Back to Broadstairs and a different Festival.

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.

Image copyright H. Richardson.

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.

Myself and the lovely Po.

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.

The mighty Jo in full flight!

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.

Dave and Hannah in full karaoke flow.

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.

My thoughts on this, that and the other.

Hello again folks, thanks so much if you waded your way through the last offering as I know it was a bit of a saga but such is the way I write. My late Mother “gifted” me a Viking middle name to add to my Scottish surname and Irish forename. All these peoples are inherent storytellers and some of it must have filtered down through my genetic inheritance, at least I would like to think so even if I would not count myself amongst the bards or skalds of old. Others say that I just talk too much, which I think is far closer to the truth! I could use a very indelicate expression here but I shall refrain.

I had left you with yet another hospitalisation and an utter failure to meet my friends up in Newcastle. They had basically kicked me out of UCL hospital and I don’t blame them, they need the beds and there was nothing else they could do for me then. I had my newly acquired inhaler in my pocket and a promise of a consultation with my GP which I am still waiting for ten months later. That does not surprise me as I am completely blind in my right eye as diagnosed by the Royal London Hospital and I am still waiting for the consultation I was told would take four to six weeks in February 2020! My left eye, taking all the strain, is degenerating rapidly and I can barely see after dark or in the all to infrequent glimpses of bright sunshine we get. I spoke to my GP (on the ‘phone obviously) about eight months ago and he promised to re-refer me. Needless to say I am still waiting.

I should offer a word of explanation about my blog here.

When I bought my domain name / website / homepage or whatever the correct terminology is (I am a technophobe) in a fit of drunken madness in the middle of the night, I determined myself that I was not going to fall into the trap of bloggers who post things like “I went to the shop today and bought a loaf of bread”, “I am going to have a shower now”, “I had a shower, it was lovely”. Really, who cares? I find one of the most offensive things on the planet people who self-identify as “influencers”. What the Hell gives you the right to “influence” me? You are good for nothing but self-promotion and as my rudimentally educated maternal grandmother, who was full of wisdom despite her lack of formal education used to say, “Self-reccomendation is no recommendation. As usual she was right.

So how does this relate to my blog which was only ever meant as a travel blog although it seems to have slipped into a tale of my various hospitalisations. Not that I actually need to (and I hope that does not come out as an arrogant statement, it is not meant to be) but most of my hospital incarcerations have been when I was travelling. There is another one to come in a subsequent post. I’ll swear I am going to write a book entitled “Hospitals I have known and loved” or even a culinary guide to NHS hospitals as the standard varies so much. The reader (in the UK certainly) will know where to fall ill because the hospital grub is good!

Insiders tip, QEQM in Margate. I promise you that I do not make this statement lightly nor because the head of catering happens to be a mate of mine from thirty plus years back, it is a statement of fact and I was told that the food was trucked daily from somewhere in the Midlands which is several hundred miles away. I just do not understand the logistics of this but, as mentioned in a previous post, they serve damned tasty grub, I do recommend the curry.

There I was, discharged from UCL hospital and with another wristband to add to my collection (I have quite a few on my right wrist) and where was my life going? I know that sounds like a very serious statement and it is. I effectively had to rethink my entire future. Some of the things I held dear and were supposed to sustain me through my retirement until I eventually popped my clogs were now denied to me.

I had no idea if I would be able to fly again, given my history of DVT and, even if the airlines would carry me, who was going to insure me at less than a ridiculous fee? OK, I love train travel and I can go for a very long journey (Singapore now) without leaving the ground but the fact that 300 yards walking leaves me exhausted does not help.

I was at home, perfectly comfortable with my little local shops and supermarkets within a couple of hundred yards and I could have then, still could now, exist in my own little 100 yard bubble, as indeed I was forced by law to do with the totally unnecessary Chinese virus house arrest. Have you noticed that all the “emergency” measures brought in on the nod in Parliament are still in place? I wonder when they will be recinded. Probably never because that would be politicians giving away power and we know that will never happen.

There were two options left to me as far as I could see although my readers, who all seem to be a damned sight more intelligent than me may suggest at least half a dozen more. As far as I could see, I could just retreat back into Chinese virus house arrest mode and fester what is left of my life away or I could have another go at travelling. No prizes for guessing which one I chose.

At that time there were still massive restrictions on travel, even if I had the physical ability to do so. I believe I am right in saying that t that point, if I had fancied a daytrip to France I would have had to isolate myself in a designated hotel, with the prices bumped and probably full of economic migrants for 14 days and the same on the return with the Dover hotels this time full of those that the RNLI, Border Force and the Royal Navy had pulled from the busiest shipping lane in the world. So, a day trip to France to buy some nice wine and cheese and perhaps some cheap tobacco (our tax on that commodity is obscene) would tie me up for a month and cost me a small fortune. No thanks.

Time, I feel for a bit of lateral thinking and it was actually a lot easier than I thought it might be. For over 30 years I had thought nothing of jumping on a ‘plane to Kathmandu, Bangkok, Bratislava or Perth. This is all great and I had an absolute ball doing it but I had always thought that there was so much of my own relatively small country I had not seen and, adapting to my new travel head I thought that would be the thing to do.

