Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Weekenders Part 5

And so, time slips away.

Just two weekends to go before I head off to The Caspian Sea.This weekend begins with the monthy pub quiz at the Dover Harbour Board Social Club. We join in my father in law and his friends, and in truth we hold them together as Tony and John act like 45 years younger than they are, Johns wife grumbles the whole evening, and Jools, Jen and I really do all the question answering. It's more fun for us really, we came third once, but finished midfield out of about 20 teams.

There's always next month, or the one after that.

Saturday, Jools has a bead class, and i have a few chores to do. It's always a pleasant trip into Deal, and then wander around the small shops. I buy some organic veg for Sunday when friends are coming round for dinner.

The phone rings; do we want to go to wembley to see the England game as Matt and Dadi's friends have double booked?Can we get there in 5 hours?We can but try.We drive up the M20 to Orpington and catch a train into London; a dash on the Bakerloo line to Marelebone Station and then out to north west London to join the other 85,000 going to the game.

We had seats four rows from the back, but great views. It would have been fantastic but for the fartting drunken yob in front of us. Everytime he stood up he bottom-burped. And then there was the chant, 'If you hate Leeds come and have a go.' Well, the real tough nut behind growled that they were going to suffer cranial damage soon if they did not, in fact, shut the heck up.Which they did.And England won, 4-0.Yay.And then the journey back with thr 85,000 other fans back into London and on home.

All be upstanding for the National Anthem

Sunday morning we went out walking in waldershare Woods, which is nearby. We hoped to see the wild garlic in flower; but its a bit early. The fresh plants covered the ground inbetween the trees. The faint scent of garlic was in the air. All around was the sounds of spring, the light wonderful, all in all a great day.

Waldershare Woods, Kent

Our friends who got us the tickets came for dinner; we made roast beef, fresh veggies, roast potatoes and a giant Yorkshire pudding. And a great bottle of wine, as I had managed to drop the one they brought on the floor, smashing it it, and coating the kitchen in red plonk.

Monday, the weather forecast was for wall to wall sunshine; so I walked to Folkestone again. It was a stunning day, the sky a deep blue with a few white clouds, making for great pictures. Accross the Channel, France was clear, and ferries criss-crossed between Dover and Calais. I took a few things to eat, and had them sitting on the edge of a cliff with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet.Eating on the edge.

Coastguard Cottages, Dover

Royal Cinque Ports Yacht Club, Dover

I walked along the top of the cliffs into Folkestone, calling in at The Battle of Britain Memorial; they have just put up a wall with the names of all those who gave their lives during that summer of 1940.Jools picked me up at just gone four, there had been just enough time for a pint in The Lord Raglan. As we whizzed back north I could see the path along the edge of Shakespeare Cliff, and I said; I walked that.


Today, I set off early to go to a place called Winchelsea, to see the grave of a comedian and writer I loved; Spike Milligan. I searched for a while and found it. Written in gaelic was the line 'I told you I was ill' typical Spike. Spike wrote all of the radio show The Goons, and was the basis for most of Monty Python. Spike wrote many books, the best about his time in the Army during the war. Goodbye Soldier is my favourite, about his time in a concert party living the life of wine and roses in Italy as the war ended.

I told you I was ill!

I drove out along the M20 and then up towards Tenderton; I had got my directions all wrong, and had to head south to get to Rye and the coast. This mistake lead to me taking a wonderful drive along wooded lanes to Appledore before turning off and out over the Romney Marsh beside the Royal Military Canal. The Canal was built during Napolionic times so boats of military good did not have to travel at sea. Anyway, one one side was the tree lined canal, and the other drainage ditches. It looked like southern France, and with the sun blazing down was all rather wonderful. There is a walk beside the canal, and if the weather holds we will be doing that at the weekend.

Winchelsea is a village, once a major port, now just situated on a hill overlooking the coast. A large church domiated the village, and al around are timber-framed houses and wattle and daub pubs. It is a fantastic setting.

On the way out I saw signs to the beach, and so a short drive through unappealing caravan parks brought me to a wide bay with steep banks of shingle, and away in the distance the menacing shapes of the power stations at Dungeness lurked.

Winchelsea Beach 3

Then I headed to Bodiam Castle; Bodiham is one of those images you think of when you think of a castle; all curtain walls reflected in a moat. The light was perfect, and I got the shots I wanted. I had an expensive snack in the cafe, and watched a coachload of schoolkids from Brighton arrive and then have packed lunch. Time to head back I think.

Bodiham 4

But all the while, time is slipping by.......

The Oasts, Ewhurst Green

Friday, 27 March 2009


And so, after driving into the evening with just Radio 4's art review show and the Archers, and then Radcliffe and Maconie, I arrived home on Monday night. It is always good to come home, even if I had onoy been away for just over a week. I couldn't be bothered to cook anything and so made do with some microwave popcorn and a bottle of the Adnams ale I had bought in Southwold.

One thing I did notice about being home, is the lack of smoke; Mum is smoking more and more and soon enough every item of my clothing whether I had worn it or not had that nicotine smell. And once again the white ceilings in her house were taking in that light brown colour that is in most smokers houses.

Anyway, Tuesday was spent just relishing the fact of being home. The weather was pretty poor and so I sat at the computer whilst the radio burbled away in the background. Since getting back on Monday we have not watched anything on TV at all. When at Mother's its on all the time, she tapes the soaps she could not watch and so spent the next day catching up what happened in yesterday's Austalian soaps. I did sit there with her and we watched nature shows, and then I thought she might like to watch QI and of course she loved the seven hours of rugby on Saturday. But she was happy enough that casulty was on as normal.

Anyway, I guess I get into a rut easy enough as well, and think nothing of tapping away at the keyboard or messing with Photoshop; so who am to judge? I have a new toy now, a slide scanner, and so I have 20 years of work to turn into digital so I can post them online. It's a slow process, and my laptop don't like doing that and anything else, so I set up a scan and maybe read a magazine, play with a cat, or just make a cuppa.

