Hello again folks and welcome back to my slightly disordered ramblings (hence the name of the site) and regular readers are probably wondering exactly what is going on. I disappear for about eight months and then return to be knocking out a post here every day or two. Apart from a hospital appointment yesterday (no, I could not believe an appointment for a scan on a Saturday morning either but the hospital was half-deserted and I was in and out in no time) I have done nothing but write and do all the associated nonsense like compressing images, researching, linking etc. for about a week now and am really enjoying it again, perhaps I just needed a break.
I have made no secret over the course of my writings that I have certain mental issues, mostly depression and probably PTSD although I refuse to speak to some child with a nice shiny new diploma stating they are a qualified psychologist / therapist / psychiatrist or whatever. Their world experience probably amounts to a gap year, paid for by Mummy and Daddy, where they paid a fortune to “volunteer” in an elephant sanctuary somewhere so what do they know of the real world? Nothing. What can they tell me other than what they have learned from books written by similarly privileged and inexperienced idiots?
If they ever offer me a counsellor that has been anywhere near what I have been far too close to then I might consider it but I don’t see that happening any time soon as I cannot even get to see my GP face to face any more, never mind a qualified “head doctor” who knows what he is talking about (this is not sexist, it will be a he if we are talking about my generation and someone who can actually understand my difficulties, women were a rarity). I received a lovely message a couple of days ago from a regular correspondent of mine in a country half a world away from where I live who has been in much similar situations to myself and he made the very telling comment, “we have all still got to fight our demons”. How very true.
I woke up this morning (more properly the middle of the night), looked at the time and it was 0351 and all I wanted to do was get up and write this. I have read and heard about the term “bi-polar” in relation to mental illness and I suspect I am somewhere on that curve. How can I be so totally apathetic towards writing for two thirds of a year and am suddenly now almost obsessive about it? Damned if I know but I shall run with it. I did warn you way back that this blog was going to be honest, brutally honest,, and here is the proof.
You have not, however, come here to read about my issues but presumably my travel exploits so let’s get back back to that, I just needed to get the above out of my system.
So where did I leave you? Oh yes, I remember, I was still in my beloved Broadstairs and having an absolute ball. OK, mobility was still a bit of an issue but not an insurmountable one as the town is relatively compact and easily negotiated with excellent public transport (the Thanet Loop ‘bus which runs every 15 minutes in the day will take you to Ramsgate, Margate or even Westwood Shopping Centre (if that is your thing) and all points in between.
I do quite like a day-trip to Ramsgate when it is not dangerous, as it apparently is at night, and my favoured destination (other than the excellent charity shops) is the Wetherspoons pub, the Royal Victoria Pavilion, their largest outlet and, I believe the largest pub in the UK if not Europe. In the interest of fair reporting I should mention that there are some other great places in Ramsgate, from the Goose (much similar to Wetherspoons in pricing and business model) and also more traditional boozers so it is not a bad place to go on a pub crawI. I have mentioned the Pav here before in previous posts. Their breakfasts are seriously good and the curries aren’t bad either. I have included a couple of images here to save your eyes from my consistent rattling on, you must be going cross eyed with all this text or reliving your student days for those of you that went to Uni.
Above you can see Broadstairs when it is not hugely sunny and also my standard meal, taken about once every three days and obtained by the perennially good Seafarer chippy, literally across the road from the George.
Dave, the manager of the George is a superb cook and does great bar snacks at weekends and on special occasions but does not run a kitchen as such (which is a shame) but he is quite happy for customers to bring in takeaway food from elsewhere. I have seen some of the locals devouring full Indian / Chinese / Thai meals here with a pint and it is no problem. My favourite, as pictured, is a battered sausage and chips although it is rivalled closely by the Spam fritter, the only chippy I know in UK that still does them. As it is just across the road, I don’t even have to sit and wait, they bring it over to me and even know where I always sit, I really should not be that predictable, bd fieldcraft!