In days past I had been to Luang Prabang but never Leicester, Denpasar but not Derby, Chiang Rai but not Chester, this was a hole I needed filled. It is very truly said that you never really appreciate what is on your doorstep. I know that for reasons which still elude me that I have readers all over this relatively tiny planet of ours. Tiny as it is, ig is just jam-packed full of wonder and much of it is within a day’s travel of where you are reading this. Yes, international travel is not easy at present so start local, I promise you that you will not regret it. Go international after that, when circumstances allow.

My word, I seem to have come over all philosophical again, that was not the plan. Insofar as I have a plan, this was not it. I suppose what I am really saying is travel ads much as you can and even if that is a 20 milw train ride, I’ll guarantee you’ll find something of interest if you keep your eyes and ears open.

From my travel writing, specifically on the wonderful and evilly destroyed (after much theft of content by TripAdvisor, evil, evil people) Virtual Tourist, I have met, face to face, several people who have been to over 100 countries (you know who you are guys) and I am somewhat in awe of them. However, they will tell you what I just mentioned above. If you cannot, (for reasons of finance or Chinese virus regulations or whatever) just go and explore locally, I promise you that you will not regret it.

I am going to issue a bit of a challenge now although I can see myself coming a cropper (if some reader lives in the Australian bush and 400 miles from the next farm) but anyone that lives in a fairly populated area, give yourself a 30 mile radius and get a train, bus or drive your car there.

Don’t research anything, just follow your nose and I do not mean head for the local tannery or abbatoir! Just wander and you will discover things, things that will ultimately prove fascinating and give you such an insight into where you have been. I find out so much researching apparently random images when I come to write these pages. Yes, I know my blogs look like they were thrown together by a dysfunctional five year old but I promise you, I do a lot of work to put these things out.

OK, I know this has gone on a bit without the merest hint of an image nor a link nor anything else of immediate visual impact. I suppose I could throw in a couple of images from previous trips but I think that would be tacky and just doing it for the sake of doing it so I shall not. I just went off on a bit of a discourse of, well, many things. If you care to skip this page I shall not be offended at all. OK, I stuck an image at the top of the page as a bit of a teaser of what is to come.

I promise the next post shall be full of my necessarily limited travels around the UK and there will be plenty of visuals for you to feast your eyes on. Just wait until you see Joey 108, Pirate and all sorts of good things.

Stay tuned.

Folk Week ends, hospital begins (again!).

Well, well, looks like my generally disorganised life has degenerated into complete madness again.

To try and make some sense of it I should explain that I started this piece some weeks ago in the lovely town of Morecambe on the Lancashire coast but so much has happened since then and I have not got round to updating the blog. There will be tales of all sorts of things, including a hospitalisation (yes, another one!), two canal boat / music festivals (one of which I was booked to play at), a five day canal trip and much else but I decided to leave the below entry as originally written on the principle, as always, that if I start jumping back to the present things will just become too disjointed and confusing. The portion of text in inverted commas is what was written all those weeks ago and then I shall carry on from there.

“I am am writing this in a bar in Chester awaiting the arrival of my friend to take me to play at a canal boat festival which I am really looking forward to.

Another friend has even offered me a lift back to London but not a lift in the conventional sense, it is not so much a “slow boat to China” but a slow boat, towing an unpowered butty back down South. I really am struggling to think how life could get any better. A weekend of playing music with some dear friends and then a canal trip home, perfect.

Anyway, here is the offering from two weeks ago and I shall continue it as and when, I need to watch my time as there is a very fine cheese shop here in Chester that I want to visit before I leave!

Hello again folks and welcome to the next edition of what is becoming a quite productive few days in Morecambe now that I seem to have got my writing mojo back. Again, thanks for all the lovely comments, I really thought everyone would have forgotten me after so long away. It is always much appreciated.

Back now to my trip to Broadstairs in August 2021 where Folk Week had ended and the usual post-Festival slump kicked in. Having been running on adrenaline and not a little cider for a week there is a personal “comedown” and indeed one in the whole town. There is a sort of “Festival hangover” and I suspect it was worse this year than before because of all the uncertainties which had kept people on their toes and having to adapt continually (see my previous entries for evidence of this).

As I mentioned in the last entry I was going nowhere and planning to stay put although hopefully in happier circumstances than 2019 when I ended up in hospital for a month. If you have not already read about that interesting little episode, you can do so here.

I should mention in passing a very sad sight I had seen during Folk Week and it is shown above. The Broadstairs Tandoori was a superb place and was around as long as I can ever remember during Folk Week although getting a table during the Festival was damn nigh impossible. It was absolutely first class but is now sadly shut,

Unlike most UK “Indian” restaurants which are all owned, cheffed and waited by Bangladeshis from Sylhet Province, this one was a little different in that it was owned and run by Nepalis. I believe the owner was an ex-Gurkha and this would make sense as there are quite a lot of them round this area of Kent because they had a UK base not far along the coast.

For many years prior to the virus, Folk Week used to employ a local security firm staffed by ex-Gurkhas and their families. I can tell you there was no trouble in or around the campsite. I have had the privilege of travelling in Nepal (many years ago) and you just don’t mess with those little brown men. I mean no disrespect at all by using that term because I have the utmost respect for them, it is merely an affectionate Forces term for the Gurkhas. They are amongst the fiercest and most loyal soldiers in the British Army and I think they are wonderful. Well, the Broadstairs Tandoori is gone and is going to be turned into flats, as if Broadstairs needed any more of those! What a shame.

