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 15 months now (as of July 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 will be migrated here and a link posted in due course. Note that it is still under construction.
If you want to know about rather unusual trip which happened in 2017 when I went to meet a friend for four days (and had 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 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.
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 that is my current project here (as of July 2019). If you want to have a look of what I have posted so far and keep abreast of updates then this is the place to begin. Yes, the first few days will be unashamed cut and paste from the former site (I do not believe in wasting energy) but hopefully I can bring that to a conclusion here relatively quickly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bob Kenward leads the Woodshed session.
The Woodshed session.
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.
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.
Ramsgate pier after a wind.
Queen’s Head hotel, Ramsgate.
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.
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.
I finally got there.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Obligatory breakfast images from Beano’s in Broadstairs.
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?
Two images of modern small town Britain.
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.
Sunday 6th October. Not Hagibis but pretty hurricane like.
As I mentioned in my last post I am going to quickly run a few days together on one post here as not very much of interest actually happened. I was doing much the same things every day and slowly regaining what health and vitality I may have once possessed and, apart from the inconvenience of self-injecting an anti-coagulant subcutaneously into my abdomen twice daily, my recovery was coming along nicely.
A quick glance out the window on Sunday morning showed that it was a pretty miserable day and I was glad I had visited the Food Festival the previous day when it was not exactly tropical but not too bad but all that was to change. I decided I might as well get the most out of my rover ticket on the bus and took myself off for a day in the Royal Victoria Pavilion in Ramsgate again. My day is effectively summed up in the three images above – excellent breakfast, awful weather and then an evening meal of a small Hawaiian pizza. I am so glad Wetherspoons have introduced this 8″ pizza as even with my recovered appetite a full sized offering after a large breakfast would still make me struggle, I reckon.
I decided on a quiet night in the Wrotham and was regaled with tales of how a mini hurricane had just about obliterated the Food Festival, blowing down tents, reducing the ground underfoot to a quagmire and generally wreaking havoc. It was so bad that the Festival had to close early which is a shame. During a later conversation with one of the Directors I found out that they had no option as, apart form their own safety consciousness, they were not insured for winds of the strengths being recorded. I was a mere four miles along the coast and whilst the weather was bad it was nowhere like as severe as Broadstairs which only reinforces my point form a few posts ago that Broadstairs really does have it’s own microclimate.
At the same time as this was going on, Typhoon Hagibis was creating complete devastation in Eastern Asia, disrupting the Rugby World Cup although that is unimportantin view of the 86 lives lost which somewhat puts a sporting contest into context. It also demonstrated the fundamental goodness of rugby people as both the Canadian and Namibian squads were out helping with the cleanup operation. One of the Canadian players said that they had been hosted so wonderfully that it was the least they could do to lend a hand. Well played, lads.
7th October Laundry, ladybirds and a late lunch.
Monday came around to start yet another week in Thanet and I decided to do some laundry or rather it decided for itself as it was approaching the critical and so off I trotted to Ramsgate again to the laundrette. Like the A&E (ER) or outpatients at the local hospital, I always take a book with me as it can be mind-numbingly boring otherwise. I was reading said book (a Simon Scarrow if memory serves) and breathing deeply as I love the smell of laundrettes, when I felt something on the back of my right hand. Looking down, I saw the tiniest ladybird I have ever seen quite happily doing whatever it was doing. I knew I had to take a picture but that was to prove to be easier said than done.
I did not want to move my right hand at all lest the fragile little critter took off. My camera was in the front right hand pocket of my jeans and so it was a bit of a feat of dexterity to get it out, turn it on, adjust the zoom and take the images whilst trying to remain perfectly still but I managed it. Above you can see the shot “as is” to give an idea of just how tiny the little insect was and also with a bit of cropping to give you a better look. It even went for a bit of a wander round my hand before taking off. I have often heard that a ladybird landing on you is lucky and although I am not superstitious I must confess I felt very happy and probably had a big soppy grin all over my ugly mug.
Having missed my now customary breakfast I was getting a bit “esuriant” to use that lovely word as featured in the wonderful Monty Python cheese shop sketch and I fancied a bite to eat so back to the Pavilion where the grub is always good, served quickly and not expensive. Although I would eat breakfast at any hour they only serve an all day brunch which I didn’t really fancy but a look at the menu suggested a beauty of an option, namely steak and kidney pudding. This is not to be confused with steak and kidney pie, which is fine, but there is not much to beat a proper suet pudding. That was decided then and I was promptly presented with the very tasty looking offering you see below.
I have a bit of a problem with this dish as it is served here, however. I am not a huge fan of gravy at the best of times but with chips (fries for my American friends) it is just wrong. OK, I have had poutine in Canada as it is virtually impossible to visit there and not sample what is effectively their national dish and I quite enjoyed it. At least JDW have the decency to serve it in a proper boat and so a small amount on the pudding and the whole lot disappeared p.d.q.
