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Operation Stack - time for the government to act?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, January 23 2015

As Operation Stack gets close to being in place for a record number of days, gridlocking much of the county, the debate about how to deal with it continues.

Kent County Council has advocated buidling a series of lorry parks which would be open round-the-clock as somewhere for HGVs to park overnight but would also provide some capacity to hold lorries during Operation Stack.

There are three main problems. One is that building these won't come cheap. The authority is borrowing £10m to hold in reserve to help buy land where necesary, which it wold then hope to recoup from a private operator who would run it as a commercial concern

The second is that these parks would be relatively modest, with spaces for about 800-900 HGVs in total. That is nowhere near enough to avoid the need to turn the M20 into a lorry park when there are problems getting across the channel.

The third is that if anything happens, it won't be for a long time. KCC says it hopes to open one near Westenhangar, Folkestone by 2017 but the politician in charge, Cllr David Brazier, warned this week that even that may be optimistic.

Kent County Council has unfortunately squandered years and a considerable amount of money pursuing an earlier proposal for a huge park off the M20  at Aldington, near Ashford, that would have been capable of holding up to 3,000 HGVs.

It stubbornly stuck with this idea for far too long in the face of people telling it that it would go nowhere and was not viable.

What ought to be quite clear now is that this is an issue the government cannot afford to leave to KCC and others to sort out. This has been its line for many years - overlooking the obvious point that the M20 is not KCC's responsibility but the Highways Agency - which is accountable to the government.

More importantly, Kent is the gateway to Europe and as such, the problems created by Operation Stack have economic repercussions way beyond the undoubted damage done to businesses and residents in Kent.

Every day that lorries are stuck on the hard shoulder of the M20 means that somewhere, a business is losing money, suppliers are missing delivery dates and hauliers are having to reorganise their schedules. 

As the economy improves, the road network around the south east will come under crippling pressure if the government just sits back and says that the job of finding solutions is left to councils. It is stating the blindingly obvious, but the amount of commercial traffic travelling through Kent to and from Europe is not going to reduce.

If the coalition is prepared to spend £42bn on the High Speed Two project, it really ought to be able to allocate money to help tackle the problems caused by Operation Stack.


Kent County Council has signed off on another contract to management consultants Newton Europe, this time for a fee of £5.5m to oversee the authority's specialist childrens services. It is already paying the same company £5.4m for a contract to advise on how to cut the costs of care for the elderly and vulnerable.

To be fair, it seems that the company has delivered savings in adult care and the hope is that it will do the same for children's services.

The company website in unsurprisingly gushing tones describes itself as one which delivers "transformational, award-winning change" across a variety of sectors - including building submarines - and is a place where "initiative, creativity and versatility" thrive.

There is even a testimonial from KCC itself - with the website featuring an equally glowing reference from social care director Mark Lobban, its commissioning director who praises the "strategic transformation through evidence-based commissioning" that its partnership has achieved.

There is nothing wrong with Newton Europe soliciting testimonials from its clients, of course.

But some might feel it would be better for the council to keep more distance from those it is paying significant sums of taxpayers' money to.




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Categories: Private Sector | Prostitution

Mine's a pint: Can comic Al Murray upset the election odds in Thanet South?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, January 15 2015

If the election battle for the key Kent constituency of Thanet South was not already interesting, the news that comedian Al Murray - or his alter ego the pub landlord - is throwing his hat in the ring has made it even more so.

Announcing his intention to stand via a video address in which, among other commitments, he pledged to make beer a penny a pint came out of left field. Interestingly, an interview he gave to The Independent in 2013 criticised comedians who embraced politics, saying their role was to lampoon them.


It appears his main target is Ukip - his party's logo is an inverted pound symbol in gold - and his opening salvo in the video was to declare that the time was right for a tilt at Westminster.

"It seems to me UK is ready for a bloke waving a pint around offering commonsense solutions," he declared, leaving no ambiguity as to who is in his sights.

His confused rivals reacted in the only way they could - by adopting a jocular tone saying it would liven up the campaign and desperately trying to avoid looking either panicked or po-faced.

