Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Life on the Fast Track

And so with great fanfare, the railways in Britain, with much fanfare, enter the 1980s with the introduction of Southeastern's High Speed service from Ashford to London St Pancras.
I say enter the 1980's because this wonderful service increases the highest speed of a train on Britain's Railways by a whole 15 mph. Yes, from 125 to 140mph. It does seem to me that they have banged on about it rather.

Javelin at Tutt Hill

So, yesterday, at 06:48 my friend Matt and I were on the last carriage of 395 005 to set off for London, thus reducing the times from over 50 minutes to 35. Just one stop before we pulled up at St Pancras, and soon the Kentish countryside was rushing bj.

The trains may, or may not be called Javelins, and were built by Hitachi in Japan. There are blue and sleek, and not unsexy. And for the time being, for a £4 extra you can upgrade and use the new high speed service.

High Speed not only refers to how fast the train travels, but to the line, the same one that Europe-bound Eurostars use. The line is fairly flat, gentle curves mean that trains can go faster and trans can whizz through or past many towns that normal trains would normally stop at.

So, if you live in Ashford, the time savings are clear, but then you may have to factor in a longer journey to your London office on the Tube, which means taking even longer for more money and having to be squeezed into an un-air-conditioned underground train. When the service is fully introduced in December, there will be a 36% extra cost to normal tickets, and for many that might be too high.

Still, for one day only we could bask in the media glow of tv cameras and radio reporters on both our departure and arrival.

Inaugural Southeastern class 395 'Javelin' service

We were both at Ashford over half an hour before departure time to ensure we got on the train in case of huge crowds. we needn't have worried. There were a few reporters and camera men milling around; we few passengers were each greeted by the station manager of Ashford station and told photography would be no problem at all. Us locals knew which direction the train would arrive from, and so we took up positions on the platform to get shots as it left it's sidings.

Inaugural Southeastern class 395 'Javelin' service

Twenty minutes before zero hour, it glided up. We took more pictures and then boarded the final carriage and took up seats in a near empty coach. A few nervous announcements later and right on time we pulled out and quickly accelerated to top speed, 122 mph! But soon the countryside was flashing past, as did the Medway towns. A brief halt at the new Ebbsfleet station and then into a tunnel, under the Thames at Dartford, out into the sunlight and the line then threads it's way between the lanes of the M25 before heading into a tunnel almost all the way to London and emerging into the sunshine with views over the desolate landscape that is being transformed into more business parks to the station and central London beyond.

Inaugural Southeastern class 395 'Javelin' service

At the station, all the company bigwigs were waiting, along with local and national TV. My father-in-law says he saw me on local TV; it's possible. Matt and I stayed on the platform, watching Eurostars coming and going, and then for the arrival of the next blue arrow from Kent.

Javelin, 29th June 2009

Sunday, 28 June 2009


Like just about everyone else, I guess I should talk about MJ. Michael. Michael Jackson. Whakko. Whatever.

The outpourings from the British media has revisited the hysteria not seen since Diana died. Is it a little over the top? I think so.

We will always have the music, of course. And we were told by his fans, his friends to remember that. But it is impossible to separate the musician from the social retard, the freak, that was Michael off stage and out of the studio.

I did meet Michael once. I say met him, I was in the same building as me; Wembley. And there some 72,000 others he met on that evening in 1988. I had liked the lead off single from Bad; The Way You Make Me Feel was a joyous, wonderful song, full of swagger. Sadly, in my view, the rest of the record tanked.

But, five of us from the chicken factory had got tickets and so set off for North West London in my car for a day in the presence of a superstar. We were there so darn early; we queued up in the hot sun.

We waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Then the doors opened and we found ok seats.

And waited.

I can't remember who the support was, but the fact I can't remember now who it was says they were not good. Jackson came on early evening, dressed in what looked like leather bondage trousers and whooped and grabbed his crotch and went Awwww! Like all the time.

The really odd stories had yet to come out, but even then we realised that he wasn't like other boys. He was asexual to the max, and to see him singing about love and sex, grabbing the crotch and all that, it was quite sad.

We got bored.

We decided to leave and get an early tube back to where we had left the car. As we walked down Wembley Way, The Way You Make Me Feel rang out. I couldn't care less. I really think the music was average at best, and no matter how many dance routines could hide that.

I sold the few records of his I had and moved on.

Fast forward a few years to my second marriage, and Estelle's son liked Earth Song, and Estelle thought it a good idea to buy HIStory for him. By new the child abuse stories had come out, and I felt uncomfortable.

