Monday 11 May 2015

Guest post

I saw this on FB and felt the propaganda from all sides seems to become the story instead of the reality of what a 24/7 Cargo hub could mean for the people who live in Ramsgate. There is much scientific research done on the effect of low flying jumbo jets which is what Riveroak are trying to achieve.but as Jacqui quite rightly says what will be the effect on inward investment and the tourist trade if instead of the occasional plane it is 24 or more planes a day 7 days a week, that 48 or more plane movements a day. That is what Riveroak are proposing.
Then we have the scenario that UKIP get their way and have a CPO. All Riveroak have promised is to cover the legal costs not any compensation to the rightful owners. Do we really want TDC bankrupted. what a legacy???  

 Jacqui Ansell

Well, what a week it has been. We have all been left reeling after the elections here in Thanet South, and many, many conversations have been had.
I find my thoughts racing, flowing, so that I can hardly sleep or eat. The only way I can get them straight in my head is to write them down and the only place I can think of to share them (not having a blog or website) is here, with my facebook friends (old and new).
I really hope to be able to create some new dialogues and break the old mould (for me personally) of 'preaching to the converted'. It is so easy to hold conversations with like-minded people and harder to engage with - or even necessarily meet - those that disagree. Consequence being we tend to find ourselves locked up in our own cosy friendship groups, and in our own intellectual comfort zones.
I have to warn you that this post is a MAMMOTH one. Those who make it to the end I applaud you. But I hope that if you do you will find some ideas to agree with, some to disagree with and some to stimulate you into a debate.
Our starter for ten is 'Manston Airport; and the CPO, but I have to warn you that it takes rather a long time coming.... I do rather like stories (and as an academic/art historian by training my 'natural' style is akin to essay-writing). Warning, it will sound rather pompous and preaching to some, but if you are willing to give it a read, that's all I can ask...
SO, here goes...
At the end of my last post I asked...
'Rather than trade insults can we trade ideas? Rather than divide this beautiful community by focusing on our differences, can we focus on the one, fundamental similarity. Our humanity? I hope so. Hope not Hate.', ending with
'Where does my argument go from here?'
The answer to this question is:
It can go one of two ways. Backwards or forwards, or backwards to go forwards (or backwards and forwards endlessly and fruitlessly) … depending on your point of view, political pursuasions, and style of argument …]
As a historian, exploring issues of national identity, I am fascinated by ways in which societies reinvent the past to shape the future. Equally I am fascinated by the discourse of the ‘West versus the Rest’ and Edward Said’s notion of ‘the other’. We secure our own identities by division – an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality of binary oppositions – ‘Young/Old’, ‘Rich/Poor’, ‘Black/White’, ‘Male/Female’, ‘Able-bodied/Disabled’, ‘Mad/Sane’, ‘Gay/Straight’… And from this create normative notions – discourses of power – essentially dividing people into ‘friend or foe’.
Ramsgate has always had to do this – adopt an ‘us’ and ‘them’ philosophy. Situated on the very edge of South East England we are much, much nearer to France and Belgium than we are to London. The fear of foreign invasion is almost palpable - you are never far from reminders of it. Street names like ‘Nelson Crescent’ and the ‘Plains of Waterloo’ - remind us of the constant fear of ‘the bogey man’. The ‘bogey man’ - that tale that was told to small children, to make them behave, originated in a corruption of Napoleon Bonaparte’s name. A man, mutated into a monster, to use as a means of social control, by the person in power – the parent – to protect, to keep the peace, but also to maintain the ‘status quo’.
Ramsgate and its residents have other (very visible) reminders of a climate of fear – our Tunnels. Can you imagine the courage and determination that it took to hack into the chalk cliffs and carry on hewing and hacking for many, many miles working doggedly away to create a network of underground passages that would carry goods and people back and forth from home, to beach, to sea, to Europe? I am not talking about the Channel tunnel here – though that in itself is an extraordinary engineering feat (and I wonder how many people in Thanet have links to that project – past and present)?
I am talking about a tunnel closer to home. For some of us in own back yards, and for all of us snaking beneath or feet as we stand in our parks, on our roads and on our cliff tops. Ramsgate tunnel network began as an effective means to evade the tax man. I don’t mean the extremely wealthy people with ‘offshore’ bank accounts in the present, but ordinary, hardworking men and women of the past. Ok, they were ever-so-slightly the wrong side of the law, but they did what they had to get by… [ I am sure that many of them were the kind of (kind) people that Aiden Turner – aka Poldark – would try to help if he could, were he to live in this remote corner of England and not his own]. Oh dear, now I am getting side-tracked (some would say seduced) by fictional recreations of the past ever-present on the insidious – but oh, so entertaining – television screen. I had better return to the present, and the ever-present realities of life in Ramsgate.