So what to do? The answer is pretty simple, I just reverted to Broadstairs mode. Unlike many people who only ever visit the town for Folk Week, I am one of these odd buggers that actually visits off-season, I have even spent Christmas and New Year there but that is a story for another time.

I reverted to days of the George, the Crown and the Wrotham interspersed every Wednesday by the local Folk Club in the Tartar Frigate and every alternate Monday afternoon at the wonderful jam session in the Magnet. Yes, I know it sounds odd and I thought when I was first told of it that someone was pulling my leg but no. Every other Monday there is a jam session in that lovely pub, mostly blues and rock but anything goes, that is why it is called a jam! There is a whole long story behind how it started which I will not bore you with but it is brilliant.

The wonderful Magnet.

The first time I turned up to play there I was expecting everyone to laugh at me with the guitar and say “Gotcha” as if it was some sort of elaborate practical joke but no, it was for real and I could not even get a seat in the admittedly tiny pub. It was packed and there were about six guys knocking out some very acceptable blues and rock.

Before I got into full-on Broadstairs mode there was something I needed to do when I was told about it. For as long as I have been playing Broadstairs Folk Week, one of the constants of the event was a guy called Davey Slater, a superb DADGAD (a type of detuning of the more usual classical EADGBE) and a great singer. He played in various bands including Pavanne and Phoenix which was a duo with my dear friend Krista on fiddle. Indeed it was Krista who had organised this entire gig.

The gig was held in a Scout Hut of all places in the middle of the wilds of Kent, I have no idea where exactly ­as I was driven there by my friends Phil and Amy. It was an excellent afternoon with heaps of very tasty food and a succession of brilliant musicians all there to show their respect for “one of us”. Krista had asked me to play and I had the guitar but, in the event I dipped out. There was already a superb line-up, some of which you can see here, here and here and I didn’t trust myself not to crack up halfway through a number. It was a very emotional day and I have been known to lose it onstage in such circumstances which is pretty embarrassing.

At one point I was outside for a smoke and I heard, in the distance, a set of bagpipes being played and obviously the drones tuned up. Now I do not know how many of my readers have ever been up close to a set of highland pipes but they are extremely loud. An entire band of them would make your ears bleed, it is like being at a Sammy Hagar concert. I once heard a remark that the definition of a gentleman was someone who can play the bagpipes – and doesn’t! Personally, I love them. With my Scottish surname (Campbell) I suppose it must be genetically inherited or something.

Broadstairs just drifted on as it tends to do and I would happily have stayed there longer but I had to return to London for some medical appointments. Yes, I know it will sound crazy to Britons reading but I actually had to meet some clinicians face to face.

It is over two years now since I actually spoke to my GP in person as opposed to over the telephone under the concept of the “new normal” which is just an excuse for the NHS to make it easier on themselves. For all I know I could be talking to my GP who is sitting at home in his pyjamas! I do dislike the “new normal” phrase as it is anything but. It is abnormal and flies totally in the face of everything the NHS stands for. It is not normal at all, it is completely abnormal so why think up these pathetic euphemisms?

I am a great believer in honesty and in the same way as I insist on calling Covid-19 the Chinese Virus (which it is) and “lockdown” house arrest (which it was) I shall call the “new normal” what it is, the current abnormal.

On the upside of the NHS, for which I am hugely appreciative as they have saved my life twice in the last three years, I should mention an incident that happened on 24/08/2021. My leg had been getting progressively worse to the point where walking was becoming very difficult so I thought I had better get it checked out.

No need to get an ambulance as I only had to hobble across the road from my digs and get on a bus which literally dropped me at the front door of the QEQM hospital who had looked after me so well before two years previously. You can read about it here.

My mate Jack, who happens to be on the Committee of Folk Week, is a paramedic. The tales he tells me of the number of calls they have to deal with, most of them serious but sadly too many of them not requiring an ambulance at all, is frightening. I wasn’t going to tie them up further when there was no need and so I got the bus to A&E (the ER for my North American readers). I wish more people would think before calling 999 (911 elsewhere) and tying up guys like Jack and his mates.

I had taken the precaution of loading my daysac with a couple of good books and my computer. Firstly, I know that waits in A&E are lengthy and it would not be the first time I had been admitted to hospital when I didn’t expect to be. Best to be prepared.

I was eventually seen and told I required some sort of scan and that I was lucky as they had a spare slot at 1630 that day. Lucky? It was now about 1300 but this was not a problem for me. My local knowledge of the area was sufficient to know that there was a great little pub called Lester’s literally 100 yards from the front entrance to the hospital. I suppose you can guess what happened next. Lester’s it was for a couple of pints which is not, I suppose, the proper preparation for being in hospital but I could not see it doing too much harm.

I was eventually seen and scanned and told that I would be referred back to the Royal London Hospital which, in the event, never happened (again). Despite the multi millions of pounds that have been spent on the NHS infrastructure they still do not seem to be able to communicate internally. It has happened to me time and time again.