Ukip to its credit came up with the best one liner, saying it welcomed the news of "a serious rival at last" while its leader Nigel Farage saying "the more the merrier." Laura Sandys, the out-going Conservative MP, said there were already enough comedians standing - note the plural.

How will all this go down with the voters in Thanet South is anyone's guess. His parody of a hyper-nationalistic landlord is sometimes affectionate, sometimes cutting. 

Is he serious about winning? Or simply standing to poke fun at politics and politicians? If it is the latter, there is a good case for arguing that his candidacy is unnecessary.

Many voters already look on politicians as a joke and don't need a comedian to remind them of that or deflate the egos of those standing for office.


There was an interesting debate about fracking at County Hall this week. Or rather, there should have been but in the grand tradition of council meetings, our elected-representatives decided that it was more important to debate whether there should be a debate.

This stemmed from a petition submitted by the Faversham and Mid Kent Green Party candidate Tim Valentine and signed by nearly 3,000 people. Under KCC rules, this automatically triggered a debate at the meeting of the authority's environment scrutiny committee.

The only problem was that, according to the council's legal eagles, no such debate could be permitted as to do so and to adopt a presumption against any fracking applications, would compromise the council's position because it was the relevant planning authority dealing with them.

So, we were treated to one of those debates about constitutional procedures which councillors seem to relish. A clearly exasperated Cllr David Brazier, cabinet member for the environment, said he could not understand why "intelligent people" had signed the petition"  when a cursory glance at KCC's website would have indicated why such a call was not likely to succeed.

I am not sure how that would have gone down that well with the public but that's County Hall politics for you.

As it was, after some ill-tempered exchanges, the Conservative majority on the committee voted to close down the debate much to the irritation of the opposition representatives.



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Categories: Politics

It’s changed so much in 20 years

by Nikki's world, with Nikki White Monday, January 12 2015

On January 3, I clocked up 20 years with the KM Group. Back then, I worked on Kent Today, a paper with several editions each day, and those of us who were around then (and trust me, I have several colleagues who have been with the company far longer than me) still wonder how we did it.

Computers were reasonably new to the world (at my previous paper, I’d worked on a typewriter) and turning a breaking story around by 10.30am could involve quite an expedition.

Having tracked down who you needed to speak to, you would set off on your trek, hopefully with a photographer in tow.

We’d have to interview people at super-quick speed, fast while still being courteous, and there simply wasn’t time to drive back to the office to write up your copy.

Instead, you would get a draft written in your notebook, find the nearest phone box, call the operator and ask to make a reverse charge call.

If no photographer was available, you would have begged your interviewee to hand over a photo of themselves and then drive to our head office in Larkfield where the company’s only scanner was kept.

Somehow, it would make it into that day’s paper.

It sounds antiquated now but we were at the cutting edge.

I can’t begin to tell you the excitement when we started publishing colour photographs.

These days, you find yourself requesting a black and white image simply so it looks atmospheric and edgy.

It hasn’t all been good – there were times when I knocked on doors and had them slammed in my face and I wondered why I was doing it.

But the times when I did knock on a door and was welcomed in – even in the most tragic of circumstances – made it all worthwhile.

Sometimes people realise you are there because you care.

I’ve cried with grieving families, abseiled down tower blocks to raise money for charity and celebrated when years of campaigning have come to fruition.

The good and the bad, it’s been a privilege. Thank you.


Our telephone line at home went down last Monday. As far as we know, it’s just us and two neighbours but, bizarrely, we’ve been given differing explanations.

Our call charges and telephone line are dealt with by different providers, which was our first headache – whoever we rang (on our mobiles – I’m looking forward to that bill coming in) referred us to the other company.

Eventually, someone told us it was a fault at the exchange which would be fixed by today (Monday) at the latest.

We went to share the news with our neighbours. “That’s funny,” said the first. “They told me it was a problem with the box on the corner, or my inside line.”

The other neighbour, who runs a business, had been told it would be fixed within six hours. The last time we spoke to them, they still they had nothing.