The original Ramsgate tunnels were smugglers’ tunnels – a narrow network built to bring ‘luxuries’ such as tea and tobacco down to the level that some of the poorer members of society could actually afford. Those that could not afford to consume them themselves (even without the taxman’s levy) benefited from profits provided by other consumers. Those at the bottom of the heap – the dregs of society - doubtless lurked in the shadows, on the beach at the cliff edges, hoping to benefit from any opportunities that might come their way, to feed their families and cling on to life…
Plucky Ramsgate residents have always banded together, and the Ramsgate tunnels are palpable evidence of such resilience. Many of us can only imagine the constant feeling of fear that gnawed away at those living here during the WWII. For some it is a living memory. To my mind the ‘Tunnel Project’ (on Ramsgate sea front) – hard fought for and hard won – is a wonderful example of a community project that can help us better to understand the lives of others : the men, women and children (and doubtless cats, dogs and other pets?) living in cramped quarters, underground, to escape the drone of aircraft overhead and the dreadful consequences of what might come.
The opening up of the wartime tunnels is a triumphant example of a project that comes from the heart of our community. People who lived here during WWII have had the chance to tell their stories. They have been listened to, their spirit of defiance (in the face of Hitler’s threat) has been noted, and passed on to future generations. Their cheer, ingenuity, compassion, and bravery as they faced up to the unknown have been set up as an example that we can all empathise with and seek to emulate.
Where am I going with this one… Can you guess? Well, the Tunnel Project is a shining example of a ‘Heritage’ project. It is also a brilliant example of recycling, sustainable development with minimal environmental impact…
In this case it is less about the re-use of physical raw materials and more about the reuse and reinvention of more ‘human’ resources. The stories, the ideas, the efforts, the skills of local residents who lived through WWII (and many who did not) have been brought together – unearthed from a forgotten corner of minds and attics to put our area – and its proud history – on the map.
As this Summer approaches, and with it anniversaries of the Battle of Waterloo, Dunkirk and VE day, Ramsgate has much to be proud of. Our celebrations of these events will attract visitors from all over Kent, England, UK, Europe – the World. With them will come the tourist dollar (or ‘pound/euro’ if you prefer!). Margate’s economic prosperity continues to build, with new businesses attracted daily by the Turner Contemporary ‘brand’ and ‘Dreamland’ finally becoming a reality. Ramsgate’s prosperity has increasing momentum of its own – hotels, shops, businesses are relocating and springing up here daily – creating many, many jobs for local people. Taxi drivers, shopkeepers, DIY stores, supermarkets, restaurants, cafes, clubs and pubs all benefit from the additional influx of new visitors – and new residents.
We may not have any oil reserves hidden under our chalky soil, but we do have the equivalent in terms of monetary value… our history. As anyone who has ever lived in a former industrial town (or even rural community) will tell you, it is very sad when traditional industries die down. Jobs are lost, skills are lost, communities can be torn apart by rivalries, retribution, and lack of revenue. In Ramsgate we have lost our ferries, our hovercraft, our factories and our airport. We have also seen our fishing industry decimated over environmental concerns. This is enormously sad on a personal level for anyone who made a living from these businesses.
Businesses. I hesitated over the use of that word, but actually, ultimately, isn’t that what they were? If they did not make a profit they could not survive (in hard economic terms it is always a case of ‘sink or swim’). Bank loans, government grants, community spirit and sheer force of desire will not keep a unprofitable business afloat no matter how much we wish it otherwise. Sooner or later the past catches up with us all. Loans need to be repaid. Bankruptcy ensues. Loss of credit (in monetary and moral terms) is very difficult to recover from…
So then, what am I saying? Ultimately I think – on reflection – that Ramsgate has dodged a bullet in the last election. The ‘Farage factor’ may well have driven many of these nascent businesses away from our town. We have it on record (from the personal experience of many) that a significant number of visitors and would-be residents would have stayed away had ‘Farage fever’ fully taken hold here. Some of you may be thinking – well would that be such a bad thing? Do we really need more ‘DFL’s swanning around our towns, or foreigners swamping our streets?
How many of us make ends meet by working in cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, or in the transport or tourist industry? How many of us rely on the language schools for our incomes – either directly as teaching or admin staff, or indirectly by hosting the hoards that descend and welcoming them (with varying degrees of willingness wink emoticon into our homes as ‘host families’? Even those of us who drink in Churchill’s pub would have lost out had we managed to repel these foreign invaders (through their parents’ fear of what hostility they might encounter of the streets).