I headed back to London and apparently little of note happened as I didn’t take a single image for nearly a month but I had something on the horizon.

Readers of the earliest part of this series will know that I am composing this in the North of England (the excellent King’s Arms in Morecambe to be precise) after having attended the wonderful Virtual Tourist Euromeet 2022 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne organised by my dear friend Sarah. Back in September of 2021 she had arranged a small meet in Newcastle, not the full Euromeet but it was still going to be fun.

Conscious of my increasing mobility problems with a) my leg and b) my increasing breathlessness I was taking no chances. The Newcastle train leaves from King’s Cross which is a straight run from my local Tube Station but there is no lift nor escalator there so I decided to play safe and ordered a cab. I was delivered in very good time, as I had planned, collected my ticket and thought I would have a pint.

There is a decent little bar in King’s Cross called the Parcel Yard although it is obscenely overpriced, even by central London standards. I went there, even though I only had a very small and relatively light suitcase, by the lift and returned the same way. Despite all these precautions I had become very breathless and a little dizzy after about ten steps. Fortunately, there was a bench nearby me and so I sat down. I rested myself and breathed deeply until I felt able to carry on. I stood up from the bench and this is where it all went horribly wrong.

I got myself halfway up and then just kept going forward. It is said that in moments of danger like imminent car crashes or whatever, that time slows and it certainly did for me. In the fraction of a second it took me to hit the deck, I knew I was going to go down,m I knew I did not have time to get my hands down to break my fall and I knew I was going to hit my head, which is exactly what happened.

Having played a lot of rugby in my younger days I knew exactly what was going to happen as soon as I hit the deck. Scalp wounds bleed profusely and look horrendous when they are effectively nothing. Such was the case here. I went head first, made contact just over my right eye and, due to the inherent bleeding capacity of scalp wounds, exacerbated by my being on anti-coagulants, it was like a fountain. The concourse of King’s Cross soon looked like a bad day in the slaughterhouse.

I am often scathing about the British rail system and for, I believe, valid reasons but I have to say that the station staff in King’s Cross that day were excellent. Within a couple of minutes there were two of them with a well-stocked medical kit attending to me. To be honest, my overwhelming feeling was one of complete embarrassment at causing such a fuss. I had tried to staunch the blood flow with the tissues I had in my pocket but they produced all the requisite kit to do it and appeared to have a decent grasp of first aid, they were most solicitous.

All this took a while and my train departure was getting ever closer. I explained my situation to them and they were excellent, praise where it is due. Whilst the female member of staff continued to attend to me, the male member took my ticket and returned shortly thereafter with a chit allowing me to travel on the next train which should have cost me a fortune as I was on a departure specific ticket (much cheaper and I recommend them).

From where I was it was a very short walk to my platform but it was over a footbridge. That should have been no problem but it was. Even with the platform assistant carrying my small suitcase for me, I got to the bridge and literally could not breathe, I honestly thought I was dying. The lovely staff assisted me back down the stairs, sat me down in a staff only area and said they were calling an ambulance. I would normally have argued that I did not need one but in truth I doubt I could have made it home myself on public transport and I hate tying up ambulance crews but there really was no option.

The ambulance turned up and I spent a long time in the back of it being checked and tested and all sorts of things. I was actually amazed at the range of kit they have in ambulances these days. They even did some sort of ECG on me, it was incredible and again, praise where it is due, the ambulance crew were superb but, then again, they always are, those guys are proper heroes even if the word is much overused but it certainly applies to them. Way back in the way back when ambulances were just a means of moving casualties from wherever to hospital (look at any 70’s TV show) but now they are effectively mobile surgeries staffed by people who are near as dammit doctors, brilliant.

After I had been poked and prodded for some time the paramedic said they were taking me to hospital. OK, I knew something was wrong but I just did not know what. I was duly admitted to UCL Hospital in Euston where I was poked and prodded some more and asked the same questions by about half a dozen different people and ended up in a sort of “halfway house” adjacent to the A&E Department. It was not a proper ward but the sign on the wall denoted it as the Same Day Emergency Department. I had never heard of such a thing before but I suppose it makes sense. People that they just want to keep in overnight for observations can be housed here and not take up a bed in a mainstream ward.

My kit lay tidily packed away. looking forlorn and useless as I lay there with a canula in my wrist, my friends about three hundred miles away and me with no way to get to them waiting for some medico to tell me what the Hell had gone wrong with me this time. Yes, I was annoyed and frustrated but I wasn’t particularly angry or resentful, cursing my lot. I know I have lived, loved and partied hard and now it is payback time. Remember this, dear readers, and I do not wish to be over philosophical about it but, to use a law of physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is the reaction to all my years of wildness so I cannot complain, nor will I.

It was comfortable enough and a single room which was OK although, being effectively part of A&E it was noisy all night as those places tend to be but I wasn’t in much mood for sleeping. The food was pretty sketchy as well but not a problem. The problem was that instead of being with some dear friends who I had not seen for years in the wonderful Centurion Bar in Newcastle, I was lying in a hospital bed in central London and wondering exactly what the Hell was wrong with me now, I thought they had diagnosed all my ailments but apparently not.