The “problem” I have with Broadstairs, although it is not really a problem, is that I get down there and somehow never seem to get out again. This was to be the case yet again. Time just drifted on and October just flew by in a very comfortable existence of bars, good company, sea air and generally feeling a lot better than I had for a long time. Certainly my respiration was not all it might have been and my longest walking trip was an occasional visit to Beano’s Café who I have mentioned here before and who do some of the finest breakfasts in the country. Believe me, I have sampled many. It is right up at the top of the hill past the railway station and a bit of a haul from where I was staying but I had worked out a number of strategic garden walls where I could stop for a breather. It is always worth the trip.
All too soon it was the end of October and Hallowe’en with all the attendant nonsense that attracts. The pubs were being bombarded by fancy dress props for customers and decorations like fake cobwebs, massive rubber spiders etc. etc. and I got caught up in the nonsense. On a quiet weekday in the George the girls were dressing the place up and your humble narrator as well. Well, it seemed churlish to refuse so I went with it and the rather idiotic results you can see above. I must say that I did quite like the early Rod Stewart look! I still have the eyepatch and I might as well put it over my right eye for all the NHS seem to be doing to give me a simple cataract operation.
With October out of the way I was confronted with another problem. I have a habit of going to central London on Remembrance Sunday for the Act of Remembrance and marchpast. It is the one day a year I actually wear a suit, shirt and tie and the one time I year I dust my medals off and wear them, they normally sit in their box on my bookshelf. I generally meet my mate J.J. afterwards in a little pub near the Houses of Parliament. He too is a vet and we sit amongst a lot of old servicemen, some with two or even three rows of medals on their Unit blazers, it is humbling.
I need to point out here that none of my gongs are gallantry awards, they are all just for being in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time or whatever other permutation of that you care to construe. To sit and chat to these veterans of wars long past is an education and I love Remembrance Sunday. Thankfully, at least a proportion of the British population as it still survives thinks the same and I know of bars where, if you go in wearing medals on that day, your first drink is on the house.
My problem was simple. With my respiratory problems and general weakness, I was never going to be able to stand up for about two hours in my usual spot to watch the march past. Several friends of mine had suggested I parade at Broadstairs instead of heading back to London and it seemed to make sense.
It was an interesting day. My breathing was playing up and it seemed to take me an age to get from my digs up the hill to the War Memorial and, notwithstanding the physical problems, I felt bad. Trainers, jeans, leather bike jacket, no gongs, I felt like a complete scruff and as if I was somehow dishonouring my fallen comrades and so many others who had gone before.
I tried to rationalise the issue and came to the conclusion that I had spent a large proportion of my service life looking like this (I didn’t wear uniform a lot) and they would understand, at least I hope they did. By the time I got up to the War Memorial I was wheezing like a wind-broken horse, I was totally shot. Fortunately, there is a bus shelter just by the War Memorial so I took shelter there (no pun intended).
I bumped into my mate Steve (who I once played alongside as a couple of pirates for a kid’s show at Folk Week but that is another story) who was doing the P.A. for the whole thing. He managed to tune into the radio to transmit the chimes of Big Ben in London at exactly 1100 so we could all observe the silence at the proper time. OK, he is a BBC trained engineer who once ran a news station in Afghanistan so he knows the game and knows about combat even as a civvy.
I also ran into my mate Pete who I have mentioned many times in this series who was wearing a medal I have never seen before or since and I know he was never in the Forces. It was a Vietnam medal, not even issued in UK, it was an Australian / NZ award but he got it for visiting ports in that country in the late 60’s on a merchant ship which I suppose must have been registered in either of the countries mentioned. He wore it proudly and well he might.
My mate Ross, who I mentioned as the barman in the George was there in his regimental blazer and tie, the smartest I have ever seen him in 30 years! I felt so shabby but nobody said a word, I suppose the expression on my face probably said how seriously I took all this. OK, a lot of people knew me and had a vague idea of my backstory but it was nice to just sit in the bus shelter and listen to the service conducted by a female vicar who spoke beautifully without descending into pathos. I did manage to stand up for the Silence in a biting wind under a hugely overcast sky and let my mind drift to my relatives of only one generation back as well as my own mates.
I thought of my Uncle Tommy, murdered by the Japanese, having been worked half to death on the Burma Railway and then starved, tortured and mistreated without medical facilities. I thought about my late Uncle Johnny, an original “Desert Rat” of the 8th Army who fought in North Africa and then up through Sicily and Italy. I thought of my Aunties, Maisie and Peggy who, whilst never under fire (such was the gender divide in those days) both served in the WAAF helping to co-ordinate our country’s response to the Blitz. I had several other uncles who served but I don’t know the details, such thing get sadly lost.