[Let me make it clear here, that UKIP policy – as set down in black and white – is not racist. That much is certain. But, what also seems to be a certainty is that racists have been attracted to Thanet by the recent election. NF (National Front) thugs were amongst the many attracted by Nigel Farage’s charismatic – some might say magnetic – personality. The EDF (English Defence League) were also out in force as were opponents on the ‘loony left’. The insults that they traded, and even the blows, were recorded on the National and International News. If I were a parent contemplating sending my precious child here, I may well have been tempted to think again].
On a bad day I bet many of us think that we could do without the gaggle of girls and boys who loiter on the steps of Churchill’s pub, blocking our path to the bar. I, for one, get very grumpy when – with my ‘beer head’ on I am ‘called to the bar’, but my progress is hampered by such teenagers with their unintelligible chatter and raucous revelry. But (when beer is in hand, and glass raised with a grin) I remember that Churchill’s pub relies on its income from the language school to survive. Without native hospitality we would not have our hostelry (and I would no doubt be unable to afford the pint of Gadds in my hand). Gadd’s beer – nectar of the Gods. God forbid that that local business (and therefore employer) should go bust!
The Gadd family are a sterling example of how hard work, ingenuity, skill (and sensitivity to others) can bring good to the neighbourhood. They – as people – have often set an example to me in my life. Eddie creates ‘liquid gold’ – wonderful beers that have put Thanet on the map (as far as the Real Ale Society is concerned). Lois is a person who is worth her weight in gold. How many of us have benefitted from her community spirit? For years she has worked with young people (and older ones) giving of her time freely, sharing idea enthusiasms with a smile and making solid gold progress in bringing people together through quiet, non-confrontational, non-judgmental conversation…
I hope that she doesn’t mind being a given a mention in this way. She must be one of so many unsung heroes and heroines of our community who build trust and bridges in so many tangible and intangible ways. I hope that in naming names I haven’t made this too personal, but maybe this is just one of the ways in which the personal really is political. As one of my life models – a person who would always talk people up, not down – she helps me (and others?) to see what can be achieved if we work together to try and understand one another and build some trust in our community based upon empathy and transparency. Dunkirk spirit if you will…
And so, I return here to my main theme. Looking to the past to help us understand the present and build a better future. Rather than stigmatise one another for our differences can we learn to accept (if not appreciate them). In the 1870s a young – some would say rather idealistic – man came to Ramsgate. He came to visit, but stayed to work and live here (albeit on a rather minimal wage). It had taken him three days to walk from the outskirts of London because he could not afford the train fare (he has my sympathies there!). He suffered from poor health, physical and mental. He often felt isolated and alone – socially awkward, often misunderstood. He sought solice in nature – he loved looking out to sea. From where he lived in Spencer Square he could sometimes see France shimmering on the horizon. Eventually he would settle there (he moved around Europe a lot, doing charity work, trying to reach out to others by living a good and blameless – if sometimes rather miserable – existence).
He admired the ‘Gothic’ architecture of Pugin, and liked leading the boys that he taught on long walks towards Pegwell Bay (no doubt inspired to explore its natural beauty by Dyce’s painting of the place). He would have perambulated past ‘The Grange’, into Government Acre (formerly a parade ground for Napoleonic troops) and out into the cornfields beyond. As he did so he may have glanced to his right and noticed the windmill that stood at the top of Westcliff Road (what would now be next to the Chinese Takeaway, the hairdressers, and opposite the Co-operative). I wonder if it would have reminded him of his birthplace Holland?
As I ended the last sentence I nearly used the word ‘home’ there. But where was ‘home’ to Van Goch? Was it Holland because he was born there - England because he worked here or France because he died there? In his letters – sent home frequently to his beloved brother and his wife – he recorded how he loved this area. He famously declared ‘my heart is in the pine woods and on the beach at Ramsgate’.
Not so much an economic migrant Van Goch (or Vincent) as he preferred to be known came to Ramsgate as much for its physical beauty as for its people and their past. He was attracted by Ramsgate’s proximity to Broadstairs (where his great hero Charles Dickens lived – and died – leaving behind an empty chair, and Luke Files’ etching of it that were to inspire one of the greatest works of art of all time… [Pictures to follow, when I have worked out the technology]!
