Featured

This is the place to start.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Sunset over Rangoon.

Good day one and all and thank you so much for visiting my little site here and if you wish to read my latest entries please go to the paragraph immediately below this one as they go in reverse order (most recent to oldest) from there.

For those that do not know me, I am to technology what a sumo wrestler is to synchronised diving i.e. I just cannot do it. I have just conjured up a mental image there that I really wish I hadn’t.

I have owned this site for about 19 months now (as of November 2019) and have been working very hard trying to resurrect writings from long ago which were previously on other websites, one callously killed off by illegal corporate greed and the other by lack of interest by the owners.

Eventually I have worked out how to pin (I believe that is the techie term) this page so it remains at the top of my front page. I have decided that the only way for me to make any vague semblance of sense here is to backdate the entries of my various trips to the relevant dates which may make them hard to find and so I am creating this page to assist you – hopefully! I shall keep you informed here of completed travelogues and those under construction.

Firstly, I did write for a while for a decent website called blogspot.com which I know is much used by travel bloggers. If you want a look at what was admittedly a very user friendly site and looks like not being killed off any time soon, then here is a link to my pages there. They deal mainly with my trip to the Philippines in 2012 but also with an earlier trip round SE Asia which happened to coincide with my 50th birthday shortly after I retired. There is also the beginnings of a piece on a month I spent in Malta but which I never really finished there and so it has been migrated  here (see below).

If you want to know about rather unusual trip which happened in 2017 when I went to meet a friend for four days (having packed accordingly) in the Southern part of the Netherlands and flew home from Rome eight countries and over three months later then look here.

If you want to know about one of the least known parts of the British Isles i.e. Lundy Island then this is where you want to start.

If you want to know about yet another trip that took rather longer than expected then have a look at my recent excursion back home to Northern Ireland which is detailed here.  A week for a family reunion turned into two and a half months but that is the way I am.

If you have any interest in narrowboats and the British canal system (a great love of mine) or more specifically the West Yorkshire canal / river navigation system then you may wish to have a look at this series of entries.

As I mentioned above I started a blog on my trip to Malta in the blogspot site but I left there before it was finished so it has been move to this site and this is the place to begin. 

My 2019 annual Pilgrimage to the Broadstairs Folk Week turned into a bit of an adventure for all sorts of reasons and you can find out all about it my series of posts begins here.

The current project is a week of gigging, and exploring Newcastle and Berwick-upon-Tweed in the Northeast of England so stand by for that one.

After that, I am very much in your hands. I have three extended trips to Canada to write up, three to Sri Lanka, another couple to Northern Ireland and a few to Scotland. I have a month on Madeira to write about and many other adventures besides. If you have anything you would like to read about, please tell me. It is all the same to me, it will all take time but this really is my last chance at writing online. If this one goes wrong then I am out of here.

Perhaps Burma, Lao or Cambodia are you your liking or maybe a great trip through a couple of the former Yogoslav Republics (Serbia and Macedonia) with some dear friends plus the briefest of side trips to Albania. Honestly, I was there for 15 hours, border to airport via Tirana. Imagine visiting a particularly secretive country where you never had a penny of the local currency in your pocket, did not speak a word of the local language and still got where you needed to be. That was Albania, proper “flying by the seat of my pants” travel and I loved it, I must go back some day. The Algarve in Portugal, Greece and Cyprus are all in the mix as well.

Please get in touch if there is anything you would particularly like to read about and I shall certainly prioritise it. As I say, if I live long enough it will all get done sooner or later and I do not really mind what order I do it in.

As for the image which heads up this page, it is not really very relevant to anything I have written here bar a passing reference to Burma. I just wanted to liven up the page with an image and this is one of my favourites to the extent I have it as a screensaver. It was taken from the grounds of the Shwedagon paya in Rangoon, Burma at sunset which is undoubtedly the best time to visit if you happen to be there. My dear Burmese friend Zin had very graciously given up her day off to show me round that fascinating city and we had had a great time. Not only do I find it aesthetically pleasing as it is one of my few half decent amateur efforts but it stands for the reason I travel, the reason I write about it and, ultimately, the reason this site exists at all.

Right, so much to do and time I got back to work so, as always, stay tuned and spread the word.

A quick update.

Hello again, folks.

Just a very quick word here in response to a few enquiries I have had as to my health due to the fact that I have not posted anything new here for some time following my recent little health episode.  Those concerned know who they are and I thank them sincerely.

The simple fact is that I have been incredibly busy recently including a bit of travel (not flying yet) and gigging with the photographs above hopefully serving as a bit of a teaser as to where I was.  A full report to follow but I now find myself in my habitual state of being about a month behind on my entries here which I am working hard to rectify.

As for my health, I am almost embarrassingly healthy given what I have been through, I really have no right to be in as good nick as I appear to be.  As I said to the Practice Nurse yesterday I am probably the healthiest I have been for 20 years or more and I feel fine.  I spent most of yesterday seeing the Doctor, the afore-mentioned Practice Nurse, an A&E nurse and Sister and a radiographer in the Royal London Hospital and finally a pharmacist.  It was all a bit of a bore but the good news is that I had a call from the hospital this morning to tell me that my thrombosis has been dispatched to wherever it is that good thromboses go when they pass on, if there is such a thing as a good thrombosis.  At least that means I do not have to resume the annoying daily injections which I am grateful for although I am still taking so many pills I swear I must rattle when I walk and I will be on them forever apparently.  Not a problem.

I am back tomorrow for and ECG and something else I cannot remember as I have lost track of all the tests they give me.  I really do not know why I need an ECG as I had one in hospital less than three months ago and which showed nothing other than the arrythmia which I have been aware of for 26 years and which I told them about.  For those who have been on at me for years to register with a Doctor, rest assured that I am now under the ever-watchful gaze of Big Brother NHS.

I expect that in light of the test and scan the flying ban may well be lifted although if it is not I have a couple of other little schemes in the pipeline.  One of these is spending time exploring the UK which I have done lamentably little of.  With Eurostar and ferries, both of which modes of transport I much prefer to short haul flying, I can get to just about anywhere in Europe or Asia without ever setting foot in an airport.  A long time pipedream of mine has been to travel from London to Singapore without flying and the way I feel at the minute it might just happen.

Thanks again for all the enquiries as to my well-being and I promise to try and catch up on the blog asap.

Stay tuned and spread the word.

Not coals but a guitar to Newcastle.

Hello again to one and all and the beginning of yet another trip which I was hoping would be less eventful than the last one which had only finished the night before. If you have been reading my posts sequentially then you will know that I had arrived back from a somewhat extended visit to Thanet which had deposited me at home just before midnight the previous evening after about two and a half months in Thanet which itself had come after a quick turnaround from a jaunt back to Northern Ireland. I had virtually forgotten what my own flat (apartment) looked like and, if you are interested, it was still as untidy as I remembered it and with the customary heap of mail piled up behind the door.

I was up and about good and early and disposed of the mail which I had walked over the night before. That took about five minutes as a good proportion of it was junk and the rest merely bank statements and the like which were duly filed i.e. thrown on the precariously high pile on my coffee table. I swear that if it ever topples and hits the floor it is liable to register on the Richter scale. I really must get round to sorting it one of these years (I am not joking about that) but not just yet.

With the office work out of the way it was time to pack for my little expedition which consisted of removing the bag of dirty laundry and replacing it with a few clean T-shirts, socks and underwear all of which took another two minutes. I can honestly say that my little rollalong suitcase has not been fully unpacked since the day I bought and first packed it a couple of years ago which probably says something about my lifestyle. A quick shower and I was back out the door a little under 12 hours since I had walked through it. At least I know my home had not burned down, been burgled or flooded which are my major concerns when I am away.

image001
Yet another chariot awaits.

I wandered to the Tube and wrestled my way onto it. Unless I am flying I use a soft guitar case with straps that you wear like a rucksack which is very convenient but I am 6’5″ and it sits well above my head so I have to do a passable Quasimodo impersonation to get on and off a Tube because of the low doors. It must look quite comical. I arrived at Kings Cross in good time for a change as I usually end up rushing like mad and got my pre-booked seat on a lunchtime departure to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The reserved seat is free and is even required on certain services especially round the mas period but I suppose that is the least they can do at the obscene prices the franchises are allowed to charge on the British rail network although this franchise is unusual as I shall explain below.