When the service finished I took myself back off down the hill (a lot easier than slogging up it) to the Crown for a little Remembrance Sunday ritual of mine which starts back when I was still “doing the thing”. Regrettably, as a younger and less controlled man, I developed a liking for spirits (hard liquor) to the point of complete excess and it was not a good road to be on. Nowadays, if I am in a posh restaurant (yes, I get taken to one now and again!) I may have a gin and tonic as an aperitif and and when I was in Rome I might have an occasional Aperol spritz (now becoming hugely popular in UK) at teteime (when in Rome…) but that is it, it is cider for me all the way or beer in countries where cider is not available.
I did take myself out to the back bar of the Crown (where nobody usually frequents unless the place is really busy) and spent a while looking at the excellent painting (seen above) from a local artist whose name I do not even know or I would credit him. Whilst it is completely anachronistic, i.e. a Second World War bomber flying over an obviously First World War “Tommy” is totally irrelevant but was hugely relevant to that day and all that it stood for. I think it is a superb piece of work.
The ritual I mentioned consists of a large bumper (i.e. a double) of whisky, in my case Jameson’s for choice although I suppose I should choose Bushmills as it is Northern Irish. I apologise now to whisky afficionados but I just don’t like the taste of it but a sacrifice should be made to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice so I ordered a double which Crissi looked slightly bemused by, I drained it, took a good swill of cider to wash the taste out and told her not to give me any more.
I thought about Mark Evans (a boyhood friend), Gordy Wilson (a great leader), Rosie McGookin (always a smile and a laugh) and so many others, then I moved on and resumed my place as resident drunk at the bar which is probably where I belong anyway. They are all long gone, I grieved for them, still do in a vague sort of way but probably best to just carry on. My word, how heavy has this become? I promise you it wasn’t meant to be but I am back to the concept of brutally honest again. This is what you get when you read my nonsense.
Remember, I am primarily writing this as my epitaph for long after I am not here. After a life of necessary deceit I am finally “getting it all off my chest”. Well, some of it anyway. It is time to be true to myself and to anyone who is daft enough to read this drivel but back to the story.
No, Broadstairs was not the pomp and ceremony of the London commemoration but it was intimate and I was thinking that there were service personnel all over the world doing the same thing, although many of them would not have been able to have a dram as I did due to the constraints of where they were. Such is the continuum of life serving your country and I suppose it will always be the same even if the technology, weapons and equipment all move on. I’ll bet there were a few half bottles stowed in kitbags!
I was glad I had made the effort to go as I had missed the commemoration in London a couple of years prior due to ill-health and I was beating myself up about it for the next year. We were always told, “there is no such thing as can’t”. A little unrealistic perhaps but a good mindset. Can’t go to Remembrance Sunday just because you can barely walk? Forget it. Remember one of the “originals” (look it up) who trudged 120 miles over the North African desert in 1943 or thereabouts with a tiny amount of water and drank his own urine to survive (you can actually drink your own urine three times before it becomes toxic!) to reach an LRDG base. Main Street in Broadstairs was nothing. I owed it to them and so many others.
So here we were in November, winter definitely setting in so thankfully I had some warm clothes packed and there are several brilliant charity shops in Broadstairs where most of my wardrobe and all of my library comes from. I cannot remember the last time I bought new clothes apart from underwear, sock and jeans (I am an awkward shape) and I make no apology for it. If you don’t use charity shops you are a fool and just throwing money at global firms exploiting child workers all over the world.
No problems, Jackie said the room was mine for as long as I wanted, I had my little routine of daily living, the occasional gig and I was frankly feeling as good as I had for ages. Broadstairs does that to me although I suspect it is more psychological than physical, there is only so much fresh air can do for you even if it is infinitely better than the fume-ridden rubbish I breathe in London when I do venture out the door. I was in a good place.
