Well, the last episode was a bit of an epic, wasn’t it? I know it has taken me three long posts just to get to Broadstairs and a single bed in a lovely room above a pub (situation normal for me) but the road, whilst only about 70 miles in geographic terms, had been extremely long and, until less than a week previously I was unsure if I would be able to make it or not. My health really wasn’t good. If you want to see what happens, plese read on.
Even for one as verbose as me I find it a little difficult to express what I was feeling that first night in Broadstairs. I had been under totally unecessary house arrest for over a year, I had undergone a major life-saving and life-changing operation since I had last been here. I do not wish to sound melodramatic nor elicit sypathy, that’s the last thing I need, but it was just so good to be there.
Quite frankly, if all the rooms had been booked I would have been happy to sleep on the floor of the cellar if it meant I could escape the four walls of my tiny flat which was all I had looked at (barring a hospital ward) in the previous 18 months.
If you have dropped in here other than via previous posts, let me give you a quick briefing. I had managed to make it to Broadstairs for the annual Folk Week Festival which I have been playing at for more than 30 years and which is undoubtedly my favourite event in the calendar. I had made it to my digs in the wonderful Wrotham Arms, had a brilliant night out with my dear friend Sarah and Jackie, the landlady and another great friend respectively, eaten half a pizza and gone to sleep (please see previous posts for a full explanation if this sounds idiotic).
If the last two comments sound a little odd I should explain that I suffer from various disorders, eating and sleeping being foremost. The fact that I managed half a small pizza and went to sleep were both instances worthy of note. I was living on nutritional supplements and would regularly go three days without sleeping so hopefully you get the idea.
I woke up on the Friday morning or rather I was awoken by the bloody seagulls. I love being in Broadstairs much more than you can possibly imagine but, as with everything in life, any situation comes with pros and cons. The pros are many here but the biggest con is those damned seagulls. I hate those creatures, they are without any redeeming feature for their persistently obnoxious behaviour and I can say this as I speak from a position of personal experience! I am sure Sir David Attenborough could tell me what they contribute to the world’s ecosystem but I am damned if I can work it out.
Seagulls are just brutal scavengers and I have regrettably seen more than one traumatised child clutching a bleeding finger opened by a beak searching for the said child’s chips. They are foul (not fowl) creatures. I have never bothered myself with the breeding habits of these parasitic avians but it seems that no matter when I am in this part of the world, they have hatched.
Young seagulls (whatever the proper term is, I cannot even be bothered to look it up) are even uglier than their parents, a sort of speckled brown, and they never shut up. I know that comment, coming from me, may seem a touch of the pot calling the kettle black but it is true. They seem to start about 0500 and they have the most annoying high pitched squawk, not like the adult bird whose noise I can live with. Trust me, if you have been fortunate enough to have never heard a young seagull at that unholy hour, count yourself lucky.
I did manage another hour or two sleep despite the squawking and eventually woke up to another minor miracle. I have told you about my eating disorder and yet I eventually rose feeling very vaguely hungry. Well, I had the answer to that problem and I honestly believe that seaood pizza with garlic really does taste better the next day! This was totally unheard of, waking up hungry? I remember that, it was about 10 years ago.
That wasn’t the end of the minor miracles for the day, I was still a little peckish and I decided I was actually going to eat breakfast and I knew exactly where to get it.
What I am going to say next will probably sound pathetic but bear with me. I thought I’d go to Beano’s for breakfast but that is about a mile or more and all uphill. Don’t forget, I was right near the coast, possibly about 10 feet ASL so anything was going to be uphill. I had decided on the most direct route which involves a few residential streets, a small path and a little bit of a main road at the end. What is pathetic is that I should have to even think about a mile walk uphill but that was the sad fact. I had to consider options and “escape routes”.
I started up the hill on the road opposite the pub and it quickly became clear that this was going to be hard work. What was going on? Three years before I had been happily knocking off 12 – 14 miles a day for fun, clocking up long-distance footpaths in and around London and here I was having to stop and sit on people’s front garden walls for a wheeze after a few hundred yards. Thankfully, none of them took offence whilst I was sitting on their fence (get it?).