As another famous (or is that infamous) artist said: ‘There’s a lot of money in Chairs’. How right she was! Tracey Emin – or ‘Mad Tracey from Margate’ as she likes to call herself – made an artwork consisting of phrases (remembered, half-remembered, made-up) stitched onto an old chair that – otherwise none of us would have looked at twice. She was inspired to do so by the words of her grandmother to her in childhood, who was urging her to look down the backs of the sofa and upturn every chair to gain some pocket money and the joy of discovery. She did so, and unearthed a miniature pot of gold lurking there. She mined this rich seam of family history and – with sound business sense, profited from every opportunity to ‘get rich quick’.
Whether you love or loathe Tracey Emin and what she stands for on personal/political/artistic level (if you can separate them) you have to admit that ‘the girl done good’. A girl from ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ who often went ‘off the rails’, she now finds herself straddling barriers and defying definition by binary opposites (rich/poor, young/old, famous/infamous, gay/straight, mad/sane, establishment/anti-establishment). Her detractors could argue that she plays up her working class/ill-educated origins as much as Farage’s followers claim he plays down his extremely privileged upbringing. Emin has confronted the traditional barriers of class, ethnicity and gender and turned them into building blocks by examining them, through the spoken and written word, in her art and life.
It could be argued that both Emin and Farage have manipulated their media images to create a stereotype (a kind of caricature persona) deliberately designed to appeal to their audiences. Are they laughing all the way to the bank? If so are they doing it at our expense? How can we turn this situation around and ensure that we – as residents of Ramsgate – can personally profit from the current political/economic social situation that we find ourselves faced with? The answer lies, I believe, just under our noses and beneath our feet, and in our skies. But we have to get off our backsides to find it.
Ramsgate and the rest of Thanet have – as Turner (or was it his great supporter Ruskin) said: ‘the most beautiful skies in the whole of Europe’. This rich resource is ripe to be tapped. Let the gold rush begin!
For me Thanet’s future relies on our past, in the rediscovering the beauty of our natural and built environment. Can we find ways of making the most of every opportunity to reclaim our past and proud, rich, history? Let’s explore every ‘Angle’ (excuse the pun) as English history – literally – began here. Vikings, Romans, Tudors, Victorians are on the ‘national curriculum aren’t they? (I am a bit shaky on this, but if they are not they should be!). We should be marketing ourselves at a National level as a tourist destination (‘there’s gold in them there hills’ – or rather the chalk cliffs that remain).
Think of how many visitors go to the ‘British Museum’ (handing over their hard-earned cash to explore our shared histories and intertwined heritage). Many tourists are attracted there to learn more about the history of their religion (Christians for the USA visit in their droves). The history of Christianity in England began here when Saint Augustine landed. How many of us really get told that? How many of us understand that? How many of us know how to exploit that? If we are to unite against religious fundamentalism (surely no-one likes that do they?) then the fundamentals of the Church of England need to be better understood. Stories deserve to be told – and there is money to be made by the people of Thanet about those stories, if only anyone will listen…
In Ramsgate we now have a predominantly UKIP council. Whichever side of the political divide you were on before the election (and whatever playground insults we exchanged before need to be forgiven now). We need to learn to play nicely because this is serious stuff.
[No doubt many of you will find my tone patronising here, but this is also serving as a ‘note to self’. Young, old, rich, poor, healthy, sick, immigrant, native – living live to the full, slowly dying inside – fire in the belly, song on your lips, hope in your heart - this is all of us, living together, we are all of us all of those things, experiencing all of those things at some time or another…]
Before we band together – or divide ourselves further – under the banner of cross of St George, or the Union Jack, do we perhaps need to unpick its symbolism? But at this point I am imagining your eyes glazing over, your eyelids drooping, as you anticipate another dreary history lesson, diatribe or drone. So I will save that one for another day. Now I will attempt to sum up, and FINALLY get to my main point…
Drones over Ramsgate in WWII and people living in fear, woken in the middle of the night, by planes going over, seeking shelter, seeking comfort from one another, wondering what sort of world they would wake up in and whether their homes, families and belongings would still be safe in the morning. The Ramsgate Tunnel Heritage scheme is a wonderful thing as it allows me to imagine and empathise what life was like in Ramsgate all of those years ago. The illegal C18th ‘underground’ network – the nest of thieves – was given shape and legitimacy by the new technology of the railway in the C19th. In the booming years of the Railway age George IV’s beloved Royal Harbour was transformed into the ultimate tourist destination. Visiting artist William Frith immortalised our beautiful beach in his painting ‘Ramsgate Sands’ that so appealed to Queen Victoria that she bought the painting.