Our favourite piece of advice from one company, while referring us to another, was “to dial this number from your landline”.

“I don’t have a landline,” said hubby through gritted teeth. “That’s why I’m calling...”


Fox hunting: Lazy accusations of bias are plain wrong

by In The Editor's Chair, with Leo Whitlock Monday, January 5 2015
We have never been afraid to cover controversial issues or subjects that divide our communities.

After all, that is what a local newspaper is all about.

We do all we can to put both sides of the story and have faith in our readers to make up their own minds.

It is very rare for us to take a view. Indeed, the personalities in the newsroom are often as divided as our readership especially when it comes to issues of principle or politics.

One thing never changes - whenever a story that stirs up people's passions appears in the paper accusations of bias appear as predictably as long, dark days in December.

A story in last week's paper is a case in point - Call For Act Repeal As 1,000 Greet Hunt.

This story said 1,000 people attended the traditional East Kent Hunt meeting in Elham on Boxing Day.

Advocates of hunting claimed this showed support is growing for an end to the Hunting Act 2004.

That was enough to light the blue touch paper and were subjected to an orchestrated campaign on Facebook suggesting we were biased, supporters of hunting and that the newspapers owners had linked to the hunt and had ordered us to run the story in the form it took.

Clearly most of these people had not read the original story and, despite threatening never to buy our rag again, are probably not regular readers.

Their comments were all strikingly similar and just as lazy.

They had missed mention of the anti-hunt protesters in the second paragraph of the story.

They also missed the 216 words from the director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports who said: "Every Boxing Day those wanting to see a return to hunting with dogs put onm a flamboyant and extravagant show in a bid to convince everyone that tearing a wild animal apart from limb to limb in the name of sport is a good thing.

"Despite what the pro-hunt lobby say, the primary purpose of hunting has never been about anything more than killing for pleasure."

He goes on to say 80% of people in Britain say fox hunting should remain illegal.

Just as we always do, we will carry the anti-hunt letters we received this week. Even those that criticise our editorial approach.

For the record, the newspaper does not have a view on hunting either way.

I have no idea how our owners view hunting or whether they have links to various hunts.

In all of the years I have edited a KM Media Group newspaper, they have never instructed me to run a story, pull a story or change a story.

I can see no reason why that would ever change.

It's up to the conspiracy theorists whether they believe that or not. They will not.

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And so the panic begins...

by Nikki's world, with Nikki White Tuesday, December 23 2014

It’s too late. Whatever it is you’ve forgotten to buy for Christmas, you’ll never get it in time unless you:

a) really want to join the hordes of other people running around in a panic, get completely stressed out and still not get what you want;

b) are happy to just shove money in an envelope and hope for the best;

c) were thinking of buying everything from a petrol station.

The last option doesn’t sound as bad as it once did. Once upon a time, petrol station gifts were limited to a sorry looking bunch of flowers, an in-car air freshener, windscreen scrapers and a dried-up cheese and tomato sandwich.

Not these days. Our local garage has realised fuel isn’t the only reason people choose to visit and now there are queues to get a parking space every weekend.

It was rebuilt last year, almost double the size and we all feared the worst. Anyway, when it re-opened, the place where you go to pay for your fuel wasn’t just one of your run-of-the-mill kiosks.

Ooooh, no. It had its own butcher’s counter, with meat fresh from a Kent farm, a deli counter with local cheeses and a wide selection of olives (although those don’t seem to have stayed the course).

Every day, there’s artisan bread brought in, it has its own mini-bakery to produce baguettes and rolls, and they cook up their own sausage, bacon, egg, any-combination-of-the-above fare.

There’s Kent beer, wine, gin, rum, vodka, all created within just a few miles of the place. They stock unusual sweets, flavoured oils and, of course, their local Messenger.

I’d be more than happy if someone bought me a present from there.

The one thing I can’t do is call it a garage. I simply can’t get my head (or tastebuds) around the fact the joint of meat for our Sunday roast has come from the same place where outside, there’s still that lingering smell of petrol which makes my stomach churn.

