Monday, 31 August 2009

September Song

As I write this, we are two hours into September; and even writing that word it feels like autumn. Yesterday was a perfect summer day, big blue skies, unbroken sunshine and wonderfully hot. And yet, today is September; in the garden the remains of our vegetables ripen; pumpkins, tomatoes and courgettes, the leaves on horse chestnuts are already turning golden; it is now dark before nine, before half eight in fact, and next week children will go back to school.

We have been in our house since February, and have enjoyed every minute of it. Our garden is coming along, and Jools has plans for next years harvest and how to fit it all in in our little green patch of English countryside.

As the nights lengthen, the mornings get colder and the dew heavier.

Sitting in the garden, watching the day turn to night was one of the things we dreamed of in this house, and it is one of the things we have enjoyed most. That and the quiet.

The flat was on a main road, by a set of traffic lights, and the noise from the road went on all night, that and the sound of drunks meant we could not have the window open in our bedroom, and so it was so unbearably hot and humid. Not here, high on the cliffs; we do hear the odd boy racer tearing down Station Road at all hours, but not much. Instead we traded in traffic noise for owls and wind whistling through the treetops, just as it should be.

We live now about four miles north of Dover, in a village called St Margaret's-at-Cliffe, on a quiet side road overlooking farmland and across to a rise in the rolling fields to the Dover Patrol monument which marks the cliff edge and the beginning of the English Channel, some two miles away. Or less, we haven't measured it. We can't see the monument right now, as a tree full of leaves blocked that in April, but we know it's still there.

We have good neighbours, although we speak we have to have them round for drinks and an official 'hello', but we speak when we see each other, and we swap garden produce, just because it's the way it should be.

When the wind is in the right direction, we can hear the tannoy announcements from the harbour, and the lights tinge the bottoms of low clouds orange way over Dover way. But here, there are one or two lights, the occasional barking dog, and early on summer mornings, the lone cockerel from the farm telling us we should really be getting up.

Down the dip and up the other side is the main part of the village, where all the tourists go; all narrow street and lovely pubs; but not here, it's just quiet. To live in the village would have cost another, maybe £50k, and further on, a clifftop house would have cost us another £100 to £300k more. But we're happy here. We can walk to the cliffs and not pay the extra mortgage.

Our three cats have settled down, the are calm and happy; Sulu is plodding along in his old way, always asking if it's dinner time yet and would we mind sitting down so he could sleep on our lap. Little Girl is still as scardy as ever; well, maybe not quite. She sleeps on the spare bed and delights in being cuddled, and the lightning maybe doesn't worry here quite as much. And Molly loves it; she is the Queen of all she surveys, and then some. She sleeps on our bed when she wants, eats the other's food, and lets us stroke her , sometimes. And is slowly clearing the locale of small rodents; only two nights ago one small kidney was all that remained of another small mammal.

And we humans are blissfully happy; we come home from work to our little piece of heaven and unwind. It's just what we wanted when we first saw the house last year, and where we want to grow old in.

An English Bank Holiday

And so last week I was back on days and knee deep in the wonderful world of boxes. I was covering for Jay, and doing his job, checking print quality and booking ion deliveries.
Print is what is on the outside of boxes, and it the most critical part. I think I did OK, I spotted some problems and got through the week. Booking in goods was more problematic as they have a very unfriendly computer system called Vantage that is very unforgiving.
Anyway, I did that too, and on occasion even did all parts correctly. But soon enough Friday rolled round and we began to count the hours down until it was time to go home.

Only, other things were afoot; for example we had my Mother down. She arrived on Wednesday, and so each evening instead of relaxing we found ourselves entertaining and cooking. Wednesday night I cooked steak, which went well. It was her first visit to our house, and we thought she would be blown away by it. Only for her to not really comment. It is a little frustrating to say the least. But she is what she is, and that I will keep my council.

St Mary's, Eastry, Kent

Thursday, we took her to out favourite local pub, The Smugglers, for dinner, and very well that was too. Although taking her out to such places is a major logistics operation due to her size and lack of mobility.

Her size is something we had hoped was a thing of the pass, only for her to turn up her barely able to walk and expecting everyone to help her with almost everything. That she had been telling me she had lost 80 Kg and was doing so well, it came as a major shock to see her the way she is now, especially as back in April when i visited her at her place she seemed to be so much better.

Eastry Cross

On Friday evening, we went to the pub quiz, and she is something of a secret weapon as she has been on TV a couple of times, and we did come second and wine a beer voucher each. She did help, yes, but as usual, Jools and I did most of the work, it was the ones we didn't know or where unsure of that Mum came through for us.

News had come through that the factory was to close early on Friday, maybe, and so we waited all week to hear news, and just before 11 word came that a one finish was planned and so lunch was cancelled and we waited around for that time to come round.

On the stroke of one, as usual, a problem arose, and we tried to sort it out, and so it was that 5 minutes behind everyone else that we walked out into the sunshine of a bright and glorious weekend.