It appealed to her as a souvenir. It was a memory of happy times that she had spent here as a child, enjoying the hospitality of philanthropist and benefactor Sir Moses Montefiore (Yes, let’s not forget Ramsgate’s Jewish heritage). She stayed at Albion house – now transformed by clever business brains into a boutique hotel that could bring the serious money to Ramsgate. I have not been there but I can imagine its attractions…
I can imagine the pleasures of sleeping there under crisp white sheets (even if I never experience it). I can hope – once in a while to enjoy the company of friends there, on a special occasion. Tourists and locals alike can therefore enjoy the possibility of sipping white wine (or raising a pint of beer with a smile) of an evening, whilst looking out over the English Channel and enjoying the sunset.
Can you imagine now the peaceful scene shattered by a rumble, rising to a roar? No picturesque, quaint planes from the World War II flying overhead now because this is Ramsgate 2018. Manston has become a huge freight hub. Planes fly over day and night to make it viable [they initially thought that they wouldn’t need to, the politicians promised little disruption to our daily lives, let alone our night time ones, BUT, having spent an absolute fortune on the CPO and attendant compensation claims, and faced with the prospect of very high running costs and the catastrophic failure of this business venture that had failed so many time before…] I love Manston airport – its history, its heritage, the fact that so many people see it as the heart of our community (despite it being a relative newcomer to the area).
I love Manston airport because I am an historian. I love it for its historical associations just like I love ‘Sundowner’ one of the flotilla of little ships in Ramsgate Harbour, with a little plaque on it, informing of its role in WWII and the rescue at Dunkirk (however, I am not about to set out to sea on a leaky boat for the sake of nostalgia).
To those who would campaign for the airport to reopen, to those who would seek a CPO. To those who would seek to speak for us all and incur huge costs on our behalf. To all those councillors, politicians, campaigner who have been so vocal in speaking out in public and to all those – like myself – who have hovered on the margins, muttering in private, occasionally breaking cover to ‘like’ this or that facebook statement but not having the time, energy or inclination to let my thoughts be known….
WAKE UP! Smell the coffee, or else you might just be waking up (several times a night) to the noise of a plane. In its wake will be the foul smell of aircraft fuel lingering in the air [possibly accompanied by a foul stink of corruption emanating from the corridors of power, and the faint sound of laughter from the bureaucrats and businessmen and women who are – already – laughing all the way to the bank]. I really hope that the people of Thanet are not about to be (literally and figuratively) shat on from a great height…

You might think this is overly-dramatic scaremongering, you might think that I am exaggerating the effects and impact of the airport. In such cases all we have to fall back on are our own experiences and memories of living in Ramsgate whilst the airport was at ‘full throttle’. For years and years, there were planes droning over Ramsgate and people living in fear. Conversation in schools and shops and streets ceased as noisy aircraft rattled overhead. In my house we were woken repeatedly in the middle of the night by children woken by the noise. We were left seeking shelter, seeking comfort from one another, wondering what sort of world they would wake up in and whether their homes, families and belongings would still be safe in the morning. For many of us, the airport has hung like a ‘sword of Damocles’ over our heads for far too long, and I am sure that there are many – a majority? – of Ramsgate residents who are living in dread and fear of what tomorrow might bring in this respect.
All those of you still awake and still reading this Thank You. Agree or Disagree? I would love to hear your comments, thoughts, reflections on any or all of the above. You can’t ‘please all of the people all of the time’, but is a CPO really what we as the people of Ramsgate want? We have elected a council dedicated to pursuing this, but do we really know all the facts?
If you have enjoyed reading any of the above you have enjoyed finding out more about your history and heritage. If you live in Ramsgate you can benefit from this. Take the tourist pound (and enjoy the stories for free) when you visit any of our beautiful beaches, clifftops, buildings, libraries, churches – or work in any of our caf├ęs, hotels, estate agents and shops. If you don’t live in Ramsgate – Why not? (Jokes) ‘Come on Down’. See the sights, tell your friends, spend your money, see and help our community thrive and grow…
I do not have all the facts and figures at my fingertips, but I do know a good thing when I see it. The Ramsgate Tunnels project is a good thing. It has taken a disused, forgotten, dark and dusty corner of our industrial past, realised that it is no longer ‘fit for purpose’ and in this sink or swim world. The Project Motorhouse and Pavillion projects are also good things (IMHO). They will appeal to a variety of people (young, old, rich, poor etc… you have got it by now!). I look forward to raising a pint (with a smile and with you?) and having a quiet conversation at Wetherspoons’ latest establishment on Ramsgate (if that gets off the ground)? But not if O’Reagan’s go ahead with their development… But that really is another story…