“Work is so busy”.

“I’m too tired in the evenings”.

“The kids take up all my time”.

“I just can’t think of anything to write”.

The list goes on.

Writers are society’s great procrastinators, forever finding excuses for not putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

And I’m no different.

Aside from (some claim unhealthy) daily absorption in social media, primarily Facebook, I have written little of consequence over the past eighteen months, in fact a total of twenty five posts on my blog, admittedly most of which were of considerable length.

But it is now three years since I published A Half-Forgotten Triumph with my late, lamented co-author, Martin Moseling, to some acclaim in cricketing circles. That was to be the – somewhat idiosyncratic – launch pad for a writing career that, frankly, was always going to be more likely to bring modest pleasure to a small proportion of the reading public than any riches to its author.

Based on a host of articles written on annual trips to San Francisco, I planned to follow Triumph up in 2015 with a book celebrating, from an English traveller’s perspective, the City by the Bay. By the time I’m writing this piece, I would have hoped to have published it.

Not so.

A significant chunk of Smiling on a Cloudy Day: An Englishman’s Love Affair with San Francisco is still sitting on my desk in the nicely decorated binder I bought for the express purpose. Less developed is the manuscript of High Kicks and Red Rocks: A South West Road Trip which was the next planned work.

Now, this is where, in the classic writer’s fashion, I reel out my own excuses – deteriorating health and ultimate death of my father, which took a physical and mental toll, the passing of two other close friends, including the aforementioned Martin, two major operations for myself and, during this calendar year, the need to sell two properties and purchase another fifty miles apart.

Under cross-examination, I do believe I could make a case for partly justifying my inaction in respect of some of those issues, but, ultimately, my natural indolence took control of my writing energies.

But I can no longer cite them, or any other factors for that matter, as reasons for not getting “back on the horse”.

So it is time to dust off that nicely decorated binder and get to work on Cloudy Day, and following that, High Kicks. 

And I will.


(I know – procrastinating again).

A slight spanner has been thrown into the works in the past few months which has had both a positive and potentially negative impact on my writing plans.


My new home on the Channel coast has given me both a source of renewed inspiration and motivation. Without it, I doubt whether I would have been able to exorcise those demons I listed above.

It has been the subject of my four most recent blog posts, the last three alone written in the two and a half months since I arrived in the town that had generated so many happy memories from half a century ago.

But the danger, of course, is that its charms might divert me from the plans I have just outlined for those two books. I suspect that there may one day be a need to make Folkestone the main protagonist of another, more substantial, piece, but, for now, it has to be the light relief, the day job if you like. Aside from the requirement to sustain interest in the upcoming San Francisco book, ever more important as completion approaches, it will continue to be the primary focus of my social media activity.

Now where did I say that nicely decorated binder was?

A fanciful proposition?



After all, there are no breathtaking bridges (unless you count the Foord Road railway viaduct), no crippling hills (no, not even the Old High Street), no $40 million properties (how much IS the Grand worth?) and no former high security prisons once claimed for Indian land sitting off the shore in Kent’s garden resort.

But, having spent a lot of time in San Francisco over the past twenty years, and written extensively about it in the past five years, I believe there are enough similarities to entitle me to suggest that it has more in common with my childhood playground, and now home, of Folkestone than one might at first think. The only differences are ones of scale and international repute.


Before I plunge into this pool of fantasy, a brief disclaimer.

The only photographs included in this piece are those of Folkestone – for a variety of reasons: 1) Many people will already be familiar with some of the sights I refer to in San Francisco; 2) If they don’t, there are probably millions of images and billions of words on the internet to fill them in, and 3) I have posted hundreds of images elsewhere on this blog and I’d be delighted if you were inspired to go hunting for them!

Back to the proposition.

Firstly, they are both marine ports with world famous stretches of water/land on their doorstep (the Golden Gate and the White Cliffs of Dover) as well as glorious bay/sea views in all directions and weathers.

The boats in Folkestone’s pretty harbour hardly match up to the million dollar vessels you will find docked in Sausalito or Tiburon across San Francisco Bay. But the scene has a timeless charm that is endlessly captivating, whether at high or low tide.


Both places teeter on the edge of their nation. Folkestone, with its proximity to mainland Europe, cemented by the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994, has long vied with neighbouring Dover for the title of “Gateway to England” (personally, I think it’s a draw), while San Francisco is on the seismically challenged tip of a vast continent.

And because of that position, they have both served as major embarcation points for their nation’s military in time of war. In the 1914-18 conflict, it is estimated that as many as eight million soldiers marched down Folkestone’s Road of Remembrance to the Harbour Station en route to the fields of Flanders and France, while in the Second World War, more than a million and a half soldiers left for the Pacific conflict from San Francisco and its neighbour on the other side of the Bay Bridge, Oakland.


“The City” (as (we) San Franciscans call it) is consistently placed high (invariably first) on culinary surveys. The Foodie Capital of the U.S.A is no idle boast. Folkestone may not have attained that elevated status (for a start it’s not in the U.S.A. but you know what I mean), but a number of fine cafes and restaurants have sprouted in the town in recent years, a visible and tasty manifestation of the regeneration, courtesy in no small part to the beneficence of Sir Roger de Haan.

