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My upcoming poetry book, “Dust in my Cappuccino” is a collection of thirty two poems inspired by the coastal town of Folkestone in the south east corner of England. In order to provide some context to the poems for those readers unfamiliar with the town, I have written a short history of the town. This will feature as the introduction to the collection when it is published next month.

Located on the south east coast of England, a handful of miles from the famed White Cliffs, and only twenty two miles from continental Europe, Folkestone has had a long, varied history, boasting both Bronze and Iron Age settlements and a prominent Roman Villa, sadly now perilously close to the cliff erosion that has always afflicted this coastline.

Descended from the the Anglo-Saxon Kings of Kent, Eanswythe, a devout young princess, founded a nunnery in the town in the seventh century AD, and was subsequently made a saint. Her bones, discovered in the parish church by workmen in 1885, were radiocarbon tested and confirmed in 2020, and the church is now becoming a growing site of pilgrimage.

For a thousand years, Folkestone was a modest fishing village and, for most of that time, as a limb of the Cinque Port of Dover, also a busy trading port. Smuggling was a not insignificant business from the eighteenth century too. But it was the coming of the railway and associated cross-channel ferry industry from 1843, and the construction in later decades of grand hotels and white stuccoed family homes, notably in the West End, that contributed to its rise as a fashionable resort that attracted royalty, artists and writers in addition to the Victorian and Edwardian middle class. Much of this development was conceived, funded and overseen by the Earl of Radnor, who still owns land in the town and surrounding area.

The “golden age” that began around 1880 arguably came to a sudden halt with the outbreak of the Great War, which had a profound effect on Folkestone. It became a major port of embarkation for the Western Front, and the final sight of England for millions of troops, many of whom will have marched from the neighbouring Shorncliffe army camp. The bombing of Tontine Street in 1917 brought about the highest number of British civilian dead as a result of an air raid during the war up until that point.

The inter war years saw a revival, with Folkestone exploiting its natural beauty – the Channel views, rolling hills, delightful parks and gardens – by marketing itself as “Fashionable” and “Spacious and Gracious”. Moreover, its popularity as a resort was enhanced by the Earl of Radnor’s “foreshore development” that included the building of the Rotunda, the largest unsupported concrete dome in Europe, swimming pool and boating lake, supplementing the existing Victoria Pier, switchback railway and the 1885 Leas water lift.

The town suffered heavy bombardment during the Second World War, destroying much of the harbour, but recovered as a seaside destination during the fifties and early sixties, which is when my Folkestone story began. The Rotunda, quaint, steep Old High Street with the revered Rock and Joke shops and the popular ferry route to Boulogne-sur-mer, kept the visitors coming and the locals entertained.

But, like so many other UK coastal resorts, it suffered a deep decline as the advent of cheap air fares, duty free and longer annual leave allowance, led to an escape to resorts where the sun was twenty degrees warmer and the beer ten degrees colder. Many of the much loved attractions and hotels closed, were demolished and converted into flats, and trade in the town slumped. Although the cross-channel ferry industry stopped at the turn of the century, Folkestone has retained its role as a point of departure to the continent with the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994.

The new Millennium brought a revival, aided by the philanthropy of former Saga owner, Sir Roger De Haan, who renovated and refurbished many of the buildings in the old town, offering the properties to creatives, provided education and sporting facilities (the latest of which the world’s first multi-storey skatepark), and restored and remodelled the derelict harbour area. The construction of up to a thousand apartments along the shoreline between the Leas Lift (currently closed) and the Harbour Arm is also now underway.

Since 2008, the Folkestone Triennial has showcased new works from established British and International artists, around half of each remain in the town once the exhibition is over. There are now around ninety such pieces placed outdoors around town.  

De Haan’s influence and the arrival of the high speed rail link (only fifty four minutes from London) in 2007, has proved a happy marriage in rendering Folkestone more accessible. Comparatively cheap (but rising) house prices, the advantages of living by the sea, a vibrant dining scene and improving facilities, not least for children, have all led to a growing relocation of people, many of them young families, predominantly from London.