He was due to appear at the Brit awards with a whole truckload of kids to perform. It took a drunk thin man from Sheffield to waggle his bum in Michael's direction for the whole pomposity of it all to burst. I don't think Michael really got over that, to find that people really didn't think he was the King of Pop; not even a Prince, but a joke, and probably a sick one at that.

That he is called the King of Pop is that he wanted to be called that, and got the BBC to agree to call him that in return for letting them show the video to Black or White.

Sadly, the BBC agreed.

And of course the irony that a song calling for the differences between the races was being sung by someone who had changed from being a fine looking young black man to someone looking like an old white woman.

The hits dried up, and the weirdness grew. He got married; the Elvis' daughter, of course. Who else would he marry? Oh yeah, a nurse from Australia. And then the children arrived. Prince Michael, Paris and Prince Michael 2. He dressed them in uniforms with face masks, and we thought it normal. Or some did. I think child services should have been called in. He dangled his youngest child over the balcony of a hotel; he thought that fine.

And now, or three months ago, he announced he was to play 10 concerts in London. 20 concerts. 30. 40. 50. I said at the time one of them would never happen. Sometimes I hate being right.

For a decade, Michael was the biggest thing in music, but in the end he ran out of things to write about because if he he wrote about what he knew, then it would be admitting he was not in the same world as us. In every sense of the word.

Last night we sat down to watch Bruce Springsteen play live from Glastonbury. H and the E Street Band played for nearly three hours with no song and dance routines, no change of costume, no soaring into the air on a jet pack. Just music and sheer delight to be doing it. We loved it. And so did the crowd. Bruce has been doing this since the early 70s, and still lives on this planet.

Michael hopefully has gone to a better place, but to my mind he treated those who loved him quite badly; no tour in 12 years, and recent appearances resulting in just two lines sung from We Are the World. Give me Bruce.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Our friends in the north (part 2)

Monday dawned bright-ish, and so our plan was after another hearty farm breakfast to head to Hexham to catch the train to Carlisle and then onto Settle in Yorkshire, which just happens to go along the most picturesque and stunning line in Britain. OK, England.

We arrived at the station with half an hour to spare, and the guy in the ticket office went above and beyond the call of duty in trying to find us the cheapest fare possible for the trip, and would not take no for an answer.

The line to Carlisle was spectacular in itself, running beside the River Tyne right up into the Pennines to it's source; I claim to have spotted Hadrian's Wall at times, and all the time light played on the heather covered hilltops.

Leaving Carlisle

Sadly in modern times, rail companies seemed to have lost the idea of getting trains to connect, and so we had over an hour to wait before heading sout, and so we had a slow cup of coffee and I sat and watched the express trains and freight roaring through the station.

I could wax on and on about the trip along the line; 17 major viaducts and over 10 tunnels speak of the hard work in getting the line built. And it's survival is worth investigating as well. We passed through small villages, stopping at tiny stations, some stations having no houses to serve at all. And then just at the end of the line, we head over the Ribblehead Viaduct, 104 feet high, over a dozen arches, with views for miles on both sides.


Once at Settle we wait for the next train north, and get out at Ribblehead Station for a walk and for me to take pictures. We have lunch at the Station Hotel. Me a ploughman's made of a roll, a pot of pickled onions and branston and four huge wedges of very local full fat cheeses; and home made pate with loads of toast for Jools. It was wonderful, washed down wit a local ale called Black Mari'a. Time to walk to the viaduct to snap away and look up at passing trains high above before it was time to head back to the dessolate station for one of the last trains north; it was a two hour wait for the next one.

The Station Inn, Ribblehead

Another wait at Carlisle of an hour and then back over the Pennines to hexham and in the car to the coaching inn just down the road from the farm for dinner; steak and ale pie for me and fresh minted lamb for Jools.

And back to the hotel and our view over the fells and the golden light of the setting sun.


All things come to an end, and on Tuesday it was time to head back south to Kent. Another farmhouse breakfast set us up for the trip. I had read so much about how wonderful Durham was, we thought we would stop there as we went right past it. What a good decision! It is a magnificent place, with a cathedral and castle on a cliff with the river surrounding them on three sides, and all around cobbled streets and ancient timber-framed houses. More pictures for me, of course, a cup of coffee, and then the rush down south really began so to beat the rush hour around London.

We did it, and were home in time to feed the cats. Jools' niece passed her driving test; so we met up with her and her family for a celebration meal in Boradstairs. It was a wonderful summer's evening, our table rung with laughter and the clinking of glasses.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Our friends in the north

We had pondered whether to go to the wedding we had been invited to in Northumberland. In fact we had cancelled the week on the farm where we had planned to stay. But, I got some tax money back, and Julie had been wanting to go away, and so we decided to go for just a few days, and so we had to try to re-book our room and then get someone to cat sit for us.