Rocksalt, the seafood restaurant perched alongside the small railway bridge that separates the inner from outer harbour, has recently been named the thirtieth best in the U.K and Googies has been adjudged Restaurant of the Year in the 2016 Taste of Kent Awards.

There are a number of other quality restaurants (Copper and Spices, Blooms @1/4 and Follies are personal favourites), both in the town and dotted along the recently reopened Harbour Arm, capped by the lovely Champagne Bar at the foot of the lighthouse.

And one can’t forget, this being a seaside resort, that there are many establishments serving up fish and chips (not forgetting the mushy peas, white bread and butter and mug of tea).


Coffee culture is strong too – many shops provide coffee and cake in addition to their primary products – and there is a distinct hipster vibe about Folkestone that mirrors – on a smaller scale of course – the atmosphere in neighbourhoods like the Mission, Cole Valley and Potrero Hill on the “left coast” of America.

Any self-respecting coastal resort would not be complete without its harbourside seafood stalls selling freshly caught crab and lobster as well as cockles, whelks and prawns. Bob’s, Chummy’s and La’s are all well established and popular purveyors of the denizens of the sea. A Fisherman’s Wharf in miniature you might argue.


Home to Jack London and Dashiel Hammett, the Beat poets and the Summer of Love, inspiration for the WPA and Mission muralists, San Francisco has always had a reputation for being a town for artists, writers and musicians. After all, it provides a gorgeous natural canvas upon which to create. However, one of the consequences of astronomical rents in recent years has been to drive many artists out of the city.


In contrast, Folkestone’s star as an arts venue of international repute is rising. Every three years – the next is in 2017 – it becomes host to a prestigious arts festival (Triennial), where artists are permitted free rein about town to create public artworks (there are already twenty seven pieces on display by luminaries like Yoko Ono and Tracey Emin).

This is the most high profile manifestation of a burgeoning arts scene centred on the Creative Quarter where galleries and performance space adorn the once run down Old High Street and Tontine Street. Indeed, it is the arts that has been the fulcrum of the regeneration that has become the envy of other coastal resorts around the UK (which, admittedly, have not had the benefit of a sugar daddy like de Haan.


The City by the Bay is renowned for its year round cavalcade of neighbourhood and city wide festivals and fairs celebrating its cherished devotion to diversity, including Pride, the Haight Ashbury Street Fair, North Beach Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Folsom Street Fair.

In contrast, Folkestone’s admittedly more modest, but nonetheless impressive, calendar of annual events, notably Charivari, the Harbour Festival, Leas Village Fete, Armed Forces DaySkabour and the Folkestone Book Festival among many others.

I cannot resist including a pet (not literally) subject of mine – gulls.

Both places boast a feisty, ravenous population, hardly surprising given their coastal position, but these, reflecting their human compatriots in each town, are genuine “characters”. The giant seagull artwork, now serving on Folkestone’s Harbour Arm as an unconventional tourist information kiosk, has become an unofficial poster boy (or is that gull?) for the town. But generally, so far, I’ve found the local birdlife noisy but reasonably friendly, especially when I cross Radnor Park of a morning when they waddle up to greet me (but don’t let me get too close).


The same cannot be said for those that begin to circle San Francisco’s (base) ball park during the late innings of a Giants game in anticipation of feasting on leftover garlic fries. Fans remaining until the end of evening games have to have their wits about them.

There is one aspect of San Francisco life that I would not want to see replicated in Folkestone. San Francisco rents and the broader cost of living are the highest in the States, due largely to the influx of tech workers from Google, Facebook and Oracle to name but a few.

Now, the Alkham Valley doesn’t have quite the same cudos as Silicon Valley (pretty as it is – Alkham not Silicon), but there are other forces at play – improved accessibility to London through the high speed rail link, continued development and gentrification and relatively cheap house prices (for now) – that increase the risk of Folkestone becoming a town split between affluent “transplants” and residents who cannot afford to live in the place they were born and brought up in.


There is a more substantial analysis called for here, and I may attempt it in due course. Moreover, there are other issues I might have explored – dogs and drinking spring to mind (that’s not about the bowls left outside the Leas Cliff Hall for the delectation of our canine colleagues but rather two very distinct subjects).

But, for now, there is certainly one further similarity between the two places that I must mention – I left my heart in both, in Folkestone as a ten year old gleefully gambolling (not gambling) in the rotunda and in 1995 on a fateful West Coast tour of the U.S.A.

This is the final part in a trilogy of posts centred on our recent relocation to Folkestone. The first outlined the historical and emotional reasons for making the move in the first place, whilst the second described the sometimes rocky road of searching for, buying and moving into our coastal retreat.

At the end of the last piece, written a fortnight after our arrival, I concluded that, not least because of the excellent weather we had enjoyed, it still felt as if we were on an extended summer vacation.

But now that another month has passed, and although the climate gods continue to shine upon us, we are beginning to feel that this is now our permanent home.

The frustrating saga of our landline, cable and broadband installation is finally over after forty two tortuous days.