I spent the rest of the evening in there trying manfully and failing miserably to get this blog up to date (I swear it will never happen) and by the time I got back to my digs you wouldn’t believe it but that appetite of mine had kicked in again. Much as I love staying in the Wrotham, and I do, my cooking facilities are limited to a kettle so I have to box a bit clever in that respect and frankly I am getting a little tired of pot noodles! However, I had been to the Food Festival and laid in supplies as you will know if you read the last entry here and after the idiotic attempt at an arty image you can see with me “posing” the tomatoes, I did knock up quite a pleasant feed. A scrubbed out pot noodle container served as a small mixing bowl and some halved vine cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinegar accompanied by two wonderful Ashmore cheeses (chilli and mustard) was a decent enough supper for me prior to sticking yet another damned needle into my abdomen then having a few chapters of my book and off to sleep.
8th October. Not a lot to read about really.
According to my images, what happened today was not a thing
Not a single thing, nothing at all, nil, zero, nowt, zilch, you get the picture and so we shall pass swiftly on to……………..
9th October. Were did the summer go?
OK, I know I spent mid August to mid September in hospital but the autumn seemed to have set in quickly and severely as one of the images above shows. It was an overcast horrible day and I didn’t much fancy doing anything until the evening when I had promised to be at the Wrotham again for Griff’s open Mic Night. I enclose the obligatory breakfast image above with the comment that the black pudding Wetherspoons use is very tasty, I wonder where they source it.
Nothing much more to report until the evening when I duly turned up for Griff’s do which is held once a month and which I really enjoyed. Griff is one of three excellent resident sound engineers who all hang out in the Wrotham, it really is that sort of a place. They all drink there even when they aren’t working. In addition, Griff and Brian are both excellent musicians and, amongst other projects, are half of a band called Snake Oil Trading Company who I look forward to seeing tomorrow afternoon as I write this in late October 2019.
I was offered an opportunity to do a few numbers but the truth is that I was pretty exhausted albeit I had done nothing much all day. I am not sure if it is the effects of my illness, the sea air, advancing old age or a combination of any or all of them but I do feel tired quite a lot and regularly take an afternoon doze. I did not actually need to do anything as there were plenty of willing volunteers including a drummer who can have been no more than about 12 sitting in with the house band and a very talented young lad singing and accompanying himself on keyboards who was not much older. I am constantly amazed at the quality and quantity of musical talent in this fairly small area and long may it continue. Obviously I did not have far to go to crash out and so ended another fairly quiet but very enjoyable day.
10th October. Still not hot enough.
Again, very little to report on the 10th of the month which was another day in the Royal Pavilion in Ramsgate vainly trying to get this blog somewhere under a month in arrears. Yes, I was in a rut, yes, it is very boring reading which is why I am whizzing through it as quickly as I can and yes, it seemed to be doing me good or at least it wasn’t doing me any harm. The number of people that were telling me by then that I was looking so much better surprised me even though very few had thought to tell me I was looking awful when apparently I was. I suppose they were just being polite.
As to the tagline at the heading of this section, it is something of a double entendre in the proper and non smutty sense of the phrase. Firstly, the weather was certainly not hot enough for my liking and I was increasingly trying to work out how to get somewhere warmer that did not involve flying as the thrombosis ruled that out completely. Morocco and Turkey overland were both suggesting themselves and still are and the Lebanon has been a place I have wanted to visit for as long as I can remember but getting there overland at present might be difficult unless I go through Cyprus on ferries. I must look into that.
My usual Southerly migration to Asia is feasible at ground level but I’d like to leave such a major undertaking until I am in a more settled situation healthwise. By that I do not mean physically stronger although that is a consideration but moreso logistical matters like sourcing my medication, some of which I shall be taking for life, in far flung places. I am definitely not contemplating leaving UK until I am finished with the injections as the thought of taking relatively bulky syringes and sharps boxes through borders does not really appeal although I know it can be done. These are all things to be looked into and I have plenty of time.
I think this says it all, really.
Apart from the weather, the “before and after” images above should give you a clue as to the second part of the double entendre and that was a good old Ruby. UK readers will probably know what a Ruby is in this context but for others I should explain that a Ruby is rhyming slang for a curry deriving from Ruby Murray = curry. Ruby Murray was a famous singer and actress from the place of my birth and adolescence – Belfast. I am amazed and humbled when I occasionally check my stats page here and discover I have readers all over the world so thank you all so much and I shall attempt to explain any British colloquialisms as I go along but back to the Pavilion and my Ruby.
Every Wetherspoons in the country, which is over 1,000 outlets and increasing, has a “Curry Club” on a Thursday night and they boast in their promotional material that they are Britain’s biggest curry house that night of the week. Frankly, I can believe it. They have even gone so far as to have their own branded mango chutney produced for them which I do like as it is a little spicy and certainly stands comparison with any of the popular branded products. They rate their curries with chilli symbols from one chilli (mild) to five chillies (extremely hot) and I opted for the lamb madras which is the sole four chilli (very hot) offering and which I have enjoyed greatly before. As the image shows, each curry is served with naan bread, basmati rice and poppodum and I have tried most of the range which have all been very good. You can also add samosas and / or onion bhaji if this is not enough for you.