An off peak return booked in advance cost me £118 and in the interest of research I have just looked up what an off peak fare for this afternoon. £165 single. Yes, you read that correctly, it is appalling and to make it even more ridiculous the fare to Edinburgh, a further 120 miles is £166. I will never understand the ticketing policy on British railways.

The East Coast service is now operated by the London and Northeastern Railway (LNER) operation which is unusual in that it is Government controlled with all other routes having been franchised out to mostly foreign owned companies with the end of nationalised railways in 1996. It was operated by several different operators, latterly Virgin Trains East Coast who, despite the name, were 90% owned by the Stagecoach group but they handed it back in 2018 amidst huge financial losses. I have to say that it is very unusual for anything bearing Richard Branson’s name not to profit and with the sharp business practices of Stagecoach I was surprised they could not make a go of it.

I would not count myself as a trainspotter nor an “anorak” and you certainly will not find me on a windswept platform somewhere dutifully noting down loco numbers but I do love trains and train travel and take every opportunity to use that mode of transport. I never fly home to Northern Ireland now or to destinations in the nearer parts of continental Europe as I much prefer the vastly more civilised train / ferry options available which I discovered through the fantastic Man in Seat 61 website which I recommend thoroughly for anyone planning rail travel anywhere in the world. I often browse it just for fun when I should really be keeping this blog up to date!

The new franchise has “borrowed” the LNER name from the company that operated the line in the heyday of rail travel from 1923 virtue of the Railways Act 1921 until nationalisation in 1948 and even the name conjures up evocative images of the great days of steam. Just about everyone has heard of the Flying Scotsman which fairly flew between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh but it was the Mallard which also ran the route that has the distinction of holding the world record for the fastest steam powered speed at an incredible 126 mph. I wonder what Robert Stephenson would have made of that.

image002
It is comfy but it should be at that price!

Today the rolling stock is electric and pretty comfortable and I spent the majority of the journey just looking out the window eventhough I had taken the usual precaution of bringing a book. For good portion of the start of the journey the track follows the route of the canal system which the rilways eventually killed off and which is another great love of mine. I love canals and narrowboats and have crewed for friends who own their own as well as having had several excellent leisure trips, one of which XXXX you can see here if you would like a flavour of life “on the Cut”. It is actually quite logical that the two networks run parallel as both dislike gradients and will take the line of least resistance through the topography.

Three hours later I alighted at the lovely Newcastle station having crossed the River Tyne on one of the several bridges that are going to feature heavily in the imagery in this section of posts and for which I make no apology. At the risk of sounding like some old spaced out hippy, bridges are another thing I love, along with trains, canals, military history, places of worship and places of liquid refreshment and they shall all feature heavily on this trip. I love a lot of things really.

image003
I arrived safe and sound.

I can actually date the last time I was in Newcastle Station although I have passed through it more times than I can count. It was in 1977 when my parents still harboured notions of me going to University and, along with Queen’s in my home city of Belfast, I had applied to Newcastle and Sheffield and went to both cities to be shown round by students already there. In truth, I already knew there was no way I was going to pass my A levels but it seemed like a good excuse for a jaunt and I recall leaving there on a tortuous train journey to Liverpool to get the boat back to Northern Ireland whilst nursing the hangover from Hell which had been caused by the very sociable nature of my student hosts. I have never drunk Vaux beer since!

As promised, Paul met me at the gate and insisted on taking my case which wasn’t really necessary as I had managed this far but much appreciated. He is a lovely bloke, very considerate and a great friend but he really did seem to be taking rather a lot of care of me and it was only later in the trip that he admitted he thought I was still quite ill and that he was surprised how well I was looking. Again I was a bit surprised at the way people were reacting to me as I felt great. A little weak perhaps but that was all.

image006

We went down into the adjacent Metro system and Paul gave me a quick rundown on the intricacies of the ticket machine which was simple enough. We were to spend a lot of time on the Metro which is handy but seems to be prone to about as many delays as the London Underground as shall be described in future posts. The image above was taken later as you can see by the fact it is dark, but it will serve to liven up the page as I have very few images for this day.

Paul lives in the lovely (and pretty posh) suburb of Jesmond about which I was to lean much during my stay and he is about equidistant from Jesmond and West Jesmond stations. We alighted at the latter and on exiting I was greatly heartened to see the Lonsdale Hotel bang opposite the station not that pubs were of the same use to me as they had been three months previously but I still have a habit of noting them. We made it to his house in good order and I got settled in which took about two minutes. Guitar case left in the hallway for imminent use, suitcase in the bedroom and I was sorted.

Paul’s wife Sue is a great cook and I should point out here that I do not pick my friends solely on their culinary abilities as I have friends that cannot boil an egg but many of my friends are excellent in the kitchen and so we had a lovely meal and then it was back on the road, well the Metro, and off to Hebburn where we had a gig that night with his band Shamrock Street. I should explain that I have been promising for literally years to come up to visit and play a few sessions or whatever and for various reasons it had never happened. Paul’s regular guitarist was away on holidays and he had asked me if I could come up and sit in for a few engagements. No problem, it would be another few venues and a new city to add to my CV.

The venue in question was the Hebburn Iona Social Club which is typical of Northern “working men’s clubs”. It is huge, very comfortable and the drink is cheap! I really do wonder how pubs compete and, indeed, this may be one of the reasons so many pubs are closing in these days when every penny counts.  Again, the images were taken later as I didn’t stop to take one then.

 

I had not bothered to ask what sort of gig it was but one look at the large function room where we were to play made it obvious that it wasn’t going to be a sit in the corner and play acoustic session. Paul had told me to make sure I brought a lead for my guitar, which I always carry anyway and there was a decent sized PA in the process of being set up by Ged the fiddle and whistle player / vocalist and Martin the logistics guy / percussionist. A quick introduction where I was made most welcome and a quick pint procured, it was time to get set up. In my case the pint was that awful “ciderwater” which is half and half cider and soda water and was necessitated by my continuing medication. Remember that I had never played with these guys but I have done that many times before and it is no problem. By the time it came to starting time we had been joined by a couple of accordianists and so we were a decent sized outfit.

It had been explained to me that it was effectively a singers night and that I would have to be on my toes finding keys as people just took off in whatever key they fancied or, worse still, announced they would be singing in one key and then sang in a completely different one. No problem. As I always say, have capo, will travel! I am not being unkind but I felt like a youngster in there and I am most certainly not a spring chicken any more. Without exaggeration I would suggest the average age of the audience was about 70. I was sitting extreme stage right and was quickly engaged in a wonderful conversation by a trio of “golden age” Geordies who could not have been friendlier and seemed quite amazed that I had travelled all the way from London to play here. With me being the way I am I was flirting outrageously with the two old dears and joking with the man, all of which seemed to cause general hilarity.

Ged had very kindly introduced me as their “special guest” so no pressure then. It turned out to be a great night with an excellent standard of singers and certainly plenty of them, most of whom I even found the keys for eventually. Maybe it is a Northeastern thing but the key of F seemed very popular and the capo stood me in good stead. I really enjoyed myself and it seemed like only minutes until it was time to finish and for Paul and I to get the Metro home. Ged and Martin live nearby and were walking.

A quick coffee and I was off to bed, more than ready for it. I had really hit the ground running and I knew I had a lot more playing to do not to mention a bit of sightseeing no matter what the weather was going to throw at me. In the next post I do some local exploration, eat haggis and play an impromptu gig with a bona fide pop star in the audience. To find out who it was, and as always, stay tuned and spread the word.

Bye bye Broadstairs (for the moment).

As promised in the last post here this one is going to be quite a number of days all rolled into one, not because I am getting lazy or rushing to the end of this particular trip, which it will be but because I slipped into somewhat of a routine which probably would not interest the reader. I do, however, urge you not to skip to the next page just yet. The one thing I did manage to do was to get to see some excellent gigs and was getting confident enough with my newish camera to record some footage. This post will contain links to my YouTube page where I tend to post all my videos and I hope you enjoy them. I shall also write briefly about the one or two other things that I did but that will be brief, I promise.

image004
An autumnal Viking Bay.

Saturday the 19th was a pretty bleak day, not in terms of the weather was still pleasantly bright if chilly but in terms of the Rugby World Cup where Ireland still had an interest but not much hope. Having failed to beat Japan in the group stage we were destined to face the mighty All Blacks (New Zealand) who were two time defending champions and my pre-tournament pick to win. I have no complaints about the Japan result as they simply outplayed us with superb discipline, fitness levels and adherence to a clever strategy that suited them very well. Of course, losing to them meant the Blacks as everyone knew and I didn’t hold out a lot of hope. Dave had very decently opened the pub early again for the minor undercard on the bill which was England vs. Australia. OK, Poms and Aussies, I am joking – honestly.