Little Close

I went straight to Tescos for the shopping, and then back home to bake a cheesecake and prepare for the quiz that night. Everything was on track.

Saturday, we decided to go for a drive around some of our favourite places to the north of here, and so I could go to the butchers in Preston; but as ever, it is hard to judge whether Mother really liked what we did. She sat in the front of the car whilst we drove around.
We drove along narrow lanes through fields of apples, hops, pears and other such summer delights. I stopped off to take pictures of old oast houses and churches. Mum just read her Daily Mirror. I could be being hard on her; we did talk, and she did pass the occasional comment on places we went through.

All Saints, Stourmouth

After lunch we had a quiet afternoon with me listening to football on the radio and Mother doing crosswords or other puzzles in The Mirror. In the evening we fired up the bbq and had a fine feast, although as ever we had way too much food and Jools and I will be living off cold meat for several days now.

All Saints, Stourmouth

Sunday we headed to the Romney marsh so mum could see some of our favourite places; but in truth she did not seem that keen. we drove along the coast to Dungeness and the power stations, across fields to remote churches, and the only time she perked up was when we stopped for lunch in a nice country pub we knew that would be quiet and out of the way. Sadly, they were only doing roast, and so we made do with starters and drinks, which was fine, as we had been invited to Jools Dad's place for dinner that evening.

We drove back; Mum snoozed. I wondered why we bothered.

And today we took Mum along with Jools' Nan to Sandwich and then on to Ramsgate, Boradstairs and Margate before heading inland to a nice place for lunch, before driving over the marshes of Thanet to get back home.

As Mum does not walk much, Jools and I got out in Ramsgate to stretch our legs and for me to do some investigating over a lost railway station. It was nice to walk in amongst the crowds and snap away. Broadstairs was as crazy as ever with traffic struggling to get through its narrow streets. It was good to get back into the countryside again and onto the broad streets of Margate and look at the crowds in kiss-me-quick hats and the such.

Dover danger

There were no parking spaces, and it was I that suggested going to the Crown in Sarre; we got a table in the beer garden, for me it was a stilton ploughman's; always nice, all washed down with a pint or two of masterbrew.

And that is the weekend, all gone. Mum goes home tomorrow and we will be left alone again. I am back on nights and so another all night session on the computer and back coffee is ahead. And I am left with the memories of the weekend and the thoughts and knowledge that my Mother is a horrible self-centred woman with little thought for anyone else.

Life goes on.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

OK, I'm running a little late with the blogs.

Life is getting in the way with my online activities to be honest; I have enough time in a day to post shots from last weekend on Flickr and read the news, and thats about it.
Working days has come as a shock, as so has how tired I feel in the evenings as well. Tuesday was my birthday, and after a snack and a beer, we both went to bed to listen to the radio and read, upon which I feel asleep. Rock and roll!

So, where were we with the blog? Oh yeah, Friday, walking and coming off night shift.

Anyway, Saturday, we headed out to our not so local butchers out in the wilds of the Kentish countryside and go stuff for the week ahead. And on the way back we call in Tescos and brave the crowds and get it over with. Never a good thing, but we managed to get round and out within an hour and back home in time for lunch.

We also headed to the town of Deal, a couple of friends from Flickr had their pictures in the tourist information centre, and I had said we would go down to have a look. And how good it was to see their pictures up on the wall rather than online.

We called in our local independent record shop and bought a couple of CDs and then it was really time to head home for a relaxing afternoon with me listening to the radio football commentary, and Jools out in the garden doing garden type things.

We had a barbecue in the evening, but once again our eyes were bigger than our bellies, but we did the other stuff so we could have cold for the next few days. And as usual, we sat in the garden and watched the sun go down and the stars come out. I can't explain how magical this simple thing is.

Sunday, was a special day, as we had planned a boat trip out of Herne Bay to some WW2 forts out in the Thames Estuary. We had it booked for week, and as luck would have it the weather was wonderful. Two friends of ours were to join us, and so we set off to meet them just after lunch.

Before the voyage

The weather was perfect, wall to wall sunshine and blue skies, and we had our seats booked. And on the stroke of two we climbed in the boat and zoomed out over the calm sea, through the wind farm out to the Maunsell Forts.

Maunsell Forts

Please click on the pictures to my Flickr page where there is information on the history of the forts. Suffice to say it was wonderful, doubly so when we went right under what was left of the forts and the captain told us some of their history. Needless to say, I took may, many pictures, and really, really had a great time.

Maunsell Forts

On the way back, we stopped at the new windfarm and marvelled at the turbine's height. More pictures taken.


And the final call was at the head of what is left of Herne Bay Pier, which is now a roost for thousands of seagulls, and the pierhead has something of a Gothic air of them.

Herne Bay Pier (remains of)

And suddenly we were back on land and in the middle of the crowded promenade as people walked by eating fish and chips; an almost perfect day.

