Back “home” to the Wrotham Arms.

Hello again folks and thanks for your forebearance in waiting for an update here which I know has been long overdue but the reasoning will be explained in the next post after this one. It is an interesting story to say the least. I intend to put three days together here for your ease of reading although I am actually composing and publishing this in late September and backdating as always.

Bedroom, Spencer Court Hotel, Ramsgate.
Goodbye to one hotel bed………..

Saturday, 17th August 2019.

The Saturday after Folk Week I was up fairly early as I knew I had to check out of my hotel pretty early and then get all my gear over to Broadstairs to my new abode in the Wrotham Arms. I like to travel light but the guitar case and the weight of the laptop with it’s various accessories in my daypack makes for a fairly cumbersome load. I was feeling OK as I decided to walk into Ramsgate and get the bus over rather than call a cab which would not have been expensive. I knew I could not “check in” at the Wrotham until 1600 as the pub does not open at lunchtime and there would have been nobody there so it was an obvious choice to head back to the George for a quiet couple of pints which is what I did.

In years past this day was known as Survivors Saturday where all the local site crew would come to the Neptunes Hall pub after having struck all the fencing etc. from the various sites ready for collection by the hire company. The sites take three days hard graft to set up and one frantic Saturday morning to take apart. I know as I have done both things before and the speed of the Saturday demolition is undoubtedly fuelled by the thought of the free beer the organisers put on in the Neps. As well as the crew, some of the organisers, local musicians, local volunteers from the Workforce and the odd (in every sense of the word) itinerant visiting muso like myself would all attend and there would be a bit of an informal debrief on the week just passed. Folk music was absolutely banned and Ken the landlord took great delight in putting pop music on the pub sound system with never so much as a “hey nonny no” or a finger in the ear! I love folk music but there is a limit and It did make for a pleasant change.

Broadstairs Folk Week sign, George Inn.
I can almost guarantee it!

Sadly, in recent years, the tradition of Survivors fell into decline somewhat and it was finally killed off when Ken and Jill retired in 2018 and the premises were refurbished, re-opening in November of that year. As part of the new regime, the Neptunes does not now open at lunchtime so that was that. I sat in the George looking across the road somewhat wistfully at the closed and darkened pub opposite and thinking of how things had changed over the years I had been there. In that vein I took an image of a sign that Dave had put up in the George earlier that week which you can see above. This was prompted by some wild rumours that had been circulating that it was going to be the last Folk Week ever.

I think I should put things into some sort of perspective here regarding Broadstairs Folk Week and I should say that I have a reasonable handle on what is going on. I know a lot of people and I hear things, confidences I am obviously not going to break here but shall speak in general terms and the first of which is so obvious it is ridiculous. The rumour of the demise of the Festival was apparently based on the fact that it had gone bankrupt but just think logically about this. I know the Festival accountant and the final accounts are not put together until some time later as there are still outstanding matters to be settled and so declaring the event bankrupt whist it is still in progress (and hopefully generating money in the form of collections etc.) is very premature.

Certainly it is no secret that Folk Week had to downsize a bit this year due to less corporate sponsorship and several other factors. This was the first year that I can remember when the main focus of the Festival was not a huge marquee along with attendant beer tent in Pierremont Park as they just could not afford it this year. The beer tent, which is run by my great friend Jenny, was relocated to the Craft Fair area adjacent to the Bandstand but the seating was totally outside and the weather really was not suitable for al fresco drinking for most of the week as I have mentioned previously. There are numerous other factors in play which I shall not bore the reader with but I cannot see this superb event folding just yet. I know it came close some years ago but everyone rallied round, gave of their time and talents for nothing and we survived somehow. I am sure we can do it again, at least I hope we can.

image004
Remember this, it is important.

During the afternoon I popped across the road to get a cheeseburger as I had not eaten for a day or two and knew I really should. I had taken a large bite out of it before remembering my camera and blog as you can see and normally I would not publish such an image but this burger is to prove important so I am glad I had this on file. The big bite was about the best I managed as I forced myself to eat as much as I could but still only managed about half of it, I really was in no mood for eating.

Harringtons ironmongers, Broadstairs.
I didn’t dare ask for four candles.