The days pass quietly enough and too quickly. I cook in the evening and we listen to the radio once Jolls is back from work. We are trying not to plan our year too much as we don't know how the money will go, but we have been invited to a wedding in Hexham in June, which we would like to go to, and we could combine with a trip around the North East!

Yesterday I head to Tescos to top up the larder, and make it before eight and the hoards of schoolkide pile in to stock up on crisps, chocolate, fags and pop for the day ahead. I was hoping to get out to take some shots, but the weather came down and so made do with a visit to the inlaws and Nan. A pleasant surprise for them, I hope, as they thought I was still away.

In a break in the showers, I head out towards Ramsgate on a research trip there for a photoshoot, but the weather really was poor, and the light worse. So I make do with a trip to the butchers right out in the sticks. They have pork sausages with loal harvested wild garlic; so I stock up on those; some sirloin steak for Saturday night dinner, and great bit of topside for Sunday roasting. I do resist the pork scratchings though; they are great with a beer or three, but not really healthy.

I go to pick Jools up from work, and we head out to Ashford to the cineam to see Watchmen; it was ok, but overlong and wordy; doubly so for a sperhero movie. But then it aint an ordinary superhero film. Sadly, I can't see Silk Spectre's costume making to the high street though.

Anyway, we call in at a chippy on the way back for a battered sausage or two, and then rush back along the coast road home. Away across the Channel, the lights of Calais and Burlogne twinkle brightl, illuminating banks of mist. Above us Orion pointed south, I think. All was well with the world.

The cats were waiting for us, and we wolfed sausage and chips down whilst listening to more Radcliffe and Maconie.

Not a bad day.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Ode to Essex

Oh, dear Essex, how do I love you, let me count the ways.......

Oh Essex, full of new towns and chavs,

And orange women (with exceptions, Angel)

Oh, and boy racers.Which makes the A12 and M11 such an adventure.

Oh, I forgot to make this rhyme.

This time.

Aha, did it that time.

I like Essex, it means that I'm just one county away from home in Kent. And I should get the £1.50 ready for the Dartford crossing.

I will write more about my adventures and forthcoming exciting trips. Can you guess where in the world I will be working in next month. A shiney new penny for who get the right answer, or closest.

Mother's Day

Last weekend it was Mother's Day here in Britain; Ihad the chance of heading the heck out of Lowestoft and back home for the weekend, but as Mum still lives there I thought I would bite my lip and stay with her.

It wasn't a wrench leaving the Yacht Club for the last time; I had to tell the duty manager that the standards of his grand place had not lived up to expectations and indeed I could not recomend it to my company for further use. Like all good managers, he blamed the staff, and so it goes on.

I have already written about Saturday, and so we will switch to Sunday and when the strain really began to tell.

Mother dearest and I have had our differences. Well, lets be honest she hasn't been pure as the driven snow over the years and for me there are certain things that cannot be forgiven. For short visits these things can be over looked, but for a full blown weekendthey usually come into the open at some point. People say you only get one Mother, and for me she is my last blood reletive, but then friends are the family we wish we had.

Sunday dawned bright and clear, and since conversation had long since dwindled, I went out to the paper shop for a copy of The Sunday Times in which to immerse myself until we decided to head out in the car.

I had offered to cook the Sunday roast, but she insisted on cooking the rest of the meal, including the Yorkshire pudding, much to my disappointment as I am now quite good at it. Anyway, we decided to eat that meal in the evening and made do with a snack of bake in the oven rolls things that she had.

And then we squeezed into the tiny Toyota Agro and headed out into the spring sunshine for Great Yarmouth. Well, being on the coast 180 degrees of direction is sea, and so possible destinations are somewhat limited.

Great yarmouth is not great now, if it ever was, and now survives on supporting the oil and gas industry, and what few tourists now come to stay. In truth the council has made a real good effert to spruce up the prom and lights, but in the end it's still Yarmouth on the North Sea coast, cold in the spring and autumn and unbearable in the wonter when the east wind blows, and a combination of all this in the summer!

They are building a new harbour on what was once golden beach and holiday camps south of the pleasure beach. Quite where all the extra traffic will go is something else. But from there we drove along the seafront where a few brave sould were walking in the sunshine. We didn't stop; Mum can't walk far. But it was pleasant enough.

North of Yarmouth the Norfolk countryside takes over, and once the grim holiday camps thin out and stop, it's a mixture of fields and reedbeds. We stop at a restored windmill and have an ice cream from the kiosk and watched the birds flit over the reeds.

We headed back home via the quiet way through little villages with thatched pubs to the house. Once back I seasoned the beef and put it in the oven and soon wonderful smells filled the house. She prepared the vegetables and soon those were bubbling away. Part-boiled potatoes were put in a tray of bubbling lard and dispatched into the oven to roast, and the Yorkie was soon to join them.

I opened a bottle of eight year old red, and once time, began to carve the beef and serve up the meal. Mum has learnt that just three veg is now enough, not the eight we had when I was a child. But it was all fine, the beef pleasantly pink in the middle, although too chewy for mum's new gnashers. And the wine was wonderful, full and smooth.

So afterwards we chatted, and talk moved on to family adn her Mother; an evil whitch if I'm honest. And Mum talked of her life and her problems with her mother, and then I pointed out that al lot of those were the same as what I have with her. All weekend she had been kidding herself all was fine between us; maybe I should have been kind; I'm sure there will be be people telling me I should. But, I'm only human and cannot lie all too easily. especially when i think she should realise what she has done.

Anyway, by Monday morning, I had had enough of being there; the main problem was the smoke. She is back on the weed after multiple failed attempts to quit, and for a non-smoker there is only so much one can take.