And so, bright and early we set off from Dover at just gone five on Saturday, set the controls for north and let the car do the work. In reality we just wanted to get through the Dartford crossing before the queues built up and get as many miles as we could before everyone decided to head out onto the roads. After about three hours we stopped for breakfast at a diner near Newark-Upon-Trent; Julie had a stack of pancakes and I had bacon, eggs and pancakes all smothered in maple syrup. So rare to get an American breakfast over here, and it was very welcome.

We made such good time, we decided to stop off near Ripon, to visit at ruined monastery called Fountains Abbey. It was one of many destroyed by Henry VIII in the desolution of the monasteries. It now lays in the landscaped grounds of an ornamental water garden, but looking stunning in that setting, and it's broken walls and towers a striking backdrop.

Fountains Abbey, Ripon, Yorkshire

We arrived just as the gates opened, and I struck out getting some clean shots before the crowds arrived. The light was a little tricky, but I was quite pleased with what I got.

Fountains Abbey, Ripon, Yorkshire

We had lunch in a small cafe overlooking a swan filled lake; we ate huge prawn baps washed down with elderflower presse, whilst rooks and jackdaws waited to see if we dropped anything.

Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire.

We set off again; the country changed, rolling fields turned into hills proper; we turned off the great north road and into the wilds of the border lands that separate England from Scotland. Our base for the next few days was Hexham, a market town on the banks of the Tyne River, set in a verdant valley, all built with a creamy coloured stone.

Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire.

After getting lost on the town's one way system, we found our way into the hills overlooking the town to where the farm was, where we would be staying. Down a steep valley and over a stony stream by means of an ancient narrow stone bridge, and up again at a steep angle to the hilltops before arriving at Slaley and our farm.

The farm was a working one, surrounded by sheep and lambs; free range chickens roamed the yard, and I knew that cockerel would have something to say at dawn the next day. We had a nice small room, with views over the yard, but that was fine. Tomorrow we were to move to another room, but for now this would do.

That evening we headed back to Hexham for dinner; Julie had seen a nice looking curry house, and that seemed to be what we fancied to eat. The curryhouse turned out to be wonderful, and I had a house speciality all made with barbecued king prawns and all very wonderful.

And indeed, the cockerel was awake just before four and let everyone know the fact.

Sunday we set off for the Northumberland coast, where there are a series of picturesque fishing villages and castles. The weather was wonderful and bright, and out of the breeze even warm. We ended up in the town of Bamburgh, and the red stone castle that towers above it. It is even more famous now for being one of the locations in the Harry Potter films, and so is on most people visiting lists.

Bamburgh Castle

We headed back down the coast towards Newcastle, to a really stunning village we had passed through called Warkworth, all stone houses and pubs and also dominated by a castle; this one a little tumbledown.

Warkworth and Warkworth Castle, Northumberland

Being Father's Day, everywhere was full of people, but we found a cafe in a courtyard that had a table, and so we sat down to quiche and salad whilst a fountain tinkled behind us amongst the flowers.

We stood on an old stone arched bridge and watched as dozens of swans glided beneath us, all around us, birds sung at their delight.

Old Warkworth Bridge

We headed back to the farm as so to get ready for the wedding. We had only been invited to the evening reception, but we were still looking forward to it, me especially as the groom was an old friend from my Air Force days. It was at at golf club, Slaley Hall, and all very posh, but the bar prices were fierce; £4 a pint, and nearly £5 for a bottle of cider. My fiend, John, was pleased to see me, and we were made to feel very welcome indeed, but as we are not so rock and roll these days, we headed back to our beds at eleven as those younger than us got their dancing shoes on, and their drinking heads, and began to party.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Hernia Bay

Sorry if you don't get the title; it's an old Spike Milligan joke. Herne Bay is a seaside resort just long the coast from naughty Margate where most people in the early decades of the 20th century went for their holidays from their East End homes. Herne Bay is a little more refined, a little quieter, even today. Spike and his family went to Herne Bay for their holidays, although in his telling it was called Hernia Bay.

Guess what I calls it?

Anyway, weekends are still special, as Jools has two days off and we can be together all the time. Aaah, etc. And we try to make the most of that time, trying to balance my love of going out taking pictures with the need to do some serious stuff lie housework and shopping.

So, in these leaner times, a trip to London is out of the question, and we stay mostly in the local area to visit or re-visit places and not have to eat out too much.

As I said last week, one of my cameras died on Friday, and after much distress I found we had a whole week of the warranty left, and all we had to do was take it back to where we bought it and they would sort out the rest; all for free.