I like a fairly well spiced curry and even the milder ones are tasty without being volcanically hot although I have had some fairly lively offerings, specifically in Northeast Thailand and in my friend’s home in Sri Lanka. I will accept no argument, my dear friend Treshi makes the best curries on the planet bar none.
My beef madras is described on the menu and the attached website as “Tender pieces of diced beef, in a spiced tomato sauce, with onion, coconut, mustard seeds and chilli” and damned tasty it is too but what it is not is “hot, hot, hot” and I now have that irritating 1980’s disco song in my head having written that! I am in no way Mr. Asbestos Mouth as some of my mates seem to be, ordering ridiculous things like vindaloos and phalls in proper Asian restaurants where they really do mean hot when they say it but whilst this had a pleasant “afterburn” it was nothing like as hot as I can eat enjoyably. I certainly would not have put it at four on a five chilli scale. I think the “after image above says it all really.
I’ll take a break here as this post is getting a bit long and the next one will be another multiple where I take a trip to Canterbury and don’t do a single piece of sightseeing. If you want to find out what exactly I was doing, stay tuned and spread the word.
Strange as it may seem, I had a vague plan for the Saturday after all those days of doing very little and that was to do with another Festival that was taking place in Broadstairs, indeed it was taking place about five minutes walk from where I was staying. Instead of Folk this Festival is dedicated to Food and has been going for a number of years now. Indeed, it seems to get bigger every year.
Kent is known as the “Garden of England” and with good reason as it is an absolute treasure trove of produce from the orchards with the associated ciders and perries to the hops and the beer they produce to excellent lamb, cheeses and all manner of fruit and veg. Add in such seafood delicacies as Dover sole and Whitstable oysters, to name but two and you really cannot go wrong food wise. On my five minute walk from bedroom to festival site I actually passed the restaurant which has very recently been awarded the first Michelin star in Thanet and which I will deal with in a future post.
If you are a regular reader all this will explain the rather cryptic message I left in the last sentence of the previous post about napkins, knives and forks. I decided to go on the Saturday and was glad I did not wait for the Sunday for reasons I shall explain in due course and it was absolutely packed as the images attest even though the weather was anything but glorious. I have actually been here before and sat outside drinking in a T-shirt. All this in early October, it was great but sadly no T-shirts this year and I was well wrapped up.
Cider, cider everywhere nor yet a drop to drink!
I have to say that the Festival was very frustrating for me this year for a couple of reasons. Firstly, due to my medication I could only stand and look longingly into the numerous beer and cider tents, the Gin Palace, the champagne bar and even at the miniature prosecco wagon you can see in one of the images. OK, I am not really much of a one for drinking prosecco except mixed with Aperol and soda in my mates bar in Rome but it is the principle of the thing.
My meagre purchases.
The second reason for my frustration was that much as I love where I am staying in the Wrotham, the sum total of my cooking facilities is a kettle. OK, I had cutlery and a tin opener with me as I always carry such things for emergencies but it somewhat limited my choice of purchase. What could I possibly do with a lovely rack of Kentish lamb for example? In the end I limited myself to a couple of excellent pieces of locally produced cheese and a bag each of red and yellow cherry tomatoes on the vine from the massive agrocentre called Thanet Earth which I have mentioned before and who had an extensive stall. I was glad to see that they were selling their produce in paper as opposed to plastic which was a good sign. I’ll show you what I did with the toms in a future post. I also bought a couple of pieces of cheese from the Cheesemakers of Canterbury
I do like the way they name all the “roads” on the site with local place names as you can see in one of the images. I picked this one as the Festival site is right beside Louisa Bay where there used to be a pub of that name that I played a gig on the first year I played Folk Week which is a very long time ago. There is a block of flats there now which seems to be par for the course in Thanet, indeed in the whole of the UK.
As I was taking this image, I heard my name being called and it was my mate Jo who is one of the Festival Directors. She is the lady who used to own what is now the Magnet micropub, formerly the Reef, and who I have known for many years. I met her about a week later and she told me that she had one of those wristbands that tell you how far you have walked amongst other things like the time of High tide in Cape Town or whatever and that she had walked something ludicrous like 12 miles that day. I told her to cancel her subscription to the gym!
Broadstairs Food Festival.
Jo was not the only person I was chatting to as it seems I know an awful lot of people round Broadstairs and they all happened to be at the Festival at the same time I was. It probably took me twice as long as it should have done to get round the site as I kept bumping into people, many of whom I had not seen for a long time so there was a lot of catching up to do.
I took myself considerably less than Jo’s 12 miles back to the Wrotham for another quiet night and was sitting minding my own business when a lovely dog decided to just make itself at home on my feet which sported only a pair of flip flops (thongs). I thought dogs were meant to have a keen sense of smell but apparently not. Try as I might, I could not get the beast to turn round even slightly so I could get anything other than a back of the head image and it is not centred properly but I quite like it.
Upstairs then once again to my bed, leaving my purchases by the slightly open window by way of refrigeration and off to sleep.
The next post will be another several days rolled into one as I really had slipped into a very comfortable routine of doing very little but I’ll let you know as soon as anything good comes up so stay tuned and spread the word.
