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Posts Tagged ‘coffee’


It breaks my heart to see the town
I made my home four years ago,
Be to its knees brought cruelly down,
By an unforeseen foe, laid low.

Lines of listless people straggle
The erstwhile bustling shopping street,
Six feet apart, no speech or gaggle,
Silent, patient, shuffling their feet.

Some wait to get cash from machines,
For stores that will only take cards;
Some with trolleys in third world scenes,
Praying that shortages are past.

Coffee houses, bars, and restaurants closed,
Some may not reopen their doors;
Dark, empty shopfronts lie exposed,
Bleak images of a town floored.

The day cannot come soon enough
When we’ll be free to hug again,
Laugh and chat over coffee cups
And joy will overcome the pain.

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Woke up this morning,
Got the Folkestone lockdown blues;
Woke up this morning,
Got the Folkestone lockdown blues;
Craving a full English breakfast
But no place left for me to choose.

Went strolling along the Leas,
For my approved exercise;
Went strolling along the Leas,
For my approved exercise;
Looking for my ten o’clock coffee fix,
But no place open, I tell no lies. .

Went shopping for a toilet roll,
Just one would do for now, no more;
Went shopping for a toilet roll,
Just one would do for now, no more;
Searching high and low around the town,
But not a single sheet in any store.

So I think I’d better stay home now,
As the politicians instruct me to;
So I think I’d better stay home now,
As the politicians instruct me to;
I’ve got eggs, bacon and coffee there,
But for toilet rolls I’ll just make do.

Woke up this morning,
Got the Folkestone lockdown blues;
Woke up this morning,
Got the Folkestone lockdown blues;
Craving a full English breakfast
But no place left for me to choose.

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Consigned to cold cobbles and
An orange plastic table and chair,
I wait for the coveted inside spot;
Anything will do – armchair, table with chalks,
It need not even be my favourite window seat,
I can work my way towards that
If I stay here long enough;
Watching for the slightest movement inside,
Indicating an imminent departure,
I must still keep my eyes peeled for
Later arrivals spying my space,
I am comforted, however, in the knowledge
That the staff have my back in this.

I kill the time in earnest debate
With a passing trader over whether
He should shave his beard off or not,
Twin enemies of bare patch and grey
Are sowing doubt in his anguished mind.

At least the unremitting building work
On the winding street the non-PC Dickens
Dubbed the “crippled ladder”,
Is quelled for a short blissful spell;
And I can hear the Four Tops and Marvin Gaye
Providing a soulful accompaniment
To the constant musical chairs inside.

My small cappuccino emerges in time
To warm my gloveless hands and heart,
And fend prospective boarders off at the pass
Before they dare to claim my appointed place,
Wedged between counter and disabled loo;

A large family hovers and dithers with door ajar
Over whether to wait their turn, or seek out
Alternative, but never better, coffee shops;
An impassioned argument ensues on whether
The apple crumble cake with plum compote
Is sufficient enticement to make them stay.

It is.

Errol Brown croons of his belief in miracles,
And following my brief captivity on the street,
I am now inclined to agree with him.

Another stand of lemon, almond and polenta cake,
Today’s obligatory and luscious vegan option,
Is borne on high from the kitchen downstairs,
Like a triumphant Roman emperor,
Before the plebeian hordes salivating below.

A small, blonde girl in blue denim dungarees
Sits transfixed by Peppa Pig on her iPad,
While mum ransacks more than her rightful share
Of chocolate orange cake meant for her daughter;
And a chihuahua named Molly plants itself
On the only available chair.

But then, suddenly and with no warning,
The once overcrowded interior
Thins out mysteriously;
I can only speculate that the departing hordes
Are all rushing for the Love Train
That the joyous O’Jays now sing about
Above the diminishing chatter.

But a new batch of shivering hordes
Are soon shuffling through the half open door
To take their places in the lengthening queue.
The warm, cozy, civilised atmosphere,
Delays my planned perambulation
Of the gloomy, abandoned harbour.
So I order a second small cappuccino
And that last slice of…………
Blueberry and walnut cake!

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A biting breeze and thin drizzle
Denote December’s arrival,
As twilight descends on the
Twisting, narrow street
Once one of Dickens’s daily haunts.

Many months have passed since
Crazy, cacophonous Charivari
Had snaked up that old thoroughfare;
And the ground had groaned
Beneath the weight of red-laced “Doc” Martens,
Worn by pilgrims strutting towards the
Grand Burstin or Gillespie’s
For an afternoon of Special Brew
To the sounds of The Selecter,
Prince Buster and The Specials.