I had arrived at the pub bang on opening time as I knew there would be good crowd for the England game which there proved to be although I bagged a good seat with a clear view of one of the big screens. One of the images above demonstrates how early I got there.

Whilst I had picked NZ to win I also thought that England stood as good a chance as they had had since they won it all those years ago. I know that might sound contradictory but they went in with a superb squad and had demolished Ireland (then ranked #1 in the world) not long before. All it would take was for them to play as they were capable of and a bit of that most elusive sporting requirement, luck, and they were in with a shout. In the event they totally dismantled Australia 40 – 16 and looked nigh on unbeatable.
Somewhere in the middle of this Dave did his usual and produced tray upon tray of tasty bacon rolls to feed the masses.

I know there is no shortage of venues to watch sporting events in Broadstairs but I do like the George. Dave runs it brilliantly and there is usually a good friendly crowd for just about any sporting event. On many occasions I have seen three different sports being watched on the various screens simultaneously.

With the first game out of the way it was on to the main event and a few people left but not many so it was still a good atmosphere. I really do not wish to dwell on it but NZ did to us what England had done to the Aussies and we were turned over 46 – 14. I expected to lose but it was the manner of the defeat that rankled. We just did not turn up and you cannot do that against the All Blacks. Ah well, I certainly did not expect us to win it despite the world rankings which I have little faith in anyway. The images above tell the story of the day really.

Sunday 20th and it was back to the pub early for the other two rugby matches. In the first, Wales scraped a one point win over France and were lucky to do so  with French indiscipline gtelling again.  Sebastien Vahaamahina was sent off for a nasty elbowing offence which effectively ended his career early as he at least had the decency to retire early shortly thereafter.  As always, there were breakfast rolls for all before South Africa basically bullied a gallant Japan into a 26- 3 result. Japan had impressed me greatly and also others who actually know something about the game. Even allowing for home advantage they punched well above their weight and must be considered for inclusion in the Southern hemisphere main competition of Australia, NZ, RSA and Argentina but I cannot see the Old Boys network allowing it as they do not want the very lucrative pie sliced up five ways instead of four.

The three images I want to share with you here are nothing to do with the rugby but serve to illustrate various points.

The first is not to showcase the Victorian promenade shelters, attractive as they are, but to show you two of the ever-increasing street sleepers / beggars that seem to be in ever greater numbers every time I visit the town. The second shows the mess in Victoria Gardens after the mini hurricane during the Food Festival which I mentioned in another post. The third is included primarily because I rather like these attractive houses in Wrotham Road but also to show you what is happening in Thanet as these dwellings are relatively new and there are plenty more springing up. There was another new development in Alexandra Road under construction since my last visit.

Nothing until the Wednesday when it was Folk Club night again in the Tartar Frigate which I go to sometimes and am always made very welcome, probably because I know just bout everyone there. Here are a couple of images to give you an idea.

image002
This used to be a Post Office.

Only one image for Thursday the 24th October whilst coming back from my Beano’s “breakfast” at 1400 and it once again shows what is happening in smaller communities in UK. This building, until recently was the Post Office for the town but that function has now been devolved to retail premises although they do retain the rear of the premises as a sorting office. I think it is disgraceful.

image002
Folk week commemorative marker.

Not much on the Friday except that I finally got round to taking images of a couple of things I had been meaning to for ages as I knew I had only a few days left. The first is the rather wonderful sign commemorating 50 years of Folk Week in 2015, the Festival is nearly as old as me! The piece was made by Mark Howe of Broadstairs Metal Craft and I think it is very well done. Hopefully both it and the Festival will still be in place for the centenary although I doubt I shall be around to see it!

image004 (2)
Memorial plaque to Ted Heath.

The second is of a plaque on the side wall of the Sailing Club commemorating it’s most famous member, the former Prime Minister Sir Edward (Ted) Heath who I have mentioned before in these posts.

image005
Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra in the Wrotham.

The final image is of Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra who played in the Wrotham that night. These guys are regularly booked for Folk Week although I had never seen them. To be honest, I do not get to see too many acts as I am usually too busy making a noise myself. somewhere. Once again Jackie had booked well and they were yet another of the excellent acts I saw in the pub, I really cannot speak highly enough of either her or the Wrotham generally. As promised at the start of this piece you can check out some clips of the band on my Youtube channel here, here, here and here.   Four videos, I am spoiling you, dear readers.  Of course the added bonus was that I only had to wander upstairs to my bed again but not too late as I had an early start on the Saturday.

Saturday was rugby day again and so I was up with the lark and off to the George once again. I knew I needed to be early as it was the first semi-final with England taking on New Zealand so one of my hunches about the eventual winner was going to come a cropper. As you might imagine, the place was packed to the rafters although again I had a good seat (and the obligatory decent breakfast offerings from Dave) to watch an excellent game. England turned over the much-fancied All Blacks 19 – 7 and played extremely well. I knew they were good but I did not expect them to win as impressively as they did nor restrict the Antipodean side to a mere seven points. Needless to say it developed into a bit of a party helped along the way by the usual football offerings on TV. I had a reasonably quiet evening and headed to bed early as I knew the next day was to be another early rugby start.

Up on Sunday and straight to a much quieter George Inn for Wales vs. South Africa in what promised to be a good game and certainly lived up to the billing. There were a few Welsh supporters in but it was by no means busy. I knew it had been a bit lively in there on the previous night so perhaps there were a few delicate heads and stomachs being nursed at home. Another 0900 kick off may just have been a step too far despite the extra hour in bed afforded by the change from BST to GMT. As I expected, RSA depended on the sheer physicality of their monstrous pack and edged a narrow 19 – 16 victory to set up a final against England the next Saturday. I was looking forward to that although I knew I was going to be watching it many many miles from the George.

I was leaving on the Monday which, even allowing for my hospital sojourn, is earlier than I normally go. I usually hang around until a day or two before Remembrance Sunday as I like to attend the Act of Remembrance in central London but before that I had another little jaunt to undertake.

You may remember my mate Paul from these posts, he is the banjo player I had played Folk Week with. He and his lovely wife Sue live in Newcastle in the Northeast of England and for years I had been promising to go up and visit him and “play a few tunes” as we refer to it. Whilst I had been in Broadstairs he had been messaging me from his hotel in Crete asking me to come up in early November. I couldn’t help but think how much things have changed in my lifetime. I remember a time when computers took up a warehouse and a mobile (cell) ‘phone was science fiction and yet he was sending me instant messages from over two thousand miles away arranging gigs a mere 350 miles away. There was a gig on the Tuesday night so my plan was to get an evening train to London on the Monday after saying my farewells and then a quick turnaround and on another train North on Tuesday lunchtime but all that is for future posts.

For now I still had one last treat in store, the Sunday early evening gig in the Wrotham which I was looking forward to as it was Snake Oil Trading Company which includes my mates Griff and Brian who I have mentioned often here before. They are the two sound engineers / multi-instrumentalists that seem to rig just about every gig in Thanet that my other mate Chris doesn’t put together. I reckon Broadstairs must have more soundmen per capita than anywhere else in the UK and they can even make me sound marginally less awful than I usually do! The other two members of the group are Ray on guitar and vocals and Jacks on drums / percussion and vocals. They perform what is known these days as Americana and they do it very well as I hope the clip shows.

During the interval my mate Nigel Feist  and Ben Mills  got up and did a couple of numbers which was a commendable effort as they were both still hanging out rather following Nigel’s birthday party the night before.  Nigel is an excellent blues harp player whom I have known for years and Ben is quite a celebrity around Thanet following his getting into the finals of a national TV talent show a few years ago.  In a perhaps unusual choice of number they did a rather bluesy version of “Ode to Billie Jo” by Bobbie Gentry which I rather liked and which you can see here.

It was great fun, well attended and I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially heckling the band (in a friendly manner obviously). Another quiet evening in the pub with a few great friends completed the day before retiring to my comfy room for the last time this trip. I felt quite sad about that.

Monday morning and a beginning and an end. The beginning of a new week which was hopefully going to end miles away and the end of another Broadstairs trip which had proved to be memorable for all sorts of reasons.