Hello again and welcome back to my ongoing tale of what happened when I went to Broadstairs in the summer of 2019 to play the wonderful Broadstairs Folk Week as I normally do, fell fairly seriously ill and spent nearly a month in the QEQM hospital as I have never done before! I am now writing and backdating this on the 17th of October but I am catching up slowly but surely.
If you have been keeping your wits about you (pay attention at the back there) you will have noticed that this post is some way after the last one and the reason is that nothing of much interest happened as I had settled into a bit of a routine of a fairly quiet life recuperating by the sea and I have to say there are a whole lot better places to recover from illness. In a few posts I will tell you about Queen Victoria doing the self same thing so I am in good company.
You will be bombarded with images of breakfasts which are as much to prove to people that know me that I am actually eating as to remind myself of the same. I am even debating investing in a set of weighing scales when I get back to London, a piece of kit I always spurned before on the principle I wasn’t too worried what weight I was. I was certainly never in the position of wanting to lose weight, rather the contrary as I could never bulk up enough to play the level of rugby I would have liked to. I had, however, been a little surprised when they weighed me in hospital and I found out how light I was but I have now had to ease off a notch on my belt so I might be putting on a pound or two. Perhaps it is just my stomach swelling from all the fluid I am injecting into it.
As well as the images of the morning repast, there will also be my almost daily weather report images, again purely to save me looking up old weather reports when writing this up. OK, so there are some pleasant vistas to take these images in which helps. Please feel free to skip this post if you like, I am merely publishing it for the sake of completeness and as a personal diary. It will get interesting (relatively anyway) in the next episode.
28th September. No images and no joy in the rugby.
A Saturday when apparently absolutely nothing happened if the images I normally use as an aide memoire are anything to go by as I took a grand total of nil but I happen to know that plenty happened and most of it not good! I suspect my failure to get shutterhappy was probably brought on by depression in the latter part of the day as I shall explain.
Regular readers will know that I love rugby and am following the Rugby World Cup in Japan avidly. This Saturday saw Ireland facing the hosts Japan in a game that they should have won on paper but, as they say, matches are played on grass and not on paper and the Japanese ran out deserved 19 -12 winners which raised the entire nation to a state of euphoria. The Japanese really are embracing this tournament with a passion. I won’t go into the whole ins and outs but effectively we needed to win this to avoid potentially meeting the New Zealand All Blacks in the quarter finals. The “Blacks” are a superb side and were my pick to win before a match was played. Oh dear, oh dear.
29th September. Weather bad, rugby good, band brilliant.
The Sunday after that awful rugby Saturday saw me back in the George for yet more rugby with Wales squeezing past Australia 29 – 25 in a great match all accompanied by Dave’s Sunday lunch bar nibbles and in good company as this is very much a sports pub and I know a lot of the guys in there. Regrettably, I could not be as convivial as I normally am as I was still sticking faithfully to my new “Ciderwater” regime but I was getting slowly used to it by then. I am glad the company and the rugby was good because the weather was abysmal as you can see by my daily weather bulletin, it was a proper monsoon yet again.
There was more to the day than rugby and cheese and biscuits as I knew there was music on in the Wrotham for the 1600 -1800 slot which Jackie is trying to get up and running. Whilst she books most of the bands for the rest of the week, this slot is booked by my mate Euan who books for the Folk Week and has a lot of contacts. He had tipped me the wink about a band called the Thumping Tommys who he had booked for the Festival and had gone down a storm although I did not see them.
What eventually turned up was a stripped down version of three of them in a semi-unplugged mode and they turned out to be very good, a bit like Flogging Molly or the Dropkick Murphys. I say eventually because they had travelled down from London by train and fuelled, on their own admission, by gin and tonic they had managed to get off at Margate instead of Broadstairs and then wondered why they did not recognise where they were! They were only a few minutes late, made a joke out of the whole thing and nobody minded. They seem to be that sort of band, good time folk rockers who like the audience to enjoy themselves as much as they evidently do.
After they had finished they headed off for the train back to London where they had to play another gig that night. I know that route well and what public transport in London can be like on a Sunday so I really do not envy them that day’s work.
Sunday evening is always quiet in the Wrotham and that suited me fine. A couple more pints of cider spritzer, a bit of blogging and it was time for bed once again.
30th September. A spam fritter and (a) jam.
Monday morning, a new week and what to do with it? Well, I knew what I was going to do with at least a part of it as it was the Monday jam in the Magnet which I may or may not have told you about previously and where I have a standing invite to play.
Before that it was rugby time again with the Scots taking on the Samoans inn the same group as Ireland were in so there was an added bit of interest there. Scotland trotted out 34 – 0 winners, collecting their bonus point on the way. With the rugby out of the way, I trekked the 100 yards or so from pub to pub and turned up at the Magnet where things were just getting underway.
The concept of playing sober is completely alien to me and I must confess to having had a touch of the butterflies which I have not suffered from for years. Fortunately, the venue really is tiny and I knew probably 70% of the “crowd”, most of whom were musicians I had played with in one shape or form over the years so I wasn’t that bad. I did manage to start one of the numbers in entirely the wrong key (why did I transpose that from G to A?) which I have not done since Captain Kirk was a space cadet but other than that I got through it pretty much unscathed. Like so much else, it is something I am just going to have to get used to for a while.