 

I turn into that quiet, twinkling lane
And long for one last lingering look
At the dazzling, daily alchemy
Conjured up in Rowland’s Rock Shop.

The aroma of craft beer
Wafting from Kipps’ Alehouse
Cannot compete with the memory
Of the sickly sweet perfume
Pervading Rowland’s, where
Once I gaped in awe at the
Thick, long sticks of heaven being rolled,
A bag of broken bits
A highlight of my annual holiday.

It was often claimed that if it
Were to shut its doors for good,
Folkestone would die.
A prediction, thankfully,

Since proven dramatically wrong,

 

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I stumble into Steep Street Coffee House
For flat white, cake, warmth and inspiration.
The self-styled Folkestone Poet
Has vacated his customary sales pitch
Across the way at Big Boys Burger,
His heavy overcoat and leather balaclava
No more a match for declining temperatures.

The bitter cold slices through my flimsy jacket
And hastens my progress down the hill,
But not without momentary glances
On either side at steepling steps
To ancient Bayle and modern Tontine Street.

 

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I cross into the empty fish market,
Tiptoeing around the grimy puddles
That appear to assemble here
Whether it has rained or not.

A solitary gull plods apologetically past,
Pining for Spring and the reopening
Of Chummy’s, Bob’s and La’s,
When it can return to terrorising tourists
For fish and chips and tubs of whelks.

Back at the foot of the winding street,
Christmas lights flutter into action
As children huddle excitedly
Outside Blooms for tonight’s instalment
Of the Living Advent Calendar,
Jewel in the crown of
Folkestone’s festive year.

Apart from the echo of my boots
Upon the cobbles,
Silence is restored
As I drag my freezing bones
Back up the hill.

But………..
As I turn the corner
At the top
I stop.

Was that really
A childlike squeal I heard?
And did I just catch
A whiff of granulated sugar?

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One of these days I might manage to walk past this place.

But it’s not likely to be anytime soon.

For a start, you can’t miss it. The attractive magenta, cyan and yellow (you can tell I use Epson printer cartridges) frontage in itself will cause all but the most rushed tourist or day tripper to stop momentarily, smile and ponder whether they should while away an hour inside.

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Ready for the Big Switch On!

The huge picture window of the upper (magenta) level of this independent coffee house near the top of the Old High Street in Folkestone allows that unsuspecting passer by to peer more closely at the interior, and marvel at the walls crammed with books of all ages and sizes. They will also observe the VIPs among the clientele who have snagged the settee and armchair in that window. Despite the fact that many complain that they feel in a goldfish bowl once they are ensconced there, they are never in a hurry to vacate the space, and when they do, there is always a civilised clamour to assume residency.

And after all, it is the best people watching spot in Folkestone!

The scholarly feel continues when you place your order with the welcoming staff. You become temporary custodian of part of the book collection with a number on the cover to identify your order, a twist on the ubiquitous wooden spoon. This morning I am handed a copy of The Faithless Lover and other Poems by Leonard Ley – no intended reflection, I’m sure, on my character, but, nonetheless, I shall move swiftly on.

I take my seat at the small table behind the settee. This is the best place to write as it provides an element of privacy and just enough space for laptop, phone, coffee and plate. And there is a tasteful lamp for reading purposes and the beautiful double-sided screen made exclusively for Steep Street by Zimbabwean born local artist Thurle Wright to stare at for inspiration and worth the visit alone – perfect.

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Beautiful centrepiece

I await my ethnically sourced cappuccino and brie, parmesan and tomato quiche, just one scrumptious item on a menu that includes the most luscious cakes as well as tasty paninis, salads and sandwiches, all  prepared, baked and cooked on the premises. There are plenty of vegan options too.

I spot a small girl, maybe three years old, dressed head to toe in pink, hurtling excitedly down the cobbled hill, while her frantic father strains to grasp her hand before she rolls down into the harbour. Should he fail, I am at least reassured that it is low tide at the moment.

Civilised, animated conversation is another attractive feature of life at Steep Street, and today is no different as it reverberates around the split level layout. Leonard Cohen’s untimely death, announced earlier this morning, vies with Trump, Brexit and the imminent new series of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here (I made this last one up) as the main topics of discourse. All is calm and unhurried. Even the background music (Paul Simon as I write this) is soulful and unobtrusive.

A bedraggled mutt (I think he must have been for an early morning dip in the Pent Stream) sidles up to me and engages in a couple of minutes’ foreplay that entails the licking of hands and coyly turning its head away when I try to stroke it, before settling at my feet and catching the crumbs of my quiche as they – accidentally on purpose – escape from my plate.

