Hello again folks and welcome back to my humble scribblings here. As is so often the case, if I am not starting with an apology for something or another, which is not the case here, I am starting with a thanks so thank you for all the kind comments on the last effort. Hopefully this post will be more about travelling than my admittedly poor attempts at philosophy, both travel and otherwise, and even have a few images for you to look at rather than slogging through my thoughts on the world. I really should leave that sort of thing to the ancients, they do it so much better.
I had bored you a couple of posts ago with yet another hospitalisation (spoiler: it is not the last one!) and after that I took a couple of weeks to recuperate in my home and just didn’t go out while I adjusted to my new situation. At least the breathlessness and dizziness had been diagnosed for what it was and had been treated as far as it can be, i.e. an inhaler. There is little else to be done for it so I have learned to live with it now. I have no other option really.
There was a problem with this arrangement, however. It was not physical as I was resting up nicely but rather mental. Although most of the more draconian measures introduced without due debate in Parliament as an emergency reaction to the Chinese virus had been lifted, and those that were still in place like masks on public transport were being blatantly ignored by the great British public who, despite politicians conceit, actually have a fair grasp of what is best for them, there was a chance I would slip into a self-imposed house arrest. Help was at hand.
After my first major illness, which you can read about here and which had manifested itself in Broadstairs I stayed on for a few weeks recuperation and it had done me no end of good. I know it is clichéd but like most clichés it has a basis in fact and it proves that Victorian and Edwardian physicians were not perhaps the bumbling idiots they are often portrayed as. They used to prescribe sea air and even sea-bathing as a cure for all sorts of things, especially respiratory problems caused by the foul industrial air of the big cities and I can tell you there is something in it.
The history is very long with the original sea-bathing hospital being founded by a Quaker philanthropist in 1791 specifically to treat scrofula and TB amongst the urban poor of London. I have no idea if scrofula still exists in UK but I do know that whilst TB was completely eradicated in the 20th century it is now re-establishing itself here, not least in the area where I live. I should be OK as, like most British children, I was inoculated many years ago.
The reason for this upsurge I had debated putting down here lest I be taken to task for some for my comments (supported by the medical evidence, I might add) but it is my website and it needs to be said. The reason is immigration, both legal and otherwise, of unprotected people from places where TB is still a problem. Don’t take my word for it, you may wish to have a look here. This is an Dr Onkar Sahota states quite clearly that about 40% of all TB cases in UK are in the capital and that it has been known for some time as the “‘TB capital of Western Europe”. Not something I am particularly comfortable with, I must admit. Perhaps it is time to extend the sea-bathing unit!
There, it is said now and I have given this piece the “cooling off” period test. I stand by everything I have said and I can provide hard evidence to back up my statements so if it offends the trendies from their gentrified homes in Dalston and Shoreditch, so be it. These are medical facts as stated by sell-respected medical professionals and they deserve to be heard.
Oh dear, look what has happened. I had started out to make this a post about my travels and already I have slipped sideways into a discourse on the unnecessary re-introduction of a potentially fatal disease into the area where I have lived over half my life.
Back to the narrative, and Broadstairs was looking like a good bet, it always does me good on so many levels and there are reasons for this. Apart from the beneficial effects of sea air etc., I have a large network of friends here and it will come as no surprise to regular readers that I can walk into most of the bars in town, and there are quite a few, and if it not early August the normal greeting is, “Hiya Fergy, it’s not Folk Week already is it?” Strangely, it never gets tired as a line as it means that people remember me. OK, I am a fairly noticeable character with my height (6’5” or thereabouts), the earring, the unkempt beard and normally either a bike jacket or combat jacket and often a guitar over my shoulder so I suppose I present an image that sticks in people’s minds.
I have included one such image above just to break the monotony of me droning on.
Apart from the pleasure of not being forgotten, which I hasten to add is not a narcissistic thing, I normally try to stay as anonymous as possible which seems an odd statement to make from one writing a blog for open perusal anywhere in the world, but it happens to be true. If I want to “escape”, I just jump on a bus and go four miles to Ramsgate where I am never usually recognised or four miles the other way to Margate.