Musicians at the Magnet jam.
The jam really is great fun and very laid back and you really never know who is going to turn up. The idea of a jam on a Monday afternoon in shoulder season in a seaside resort should be dead in the water but it thrives and has done for some time now, long may it continue. The images show my great mate Pete Stockwell on the banjo, another guy I have never met on the guitar (very good) and another guy I don’t know with possibly the youngest rhythm section I have ever seen. That is just the kind of gig it is.
Packing up at about 1600 it was back to the George for the evening and a lovely supper of Spam fritter and chips. I love Spam fritters which used to be common in chippies but the Seafarer is the only one I know that still does them. Not only that but they deliver across the road to the pub! That’s what I call service.
1st October Another spam fritter and some red hot blues.
Tuesday was another day of doing not very much and there wasn’t even any rugby on as it was a rest day. I was quite happy with that and another spam fritter supper (told you it was a boring post) and then it was back to the Wrotham as Tuesday night is Blues night with tonight being the Eric Ranzoni trio.
Apart from his own excellent trio he is the keyboard player for Mud Morganfield who is the son of the blues legend Muddy Waters. I knew he was a serious operator when he told a story (without showing off at all) about hanging out with John Mayall backstage at some big Scandinavian blues festival. Not too shabby and he put on a great show, full of energy. Towards the end my friend Nigel Feist got up and blew his harp (that is muso speak for played his blues harmonica!) to the extent I thought he was going to burst a blood vessel. They were really going for it.
If you were hoping for an image here I am afraid you are going to be disappointed as a combination of a large and well-deserved crowd coupled with my reticence to use flash meant that I didn’t get an image I would post here and you know how bad they must have been if you have seen some of the images I have posted in the past.
The great thing about going to gigs at the Wrotham is that it is not too far to go to bed, two flights of stairs to be exact.
2nd October. A bit of a wasted trip to Margate.
The Wednesday was quite a pleasant day weatherwise as my daily meteorological snapshot hopefully shows and I had the vaguest of plans of at least one thing I wanted to do with the day.
I mentioned that on a previous trip to Margate I had seen an impressive half-timbered tudor house which I had inexplicably missed for 30 years and that it only opened at limited hours. Well, Wednesday afternoons were amongst those limited hours and so I jumped on the bus and off I went to Margate. In the way that my mind often works I couldn’t help but think that a century ago people would look forward for months to a daytrip to Margate and here was I having a couple a week sometimes.
What a very sad sight.
I jumped off at Cecil Square and set out on the short walk up the hill but before I got to my destination I saw something that depressed me greatly, yet another closed pub or in this case a hotel, the George by name. I have mentioned that I contribute to the Lost Pubs website and so it was a quick couple of images for that before heading to my destination just across the road but as always there is a story or two before I move on.
The first is that the George was supposed to be haunted. It was bombed by the Germans in 1943 and the room above the bar supposedly played host to a ghostly apparition of a female dressed in 1940’s attire. I wonder if she left when the hotel closed down. The second is a piece of synchronicity in that the building was home for some time to the Ambrette, a very upmarket Indian fusion restaurant which has now re-located to another closed pub called the Hoy on the seafront opposite the Turner Contemporary Art Gallery. The Hoy was previously run by my friends Dave and Bev who I have spoken of often and who now run the George in Broadstairs. It’s a small world (Thanet is anyway) but I wouldn’t like to paint it, as they say.
Across the road to the Tudor House and it did not look good from the off, in fact it looked very closed which turned out to be the case and the image above explains why. Not to worry, there is always another day so I might as well go for a walk. I was walking partially because the Doctors had told me to keep active and partly because I love walking. I was still trying to get my strength back up and it was returning slowly but surely.
On my fairly aimless wander I came upon the sign you can see above. Now I knew what it was but I am going to tease you dear readers a little here and not tell you as it will all become apparent a few posts down the road or should I say down the footpath? Go on, work that one out.
I also stopped off in the churchyard of St. John’s church but I did not find much of interest as so many of the headstones seem to have been weathered away to the point of being illegible. I suspect it must be to do with the type of stone used locally and obviously antiquity but I really don’t know. I managed a reasonable image of the churchyard though.
All the walking was making me a bit hungry and so I headed back to the seafront and the Mechanical Elephant where I knew I could get a decent feed at a reasonable price. In Wetherspoons pubs all over the country Thursday is curry day but today htere was a manager’s special of chicken tikka masala for £4:99 so I decided to have that. It is milder than I would normally have but it was very tasty and at less than a fiver for a curry with all the trimmings I thought it was very good value.
After that it was back on the bus and straight back to the Wrotham for another quiet night and off to bed.
3rd October. Nothing to see here folks, move right along please.
I managed the sum total of one image on the Thursday which was of the exterior of the George and I won’t bore you with it. I spent the whole day in the interior of the George, initially watching Ireland dismantle Russia in the rugby for a 35 – 0 bonus point win as expected but it was all a bit academic after the loss to Japan and the All Blacks were still looming large in the quarter finals.