Just a few random images of the day here, firstly the William Hill bookmakers which had closed down when I was here and mirrors the fate of it’s sister shop not three hundred yards from my home. I was told that the rise of online gambling and new regulations on gaming machines where people could lose ludicrous amounts of money in a very short period of time, were making them no longer viable for the operators. Apparently they had all opened up huge numbers of outlets a few years ago where betting on sports events was the least part of the business, all the money was coming from the machines. Now this is no longer possible they are just closing them all down again. It is no loss to me as I find gambling the height of stupidity, I do not even buy lottery ticket.

The second image is of the pier, a view I must have literally hundreds of images of but. like the Royal Harbour in Ramsgate, I can never get enough and it serves to show that even at the end of October there were still people enjoying the Viking Bay beach. The final image is of my “last supper” in town, delivered to the pub as usual and delicious as usual. There had been a few farewells during the day and I still had one more lot to do so I headed off back to the Wrotham.

When I got back, the “choir” were in full flow. They are not a proper choir but rather a group of people who get together to sing, accompanied by two guitars, and with the emphasis very much on harmonies. They do stop and work these out so I do not know if the ultimate aim is to perform live or whether indeed they already have. It certainly seemed much more like a rehearsal / workshop than a singaround and it was rather an appropriate finish to my stay. I was half-tempted to break out the guitar which I had sitting beside me but I had a train to catch which I did in good time as the image below shows.

image007
On the move again.

It would be tempting to say I was thinking about things in general on the train and were I a cinematographer it would be great, interspersing “flashbacks” with my reflection in the window of a speeding train with lights flashing but it didn’t happen that way. Yes, there was the general deflation I always feel leaving Broadstairs but I spent my time reading my book and dozing on the mercifully empty train. The introspection had been taking place before I left and much more since, especially whilst reliving it all here.
It had been an even more eventful trip than usual on my annual pilgrimage to the Folk Week and there have been some pretty eventful times there in the past. It had reminded me of my own mortality and approaching official “old” status not that I was ever living in a state of ignorance (blissful or otherwise) of either and caused a fairly serious lifestyle change as a result. I am very pleased I “quit” smoking to the extent I did. Apart from anything else it is saving me a fortune in tandem with the new drinking regime which I am still not particularly fond of snd doubt I ever will be. What is it they say about never missing your water till the well runs dry?

I always knew I had a lot of friends in and around Broadstairs but this really drove the message home. The amount of support and concern I received both amazed and humbled me. Cliched as it is, the people involved are too numerous to mention but they know who they are and some of them actually read this nonsense so my heartfelt thanks to them all.

I got to see the National Health Service “up close and personal” and I have to say that for all the much publicised failures that the media revel in, my experience was 100% positive. Again, I believe one or two of the people in the QEQM read this and so more heartfelt thanks are in order. You are lifesavers, literally, and you should be immensely proud of what you do. Heaven knows, you can’t be in it for the money!

As for the Festival itself, yes, there were a few problems this year, many of them climatic but there is nothing you can do about that, it is just the British “summer”. The other issues will undoubtedly resolve themselves to a greater or lesser degree but the enthusiasm for Folk Week seems to be undiminished by those present. The standard of musicianship (not to mention dancing, poetry, juggling and a host of other artistic activities) seems to be as high as ever and yet further thanks to everyone who put up with me making a noise alongside them both during the event itself and subsequently.
I could really go on and on here but I’ll rein it in as it will become terminally boring for the reader but back when I started this blog I did say that I was going to be completely honest in it and that is what you are getting here, folks.

Now that I have got my thoughts on life, the Universe and everything (to quote the late Douglas Adams) out of the way you’ll be glad to know there is more travel in the next post which is presumably why you dropped in here in the first place so stay tuned and spread the word.

A (brief) ramble in Ramsgate.

16th October.
Another nothing day.

The 16th was another day with nothing of note except that I was walking the back way from yet another Beano’s breakfast downtown and noticed that the old Leisure Centre in Alxandra Road is now earmarked to be yet another “escape room” and apparently an offshoot of the one in Northdown in Margate if the name and logo are anything to go by. As I mentioned in a previous post there is already one such establishment in the town in what used to be my bank so what the need is for another one I singularly fail to see. I think it would be far better employed as a leisure centre or some sort of facility for the local youth who tend to roam about creating mayhem in semi-feral packs, especially in the summer months.

Enough of this and we shall pass swiftly on to…….

17th October
A (brief) ramble round Ramsgate.

If you have been reading this whole series you will know that I slept in Ramsgate for most of Folk Week this year and have also stayed there on various occasions over the years when I have run out of options in Broadstairs. It is strange the way things go in that of the three main Thanet towns, Broadstairs was always seen as being a bit genteel and old-fashioned with lots of pensioners, Margate was thought to have left it’s glory days as a holiday destination long behind and was regarded as being a bit rough and Ramsgate was seen as more upmarket than Margate but all this is not so now. Anecdotal evidence, including that of a guy on my hospital ward who had been put there by defending one youth from another gang in Ramsgate, suggests that Ramsgate is now getting a lot rougher and Margate is “on the up”.

Whilst I had been to Ramsgate a few times this trip, predominantly for breakfasts in the Pavilion and visits to the laundrette, I decided it was time for a more thorough look round. Nothing too strenuous as I had seen the major attractions round the harbour area but just a general wander to see if I could find anything as I inevitably do.

image006 (2)
What a great name for a road.

My bus from Broadstairs runs along the wonderfully named Plains of Waterloo road which I think would be a superb address to have. Not only that but a small road leading off it is named La Belle Alliance Square. La Belle Alliance is the name of an inn near Waterloo (it still exists as a nightclub) where Wellington and his ally Blücher met after the famous battle.

Whilst gazing out the bus window I had often seen one of the numerous blue plaques that litter Thanet stating that Karl Mark had stayed here (number 62) in 1879. Just out of interest I looked up an estimated value for the property today and it is £318k. He could have just about funded the Russian Revolution with that as that amount when he stayed there is equivalent to just under £40 million today. Yes, I do have too much time on my hands!

A little further research shows that he had been to the town many times before including several visits with Frederick Engels. Strange to think that plans for world communism may have been hatched in this most genteel English seaside resort. Engels was not present for the 1879 visit as a letter to him proves but rather Marx was there due to the ill-health of his wife Jenny rather than his own ill-health. He had first visited  Ramsgate seeking relief from the boils that plagued him, probably due to liver dysfunction.

With the erstwhile residence of the Father of Communism duly recorded on my trusty compact I walked the few yards to the delightful and very impressive Wellington Crescent where blue plaques seem to proliferate like the boils that apparently afflicted dear old Comrade Marx. It appears that every third house or so was home to some notable or other at one time although some are more notable than others and I suspect there is a degree of “bigging the place up” on the part of the Ramsgate Society.

As you see, I spotted Sir Charles Warren who lives at number 10 behind a door not dissimilar to a much more famous “Number 10”.

image009
Another famous temporary resident.

I also found Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who also got about a bit by staying at number seven, 28 and 29 at various times and Wilkie Collins, novelist, friend of Charles Dickens and opium addict although the Ramsgate Society do not see fit to mention the latter two facts. He stayed at number 27. Interestingly, Collins and Mark are both interred in Kensal Green cemetery in London, a place I have often been past but never visited, I must get round to it soon.

image016
It really is rather grand.

All in all, Wellington Crescent was “home” (temporary or permanent) to some distinguished people and it is easy to see why with the lovely views over the channel but the most famous visitor was associated with Albion House right at the end of the road where the then Princess Victoria stayed for a few months in 1835 and 1836 to recover from ill-health just over a year before becoming Queen.

The building today is a boutique hotel and as well as the vista over the Channel it also overlooks the pretty Albion Place Gardens which were not there when her Majesty visited, having only been constructed in 1894 from the grounds of the House. Should you be interested in such things the Gardens are home to a rare species of newt and a bat colony. I do like to keep my dear readers informed of such things.

image026
Try driving a bus down this!

At the same time as the gardens were being laid out an equally attractive if serpentine road named Madeira Walk (pictured) was constructed adjacent to it. Whilst aesthetically pleasing it is a bit of a nightmare for modern traffic but it was all part of the gentrification plan of the local Council at the time who were trying to transform the town from a working port into an upmarket seaside resort. It seems the concept of gentrification long precedes what is happening to most of the inner East End of London where I live these days.

image021
East Cliff lift, Ramsgate.