My neighbours call it the “magic garage”. My husband simply sticks to “the shop” to keep me happy.

I’ve tried referring to it as the farm shop, but I know it’s only me I’m kidding. And who cares what the packaging is like when the contents are so much better than before?


So that’s it for another year. I’ll be honest, I won’t be sorry to see the back of this one.

There have been some wonderful laughs and moments to treasure – a family holiday to mark my dad’s 70th and my brother’s 40th being one of them.

But there’s also been some heartache; we’ve lost people we’ve loved and other battles have been hard but in a strange kind of way strengthened friendships and relationships, and made us stronger for it.

I hope this Christmas brings you everything your heart desires, and the chance to spend it with those you love.

And as 2015 rings in, may it be better than 2014 because even if it’s been good to you, there is no harm in hoping that the best is yet to come.


In their own words: The Year In Politics

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, December 19 2014

It has been a tumultuous year in Kent politics and 2015 is shaping up to be just as turbulent. Here is how the politicians saw things - in their own words:

“We have picked up the jigsaw pieces from different boxes and put them in new boxes where there is real synergy.” Some mystifying jargon from John Burr, the KCC director in charge of re-organising the way the council is run.


“We are not the masters now, the people are the masters. We are the servants of the people. We must never forget that.” Newly-elected Rochester and Strood UKIP MP Mark Reckless victory speech has uncanny echoes of Tony Blair in 1997.


“By-elections are different; there is a chance for people to vote in way they haven’t done before.” Conservative leader David Cameron calls for people to vote tactically to stop Mark Reckless in the by-election.


You should tell that to Mrs Cameron” The Prime Minister's retort to a reporter on the campaign trail in Rochester who said he was looking fit and whether he had been working out.


“People who have got through [to Britain] call and say ‘We’ve got through. This is El Dorado and we’re staying here’. Natasha Bouchard, Mayor of Calais addressing MPs on why hundreds of migrants were gathered in the French town.


“It was poor judgement and naivety on my part rather than words spoken with any malice.” Janice Atkinson Ukip MEP and prospective parliamentary candidate for Folkestone and Hythe after being caught on camera describing a supporter as “a ting tong from somewhere.”


“I did ask about the mafia issue” - Thanet council officer Mark Seed on reports that potential investors in ferry firm TransEuropa had crime links.


“The only reason I agreed to do the documentary was to help people better understand the role of police and crime commissioner.” Kent crime commissioner Ann Barnes on that Channel 4 documentary.


Women of the UK: burn your bras...Or not.” Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch tweet in response to a Ukip claim that for every bra bought in the UK, £1 went to the EU.


“These statistics, while accurate, could lead to an entirely misleading impression being given about how hard members work for their communities.” Cllr Gary Cooke, KCC cabinet member for democratic services explains why the council stopped publishing meeting attendance figures.


“Conclusions were drawn where there was no evidence to support those conclusions.” Kent County Council leader Paul Carter on why he withdrew a report suggesting government welfare reforms were behind rising crime, homelessness and food banks.


“It is now not beyond the bounds of possibility that we hold the balance of power in another hung parliament.” Ukip leader Nigel Farage after his party’s crushing European election victory in May.


“Nigel Farage is a pound shop Enoch Powell and we need to watch him.” Comedian Russell Brand on BBC ‘Question Time’ takes a dig at the party leader


“As we entered the studio, and his personal make-up artist straightened his chest hair for him, I kid you not, I realised that perhaps he might be a bit lighter weight than expected.” Nigel Farage retort at Russell Brand on BBC Question Time.