When I started going to Thanet (the full name for this region is the Isle of Thanet from when it was still physically an island separated from Kent by the River Wansum), Margate was dog rough and Ramsgate fairly genteel, now it is totally reversed. Margate is being transformed, mostly due to the siting of the Turner Modern Gallery there, predominantly due to the appalling Tracey Emin (a product of the town) and Ramsgate is becoming rougher by the day, terrorised by gangs of teenagers after dark.0
The first time I was hospitalised there was a guy two beds down from me who had been on the wrong end of a right kicking from a group of teenagers on bicycles (easy to get away from police and they weren’t old enough to get cars or motorbikes). He had tried to stop them mugging a guy. It is a shame. As for Ms. Emin, I know one or two people that remember her before she became ridiculously famous and, without wishing to attract a lawsuit from her overpaid lawyers, shall we say, opinions of her are considerably less than positive.
I swear I cannot help myself. I write as I talk which in itself is a continuation of the way I think. I just go on “streams of consciousness” things as anyone who has ever listened to me rambling in a bar will testify. I would love to think of myself as a Jack Kerouac but I am nowhere near his level. OK, I don’t use Class A drugs, steal cars etc., perhaps I should start if I want to improve my writing. JOKING.
Once again I shall try to return to the narrative. We have now established why Broadstairs is so good for me on all sorts of levels and people have been trying to get me to move down there for years, which would honestly make sense but having lived in London for over half my life now I just cannot let it go. I used to use the “excuse” (true as it was) that Broadstairs was just too far from the major international airports, which it is now that Manston is closed again and it was only ever short haul anyway. Now that I probably cannot fly, that argument is somewhat redundant. I like to get down there for a few months at a time and then get back to London where I can be totally anonymous and just hide.
Apart from all the obvious advantages of living in London and the proximity to the various hospitals I seem to need to access, I just like living in the capital with all it’s faults. I remember that when I moved here in 1988 I had determined myself that I was going to give it a year to allow it a fair chance even if I hated it. As it happened I was walking down Commercial Road (A13 on your Google map) a couple of months after arrival and en-route to one of my favourite “local Indian” restaurants which, like most is actually Bangladeshi, and thinking yes, this will do me. Forget a year, within a very short period of time I knew I was more or less where I needed to be. I did go and live in East Ham for about 18 months and nearly got a nosebleed! I actually managed to survive a similar period in Soho, which sounds like a dream but only if you want to live in an open air public toilet with blind drunks and drug addicts all over the place, prostitutes (of both sexes) propositioning you every 20 yards and people trying to sell you fake drugs (talc for coke, plasticene for resin etc.). Believe me, it gets very tired very soon, give me the East end any day, at least it is honest (in a very bent criminal way) out there! Even though it is London, with an E6 postcode, East Ham was too far out. Trying to get back from gigs in Camden was a nightmare. I’d get into bed at about 0400 and up again to go to my day job about 0800. Nightmares. I am back in E1 now and it suits me just fine.
The narrative? Remember that? I suppose I should get back to it at the third attempt although don’t hold your breath (I wish I could but my lungs won’t allow it!). Apart from the obvious benefits of Broadstairs on my failing health there was another reason for my latest visit, the Broadstairs Food Festival, a great favourite of mine. It is a relatively recent addition to the Broadstairs calendar but it has taken off massively and is one of the largest in the country, attracting exhibitors from all over the UK although predominantly and thankfully mostly from Kent. They really have a local produce and minimal food miles mindset here.
I do not suppose it will surprise my regular readers to hear that I know the principal organiser of the whole thing, Jo, ably assisted by her partner John. Even more useful from my point of view was the fact that the “beer tent” (it sells all sorts of things besides beer) was run by my dear friend Jenny and several of her temporary staff were also mates of mine. I told you Broadstairs was a very tight little community so let me give you a quick rundown on the dramatis personae (get me with the Latin) of the Festival.