We have purchased a number of new household appliances (and perpetrated an epidemic of hernia repairs among the delivery men into the bargain).

My wife has settled into her new office in town.

We are on first name terms with a pair of crows that have taken up residence in our beech tree. They love nothing more than to join the ducks in the lake across the road and the seagulls on the roof in a chaotic (pre-) dawn chorus.

And we have entertained guests from Norwich and Philadelphia.

For now then, it is fair to say that the fabulous Folkestone fairytale continues – as the images below demonstrate.


Folkestone must have more outdoor benches per square metre than anywhere else on the coast!


A blissful Sunday afternoon scene looking towards Coronation Parade and the East Cliff (unfortunately, that’s not my boat!)


One of the many attractive features of the award winning, child friendly Lower Leas Coastal Park – it can’t be claimed that this seaside town is the preserve of the elderly!


This shop in the harbour thrilled me as a child, and it is no different now as we’ve already adorned our apartment with artefacts from its shelves



The Grade II Leas Lift, a much loved icon, was restored to full operation this summer


“Ok, I get it that you won’t let me have any of your fish and chips, and you’re only looking after my own welfare by not feeding me, but just remember who runs this town”


Folkestone’s own Little Mermaid, modelled on local mother of two, Georgina Baker, gazes on our “chums” on the Cote D’opale from the rocks of Sunny Sands


On a warm weekend day, you need to hover at the top of the steps of the Lighthouse at the end of the Harbour Arm to stake out a spare table at the Champagne Bar


My fetish (I prefer to call it passion) for directional signs is amply satisfied around town


The wild, weird, wonderful Warren is a secret jealously guarded by (us!) locals 


Cafe culture at its best at Steep Street – welcoming smiles, potent coffee, delicious pastries, stacks of books, literary competitions and seats for great people watching – a killer combination

In conclusion, a couple of general observations. Cynics might sneer at what they perceive to be an overly positive initial impression, and I acknowledge that the rose-tinted spectacles haven’t been discarded yet. However, I offer the following:

  1. The people of Folkestone, especially in the retail and hospitality sectors, have been friendly and cheerful. And I have been particularly impressed by the courtesy of drivers towards pedestrians around town; and
  2. Folkestonians appear to care for their physical surroundings too – flower displays and other open spaces are lovingly tended, littering is less visible than in many other places I have lived in and visited and there is extensive renovation and redecoration of buildings going on, especially near the seafront.

I am very conscious, however,  that Folkestone is no more immune from the contagion of drunkenness and lawlessness that infects town centres across the country. Only last weekend, for example, a group of innocent bystanders was attacked in the early hours of the morning in Sandgate Road. I will not shy away in future from highlighting negative as well as positive features.

As the council gardening staff begin to dig up the flower beds along the Leas under another limpid blue sky that belies the reality of today’s Autumn Equinox, my thoughts turn to the next six months. Most of the time I have spent in Folkestone, as child and man, until now has been during the summer or in the late spring. But whilst I might mourn the imminent passing of hot, sunny days, I am excited at the prospect of witnessing winter storms crashing (but not damaging further) Coronation Parade and walking from Mermaid Beach into Sandgate and Hythe on cold, crisp February mornings.

The next phase of our Folkestone story awaits!


The first two posts in this series can be found at:



I explained in my last post (in what appears now to have been a different archaeological period) why my wife and I had decided to move to the Kent coast, specifically my childhood summer playground of Folkestone.

( http://www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/it-was-always-folkestone/ ) .

Well, two house sales, one flat purchase and much frustration and spasmodic heartache later, we descended upon the town a fortnight ago. And every night over the dinner table we interrogate each other as to why we hadn’t done this many years before.

But, of course, there were a number of viable reasons (or were they excuses?) – proximity to ageing parents, financial constraints borne of a meaty mortgage and an almost bank-busting propensity to go on expensive holidays, particularly to the west coast of the U.S.A, or maybe it was just unwarranted caution.

But there is no value in dwelling on those now.

It is the future that matters.

And the future is Folkestone.


We might have settled into our new apartment a month or so earlier had our sellers – now, let’s put this kindly – not taken a more relaxed approach to moving than us. Firstly, they refused to let the estate agents have a set of keys, insisting that they show prospective buyers around their property. Their prerogative, of course, and they did afford us nearly an hour of their time on two occasions, making us tea and establishing a strong personal rapport (we thought).

However, the fact that they engineered a seven week gap between those two viewings and prevented the surveyor from examining the apartment for a further month, explained by a combination of work commitments and regular retreats to their holiday home in France, proved immensely frustrating and stressful as progress on the sale of our house in Gillingham proceeded smoothly.


Moreover, half way through the process, and completely out of the blue, their solicitor delivered an ultimatum to us, insisting that we pay a non-refundable deposit of 1% within 24 hours or they would pull out and place the property back on the market. Disaster was only averted through by the estate agent persuading them that fairness dictated that they put up a similar deposit. An open-ended exclusivity agreement sealed the deal, barring subsequent major catastrophe.