After a sleepless night and a slice of toast and cup of coffee (the sandwich pictured came at about 0300!) which constituted breakfast I was visited by a charming nurse who informed me she was a respiratory specialist. What? I already knew my gastro-intestinal system and vascular system were shot, surely not my respiratory system as well. Apparently so. She told me I was suffering from COPD and explained that I may know it better as emphysema (apparently I look old enough to have it thus explained to me). I must admit that I thought that was a disease suffered by coal miners in the last century due to inhaling coal dust and that is true but it seems that there are other ways of contracting it, smoking being the most common.

I am not going to bemoan my fate as the fault is entirely mine. I have been smoking for over 50 years now, heavily for most of that period and it has taken it’s inevitable toll. The upshot of the whole incident was that I was discharged the next morning with an inhaler and told to carry it with me at all times which I do although fortunately I do not need to use it too often. I was told I would be referred back to my GP for an appointment to discuss the situation. Almost needless to say with my local surgery, I am still waiting for that appointment nearly ten months later and I am not holding my breath, even if I could hold my breath for more than about three seconds now.

The upshot of the whole thing is that my health is fairly well shot which is no surprise. I have lived a very dissolute life, made choices regarding alcohol and nicotine (I never did drugs) that are impacting me now but I cannot complain, nor will I. I made my choices and I shall live (and inevitably die) by them. I remember a while back someone said to me, in the common parlance of this millennium, “Fergy, get a life”. I cannot remember the exact circumstances, they are not important but I replied, “Why? I have lived three already” and it is true. Yes, I am paying for it now but there is always a price to pay, that is the way of the world.

On that slightly philosophical note I think this might be a good time to break as this has gone on long enough now, I feel. I know I promised you festivals, narrowboat trips etc. but they will wait for another time. Dear reader, if you have made it thus far I applaud your tenacity and thank you. Without too much of a spoiler, I did eventually meet my friends in Newcastle but that is probably a couple of entries down the line. I am in a mood for writing now so if you want to know what happens to my increasingly crocked old carcass next, stay tuned!

P.S.

Since writing this piece I have sadly learned of the death of my friend Jeff Matthews, one of the founders and stalwart members of the jam at the Magnet which I mention in this post. I played with him last September, as I had done for years and he was a great bass player, we had many a good jam together. Last time I played with him, his illness prevented him from speaking but we communicated by hand signals and it worked. I knew he was ill but it still comes as a shock to find out that an old playing buddy has died. Rest easy, my friend.

For the little that it is worth, I dedicate this piece to my mate Jeff with fond memories and it just won’t be the same without you.

The week flies by – BFW2021 #7

Hello again folks and thanks for all the comments on my last entry, it seems you have not all forgotten me during my self-imposed hiatus. It is great to catch up with old friends again.

First things first, I am still in Morecambe, Lancashire which is proving to be an incredibly friendly and sociable place even if it has been howling a gale since I arrived. I nearly got blown over walking along the promenade today. I was up and about quite early today after a relatively early night by my standards and went walking. I was surprised at the number of people in running gear that were on the promenade and thought that the good folk of the area must be very health conscious.

I passed the lovely Station Promenade which I mentioned in an earlier post which was sort of half open but not for what I needed. It was being used as race HQ for a 5 / 10km. Fun Run which explained all the shorts and lycra on display. Good luck to them all. I hobbled on down the prom and the first open bar I came to was the rather pleasant King’s Arms where I had been the previous evening so this is where the current entry is being composed.

Right, that is the background filled in so back to the narrative. I had left you after having negotiated the first playaround despite the loss of the usual leader Paul due to Chinese virus issues but whose shoes had been ably filled by the wonderful Chan Reid. There had been a good turnout indicating that people were not just staying away and everything was looking set fair for a great Folk Week albeit limited as it was with only four months planning.

The rest of the week passed off beautifully and I seemed to be playing all day every day. Apart from the daily lunchtime sessions with Chan which had a daily booked guest from the roster of those appearing at the Festival we had good attendances every day but we were not always in the George, which is unusual so let me explain.

The Saturday and Sunday were fine in the George but, because of the uncertainty around the whole Festival, Dave had booked his own non-folk bands in for lunchtime sessions. I stress that this is nobody’s fault, the whole Festival was thrown together in a fraction of the time it normally takes and the fact that it took place at all is a credit to everyone involved.

On the Monday Dave suggested that we could go into the lovely conservatory at the rear of the premises and play whilst the booked band were playing in our normal space. I was uncertain about this even if the conservatory is at the far end of the bar and at right angles to it. Having played amped up gigs in that venue myself I know how far the sound travels but we decided to give it a shot.

I went and spoke to the band as they were setting up and explained the situation. I cannot remember now who they were but they were lovely blokes and said that they didn’t “crank it up” to any great degree and would perform only as loud as was required. Great, but I still knew it was not going to work. Sure enough, I was to be proved right. We were doing our thing in the rather confined space of the conservatory and the band started to soundcheck. It was going to be an obvious disaster, it just was not going to work, so I went to speak to Dave, who I count as a friend and this is where you learn all you need to know about Dave Goulding, Broadstairs generally and the Folk Week in particular.