It took me an appallingly long time to make Beano’s but I eventually did and I didn’t even bother taking an image as absolutely nothing had changed in the two years since I had been there. Same exterior and interior decoration, same lovely staff and so the image is an old one but that is of no consequence.
I didn’t have my guitar with me so, apart from my slightly eccentric appearance, there was nothing to suggest I was a musician of sorts and yet the lovely Kurdish lady behind the counter beamed at me when I went to order and said, “Oh hello, are you back for Folk Week again”? With the massive footfall they get in there I was slightly amazed she even remembered me but she had and it was a bit of a warm feeling.
I am very much a creature of habit and I always (used to) have the full English with milky coffee but that was never going to happen so, again, I have included an old image, complete with results! How I wish I could have faced that again but it would only have led to the food waste I detest and have suggested to the good folks there that their food wasn’t that good (very clearly not the case). I played safe, given that it is probably 18 months since I ate a proper breakfast and opted for the poached eggs on toast, I thought I could manage that and the lovely coffee they make there.
I managed to bag my favourite table and up came breakfast with a smile as always and, as you can see above, it was excellent grub. I love proper poached eggs and, despite all my pretensions to being a competent cook, it is one culinary skill I just cannot master, my eggs always turn out all over the place despite doing all the right things (vinegar, no salt, vortex, large enough pan etc.) and having watched far too many videos on YouTube. I reckon I just need to go to Beano’s.
I know it may seem idiotic to the reader to extend a simple walk to a local’s café to have poached eggs on toast into an essay but these were a couple of the small victories I have spoken about before and they meant an inordinate amount to me. Firstly, I had undertaken perhaps the longest walk I had undertaken in a couple of years with the sole exception of my attempt to get out of the house which I mentioned here, and which had taken half a day and I had eaten breakfast, again long-forgotten territory for me.
A very promising start to my day and there were a couple of other minor objectives I might be able to knock off in short order, another couple of small victories. I bid the Beano’s people a fond au revoir (I don’t know the Kurdish for “Cheers”!) and set out on the next part of my mission.
The great advantage of having slogged all the way up to Beano’s is that it is all downhill on the way back to the main part of time and would take me directly past my objectives which were, in no particular order, to visit as many of my usual drinking haunts in town as I could manage and also as many of the charity shops, of which there are a large number in Broadstairs and of a consitently high quality.
The reason for the watering holes is self-evident but why am I so attracted to charity shops? The answer is books. Until house arrest I cannot remember the last time I bought a full-price book and during that awful period I had to spend a rather large amount of money buying books online. More online winners from the virus.
Yes, I know I have internet more or less wherever I go and I do know about Kindle and all that but I just love the feel of a good book in my hand, it is something tactile I suppose. It may well stem from my late Mother who was an assitant librarian back in the 60’s and inculcated a life-long love of reading in me. I suppose that may be why I am so curious and I know I am curious in more than one sense of the word.
Having already re-read half my library during house arrest, I really wanted something new and the charity shops never fail to deliver, especially in Thanet, they must read a lot down there! There is a secondary reason for the charity shop trail and that is the weather and my propensity to stay in Broadstairs a lot longer than I usually intend to.
This may sound odd but Broadstairs exerts such a pull on me that, as I said, I often stay a lot longer than I originally planned to. OK, it is not just Broadstairs, it is anywhere. Witness for example my five week trip to the Philippines in 2012 which somehow metamorphosed into five months! The link is a website I no longer use but I had invested too much writing that trip (and others) to just junk it so it is still there if you ever get really bored! I dread to think how much money I have spent over the years altering flights and extending visas. It is just the way I am.
My record in Broadstairs was going there in the second week of August for Folk Week and returning to London in the first week of November. OK, it was a lovely summer but summer soon became autumn, it wasn’t so warm and I was travelling light so I didn’t have much in the way of warm clothing. Off I went to the charity shops and got a beautiful jumper and another couple of decent warm tops, job done.
A couple of years back I got probably one of my best buys ever in a charity shop in Ramsgate, the beautiful bike jacket and you can read about here. Best £15 I ever spent. I wore it up until confinement and will do again when it gets a bit cooler, I simply love it.