We had viewed eight other properties in the West End of town, none of which remotely matched up in terms of visual appeal, character or size. Once we had seen the property and submitted an offer at the asking price within five minutes of leaving it, we were determined that it would be ours. We even took a significant financial hit following the survey on our own house to secure it.

And the physical move was not without its difficulties either. Firstly, despite valiant and agonising attempts to reduce my book collection before the move, enriching the minds of the populace of the Medway Towns into the bargain, there were still a huge number of heavy boxes of books for the removal men, not only to load onto their van at our former house, but to carry up forty one steps to our apartment in the sky at the other end. We may not have taken much in the way of furniture and white goods, planning to buy long overdue new items on arrival, but this was still a challenging task for them in addition to the ninety mile round trip.

They were brilliant by the way.


We have already bought a new washing machine (to replace the one that had served us so well for twenty years) and our first king size bed, incurring the wrath, in the process, of two teams of delivery men doomed to lug them up those aforementioned stairs. I know it’s their job, but I felt a little guilty as I witnessed the grunts and groans that accompanied the manipulation of the items round and over the bannister at each level.

I dread what expletives might reverberate around the building when a new oven, fridge/freezer and wardrobe are delivered in the coming weeks!

But – let’s be fair – they have it easy.

Because, at least in the case of furniture, they don’t have to assemble the blighters!

The manufacturer’s instructions for the bed stated that it would take two people an hour and a half to accomplish.

Yeah right!

Now, I’m arguably the least competent do-it-yourself person  on the planet, though my wife, having been brought up by a handyman father and two equally proficient brothers, has some aptitude (and, miraculously, managed to translate the nineteen pages of obtuse drawings into a workable plan).

I may never have been more impressed by her than on that day.

My contribution, such as it was, was to supply the occasional burst of brute strength.

So how long did it take us?

Only the seven hours!

Usain Bolt could have run the hundred metres 2,520 times in the time it took us to put that  together!

But it was worth it, even if there is still a niggling worry as we lay our heads down at night that it’s going to collapse beneath us.

By the way, the washing machine is working well. It even seems to know when the clothes haven’t quite dried and takes it upon itself to add a few minutes to the cycle. Modern technology eh?


Well, at least we were able to slump in front of the television after our mammoth Saturday morning/afternoon ordeal.


Despite assertions before the move that our Virgin Media services would be installed within a few days of our landing in Folkestone, we will have had to wait three weeks before we have an operational landline, broadband or TV in the apartment. Consequently, we have not seen a single minute of the Olympics or the start of the Premier League season – oh, and I must not forget the soaps (my wife instructed me to include that). That said, we have caught up with a lot of movies and television series on DVD that we have not seen for years, or, in some cases, not even taken the outer sleeve off!

Telephone access is not a problem as we have mobile phones, but obtaining meaningful Wifi access (other than on said devices) has necessitated expensive daily trips to the coffee shops of Folkestone (I’m on my second flat white of the morning in Costa Coffee as I write this).

I would not wish any of the above to give you the impression that we are regretting the decision to move.

Far from it.

The glorious skies, near constant sunshine (so far), even the noisy but necessary birdlife have all been a joy, and Bob’s and Chummy’s at the harbour, Rocksalt, Copper and Spices, Django’s, the Lighthouse Champagne Bar at the end of the Harbour Arm, the GrandSteep Street coffee house and others have all benefited from our custom over the past fortnight.

A significant added and unexpected bonus has been my wife’s transfer from Chatham to Folkestone, converting a round trip drive of more than two hours into a ten minute walk to her new office.

We had planned to head out west in late September for a few weeks. This was diluted to a week in Italy as the exchange rate plummeted following the EU referendum (I refuse to use THAT word). Now, we have decided to stay at “home” and acclimatise ourselves to our new surroundings. After all, there is a sense that we are still on holiday and staying in somebody else’s apartment, but I’m sure that will recede as autumn and winter approach (or will it?).

But when I can gaze upon views like those below every day I feel blessed, and any temporary and trivial hardships, before, during and after the move, simply fade away (unlike love).











That may not strictly be true.

But it’s how it should work out.

The majority of my summer holidays between the ages of ten and eighteen (when I became too cool to hang on to my parents’ swimsuit tails) were spent in the once fashionable seaside resort of Folkestone in Kent, a seagull’s glide along the coast from the fabled White Cliffs of Dover.

Although there was only one small, inevitably packed, patch of sandy beach along its largely pebble and shingle seafront, the magnificent Rotunda amusement arcade, fringed by fairground rides, putting green,  boating lake and swimming pool, kept a young boy and his cousins handsomely entertained for two weeks every August.


Just occasionally, the vacation coincided with cricket at the Cheriton Ground where the county team hosted opponents from what appeared then to be exotic, distant places named Derbyshire and Northamptonshire.  My parents would install me in the stand around 10am and go off to do whatever it was they did while, equipped with sandwiches, suncream and scorebook, I drooled over the godlike exploits of Cowdrey, Knott and Underwood. The sun always seemed to shine and Kent always seemed to win, though I’m not convinced that the history books would corroborate either assertion.

But I don’t care – I was in Heaven.