The camera shop is in Canterbury, and although Canterbury isn't far, we don't go very often. There is a good reason for that. Canterbury is a very old city, it's Christian roots date back to the 6th century, it has a large cathedral, a ruined abbey, a network of mediaeval street, city walls; it also has many wonderful shops in the centre and in retail parks. In other words, it's gridlocked with traffic, doubly so on Saturdays, and so the only way to beat that was to be at the shop at nine in the morning when they opened, and hopefully most of Kent would still be in bed, and then head for somewhere less hectic.

We had to forgo the early morning ramble around Deal which we had been looking forward to all week. Probably because it ended up on Deal pier where the cooked breakfasts are just wonderful. And also the fight in Tescos, as going any later would involve families with their feral kids and raised blood pressure and a road rage fuelled trip back home.

We set off, and being out of milk in the house we went to Chaplin's Cafe, under the shadow of Dover Castle for breakfast. Amazingly, we both just had coffee and toast, and not the huge full English that I had intended to have.

We headed out through the quiet streets and onto the old main road to London and onto Canterbury. Thankfully traffic was still light, and we arrived at the shop and waited for nine.

I was a little breathless as the assistant filled out the forms, as were it not covered a new shutter mechanism would be at least a couple of hundred quid. 'Sign here,' she said. And it was done. All sorted, just have to wait four weeks for it to be sent to Canon and back.

What to do now? I had seen some shots a friend took in Herne Bay on Flickr that week, and a quick conversation with Jools and it was sorted, and out of Canterbury we zoomed, dodging the increasing traffic, and through leafy lanes we soon came, up and down quiet valley, over chalky down and through sleepy villages to the coast we went.

Finding a parking space, I was straining to go out and snap away with my other camera, lest the light change and the pictures not be so good.

Herne Bay is a typical Victorian resort; all pim and proper houses, once hotels and boarding houses, a neat and tidy formal garden lining the prom, and a truncated pier that has about a hundred yards on the land, and the remains of it's head a mile offshore; now just a home for gulls and something to use to jazz up dull seascapes.

Herne Bay Bandstand

We found an Italian coffee and ice cream shop in the grand bandstand building. We sat down to coffee and scones, and looked up at the bright blue sky and felt the warmth of the sun. We had looked at the luxurious hand made ice creams, and the waffle cones to put said ice cream in. And decided that we probably didn't need ice cream, but then who does?

Sea View

We walked around, I took pictures, getting some strange looks as I used the side angle lens to get real close to a rubbish bin and some railings (see my Flickr stream for these), before we had exhausted the fun and photogenic nature of the town.

Pingu wants crack

I thought a drive through Margate would be good, parking proved to be difficult and families sat on the beached building sandcastles, and older people walked round eating ice cream and jellied eels and other disgusting seafood. We went on to Whitstable and then on the Tankerton to a shop Jools wanted to visit.

Mannings Seafood, Margate

We parked up and I wandered around taking shots of a couple of art deco buildings, and beach huts built on the side of the shallow cliffs. Jools sat on a bench whilst I wandered around, camera in in hand. I returned with ice cream. And we watched the world go by, or the part that was in town with us.

And having eaten our ice creams, we headed off for a leisurely drive home, through more leafy lanes and sleepy villages.

Our Sunday morning ramble was also scrubbed, this time to unforecasted heavy rain showers; and so we made good of our time by putting up curtain rails in the bedroom, as the shutters that were there let no air in. So we have bright red curtains hanging, which show up the rest of the white room very well indeed.

There was no getting away from the fact, we had to go shopping, and Tescos really wasn't a pleasant thought, and so we convinced ourselves we could go to Waitrose and not spend much.

I had been looking on a tourist website and found that there was a Knights Templar chapel in the town, or the remains of one. And so we set off into the hills overlooking Dover to find it. All that is left is a ring of flint walls, but it has history and is indeed a Knights Templar place. In another town such a thing would be a main attraction; in Dover it's a small area next to a former borstal with no signs leading the visitor to it. It's just there with a small plaque.

I snapped it anyway, and we went off to Hythe and the supermarket.

As the Brits amongst you will realise we spent lots more than we intended, and I think that it will be our last visit there for a while, but we have stocked up on Otter's Noses and Ocelot's Spleens, so that will last us a while. We had some lovely things for lunch; and fresh raspberries and cream for dinner; we were happy.

And, that's about it. No lottery win, no visit by the Queen, although the house is clean.

Friday, 12 June 2009


Thank goodness for efficient partners.