“Over the past few decades, flood defences in many areas have been neglected, and local people left to fend for themselves.Those days are coming to an end.” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visiting Kent to announce £17m of flood defence work


"I am out but not down" Ashford MP Damian Green after losing his job as policing minister in what was culled a cull of middle-aged ministers from the cabinet


"I don't think it would have made much difference" - Liberal Democrat candidate Geoff Juby on whether the presence of his party leader Nick Clegg on the Rochester and Strood campaign trail would have helped. He went on to lose his deposit in the party's worst result in a by-election 


"The New Ways of Working Programme has progressively implemented the approved phased redevelopment of several key hubs" - what else but a Kent County Council officer's report on "re-organisation"



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Nigel vs Russell: Who won the Question Time face off?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, December 12 2014

It being the pantomime season, it was a smart move by the makers of BBC's Question Time to rope in Russell Brand and UKIP leader Nigel Farage for its final programme of the series.

I am not sure whether it left the audience desperate for a re-run and neither was it clear who was the villain and who was the hero.

It began with a question that seemed to offer Brand an open goal - was the adverserial nature of politics leading to its decline  - but he appeared unusually nervous and fluffed it, which must have taken David Dimbelby by surprise.

Still, at least the audience was in a rather frisky mood and a few more than heated exchanges from the audience seats only served to remind those watching how tame the panel seemed.

At some points you sensed that Russell Brand and Nigel Farage had more in common than they were prepared to admit and couldn't decide who was the villain  - both characterising themselves as "outsiders" - but Brand stuck the knife in with a good one-liner about Farage being a "Poundland Enoch Powell."

Although I did wonder whether, like Blue Peter, this was something he had prepared earlier. The cameras at one point showed him leafing throuh what could have been cue cards - who would have thought he needed those?

Farage generally kept his cool but was rather less animated than he usually is. He correctly surmised that it would be counter-productive to try to best Brand.

Instead, he chose to focus his attack on Labour's Mary Creagh and the floundering government representative Penny Morduant, who had she been playing in a football match, would have been substituted very early.

Creagh was reasonably good but too often lapsed into a recital of Labour's commitments that has most people tuning out and wondering about other things.

I expected Penny Morduant, who gamely appeared in the ITV programme Splash, to be rather better. After a belly flop like that, she may be inclined to turn down future invitations.

But she was on the defensive from the start after Dimbleby chose to remind the audience and viewers that she had been found out for making a speech in Parliament in which she used some rather fruity words - apparently as a dare from certain Naval friends.

Not a good position to debate a question about how mainstream politics might be in decline.

Dimbleby crowbarred a question about social mobility and whether we ought to have more grammar schools right at the end, which was a mistake as the panel only had a few minutes to debate what could well be an election flashpoint next May.

Brand lamely admitted that he "didn't know much about grammars" and opted for a rambling riff about other issues, leaving Farage with the easiest of tap ins at goal.

It was all entertaining stuff but the audience seemed more up for a fight than the panel.

The curtain dropped after what seemed no time at all but the audience was probably thankful the cast did not come back for an encore.

And if you wanted me to name the person who came across the best, it was the journalist Camilla Cavendish, who was easily the sanest person there.

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Categories: Politics

Hitting the heights, almost

by Nikki's world, with Nikki White Tuesday, December 9 2014

They say pride comes before a fall. Now I have no problem with feeling a little pride. If you’ve done a good job, why wait for someone else to pat you on the back? A sense of accomplishment can spur you on to better things.

But sometimes, there’s someone just around the corner who is going to rain on your parade, even though they don’t mean to.

Three weeks ago, my hubby and I climbed Helvellyn in the Lake District, the third-highest point in England. Twice.

We climbed it one day from the easy side, determined to get to the top but not wanting to end up in difficulties.

We picked a day where the forecast was reasonably good (or as good as it gets in the Lake District in November) and set off.

It was tough going, and as we neared the summit, the cloud had lowered but we ploughed on confident we were being sensible.

After a couple of hours we reached our target – the Ordnance Survey point at the top of the peak.

By this time, it was pretty cloudy. but we took a few landmark snaps and set off back the way we came.

The following week we thought we’d try again, but try a tougher route.

We made it almost to the top but with the wind speed rising, we chose not to go any further.

As we revelled in our glory of two ascents in two weeks, with a chocolate bar to celebrate, we looked up and realised that the OS point where we’d taken photographs a week earlier wasn’t actually the summit. About 300 yards or so to the right was a slightly higher point, something we’d missed in the mist.