Jools and I headed home to have cold BBQ ribs and sausages and watch the sun go down again.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Thank Crunchie it's Friday

Just before my last shift of the week, I got a call from my friend Bob, asking if I wanted to go for a walk on Friday morning. At first I said no, but then thought that it might be a good way of getting back onto normal sleep patterns. So, we arranged to meet at Dover station early on Friday morning and head to Broadstairs for a walk along to coast to Margate.

In the end, I had an easy shift Thursday night, and there is nothing quite like the feeling of that moment when the bell goes and you can walk out the factory gates and head home.

Jools dropped me off on the way to work, and bob arrived just before departure time and we boarded the train to Ramsgate. The climb out of Dover is stunning as the line curves around Buckland and up towards the town cemetery and the portal to Guston tunnel. I love the views over the roofs of the town down to the harbour and the ferries and cruiseships.


We arrived in Broadstairs at half eight, with the town yet to wake up; Broadstairs is a beautiful town, in a stunning setting of a lovely bay, but totally unsuited for the age of the car. The 'main' road twists and turns round grand houses, and at times is barely wide enough for a car, let alone a bus.

We walk on and soon are out in open country and come to North Foreland lighthouse the twin of the one at St Margaret's. The sky is a stunning blue and looks wonderful through my viewfinder. Further on, we pass field after field of cabbages, something that the Isle of Thanet seems famous for.

North Foreland Lighthouse

Once on the outskirts of Margate we stop at a small cafe and order a hearty fried breakfast, just in time as behind us a party of 20 mothers and children arrive for a birthday party.

Margate cafe

Margate is all faded seaside glamour, and only giving hints of its grander past. Now it's all peeling paint and boarded up shops, but the prom is still wonderful to walk along and plenty to photograph.

Bob bids me farewell as he heads off to visit him Mother along to coast, and I decided to head back home on the train. Sitting on the other side of the carriage is a guy covered in tattoos with his wife or girlfriend; he seems in good humour until someone walks past and passes comment, and he erupts in a fury and runs the length of the train threatening murder. Seems he is just out of prison hand has a temper on what is known as a hair trigger. He gets off at Deal to deal with the percieved slur on his character, wife in tow muttering apologies to other passengers.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Half past week.

Well, it's Wednesday afternoon, I am halfway through the hours at work, two more nights to go, and then the weekend. And back onto days next week.
I may only have another two weeks at work, so trying to make the most of it, the money at least.

When the bell goes at six in the morning; that's a great feeling and we walk into the cool morning air. I climb into the car, crank the heating up as I pull away, and drive through the almost empty streets of the town.

These mornings, the sun is rising over the castle as I head up the cliffs towards home, and the channel is pink with France lost in the mist, also pink. It is a real pleasure to see these things. This morning there was traces of mist clearing too, the fields are pretty much harvested, but the hedgerows are full of ripening fruit and berries. We have plans for trips out to collect blackberries and plums.

We made courgette chutney at the weekend; another triumph it has to be said. Our pumpkins are ripening, as too is our corn.

We have a rather exciting weekend planned, if the weather holds up; but I won't spoil that right now.

Mother is coming to stay next week. Well, not stay as she feels she won't be able to climb the stairs, she's booked into a hotel down in the town. But it being my birthday next week we thought we should invite her. Hopefully I get next Friday off as the factory is not producing so to make it a long weekend with the following bank holiday Monday; fingers crossed on that.

The answer to last week's pop quiz was indeed When love Breaks Down by Prefab Sprout; well done if you got that. And with that I now realise that people are reading this, not just me writing for myself and the fun of it. Sorry if I don't know you all, but thanks for looking in and hope you enjoy what I write.

Today is hot, well, hot for England; and we live on the coast. The cats are laid out under bushes in the back garden trying to keep cool. At least the house is shady and with a breeze blowing through is cool enough for me to sleep. And work is fine during the night.

I'll leave you with a picture of me from last weekend, taken outside Rochester Castle. enjoy your week and I'll see you at the weekend, beers are on me.

me and the castle

Sunday, 16 August 2009

I Live for the Weekend

After four 12 hour night shifts, I was ready for the weekend I can tell you. Although I did spend the first few hours of it sparko in bed. In fact I laid in bed snoozing until nearly two; and then rushed about going to the country butchers and then back to Dover to get my barnet cut. Until my dear Papa, I have luscious thick hair that shows no signs of thinning, and so it gets so long and becomes unbearable.

The other great thing about a haircut is finding out the local news and gossip; although I have no idea who they're talking about; it is fun to listen.

Freshly shawn, I head to the Railway Bell for a pint and a packet of pork scratchings and wait until it's time to pick Jools up from the factory. This done it was back home for the weekend.


We sit down to buffalo mozzarella and beefsteak tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil; a simple meal, but it is wonderful and tasty. The chicken we were going to have for the main is still in the fridge as we were so full.

Once again we sit outside and watch the sun go down. This is great as I have not done this for four nights and to see the sky turn from blue to purple to black is wonderful. As we sit there in the shadows, moths flit from flower to flower.