Dave was quick to see the problem and told me to give him a few minutes. He got on to the manager of The Pavilion, just a few yards down Harbour Street and which is owned by his parent company Thorley Taverns whose founder Frank Thorley and his son Phil, now the current CEO, I both know. The Pav, as we call it, had bands booked for the outside space that would have suited us so that was a no-go.

What Dave did next amazed me and only helped to ramp up the huge respect I already had for the man. I think I may have spoken before here about what I call the Broadstairs triangle. It is basically a T-junction of two extremely narrow old streets (Albion and Harbour) and there are three pubs situated right on the junction. I do not know how true it is but I was once told that these three, the George, the Dolphin and the Neptune’s Hall aka the Neps, are the three closest non-adjacent pubs in Europe. I don’t know about that but I know I have stood outside the George having a smoke and had a conversation with people standing outside the Dolphin across the road without shouting.

Enough of the topography of Broadstairs and back to the story. Bearing in mind that all the three pubs named are in direct competition, Dave ‘phoned up the new manageress of the Dolphin (who I knew from when she worked in the Tartar Frigate where I also play gigs) and asked could she accommodate us. Bear in mind, he is deliberately turning away custom from his pub and putting it into the hands of a direct competitor. That is the mark of the man, he wanted to make it work for us. The answer was a yes and so we packed up the instruments and trooped across the road (honestly if it is 50 feet I shall be surprised, look for the junction mentioned above on Google maps and you’ll see what I mean).

Having made the arduous trek all the way across Albion Street we went into the Dolphin to find the manageress busily setting out chairs and stools for us. Having not seen her for a while it was big hugs all round (she initiated it!) and she told us to come in, make ourselves comfortable and start whenever we wanted. We did!

Our merry band (in the loosest sense of the word) in the Dolphin.

I will not bore you with the rest of the week as it formed a fairly repetitive pattern of getting up, helping Chan to run the playaround and then wherever. I normally drifted over to the Magnet but I do also remember playing the 39 Steps (which had been so good to Paul and I in previous years) and I did fulfil my promise to Chrissie to organise a couple of sessions in the Crown which she seemed very appreciative of. I even managed one afternoon session in the Wrotham, which was my home for the week as it was for so many times before and subsequently. Incidentally, if you want to know why the 39 Steps is so-called, obviously after the 1915 John Buchan novel, have a look here, it is interesting stuff.

Chan and Sam

The simple fact is that I was working that hard I barely had time to see any other acts or even take any images, which is unusual for a shutter-happy man like me. I have interspersed this piece with some of the few I did take just to break up the tedium of my verbal ramblings here. The image above shows Chan (on the left) and my dear friend Sam Sloan, an all-Ireland champion having a natter before one of our sessions. Sam is a brilliant player and a lovely lady who I have known for years and we have played together many times. If you want to see what we get up to musically together then you can do so here.

Folk Week ended as it inevitably must and there were the usual fond farewells although the Friday night final ceilidh did not happen at the Pav (mentioned above) which is always a complete blast but there had been no late night events this year. I do not know if that was due to any remaining restrictions, and who even knew by then what the restrictions may have been as they seemed to change by the day if not the hour or it was just not possible for the Committee to organise it in the very limited time available.

It had been a brilliant Festival and arguably the best of the 30+ I have played there, not for the quality of the acts (good as they were) or the amount of activities but purely for what it represented. A Festival that normally takes 11 months to organise had been cobbled together in four months under circumstances when national regulations were changing so rapidly, it really was an organisational triumph and everyone I spoke to loved it. Yes, in the interests of fair reporting, several of the Committee are close friends of mine but this is an objective view and one that seems to be shared in the opinion of all those there.

Folk Week was over and I was so glad I had made it, given my state of health, and it had been great. The way people adapted to unusual circumstances and made it work was a thing of wonder. It is why the Festival has been going for well over 50 years now and I see no reason it cannot go on for another 50. Sure, all the old hands like myself will be long gone but the younger generation seem as invested in it as we were at their age and still are.

People who think that folk music is just a bunch of old farts in home-knitted sweaters and Moses sandals with their fingers in their ears singing mournful dirges (difficult to stick your finger in your ear whilst playing the guitar!) have much to learn. It is not like that any more. To any of my readers (158, I cannot believe it) I would say that if you don’t know anything about folk music, give it a try, you might even like it!

Needless to say, I was not going to be one of the exodus from the town on the Saturday morning, I love Broadstairs and I was going to stick around a while. If you want to see what happens next then you know the drill.

Stay tuned.

The day of reckoning – BFW2021 #6.

Hello folks, welcome back and I shall start with a huge thank you to all the lovely people who sent me such touching messages, you really cannot believe what it means to me.

Without too much of a spoiler for a post I shall probably get round to writing in about six months time, I am composing this is the absolutely beautiful Station Promenade bar in Morecambe, Lancashire of which I have enclosed images above. It is very slightly marred by the modern KFC outlet they have stuck on the end of it but it is not a bad looking little office, is it?

I had left you with me having received the bombshell that my mate Paul, whose wingman I am for the daily playaround sessions in the wonderful George pub, could not make it this year due to virus reasons and the pub manager Dave had told me that he thought the committee might be sending someone but was not sure or, if so, who it might be. He seemed quite content that I could run the sessions myself.