“Never mind,” said my hubby. “We did it. We were up there and as far as I’m concerned, we climbed to the ridge on the top.”

Feeling slightly better, we stood for a while to take in the view and revel a little more in our glory, and reminisce over how well we’d tackled such a tough climb.

And then, up the hill came two collies, running at full pelt with the wind in their tails and a smile on their faces. And behind them were their owners, also running at top speed.

We sat and watched as they then ran along the tough, craggy path, up the scramble and across the top of the ridge where we had been days earlier, having taken hours to complete a route they’d done in a matter of minutes.

Just to rub it in, they didn’t even stop to celebrate, simply carried on running down the other side and home.

Like I said, sometimes, there’s someone just around the corner....


Britain First and the lone Protester

by Down and out in Dover and district, with Len Oldfeep Sunday, December 7 2014


Like many of you I watched the Britain First video when they descended on Dover  I have viewed it several times now and the more I see it the more distasteful I find it. A heavily biased and edited film that from an outsider’s perspective makes Dover look like an anti-immigrant town. And indeed sometimes it does feel that way when you hear how people talk about it on the streets, in local pubs, coffee shops and of course on facebook. But what did come across in the video, which gave me hope, was the different attitude the younger generation had on the subject and what it means for them to be patriotic in England today.

Led by former BNP stalwart Paul Golding and his henchwoman Jayda Fransen, The video see’s the Britain’s First gang get a lot Of Dovorians on side with their message of ‘our country being full up’ and the fear of ‘becoming a minority in our own country’ before turning on a brave young man, who decided to come down from his flat to peacefully protest the march, inviting people to take it in turns to insult and try to humiliate him for disagreeing with their far right views. Videos posted to YouTube show how Britain First stalk and ambush their targets (largely Muslims) by rushing into mosques and shoving cameras into the faces of their unsuspecting victims. They are confrontational, intimidating and above all disrespectful to other cultures and religious beliefs, and the videos are packaged to look like military style exercises. Is it anyway for a serious political party to act? I don’t think so.

Britain First does highlight issues that I think lots of people are quite rightly worried about including: Pakistani grooming gangs, FGM, and the no-go areas for non-Muslims that now exist in areas of London and other towns and cities where there is a larger mix of cultures and religions. But the vigilante approach they have adopted only makes the divide between the different ethnic groups within communities greater when what we should be doing is trying to integrate and live together respectfully and peacefully in a multi-cultural society.

It’s what the lone Dover protester knows and the few other young men who supported him in the video accept. They have grown up in much more tolerant times and the world has become smaller thanks to technology, creating a connected world where opportunity stretches further than their village, town, and city, county and even country. They may think of themselves as global citizens now rather than simply English of wherever they may come from. One of the protesters, in his late teens says: ‘It’s a whole world’, at one point.

 I don’t believe all older people are against immigration or racist but from my own experience and as the video  seems to suggest I think they are more suspicious and fearful they may lose their cultural identity of which some have fought for and they are rightly proud of. This is a legitimate concern and what Britain First says they are trying to protect but are they just living in the past, nostalgic for a seaside postcard Britain that just no longer exists?

Britain First cronies stoop so low in the video to suggest the lone protester does not respect those who fought and lost their lives in the Great War and try to equate pensioners dying during the winter because they can’t afford fuel bills to the issue of immigration, in another effort to outrage the by now baying crowd. He is even booed when he reveals he is a teacher, the mood changing as the crowd are now caught up in the nasty pack mentality Britain First like to create.  What they fail to understand is his is a modern patriotism, proud of a country that welcomes immigrants and Asylum seekers  fleeing sometimes terrible circumstances, gives foreign aid generously and believes in a level playing field for everyone regardless of sex, race or creed, looking to the future not to the past. Above all he has empathy.