I went out for a walk this morning. The weather is finally looking like how it should, spring-like and gloriously sunny. It's Friday, it's been a kinda depressing week, and so I thought I would pack my cameras and go for a walk along the cliffs.

Our village, St Margarets-at-Cliff, as you can imagine, is a little bit up it's own backside. But I have mellowed towards it since moving. I thought there were warning signs around saying this or that was private, etc. But, it's the road beyond the houses is what is private, and people really are quite friendly.

We have a village shop which has all you could want, and much that you don't; but thay keep a Saturday Times for us, and I can wander down there in ten minutes for stuff we have run out, kidding myself that the walk down the dip and up the other side warrants a good dose of daily exercise. There is a post office that still does everything, including car tax; which I thought only main offices still did. And the people who run are very friendly.

There's an ancient parish church, with a graveyard full of military officers; more than I would have thought normal for a village of it's size. There's a couple of cafes, four pubs and a village hall that does a bridge club on Mondays; one day I'll go along and mix it with the old folks.

The only problem is the main road, which in places is very narrow and in some places, without pavement; and so a walk along it can be an adventure; not in a good sense.

There are many houses, our place is in the group furthest from the sea. Down the dip is the village proper, and then down the steep road at the bottom of the cliffs is St Margarets Bay; once home to Noel Coward and Ian Flemming; but not at the same time.

From the clifftops we can see France on a clear day, and the car ferries criss-crossing the channel. It's a nice place I can vouch for that.

So, anyway, I set off just after nine, thus missing the school run, and Yummy and Slummy Mum's cars do block the already narrow road, and then they all have to turn their Yummy Mummy wagons round and head to tescos.

Anyway, I stop off at the church to take a few pictures; the angle just perfect for the light to darken the sky almost to black, and then head off down the posh road towards the Dover Patrol and thence to the cliffs and open country.

The church of St Margaret of Antioch, St Margarets-at-Cliffe

Houses along Granville Road, as they have sea views for the most part, command a premium of £100,000 to £150,000 on top of what you would normally pay for such a place around here. So, that road is out of mosts price range. it is a mix of mansions, holiday homes and old tumbledown cottages. It would be a wonderful place to live.

The New Drive

Once past all the houses, I come to the Dover Patrol memorial, commemorating those lost during the Great War looking for lost pilots and seamen. Also there, in the old coastguard station you'll find the only bluebirds around here; a cafe of that name! They do the best breakfast, bacon butties and cakes for miles. And they live in the upper floor, and have the best views of all.

Dover Patrol

Beyond Bluebirds is open country all the way down to Kingsdown where the cliffs flatten out. I was hoping to walk there and back. I took pictures of fields, birds, poppies, clouds and the like, all was going well. In no time at all, I made it to Kingsdown golf course where Pringle was everywhere; when my 40D jammed. Err99 it said.

Gratuitous poppy shot

Remembering this from a discussion board I realise this is not good news and turn round to go home, and hopefully get the camera fixed.

I thought that I had had the camera for over a year, and quickly realised that what probably had gone wrong was the shutter mechanism, and that would cost a couple of hundred quid to fix.


Once home I check the net and confirm my worst fears; shutter mech!

I dig out the receipt, and glories of glory; I have 5 whole days of the guarantee left.


So, off to canterbury tomorrow to fill out the paperwork and then wait for a few weeks whilst it is fixed.

For free.


Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Science Fiction/Double Feature

Last night I played all of the B52s twelve inch singles I have; with the exception of Channel Z and Rock Lobster. Not that I have anything against Channel Z per se, it’s just it isn’t one of their best: and I believe there is only so many times one can hear a certain so enough in a lifetime, and Rock Lobster is certainly one of them. Ever Fallen in Love by the Buzzcocks is certainly another; either way neither of those got played. Love Shack did; Roam did; Song for a Future Generation did and Planet Clair also got a spin.

There is nothing wrong with rock and roll science fiction with a little bit of glam, schmalk and camp thrown in. And I began thinking about my first brush with rock and roll science fiction.

I can narrow it down to October 1979 and can say with some degree of certainty that it took place in Hannover on the Bundes Republik of Deutschland. Me and my schoolfriends were in Germany for supposedly an educational trip with what was hoped would be Lowestoft’s new twin town, Burgwedel. We were the first cultural visitors and we were determined to make an impression.

That’s not true though, we were just being us, and treated the whole thing as a holiday and for me the first time I had been away from home and my parents.
Germany was an odd place; for a start it seemed compulsory that everyone over the age of 14 smoked, and my exchange parents offered me a cigarette soon after I arrived. I refused. They smoked, my exchange partner, Thomas, smoked, his friends smoked.