In the absence of cricket I could be found staggering around the bracing pitch and putt golf course on the windswept cliffs overlooking the small but bustling harbour, where saucers of fresh cockles and whelks were in abundant supply. If the cliff top links seemed too challenging, a round of crazy golf could be had on The Stade, the narrow strip of land between harbour and sandy beach. The family that ran our bed and breakfast, who went by what, to a ten year old in 1963 (and probably one in 2016 too), was the hysterically funny name of Clutterbuck, owned the shop at the beach end.


Finally, there was a daily ferry service to Boulogne-sur-Mer in Northern France, where I spent my first day abroad. Unfortunately, my recollections of a youthful life on the ocean wave have more to do with leaning over the side of the boat than tucking into a full English breakfast in the café. It was a few more years, therefore, before I could indulge in what became lifelong passions for Brie and Roquefort cheese and French wine.

Folkestone may not have enjoyed the cheeky, “kiss me quick” ambience of Margate or Southend, but I loved its quieter, more refined atmosphere. My parents even spoke on occasion of retiring to the resort but, sadly, it never happened – and with my father’s recent death, never will. I’m comforted, however, by the thought that the last break they shared together was in their favourite location.

And now my wife and I have, or will soon have, means, motive and opportunity to live that dream ourselves. We have been frequent visitors to Folkestone and the neighbouring Kentish seaside towns of Margate, Ramsgate, Broadstairs, Deal and Whitstable in recent years, and enjoy each one for its particular attractions and atmosphere.


When it became apparent that my father’s life might be approaching its end, I asked her which resort she would like to make her home should circumstances one day permit. To my surprise and delight she replied, without hesitation, “Folkestone”.

So now we have the small task of selling two homes in Medway and buying a property on the coast. It is a slightly daunting, but undeniably, exciting prospect. It might be fanciful to think that, by mid to late summer, we will be opening our curtains and shouting “bonjour” to our French neighbours across the English channel every morning.

But it won’t be for want of trying – even foreign holidays this year might need to take a back seat.

So, apart from the obvious charms that childhood still weaves, what is it that lures us to Folkestone?


After all, the past forty years have seen the town, in common with many other resorts around the British coastline, decline dramatically as a holiday destination as people took advantage of greater leisure time and resources to travel further afield. The rotunda and surrounding attractions were demolished, the lively, cobbled Old High Street that winds up to the modern town centre fell into disrepair and many of the businesses dependent upon holidaymakers closed.


Gone were many of the shops selling postcards, beach balls and buckets and spades. Gone were the traditional tea rooms and fish and chip restaurants. And gone was the shop with the big picture window at the top of the Old High Street through which children and adults alike gaped in awe at sticks of Folkestone rock being made.

But, with extensive investment, there have been signs in recent years that Folkestone is beginning to stir again. The Old High Street has undergone a makeover. One of a kind gift shops, artisanal food stores and galleries, and attractive restaurants have emerged, along with a burgeoning artistic community.


There may no longer be any cross-channel services, and the former harbour railway station may, for now, remains overgrown with weeds, but the town’s accessibility from London and the rest of the county has been enhanced by the arrival of a high speed rail service. And, of course, it is home to the Channel Tunnel and the swiftest escape to the continent.


The East Cliff beach has been re-branded Sunny Sands and is as rammed with humanity as ever on a warm day. There are few better places to play beach cricket when the tide is out.


And, last summer, the Harbour Arm, after years of abandonment, re-opened for several weekends with music, food and drink decorating its bracing promenade, providing “new” thrilling vistas back across the harbour. Currently closed for the winter, it is scheduled to resurface full time in May 2016.



Our permanent residence could not have been better timed.

The jewel in Folkestone’s crown remains the Leas, once described as “indisputably the finest marine promenade in the world”, a wide clifftop walk with well tended flower beds and glorious views across the channel. Imposing old hotels speak of the resort’s former glory, no more so than the Grand and Metropole, though some are now holiday apartments. The Leas Cliff Hall is a popular stopping off point for musicians and comedians on tour. I will never forget a long and hilarious night with Frankie Howerd there back in the late sixties.


On a clear day, you can almost pick out individual buildings on the French coast as you head towards the charming neighbouring resorts of Sandgate and Hythe with its access to the world class attractions of Port Lympne Wild Animal Park and the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, still the smallest regular light rail system in the world and as thrilling a ride more than a half a century later than the first. At the end of the line, you arrive at Dungeness on the tip of Romney Marsh with its end of the world atmosphere, where the abundant birdlife shares the shingle with two nuclear power stations .


Despite the loss of the ferry service and crazy golf course, as well as the diminution in the fishing trade, the pretty little harbour and adjoining Stade with its seafood stalls still retain some of the atmosphere that first captivated me fifty years ago.


The Guardian newspaper recognised the efforts being made to enhance Folkestone’s appeal by rating it among the world’s best holiday destinations to visit in 2014. Many, especially those who have not visited in recent years, will snigger or even guffaw at the idea, but the town is showing signs that it has a future.

We might even put you up while you visit!

Now, if they could only rebuild the Rotunda and resume playing first class county cricket there ………….




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It is now four months since my father passed away.