Also close by and again not there during Her Majesty’s stay is the wonderful lift from the Crescent down to beach level which was constructed in 1910 and is one of only five such structures in England still open to the public. It is of such importance that it is Grade II listed, having been thankfully saved from collapse in 1999. As it only operates seasonally I was not able to ride in it but it is yet another reason to return to Ramsgate should I need one which I don’t.

image023
Yet another view of the harbour I love so much and the chimneys are great too.

I have mentioned before how much I love the Royal Harbour in Ramsgate and how many images I have of it so this was a perfect opportunity to get another angle on it as you can see above.

After walking about halfway down Madeira Walk I came to Kent Steps which I had passed many times at both ends but had strangely never either ascended nor descended so time to rectify that and I am glad I did as I was rewarded by discovering on of the strangest homes I have ever seen in my life. Beautifully presented and obviously worth a fortune due to it’s location it boast it’s own name plaque which proudly declares “Rubber Chicken House”. Honestly. Even in my heavy drinking days I could never have come up with something like that. Not only is it just about the craziest house name I have ever heard but it lives up to it as the front window is completely full of the afore-mentioned creatures. Apologies for the images but the light was against me. I hope you get the idea because I have absolutely none and I strongly recommend that the homeowner gets off whatever they are on pretty quickly!

After that it was a brief walk to the Royal Pavilion for my usual breakfast, image of the prevailing weather conditions on the beach and a leisurely afternoon of catching up on this blog. About ten o’clock in the evening, hunger got the better of me and, it being a Thursday, a curry was called for and I decided to risk the Naga Chicken Vindaloo which was a bit lively to say the least but nowhere near as hot as some curries I have had. If you have ever spent any time in Sri Lanka, as I have, and eaten away from the touristy places and with local people you will know what a hot curry is.

After that decent meal and a bit of a chat with the female door supervisor (lovely woman), it was “last bus back to Broadstairs” time and straight to bed.
My next post will be another compilation effort of quite a few days of nothing much except links to some absolutely excellent music and the end of this particular little jaunt to the Kent coast so stay tuned and spread the word.

A “major trek” from Broadstairs to Margate.

In the last post I promised the reader that I would be going for a walk but I shall very briefly deal with Monday 14th October and it will be brief, believe me. The whole day is best summed up in the images above which show my usual excellent breakfast in the Royal Victoria Pavilion, a murky Ramsgate beach in the early afternoon and the full-bore rainstorm that had settled over Broadstairs by early evening and did not let up. I am a fairly hardy soul but it really was too dismal to consider doing anything of note and so we shall pass quickly on.

15th October
A (not so long-distance) footpath.

A few posts ago I teased you with the image that heads this page and promised a full explanation in due course, so here it is.
For many years I had seen signposts like this round Broadstairs and never even bothered to enquire what T&D stood for. When I eventually did, I was informed that it was Turner and Dickens although many locals do not even know this as you shall see. T is the famous artist JMW Turner and D the equally famous novelist Charles Dickens. The former had a strong association with Margate and the latter with Broadstairs to the extent they now even have an annual Dickens Festival and it seems you cannot move in the town without seeing a plaque commemorating some Dickensian association.

Despite the fact that their lives overlapped by about four decades and had connections in the two adjacent towns, there is no evidence the two ever met although it is possible as they had mutual friends. I suspect it is just the local Council conflating the two histories to create the route. Whatever the facts, it matters little as this is a pleasant stroll and it is nothing more than that. Over the years I had walked the majority of it without really being aware it was a designated route.

If you do fancy a go at it your first problem will be the conflicting and often inaccurate information available on the internet. I checked the first three websites my search engine threw up and that was an education with the start and end points being given as the rail stations in the two towns (wrong) and distances varying from 6.44 km. (four miles) to 8.7 km. The route starts or finishes at The Droit House Visitor Centre in Margate and the other terminus is the Dickens House Museum on the front at Broadstairs. I would say it is closer to the former distance and it is certainly not onerous.  I found this website to be one of the better ones.  

I love walking and have completed the London Loop and Capital Ring (150 miles and 78 miles respectively), the vast majority of the Thames Path (184 miles) and the pinnacle of my rambling was completing the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal (100+ miles at altitude) some years ago so what was I doing wandering about four miles mostly along roads I knew intimately? A couple of reasons, really. Firstly, it would give me something to do rather than just sit in the pub all day at my computer and secondly it would “test drive” my poor old body that had been a bit knocked about. I was surprised at how weak I still felt exactly a month after being discharged from hospital. This route was ideal as it vaguely follows the Thanet Loop bus route (or vice versa) so I knew that if I got tired I could easily get to a bus stop which was a reassuring backstop.

image001
Michelin starred, no less.

I started good and early and the first image I took that day was absolutely nothing to do with the path and was taken about 200 yards from where I was staying. This rather unprepossessing frontage hides the restaurant that had recently achieved Thanet’s first Michelin star. It is run by a guy called Ben Crittenden who transformed the premises from a tiny sandwich bar with his Dad. The only other person involved is his wife Sophie who runs front of house.

STARK is only open in the evening four nights a week, it has twelve covers and no menu, you eat what you are given. The website states, “PLEASE NOTE THAT WE ARE UNABLE TO CATER FOR ANY DIETARY REQUIREMENTS, DISLIKES OR ALLERGIES AND WE ARE UNABLE TO OFFER ANY SUBSTITUTIONS”. Sorry about the caps, it is a c&p. All this sounded very pretentious to me but I am told by people whose opinion I respect that he is a really pleasant bloke. The rather draconian food policy derives from the fact that he has a kitchen the size of a shoebox which is equipped with one fridge, well, how much kitchen does a sandwich bar need? Gordon Ramsay, eat your heart out.

If you can get a table, and I say if as there is typically a six week wait, it will set you back £60 or £90 with a paired wine flight. Heaven knows where he keeps the wine! Whites in the fridge and reds under the sink presumably. In truth, with some of the weather we were having he could have put the whites on the back doorstep and they would have chilled nicely if they had not been washed away to the sea down Oscar Road. I doubt I shall ever dine there but good luck to them and back to my walk.

It was a mere five minutes walk from STARK to the Dickens House Museum which I have never been in and is said to be the inspiration for the home of Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield. This would make sense as it is about 10 feet across a footpath to the Albion Hotel which has a Dickensian association as the plaque outside indicates. It also has a Fergian (what a word!) association as I have stayed here and played a gig in the lovely garden with my mate Tim.

image006
The real Bleak House.

I also took the image above of Bleak House which is certainly not the best one I have of it but I took it to demonstrate a point. With a little compact camera (no telephoto lens or anything) I took the images of the Museum and this one whilst standing in exactly the same spot which shows just how compact Broadstairs is for the visitor. About as compact as my camera really.

On then up the High Street and I may as well have been walking to Beano’s for my breakfast as I know it so well. I have walked up and down here literally thousands of times. I thought I would include the images above for a bit of amusement. Not far up the hill is the pretty uninspiring row of shops, with J. Prentis the greengrocer at the far end. I must declare an interest in that I know John who is a really nice guy but his fruit and veg are really good with lots of locl produce. Cobnuts were the seasonal offering with a cobnut being a locally grown variant of a hazelnut.

I looked up as I knew there was another blue plaque there indicating that Dickens had stayed in a house on that site at some point but, as the image shows, it has been changed, very possibly by John to what you see above. I won’t bore you with the details but it is to do with a dispute between him and the landlord of the upstairs premises which are, frankly, an eyesore and have been for years. It certainly made me smile.

image014
How lovely, two pubs side by side.

On up the hill past Pierremont Hll where the future Queen Victoria once stayed, past the War Memorial and then I stopped briefly to take the image above which indicates much of what is happening in Broadstairs. The two premises shown are both obviously former retail outlets and are both now pubs. The one on the right is Mind the Gap (a reference to the nearby train station) where I have been once or twice and played an impromptu gig with a standing invitation to do so again any time. It is one of the many micropubs I have spoken about in this series of entries. The bar on the left is Houdini’s, which I unusually have never been in. The USP here, as the name suggests is that most of the staff are practicing magicians who will amaze you with their prestidigitation at the drop of a (top) hat. I just hope the rabbit does not jump out.

image015
Friends Meeting House.

I carried on past the station and Beano’s which took a serious amount of willpower and then right into St. Peter’s Park Road where I stopped to take a quick image of the rather pleasant Quaker Meeting House which houses not only Society of Friends (Quakers) but also, somewhat oddly to my mind, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. I cannot imagine there are too many practicing Calvinists in Thanet but apparently there must be enough for a congregation. I live and learn.