You have heard me talk lovingly of the Magnet pub, currently brilliantly run by Will and Nikki. The previous owners were Jo and John and, indeed, I have played in that venue under three different incarnations. It was originally an offshoot of a very popular fish restaurant / bar in Ramsgate but the owner got bored, sold it to my friends and they, in turn sold it to the current owners. I have played in the same space, by the same window, under three different owners and mindsets and have thoroughly enjoyed them all (the moules mariniére here were truly magnificent.
To add to the general insularity of Broadstairs, Jenny (the “beer tent” manager) was formerly the landlady of the Wrotham Arms where I was currently staying and I had played and stayed there under her stewardship. I had even played when it was not Folk Week with my my great mate Steve Mulhern. There is a short clip of us playing there here. I loved the place then and still do.
I was still physically very limited and had to plan my route to anywhere I needed to be by a series of benches or convenient garden walls where I could sit, draw breath and maybe have a puff on the inhaler. I was amazed and appalled how quickly it had come upon me. Three years previously I was happily tramping 12 0r 14 miles a day. OK, I know it is not a lot for some of you but for a nearly 60 year old man I was happy with it and then it fell apart in literally a month or two. I had thought I would slowly degenerate into decrepitude, I did not expect it in one hit. Beware, dear reader, and guard your health. When all is said and done, it is really the one thing you have.
I had contacted Jackie and she had confirmed she had a room available and not only that but “my room” (#6) which she also laughingly refers to as the Presidential Suite. I know I have used images of it before in other posts but I’ll include another few in here including my new situation with prescribed drugs which very handily sit on the mantle of the fine old fireplace which I doubt has been lit for half a century.
There I was, back in a place where I feel totally relaxed, totally chilled out (to use a modern expression) and ready to hang out. I had been to the Food Festival several times before and, whilst I had initially questioned the wisdom of an outdoor festival in October (way late in the season and probably designed with half an eye on extending what is a limited time-frame for the tourist trade) but I have actually sat there before now with my T-shirt off playing my guitar in a glorious Indian Summer sun whilst people swam in Viking Bay below. It was scorching!.
Sadly, this was not going to be a repeat performance, it was blowy as Hell and the odd skiff of light rain coming off the Channel. OK, fair enough, summer’s gone, live with it. It was cold, it was incredibly blowy and, frankly, not that pleasant but there was refuge to be had in both food and drink tents so it was not all bad. I had a good chat with Jo and John although they were being constantly interrupted by traders and contractors with various problems but it was OK.
The other great advantage of my network of contacts in Broadstairs is that Jenny, the lady who runs the bar is another close friend of mine. She was the previous landlady of the Wrotham Arms, where I stay, before Jackie took over and I have known her for years. She has retained her personal publican’s licence which means she can get what is called an occasional licence for events like this and Folk Week where she also runs the beer tent. It is good to have friends in high places and I knew I wouldn’t have to wait too long for service!
I had determined myself to buy some Kentish cheese which I did, several varieties and I just seem to go mad in cheese shops. Kent is known as the “Garden of England” and rightly so as it’s very benign climate produces some fine vegetables and fruit, especially apple which leads to my beloved cider, happy days. A few organic baby tomatoes and a bottle of black garlic vinegar from the Isle of Wight (OK, not Kentish but gorgeous, you can drink it like a shot as you would single malt whisky or armangac) all led to a couple of properly gourmet late night snacks.
I’ll show you an image of the utterly wonderful vinegar and a few freebie tomatoes from the “Planet Thanet” stall before I had even had a chance to hit the cheese tent. I have to say that for artificially grown, the baby toms were very sweet and tasty and I did buy a bag of them. Naturally, there is a little something to wash them all down with. The vinegar was brilliant with the toms and utterly superb with strawberries, yes I said strawbs. I normally use Modena balsamic but this is even better. I know the concept of garlic with a sweet fruit sounds utterly odd but, trust me, it works.
I had no access to a kitchen but who needs it? I was cobbling together a serving plate from the plastic tray the coffee mugs were on in my room, a knife I always carry in my kit and I defy any tapas chef to produce a finer mouthful. Good, fresh organic local ingredients is all you need. Contrary to popular opinion, cooking, or in this case not cooking, is easy and you can get excellent results even without the most basic stove or camping cooker. I really wish I had taken some images, I swear it would make your mouth water.