4th October. One unusual sight and not much more.
Again nothing much to report on the 5th except that I stopped to take an image of a sight you do not see too often, a closed Beano cafe although in truth this was not one of the traditional ones but rather a kebab / burger joint open late nights and which used to be very good some years ago. It is literally 200 yards from the more usual style of Beanos which is still going strong and which still makes a brilliant breakfast as the before and after shots here show.
Beano Cafe, Broadstairs.
As my late grandmother (RIP) used to remark, “Are you sure you don’t want to eat the design off the plate as well”? It really is a fantastic breakfast and I love Beanos. As I cannot go “collecting” pubs any more perhaps I should try to visit every Beanos instead. Well, everybody needs a hobby.
The only other excitement was a visit to the pharmacy to get yet more medication to variously swallow and inject, I really was getting tired of those jabs.
After a whole lot of nothing in this post you will be glad to know that something which may be of vague interest to you happens in the next one so bring your napkins, knives and forks (all will be revealed), stay tuned and spread the word.
The 27th of September arrived and oddly for me, I had a plan of sorts. I know I did not set my alarm but the timing on my images indicates that I had awoken and showered early before jumping on the bus to Ramsgate. I do apologise about my attempt to be arty by taking an image of a bus through another bus but I had to do it. I made my way to the Royal Victoria Pavilion and once there I had the very tasty breakfast you can see pictured served to my favourite table 120 and all this before 0900. Yes, I know I was becoming a creature of habit but at least on this day I had a vague excuse as the place I wanted to visit was no more than about five minutes walk away. Come to think of it I don’t really need an excuse as I was eating well after a good sleep during reasonable hours and generally recovering quite well.
When I started visiting Thanet all those years ago, I had heard of a series of tunnels dug into the cliffs in Ramsgate which had been a railway and then converted into air raid shelters during the Second World War. I believe that, even then, it was possible to visit but very difficult as it was by appointment only and you had to have a party of a certain size and book a long way in advance so the council could provide a guide and so I never got to explore there. As the years went o I had heard word on the Thanet grapevine that there were plans to re-open the tunnels as a visitor attraction but I never enquired too much further into it until 2019 when I discovered that it was indeed open to the public, complete with guided tours and this is what I was doing here. The tours start every two hours and I had decided that the midday one sounded good as it gave me an opportunity to catch up on my internet and have a leisurely second cup of coffee in the very pleasant surroundings of the Pavilion.
Great Wall of Ramsgate.
I took the short walk along the seafront where I was slightly saddened to see that there was a plain blue hoarding covering the seemingly interminable building works here where previously there had been a series of lovely murals under the general umbrella of “the Great Wall of Ramsgate”. Still, it had been eight years since I had last walked along here so I suppose times change but I have included a couple of examples of the artworks including one of the tunnel when the railway was still working.
I went into what was very obviously the entrance to a railway tunnel and quickly located the ticket office / giftshop which is situated in what looks like a rather overgrown garden shed. The guy on duty was very helpful and promised to look after my rather heavy daysack which was a relief. I had a bit of time and so I had a look round, ignoring the lure of the rather tasty delights on offer in the coffee shop because I was still full of breakfast. There are a few exhibits from the wartime period but not many.
Just before midday one of the guides, who are all volunteers, called us forward and issued us with hard hats before ushering us into another large garden shed where we sat down for what was an absolutely fascinating monochrome film about the Blitz produced by the famous Pathé News group. Everybody associates the Blitz with London and to a lesser extent cities like Birmingham and Liverpool and the area of the East End of London where I live suffered horribly but Ramsgate was saturation bombed before any of these, the first “Blitz” of the War against the UK. I suppose it is logical as it is in such close proximity to the then occupied Continent and also due to it’s importance as a port. The German bomber pilots could have flown over, bombed Ramsgate and been back on the ground before their coffee had gone cold!
Air raid shelters, Ramsgate Tunnels.
I was particularly interested in the measures the Government suggested as being effective against heavy aerial bombardment. The contraption you can see in the large image above is called a Morrison shelter, named for the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison which, as you can see, is little more than a reinforced dining table which is what it was designed to serve double duty as. Allegedly, two adults and one child could sleep in it but I would not have thought there was much sleep to be had but by 1945 there were over one million of them in use.
The second shelter with the faux grass roof is an Anderson shelter which was designed to be erected outside and seems marginally more comfortable and safer to my untrained eye. About 1.5 million of the self-assembly shelters were distributed before the war and a further 2.1 million during it of which a mere 13 remain in their original sites as detailed on the fascinating website I have linked here. I love the concept that someone loves such an unusual thing as a particular air raid shelter so much that they have created a website about them and people all over the world can learn about them.
Undoubtedly the worst raid on Ramsgate was on 24th August 1940 and I have read a couple of different versions of the events that terrible day. The Germans had flown over to bomb nearby Manston RAF base and one report claims that there was so much smoke and dust from a previous bombing run that the bomb aimers could not see the target and so jettisoned their ordnance on Ramsgate. A second, and to my mind less likely, scenario is that their lead aircraft had been shot down over the town and they all bombed the defenceless populace in a gesture of vengeance. I find it unlikely that highly trained pilots would do this on the outbound run and thereby ignoring the main target but it is feasible that they jettisoned ordnance on the target of opportunity that Ramsgate presented on the return journey. No doubt the loss of their lead aircraft did not encourage them to jettisoning the ordnance over the Channel rather than on civilian targets.