On my way up to the Wrotham to dump my kit I passed Harrington’s Store and could not resist popping my head in to ask if I could take a photo which the guy was more than happy for me to do. Harringtons is quite simply a timeslip, it is a general store and stocks anything you could possibly want and quite a lot of things you may never want. Again, I shall revert to an old review from my Virtual Tourist writings to explain.

“I don’t know if readers will have seen the absolutely classic comedy sketch by the British comedy duo, the Two Ronnies (Barker and Corbett). It has been voted best sketch in the history of British comedy. If you haven’t seen it, I have posted a link here.

There is a bit of Broadstairs folklore associated with it. The shop pictured is the simply wonderful Harringtons which is worth a visit in itself, it is an absolute cornucopia. It is situated at 1 York Street. I visited recently to buy a French bean cutter (long story, don’t ask) and was amazed at what was available, I kid you not, they have everything from a single screw to sets of saucepans to builders supplies and just about everything else.

Anyway, I know that some years ago, Ronnie Corbett had a holiday home just across the road (behind the Charles Dickens pub if you are interested) and was in the place. He was so enthralled that Ronnie Barker subsequently wrote the iconic skit based on this place. So there you have it. Fork handles”.

In the way of these things I had my bubble partially burst a couple of years later as I was staying in digs in Broadstairs during Folk Week and had borrowed an autobiography of Ronnie Corbett from my landlady where he states that the original idea came from a shop in Hayes in Middlesex although Harrington’s vast range did indeed influence the final script. Honestly, even if you don’t buy anything just go in for a look, they are well used to it.

As for the bean cutter mentioned, it went straight in the bin when I nearly removed a finger with it, it was bloody (literally as well as figuratively) dangerous.

I made it in good order to the Wrotham, spoke to Jackie and was billeted in Room Six, which is the best room apart from the fancy en-suite family room. As you can see from the images it is lovely and cosy and I do rather like it. Over the years I think I have stayed in every room there. It faces the road but it is not a problem as it is as quiet as the grave after the early evening. Like most of the rooms it is not en-suite but that is no problem as the communal bathroom is only a few steps along the corridor. It is kept spotless and the shower is piping hot with a good pressure which is all I could ask for really.

I didn’t feel much like heading back into town that night and so settled for a quiet time in the bar chatting to Jackie. It was pretty quiet and so we had a good chance to catch up on things. I was still taking it easy and did not drink a lot. By about half midnight I bid goodnight and headed towards my bed. OK, I know this is technically the 18th but bear with me. I walked to the bottom of the stairs which is literally no more than 30 feet from where I was sitting and doubled over with the most excruciating pain in my stomach, it was absolutely agonising. I half crawled and half staggered to bed, kicked off my shoes and curled up in a foetal position fully clothed and lay there all night in far too much pain to sleep. I must have dozed off for a little while but not long and woke in the same pain shortly after.

Sunday 18th August, 2019.

This was just a day of unmitigated discomfort where the only position I could lie in that did not make me physically cry out was lying in the same foetal position on my left side (for some reason it was no good on my right) and practice shallow breathing as inhaling or exhaling too deeply sent a stabbing pain through my abdomen again. The interesting thing and the sole reason I did not try to get help, if indeed I could have got out of the bed, was that I had had exactly the same symptoms some years before whilst on a canal boat trip with friends which is documented elsewhere on this  site. In that case the worst of it passed within about 24 hours and when I consulted a pharmacist she diagnosed trapped wind and prescribed something for that. In light of what was to transpire, I suspect this was a very flawed diagnosis!

Another full day and night of extreme discomfort trying to catnap where possible but being awoken by the pain after the merest of 40 winks every time.

Monday, 19th August, 2019.

I woke after one of my brief and fitful dozes on the Monday morning and felt much better. Not anything like 100% but not nearly as bad and fit enough to go out. I didn’t feel like eating but I went to the George in the afternoon to watch the Football later on. Again, I was very circumspect in my drinking and spent the afternoon catching up on my blogging here. At about 1900 I started to feel rough very quickly and within half an hour I knew there was no way I could walk back to my digs even though it is only a fifteen minute slow amble to get there. I had to get the barmaid to get me a cab and I am sure the driver must have thought me the laziest man in Thanet. I did not even feel well enough to explain. Something was definitely going to have to be done.