All there was left was one more day at work, packing up our equpment before it was time to head south and back to my home, with Jools; for a couple of weeks at least.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Back to Reality

And so, the time at home had to come to an end at some point. And so it came to pass, that last Sunday, the 15th, after a pleasant walk in the woods I packed my bags and headed north to Suffolk and my bright new future.

That last morning we went walking around where we used to live, in the hills above the town of River. Spring had indeed sprung, and walking in-between the spring flowers was wonderful. But at the back of my mind all the time was the day to follow and the reality of the new job. I tried not to let it show, but it was very hard, and so without warning I loaded the hire car and announced I was leaving.

I had left it until the evening at least; the contract for the hire car only began at seven in the evening, and so right on the button of seven I pulled away in the car. At least leaving in the evening meant the roads were empty. Or as empty as it gets in Britain. Even driving through Essex was painless, and when the roads ran out north of Ipswich and the cattle tracks began, at least the Sunday drivers were safe at home and the roads empty.

As my Mother lives in the town where my new employer is based it means I was spared the Monday morning rush hour and a lay in bed on Monday and a pleasant short trip to the yard.
I could lie and say how great it was to be back in the family home, but I won’t, and can’t. Mum and I have our problems, and no matter how either of us pretend there isn’t, we can’t overcome our past. Or I can’t. We skirted around issues, and others we hit head on.

And next morning I headed out to work, having decided that the company should put me up in a B&B, or something like it. When they said I was staying at the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club, and as I am from Lowestoft, and knowing how grand their clubhouse looks, I was ready for some sumptuous surroundings and luxury. But before that I had to do a days work; my first since Christmas. In reality work was not hard, just testing equipment and packing it away. And meeting the crew for our job.

I don’t think I have said where we are going on the job; Kazakhstan. Borat and all that! Yes, we are surveying the Caspian Sea, and have to get a strange ship ready for work and do the job and get all the kit back. All in a month.

This is a big step for my new employer as they are muscling in on another’s territory, and it’s a huge financial risk for them. For us it’s a huge adventure to a new country, one which until a few years ago was part of the red empire.

After that first day packing and working, myself and Marek, another engineer headed to the yacht club; and the disappointment was stunning. Inside it was plain if not old, and the rooms had nothing, just a kettle and tea bags. As well as the bed and sink. And the chef failed to tuen up so we had to venture out into the outside to find something to eat.

Marine Parade, Lowestoft

Opposite was the old Harbour Hotel; since renamed The Oakwood; the Bridgehouse , now called The Harbour Inn. Inside it was your typical modern themed bar come pub, but nice enough. They had beer and food; which was all we asked for. And just up the road was my old ex-best friend now restored as best friend as the whole house situation had been cleared up. He agreed to meet up with us.

lowestoft sunset

He is now living with an American girlfriend; she came over a couple of months ago, and is having some trouble adjusting to life in Lowestoft after arriving from Los Angeles. I can’t imagine why. Things between them were even worse than I had feared. And the time for ultimatums had arrived. After six weeks.

In truth, beer does not help, but sometimes it seems to. He headed back to a frosty atmosphere with the promise of a meeting the next evening too.

Another day in the warehouse, packing and drinking tea followed. I was up at dawn to see the sunrise and to take some photographs. It was very special I can tell you. But the cloud soon rolled in, and then it got cold. We worked, we drank tea, we complained. That evening, back to The Harbour and more food and more beer.

South Pier Sunset

Wednesday was much the same at work, but with sunshine. We worked, drank tea. Time passed. That evening, my friend who I am going to work with, Dick, and I had arranged a minor school reunion through Facebook. Just the four of us turned up, but it had been 28 years since we had all met, and it was good to see old friends again. And made the thought of the main event in September something to really look forward to. Stories were swapped of friends lost and friends long since gone. I guess the evening was going to end on a downer after the thrill of the first meeting.

Thursday we headed to Great Yarmouth to pick up some more things for the job, and a chance to look up places I used to work and live around. Time has not been good for Lowestoft of Great Yarmouth. Industry has flowered and died, and now vast expanses of industrial land lies abandoned. The place where my company has its yard is where my Dad used to work. The ship yard and slipways lay empty and rotting. Most of those I work with give a thought as to what the site used to be sued for. To me it is where my Dad did his apprenticeship and then work for most of his life until the management messed up the cash flow and over a 100 years of pride and tradition died in a month. Dad being a union man was marked out to be a trouble maker and was one of the first to go.

Anyway, now the yard lies mostly empty, slipways are clogged with flotsam, and over the river I could see Normanstone Park, where I spent many years of my younger life on swings, slides or playing football. And just over the trees at the top of the park I knew is where my Mother lives to this day, and that was something I would have to tackle sooner or pater; I mean, how could I be here and not visit.

By Friday it was becoming clear that work was coming to an end, and I began to hope that I could return to Jools that afternoon and spend a couple of weeks at home before we had to fly out to meet the freight we had packed. But, I was asked to stay on until Monday; the thought of staying in the yacht club filled me with dread, as well as nothing to do in the evening than head to the pub for food and more beer. I arranged to stay with Mother for the weekend; she was thrilled.

Me, less so.

Thursday night I met James again for a chat and to take him out for a meal. Seems like the ultimatum worked a little, and he and Miss America are now talking again, and thinking of the future. We headed to the old centre of the town, round the old market to a new curry house. All around were the signs of the credit crunch; shops lay empty, litter filled doorways, and all around was the smell of failure.

We had a great curry, and found an old fashioned boozer that sold Glenmorangie for £1.30 a tot; we had a few on the way back down.

Friday dawned bright and clear, and we left the yacht club at last. As we had done most of the work, the day was easy. We went to a chippy for cod and chips for lunch; and drunk more tea. Lots more tea.

Dick and Marek were let to go home; I was asked to come back Monday for the final packing and loading. Which meant the final question; whether to go home for a couple of days or spend the weekend with my Mum and it being Mothers Day and all.