Saturday, we get up fairly early as we are to head off to the Medway towns, between here and London, for a gathering to protest at photographer's rights, as an amateur photographer got hassled and then arrested a few weeks back.

The full story here:

We go up early, to find the place and then to do some shopping, or try to. Who would have thought it hard to buy a pair of walking shoes, not boots? We went in all sports places and apart from over priced fashion things there was nothing.

Chatham is not a pretty place; I dount if it ever was. The town is a horrible mix of fast food joints and amusement arcades. Once it was home to the royal dockyard, but that is now a museum.

photographer's rights demonstration

After we have second breakfast of back sandwiches, Jools and I split and I head to the demonstration. By ten, about 50 people had turned up, from all over the country, and the national press turned up as well as the local ones. We posed with our cameras and then swapped stories of our experiences, and then Jools and I met up before heading just up the road to Rochester where there is a fine castle and cathedral on the banks for the Medway River.

a terrorist yesterday

Although the four towns that make up Medway have separate names, they just blend into each other, but Rochester is certainly more up-market than Chatham. It has a fine High Street of timber-framed houses, many nice pubs and of course the castle and cathedral.

Rochester Castle

Needless to say I take many pictures.

The castle is splendid; Norman, although partly ruined, it is just missing it's wooden floors otherwise it would be complete. We walk up the flint spiral staircase to get wonderful views of the town and river. It is good to see all sorts of people coming to places lie these; families, couples and Sun readers.

Rochester Skyline

The cathedral is not really elegant, but is certainly English, and is a delight inside, full of tombs and memorials. The welcome from the dean as we walk in was warm, and we were handed a guide, and I deposited £3 in the collection.

Outside, a troupe of Morris Dancers had gathered to block the road and to dance, celebrating the harvest I guess. But, mostly to drink real ale judging by the empty glasses and tankards. It is good to see something English; other British countries seem to have an identity, but not England, just a mix of everyone else.

We retire to the local pub, Ye Arrow, and have a meal and a beer before heading off to take more pictures of the Eurostars, this time as they cross the Medway next to the M2 motorway. That done we head home for a while before the sound of steam will beckon.

Eurostar crossing the Medway Bridge

That night we head into the countryside to a small village station, Headcorn, to see a steam engine pass, and me and a friend can take pictures. Hundreds of others had also gathered, and so we all waited for the appointed hour to arrive; and for the sun to set as it was right behind where 'Tornado' would be. As luck would have it, just before showtime, the sun went behind a cloud and we had perfect light.

60163, Tornado at Headcorn. 15th August 2009

And there she was, about a mile away being held at a red signal. We wait. And then she comes, slowly, all a mass of steam and smoke; quickly gathering pace. And then she is upon us. Shutters whirr and we try to catch the train as she thunders through.

60163, Tornado at Headcorn. 15th August 2009

And then all is silent again, just the smell of smoke to betray that she had ever been here.

Today we have had a quiet day, just lazing around getting chores done, and shopping. That done, I watch some football, make dinner and we talk. Just talk. And it's perfect.

And now I am still awake, as I prepare for another week of night shifts and trying to sleep during the day.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The night shift

And so, my first night shift is over. In actual fact, time flew by as I was quite busy.

I get to work on my own for the most part, with just the occasional wander into the factory to check on what they are doing.

Cath was waiting for me when I arrived and she told me what she wanted me to do that night; mainly just looking at piles of print for the outside of boxes. No pressure, just do what I can. The she took me round to introduce me to the people in charge and tell them that I was in possession of a brain.

They were non-plussed, but then they had work to do; as did I. So, back into the office, on with the radio and lets begin. Each pallet took about half an hour, and one became two became three, and so on. And on the radio, DJs changed and outside the sun set and it became dark.

I got breaks every three hours, and so that helped pass the night as I counted down to each coffee break.

And so the night passed; nothing exciting, just work and the radio. How good it was to hear the leaving off bell at six, and throw my stuff in the locker, walk through the factory and clock out. And then the short walk to the car, shouting goodbyes to those I had made contact with doing the night; do you need a lift, and so on.

At least leaving work at six means that the town is still quiet, with just a few drunks wandering along the roads. I drove home the quick way, it had seemed ages since I had spoke to Jools, and we would have nearly an hour before she would make the return journey. No views across the Channel to France when I go that way home, but more fields have now been harvested, and it feeling more like autumn with each passing day. I guess the heavy clouds above did not help.

And then, back in the village; up the hill, down the dip the other side; a left turn and there is home.

Just eleven hours before I have to do it all again. Welcome to the working week.

Monday, 10 August 2009

The total eclipse memory

Today is August 11th 2009. A whole decade ago, most of Britain were in Cornwall to wait for one of nature's stunning sights; a total solar eclipse.

I had been waiting for that day all my life; no really. I had the Reader's Digest Atlas which had all the eclipses until the end of the century, and I harboured some hope it would fall on my birthday.