And then there was the language; I was never the most attentive student, and it fell on poor Thomas’ shoulders to do all the translating as I couldn’t really be bothered. I was too busy soaking up the culture and flavour of life.

I looked at his magazine, Bravo; mainly because there were lots of pictures, words to popular songs, but mainly because in one section there were pictures of barely dressed teens, and a topless girl was still a thing of wonder, and filled my thoughts. A lot. But the magazine had lots about music; a band in make up who spewed blood and ate fire called Kiss were everywhere. They were unheard of in England, or I hadn’t come across them. But in Germany there were huge, nearly as huge as the poster would be if you collected all 52 centre spreads from a years supply of Bravo and stuck them to your wall. On the other side was an equally huge picture of Village People; Thomas was a Kiss fan. To me it sounded like Slade riffs and poor rock, but they were huge. We both like Queen though, and through music we had something in common.

As a non-German speaker, day to day life in Germany for me was not easy; we went to school most days with our exchange partner, and I sat mostly confused through most classes. Some days we went on trips to various places in the area for some understanding of life in Germany. One of these trips was to the border with East Germany, and thanks to a transgression into DDR territory, we did manage to get all tourist coaches banned within a kilometre and a half from the border. But, we did not know that, nor was it our plan; we just followed our exchange partners and walked to the fence, threw things onto the mine field and twanged the wire attached to the automatic machine guns. We also posed for the border guards when they came down to take our picture. I do have pictures to prove all this happened.

And then there was the formal banquet given in our honour at the town hall. Quite who threw the first roll is unclear, but the food fight was quite spectacular and the reporter and photographer from the local paper made it the front story. Oh dear.
So, after about 10 days of being in Germany, Thomas asked would I like to go and see a film? Hmmm. The choice was a film I hadn’t heard of and Alien. In Bravo I had seen pictures of it’s star in her knickers, a scene from the film, and something in me wanted to see more.

Of the film.


But, it was the unheard of film that Thomas and his friends wanted to see; and so late in the afternoon we boarded the tram heading for the centre of the city. As we entered the edge of the city, strangely dressed people with pale make up and dark glasses got on only to jump off and run through dark alley. They seemed excited by something, I wondered what.

We arrived at the cinema only to find hundreds of the strangely dressed people before us, jumping up and down and throwing rice.

How strange.

We paid our entrance fee and went into the cinema and found chaos, people shouting, throwing things and dancing. I noted there was no music. The lights went down, the projector fired up and a pair of bright red lips appeared on the screen and then they began to sing.

“Michael Rennie was ill, The day the earth stood still.”

And so the Rocky Horror Picture Show began. I sat stunned at what was on the screen; I had no idea such a thing existed or had been made. People shouted questions at the screen and the dialogue answered them. Rice was thrown, water pistols fired. What I thought of the film, I can’t remember, the finale of the film did make an impression; Little Nel’s nipples showing over her corset certainly did.
We went back to Thomas’ house in the dark; shadowy figures ran off into the city and night. And in time my memory dimmed of that night.

Years later, back home in Suffolk, I grew up, cinemas closed and my town slowly died. News came of a small theatre in town trying to start a film club, and the first film was to be something called The Rocky Horror Show. Showtime was midnight; I thought I’d go, but why on earth would someone want to show a film at midnight?
When I arrived the place was packed to the rafters; like in Germany people were dancing in the aisles, rice was thrown, and when the house lights went down there were whoops of joy. I had remembered something about the film from Germany, but the realisation that people made a hobby of going to see the film in these midnight shows was an amazing one. I loved it, although, sadly, I was not one of the ones who dressed up, but I did take along rice, water pistols and Bounty Bars. I guess I must have seen the film dozens of time in the cinema in the next ten years. I loved it, I went to the opening night of a revival of the stage play in London, but nothing will beat the experience of that first time, and seeing the film with hundreds of others having a party.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Broken Promises

Late last year, I received the offer of a new job and decided that for our new future I should accept. My old employer, whose name I will not write here, took the news quite badly. Anyway, I agreed to work out some of my notice, and it was during that time I messed the long-promised family Christmas that we had all been looking forward to.

When it cam time for me to leave that ship for the last time, the new guy in the office came down to speak with me and assure me that if I wanted to come back all I had to do was ask, and he seemed genuinely sorry to see me go.

Fast forward four months and the new company goes bust; I write back and am ignored. Not one word is ever written back to me. And now I find out, second hand, that those of us who did leave were no longer needed and thanks but no thanks.

I had the feeling that my old boss was one to hold a grudge, but to pass up the chance to re-employ people who had until recently work for them, just because they could, in favour of new guys is petty-mindedness to a new level.