So, I said I would spend the weekend at home with Mum. It’s not easy I can tell you; but for her it means the world. We do try to talk, but it’s hard, you know. Yesterday evening passed slowly; I went to bed early, but woke up this morning bright eyed, and so decided to head out in the hire car to take in the glorious spring day that was taking shape. We headed out across the broads to the coast to Southwold; I bought some local beer and we headed back again. Birds were in the sky, the sun was burning; all was glorious.

We then, or should I say I sat down, to watch international rugby. The final weekend of the six nations was promising to be something special; and indeed it was with Ireland winning the final game and the whole thing in the final minute. I cooked Moroccan lamb and cous cous all along with a bottle of ten year old French red

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Up Close and Personal with Oliver Cromwell

Once upon a time, not so long ago, East Kent was criss-crossed with many more railways than today. Dover has lost four railway stations as well as the famed boat trains which used to leave here for desinations mysterious. Carriages and freight would arrive on the pier and be shunted straight onto a boat and off it would sail. This is how famous trains like to Golden Arrow and The Orient Express used to leave Blighty.

Now most of those lines, ones to Whitstable, Margate Sands, Ramsgate Beach, Dover Maritime have all gone, as well as the lines to the now abandoned Kentish coalfield. Even Dover used to have it's own collery; not that is part of the Channel Tunnel.

Anyway, the last of these lines that remains to this day is the short branch line down to Folkestone Harbour. I have written about this before, and a couple of months back rode down it on a recreation of the Golden Arrow. The branch descends from Folkestone East Junction, down through the streets of Folkestone, down a slope of 1:36, beofre launching out accross the harbour over a series of brick arches, a metal swing bridge before arriving at the once grand, and now crumbling Folkestone Harbour Station. The line carries on beyond there to the end of the pier, and to the now abandoned dock where ships no longer arrive and depart from.

The branch is used very rarely now; since 1994 when the tunnel opened, and most freight went through there, ferries reduced in number, and certainly no trains now call; just the occasional excursion. Network Rail wants to close it; Folkestone Council hasn't got much of an idea. A local businessman wants to make an executive marina; just what the south coast needs; another place for the rich to tie up their playthings!And so after many years of hearing this will be the ast train to come down the branch, it really may have happened. Another steam hauled train left London and went round the suburbs before arriving at sunny Folkestone before reversing down the branch and puffing back up for the delight of the waiting hoardes. Yes, once again people turned up in their thousands to be up close and personal with a steaming, smoking steam engine working hard to get up the hill. And to see it over one of the most picturesque branches still left in Britain.

Folkestone Harbour

Oliver Cromwell, 70013, was built at the end of the 1950s to haul expresses into East Anglia. But, even as her paint dried, the death of steam was being planned, and within a few short years her time was up. Only that 70013 hauled the last scheduled train, the fabled IT57; the 15 guinea special, and was designated to be preserved.In the end, 70013 was one of many to survive, mainy due to the owner of the breakers yard on Barry Island unwilling to see history cut up. And one by one the rusting engines were bought by societies and preserved lines to repair and to return to steam. And that is why there are so many steam locomotives in Britain to this day.

70013, wide

Oliver Cromwell was bought by a market gardener in Norfolk, and he laid half a mile of track and so Oliver Cromwell, once proud express engine trundled up and down that until her boiler certificate expired. A magazine created a fund, and through the doations of thousands of readers, Oliver was repaired and returned to steam, once again thundering up and down the rails of Britain, hauling carriages filled with the tear-filled eyes of the old, and wide-eyed awe of the young.

Oliver Cromwell on the Folkestone Harbour Branch, 14th March 2009

And so we gathered to see this huge engine, go down to the sea and probably close this short branch line. She did not disappoint; The fireman bilt the fire, steam pressure built, and with a loud sound from her whistle she slowly built up her speed, scattering unsuspecting seagulls as she puffed and puffed her way up the hill; the houses reflecting the sounds of her pistons. And with that, she was gone. But for the delight of the gathered thousands, she did it twice more before heading off to canterbury, the north Kent coast before heading back into Waterloo.

Oliver Cromwell on the Folkestone Harbour Branch, 14th March 2009

And once again, the branch returns to it's rusting state, and soon enough the trackbed will be a bus route and the station a marina for yachts, and people will look at old maps and wonder, was there ever a railway down here at all?

Folkestone Harbour Station

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Poor Sulu

Sulu is one of our three cats. And in his 17 years he has seen many things, not all good. But for the past few years we have given him a loving home, and he is as perfect a cat as you could wish to have. If a little overbearing when he wants food or a lap to sit on.

He has been getting slow, and he is on medication, but nothing really prepared us for todays news.

Seems like after living beside a main road for many years without any problems, moving onto a quiet side road meant that he got hit by a car last night. Nothing serious; he's in some pain, but after a pain killer from the vet, he'seating and wanting laps like before.

But during his check over the vet found a lump; a large lump on his liver, and so he has to have a scan in the morning. It does not look good for the old fella.

Thing is, after the shot, he is back to his old self, even his tail is working again. We hope the vet got it wrong, after the scan in the morning we will know.

So, we have him on our bed, he is happy, and we would want it no other way. Gosh, we will miss him.

Stupid is as Stupid does

Once upon a time, back in the day, the be famous, you actually had to have done something worthwhile first.

An author, and actor, an astronaut, rode a bike over the Grand Canyon. Or tried to.

Anyway, this is the age of reality TV and as such we live in the age when people really are famous for being famous. There is one such person over here right now, that has turned al tragic and gotten some folks in the media all tied up in knots because back when this person, we'll call her Jade for the sake of an argument, got famous in the first place for being stupid.

She appeared on one of the ealy series of Big Brother and famously did not know that East Anglia is a prt of the country in which she lives.

The answer is England.

She could also fit her fist in her mouth when drunk; as well as stripping off. I know this because it was all on the front page of the red tops. Is this the state of our nation, they wailed? Sadly, people like her was their target audience.Jade kept a media career going by appearing on reality shows on lesser cable stations, just to keep the money rolling in.