I suppose there is a certain irony here in that in this post and the next I am going to make some sharp comments about the demise of the British High Street, which is a major problem, and saying in the same piece to go and get your books and clothes from charity shops. I know that there are many problems facing High Street businesses now, they cannot compete with out of town supermarkets but what about people like me who don’t drive and with public transport in UK now a standing, if not very humourous, joke?
Back to my day-trip on foot. I thought a pint ot three would be in order and I knew exactly where to go, not 300 yards from the café, the Bradstow Mill which is a fine pub and, last time I had visited, one of the few places I know in the UK that still has a pinball machine (old image above), a not so guilty pleasure of mine. I love pinball and I am not ashamed of it. I got there and it was shut! It had gone 1100 (usual opening time for pubs in UK) but it wasn’t yet Folk Week proper so perhaps they were not opening until 1200 or whatever. No problem, I knew plenty of other pubs en-route.
Down past the “Mind the Gap” micropub which was also shut. Oh dear, this was getting serious. If you don’t know what a micropub is, I shall explain in the next post. On down the hill, noting quite a number of shut premises or those with changed use. The old laundrette is now a Greek restaurant, for crying out loud!
The first couple of charity shops coming up now (if you are really, really bored some day, you can re-create this walk on Google maps!) and a couple of good finds, decent paperbacks for about 50p. or £1 each against cover prices of about £9:99 or whatever. Good start but I was getting pretty thirsty now.
On down the hill and past the P.A. or Prince Albert to give it it’s proper title. This used to be my second home (well, one of them) when it was a freehouse and then it went badly wrong. It has been brought to it’s knees by a concept called a “pub company” and I will not set foot in it now. It would take far too lok to explain but basically pub companies take over pubs, suck the life out of them and then sell them off for “development”. It is an odious trade. I have named the guilty party visually above. The image is old for reasons that shall become apparent in the next post.
Thankfully, nearly straight across the road is the rather excellent Crown pub, which I do like, primarily because it is run by Chrissie and Billy, dear, dear friends who used to run the P.A. until the new lot took over, evicted them from their home above the premises on minimum legal notice and put up a sign in the window to tell the staff coming in for work that they no longer had a job. That is the way they work, I deplore them and I urge you never to drink in any establishment that displays the “craft union” sign.
I did notice that the Tesco supermarket, directly adjacent to the Crown was now vacant but this is not a story of the demise of traditional retail outlets, Tesco had seen to that years ago in Broadstairs. All they have done is move to newer, marginally larger premises about 50 yards down the road on the other side and which, most obtusely, seems to have far less variety on offer.
I suppose they’ll blame Brexit / virus supply shortages for that the lack of choice but they love it, their profits are “Pre-tax profit for the 26 weeks to 29 August was £551m, 28.7% up on 2019”. (BBC figures / quote). Give the consumer less and the bosses and shareholders more, it must be the ideal business model for them. Not bad for a company that started with a market stall not a mile from where I live. Enough of my economic rambling and back to the Crown.
I wandered in to find a few of the lunchtime regulars in there, all refugees from the Albert, who greeted me warmly with the usual, “Oh no, is it Folk Week again?” jibes but all meant in good jest. Chrissie had obviously heard my rather strident voice and came striding up from the back bar where she had been doing paperwork to give me a huge hug. I joked that we’d probably both end up doing six months in jail for such a public display of touching. I was joking but not entirely.
I won’t post images of Chrissie here other than one I took back in the P.A. days which sort of gives you an idea of how she runs her bars and what a cracking sense of humour she has. Yet another dear friend caught up with.
The virus had depressed me so much I had stopped looking at the news, and I did not even know where I was meant to wear a mask (if anywhere), did I have to anti-socially distance myself and I use that term advisedly. Could I sit at the bar? Could I sit at a table with other people and, if so, how many? All these questions. The sum total of the Government’s multi-billion pound disinformation campaign was that I had become so confused I had just switched off and I suspect I am not the only one. As usual I was going to watch and listen and act accordingly.