I went back to the Food Festival on the Sunday but, if anything the weather was even worse and so I retreated to the pub, my usual default plan for any slightly emergency situation. If you want to see the weather over the two days you can do so here and here, a proper monsoon. I promise you I have been in proper monsoonal rainstorms all over Asia and these were the match of any of them.
My mate Pete, who has figured in a few of my entries here, is a retired merchant seaman and knows a thing or two about weather and he tells me Broadstairs has a very specific micro-climate. He did try to explain it to me but I am not smart enough to take it all in. As best I can remember it is partially to do with the topography of the place, partly to do with the meeting of two major tidal influences (North Sea and Gulf Stream?) just off the shore here and a couple of other minor influences. Whatever it is I have witnessed it for myself. I have come through Ashford on the train in torrential rain and by the time I alight in Broadstairs it is shorts and T-shirt weather. Of course the converse is also true and while we were being flooded out it probably was not even raining in Sandwich or Deal just along the coast.
It is very easy to fall into a comfortable rhythm in Broadstairs, especially if you are retired like me. I like a bit of a lie in and there is absolutely nothing for me to get up for. I know I can get a pint in the Charles Dickens from 1000 but I don’t tend to. It is another Thorley Tavern like the George, the Tartar Frigate, the Bradstow, Crampton’s, the Pavilion and that is just in Broadstairs, you want to see what he owns all over Thanet!
Over my 30+ years of playing Broadstairs Folk Week I have played many a great gig in the Charlie Dick’s as it it known locally. If you are appallingly bored, you can have a look here, here and here. In the days when I used to actually eat I found the food to be excellent. I know the former manager and have never had a problem there, quite the reverse, I have had some brilliant times.
The reason I do not frequent the Dickens for my first pint of breakfast is that I stagger and wheeze my way a little further on to the Crown, which I have mentioned here before.
The reason I prefer the Crown to the Dickens is that it is a lot smaller (the Dickens is a big old gaff), Chrissie the manageress is a dear friend of mine of many years standing, it is far more intimate and I know most of the locals. There are TV’s but they are only put on in the afternoon for the horse racing if any of the guys (and Chrissie) have had a bet. There is no loud music, just Radio 2 playing in the morning (Ken Bruce’s pop quiz is required listening and Heaven help you if you talk through it) and then it is a very relaxed Spotify playlist of 70’s and 80’s soft rock and ballads. Chrissie provides daily newspapers including my usual read and it is just a very relaxed way to spend a day. Incidentally, it is a great way of getting revved up if you have a gig in the evening, you know my old quote by now of never knowingly playing sober!
A day in the Crown is not a bad way to get older, I sit and chat to JKFA, Pingpong, Bootsy, Grumpy Pete and all the rest. Everyone seems to have nicknames here, I dread to think what they call me behind my back.
Because of it’s location it is ideally placed as I can wander across the road to the supermarket to get supplies, scour the local charity shops for new reading material or even a new wardrobe occasionally, pop to the ATM next door if funds are getting low, the pharmacy up the road if meds are getting low like funds and I do not even take my bag which contains my quite expensive computer. I just leave it beside my bar stool and maybe wander off for half an hour and I know that nobody will touch it and if some outsider tries to touch it they will be dealt with sharpish. It is a nice feeling. Feels like home, like I belong and, despite what people claim in a fit of macho verbosity, everyone likes to belong, it is inherent in the human condition since we lived in caves together and sat round fires when we had discovered that rather useful trick.
If I feel like moving I have a little route that I take and I should mention how my relatively recent illnesses have affected me. I now plan everything before kicking off whereas before I just went and did it. I swear I know every bench, bus shelter and conveniently sized garden wall in Broadstairs. I never know until I start how my breathing is going to be. Occasionally, I can get from my digs to the Georgev (a ludicrously short distance by my relatively recent standards) and other days I need three stops. If I feel it is going to be a bad day I go along the esplanade where there are benches every 20 yards or so. How have the mighty fallen, not that I would ever have considered myself mighty!