England’s coastal towns where UKIP are making gains are some of the least diverse communities in the country. So why are we so worried about immigration here in Dover? It is reasonable to suggest that areas which are less diverse are not as accepting of immigration opposed to areas with a higher concentration of immigrants. Whatever the case the video showed not everyone was taken in by the bullying Britain First and there is hope for us yet. Britain First does not speak for me as they claim and I hope not for Dover.




Categories: blogs and bloggers | Dover Town centre | Equal Rights | Europe | KCC | kent | Local Politics | National Politics | People of Kent | Politics | UKIP

A Guide to Buying the Perfect Christmas Gift

by Down and out in Dover and district, with Len Oldfeep Sunday, December 7 2014

As the years march on Christmas shopping for your friends and family gets harder. It’s a fact. Tasked with coming up with something different for your loved ones each year you can lose sight of what the season is all about. This guide is not for those who sneer at the new band aid single or for those non-religious types who get out their soap box each year to whinge about how Christmas is just a consumer holiday and has lost all it’s true meaning, but is intended for those who can see the good in the act of giving, and enjoy watching for a second that glimmer of long forgotten childhood excitement the scrunch of wrapping paper and the snap of sellotape brings to a loved ones face.

Buying a great Christmas present has always been a matter of pride to me and something I like to do. If I’m remembered for anything I’m sure it will be that: ‘He did buy a good Christmas present didn’t he’. I enjoy the challenge of coming up with something that will hopefully surprise and delight and most importantly of all is thoughtful. Don’t get me wrong I haven’t always got it right. There was the learn to speak French CD and book set I got my Mum a few years back that was banished to the darkest recesses of her wardrobe before you could say au revoir. However these failures have only made my present buying skills become stronger over the years as I have honed my skills and learnt from my mistakes, and I have since chalked up many victories come December 25th.

But just how do you do it year in year out Len? I hear you cry. Well come closer and listen up, I’m about to reveal all dear readers in my Christmas present to you, the gift that will keep on giving. Print out and keep this indispensible guide to buying the perfect Christmas gift. Follow these tips for guaranteed success every time and step into Christmas with confidence and style once again!


 Look and Listen. Every conversation you have listen for ideas and hints. Observe as your dad watches a commercial for a new black and Decker work buddy/ mate station with intense joy and make a note or take a picture on your smug phone. Don’t try and remember it because you won’t. 

 Always be thoughtful. Remember your goal is to buy a gift that shows you have gone that extra mile because you care. It should be a physical representation of the words we often can’t express to our nearest and dearest.

 Be humorous. If you’re struggling for ideas a gift that makes them laugh is a great alternative.

‘Laughter is the shortest distance between two people’- Victor Borge

Be practical. People will appreciate something they can eat or drink or can use and get a lot of use out of if all else fails. However try not to buy something they would ordinarily buy themselves or there is no point.

Don’t be too ambitious. You want to impress but think realistically, is the recipient really going to use the gift past the Queen’s speech? I heard my mum say she wished she had continued to learn French after she left school so I got her the set....she also said she wished she had trained to be a nurse but I didn’t enrol her into college.

Allow yourself plenty of time. Try to pick up things throughout the year and don’t leave it all to December! You might find you are all out of time.

Have conviction. If you are indecisive about something put it down. Having to convince yourself they will like it means you are in desperation territory. If you also find yourself on websites selling expensive tat like a lunch box made from the spoiler of a Ferrari you have lost. However these sites can sometimes provide inspiration or unusual gifts:, and

Don’t buy for yourself. Something I have been guilty of in the past. You think it’s wicked but will the person you’re buying it for think so? Think on.

Don’t budget. You don’t have to spend the same on each person. Money is irrelevant unless you are buying for children in which case you can’t spend more on one child than the other. It’s a good test to see who your favourite is really though. In any case this guide is not for you, go away!

Online is not always best. I know its 2014 and drones have made poor St Nic redundant and climate change has forced him to move into his holiday home in Deal permanently but you should not dismiss the high street. They are a good source of inspiration and you can get advice from real people too! Visit Charity and antique shops and markets where you can pick up things you won’t find on-line and are utterly unique.

Merry Christmas,

Love Len.

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