I guess this was my hope, back on familiar ground working with old friends, even if it did mean dealing with Kevin. At least I don't have to pretend to like the guy any more. Or again.

I think a new beginning is called for, maybe something not quite so exotic; but who knows what is around the corner? I have sat around with my thoughts for long enough.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Life goes on.

Another week goes by, and not a sniff of a job. I am applying for jobs, but as ever we have to wait. Always the waiting. Thankfully I have Julie beside me, and together we can and will survive.

When we were asked by the in-laws to look after their cat, it seemed like a simple request, and an easy job for us to do. I mean, we already have three cats what could go wrong if we add a forth if only for a couple of week?

The answer; plenty. Of our three cats, Molly I thought would be the worst trouble, but she and the in-laws cat (more about it's name later) just sniffed and went different ways.

Little Girl, AKA Stumpy, was a different kettle of fish with much snarling, hissing and hackles raised they had a stand-off, but every time they passed it was much the same.

Sulu, 17 year old and likeable and very easy going, and their cat's twin, reacted by the snarling thing with growls and hissing. I wasn't scared, but the newcomer was not best pleased.

And then we found out it had never seen a litter tray before, and meowed all the time to go out, looked out windows and pawed the closed and locked cat flap. And on top of all that decided not to eat.

As usual, we locked our three cats in the kitchen; well, I say that. We put them out and had the cat flap so they could get back in, but not back out again. Easy, we thought.

We went to bed with no worries or thoughts that anything could go wrong.

If they had had some kind of death match and it was last kitty standing the next morning, that would have been something. Instead we found just three cats; our three in the kitchen all very hungry and no sign of the in-law's cat.

About 'Missy', the name the cat is called by some of us. My Father-in-Law has not named it, so problem #1. The local vet could not say whether it was male or female. So, to say the car we put up in the village shop was light on details is quite truthful.

"Large Tabby Cat lost 5th June, St Vincent Rd, no name, sex; indeterminate, meows a lot"

we're not holding our breath there. We're just dreading the phone call from Scotland where they're holidaying asking how's things. I'll take the 5th!

So, after being very careful with money and not using the car much during the week, we do get out and about over the weekend, doing stuff, which really is me taking pictures, between the showers.

Paddling in Broadstairs harbour

Saturday, after the usual battle in Tescos, we head out to Broadstairs, where I had not been for a while. Broadstairs in in reality, just a suburb of Ramsgate, or so it seems and the join between the two is lost on me. Road signs don't help either, as following directions to Broadstairs soon results in being lost in a faceless housing estate.

Broad steps at Broadstairs

And then there is Broadstairs itself; quite possibly the worst through road in the country; all 90 degree bends and single track road with no passing places. Getting through can take an age and puts years on the driver.

We find a parking space and head off down narrow streets lined with cottages built of flint. As nice as it sounds, and quite photogenic. We make friends with a kitten who gets quite close and personal and pass Charles Dickens' house, now called Bleak House; where did they get the idea for that? Before heading down a narrow alley onto the pier and overlooking the harbour and picturesque bay.


Everywhere was quite full, but we call in a large pub and sit on the terrace; me drinking beer because I am man and hunter and Julie a fruit juice because she has a headache. We people watch, and cannot but earwig a conversation between a group of orange women who lunch discussing the vagueries of wireless internet. Before switching back to shoes and such stuff.

We chuckle along before getting up for a walk along the sand and up the photogenic steps and then onto the bandstand. The sun even tries to come out and thoughts turn to ice cream, but decide against it.

All the fun of the fair

We head home for and for the search for the pub with the football on the telly.

Not as easy as one would imagine, but I find one with an illegal Serbian channel showing England battling the might of Kazakhstan whilst sampling the best Shepherd Neame has to offer. I quickly made friends and we soon began ignoring the match for the age old game of making fun of the really drunk and ill-informed.

What better way to end the day than to get fish and chips and eat them on the cliffs overlooking the Channel and the ferries going hither and thither?

Sunday dawned bright and warm, and we head out to fun-filled Folkestone to visit the old High Street, now re-branded the 'Artistic Quarter!'

The Old High Street, Folkestone

They have made a half decent job of it, and when finished maybe there will be enough customers and visitors for all the galleries and curio shops that line the narrow cobbled street.

The British Lion

A left turn at the top of the street away from the modern shopping area brings the visitor to quiet Georgian squares, churches with histories dating back to Saxon times, and peace.

Sadly in the churchyard discarded empty aerosol cans and empty condom packets reveal this to be the place for drugged nights of debauchery, and something not very nice for those whose houses look onto the churchyard.