My love affair with Folkestone began at the age of ten when I was brought by my parents from my hometown of Rochester, forty-five miles away on the North Kent coast, on the first of a succession of summer holidays to the town. It was my mother’s admitted but modest pretensions to social mobility which led to the choice of Folkestone rather than the traditional “bucket and spade” resorts such as Herne Bay, Margate or Broadstairs.

Once I left home and moved around the country for study or work, visits became much less frequent, though I always retained my affection for the town. In fact, my parents long harboured the desire of retiring to Folkestone (on their last holiday together they had stayed in the Grand Burstin Hotel at the harbour), but with my mother’s relatively early passing, it never materialised. But their groundwork was not done in vain, as when the opportunity arose in 2016, my wife and I had no hesitation in moving here.

I have gathered together thirty two of my poems inspired by Folkestone, in which many of the themes and events I have outlined above are referenced and explored. One particular challenge has been whether to present them in a systematic way, for example, chronology, geography or subject matter, but ultimately, they are laid before you in an essentially random form, at least superficially.


As I step away from Bob’s counter,

With freshly caught crab sandwich

(The crab, not the sandwich),

Clutched firmly in my hand

For fear of avian ambush,

I am swiftly joined by an adult gull –

We will call him “Sid” –

(Because he is no ordinary gull,

As we shall soon discover),

Who plants himself

At a respectful distance 

Professing no interest in the carton

Of half eaten fish and chips

Lounging seductively and dangerously

On the adjoining table.

As I take my first bite,

He does that endearing seagull trick

Of pretending to avert his eyes

Whilst slyly tracking the course

The sandwich takes

Between my hand and mouth.  

A staring contest ensues,,

I for one not daring to take my eyes off

My inscrutable guest for one second.

I try to rationalise with Sid:

“Feeding you is not good for you,

In fact it’s cruel;

You will get ill if you

Persist in eating human food”.

After shooing off an interloping chick,

He replies:

“Crab is hardly human food”,

“I’ve been eating it for years

And it’s never done me any harm”.

Taken aback by this surprising development,

I take another, more censorious, tack:

“But you ransack our waste bins

And leave the contents strewn everywhere

In your search for our leftovers”.

Sid remains unimpressed and,

After what he thinks is 

A surreptitious but unsuccessful 

Jab at my sandwich,

Exclaims:

“Well, that’s down to you people

Not putting your bins our properly;

We wouldn’t take the food if it

Was securely tied and hidden away,

We can’t be blamed for 

Your slapdash behaviour”. 

Irritated that he appeared to 

Have an answer for everything,

I resolved to play the excreta card,

That had to be the clincher:

“You have an unfortunate propensity”

(I had decided by now that

He was an educated sort of chap

And would understand such long words),

For shitting everywhere too,

On our windows, our cars,

And even ours kids, at times’’.

Sid took particular umbrage at this slur:

“Well, on that point, don’t you humans

Claim that it is lucky?

So I can’t fathom your problem here;

And we’re only doing what comes naturally,

We’ve been doing it for thirty million years,

And besides if you didn’t leave so much

Of your crap like pizza and chips lying around,

Our evacuations might not be 

As copious or disagreeable”.

And before I have time to respond,

He tilts his head and 

Turns on the full charm offensive

By saying:

“But come on, admit it, we are cute,

Aren’t we?”

“The way we sashay around, 

Our endlessly amusing repertoire 

Of squawks and screeches, 

And the way we mate for life 

And look after our kids

(Much better than some of you), 

You can’t deny it really, can you?”

I admit defeat gracefully and pass him

My final mouthful of crab sandwich

In acknowledgement of his victory.

As I fold the wrapping, 

Being careful to place it 

In the nearest available bin, 

He flaps his wings,

Checks for any orphan crumbs

Or juicy looking dog ends, 

And scoots perilously past me,

Grazing my left ear,

In pursuit of more sympathetic diners.


 

In every tuft of dew-drenched grass

And every slice of crumbling chalk,

The howl of history is heard

Across this patch of green I walk.