The path then follows some quiet residential streets until you get to St. Peters which I also know quite well having played gigs on all four pubs in the village. It is not a big place and I think it is commendable that it supports so many “boozers”. Again, two of them are micropubs (the Four Candles (the smallest brewpub in Britain) and the Yard of Ale) and the other two are more traditional establishments (the Red Lion and the Little Albion). Both the micropubs regularly win awards as the attached websites show and both are excellent. The image shows the Candles on the left and the Albion on the right. When I passed the Little Albion was undergoing a much-needed refurb as you can see by the newspapers in the windows. I could tell you all sorts of stories about it but I won’t bore you.

St. Peters and Broadstairs are now more or less joined and the local Council features both names but while Broadstairs is now the much more important entity it was not always thus. The village has a very long history with the first Church being built here in 1070 to serve the habitation in the area when Broadstairs was merely a few fisherman’s huts. Strange as it seems now, it was reputedly the largest parish East of London in the first half of the 19th century. Nowadays, it is basically a dormitory town with about 20% of the population being retired.

A short walk past the pubs I came to the charming set of mosaics pictured above, the work of well-known local artist Martin Cheek and local schoolchildren. See if you can spot which characters are depicted. This is yet another example of the very artistic nature of the area that I mentioned in the previous post.

The two images above are nothing to do with the Turner and Dickens theme other than they are on the path named for them. The first shows a detail of a hedge around a private dwelling the like of which I do not think I have ever seen. It is so thick that it has to be trimmed as shown so as not to obscure the street sign. The people here must really value their privacy! The second is of a large and presumably very old tree that I liked the look of purely because of the numerous trunks.

image028
St. Peters parish church.

Another few minutes walk brought me to the Church for which the village was named and which I had been in before, notably for the wedding of my friends Simon and Becky which was quite some event as it happened during Folk Week. Becky is an excellent fiddle player and singer who is originally from the village and who I have played many gigs with and Simon dances with a folk dance side from Northumberland where they now live with their young son.

Being in Folk Week, the logistics were a bit frantic for many of the guests. If memory serves, the wedding was at 1500 and at lunchtime I had a gig with my mate Pete May in the Charles Dickens pub in Broadstairs which is yet another of the Thorley Taverns I mentioned in the last entry. People were somewhat confused by me turning up to play looking semi-respectable as I habitually play in jeans and a T-shirt and Pete was fairly smart as well. We finished the gig bang on, explained why we could not do an encore, set down in record time and then hit the traffic in Pete’s vehicle! We ended up taking a crazy detour and arrived at the Church about two minutes ahead of the bride. We did well as there were other musicians slipping in the back during the service. Everyone knew the score (musical pun absolutely intended) and it was no problem as was the state of dress of many of the congregation. Simon’s dance side turned up in full “morris” gear to provide a guard of honour and many other dancers from other sides turned up in their costumes, having danced out that lunchtime, it was quite a sight.

image035
Red Lion pub.

After the service we all retired across the road to the Red Lion (pictured) for a few before heading the short distance to the Village Hall where the reception was to be held. There was food laid on but Becky had not booked a band, well she had no need to as a fair proportion of the guests were musicians who were under orders to bring their instruments which we did. The entertainment effectively took the form of a ceilidh with a fairly large and constantly changing band including your humble narrator. It was one of the best weddings I have ever been to and the memory of the bride hammering her fiddle with the band whilst still in her bridal gown is one that will remain with me forever.

As I always do, I stopped to pay my respects at the War Memorial outside the church and take a few images for inclusion in the War Memorial Register. I found it amazing how many men from this small village, which must have been even smaller then, died in the First World War. Lest we forget.

image037
St. Peters parish church.

I was surprised to find the church was open on a weekday out of season but I gratefully went in for a look round to find that I was understandably the only visitor. There was a man there “minding” the place which I think is a terrible shame. Churches used to be open all the time as places of sanctuary and shelter but the realities of modern society render this impossible now. He was very friendly and pointed out many things of interest but he did manage to surprise me somewhat when I told him I was walking the Turner and Dickens path and the presence of the mosaics mentioned above, he claimed to have never heard of it despite obviously being a local and a parishioner there. We got to chatting about this and that until he slightly apologetically told me he had to lock up and go for his lunch. When I checked the time I discovered that we had been chewing the fat for the best part of an hour. Still, no harm done as I had nothing specific to do except go for a walk and it was an interesting conversation. I do love never specifically planning anything.

The attached website has an excellent history of the Church but a brief precis is that the nave is the only late Norman portion of the church still extant and dates to 12th century although most of the rest is 15th century. It was extensively restored in the latter part of the 19th century and much of the stained glass, of which I am so fond, dates to this period. A couple of interesting snippets about the church are that the late former Prime Minister of the UK, Ted Heath, who was born in the village, sang in the choir here and the church was used as a naval signalling station in Napoleonic times. The latter fact means that the church retains the right to fly the white ensign (the flag of the Royal Navy) although I am not sure if it exercises this privelege. This interested me as there is a church about 15 minutes walk from my home in the East end of London that regularly flies the red ensign (flag of the merchant marine). I wonder how many churches in UK are allowed to fly naval ensigns.

image040
St. Peters churchyard.

To the rear of the church is the extensive graveyard which I have visited before and which I found fascinating especially as it has a number of Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) tended graves which I have a particular interest in. I did not spend too much time on them as I had examined them exhaustively on a previous visit but I took a while to look at the Garden of Remembrance and I paused to take one of the images you see above which shows a portion of the graveyard which has been left to grow pretty much wild. I don’t know the reasoning for this. It maybe deliberate policy to encourage wildlife as is becoming popular, it may be that they do not have the resources to keep the whole place up to scratch. Certainly other parts of the site are very well-kept so I really have no idea. The images below are of the well-surfaced path which passes through the rather ornate castellated gate you can see.

 

One piece of advice I would give to the visitor is to try to arrange one of the St. Peters walking tours which I have never been on because they are so popular. Three of them involve the graveyard, a general one (including the grave of the Giant!) and one each for graves pertaining to the World Wars. The most popular is the Village Tour when numerous volunteers from the area dress up in period costume to greet the tour with various anecdotes. I think it is a great idea and those that have been on it say it is excellent which is presumably the reason it has won so many awards. I really must get round to it some day.

image041
St. Peters Footpath.

The churchyard gate marks a boundary in more ways than one. Whilst in the precincts of the church you can see houses nearby and know you are in a reasonably built up area but as soon as you walk outside you are in open fields. Certainly there is constant traffic noise from the nearby A255 which is always busy but it certainly looks rural enough although utilising modern farming techniques i.e. huge fields which neither Turner nor Dickens would have recognised. Frankly, it is fairly flat, featureless and boring, especially on a cold and damp October day. The path here is called St. Peter’s Footpath and remains so until you are well into Margate.

Whilst on the Footpath I passed an area known as the Shallows for which various suggestions are given as to the origin of the name. What is not in dispute is that this is where the poor old Baptists had to meet to worship in the 17th century when they were being persecuted for being Non-Conformist. That is probably pleasant enough on a warm, summer Sunday but not much fun in the midst of winter.

I kept walking and was glad to note that I was not flagging too badly although my knees were making their presence felt a little, and were to do so a bit more the next day, but it was flat and easy walking. Whilst I had walked under the railway line in Broadstairs I was to walk over it on a footbridge on the outskirts of Margate. The various websites make much of the local youth, under supervision, being encouraged to turn their aerosol graffiti habits to positive effect by decorating this structure. Whilst this may have been true when the websites were constructed the “artists” have either reverted to type or their less altruistic brethren have been at work as it is just a mess of ugly “tagging” graffiti now which I did not even bother taking an image of.

 

Just beyond the vandalised footbridge is the entrance to Dane Valley Woods which is marked by the rather pleasant carved sign you can see above. I would ordinarily have liked to explore that a little but a look at the muddy path (also pictured) and my still relatively pristine white trainers put paid to that notion. That was a bit of a shame as a look at XXXX the attached website shows the woods to be a very creditable project to “be a sustainable, community-owned wildspace in the heart of Margate encouraging participation in creating and managing the woods for enjoyment, health, learning and wildlife”. Fair play to them.

image046

Past the woods and I was into Margate with settlement springing up as suddenly as it had disappeared in St. Peters although my way was still named St. Peter’s footpath. I knew I was due to come upon a windmill called Draper’s Mill fairly shortly as I had seen it signposted from the other direction previously and I could just see the top of the sails from a way off. I wasn’t actually expecting it to be open (if indeed it ever does open to the public but I suspected it must) although I probably wasn’t expecting what I saw which was a cherry picker and a gang of workmen dismantling the sails. Routine maintenance I suppose.

image045
Draper’s Mill (under repair).