I sat at the bar, right beside a couple of mates of mine, Chrissie told the barmaid (who I didn’t know hen but who turned out to be utterly delightful) I’d have a pint of Strongbow. Again, I could not help but think that she must see thousands of customers (not recently, obviously) and she still remembered my drink. Another little nothing and what you would expect of a good landlady (I know I’ve drunk enough of the stuff in her establishments over the years) but it was just further confirmation that I had done the right thing coming down, arduous as it may have been if not exactly in the physical sense but after what I’d been through.
Naturally, my first question to Chrissie was, “Where’s himself”, meaning Billy, her partner of many years and she answered that he was up at home in St. Peter’s and then dropped the bombshell. Billy, a great friend and drinking buddy had had his left leg removed above the knee since last time I was there and was effectively wheelchair-bound. I was stunned. Again, I have cleared this for publication, I don’t put anything on display that friends don’t want to read about themselves. Idiots and bad people are fair game.
This was to be merely the start of it. During the week, I heard of three acquaintances who had died since my last visit, a very good friend who had been moved to a care home and another who was house-bound and in need of constant care via “meals on wheels”, carers etc. Although I know it shouldn’t be at my time of life, it was a bit of a wake up call to say the least. I don’t want to make anyone feel down with this but I just kept getting hit with bad news that first couple of days.
I have added the slightly anachronistic image above as a remembrance of one of those mentioned above. I had known Jimmy C., a Canadian long-time resident of London who was a brilliant blues guitarist and singer. Last time I saw him was only February 2020 at the Broadstairs Blues Bash where he played superbly both with his full band the Blues Dragons or just with a bassman where he did a superb set in the Crown I have been speaking of.
This is where you get to regret things in your life. Jimmy was a most beautiful human being, a brilliant musician, and I never got to jam with him nor will ever now obviously. Take your chances when you can, dear readers, they may not come again. What really brought Jimmy’s death home to me (although I only just found this out) was that he was exactly the same age as me, it makes you think a bit. Rest easy, my friend.
There was nothing to be done about any of the situations mentioned and Chrissie seemed upbeat about Billy’s condition (as indeed he was when I met him later on) so I was here and I was going to try and enjoy myself as best as my own less than brilliant health would allow.
I asked Chrissie what bands she had got in during the week as I had not seen much in the way of posters in her establishment which was strange as she is always a very keen patron of the Festival and local live music generally. She told me she had very little and that she had booked her acts herself so let me explain that unusual situation, which, I stress, is nobody’s fault.
Ordinarily, after Folk Week everyone involved takes about a month off and then, by about mid / late September, they are already tentatively planning for the next year’s gig. Obviously this was not an option in this case.
In September 2020 the Government still had us all under house arrest and so on. Long story short, the Committee had about four and a half months to organise the whole affair which is, as far as I know, one of only three week long folk festivals in the UK, (Sidmouth and Whitby being the others) and even two months before the potential event, the Government were still moving the goalposts constantly. How the organisers got anything together in that time, never mind something as good as it was, is a complete mystery to me. Well done everyone.
Given the situation as it was, things were undoubtedly not going to run anywhere as smoothly as normal. Yes, there are always hiccups but there were obviously going to be a few more this time. Somehow, Chrissie had not been given any Folk Week bands and had managed to last-minute book a few (you want to see her address book for musicians!). I said I wasn’t booked, just down for sessions and I’d get the musos round if I could (I did later on). She was happy with that and bought me a pint as she usually does and when I had finished that I told her I was going for a walk.
You wouldn’t usually tell a licensee you were leaving their establishment, especially when she had just bought you a drink, but she knew it was my first day and there were many other publican friends, bar staff and, with a following wind, food outlet workers I needed to catch up with.
I bid Chrissie a fond farewell with a repeat of my promise to try and get a mid-afternoon session going for her if I could and took off back onto High Street which seems like a good place to break, lest this turns into another of my complete sagas.
In the next post I’ll carry on down High Street and, if I’m lucky even make it into Albion Street but, with my ramblings, it could easily take three posts to walk half a mile. If you wish to see Albion Street, so beloved of Charles Dickens, find out where I fell into next, learn how my musical world almost fell apart without playing a note (that normally happens after I play my first note!) then stay tuned and spread the word.