However, I am getting way ahead of myself here but do remember that date as the guide encouraged us to do. We were issued with torches, donned our helmets and the tour began with a history of the railway and the tunnel were were then standing in. I do not propose to go into minute detail of the history of the tunnels which is wonderfully covered in the official website here but merely give you a brief overview and I do recommend you check out the website for the full nuts and bolts. Better still, visit the tunnels if you get the chance.
The story starts in 1863 at the height of “railwaymania” when the Kent Coast Railway built a tunnel to serve a station at Ramsgate Harbour. The long view was to make it a gateway to Europe via steam packets to Oostende in Belgium in much the way the hovercraft did a century later.
The problem with the Harbour Station was the steep gradient to reach it along the 1.124 yard tunnel and there was always the problem of a runaway train, a terrible event that happened in 1891 and 1915. The population of Ramsgate was expanding although the station could not (there was nowhere for it to expand into) and so it was eventually closed down in 1926 with the railway being serviced by a new station which is some distance form the town (it still is, I have walked it before!). Being of no further use to the railway company, they sold the station to a leisure company who turned it into a zoo and amusement arcade called “Merrie England” and you can still see some of the cars from the rides in the image above. They turned up when the tunnels were re-opened.
I have mentioned that the new station was a long way from the front and therefore not much use to a town wishing to attract holidaymakers and daytrippers. The amusement park owners tried to get the railway company to re-open the tunnel but they refused, claiming it was too costly. Eventually a compromise plan was reached to use some of the existing tunnel and dig a new, shorter extension tunnel to emerge at Hereson Road about 250 yards from Dumpton Park station. It was all run on a narrow gauge and powered by overhead electric and served by two specially commissioned trains each capable of carrying 108 passengers.
To make it more of a holiday attraction, illuminated scenes from around the world were placed along the length of the tunnel and gave rise to the name “The World’s Scenic Railway” which had good passenger figures for the next few years but there were momentous events taking place not so far away with the rise of Nazism in Germany and Fascism in Italy and general uncertainty about the future of Europe. It’s strategic position and proximity to nearby RAF Manston, not to mention the Continent, made it a prime target for bombing and / or invasion.
The Borough Engineer at the time was a man of great vision called Brimmell who had long been working on a plan for a series of tunnels based on the existing railway tunnels which would serve as a place of refuge for the populace. The plan was placed before the Council who, in the manner of local government worldwide, firstly turned it down on the basis of cost and then decided not to make a decision at all but merely defer the matter.
The Mayor was a larger than life character called Alderman A.B.C. Kempe, permanently attired in a top hat and much given to wandering about the town chatting to visitors, handing out ice creams and the like. He was in favour of the plan although it ran counter to general Governmental thinking and so he enlisted the help of the local MP H.H. Balfour who just happened to be a highly decorated (M.C. and bar no less) First World War “flying ace” and could well see the danger posed by Hitler. He exerted pressure in Parliament and Ramsgate received permission to construct the tunnels on 20th March 1939.
Work began immediately and at a great pace with the first section of tunnels being opened as soon as 1st June by the Duke of Kent. Fortunately, chalk is easy to quarry as it is so soft and work continued at a rapid rate until there was a huge network of tunnels underneath most of the town with access points to street level at many locations. It is a testament to the efficacy of the system that fewer than 100 people lost their lives to bomb and shellfire during the war and 29 of those were during that August 1940 raid. I had not previously even thought of shellfire in the context of “the Blitz” but the Germans had heavy artillery quite capable of lobbing shells across the Channel and they did it regularly.
All of the above was imparted to us by the two excellent guides who changed over half way through as indeed was all the subsequent information but I want to tell you about the tour itself at this point.
The first thing to say is that it is utterly brilliant and I am so glad I did it. I will be honest, there are not a lot of artefacts to see but the atmosphere of the place and the encyclopaedic knowledge of the guides, all volunteers as I said, coupled with their humour and obvious love of what they were doing, really brought the place to life.
I had seen a sign saying that photography was only permitted in “lit” areas and I was a bit unsure about this as it was all lit despite us all having torches in case of emergency so I did not take images for most of the tour. In any event, I was too busy watching my footing as the ground is pretty uneven so please do wear sensible footwear. Also, the temperature is a constant 11 degrees Celsius so dress appropriately for how you feel at that level.
Wheelchairs are permitted although they may be hard to manoeuvre, ditto baby buggies. I did see a special wheelchair with large pneumatic wheels so it may be worth enquiring about that. There are no toilets in the tunnels but there are public conveniences a minute or two walk along the front. The reason there are no toilets now is that there were no toilets during the war and you will get the full graphic details of the sanitation from the guides! The tour takes about 90 minutes although ours was a little longer all told as everyone wanted to chat with the guides as it was so interesting. The guides, in their turn, seemed only too happy to talk about a subject they were obviously passionate about. In total it is a touch over a mile and there is only one gradient of any note so make sure you can handle that distance although it is really not strenuous.
