continue to fight vigorously against the village green application which is taking a huge toll on our time and finances. The application (sic) should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for bringing this pointless and damaging claim which, if successful, will lead to the sea defences deteriorating and Whitstable being at risk of flood.”
It was Mrs Wilks who was responsible for registering a number of the village greens dotted in and around Whitstable, including parts of the beach west of the caravan park near Saxon Shore.
So you have to ask, if this is the case, why haven’t the sea defences deteriorated at this end of town, and why hasn’t Island Wall been flooded in the intervening years?
Might it be because, actually, there is no risk whatsoever to the sea defences as a consequence of the beach acquiring village green status: that this is just scaremongering by the Chairman of the WOFC because he doesn’t want anyone interfering with his plans?
Which brings to mind the other issue affecting the beach right now: the unsightly, and frankly dangerous, proliferation of Oyster trestles which have sprouted up on the foreshore near the Horsebridge.
Who ever thought that having “ a sea of bayonets”, as Cllr Ashley Clark described them, sticking up under the water on one of Kent’s most popular beaches, famed for its water sports, was a good idea?
It’s true that under instruction from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) the spikes have been bent over, which now makes them a sea of hooks instead: just as hazardous to unsuspecting shipping, and even more likely to snag on lines or clothing, possibly leading to the “worst credible outcome of severe injury or fatality” to quote from the MMO report.
What is truly astounding about this state of affairs is the fact that the WOFC has been able to put up these structures, without permission, and apparently with no comeback from the relevant authorities.
If you or I were to put up an unlicensed lean-to on the back of our house, the council would have it torn down immediately. In the case of the WOFC, however, it seems that anything goes.
If you too are worried about the industrialisation of our foreshore, and the danger this imposes, the Whitstable Beach Campaign would like to hear from you. Just look up their website on the internet.
Lidl won’t be getting a penny more off me after ticket fiasco
I had a wonderful Christmas present from Lidl last year. They charged me £90 for the use of their car park.
This came as a bit of a surprise to me. I’ve been using their car park, on Sturry Road, Canterbury, on and off, for about six years now.
I used it for work as the delivery office is just around the corner, on Military Road.
It’s a bit cheeky, I know, but I always used to make a point of shopping there on my way home. Last financial year, 2016-2017, I spent a total of £732.81 in Lidl, so they were reasonably well compensated for their loss.
I’d stopped using it recently as I’d found another place to park, but on this particular day, in the run up to Christmas, with all the extra staff and the extra vans in the staff car park, the usual places were full, and I ended up back in Lidl car park again.
What I hadn’t realised is that in the interim period its status had changed, and there was now a strict time limit on how long you could stay.
Fair enough. Lidl don’t really want stray postal workers using their car park and filling up their spaces; although, I have to say, even at peak periods, it was never completely full.
So you can imagine, when I got the parking charge notice I was mortified. That’s well over a day’s pay for me. So I decided to contest the charge on the basis that I hadn’t seen the signs.
This is entirely true. I arrived in the dark and I left in the dark and, no matter how many signs there were, or how well lit, I wasn’t looking so I hadn’t seen them.
I made my appeal, and they rejected my appeal. There are enough signs, they said, and I should have seen them. Then I made an appeal to the Independent Appeals Service (IAS).
My argument was this: the prima facie evidence that I hadn’t seen the signs is that I was parked there in the first place. QED. Had I seen the signs I would naturally have opted to park somewhere else.
The IAS also rejected my appeal, which seemed questionable to me.
All they did was to repeat what the parking company had said, while failing to give any weight to my argument; which makes me wonder how independent the Independent Appeals Service really is.
What strikes me is that this is sheer, unadulterated profiteering.
Lidl pay Athena ANPR Ltd. to administer their car park, so they are already fully compensated for the work they do.
Having been caught out once, I obviously have no intention of parking there again.
So why not give me the benefit of the doubt and let me off with a warning? Would that really have hurt? Instead of which they have pocketed the fine to add to their already considerable profits.
So thank you Lidl.
Your choice of Athena ANPR to police your car park has cost me £90; but it has cost you much, much more as I never intend to use your shop again. Ever.