But, alas, no.

I had wanted to see three things; an eclipse; a comet and the northern Lights. I had seen a comet, Hale-Bop a couple of years earlier. After a lifetime of comet disappointments, I had heard that there was another one due, and it may be quite good. I looked up one day and there it was.

I would have to wait for a quiet night outside a church in Aberdeenshire a few years later for the northern lights, but the comet was going to be tough. Or easy if I could get to Cornwall.

The RAF had other ideas and thought i should go to Las Vegas instead. I was torn if truth be known. We were due to fly out that morning and would be over the Atlantic as the moment passed.

Like all things military, it was a shockingly early start; it was dark when the bus picked me up from the house. At least it was a short drive to Brize to pick up our flight.

My mixed mood greatly improved when our pilot told us he had filed our flight plan and we could fly over Cornwall and see the eclipse; from 30,000 feet!


So, we climbed aboard, strapped ourselves in and whoosh, we were airborne.

And unlike the millions down below we were to see the whole of the eclipse, but also see the sky go dark and the stars come out. I got to the window just after totality had passed and the diamond ring effect could be seen.

Then we flew on to Vegas. And the party really began; but that is another story for another time.

Vampire in training

Sleep all day, check print all night; it's great to be a QA inspector.

Only modern life don't like shift workers. Delivery drivers, hedge trimmers, postmen, et al. And there are the cats.

I managed to stay up until nearly 5, then slept until half eight, then the noise began.

In truth, it's not that noisy around here, but once I'm awake. I came downstairs to make a cuppa, and the cats moved in to the warm spot on the bed. When I did go back to bed, one little dark tabby cat, Molly, had taken over half the bed and so I had to sleep on the other side of the bed. That don't feel right.

But, I did drop off for another hour or two, even with cats demanding attention. Just two and a half hours until my shift begins, and then begins the long dark night of the nightshift worker.

7th hell

And so the football seasons began, and like all fans I was full of unbridled enthusiasm. At least for 40 minutes.

We were driving back from Dover station, I turned on the radio to hear the scores, near half time as it was. Only to find that my team, the 5 year ago premiership team, Norwich City, and found out they were 5-0 down to the not so mighty Colchester United.

It got worse!

It finished 7-1; at least we scored. So the 12 players we brought in over the summer either all got stage fright or all all rubbish.

It's going to be a long, long season.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

A ramblin' kind of Sunday

Sundays; dontcha just love 'em?

As seems to be par for the course, we were awake at six even on a weekend. The sun was already shining, and we had the day to ourselves again. Instead of getting straight up, we laid in bed and dozed, the sounds of the morning, as they were, drifted in through the open windows.

After breakfast we both pottered around, not realising the morning was slipping away, and it came as a shock to see that we had just 40 minutes to get ready and get to the start of the morning walk in Northbourne.

Northbourne Ramble; 9th August 2009

So we whizzed along in our little Polo, along main roads and down leafy lanes and through little hamlets until we came to Northbourne. We were the youngest folks there by some margin, but also the least fit too. And on the stoke of ten, Rob called us together and told us the route and we set off across the fields.

Northbourne Ramble; 9th August 2009

Rambling is a pleasant thing to do, especially on a sunny summer morning; over ploughed fields already harvested and gold waving fields of wheat and barley. There is something magical about it.

The lonely Scarecrow

We walked a medium pace, and talked about this and that as we did so. The Kentish countryside slipped by, we walked up downs and back down the other side, into leafy villages with ancient pubs and older churches. People working in picture-book gardens waved at us as we walked by.

As we walked, the clouds broke and the sun gleamed down; it got hot and our juices flowing. We stopped a few times, to catch our breath and to wait for the older walkers; and then off we went again.

We returned to the village hall and the church next door just after opening time, and a few of us made our way to the pub for a refreshing ale and a sit down in the darkened bar.

Sadly, then we had to brave the chaos that is Tescos for the weekly shop before heading back home for a shower and then lunch.

We had a huge stonebaked french loaf with Camembert and Stilton cheese; it was wonderful. I had the last of the cold beer, and soon we felt refreshed.

I sat down to watch the game on TV whilst Jools went into the garden and laid down in the sun with the cats for a while.

In the evening, we headed back out one more time to go to the cinema, as 'Moon' had finally reached us in the provinces, and so we thought a late evening film would be perfect. And we were right; well worth seeing and two thumbs up from us. It is directed by David Bowie's son, who now calls himself Duncan rather than Zowie. But Duncan??

We drove home under the watchful eye of the waning moon, the lights from Calais flickered from across the Channel, and we drove home.

Ding, ding; seconds out..........

And at half past five exactly, the second bell rings and we workers are free to leave the factory and get on with some living, if only for 48 or so hours.

It has been many years since I clocked off from a week of factory work, June 18th 1990 in fact. Since then I seem to work as and when needed and just got on with it. But anyway, I am considered old enough and sensible enough to look after the casual worker's tabbard I was issued with and along with the locker key, which means instead of queueing up I can dump the stuff in the locker and just clock out and walk out.