Ferries no longer line the pier,

Nor steam from up trains fill the air,

The view replaced by Folkestone sign

And Burstin’s monumental glare. 

Mouldering Martello tower, 

Former lookout for all that floats, 

Stares out today at pitch and putt, 

And bowling club instead of boats.

Above sharp pointed St. Peter’s spire

The roar of spitfires still turns heads

Of tourists, swimmers, fishermen,

And foragers on fossil beds.

The Chinese Elvis lives here now,

From Old Kent Road to East Wear Bay,

No ghetto or jailhouse in sight,

But bungalows and children’s play. 

On ten thousand year old Jock’s Pitch,

Where breathless dogs now chase balls,

A caldarium bubbles underneath

And another chunk of cliff top falls.


Mermaid Beach at Dusk

On a night like this,

The Cote d’Opale 

Might as well be 

A thousand miles away.

Sky and sea present 

An ashen canvas. 

It is impossible to tell 

Where one ends 

And the other begins. 

Barely a whisper from the surf tonight. 

Even Matthew Arnold’s 

“Grating roar of pebbles”

Is indecipherable,  

So faint is nature’s refrain. 

I am minded that across town,

Above Tontine Street’s old post office

A neon sign proclaims that 

“Heaven is a place 

Where nothing ever happens”.

And nothing is happening tonight 

In this particular speck of paradise.

But then everything is happening.

Just visible along the beach,

The lighthouse blinks through

The thick, enfolding gloom; 

A tuneless, forsaken church bell, 

Hangs silently suspended above 

Where once stood rotunda, swimming pool,

Boating lake and fairground rides.

A cockapoo puppy snuffles among 

The seaweed encrusted pebbles 

While its fretful owner punctures the peace 

With impassioned and fruitless pleas 

To accompany her back 

To the refuge of her Range Rover 

Parked at the foot of the desolate lift.

An empty tuna mayonnaise 

Sandwich carton flutters 

In the breathless breeze beside 

Folkestone’s modest imitation 

Of Avebury stone circle. 

A lone fisherman plants tripod and rod

On the forgotten beach, 

Reminding me of all night sessions 

On otherworldly Dungeness shingle 

With my teddy boy “Uncle Len”

And Eddie Cochran and Elvis on the radio, 

More than sixty years ago.

The overwhelming flatness 

Has deterred the customary 

Photographic shooting party 

From assembling to capture 

That final, ferocious blaze 

Of orange, purple, red and gold 

Over Sandgate’s adjacent shore. 

But tomorrow morning, life will return,

Children will again sprint into the sea,

Mindless of the sharp shells and shingle

That scrape and bruise their fragile feet;

And they will crave the comfort of towels

And the sanctuary of new beach huts.


I can reveal this afternoon my current thinking on the structure and layout of my forthcoming collection of poetry inspired by and about Folkestone, “Dust in My Cappuccino”, scheduled for publication in May.

The first short section will focus on poems representing beginnings, followed by the main body of the book, containing pieces on historical and cultural events and scenes.

In the middle of this part will be a much longer poem, effectively a dream sequence, ranging over many places and time zones. Towards the end will be a handful of pieces on life in the town during the pandemic (the larger proportion of which I had previously named “Coronavirus Chronicles”), including emerging from the darkness.

Finally, in order to round off the collection, and act as a counterpoint to the first poem, will be my conclusions as to what Folkestone means to me.


A day like any other –

In the middle of a war.

Except it isn’t.

Anticipation is high as 

Mabel and Gertie Bowbrick,

And devoted mother, Nellie,

Wait patiently in line

Outside Stokes greengrocers

On teeming Tontine Street,

For a special delivery

Of scarce fruit and vegetables

Later that afternoon.

At twenty minutes past six,

With darkening clouds 

Concealing surprise,

What sounds like gunfire 

Is heard from the direction of 

Shorncliffe Army Camp.

“It’s just training manoeuvres, 

It happens all the time”,

The general consensus

Among an unconcerned crowd,

Comforted that Blighty 

Remains up for the fight.