I was up and out early and with the pub not nearly open yet I contented myself with a delicious coffee in the excellent Bessie’s Tea Parlour which I recommend. OK, coffee in a tea parlour, I know, I know.

Now Dave is a lovely man who knows quite a bit about music, not least because he has regular acts in his pub and consistently books good ones but, with the greatest respect and I do respect him greatly, his knowledge of the technicalities of folk sessions is perhaps not all it might be. I was hoping against hope that someone would come riding over the horizon to save the day, and as I waited I had a couple of pints to fortify myself should they not.I used to joke on stage that I had never knowingly played a gig sober but in truth it was really only half joking.

I admit that I was doing a bit of clock watching but, in good time the cavalry appeared. No, not a load of guys on horses brandishing sabres or even in light armoured vehicles wielding SA-80s but a lone female carrying a fiddle case, it was the remarkable Chan Reid and, man, was I one very relieved rhythmic guitar accompanist.

We greeted each other fondly although not perhaps as effusively as we may have done in times past. Even though all the virus restrictions, the efficacy of which are now being brought into serious question with the benefit of hindsight, had been lifted people were still a little wary of physical contact. I had already had the virus without even knowing it (I believe I have recounted the story here before) and I was double jabbed so I was pretty unconcerned about giving someone a hug or shaking hands but I was conscious that others, who would not previously have been, might have been uncomfortable so I was, and still am, reining myself in.

Chan is a seriously talented musician on various instruments, predominantly the fiddle, although she is probably best known for her sean-nos singing which is brilliant. OK, I realise that the term sean-nos might not be familiar to many of you so I shall explain. It is a capella (unaccompanied) singing, usually in Irish Gaelic, and the term sean-nos literally translates as “in the old way” which probably refers to the fact that it originated in the 13th century or possibly even earlier. If you want to see Chan giving a superb example of it, have a look here.

When Chan is not playing music she is teaching it, running a choir, organising an annual fleadh (Irish music festival) and various other musically related activities not to mention being a Mother to a teenage girl. I really do not know where she finds the time but I was certainly glad she found time for Broadstairs. I quickly established that she was indeed booked by the Festival and would be there all week so I knew everything was going to be all right.

Dave and his outstanding staff had the chairs all set out in the right places and I have to say that what Dave lacks in knowledge of the musical technicalities of sessions, he more than makes up for in the logistics. Not only does he set the place up for us, he also provides, at the bars expense, a daily selection of the most wonderful bar snacks and plenty of them, they just don’t stop coming. Amongst his many other talents he is a very fine cook albeit not formally trained. He was brought up in a pub and learned there and his spicy chicken drumsticks are the stuff of legend.

The next potential problem was that I still had no idea of numbers. I had not been to the campsite so I did not know how many visitors we had, how many of them were musicians and how many of them were prepared to be in a bar in close proximity to other people. There was no chance of social distancing in one of these sessions. In the end I need not have worried.

I had got there even before opening time as I knew they would let me in (I told you, dear readers, I am a member in good standing all over Broadstairs and get away with all sorts of naughtiness). Chan had turned up well in good time, true professional that she is, but the session doesn’t officially start until 1200. I was, however, reassured by the fact that Chan was camping and said there were good numbers on the campsite so I reckoned we should be OK. Again, there was no need to worry as the musicians and others who had just come to listen were streaming in by about half eleven. The image is of some of the guys setting up and tuning up prior to “kick-off”.

Those of us running the session (usually three or four) sit facing the rest of the players and most people like to get a seat near the front although some of the less proficient players tend to shy away at the back. All that is fine, it is not like a music class, the whole concept of the playaround is that everyone enjoys themselves playing to whatever level of ability they have and that is one of the things I love most about it. Nobody is going to say a word if someone hits a wrong note or whatever, it really is an inclusive thing.

The playaround went brilliantly, much better than I had feared it might and I got to meet a lot of old faces that I would ordinarily have seen annually but obviously had not for some time due to that virus. It is not unknown for these sessions to go on long after the official finish time but Chan had to be somewhere else so we packed up more or less on time so what to do next?

Fortunately at Folk Week there is never any shortage of things to do, especially if you have an instrument. Even if you don’t, your voice is a passport to some fine sessions (there are lunchtime singarounds as well as our playaround if that is your thing) and even if you are tone deaf you can still come along and listen, tap your feet or clap your hands. It really is so good in that respect, you just do as much or as little as your ability allows or you feel like. Nobody will say a word to you whatever you do or don’t do. It is a beautiful thing.

What to do next was a simple decision and less than one hundred yards away in the form of the Magnet pub which I mentioned in my last entry here. It is a brilliant micropub owned by my friends Will and Nikki which is a great champion of live music in these times where it is becoming harder and harder to find live venues to play in. It is also heavily involved in charity work and is very much a community pub with all sorts of activities. As well as all the usual quiz nights and so on they even have a Subbuteo League if you even remember what Subbuteo was, or apparently still is. I am of an age where I do!

The only problem with the Magnet is that, as the name implies, it is pretty small which is fine on a winters afternoon when half a dozen people feels like a crowd sitting round the real fire but during Festival Week it can get very crowded but the ever resourceful owners had come up with a brilliant solution.