Jools was waiting for me outside in the car, and we headed off back into the Dover rush hour and back to our house high on the cliffs. How wonderful it is every night to leave the town behind and take the narrow coast road and see across to France and the ferries before arriving at the village, through the narrow streets, down the dip, up the other side and then, HOME.

We made a pot of fresh coffee; something we have cut down on since me being unemployed. We sit outside and watch the butterflies flit around and the cats washing after having their dinner. It's perfect here, and we thank our lucky stars every day.

That evening, we were to meet one of my friends from Flickr for a meal before he heads off on his considerable travels; two weeks and many places to visit and pictures to take. Bob, not being a driver, but liking his food and ale, we decide that we would take him to a country pub we know near here called The Old Lantern in Martin. It's in an old farm some 600 years old, and has been a pub since 1802, so quite new at the pub lark.

We have a reservation, so we have to be out early to meet Bob at Martin Mill station and then on to the pub.

The meal was great, Jools had steak, ale and mushroom pie whilst bob and I had lamb and mint pie; we were all very satisfied with that, and with the summer ales we washed the meal down with. We even had desserts, bread and butter pudding for Bob, summer fruits meringue for Jools and mixed fruit crumble for me. Although mixed fruit was 100% apple!

The Old Lantern, Martin

We retired to the beer garden and watched the sun go down and the bats come out, whilst bob told us of the places in Europe he is going to visit. Not a bad evening at all.

We decided that for Saturday, we would do a small rail tour around east kent; and for the princely sum of £24 we each got three days unlimited travel around Kent; although we only wanted the one day. So, anyway; we caught the twenty past eight train from Dover and headed out to Faversham, which little were we to know it, but our troubles were about to begin......

Since 9/11 little by little our freedoms have been eroded, most have been sleepwalking, but some have noticed. I have been aware that something as simple as photography has now been seen as a potential terrorist activity, but little did I think a fat bloke taking pictures of a train would be a threat.

We arrived at Faversham where our train and one from Ramsgate were to be joined before heading on to London; I saw a good shot coming together as the two trains nudged closer to each other.

I raised my camera.

And was shouted at. A fatter bloke in an orange tabbard was telling me not to take the picture, I asked why. But instead of answering me he spoke into his radio and requested back up.

The station manager came and told me it was against the law to take pictures of the general public and against company rules to take pictures of staff. I do know the rules and law a little and knew him to be talking bollocks, I tried to engage him, but he was having none of it, and so we left the station, me shaking and none to happy.

In a calm moment I searched the net with my mobile and found I was right after all, and a simmering rage began. But, for now, I would have to bide my time and speak with Southeastern on Monday and then organise a formal complaint agaist the staff or the company. That I am the administrator for the Southeastern group on Flickr, and have done unpaid publicity for them recently in regard to the new high speed service is neither here no there, but shows I have no axe to grind.

Faversham is a great town; a mix of the mediaeval and industrial. Narrow streets and wide market squares and a huge brewery with towering chimneys and warehouses. I sapped away at buildings, people and rivers. We found a caravan on the market square doing wonderful bacon rolls and so we sat down for second breakfasts and watched the town pass us by.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

I wanted to see where they brewed our local beer, Shepherd Neame is apparently England's oldest brewer still going, and I do like their beer, and it is in Faversham where they brew it all. Their place is down on the river, and we followed the signs and soon enough found the modern brewery. In getting there we passed the old one, which looked far more interesting, but apparently was now owned by Tesco, and was now part of their huge store in the town.

Low tide at Faversham

The river was tidal, and was mostly mud on Saturday morning, but made for great shots. A group of cyclist whizz by me, I snap them and they gurn for me.

Tour de Faversham

We try to walk along the riverside, but find there are signs everywhere say to stay out because it is private land. Block after black we see it, and it all gets depressing. We end up in a boat yard with sail barges tied up, I snap away. It feels real, rather than the semi-gated communities trying to protect their investments.

I want to get the hell out of Faversham and so we walk back to the station and travel one more stop up the line to Sittingbourne.

Wikipedia describes the Isle of Sheppey, thus:

"The Isle of Sheppey is an island off the northern coast of Kent, England in the Thames Estuary, some 38 miles (62 km) to the east of central London. It has an area of 36 square miles (94 km²). The island forms part of the local government district of Swale. Sheppey is derived from the ancient Saxon "Sceapige", meaning isle of sheep, and even today the extensive marshes which make up a considerable proportion of the island provide grazing for large flocks of sheep. The island, like much of North Kent, comprises London Clay and is a plentiful source of fossils.
The land mass referred to as Sheppey comprises three main islands: Sheppey, the Isle of Harty and the Isle of Elmley (it was once known as the Isles of Sheppey before the channels separating them silted up), but the marshy nature of the land to the south of the island means that it is so crossed by channels and drains as to consist of a multitude of islands. The ground is mainly low-lying, but at Minster rises to about 240 ft (73 m).
Some Sheppey inhabitants like to call themselves Swampies, a term that began as, and for some people remains, an insult; for others it has become a term of endearment or a phrase for reinforcing identity."