Until two minutes later

When the lengthening queue

Is obliterated by single bomb, 

Casually hurled from 

A passing Gotha plane.

Frederick and Arthur Stokes,

And their family

Perish on the spot,

Along with Mabel and Gertie 

And many of their neighbours.

Sixty one slain in total, 

The youngest three months old, 

Thirty six more lives snuffed out

Before the final toll is known

Nearly eight years later,

When valiant, much loved Nellie

Draws her last breath in the 

Royal Victoria Hospital,

Half a mile from the scene.

No rationing of potatoes as planned,

But rather a rationing of civilian lives,

Lost in a line of innocence and hope.

Today, flanked by brewery tap

And greasy spoon,

A small, pale blue plaque,

Sometimes adorned 

With a spray of flowers,

Stands by a bare, open patch,

Where tenacious weeds 

Thrust through shards of slate.


Part One: The Wage Slave

“And what do you do?”.

For nearly thirty years I had to contend with this question at parties, in the pub or in the street when meeting somebody for the first time.  And I never managed to formulate an answer that did not make me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed.  The conversation usually went something like this:

“And what do you do”?

(Please don’t ask that question).

“I work for the Government” or “I’m a civil servant”.

“Oh, what department do you work in?” or “you work for the council then do you?”

(Please don’t ask that question either).

“I work in social security”.

(Here we go – I’ve never claimed a penny in my life / they are all scroungers / all you do is drink tea all day waiting to pick up your fat pension / my granny is not getting all her benefits, can you help me if I give you her details – or some permutation of the foregoing).

(Now what do I say?  Express an opinion, provoking a heated debate, change the subject or walk away?).

Sometimes, a sympathetic shrug and weak smile would dull the interest.  And I could often dredge up the hardy excuse that that was not my particular area of expertise.  Either way, the conversation would always dribble to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

The irony is, of course, that I did perform a valuable function on behalf of the British taxpayer, whatever the tabloid press might wish to feed the electorate.  And, working in welfare, I did contribute, probably in a smaller way than I would have liked, to reducing unemployment, alleviating child poverty or making the lives of the elderly and infirm more dignified and comfortable.

But I could rarely make that leap from modest self-gratification to public pride when confronted by someone who did a job that was, or was perceived to be, more productive. 

I’m sure there are many other jobs that incite similar reactions, but welfare is one area where everyone has a stake – after all, most pay taxes and national insurance, and know people either who are claiming or who should not, in their view, be claiming.  More to the point, they believe that that entitles them to have an opinion, irrespective of its value, that they own a piece of you and that you are fair game, even when off duty, for a favour or an argument.  

Part Two: Gentleman of Leisure

Yesterday, a taxi driver shipping me and two weighty bags full of Sainsbury’s ready meals to my octogenarian father asked me whether it was my day off and what did I do (to earn a living).   Here we go – confidence and pride be my companions now.  Frying pan and fire spring immediately to mind as, for the first time since announcing to myself that I am now a writer, someone has tested that new resolve and self-confidence.

“I’m actually retired from the civil service – I know I don’t look old enough (why must I always add that, one day it won’t be true), but ……. (deep breath) I’m doing some writing now (phew, got that out, move on quickly), and I need to keep a regular eye on my father, doing all his shopping, washing,  ironing and so on. 

(Think I got the mention of writing in ok but he’ll have forgotten that bit by now).

“Oh, going to write your memoirs now about working for the Government?” What was it exactly that you did?”

But all of that is nothing to the reaction I now get when informing people that I am a writer (there I said it).

For several years after leaving the service, and even after having had a book published, and managing a blog, I could never get beyond saying I was unemployed  – in fact I don’t think I’ve ever said that (such a snob), though, technically, it could have been argued that, as I was then still below pensionable age, that might be true.  

But as I had a regular source of income, namely my occupational pension, which, by the way could not be termed “fat” by any stretch, I tended to fall back on the word “retired”. Even then, and now for that matter, when my income has been supplemented by what my parents’ generation, more appropriately for the time, termed the “old age pension”, I certainly don’t recognise that word in relation to my current lifestyle. I am fortunate that I am relatively healthy for my age, which allows me to be active, both physically and mentally.