November went on and I celebrated yet another birthday towards the end of the month, or more accurately I didn’t celebrate it, it was just another day and I have never seen the point in celebrating getting another year closer to death as Pink Floyd once so wonderfully observed. So what was next? Well, we had slipped into December, my 30 day return train ticket had long since expired so that wasn’t an issue, I was just going to have to give more money to foreign shareholders who now hold our national infrastruncture (like water, electricity and who knows what else) in their greedy, grasping fists thanks to previous misGovernments of this country.
So December it was and I must note one thing from the early part of the month. I have told you about the bi-weekly jams in the Magnet and they really do throw up some of the most wonderful moments. I have a very dear friend called Rachel, who I have known since she was a child (yes, I really am getting old), her Mother is a dear friend. As a single Mother of two herself now she has little chance to show off her considerable musical talents which is a loss to the musical community.
On this particular day, when I was at the bar getting “revved up” enough to play (they always put me on last, not because I am a headliner but because they know I need to get half stewed). She asked to borrow my guitar, no problem there as she cannot damage it any more than I have done over 30 years, and she sang one of my favourite Christy Moore songs, “Ride on”. She dragged my mate Mikee up to accompany her on melodeon. Mikee and I have played together many times. You can have a look here.
As if that was not enough she then dragged a young lad (maybe 11 or 12 years old and still in his school uniform to do a version of Wellerman. It was great and you can see it here. I wish I had had his confidence at that age, I was still throwing up from nerves when I was 21!
What an afternoon and the last time I played with the late Jeff who I mentioned before. It was a special day in many respects, both in the doing of it and the looking back on it. Here is a short and not very good clip (the light was right in my lens) but I include it here as a remembrance of a dear friend, it seems like this entire post is predicated towards remembering the dead but it is really not intended to be thus, it is just what happens when you get old.
December brings Christmas, and with it’s passing, New Year. Neither means a thing to me as it just, like my birthday, reminds me I am getting older although at this point my body was certainly sending me enough messages of that sort. The “holiday season” might as well be spent amongst good company in Broadstairs as opposed to my usual solitary existence in London.
When I first moved to London in 1988 there were still plenty of proper East End pubs, all of which opened on Xmas Day, usually about 1200 – 1500. Everybody would congregate to swap seasonal greetings and then go home for their festive meal whilst the landlord and his family did the same upstairs. That tradition, like most British traditions, has died out and I do not know a pub within three or four miles of my home that even opens on Xmas Day.
There is no public transport and taxis cost double time on that day (even though 95% of the drivers are Muslim and do not even celebrate Xmas) so it is a usual Xmas Day for me to either just sit at home or possibly pop across the road to my local “Indian” (actually Bangladeshi) takeaway, which is open as it is just another day for them. I have had several excellent Xmas meals of lamb dhansak and a few chapatis washed down with a few pints. Not traditional I know but it suits me.
Whilst I do not subscribe to Muslim philosophy at all, I agree with the sentiment that it is just another Tuesday or Thursday or whatever when the buses don’t run and the pubs are shut. OK, they have Eid and fair play to them, everyone deserves a party after a eriod of fasting, just got to an Orthodox Christian country at Easter if you don’t believe me.
Christmas is a right pain so I decided to stay put. I had already established there were several places in town still adhering to the old traditions of opening for a few hours so it was better than nothing and I knew I had my computer and a good wi-fi connection so I could watch all sorts of documentaries and work my way through my pre-bought supply of drink (not to mention my huge supply of medications) and Boxing Day would be a lively day with lots of sport on TV and everyone in festive mood, so that is what I did and it worked perfectly well.
Things were looking good for a couple of weeks, I was feeling good, as good as I had for ages despite my obvious health issues. Really, what more could a man ask for? Lovely digs with a super comfy bed, daily contact with good friends, an excellent selection of takeaways on the odd occasion I decided to eat, it was absolutely perfect and then the bombshell dropped and what a bombshell it proved to be. The image above is just included to show you some of the lovely things I saw daily. I thought those contrails were beautiful.
In the manner of Lee Child, Bernard Cornwell and other great thriller writers (not that I would equate my meagre scratchings here with either of them, two of my most favourite authors and who I follow slavishly, Jack Reacher and Dick Sharpe are my heroes) I am going to leave you with what I believe is called a cliff-hanger. This post has gone on long enough and longer than I had planned so you know the drill. If you want to read about the bombshell, stay tuned!