Aerosols and Condoms

We find a small cafe in a quiet square and have brunch whilst more people watching; Girls dressed up as tarts totter past in heels; not the way ten year olds should be in my book; but speaking as a non-parent maybe I shouldn't comment.

The requisite number of photographs taken, we head down to the harbour, mix with those eating jellied eels and toddles with look of glee as they see a beach for the first time; we decide to head home for coffee and saffron buns and some peace and quiet and ponder where that cat could be.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Sunday, back in the 19th century!

The summer has certainly arrived, or apparently had before today! We had been looking forward to Sunday, as it was the one weekend when one of the town's main defensive fortresses would be open to the public.

Dover Castle

Dover castle is world famous, and has history dating back to Roman times. But, on the opposite hill, to the south is another castle; Western heights and the fort of Drop Redoubt. Built in the early years of the 19th century, this was England's response to the threat of invasion from Napoleon's army.

The fortress fell out of use, and in the 1960s, many parts were pulled down, and what remained was left to go to seed.

Western Heights, Dover

Thankfully, people have formed groups, English heritage have got involved, and a band of volunteers give up their time to keep the fort from getting any worse.


And so, once a year, the whole of Western heights and Drop Redoubt is opened to the public, giving views across the town to the castle and inside to the life of people who would once save us from Gallic invasion.

We picked up a friend I made from Flickr, and drove up the steep hill to one of the car parks there, and then walked the short distance to the entrance to the fort. There is a low tunnel through the thick walls of the fortress and back into the bright sunlight of the inner fortress; and before us was the carponiered walls of Drop Redoubt itself.

Drop Redoubt: Entrance

So far, this is the part anyone can reach on any day, but around the corner of the fort, a small tent was et up, and after paying a small fee, we walked from bright sunshine into the deep gloom of the fortress itself.

Drop Redoubt: Urban Explorers have left their mark

Leading up in front of us was a steep staircase with small ramps on either side to allow soldiers to haul cannons up and down from the defensive positions. Guardrooms lead off on either side, but we make our way up the stairs and to where once there were barracks, storerooms and a magazine.

Drop Redoubt

The walkway curved slightly to the left, but we came out back into the sun, to be greeted with long grass, storehouses, partly collapsed with revempments of thick grass all cordoned off.

Drop Redoubt: Into the light

We were early, and so we all went around taking shots without people in, marvelling at the views over the town and harbour; France was lost in a haze. We were constantly warned about the impending re-enactment of a battle that was due to begin at 11.

Castle Street, Dover

We left the fortress, taking some final shots, and made for one of the wonders of the town, if not the whole of the country.

We walked down the winding road down the cliff side down towards the harbour; as the road flattened out, a military encampment came into view, all people dressed in Napoleonic garb, busily finishing breakfast as the battle for the fortress was about to begin.


Drums rolled, shouts went up and muskets were loaded.

Little Drummer Boy

We walked on towards a large hole in the ground. Steps lead down to the top of a large circular hole, lined with bricks, and in that is a triple helix staircase; The Grand Shaft.

The Three Staircases

The Grand Shaft was built to be able to get the garrison to the harbour as quickly as possible; the answer was a wonder of military engineering wonder. Now whitewashed, and something of it's former glory. 200 steps lead down to the level of the harbour, windows look out onto a central void where light and air can get in.

Going down, is of course, easy. Each of us took a staircase, and we waved at each other was we headed down. The view from the bottom is quite simply, stunning.

The Grand Shaft, Western Heights, Dover

In truth, once you have walked down, taken pictures and walked back up, we had the shots we wanted, and so we decided to go on a trip out in the car. Eventually, to head in the village of Elham, where we were sure we could find a nice country pub in which to have a nice lunch in.

We drove out along the cliffs, and found a country lane that on one side overlooked the Eurotunnel depot, with more pictures to be taken of trains being loaded with trucks and cars.

On we went, fairly certain we knew the way. Sadly, we were as good as we thought. Using the sun as a guide, we headed down a very narrow country lane, and after many twists and turns up hill and down dale, we drove through lush countryside, through picturesque villages and sleepy farms.

We found the main road and soon enough we were getting out of the car in the last parking space to be had in the village, outside the Kings Arms.

The Kings Arms, Elham

We got the only unreserved table and ordered a small starter followed by a Sunday roast. Bob and I tucked into pints of local ale. Not a bad life.

Corner Cottage, Elham

Afterwards, we walked round the village; all thatched of tiled cottages, overgrown gardens and the usual village church, mostly wild with thistles.

Anyway, it was time to head back home, drop Bob off, and then snooze the afternoon away in our back garden, the air full of the sounds and smells of spring.