What I wanted to scream out every time is that I was “a writer”. When I did manage to blurt it out, it was usually only after I have already said “retired” – my vanity prompting me to provoke envious or admiring noises about the fact that I didn’t look it! (I should add that such comments are less often forthcoming as time passes)!

But it’s not only myself who struggled with the word, however strongly I felt that it defined what I now was and did. People to this day don’t know what to say beyond “what have you written” (as if they’re likely to have heard about, let alone read or been interested in, anything you’d penned) or “have you had anything published”. 

Many will profess to be impressed and claim that they too “have a book in them” or “have always wanted to write”.  But they have no understanding of what it means to be a writer, to look at and think about the world through a writer’s eyes.

In fact, the declaration intimidates, and immediately labels you as odd (“different” might be a more charitable word), or – worse still – an intellectual, an accusation, for that is what it is, my underdeveloped capacity for reasoned thought disqualifies me from pleading guilty to.

The idea that I could spend my time writing, or not even writing, but planning and thinking about it, is incomprehensible.  It’s not a serious pursuit, especially if it doesn’t pay.

It was difficult enough in those years immediately after I left the service, when I was working towards my travel and tourism qualification, when I would (always) have to raise the subject myself in conversation.  But at least that was a worthy, tangible product, enabling friends to ask “have you completed any more of your assignments” or “what grade did you get for the assignment on preparations for the 2012 Olympics”?

I’ve always regarded myself as somewhat of an outsider – some might attest that it stems, in part at least, from being an only child. My circle of friends was always a small one, and I never had the need, or indeed desire, to join groups, other than sporting teams – Sunday school and the Cub Scouts were my parents’ idea, and I did not survive either very long. 

So I learnt to be broadly satisfied with my own company (crucial for a writer), whilst not repudiating altogether my Libran credentials for sociability.  In engaging with others though, both in the personal and work spheres, I’ll confess that it has invariably been on my own terms, whereby I have tended to “take charge”,  to be the one to plan and organise activities.

Part Three: Revelation

Well, now, rather like the ugly duckling in the Danny Kaye song, I have finally come to accept that my feathers are no longer “stubby and brown”, but rather that I am, if not a “very fine” one, at least a swan.

The particular flock of swans that opened my eyes to this fact did not, perhaps surprisingly, come in the form of my first published book in 2013, but rather from reading the books of Kristen Lamb, namely Not Alone  – the Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There Blog – I’m a Writer.

As the titles suggest, the focus of the books is on the need of writers today to manage social media and adjust to the fact that traditional publishing often has a less important part to play.

Kristen goes straight to the heart of my ongoing dilemma:

When people ask you what you do, you need to tell them, “I’m an author” 

or “I am a writer”…………As long as you introduce yourself via your day 

job (other than writer), then you are telling your subconscious that 

you want to be that day job FOREVER. Don’t even try to cheat with 

“I am an aspiring writer”. Again, this is a subconscious cue, 

and twenty years later, you will still be “aspiring”.

Of course, since I first read this, writing has effectively become one of my “day jobs”. But the argument is no less powerful.

Kristen also addresses, with customary humour, the embarrassment factor that accompanies that brave declaration with:

If you want others to shut up and stop mocking you, just tell them 

they had better knock it off because there is a part for a nose-picking circus 

midget with mommy issues in your novel. Then they might agree to play nice.

And finally:

Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. Takes guts to be a writer. Yes, other 

people will titter and roll their eyes, but you won’t care. In the meantime, 

toughen up. You will need the skin of a rhino in this business. Do not look 

for outside approval. This is about as productive as looking

 for unicorns or Sasquatch.

So, I have no hesitation today in proclaiming that that is exactly what I “am” – a writer.

After all, what do I spend much of my time doing – yes, writing.  Poems, blog, Facebook, Twitter, e mails, forums – all writing. This is what I do.