The mill was constructed in 1845 as one of a set of three on a site where a mill had stood since at least 1695. It worked in the manner intended until 1916 when the sails were superseded by a gas engine although I singularly fail to see the point of a “wind”mill that does not utilise the wind. In 1927 the disused sails and fantail were removed completely. In 1965 the mill was threatened with demolition but the Headmaster of the primary school opposite founded a charitable Trust and saved it thankfully. I am so glad he did. Just in case you are interested, those sails span 66 feet (20 metres).

image047
Signpost, Turner and Dickens path.

I kept on walking, still on St. Peter’s footpath and then things started to unravel a bit. I don’t know Margate anywhere near as well as I know Broadstairs but I know it well enough not to get lost. Whilst I did not get lost per se, what I did lose was the path. It had been signposted well thus far and, indeed, for a long portion of the path it was the only visible route but the signage just petered out with the post above which is the same one I teased you with before.

image048
Another one bites the dust!

I kept going in generally the correct direction but could find no sign of a sign if that is not appalling English. I quartered about but still nothing. Ah well, no problem and I made my own way into town. I suppose that theoretically it would have been possible to look up the route on my ‘phone but that is all a bit technical for me. Pausing briefly to take the image of yet another dead pub for the Lost Pubs website I headed down Ramsgate Road into town.

image050
I know you want a picture of a fry-up.

When I got into town I debated walking down to Droit House which is the official start / end point of the path but I had walked far enough and decided to jump on a bus back to Broadstairs. I knew that I could still manage a bite of brunch in Beano’s although it would have been just as easy to walk five minutes down the hill to Beano’s in Margate but back to Broadstairs I went. I know it is unusual for you to get my “breakfast” pic so late in the piece but here you go. I know you would not think it was not a proper page of mine if there was not an image of a fry-up on there somewhere!

It had been a great day in terms of me learning what I was capable of as I recovered and I was well pleased with my progress but the day was not yet over. As I have mentioned before, Jackie manages to get some great acts in the Wrotham despite it being a relatively small venue and this evening was a case in point. She had booked a guy called Keith Kenny from New Jersey and he turned out to be excellent not to mention a really nice bloke when I chatted to him afterwards.

image051
Keith Kenny and his surprising suitcase.

I had noticed on his cartoon promo material that apart from a caricature image of him there was a red suitcase which I took to be merely indicative of him being a travelling muso butit is not. As you can see in the image above (again, I did not want to use flash and annoy others) it is onstage and actually hides an electronic drumkit and between that, his pedal board and his loop machine he manages to sound like an entire band all by himself.

Of all the excellent music I saw during this trip he really was one of the most impressive acts and I would definitely go to see him again. He does a short tour in the South of England every Autumn and I believe this was his third year in the Wrotham. It is a measure of how well Jackie runs the music here that not only does she get returns from international acts but I know he has already asked to play next year because he loves it there. Do yourself a favour and check out his website.

After the busy day I did not stay too long and it was a relatively early bed for Fergy.
In the next post I mange to get further than the Pavilion in Ramsgate and discover a few hidden and not so hidden gems so stay tuned and spread the word.

I finally get to play the Pav.

Sunday the 13th was another fairly dreary day in terms of weather but I was quite excited as I was to play in the Pavilion, locally known as the Pav which has a wonderful position overlooking the harbour and Viking Bay. It is a big place, used for functions a lot and is one of the hubs for Folk Week. It is probably best known for the late night ceilidhs, many of which I have attended and some of which I even remember! Whilst I remember a couple of impromptu jams in the garden during Folk Week I had never got to play onstage there as that is reserved for proper musicians but this was the day I was going to get my chance.

I had been asked by my friend Ginny some time before if I would play in a scratch band at a charity fundraiser for the local Pilgrims Hospice in memory of a guy called Chris Rozee. Of course I would. The band was to be named “Ginny’s Motley Crew” and indeed it was, mostly refugees from the Folk Club held every Wednesday at the nearby Tartar Frigate. I should mention that both the Pavilion and the Frigate are Thorley Taverns, just two of the six drinking establishments Frank Thorley owns in Broadstairs alone with dozens more elsewhere. I had popped into the George (another Thorley Tavern) for a while and then made my way the 100 or so yards down the hill to the Pav, where the band were just setting up, great timing.

Ginny had given me a potential setlist and I knew most of the songs on it. The tunes were no problem as the band included my friends Michaela on the accordian and Graham on fiddle, both of whom are excellent musicians and whom I have played with before. All that needs to happen is Michaela shouts key changes at me as we go and I merely jam along behind what they are doing. Simple. It was all a complete busk and I was just harmonising on a few choruses but Ginny had asked me previously if I could take the vocal on a song called Fiddler’s Green. That was easy enough as it was one of the first folk songs I ever learnt and I have been signing it for over 40 years now which is a bit scary. It seemed to go well enough and the good people assembled there were kind enough to applaud and at least they didn’t throw rotten fruit!

When I had first been told about the gig I was a little apprehensive, not about the playing but about filling the hall as it is a fairly large space and there is nothing worse for performers or audiences than trying to create an atmosphere in a half empty barn of a venue. I need not have worried as it was certainly not full but there was enough of a crowd to make for a good gig. The charity had a stall set up with a raffle etc. and I have not heard the final figures but I hope they raised a few £££.

Sadly, I didn’t have time to lumber anyone with my camera so I have no images of this momentous event (well, momentous for me anyway) but I’ll see if anyone else has and post them if I get any.

image005
Fat Tuesday at the Pavilion, Broadstairs.

There had been a couple of bands on before us and when we had cleared down Michaela did not have to move far as she was part of the last act, a band called Fat Tuesday and one of two bands she is in. They play mostly cajun music and I do rather like them. They had a guest artist who has one of the best stage names I have ever heard. He is a trombone player (yes, a trombone in a cajun band, strange I know) and his name is Marty so he goes out under the name of Marty Boneidol which I think is pretty clever. He is in Michaela’s other band which is called Beggars Belief who are also very good. They describe themselves as a reggae roots fusion band if you can believe that. Honestly, there is no style that lady cannot play. Incidentally, that is Ginny you can just about see playing washboard behind the speaker stand and the significance of the “instrument” is that the late Chris, whose memorial it was, often used to guest on it with the band.
It has taken me over 30 years but I can now put my hand on my heart and say I have played the Pav. I can finally hold my head up amongst Tim and Krista and Chris and all my other mates who have been on this very stage.

image008
Band with no name in the Wrotham.

After making my farewells I headed back to the Wrotham as the day was not over by a long shot. There was a band playing the 1600 – 1800 slot and I watched their set which was very good but, for the life of me, I cannot remember what they were called even though I had a chat with a couple of them afterwards. Sorry lads. OK. so that was played one, watched two and still more to come.

Sunday evening is normally quiet there and Jackie will often close the bar a bit early as she is there on her own but once a month there is a gig called the Woodshed run by the excellent Bob Kenward. He is the guy in the images with the red T shirt playing the guitar. Bob is yet another mate who I have known for years and is an excellent folk musician who has run the Woodshed for many years. During Folk Week it runs every afternoon between the lunchtime and evening acts and is immensely popular. The only difference between this gig and a regular Folk Club is that every month there is a theme which on this occasion was “time”. The next month it was to be “parts of the body” although the themes are fairly loosely interpreted and it is a nice relaxed atmosphere as Bob is very good at making even inexperienced performers feel relaxed, he is a charming man.

I was asked if I fancied doing a bit but I didn’t bother and just sat at the bar, sipping my “ciderwater” and enjoying the music. If you look closely at the image above, you may just recognise the hairstyle and instrument of the lady with her back to the camera. Yes, it is the lovely Michaela. Not content with having played in two bands in the afternoon she was back for more here. She really is a glutton for punishment!

When everyone had disappeared after the Woodshed, Jackie and I were sitting having a quiet drink and chatting about this and that but mostly the music scene around Thanet, specifically Broadstairs, which never ceases to amaze me. There is a local listings publication called W3 and every edition is completely full of gigs not to mention quiz nights, karaoke and just about everything else.