I am not being judgemental here; or maybe I am. Then a couple of years ago she appeared on a 'celebrity' version and she called an Indian actress a racial name. Or not. Depends on who you believe.

The red tops wailed again.Last summer stories began to circulate that Jade was ill; even friends thought it was a scam for publicity. But it turned out to be true; she had cervical cancer.

She had treatment; it went away.

It came back.

Now Jade, a mother of two at the age of 27 has weeks to live. A couple of weeks ago she married her thuggish boyfriend; sold the pictures to a celebrity magazine for squiliions. And now each day goes by the red tops outdo each other with Jade related stories; Jade is going blind; Jade is getting her children christened. And so on.

There is no doubt this is a tragedy in every sense of the word; a young mother is going to leave her children motherless, the father/husband I think is in jail. And she is doing all she can to raise money so her children can have a secure future.

One thing that has come out of this is the awareness for young women that they can get cervical cancer that young, and should be checked out even from the age of 25.

Jade, will of course, now be famous for something other than being stupid.

And that is the real tragedy here

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Being Over-ambitious

It all seemed such a good idea. I had aready in the past coupld of weeks walked to Dover and then walked Dover to Folkestone; so why not combine them and walk from the house into Folkestone? The total distance was something like 15 miles, and included hikes up and down cliffs, angry sheep and spring squalls. But, what the hell, it should be easy, right?

So at half nince I pulled on my boots, tightened my belt another notch and headed out the door into bright spring sunshine. I called in the village shop for some frozen puff pastry; not for an unusual snack, but I planned to make a new recipe that night; chicory and Stilton tart and lets be honest, puff pastry isn't easy to make. Anyway, it would defrost on the walk. What could go wrong?One thing I don't like about St Margarets-at-Cliffe is that it does have ideas above its station. It does like to think itself as posh; thats before we moved of course. But the way to the cliffs and South Foreland Lighthouse is along Soth Foreland Road, which proclaims itself to be a private road. In that light just how much passing trade those who own the house up for letting were going to get at being so unfriendly.

So, I strode off past the slightly grand houses with slight sea views which cost up to £250,000 more than a normal house in the area. If they've got the money why not?

South Foreland Lighthouse

But soon I was going through the scubland and woodland to the lighthouse and where I knew the views would be stunning. THere is a narrow path beside the lighthouse, and that opens out onto the wide clifftop which heads off south west in the direction of Dover.

South Foreland

The light was stunning, as the spring sunshine cast wonderful colours and shapes over the country; and way down below ferries crossed the 23 miles to Calias just out of view in the haze.

Dover from Langdon Hole

I dodged the crowds and car parks at the Nation Trust's White Cliffs Experience higher above the path, and looked down on the busy ferry terminal and docks way down below.

Sadly to get back to the cliffs to the south of Dover means walking right through the town.But this was good as black rainclouds gathered, and as the rain fell i dived into a sandwich shop for a chicken tikka sub with salad and a large Americano. And right on cue as I finished lunch the sun came out.

The longest climb of the day is out of Dover up Shakespeare Cliff whch rises like a chalky wave over the Englaish Channel. The footpath goes right along the edge of the cliff, with a sheer drop down to rocks and the sea below. Wonderful views of Dover Harbour and to the cliffs beyond did make the climb worthwhile. In all, on the cliffs, I passed just four people, which made for plenty of time to think about life and the journey I made to get here from being a simple giblet stuffer back in Suffolk 25 years ago.

Shakespeare Beach

Near to Folkestone I chose the path down onto the beach along a stretch called The Warren. The path is not well maintained, and very steep with rotten steps to climb down. My old knees were not happy about it, but soon enough I was down and walking along beside the sea with the white cliffs dazzling white in the sunshine against the deep blue sky.

Wear Bay, Folkestone

At the end of the beach, there was no clear path up to the golf course accross which the I knew the way into Folkestone was. I follwed a series of paths until once particular steep one ended in a bramble thicket with me all covered in scratches and ripped clothes.And then the rain came again.

I called Jools and after stopping laughing she told me to go back on the beack to the fot of a steep climb and there would be a path.


So, once again through the brmables and rusty barbed wire I climbed down and sure enough there was a path. It was at this point my legs realy began to grumble, and those last few steps up to the 9th green were the hardest.

Jools said she would leave at four to come and collect me; but I thought I would walk a little way into town to find a pub. It all looked a little unpromsing for a while, and then I saw a huge white painted place called The Coach house, only to find it was closed for repainting. However, opposite was The Raglan, a tiny bar in which the counter took half the space, but a fine range of beers and spirits. I felt I earned the pint of Stella and in three gulps it was gone. Jools rang, she was outside.

Back home I cooked the halved chicory heads in caramlised butter before putting them in the pastry covered in Stilton and cooking for 25 minutes. It really was another triumph, even if I say so myself.

And then me and my legs settled on the sofa for a night of Radcliffe and Maconie on the radio and watching the Liverpool game on TV whilst being covered in cats.


Monday, 9 March 2009

The Weekenders Part 4

Almost as soon as I was back in Dover, my phone rang; it was someone I met through Flickr asking what our plans were for the weekend and did we fancy a trip to London on Saturday.

It had been a tiring couple of days, and the thought of lazing around the house with Jools and the cats was tempting. But soon enough I will be back on the high seas and pining for a day out in London. So, we agreed to meet up with them on the train to London at Ashford, and a wander around Greenwich was planned.

Greenwich was where time was invented; until then everything happened at the same time, or when it felt like it. As time became popular, mainly because boiled eggs were now no longer raw, time began to catch on and people began to carry watches.

We arrived in Greenwich and we all decided that we were hungry; and the cafe chosen was Cafe Rouge; a pretend french cafe that is a chain as much as Starbucks and Subway; but more expensive. And the menu is in French. In truth the food was rubbish, probably because the chef was not French, and looked like all the meals had been heated up in a microwave. Possibly because that is how they were cooked.