With the initial practical issues now largely dealt with, apart from the small matter of selling his house, my thoughts turn more to him as a man and parent. And with Christmas approaching, a time of year when he was in his element, I feel his absence more acutely.

Dad was born on Valentine’s Day eighty eight years ago, the eldest of four brothers, and a sister who died in childhood. After attending the local primary school, he gained a place at the most prestigious secondary school in the area. He proudly recalled that he also spent a term at the neighbouring girls’ school due to his buildings being requisitioned for the war effort.

He joined the Army in 1945, claiming that his arrival precipitated Hitler’s departure, a theory at least corroborated by the calendar, and was based in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar for four years. His duties included recording the births and deaths of the island apes! One of the happiest moments of his later years was revisiting the “Rock” on his eightieth birthday with my wife and I, though he was mortified to discover that his barracks was now a particularly dowdy branch of Marks and Spencer!

Returning home, he met the love of his life, Betty, and they were married in August 1950. I joined the party two years later. Most of his working life was spent in the administration of education in the London area, including County Hall which sits beneath the iconic London Eye. It is one of my regrets that he didn’t get to take a “flight” on it before he died. He took early retirement in 1986, giving him the opportunity to play golf and tend his garden more often, as well as travel around the country with my mother.


His life was turned upside down in 2004 when Mum died of cancer. In fifty four years of marriage, they had only spent one night apart. I had always thought that my mother would survive her husband’s death more successfully than the other way round.

But he surprised me.

Though her passing left him bereft and desperately lonely most of the time, he returned within months to his former social life, including playing bingo and dancing, which they had so enjoyed together. He even took his first flight in visiting his surviving brothers in Spain. For nearly four years, he continued to maintain an active social life, looking forward in particular to Thursday evenings when he kept up a tradition of nearly sixty years by meeting up with his closest friends to play snooker at a local working men’s club. There may not have been many breaks of 147, or even 14 for that matter, made on those occasions, but they were filled with laughter and much non-politically correct ranting but, above all, affection.


But then in August 2008, he suffered a stroke which was followed quickly by a heart attack and kidney failure. Though he recovered after several days in critical care, his mobility was progressively restricted thereafter and his self-confidence was shattered virtually overnight.

He was never the same man afterwards.

Although he remained in his home, he was no longer capable of carrying out everyday chores such as cleaning, shopping (other than at the corner store) and clothes washing/ironing  all of which fell to my wife and I. Carers visited him two or three times a days to cook the meals I had bought for him and check on his wellbeing.

While Janet and I took him out for meals and to the theatre from time to time, he became increasingly disinclined to leave his home, content to watch Sky Sports from dawn to dusk on his new flat screen television. Living close by I was able to visit him two or three times a week and speak to him on the telephone every day.

He became increasingly negative about life in his last few years. For all that I and the health professionals did for him to make life comfortable, we could not do the one thing that he craved above every other thing.

Bring my mother back.

Comments like “throw me in a corner and leave me to die”, supplemented by ” you won’t have to worry about me anymore and can get on with your own life” became more frequent. His trips to hospital were a relief for him because he wasn’t surrounded by memories, and was attended to constantly rather than for half an hour a couple of times a day.

A particularly nasty fall in early 2013 led him to become virtually housebound. Intermittent falls in the home and a succession of infections meant periodic stays in hospital or respite care for the remainder of his life. The “final straw” came when he choked on a drink at the nursing home in March 2015, leading to an aspiration pneumonia diagnosis, a condition that just could not be beaten and which ultimately led to heart failure and death five months later.

During that period, and on previous occasions, he was deprived of the one real, enduring pleasure he still had – food. Nil by mouth or mashed up potatoes and carrots were no substitute for a hearty roast dinner or fish and chips. The last time I saw him genuinely enjoying himself was when he was tucking into the mountainous Christmas dinner Janet had prepared for him at his home last year. The turkey, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, carrots, parsnips and stuffing, followed by Christmas pudding and custard, must have weighed three or four times that of the microwaved meals he was accustomed, yet he cleared every scrap. And then had cheese board and biscuits a few hours later!


Just prior to the choking attack that triggered his ultimate demise, I had sneaked in a bar of Cadbury’s Whole Nut chocolate to the nursing home. Despite the fact that, but an hour before, he had eaten a three course lunch, he devoured most of it within minutes!  He did have the good grace, however, to offer me a couple of squares!

He had been an enthusiastic sportsman, playing tennis in his early married days before becoming a reliable and popular member of a local cricket team. An average batsman and occasional bowler, it was in fielding that he excelled. It wasn’t just that he was a “safe pair of hands”, but he was able to use another part of his anatomy to great effect. Being amply proportioned, he perfected the art of bouncing the ball off his stomach to waiting team mates who would then catch it!

Though he rarely reached double figures, he played the occasional memorable innings, no more so than at a game in Faversham on a Bank Holiday Monday when, having been knockrd momentarily unconscious during the first innings by the home team’s fearsome West Indian fast bowler, and having his glasses shattered in the process, he returned in the second innings to win the match almost single-handed in the fading ligh with a score of 36, his second highest ever score.