The adjoining premises to the rear had been demolished and a new block of flats (apartments) was being built on the site. To be honest, they have being built for a very long time, eleven years at that time, I really don’t know what is going on there. Whatever the reason, the little cul-de-sac alley to the side of the premises and a slightly wider area beyond has been a builder’s yard for years. Nikki and Will approached the developer and the local licensing authorities and did no more than set up a decent sized marquee and an outside bar, designed for impromptu sessions when there were booked acts in the main bar.

Impromptu sessions are meat and drink to me, I love them, so that is where I went, got a pint of some odd cider I had not had before from Sam the utterly lovely barmaid (seen second from left above, Nikki is beside her in the red headgear), and headed out to the tent where there were some guys already in full swing. As protocol demands, I asked if it was OK to join and was bid welcome. One of the guys obviously recognised me and called me by my name which was slightly embarrassing as I had no idea who he was but I broke out the Beast (my soppy pet name for my guitar, my Takemine is the Baby!) and set to work.

By this point I was pretty loose, I had played a couple of hours so my fingers were working well enough and when they eventually called upon me for a song my throat was certainly well enough lubricated to give it my best shot. People came and people went and there was always a bit of an audience which is nice. It was just such a joy to be able to sit round a table with a bunch of total strangers and make what sounded to me like pretty decent music and I hope I do not sound boastful saying this because it is not intended that way.

This post has gone on a bit now so, to make an already story a bit shorter, the summer day dissolved slowly into dusk and then evening and, indeed, night and we were still playing as this image shows. I have no idea who the guy playing my guitar is but I do remember he was good. He must have been or I would have had my guitar back off him fairly rapidly! Someone I trust must have told me he was OK as I am a bit touchy about who I lend the Beast to. Don’t ask me where the sousaphone came from, Broadstairs is just like that!

Eventually we packed up although Will and Nikki had secured extended licences for the entire week so we would have been perfectly legal until about 0100 but those of us who are experienced in Folk Week knew it was only the first full day of what can be a fairly gruelling slog. It had been a great day and my slight anxieties about the playaround had proved to be totally unfounded. I had already been looking forward immensely to the Festival after being “confined to barracks” for so long and I was looking forward to it even more now.

If you want to see how the rest of the week pans out then stay tuned.

A bit of a walk – BFW 2021 #3.

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.

Continue reading “A bit of a walk – BFW 2021 #3.”

I finally get to bed! – BFW 20201 #3.

Hello again, dear readers and thanks for all the lovely comments here, I swear they really do mean a lot to me.

I had left you with me in the company of my dear friend and saviour (I use the word adivisedly) Sarah, in the Wrotham Arms with a brilliant room awaiting me upstairs, I didn’t have to go out of the door. OK, I had to go out of the door for a smoke thanks to a former mis-Government of my country but you get the idea.

It was during one of these solitary smoking expeditions that the next minor miracle happened and I felt a sensation that had been lamentably lacking from my life for far too long, I actually felt a small pang of hunger.

Continue reading “I finally get to bed! – BFW 20201 #3.”

I made it – BFW 2021 #2.

OK, OK, I know, I know and no, I have not developed some sort of typographical speech impediment, it is just the way I talk. I know I was all full of good intentions of keeping up a decent work-rate on the blog but events have overtaken me again. I won’t bore you with them here as the post which follows is quite long enough already and was almost ready for posting a few days ago.

So where were we? Oh yes, I was on a train heading to Broadstairs (BSR in railway parlance) heading for a location and a festival that are both very high on my list of favourite places / events. I am sure that most doctors would have cautioned me against such a trip in my physical state which, frankly, wasn’t great. Well, I had got as far as Stratford International railway station, so what was going to happen next? If you wish to find out and have come to this post via my homepage, then please click the “more” button below. If you have hit on it otherwise I apologise and please read on.

Continue reading “I made it – BFW 2021 #2.”

Looks like I’m back – Broadstairs Folk Week 2021.

Good day to one and all and, yes, I know it has been a while for reasons I shall explain below if you care to read on. I realise it is almost three months since I posted here and in the next few entries I shall hopefully explain the reasons for this. I am quite sure nobody has actually missed my ramblings too much.

Obviously, I was in the middle of a series about my 2016 trip to Sri Lanka and I promise I shall return to it shortly, there is still so much to share with you about that wonderful country with it’s stunning scenery, sublime cuisine, fascinating history and a population of the friendliest people you are ever likely to meet on this cosmic rock we all inhabit.

Continue reading “Looks like I’m back – Broadstairs Folk Week 2021.”

Coming back to Kandy.

Hello again folks and welcome back to my series about my 2016 trip to Sri Lanka which begins here, should you wish to read it in it’s entirety.

If you are finding my blog for the first time, a very warm welcome and if you have read the previous posts you’ll know that I was staying with my dear friend Treshi in the tiny village of Mattegoda which is near Kottawa about 13 miles South of central Colombo. Mattegoda is about as far off the tourist track, which was then so important to the Sri Lankan economy before it was destroyed and the loss of which is crippling the country economically, as you could imagine.

These were much happier times so if you wish to find out what happens next then please read on.

Continue reading “Coming back to Kandy.”
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