Apart from the music, there are a number of art galleries in the area, several decent theatres and one of the quirkiest little cinemas you will ever see. It is called the Palace and is in between the George and the Pavilion as mentioned above. That is another great thing about Broadstairs, none of the places I have mentioned in this post is more than ten minutes easy walk from any other. I know I go on about it a lot but the town really is an almost perfect spot if you are a bit bohemian, it certainly suits me down to the ground.

In the next instalment, I go for a walk which does not sound very exciting but it is quite a specific walk so stay tuned and spread the word.

Buy a Canterbury, get a Broadstairs free!

This is another of my two for one special offers merely to keep you from having to keep clicking from page to page.  Never let it be said that I do not care for my dear readers

11th October.
What a waste of time.

Friday morning was another fairly dismal one and I headed back to the Pavilion in Ramsgate for breakfast when my mobile (cell) ‘phone decided to relay a voicemail message to me that had been sent on Wednesday. I should explain that the signal in Broadstairs is notoriously bad and it is not uncommon to see people in the oddest looking positions trying to get their devices to work. Thankfully, I ensure that I am not so reliant on mine as to make it a serious issue although in this case it was to prove to be a major inconvenience. My provider (Vodafone) is notoriously sketchy here and although it is improving I regularly used to get “welcome to Belgium” messages as it could pick up a signal from the Continent better than one from a few miles up the road.

The message was from the haemophilia clinic at Canterbury Hospital telling me that if I could get to the QEQM hospital on Thursday afternoon (i.e. the day before) the haemophilia and thrombosis nurse who I had seen previously could supply me with a prescription for a further supply of the anti-coagulant syringes which were by now running low. That had obviously been and gone and so I ‘phoned the clinic which proved less than simple as the signal kept dropping out even in Ramsgate and I ended up standing virtually on the beach to maintain contact. The upshot of it was that I had to go all the way to Canterbury to get my prescription and I decided it might as well be that afternoon so I walked back up to the Harbour and caught the bus.

On the way to the bus stop I took a couple of images which you can see above. One is of a scaffolding fence on the pier that had fallen victim to the recent high winds and taken out a lamp post in the process and the second was of the Queens Head hotel and it is another example of why it is always good to look up as I mentioned in an earlier post. Some of the architecture along the seafront in Ramsgate is stunning. Whilst there has been a pub here since 1773, this incarnation only dates to 1921 although I must admit I thought it was earlier than that but it just goes to show how little I know about architecture!

I said I had to go “all the way to Canterbury” and this may seem odd to anyone who has looked it up on a map as it is only 18 miles but it is a nightmare as the bus takes the most circuitous route imaginable and stops at every hole in the hedge. It took me nearly and hour and a half to get to the bus station which is nowhere near the hospital but I decided to walk anyway on the principle of trying to get a bit of exercise when possible as medically advised. That was a mistake. It was all uphill and the rain came on when I was far enough away from the bus station that I reckoned carrying on was a better option than turning back and getting a bus up.

image005
The sadly closed Two Doves pub – I do hope it reopens.

On the way I spied a decent looking little pub which I marked for a possible visit on the return journey although it didn’t happen as I shall explain and also spied the sad sight of another pub that I was not going to have a chance to visit. I fear the Two Doves will soon be another of my submissions to the Lost Pubs website I have spoken of here before. A little research shows that the owners applied for planning permission early in 2019 to turn it into flats (apartments) and so would have died another community pub which has been serving that purpose since the 19th century, which really would be a disgrace. All is not lost however as, in a fit of common sense not normally associated with local authority planning departments, the application was refused hence the for sale sign. Anyone fancy taking it on?

I eventually made it to the hospital and started on a further ramble as the signage seemed to indicate everything, including quite prominently the private health company that in my opinion have no business in NHS premises but gave no clue as to the location of either reception or the haemophilia clinic.

After wandering round for what seemed like an age in the drizzle I eventually stumbled on the reception desk and they directed me. After a short wait I was seen by Jeanette, the lovely haemophilia / thrombosis nurse and who took no more than two minutes to write me out a prescription. The new regime prescribed had the advantage of being double dosage so I would only have to inject myself once a day for which I was very grateful. In nine weeks or so it had gone from being slightly uncomfortable to being pretty painful with me having to use the same limited area over and over again. My stomach was considerably bruised and, frankly, I felt like a second hand pin cushion!

A couple of steps outside the clinic informed me that I was getting the bus back into the centre as the weather had gone from miserable to bloody evil, it was tipping down with rain. Fortunately the bus came fairly quickly and cost another £1:80 so I was now down £9:30 not to mention the four hours of my life I won’t get back and all for a piece of paper they could have issued at the QEQM hospital or the Health Centre if they had agreed to take me on. Of course that does not count the £9 for prescriptions which are free for the over 60’s but I had to take ill a few months shy of that milestone birthday. I could have saved myself a fortune had I waited.

image010
Big Boots – small pharmaceutical stock.

There is a shopping centre right beside the bus station and I had seen a large Boots on the way to the hospital. Again for non-UK readers, Boots is one of the largest retail pharmacists in the UK. When I say it was large I really mean it, it was about the size of an aircraft hangar and easily the biggest branch I have ever seen and I thought I would have no problem getting my prescription filled. Wrong, they did not have it but told me I could come order it and come back in a few days which was little use to me. I didn’t get my prescription filled, didn’t even get to stand in line with Mr. Jimmy and if you understand that little deliberately cryptic reference then you are probably as old as I am or possibly your parents are!

image011
St. George’s clock tower, Canterbury.

I thought I would brave the elements as I had time to kill before the next bus so I set off in search of another pharmacy and found in the form of a fairly sizeable Superdrug (another large pharmacy chain) only to find their pharmacy was shut with no reason given. Brilliant. I managed one quick image of the clock tower which is all that remains of the 15th century St. George’s Church where Christopher Marlowe was baptised. The actual clock is positively “modern” dating only to 1836 and the reason only the tower remains is that the whole centre of this historic city was bombed severely by the Germans on 1st June 1942.  This raid can only be viewed as wanton destruction and terrorising the civilian populace as there was little of military importance there.  It was one of the so-called Baedecker raids which were reputedly planned using a pre-war German tourist guidebook of that name and which targeted historic cities.  York, Bath, Exeter and Norwich also suffered.

image009
Canterbury bus station in the rain, sounds like the title for an Al Stewart song!

Nothing for it then but to head back to Broadstairs and resume my search for medication in the morning as I didn’t think the small Boots in the town would have what I needed, they are notorious for being very poorly supplied. A recip (surveillance term) of the tortuous route on the bus in the rain with the gloom turning to full dark and the widows steamed up was hardly high on my list of great things to do in Kent but I got back in one piece, had a quiet night and off to bed.

12th October.
Another quiet day.

Saturday was another fairly dismal day when I did very little. I decided on a Beano’s breakfast which was as tasty as ever and justified it to myself, were any justification needed, that I could pop into Payden’s pharmacy a couple of doors up which I did with complete success. I had always thought that this was a fairly local concern as I knew they had a branch in Margate but a quick check shows that they are a fairly large outfit. Still, they got the job done and I was fully drugged up for another while. Sorry, I should have said that I had sufficient prescribed medication to fulfil my health requirements. That sounds better, doesn’t it?

 

On my way back down the town I took the first image above which shows why I have to hump my laundry on a bus to Ramsgate. The second really pains me as it is what is left of the Lord Nelson pub where I have played so often I have lost count a long time ago. It was one of the centres of Folk Week where the lunchtime playaround sessions were held for a long time. I know the last landlady who had the rug literally pulled out from under her (she lived upstairs) when the brewery sold it off to a property developer to turn into flats (apartments) as if any more were needed in Broadstairs. It has lain like this just rotting away for some years now with all sorts of problems about planning permission and a host of other issues but it appears that at long last something is happening if the bricks outside are anything to go by.

I have included these two images as they show exactly what is happening to villages and towns all over the UK. Local retailers are being squeezed out of business and banks, pubs and post offices are closing hand over fist. Broadstairs used to have three major banks. One is now a chain coffee shop, one a pizza joint and one a bar / escape room (bloody stupid idea if you ask me) which is about par for the course. Add to this the fact that over 3,000 bus services in Britain have been axed in the past decade and the life is being squeezed out of smaller communities. If you are elderly or disabled or, like me, you choose not to drive then you are in real difficulties in many parts of the country now.

The next post is packed to the rafters with music and I fulfil a long held ambition so stay tuned and spread the word.