I know it is ridiculous when you see people older than me climbing Everest or whatever but I have come to terms with it and there is no point in lamenting what you cannot change so I am doing my best to get on with life. I take great inspiration from people who have life-changing situations rather than being born with them and I respect their spirit hugely. Imagine being a fit, healthy, sporty person and then having an accident which leaves you either paraplegic or quadriplegic, it does not bear thinking about but people face it all the time and do amazing things.
For example of what I have just described, not an accident as such but a degenerative condition and I only need say two words – Stephen Hawking, possibly the greatest brain on the planet since Einstein, Newton, Copernicus or whoever you happen to admire. The guy could not even talk without a machine and yet it did not stop him. His sense of humour was legendary and he was always sending himself up in TV shows and charity events or whatever, what a man. If a man of that stature can do what he did my restricted mobility just pales into insignificance, it is a minor inconvenience and I’ll live with it, annoying as it is.
The George is a much different prospect to the Crown and the Magnet though no less attractive for that. Whilst the Crown turns the TV on for a bit of horse-racing in the afternoon some days, the Magnet does not even have a TV and the George has about seven massive plasma screens which show non-stop sport morning to night. I don’t know how they do it but they can show three or possibly four different sporting programmes at once on the different screens, it really is a sports bar as the North Americans would say.
I hang about there with a load of good mates including Stretch and Big John (I am 6’5” and they are both taller than me, it is like Land of the Giants!). The whole scene is brought back into focus by the presence of the mad roofer, who shall remain nameless as I do not want to spoil his business but who has an unfortunate habit of falling off high buildings. A complete madman and a great friend.
There is an excellent staff in there as Dave, the manager, and his partner Bev run a very tight ship. They pick their staff carefully and it shows. The two girls who do most of the shifts are Po (real name Poetry, honestly, and if you think that is unusual, her sister is called Breezy!) and Hannah, daughter of a great friend of mine called Nikki who does the occasional shift but usually only for Folk Week. There is also a guy called Ross, another great friend of mine and I find it slightly odd that I have known him since before Hannah or Po were born. It is a strange scene but totally natural for Broadstairs.
When the George closes (2330 weekdays and about 0100 weekends) I have known Po, Ross and I to head over the road the the Dolphin (as previously mentioned here) for a bit of a nightcap. I know I am going to use a word I dislike because of it’s massive overuse but Broadstairs is pretty Bohemian, whatever that might actually mean. Bohemia, a province of the former Czechoslovakia? Lovely place, I have been there but what equates that term to an artistic, possibly nomadic, slightly left of centre lifestyle? Damned if I know but Broadstairs is not really like other run down seaside resorts who lost out to charter flights and package holidays in the 60’s and 70’s. There is just a buzz about it and no end to the artistic ability. Musicians, writers, poets, sculptors etc. etc. just seem to congregate here. Maybe that is what Bohemian means.
Yet again, this has gone on far longer than I intended it to and digressed more than is probably tolerable for the reader. I just get into a groove of writing and it takes me over so I’ll break here and let you digest this. There is plenty more Broadstairs to come and much, much more after that. I am still almost a year behind but I am in a mood for writing and I feel an all-nighter coming on, even though it is only early evening as I write this.
I need to be careful, I have a hospital appointment tomorrow. No, I cannot believe it either, a hospital appointment on a Saturday, indeed a hospital appointment at all. I just wish their ophthalmology department would wake up and cure my blindness which they can do in less than an hour and has taken them two and a half years so far! (update. It has taken me so long to compose this post that I have had my hospital appointment and having a scan on a Saturday is unheard of but the Doc said they were trying to clear the backlog, not to say I am surprised!)
If you have not yet lost the will to live there is plenty more to come. To give you a quick heads-up there is a trip round Northumbria, Cumbria and Cheshire (another hospitalisation as previously mentioned) , a superb gig seeing the Waterboys for the first time, another canal boat festival where I played my first live gig for a while, a five day slow narrowboat trip in the old-fashioned way with a butted up / towed butty back to London and lots of adventures on the way so stay tuned.