What was done is fully explained at some considerable length in the next post so stay tuned and spread the word.

Vincent, half a breakfast, two gigs and back to bed.

I woke up well rested again early on the morning of Thursday 15th August and due to my late arrival from London it was already the penultimate day of the Festival and I felt as if I had barely started. I had a bit of time to spare so I decided to go for a look round Spencer Square where the hotel was as someone had told me that Vincent van Gogh once lived there. It did not take me long to find the appropriate blue plaque commemorating the fact on the wall of number 11 on the opposite side of the square. I love blue plaques as I find them are endlessly interesting.

A few doors along there was another blue plaque, this time erected by the Ramsgate Society commemorating the residence of one John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1854) who I had never heard of but was apparently editor of the Quarterly Review which I had similarly never heard of although internet research shows it was a journal published from 1809 -1967. It appears that Lockhart was more famous for being the son-in-law of the writer Sir Walter Scott. Not much of a claim to fame really and I think I may have an answer to why about every third building in Ramsgate “boasts” a local plaque and that is that Margate, just along the coast is exactly the same. Ramsgate and Margate have traditionally been rivals and are now competing for the tourist second home and retirement home markets amongst others and I think there is some one upmanship going on. Of course, I could be wrong and it would not be the first time.

I had not really eaten for a couple of days and so I took myself to the huge Royal Victoria Pavilion, a fairly new J.D. Wetherspoons venue (OPENED 2018) on the seafront adjacent to the Royal Harbour. It is their largest outlet by far and was the largest pub in the UK when it opened. Despite this, it has some very strange menu / drink choices and one of them impacted on me here. JDW do a number of variations on the theme of Eggs Benedict of which my favourite is Eggs Royale which substitutes salmon for the traditional ham yet this is the only Wetherspoons I know that does not offer it. Nor does it offer Strongbow cider although it is on the tabletop advertising blurb. I noticed another omission from the normal menu but I cannot recall what it is just now. I really do not understand the thinking.

Eggs Benedict it was then, beautifully cooked and served promptly and yet my ever-decreasing appetite did not even allow me to finish it, tasty as it was but at least it was some food in me and I took what was supposed to be a bit of an arty image of the beach through the window from where I was sitting. I have to say that the views from the Pavilion are stunning and there will be more in further posts in this series.

It is only a short walk to the bus and another one at the far end in Broadstairs and I was once again setting up with Paul for yet another playaround. Happy days and again there was a reasonable crowd for this late in the week. When this was over, Paul and Sue again took off somewhere and I decided to sit tight again as the afternoon act was another guy I know called Gabe so I settled in for that, again drinking little and still not feeling quite up to par.

Gabe often plays troubadour but on this occasion was backed by another guy I know and have jammed with called Jeff on bass and another couple of musos who I did not know. Gabe does a few of his own but predominantly covers and he does love James Taylor (who doesn’t?) so that got a good outing. For me, the highlight was when he got Bessie from the Dealers band up for a number, which you can see here. I am not sure if the Dealers are actually still a functioning unit but it was Bessie and a guy called Pierre and they were very, very good. I discovered them at Folk Week years ago. Don’t worry about the name, it is nothing to do with drug dealing but rather that they come from the town of Deal in Kent, simple as that!

Not long after the band had finished my ‘phone went and it was Paul asking me if I fancied joining him and Sue for a pint in the Magnet, another of the numerous micropubs in the area. As it is literally 50 yards up the road and in the direction I would eventually be going anyway, that seemed like a plan and so I said my goodbyes at the bar, picked up my guitar and moved onwards, ever onwards.

When I went into the Magnet I met quite a few people I knew as well as Sue and Paul so it was another round of handshakes and hugs all round. I suppose I should give you a quick rundown on the place which I first encountered many years ago as the Fish and Beer bar which was exactly what it was, a Belgian themed establishment with an open kitchen, limited but tasty menu and a great selection of great if expensive beers. It was owned by a guy who owned a quite upmarket fish restaurant in Ramsgate and he really did not have time to keep both projects going so he put it on the market and it was bought by my great friends John and Jo who I have known for years. They changed the name to Reef and carried on much in the same vein as before although over the several years they had it the food took a gradually less forward role but there was still a superb selection of interesting beers. In 2018 they were forced to close for a while as the cellar was flooded by a mains leak in the road outside and I was asked to play the re-opening night which I did with my dear friend Noel McAuley and we had a great night. Well, it was a great night until the point right at the end where I misjudged the relative positions of the bar stool I was playing on and the wall behind and with my final, “Thank you, goodnight” ringing in their ears the crowd were treated to me doing a not very graceful dying swan off the back of the stool, cracking my head on the wall and ending up with my legs in the air in an undignified heap but still clutching the miraculously undamaged guitar.