Cafe Rouge, Greenwich

we walked through the thick London traffic until we came to the entrance to the park, and there were trees, grass and dogs crapping. Some of which were good, others not so. But the walk up the hill was good, and we had great views not just of London, but of people. Not all of whom were Londoners; although quite what a Londoner is these days is open to question.

The Tree and the Jogger

People visit the Royal Observatory at Greenwich to stand on the prime meridian, one foot in the west and the other in the east. And have their photograph taken. There must be several people now with pictures of themselves thus.

greenwich observatory

We were beyond that, and we made do with spectacular views down the hill of Greenwich park, over the Maritime Museum and across the Thames to the docklands, and the towering new buildings around Canary warf, which used to be the symbol of the new wealth in the country, but now is just the very large elephant in the room.

Greenwich Park and Docklands Beyond

At this point our friends were going to head off to the Bodyworks exhibition; seeing dead people in poses that made them look like Hannibal lecter's wet dream maybe some folks' idea of fun, but not mine. And Jools had seen it. So we parted and headed into the City where another espisode of 28 Days Later seemed to being filmed.

In truth, it was deserted because shops in the City only open during the seek when the speculators and foolish are there working, and at weekends the shops are all closed, the streets empty, and is in general a photographer's dream.

Leadenhall Market

We went to leadenhall Market, a location of the Harry Potter films; have you heard of them? I think they might do well. And then to the lloyds Building; a modern structure, built inside out, but wonderful in a Bladerunner kind of way. I snapped away.

Lloyds Building, London

Our final call was Borough Market; a foodies delight where all fresh produce and food is sold two days a week. We walked across London Bridge and then down the steep steps past Southwark Cathedral and into the throngs milling around the market.

Borough Market

Under the Victorian wrought iron arches we bought a rack of lamb, some chicory, corn, some walnut and almond bread and then walked to nearby London Bridge Station for the journey home.For all our fancy talk of taking in a show that night and catching the last train home, we were tired and just wanted to relax in front of the fire drinking coffee with maybe a cat or two on our laps.

Sunday was a bright and sunny day; and we began our rambling again. Rambling is to walk for pleasure, or something. And we had not been on one for many months. I could say we have been busy, but that would be a lie. Anyway, we were welcomed back, and we began the six mile walk around near where we live, past windmills, farms and through woods and fields, all full of the joys of spring. We are the youngest ones in the group, but not the fittest; hell no. But we enjoyed it, and the views which you just don't get from the car window.

At least after a couple of hours hard stumbling, the cold pizza for lunch did seem that we had earned it, not just being lazy.

The weather turned wet in the afternoon, and the wind did blw; so just a visit to the in-laws and then back home to cook the rack of lamb, roast potatoes in goose fat and fresh aspargus with grated Parmisan cheese washed down with a bottle of Spanish red.

Time for bed said Zebedee.


Sunday, 8 March 2009

Meet the new boss.........

So, come Thursday morning, I was all tense as I was due to travel back in time to the 19th century, back to deepest Suffolk to meet my new boss and all the folks at the HQ of my new employers.

Now, I don't hate Essex, but there is something about Essex drivers; John Peel used to drive round the whole country, which was something. I don't have the time, and for a change decided to head up the A12 to Ipswich before the wormhole in space took me back to the age when men in top hats walked in front of horseless carriages to stop them from going more than 4mph.

All was going well, only a smattering of boy racers to ruin the day and hog the centre lane, but as I wasn't killed or had my life put in danger, I didn't complain. Just north of Ipswich, the good road ran out and speed slowed r i g h t d o w n.......The final 40 miles took the best part of an hour, but soon i was back in lovely Lowestoft, now the unemployment blackspot of Suffolk, and the town where I grew up.

I went to visit one set of my Godparents, only to find time was taking it's toll, and my Godmother was once again repeating the story about Tibbles her cat from years back. Dotage is having to repeat one's past days as if they were yesterday.Sadly, I made my excuses and went to see Mother dearest. Things were staid to say the least, but she still has her marbles, although still pretending to be disabled.

At this point I could go into details, but will spare you this. I pretended not to notice her carrying her zimmer frame instead of it being an aid to walk and the rest of the BS, and we had toad-in-the-hole for dinner. It was fine, but time was running out for bhonamie. I went to see my old neighbour, Dougie, who has a Mother much like mine.We talked photography and trains well into the night, and drunk many cuppas and the such-like, and remarked how his youngest had grown, etc.

Friday, it was into the breech, and meet and greet the folks at the professional organisation that is my new employer. All seems fine, and everyone in a good mood. I met so many new folks and forgot their names right away. I have a small novel of paperwork to read through.

I do have my immidiate plans; back up to Lowestoft next week to help make up some machinery; and then a two or three week gap as said stuff makes its way across europe and the near east; before flying out to Kazakstahn and a six week contract for Shell looking for more oil.

And I am going to be in charge. A several million dollar project will rest on these slopey shoulders. But after more meetings I was free for a weekend back in Kent and so I took the hire car back south down through Suffolk and Essex and onto the M25 and the Friday night car park that is the pre-weekend rush.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

This Week

And so my sabbatical is coming to an end.

I am off back up to deepest Suffolk tomorrow evening to meet with the folks at head office and have the microchip embedded in the back of my head. But, the good news is that I will have one last weekend back here before I jet off for location as yet unknown early next week.I must admit to being a little nervous; it's like going to big school all again, and meeting the big kids. But, it should be fine, they did come asking for me after all. And they have been paying me for the past 15 days for little more than sitting on my backside at home.

And, as the head office is in Lowestoft, it means I have no more exuses for not seeing Mother dearest. Some of you will know where don't have the best relationship, but then she is my last blood relation, and me her only child too. So, for an evening I can sit there and bite my lip and do the dutiful son thing before heading back down south.