Sheerness Promenade

In reality it's that; it barely rises out of the Thames estuary, is a major port and is now, apparently, another little London.

There is a branch line that runs from Sittingbourne to Sheerness on the coast on Sheppey, and Jools had always wanted to ride on it. And this was the plan. We sat on the train as the be-sneakered and be-jewelled talked on their mobiles, possibly doing drug deals. Young thin white men sounded like gang-bangers from Compton.

Sheerness Promenade

I tried not to laugh.

The ride over to Sheppey is not long, and unlike many on the train we had a ticket and were polite. That, maybe, is harsh, and most is for show. Near us a group of skateboarders talked of music and made fun of a non-skateboarder; a woman tried to find out where all the money had gone from the families account with her husband on the phone, and the flat countryside slipped by.

Over the bridge, and we were on Sheppey, and heading for chav-central; Sheerness. Sheerness is the end of the line in all senses of the world. It was a town built to serve the port, and is pretty soul-less and is a mix of low cost housing and poor shops frequented by former cockneys in heavy gold chains and gold sovereign rings. Men in day-glo track suits did deals on mobiles whilst smoking smuggled cigarettes.

The Adams Family at the beach

We headed for the seafront.

The seafront doubles as the island's sea defences, and has little beach to speak of. Steps lead down to the water's edge, but families make the most of the glorious sunny weather, eating picnics whilst car transporter boats head back to sea from Tilbury.

Question of the day.

We walk along the sea wall and I take illicit pictures with the camera held at my hip; some come out great and I will post them later. After 20 minutes we have had enough and we decide to return to the station and then back to the mainland.

My plan had been to head back along to coastal line, stopping at Margate for more pictures of people enjoying the sun, sea and jellied eels; but in reality, we were pooped and both decided to head back home for a quiet afternoon of laying in the garden and/or listening to football. I'll leave you to guess who did what....

From Sittingbourne, the train was packed with families heading to the seaside for sandcastles and candyfloss before the sun went away for another year. Children so excited by the thought was wonderful to see, although not so pleasant to hear. As we passed through Whitstable, Herne Bay, Margate; the train emptied, and by the time we got to Ramsgate there were just a few of us left on.

Whilst we waited for the train to Dover, we sat on the platform and ate a Twix together, before getting on the air-conditioned train for the last leg of our trip.

I had decided that I wanted fish and chips at some point in the week, and so that's what we wanted to eat that evening; as the regatta was on in Dover, and likely to be still heaving with people, we went in the other direction to Deal.

We found a shop right on the seafront and with a parking space! We get our order and make our way past the bandstand and find an empty bench and unwrap the golden food inside. Oooh, the smell of grease, fried food and salt and vinegar is so special; nothing quite like it. And the cod was so fresh, the flesh was brilliant white.

People walked past as we tucked in, on the beach, fishermen mended nets whilst their families waited. And the sun set behind us.

Not bad, not bad.

We go home and open a bottle of a light, white wine and sit in the garden to wait for the stars to come out and the moon rise.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Kick it off........

Tomorrow, no tonight, sees the beginning of the new football season; with each fan full of renewed hope for the year ahead. For most of us, that hope will quickly fade, as money will be what counts and which players that money can buy.

What this does mean for sure, is this is the beginning of 22 months of almost continuous football, with next summer being the world cup in South Africa with the new season beginning almost as that finishes.

So, draw a deep breath and cease firing, we're going in.

As for my team, we begin a season in the third tier of the league ladder for the first time in 50 years; some seem to think we're favourites to go up. I wish I were as confidant of that.

Anyway, Norwich has 12 new players and what should be a straightforward season, and maybe one of many victories and a promotion party to look forward to.

Here's hoping.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

One day my prints will come.

After four days, I can't claim to know everything about boxes, and what goes into making them. But I have seen a whole load about boxes and watched as boxes of all sorts of boxes being made for all sorts of interesting things.

Of course due to commercial reasons, I cannot divulge what we are making, but one of the projects may involve a certain Liverpool based group of the 1960s, whose work is being repackaged for the umpteenth time. But, I of course I can't say who exactly they are.

So, most days I go to work with Julie, growling at the wonderful weather there is when one works, and after a cup of vending coffee begin the working day with a circuit of the factory before going round again and again and again. And then it's half five and time to go home again.

The evenings whizz by like they didn't since the days when I last worked a 9 to five, and soon enough the alarm wakes us up and it's time to begin all over again. But tomorrow, it's Friday of course, which means the best part of three days off for me as I am to switch to night for next week, and so an Monday evening start for me!