Thankfully there was no harm done except to my pride and I will eventually get round to writing up when I put together Broadstairs 2018 as a project here! Don’t hold your breath though.

I was introduced to Will, the new landlord, and his good lady, was made to feel most welcome and sat down for a bit of a chat and a catch up. I really had no intention of playing any more that day but, as my dear friend Suzi once remarked to me, “You are just a party waiting to happen”. There is undoubtedly more than a grain of truth in this as there is with most things she says and never moreso than when I am with Paul as we just seem to egg each other on.

Paul Lucas and Fergy Campbell at the Magnet micropub Broadstairs.
Paul and I doing what we love to do.

The original plan was that we would just go and sit in the “Musicians Corner” and play a few tunes and songs acoustically. Well, that was the plan anyway. Somehow it escalated into having one ambient mic just for a bit of poke although between my voice and Paul’s banjo we could fill that space three times over, it really is a micro micropub. As well as being a purveyor of fine alcoholic refreshment, Will is a card-carrying sound engineer and a very good one at that. His argument was why bother with one ambient when he had the full PA rig already deployed and ready to go and so we ended up as you see us above, fully stage rigged as we would be for a proper paid gig. Why not as I was still playing catch up to a degree and was relatively fresh despite my illness? Paul is just like the Duracell bunny, he never knows when to quit.

To make a long story short, we must have played another two hours and had a jolly old time. I know we attracted a bit of passing trade as people told us so later and were asking what our band name was etc. (we have never had one in all these years although Paul is currently in Shamrock Street and I played for years with the Northern Celts until the travelling made it impossible) and so everyone was happy. Will was getting a few £££ over the bar, we were having a ball and getting a few pints for our trouble and the punters seemed to enjoy it from their reaction and kind applause and the fact that they didn’t just walk out. What’s not to like?

I suppose we probably finished about 2100 and again I was feeling the pace so off for yet another early bed. This really was getting ridiculous.

Last day of Folk Week in the next post so stay tuned and spread the word.

Broadstairs Folk Week at last.

Well, Broadstairs Folk Week has been and gone again and I am actually writing this as the dust settles in the aftermath. I know I have mentioned it many times before on various pages on this site but for newcomers a) welcome and b) a quick word of explanation. This is undoubtedly my favourite festival in the world and I have been playing it in one guise or another for 30 of the last 31 years. I missed 2016 as I was in Canada travelling and playing the odd gig so I reckon that was a reasonable excuse. On that occasion my travelling companion told me I was like a bear with a sore head (she knows all about bears with sore heads as she is Canadian herself) because I was fretting about not being on the Kent coast making a noise on my guitar.

As you will know from previous entries here I had returned from visiting family in Northern Ireland in good time for the festival which is not always the case as I have been known to get back from there at about 0100 on a Saturday morning and been on a train to Broadstairs shortly after 0900 the next morning having stopped off at home briefly to ignore the bills piling up on my doorstep, swap clean laundry for soiled and pick up my guitar. Despite my best efforts, everything just seemed to conspire against me and it was an odd Folk Week in many respects. I was having a bit of difficulty getting in touch with my wonderful friends who put me up every year for the week and, indeed, far beyond but I had eventually contacted them although because of personal circumstances they were unable to host me this year so now I had a problem.

The area of Thanet which is basically Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate is a very seasonal seaside tourist region and accommodation can be hard enough to find in the summer but it is impossible in Broadstairs during Folk Week. Actually, that is not strictly true, I could get a single room for about £120 a night and upwards which is way outside my budget. I tried every site I knew including homestays and there was nothing with the nearest affordable options being Whitstable and Canterbury, neither of which are feasible commutes especially if you play late in the evening as I often do. The best I could manage was a B&B in Ramsgate from the Monday to the Friday which meant the week would not be a total washout anyway. I got in touch with my mate Paul and told him what had happened and he said that was fine as I was not actually booked and we do sessions / playarounds so it is not as if it was essential I be there much as I would have loved to.