It was through cricket that he taught me not only my love of the game but my affection for my home county of Kent. Summer weekends between the age of eight and sixteen were spent visiting delightful Wealden villages such as Goudhurst, Nursed, Hadlow and Addington, invariably on a bone-shaking double decker bus or in the back of a team member’s Morris Minor. And during the week in the school holidays we would take long rambling walks to exotic places such as Pig’s Hole Bottom.

Dad was afflicted, as, of course, was I, at an early age with the family curse of supporting Gillingham Football Club, always claiming, even when the club had risen to the second tier of English football in 2000, that the team of the late nineteen forties, which plied its trade in non-league, was the best.

He loved to tell the story of the game when, shortly after they were married, he and my mother were sat in the old Gordon Road Stand, and one of the crowd repeatedly yelled at an opposition player, calling him a “sod”. When the local vicar, sat a few rows behind, protested, Dad jumped to the man’s defence by exclaiming “it’s in the Bible you know”!

He would have been so thrilled to learn that “the Gills” were top of the league at the time of his death, though he would have added that “it won’t last”!


Above all, he was a highly sociable man, the veritable “life and soul of the party”. One story that epitomised this occurred on the family’s first holiday abroad to Ireland in 1968.

On the first Saturday evening a timid group of six adults and three teenagers made its way to the local bar where they were forced to endure two hours of Irish rebel songs, bellowed out passionately by the local menfolk.

Eventually, one of the men turned to their “guests” and proclaimed it was now their turn to sing. Undeterred, and fuelled by several libations from the well of Arthur Guinness, Dad leapt to his feet and delivered to a bewildered but ecstatic audience his party piece of The Winkle Song with its immortal chorus, of “my old woman and ‘er seven kids were a-pickin’ all the big ones out”!

The English family holidaying in the former jailhouse were local celebrities overnight, so much so that we were given the keys to another local bar for our exclusive use any time, and told to close up when we’d finished!

He could deliver word perfect renditions of the famous monologues, Gunga Din and There’s a Green Eyed Yellow Idol to the North of Kathmandu. And, at this time of year, he and his eldest brother would bring the house down at social events with their heartfelt singing of See Amid the Winter’s Snow.

He was never a “dad dancer” (indeed, he and Mum were extremely competent ballroom dancers), but he could embarrass my teenage self by  being the loudest, and admittedly, the most tuneful voice in church or other venue where communal singing was required.

It was all this which made his last years in which he was almost afraid to mix with people all the more heartbreaking. Every health professional – nurse, doctor, carer, health visitor –  remarked that he was a “lovely man”,  always smiling and grateful for whatever service they provided. Whilst I often saw the other side when we quarrelled about his negativity – when I often reminded him that his wife would not have stood for any self-pity had she been alive – there is no question that he was all of those things.


As father and son, we shared few genuinely intimate moments – for example, I don’t ever recall anything approaching the “birds and bees” conversation – but we did share hundreds of occasions together of elation and despair, mostly the latter, on the football terraces.

According to my mother, his first words on seeing his son and heir were “if he doesn’t like sport, I’ll have nothing to do with him”. I’m sure it was meant in jest, but there was real feeling in it. He needn’t have worried. In fact, my obsession with cricket and football in particular drove him to distraction during my childhood, especially when I returned home from school at the end of each term with a report that referred to my preference for Gillingham Football Club over my studies.


I know he was proud of me, even though there were times when I tested his loyalty.  We had fallen out periodically over my life choices, and we would argue constantly but good-naturedly about politics and sport. But there was mutual respect, admiration and, yes, love, in those exchanges.

He did enjoy introducing me to friends and acquaintances as his daughter during the years when my hair was exceedingly long, but it was done with a characteristic twinkle in his eye.

Until the last few months when he was incapable of doing so, we had spoken almost every day. There have been few days  since he died when I haven’t gone to pick up the telephone to call him to discuss the previous night’s live televised football game or give him some juicy sporting gossip that he would not have otherwise been aware of.

Or just to check that he was Ok.

Which he is now, of course.

Though I’m not sure I can say the same.




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A prominent San Francisco property website’s guide to the best sixteen neighborhoods in San Francisco does not feature it.

Only the “Rough Guide” of all of the most popular tourist guide books makes reference to it.

Even the “San Francisco Visitors Planning Guide”, the “Official Guide to the City by the Bay”, fails to regard it as worthy of mention.

Cole Valley, tucked beneath Twin Peaks, close to the south eastern corner of Golden Gate Park and virtually holding hands with the Haight, remains a well-kept secret to visitors and many city dwellers alike.

And that is my excuse for having neglected it too during a dozen visits spanning two decades, aside from one lunch at “Cafe Cole” following a t-shirt safari along Haight Street around three years ago. It never occurred to me to venture just a couple of blocks further south to the bustling but relaxed intersection with Carl Street because, after all, nobody ever advised me I should do so.

Until last month.


Now, Cole Valley residents might quite like to leave it that way, but I wonder how long it will be before it gains wider recognition and joins the first division of neighborhoods for which San Francisco is noted. I doubt that this modest paeon will have tourists flocking to join the line outside “Zazie” or hike up to the prehistoric feeling Tank Hill, but Cole Valley is beginning to get noticed – and not only by me.