Today, after the best part of three days learning Quality Assurance checks on the various lines, I was taught the black art that is the checking of print. Print goes on the outside of boxes, and is brought in from printers around the world, and has to be checks for colour, orientation, clarity, etc. And so the afternoon was spent in the study of thousands of sheets of print and the possible variation of colour.

None found. But job done.

Each evening we come home and we automatically do jobs; the cats our fed, the dinner is cooked, washing up done, and then we relax; last night we sat in the back garden and waited for the full moon to rise. When it did it was all orange and wonderful. All around us, moths flittered and birds sang. I drank the last of the whisky I have, and all was right with the world.

We don't ask for much, but life deliverers in spades.

How wonderful is that?

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Radio Blah Blah

And so I have now done two days work at the box factory. It's not too bad, and it's quite easy to get back into the factory way of life. The one downside is the fact they have the radio on at various times throughout the day, and it's tuned into some local commercial station that is trapped in some kind of 80s warp.

I half expect Simon Bates or ooh Gary Davis to come on between the 'hits'.

I guess it's inoffensive stuff, but mind-numbing. And of course there there has to be now, by law, one Michael Jackson song per hour, and time checks and then some Duran Duran or something worse.

It is something of a relief to be so busy so not to have to listen to it.

As for work, it's fine. I am learning the ropes and being something of a figure of interest as quite how I got the job, and certainly yesterday I could feel dozens of pairs of eyes in the back of my head. But, I'm fine with that now, and I think it's settling down.

There is more to boxes than you might think, although it does get a bit repetitive after a while, but it does pay the bills of course, and keeps me off the streets.

Tomorrow is a new day, and it may involve boxes at some point.

Monday, 3 August 2009

My Love and I are boxing Clever

Extra points if you can name the song the above line is taking from?

And so, today, I began working for the first time since the beginning of may. And so this morning Jools and I set off for work together this morning, to the same place. It felt odd for sure, but I think it worked.

So for nine hours I walked around the factory checking on boxes. And more boxes. There is, of course, much more to it than that. But when you boiled it down, it's boxes.

Being an agency worker, starting what is seemed as a plumb job drew envious glares from those on packing, wrapping, up and down machines. And with my mentor, Pete, we did our job and the day flew by.

And come half five Jools and I drove back and talked boxes. And on our arrival home we both did stuff, fed the cats prepared dinner, and within 40 minutes we were sitting down to Chorizo Hash and some wine; it worked, and if this is how it's going to be, then it works.

Although the day was sunny, and I thought of pictures I could be taking, I think on reflection, I would rather have been working.

Now I'm dreaming of the weekend.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

A day out in Lahndahn Tahn

Even with the weather forecast being something like a biblical flood by mid-afternoon, we thought that we would like to go to lovely jubbley London town for a while and go for a walk along the banks of the Thames.

Gateway House

And so, even though the ideal early start was missed, we hit the road at eight and were heading through the south eastern suburbs before nine. We found a place to park in Woolwich, right beside the river, picked up my camera bag and a family sized umbrella and set of westwards towards the bright lights of Greenwich.

Design by Lego.

In truth, the walk is not the most beautiful walk in the world, heading as it does through an industrial wasteland, half made acceptable by some beautification. At least the rain did not turn up before lunchtime, and I got some good shots, I think.

Thames Barrier

The main point of the walk was to get a close up look at the Thames Barrier, the main part of the plan to save London in the event of a storm surge, and so the city not drown. At least it's nice to look at, and is still looking good as it did when built in the 80s.

The Michael Jackson Wall

I guess it was inevitable that we would end up at the Dome; to call it the O2 would mean that the millions spent on rebranding would have been money well spent. If there was any avoiding it, then we would have got a coffee somewhere else. In the end we had a coffee, a bite to eat and and some fruit juice under some quite impressively fake palm trees.

Quantum Cloud

We walked tot he tube station and got a train to Canary Warf, still standing after the financial disasters of the past two years, and looking like people are spending lots of money in the fake Italian rustic restaurants and designer handbag shops.

Millenium Dome

We walked past.

I wanted to show Jools how the Olympics were shaping up in Stratford, and so we headed up on the DLR. In truth it's a huge building site, but it seems to be on time, and will be stunning when finished.

What to do now? Head to Regent Street to go to Liberty's? Maybe some trainspotting?? In the end we decided to head back to the car and home. So, we retraced our steps back down to Canary Warf and then through the part desolation of the east end and docklands; past docks transformed into high quality flats with waterfront views, and even a few proper terraced houses. Past the London City Airport before diving under the river and back into Woolwich.

Our car was trapped in a car pack, and to free it we had to pay £6 to get our ticket validated; it would not take notes. It would not take credit cards. Any credit cards. I headed into the streets of Woolwich to get a fiver changed into coins; I managed to convince the woman in the shop that I was not a forger and just wanted to get our car out of the car park and needed money. She just about believed me, and with a handful of coins we headed to the car park and were free.

As wonderful as London is, and full of great things, it is always wonderful to be heading home back into the Kentish countryside and towards the coast.