I woke up on the Monday morning all ready to go but not a chance. As I say, everything was conspiring against me and I had the most unpleasant stomach upset, there was literally no way I was going to be able to travel. Straight back on the ‘phone to Paul to explain and lay in bed all day feeling wretched on a number of levels. I had paid for the room in advance so I called the B&B and they kindly agreed to hold the room even though I would not be there. Time is now running.

Tuesday morning and I still was not feeling anything like 100% but I was damned if I was going to miss another day so I jumped in a cab and headed to Stratford International to finally get moving East and this is where another issue that is close to my heart crops up. I had got there in good time (about 0830) and asked the friendly young lady for a return to Broadstairs. She asked me was I in a hurry to get there and I told her that I needed to arrive no later than 1130 so she told me that if I could afford to wait until after 0930 I could get an off-peak ticket which would save me a lot of money. I knew about these tickets but when she told me the comparative prices I was astounded. I bought the off-peak for £44.70, which I still think is disgusting for a 70 mile journey, on the nicely timed 0932 but had I travelled on the preceding train about 15 minutes before it would have cost me an obscene £92. How can they possibly justify that? How can our Government allow it, not to mention annual fare increases above the rate of inflation (using the higher and less accurate RPI index)? The predominantly foreign owned companies running these cash cows must be laughing all the way to the bank.

Stratford International is in the middle of Westfield shopping centre which, when it was built, was either the largest or one of the largest in Europe. It was all tied up with the 2012 Olympics redevelopment as the stadium is right next door and so I took off for a look round although it was not merely an aimless wander as I shall explain.

I have long used a series of great little Canon Ixus compact cameras which I have been very happy with but a couple of years ago I happened to have been in my local Curry’s PC World outlet, not because I like them and they have messed me about badly before but because they are so convenient to my home and I bought a Samsung WB36F as it seemed to have a lot of functions and was on sale at an absolute steal of a price. I had stuck it on the shelf at home as I didn’t see any point in breaking it out when the Canon was still going great but it had just about had it’s last days and I thought it was time to change over. I got the Samsung out of the box and charged it with no problem. I opened it up expecting to just transfer my SD card from the Canon but, oh no, that would have been far too simple as it does not take an SD card, it takes one of these idiotic and extremely fiddly “microcards” which I did not have so I took myself back to the shop I had bought the camera in to buy one. Not a chance. The guy looked at it with a slightly bemused look on his face (amazing in such a shop) and then called his mate who told me what was required and then, when asked, informed me that they did not stock them. What is the point of selling a camera that you do not have the accessories for? He suggested I go about a mile and a half down the road to Argos to get one. Sod that.

Back then to Westfield on the Tuesday morning and I wandered all round it dragging my suitcase, daypack and guitar to find out that none of the several electronics shops opened until 1000 by which point I intended to be somewhere the far side of Ebbsfleet and travelling East. Back then to catch my much cheaper train and finally make BFW.

In light of all the above and in my desire to be totally honest on this site, the images at the head of this paragraph are from previous years but I can assure you that you could never tell as absolutely nothing has changed on that journey except for the price rises.

I got to my destination in good order and headed straight to the George Inn where Paul runs an open playaround every day during Folk Week. This is always very well-attended as it gives players of all abilities a chance to come and play in a group environment and one of the booked artistes from the main roster is always detailed to play so it is great fun. When I wandered into the pub it was just as if I had left the day before although it had actually been the previous November as I had got somewhat marooned after Folk Week. Most of the wonderful staff were the same, including Dave and Bev who run the place so well and look after us brilliantly and Paul and his lovely wife Sue both greeted me with big hugs. As the place began to fill up it was just one old face after another in the same way as it has been for so many years now, albeit the venue of the playaround has changed a few times, and I felt instantly at home as I always do in this venue and this town.

Paul always has the booked guest sitting on his left and he always insists I sit on his right as he seems to like me as his “wingman” albeit he is a far superior musician to me but it is a great honour all the same. I still was not feeling great but I managed to play well enough which pleased me as I had not played in public for about nine months for one reason and another. Ordinarily, Folk Week gigs would be a signal for me to hit the bar in no uncertain manner but I really did not feel like it and only had a couple of pints before the session finished at 1500.