This has been a fractured week; I have not slept too well, due to thinking about going away again; but then I know it was going to happen sooner or pater, and that at some point I could put it off no longer. For the past three weeks it was fun to pretend the house was ours and we had loads of cash in the bank; but then along comes the first of March and the direct debits kick in and begin the bleed the account dry. In other words, I have to start working.

Monday was Jools' Dad's wife's birthday; if that makes sense; and Tony had decided that day to do a booze cruise to Belgium to stock up on bacca and gin. So, I suggested that Jen and I go out to lunch, which once she remembered that it was her birthday and I wasn't making a pass, she agreed to.What better place to go to than the Woolpack Inn on the Romney Marshes? It's always a pleasant drive down through one of the valleys that lead into dover, and then out along the coast to Dymchurch before heading across the marsh to Brooklands and the Inn itself.

Monday was a glorious early spring day, and the light was just fantastic, and the drive out there in light traffic was just a pleasure. Even better, the car park was half full, and we got a table in the main bar right near the open fire and the sleeping cat beside that. Jen likes black and tan, so i got a half for her and a pint of Spring Chicken, or something silly named over hopped spring ale. It was very nice.The special board proclaimed steak and ale and stilton pie; and it was go great the first time we went, thats what we both ordered. And it was as filling and tasty as before.

Afterwards we took our drinks to the narrow seats in the fireplace, and whilst stoking the contented cat, we stared into the embers. Looking up, I could see right up the straight chimney, although it was choked with centuries of accumilated soot. The sunlight caught the smoke as it rose, and gave the impression of looking back in time.

Fairfield Church, Brooklands, Kent

Before heading back to dover, we went to see the picturesque chuch Jools and I had walked to on that overcast and Freezing Sunday a month back. How different it looked on a bright, sunny spring morning; and just because I could, I took a couple of pictures, and they came out great.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The Weekenders Part 3

So, after setting up the broadband we headed out to Deal so Jools could go on her beading class, and me wander around with the camera snapping away and taking shots of people rather than places. A friend of mine does this, and has some great shots and so I thought I would try; always good to get out of your comfort zone.

Deal is a wonderful place, a genteel resort all narrow streets and great little shops. I bought some vegetables for dinner on Sunday, as I had decided to do a roast dinner. At a surviving butcher on the high Street, I bought a joint of beef, and everything was set for a great meal on the morrow.
Once Jools was out of her class, we headed to a bar for a drink and a bite to eat.; she had tomato risotto which she said was very nice indeed, whilst I had a melted French cheese and bacon sandwich; which was also very good indeed.


As if by magic, the sun came out and so did the people. As is the British way, even though it is still winter, as it was sunny they were going to walk to the beach, look at the sea, sit on benches and eat ice cream. And so it was. There wasn’t a breath of wind, and the sea was like a millpond; or as I would say these days, it’s good survey weather!

ice creams

We drove to a fruit and vegetable stall and picked up some more stuff for the weekend, including firewood and kindling as we now have a wood-burning fire in the living room, and there is nothing quite like looking into the roaring fire in the evening.

We headed home for coffee and to settle down for a quiet evening of football on the TV and more fire watching. In the end we decided to walk onto the village to try the last of the five pubs and to have a meal out. The Hope, named after a ship that floundered at the base of the cliffs, was pleasant enough, but it was quite clear from the looks and being ignored that maybe we were not local enough. But we had a pleasant steak and ale pie and a nice pint before heading back to stare into the embers some more before it was time enough to head to bed.

If anything, Sunday dawned even brighter than the day before, and we decided to head out early and walk along the cliffs to Deal, the next large town north of here. It’s about six and a half miles, and so would be a good mornings walk. We had also planned to leave here so that we got to the cafĂ© on the cliffs at the edge of St Margarets just as it opened at nine for bacon sandwiches and a coffee for Jools and a pot of tea for me. As the week before, the chef kept bringing out trays and plates of fresh cakes and scones for the days customers, and all very tempting it all looked too. As I paid the bill a steaming tray of fruit scones was brought out, and it took some resolution to just turn and walk out the door without another cuppa and a scone or three….

The walk along the cliffs is always such a pleasure, the azure blue sea down below contrasting with the steep white, chalky cliffs. We paused on occasion to take pictures and to pass the time of day with other walkers. All along the coast line there are the remains of fortifications from various wars, but mostly WW2, and towards Deal is no exception, be it the foundations of gun emplacements, firing ranges and lookout posts. Just as we can see France on a clear day from the cliffs, the Germans could see Dover from the cliffs around Calais, and both sides traded shells from huge guns all throughout the war, to the extent that Dover was called hellfire corner, and I can tell you the people who stayed and worked here lived through some very tough times as noiseless shells would drop out of the sky without warning, right up to the last days of the war, or once Normandy had been invaded. Even today, there are still gaps in rows of houses where bombed buildings were never replaced.

At least walking to Deal meant the cliffs gradually got lower and lower, until at Kingsdown, the cliffs faded to a stony beach, and the walk into Walmer, past the first of two castles built by Henry VIIIth. The sun was now strong enough to take our coats off and we passed families out walking or just enjoying the early spring sunshine.

Just outside Deal, the beach became full of small fishing boats and small smoke houses that still do their own kippers and smokies. I had realised that to cook roat potatoes and a decent Yorkshire Pudding, we would in fact need tins for the cooking of said items. Thankfully there was a cheap as chips cookware shop open, and laden with tins and goose fat for the potatoes we lorded it back home in a taxi.

In a joint effort we cooked the beef according to the book by her who must be obeyed, the Goddess Delia; twenty minutes at gas mark 8 and then 50 minutes at 5, whilst cooking the spuds. Having a glorious kitchen fitted with a cooker with not four but eight rings and two ovens meant a decent roast was just a case of getting it all to be done at the right time; dish up and a slurp of red wine and it was perfect.