Of all the fascinating things the guides told us, I think there are two that will stick in my mind and which are slightly connected. Remember the 14th August 1940? There were people who fled into the tunnels on that date and who were so traumatised they did not emerge into the daylight again until the war was over or at least until the Germans had been pushed back far enough that they were no longer a threat. Many families took up residence here either because of this fear or because their homes had been destroyed and you can see above a couple of the different types of “homes” people constructed. It was all very organised and you were allotted a space by those in charge where you set up camp, in some cases for over four years. Once you had your “pitch” number you could even have your mail delivered down here, how crazy is that? The town of Ramsgate literally moved underground and the street signs were even re-located downthe tunnels a) to confuse the Germans should they invade and b) because far more people used the safety of the tunnels to get about than risk being caught in the open should a raid occur.
With the defeat of the Germans in 1945 the tunnels were cleared out, the new tunnels which had saved so many lives were blocked off and the main rail tunnel reverted to use as the scenic railway. In 1950 a large section of the wartime tunnel was used to “house” a main sewer so that can never be re-opened to visitors although there is another even larger section, currently blocked off by a cave-in which they are currently assessing for re-opening which will make for a very interesting longer tour.
In the 50’s and 60’s there was a different “war” going on, the Cold War with the Soviet Union and there were serious plans to use the tunnels once again although what use they would have been against a nuclear strike is debatable if, indeed, Ramsgate was still a target. These plans were never implemented and what finally saw off the Tunnel Railway was yet another runaway train in 1965. The line closed at the end of the season and the tunnel was once again sealed up.
Throughout the post-war period the newer dug tunnels and the Railway tunnel were all favourite haunts for the towns youth and there is a huge amount of graffitii. Apparently it was a complete party town down here for years with the emergency services regularly being called out to extricate youngsters who had climbed down into the tunnels and then proceeded to get too drunk / stoned to get out again. Again, the guides will regale you with some great tales, one or two from personal experience!
There was a 1988 plan to re-open the tunnels as a tourist attraction but it came to nothing and it was not until 2011 that a group was formed by the then Mayor which, some time and a lot of hard work and fund-raising later, led to the excellent attraction it is today. The guides are at pains to point out that it is still very much a work in progress and they have several plans in the pipeline to improve the visitor experience. Frankly, I think it is great as is but any improvements can only be a good thing.
These were people’s homes for years.
When we had finished the tunnels it was back into the main railway tunnel where there was another talk mainly referring to the various “homes” I mentioned above and a lovely story concerning a newspaper photo from the War showing a little boy in a bunk bed in the shelter with his Mother standing beside him. Somehow or another they have traced the boy, now an old man who has lived in Australia most of his life, and he is hopefully returning in 2020 to visit. That will be worth seeing.
War is a brutal business.
I have left the most sombre of my images until last because it seems appropriate that they should be last and also because they were about the last images I took on my tour. It is obvious they are coffins but look closer and you will see oval hatches where the face of the deceased would be. That was so identification could take place without the family having to see what nastiness may have happened elsewhere on the body. A grisly thought but that is war for you.
I had enjoyed a brilliant and hugely educational couple of hours and thought it worth every penny of the £7 entrance fee and I know you might find this hard to believe if you know me from when I ate virtually nothing but I was hungry again so straight back to the Pavilion for the delicious pizza you see above. I only ordered the small 8″ pizza which Wetherspoons very sensibly do as I was hungry, not ravenous and it was just the right portion size for me. Before the pizza purists start, don’t! I know that the thought of the Hawaiian pizza is utter anathema to any Americans, never mind the Italians, but I happen to like it. I have mentioned in previous posts here that my favourite pizza of all (my own construction obviously) is tuna, banana and garlic so pineapple is positively normal by those standards.
I had decided to head back to Broadstairs as it was Friday and I fancied catching a bit of music and it was whilst walking back to the bus that I saw what you can see in the image above and is a building I stand beside regularly and I had somehow not heeded my own advice that I have given often on various websites and in many conversations and that is always to look up at buildings. In truth, it is not my own advice but was learned from a wonderful teacher called Mr. Jeffrey (Fred as he was affectionately known) in either 1978 or ’79 and I can date it because it was during a sixth form lecture. I suppose the fact that I still remember it 40 years after being taught it shows how good he was, especially as I did not bother to take in much at school.
I really was very impressed by the architecture although I have not the first idea what style it is and also the condition it is in. If you look closely you will see it is a Sailors Rest and it does overlook the Royal Harbour. I know a couple of sailors “dosshouses” near where I live in the East End of London and they are ugly post WWII affairs, nothing like this although it is all flats (apartments) now and I bet they cost a pretty penny.
Back to Broadstairs then and an uneventful evening before bed. It had been a great day.
The next post will be quite a number of days rolled into one as not too much of interest to the reader happened so I shall whizz through that until we get to something that is interesting! At least it gets me into October and therefore catching up on myself so stay tuned and spread the word.