In fact, when asked today what I do, in addition to my walking tours business, proudly and unhesitatingly I reply by saying I am, not just a writer but a poet, 


Ever since I started my walking tours in 2017, I had wanted to combine my passion for  literature with Folkestone and Sandgate’s rich tradition of welcoming eminent writers by visiting the locations they lived in and frequented. The temporary respite in pandemic lockdown restrictions allowed me to scratch that itch in September 2020.

One of the prerequisites of a good tour is to be blessed with fine weather, and this was the case today. An added bonus was the fact that most of the guests already knew each other, which with their mutual love of literature, contributed to a relaxed and enthusiastic atmosphere.

The number of guests was restricted due to the prevalence of the “rule of six”, though we did stretch the definition to mean six guests plus the tour guide, a minor infraction at a time when the beach and coastal park were regularly inundated with large groups of visitors. 

Meeting at the Step Short Arch on the eastern end of The Leas, pride of place for the first reading went to a Nobel Prize winner, Samuel Beckett. The Irish writer’s connection to Folkestone might not be well known to many residents, but in 1961 he had stayed at the Bristol Hotel, since demolished and replaced by No. 1 The Leas, as a condition of getting married to his long term lover, Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil. 

I will spare the reader every precise detail of the itinerary, other than to report that we visited more than a dozen locations. These included The Bayle, Old High Street, Folkestone Harbour, Sunny Sands, Mermaid Beach, the Riviera and Radnor Cliff, returning to the Leas, with the final reading from Wilfred Owen at the Metropole. The recently opened Lift Cafe provided a welcome refreshment stop around half way through the tour.

At each location I read an extract from a writer linked to it. In addition to Beckett, the following were represented – H.G. Wells, Charles Dickens, Wilfred Owen, Carol Ann Duffy, Thomas Ingoldsby, Jocelyn Brooke and Henry Williamson. I even slipped in a handful of my own Folkestone inspired poems, though I envisage that the inclusion of more noted authors on subsequent tours will mean a reduced role for my efforts. 

It was a huge success, lasting four hours (with the aforementioned pitstop), concluding with a drink outside Keppel’s. As an additional souvenir of the day, I provided everyone with a printed booklet, entitled A Sort of Confusing Brilliance (a quote from Kipps by H.G. Wells), containing all the readings and biographical information. 

A second tour was promptly planned for October, but it fell foul to awful weather, and any chance of an alternative date was scuppered by the subsequent lockdown. But, in 2021 it will become part of the standard package of tours.


The summer of 2019 had been a curate’s egg for my three year old walking tours project. Some had been well attended, whilst others had been less so, with one or two even cancelled due to a lack of bookings or no-shows.  

As the summer progressed, and the customary Californian holiday beckoned, I became increasingly disenchanted about its future, and resigned to focusing exclusively in future on my writing (which would not have been a hardship, rather a shame that I could not pursue both passions).

And then, either side of the aforementioned break, two things happened which changed everything. 

With only a week to go, I was reluctantly persuaded, I cannot recall now by whom, to add one last tour before closing down for the summer. So, on a thankfully balmy late September morning, I stood beside Yoko Ono’s Earth Peace stone slab in front of The Grand, waiting for two or three people to turn up.

And two or three did appear on the stroke of eleven – only to be joined in the next ten minutes by a further fourteen guests of all ages and group sizes. 

Now, seventeen would ordinarily be a few too many for a satisfying tour. I pride myself on providing every one with an enjoyable personal experience, and that number is a challenging one to accomplish that aim.

But, this morning, it worked. Everyone was engaged and in high spirits, asking pertinent questions and getting along with each other – a tour guide’s dream. It was an absolute joy to acquaint them of the history and art associated with the “finest marine promenade in the world”.

After more than fifty organised tours over five months, the best, had been saved until last!

And the remuneration was very welcome too!

Returning from San Francisco in early November, I remained enthused about the upcoming season. 

But I wasn’t prepared for the next surprise. 