In years past, we would have just kept on playing but Dave had booked afternoon acts for a 1600 – 1800 set and obviously they have to get their gear set up so we needed to vacate the “stage” area pretty sharpish. We sat and had a quiet drink and a bit of a catch up with some friends and Paul announced that we were heading round to the 39 Steps micropub (or tiny tavern as I have recently heard it described) to play some more which is about par for the course. We were not booked to play there nor advertised in the programme but we are friendly with Kevin the owner and we just pitch up and ask can we play to which he invariably agrees and very decently supplies the musicians with a few pints along the way. Despite the mind-boggling selection of ciders on display (have you ever tried mango cider?) I still was not feeling up to scratch and so was still taking it very easy.

Neptunes Hall pub, Broadstairs.
The recently re-furbished “Neps”.

I have explained the concept of the playaround earlier and I love it with people of all abilities getting a chance to play in a group environment and hopefully learn some new tunes or ways of playing or whatever but when we move on in the afternoon to wherever we are going (Paul seems to have an ongoing arrangement with half the publicans in town) it is usually only a small group of us who are all used to playing in public and all of us have been doing so for many years and so we can afford to get a little more adventurous in our choice of tunes and also throw in a few songs which we normally do not do in the playaround. If people want to sing at lunchtime then there is an excellent singaround in the Neptune’s Hall pub, just across the road from the George, which shows you how much choice there is at Folk Week.

When it got round to about 1900 we were going to get evicted again by an incoming booked act although not as swiftly as earlier as we just sit about in the middle of the bar and the bands set up in the corner so we can work round each other easily enough. Paul and Sue were heading out that night for a family get-together so I thought that would be an ideal opportunity for me to get booked into my digs and dump my kit at least. I really could not be bothered humping all that gear on the bus so I got a cab which deposited me at the door of the Spencer Court Hotel which was one of a terrace in what had obviously been a rather grand square in days past and much of it still was although the guesthouse itself (it would never merit the term hotel) was a little scuffed round the edges.

I rang the doorbell and waited, and then waited some more. Another try and another whole lot of nothing. I had noticed a handwritten sign in the window saying that if reservations were required then to ring the given mobile (cell) ‘phone number. I did not need a reservation as I already had one but, in the absence of any sign of life in the building I tried it anyway and was told to stay put and someone would be with me shortly. Sure enough, about ten minutes later a guy came sauntering round the corner, greeted me and let me into my room, asked me if I wanted breakfast which I declined and subsequently disappeared again leaving me to settle in. Remember that due to the inexplicable incompetence of my local electronics store I was still without a camera and my technological ineptitude totally precludes my using my ‘phone as a camera I was unable to take any images that evening and those that you see here were taken on subsequent days but it makes sense to the narrative to place them here. Again, I like to be totally upfront about how I throw this site together!

I would describe the room and the whole guesthouse as having seen better days and perhaps not for a while although I must stress that it was spotlessly clean. The room was furnished with a comfy double bed, TV, tea and coffee making facilities and an almost comically tiny en-suite bathroom. Looking at the outside of the building I would suggest that there had once been a large room with a balcony here which had been split into two to make a couple of bedrooms and then bathrooms had been squeezed in wherever possible. On the first evening I could see that I had the only small piece of balcony and there was a table and a couple of chairs there although they obviously had not been used for a while but the patio doors looked to me as if they were painted shut and so I was running up and down the stairs to go outside fora smoke which was a bit of a nuisance. It was only the next morning in the daylight that I worked out how to open the thing and I was quite content to sit out there for a smoke with the vista that just about included a sea view between some buildings but it was definitely pleasant on a good day although they were to be few and far between as we shall see.

I debated going back over to Broadstairs for the evening as I knew there would be plenty going on but I still was feeling far from 100% and I decided the sensible option was to have an early night despite it being my first at the Festival. I reckon I had five pints all day and was in bed by 2130 which is totally unheard of behaviour for me at any time and in any place, much less here during Folk Week but that is what I did.  A few chapters of my book and off to the Land of Nod.

There are still a few days of the Festival to go so stay tuned and spread the word.