Indeed, within a fortnight of my visit, the “Sacramento Bee” published an article asking whether it might be the “friendliest neighborhood in San Francisco?”


I rest my case.

Despatched by a combination of the 24 and 7 Muni buses from our Bernal Heights rental cottage on a mild, breezy May morning, my wife and I arrived at the corner of Haight and Cole and set off in pursuit of breakfast.

We were struck immediately by the frequency and availability of public transportation in the area. We were accustomed to riding the buses that served Haight Street, but there seemed to be vehicles crisscrossing the intersection of Carl and Cole almost continually.

Not only did the N Judah light rail rattle past every few minutes, carrying passengers from ballpark to ocean via downtown, but the more prosaic 6, 33, 37 and 43 Muni lines were equally regular sights on the street.



We had planned to eat at “Zazie”, a famed French restaurant that attracted brunch devotees from all over the Bay Area, but the line, or rather the ragged scrum congregating outside, made it clear that we might have to wait until Tuesday week to bag a table.



So we opted for our second choice of “Crepes on Cole” which boasted tables free inside – at least when we arrived. We ordered eggs sunny side up with sausage and bacon respectively, accompanied by the customary fried potatoes and the obligatory nod to healthy eating in the form of a slice of fruit. The dish was good, though the eggs might have been warmer. Like (hot) tea, this seems to be a not uncommon issue in the States. We Brits do like our tea to be hot! I regretted not having plumped for my habitual order of Eggs Benedict as it looked especially enticing as plate after plate wafted past. The locals clearly knew something we didn’t!

The “Rough Guide” remarks that there is “little to see or do here other than eat” and the preponderance of cafes and dining places is exceptional for the size of the neighborhood. But I, for one, don’t regard that as a bad thing. The only problem is one of choice. In the space of a couple of blocks, the discerning foodie can eat Italian, Mexican, French and Japanese. And each of the many cafes appeared to offer its own speciality lines (though, sadly, as I write this, the attractive “La Boulange” branch may be about to be closed by its parent company, Starbucks). And the “Ice Cream Bar Soda Fountain” and “Say Cheese” are two of the most celebrated shops of their kind in the Bay Area.



A relaxed and civilised atmosphere, combined with lovely and diverse architecture and the aforementioned public transport and dining options make this a tempting proposition for us to stay in in the future.





The streets were relatively flat too!

With one notable exception.

That just happened to be the highlight of our inaugural visit.

That was the sight that befell us at the top of the steps that snaked upwards from the end of Belgrave Street, beneath Sutro Forest or, to give it its mundane official title, the Mount Sutro Open Space Preserve (whose lush vegetation and wildlife we intend to explore on our next visit). As an honorary Bernalite, I had argued for the past two years that the views from the top of its hill of downtown, the bay, the bridges and the surrounding area trumped even those of Twin Peaks, where it seems it is the lot of all first time visitors, including ourselves twenty years ago, to be hauled.

I know that there are advocates for several other peaks, including Buena Vista Park which we had hiked only seven days before. But the panorama that emerged as we climbed those last few steps up to Tank Hill, so named for the late nineteenth century water tank stationed there, was a worthy rival to any. All that remains of that tank is a concrete base adorned with eucalyptus planted to divert the Japanese bombers after Peal Harbor. Among the stunning vistas visible from every vantage point, the best for me was the appearance of a hazy downtown lurking behind the equally dramatic Corona Heights.



Although the space atop the hill is small enough to fit into a corner of Bernal Heights Hill’s undulating expanse, we were surprised and thrilled to find a vacant bench that virtually teetered over the precipice. In fact, our only companions during our half hour meditation were a couple of youthful Dutch amateur photographers, hopping from one stunning spot to another, and the ubiquitous procession of canines, though they will have been disappointed that the lack of room did not lend itself to off leash frolicking. For one moment, I swore that I witnessed a cherry-headed conure, one of the famed “Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill”flit by noisily, but I suspect it was a consequence of the romantic reverie I had sunk into.

To the north, the view was dominated by St Ignatius Chatholic Church at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), where many of the denizens of Cole Valley either studied or worked.







Cole Valley’s cosy but smart small town feel is reinforced by the presence of several family owned stores, some reflecting its proximity to Hippie Haight, such as the pharmacy focusing on alternative remedies and “The Sword and Rose” which specialises in oils, crystals and incense and gives tarot and astrology readings. “Cole Hardware” is one of the most popular and well stocked stores (it also boasts a fine backyard nursery) in the Bay Area.







We had arranged to call in on one of the friends we had made during our last visit, the manager of the “Land of the Sun” store on Haight Street and spend a fortune on her lovely “Summer of Love” merchandise. Reluctantly, therefore, we had to burst through the Cole Street bubble and re-emerge on its earthier, spikier neighbor’s patch.

The line for “Zazie” was, if anything, longer than it had been two hours previously. It occurred to me that we would probably have to find a place to live In Cole Valley if we ever wanted to have any chance of dining there before it closed in mid-afternoon!