About a month later I had agreed to deliver some readings at the Eleto Chocolate Cafe on behalf of colleagues in my writing group. During the interval, cuddling my second large glass of sauvignon blanc whilst sat in semi-darkness at the back of the room, I received a text message from the Folkestone Town Council advising me that I had won the 2019 award for the best home based business in town!

Now, firstly, I was unaware, prior to this moment, of the existence of such awards, and, secondly, that I had even been nominated for one. My shock, even embarrassment, was only heightened when I discovered later the quality of competition I had “beaten”. 

My recollection of the remainder of the evening is more hazy, though I believe the readings went well. I may have toasted myself with an unintended third glass of wine.

So, early on a crisp Monday morning a week later, I was handed my certificate by the Worshipful Mayor in a modest ceremony at Anna’s tea rooms on Cheriton Place. 

By now, I couldn’t wait for the 2020 tour season to begin.

But 2020 was to prove a year like no other.

But that’s another story (see separate post).


Following the unexpected boost provided by the popular final tour of the preceding year, and the business award from Folkestone Town Council, 2020 always promised to be an exciting year. And within days of the commencement of the New Year, the season’s prospects looked even brighter. An approach from the leader of the Sandgate Parish Council resulted in an agreement to deliver ten walking tours of the village, linked to the dates of the Farmer’s Markets in Chichester Hall on the first and third Saturday of each month from May to September.

And, for the first time, I was given funding to research and design the programme, and to compensate for any slow take up in interest.

In addition, the Folkestone Channel Rotary Club asked me to deliver a day long tour and introductory presentation to their members, including colleagues from Belgium and the Netherlands, as part of their fortieth anniversary celebrations. A date had also been agreed with the Friends of Folkestone Museum to conduct a talk, followed by a walk around the Creative Quarter. 

Finally, there was the added enticement of the fifth Folkestone Triennial, scheduled from 5 September to 8 November, during which I had undertaken to provide a series of artworks tours to complement the official programme.

But within three weeks of the launch event, all had “changed, changed utterly” in the prophetic words of W.B. Yeats a hundred years before.

And yet 2020 still became the most successful season in the four year life of Folkestone Walking Tours.

How could that have been?

As March begat April, which turned into May and then June, all the major events in town, including the Triennial, were postponed or cancelled. The only walking I was permitted to do fell into the category of daily “exercise”. I began to joke to anyone who would listen that, if and when lockdown restrictions were lifted, I might find myself the “only gig in town”.

And so it proved. 

On a cool, wet morning on Saturday 4 July I was joined on the steps of Rocksalt by fourteen human guests and a dog for a three hour stroll around the harbour and seafront. Despite persistent drizzle and intermittent dives for cover to avoid the seagulls seduced into joining the group by one of our number with large handfuls of food, it had been a enjoyable and liberating event. My prior concerns about the legality of the size of the group, and the potential inability to maintain the appropriate distance between each other, proved unfounded too as the police in evidence allowed us to move around unchallenged. 

The Sandgate tours got underway two weeks later, and I was eventually able to deliver the entire programme, with a further tour thrown in for good measure. 

But a remarkable thing happened to confirm my earlier prediction.

As society reopened, and many felt comfortable in leaving their homes again, I began to receive requests for tours from leaders of groups such as the U3A (University of the Third Age) and other “Meetup” parties. Starved of their customary range of activities, they were determined to enjoy the great outdoors again. With so little else on offer, walking tours became an even more attractive proposition than they might otherwise have been.

I even found time to offer “new” literary and artworks walks – and a special birthday tour for the family of the former Prima Pottery shop owners on the Old High Street.

With holidays cancelled, there needed to be no end date to the season, other than if further restrictions were imposed, which duly returned in November. But in the intervening period, I was able to deliver twenty six tours for a total of two hundred guests. That figure would have been even greater had the “rule of six” not been in force during part of the period, which left a number of prospective guests disappointed. 

In the space of eight months, 2020 had promised much, threatened to disappoint but ultimately delivered in unexpected but satisfying ways.

And then 2021 proved equally interesting. 

But that is for another day.