The one off moment was the discussion on the recipe for Yorkshire Pudding; I have always used plain flour without any problems; Jools said that it should be self raising. Anyway, the plain four made pudding rose like a crazy thing and was nice and crispy, and big enough to leave half to have cold on Monday night with cold beef.


Yes, the dinner was a triumph, even if I say so myself, and being a joint effort made it even better. Washing up done, we collapse on the sofa with a well deserved coffee and snooze.

My Last Week

Here I am sitting in the living room on a cold damp Tuesday morning waiting for the call from my new employer to go to work for the first time. Each day spent at home is a gift, and something to be grabbed with both hands. Sadly, Jools is at work, so I have the day to myself, and looking out of the window, even walking along the cliffs would be pointless due to the mist.
Oh well, there’s plenty to do in the house, a pile of laundry to be ironed. In fairness, I have ironed one shirt; sorry two, since leaving the Air Force; One for the interview for my last job and again for this job. The shirt for the wedding came with the suit! I decided that in 15 years I had done enough ironing to last me a lifetime.

So, I wait some more, at least in the new house, and amazingly, we have internet now. But more of that later as I have tales of lectures and instruction on not how to drown.

Last week I spent three days on a survival course near my old stamping ground north of Norwich, learning how to get out of a ditched helicopter and then how to operate flares, life jackets and the such. As usual in these things, it was death by Powerpoint, but at least there was some banter for those who had been offshore and something for the newbies to the industry to learn from real events.

The only real worrying event was on the Tuesday afternoon when we took to the pool and the helicopter simulator to learn ditching techniques and how to use the re-breather on the life jacket. We each had to do it six times, three of which were upside down. But, after a while it stopped being fearful and became fun, and there was talk of deliberately messing up so to have to do it again. The one thing we did get was confidence with all the equipment, which was the point.

Each night I went back to the country hotel; I’ll spare the place embarrassment in not naming them. But, I think I can say it was the worse place I have stayed in outside the military; service at times was non-existent, rooms dirty and the heating either as hot as the surface of the sun or like the arctic. At least I wasn’t paying unlike some others on the course. But, it did have a bar, although it was either a place for business meetings or a stopping off point for sweary boy-racers. A quiet meal was impossible as the large screen TV blasted out ‘tunes’ from something called MTV Urban, or something.

Tuesday evening, a friend from the other side of the city came to visit, and we took our pints back to my room to watch the game on TV, and to catch up on news, as he has just begun working for my old company, and is really looking forward to a life on the high seas, no matter how many horror stories I could think of!

Wednesday afternoon, after another session in the pool climbing into a life raft, we got our certificates and were allowed to leave. Sadly, I could not go straight home as word had reached me the day before that my friend’s Father was very poorly, and his house was just a short detour for me, and I thought that I could be of support for Andrew. Details of this I wrote yesterday, and it was as painful as you can imagine as Andrew and his sister were just waiting for what they had been told was the inevitable.

From there it was an easy drive south through Suffolk and then Essex over the Thames and into Kent. Stopping off also meant that the remains of the rush hour had passed, and I was home in under three hours. Arriving home is always a joyful occasion, even normally snooty cats greeted me with much leg rubbing.

For the next two days I stopped in as we awaited delivery of the fabled broadband USB hub that Parcelfarce, sorry Parcelforce promised that they would deliver. Each morning they promised it was on the truck for that days delivery, and each day the hours passed with nay a shadow of a delivery driver darkening our doorstep. We did begin to wonder if we would ever get it.

Saturday, we decided to go to their depot and pick the bloody thing up ourselves. We had sat-nav and we set off. Sadly, our sat-nav was a little off and it took us to the middle of a housing estate with no sign of a red truck to give away the depots location. We asked a postman, and he pointed us in the general direction and crossed our fingers.

Once there I waited while the guy on the counter disappeared into the depths of the hangar-sized warehouse behind, and came back with a stupidly small package. Turns out the driver had failed to fill out paperwork, and just gave up trying to find the house and left it back in the warehouse at the end of his route.

I decided to leave it there and after checking it was the real thing we headed back home. And yes, it really does work, even from the upstairs office. And so, the repository of all human knowledge was once again at our fingertips!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Waiting for Death

One of the things I did not write about last week was the illness of my friend's Father. Andrew's Dad had been ill since he fell down the stairs on New Years Eve, and for a while it looked like he was going to be ok.

But, infection set in, his body swelled, and the pain came. He left the hospital just the once, and that lasted for a day before he was rushed back in. There were times when it seemed all was fine, indeed on Thursday he did seem better. And then came the call Fiday morning; prepare for the worst.And then the real waiting began.

Although Bob said he wanted to go, he kept on fighting, right through Saturday and then on into Sunday.Andew and his sister went every day to sit with him; a scene I am sure is repeated every day. And each night they went back to Bob's little terraced home to wait some more. They sat in silence, just the noise of the television to break the silence.

The call came at half two this morning; Bob had slipped away; alone and almost un-noticed. Now comes the activity; organising, planning and the tears. Andrew's sister goes home to Cambridge until the day of the funeral, and Andrew prepares for his life ahead; now alone.

I called in on them last Wednesday on my way back from the course; they had arrived home from the hospital after some more waiting. I said words, and they listened. Words mean very little at times like that; what else is there. I boil the kettle and make tea. We sit in silence; all around are the reminders of a life soon to end; photos, holiday momentos a chair no longer sat in. It felt like death was in the room.

I took Andrew into Bungay town centre, to the Fleece, and several pints of beer. We talked about the vacation to Vegas, of winning days supporting our team, of nights when all of us from the chicken factory would go to The Ocean Rooms in Gorlestone and let our hair down and shout at the managers whilst leaping around to the latest tunes. That being 20 years ago; or more.That, at least, brought smiles, and triggered memories, good ones for Andrew; and soon after we walked back to what will be his home.

Job done.