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Gates of Paradise!

Spotting the Grateful Dead lightning bolt and teddy bear stickers on my laptop, his owner begins to reminisce (as far as he can remember) about his involvement with the Deadhead community in the U.S. in the eighties. This leads to a conversation about his attempts to bring traditional Irish music to the town. We debate the respective merits as venues of the Leas Cliff Hall, with whom he already has a meeting arranged, and the Quarterhouse on Tontine Street. I assure him that there is an audience within Kent and recommend the latter as the more appropriate (and crucially smaller) venue.

On his departure, his place at the adjoining table is taken by the Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe, Damian Collins, whom I had only come across the previous day at the Folkestone Jobs Fair. I introduce myself as one of his new constituents and exchange a few words about the recently launched business hub on West Terrace.

As a fellow devotee of Steep Street the man clearly has some taste, and his campaigning for Remain in the EU Referendum endears him to me still further.

But I wouldn’t vote for him.

A young couple with extensive facial piercings sit at the corner table and extract their laptops from their satchels, rendering the upper level a scene from an Apple interns’ breakout room. Or at least it would if Mr Collins, and especially I, didn’t double the average age.

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A great study space

As I stand and rummage in my trouser pockets for £2.60 for another cappuccino, one of the young women serving behind the counter informs me (and the customers around me) that the man that I had been talking to previously had, on leaving the cafe, paid for a large drink for me. I am delighted and humbled by the gesture, or at least I would be if I weren’t so darn embarrassed too.

The charming owners, Stephen and Alice, are committed supporters of the upcoming Folkestone Book Festival, sponsoring illustration, flash fiction and “short and tweet” competitions, as well as publishing a magazine containing the best five entries in each category. During the event itself, they are hosting creative writing and poetry workshops. In many ways they will be the epicentre of the entire festival.

Steep Street’s reputation as literary linchpin of a town increasingly defined by its artistic offering (the next internationally celebrated Triennial is scheduled for next year), is enhanced by the provision of “blackboard” tables upon which customers, primarily, but not exclusively of the milkshake rather than flat white persuasion, can chalk their own artworks.

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A rare opportunity to nab the best people watching seats!

The same pink-spattered child observed earlier had thankfully avoided a watery, or rather muddy, grave following her hair raising downhill run on the cobbles, courtesy of a relieved Daddy carrying her back up the hill. In celebration, she tips the tumbler of coloured crayons on the table and sets to work.

Witnessing the resulting, naturally pink (or is it magenta?), Christmas tree exposes my own artistic shortcomings and I resolve to offer to pay a surcharge next time I’m obliged to sit at that table. My signature art piece since the age of three, and still serving me well / ill (delete as appropriate) are matchstick men and women wearing top hats, and in the case of the latter, the additional, creative touch of equilateral triangle shaped skirts.

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My book is in there somewhere!

The self-styled Folkestone Poet stands stoically in his accustomed spot outside the Big Boys Fine Burger Co. restaurant directly opposite Steep Street. His sales technique entails whispering to passers by while waving three copies of his verse collections gently in the air, hardly likely to secure him a retail job, but quietly appropriate for his role in the town’s life . Most of those who stop tend to smile sheepishly and scurry off without making a purchase, deterred by a combination of price and content, but I find his work refreshingly direct, full of gallows humour and the most idiosyncratic spelling. And there are occasional flashes of heart rending poignancy.

My incipient bromance with Damian Collins attains a new level of intimacy as he buys a copy, though a cynical fellow patron speculates loudly whether he will claim the £3 back on his parliamentary expenses.

Oh ye of little faith.

But he could be right.

Regardless, I think he’s a “top bloke”.

But I still wouldn’t vote for him.

After two large cappuccinos and a (small) bottle of Pinot Grigio, I resolve to take advantage of the fast improving weather outside and drag myself away. My decision is rendered even  easier by the arrival of three young mothers with babies and associated paraphernalia who pounce on the settee / armchair combination in the window vacated by an elderly couple and begin to spread out.

It may be a long time before those coveted seats become available again.

Stephen and Alice

My final duty is to adjudicate among two middle aged ladies who cannot decide which of the enticing cakes adorning the counter they should indulge in. After some discussion about the relative merits of the blueberry vanilla sponge and raspberry and chocolate cake, they take my advice and plump for the lemon cheesecake, which, judging by the moaning and smacking of lips I hear as I open the door to leave, has been one of my better decisions.

If you live in or near Folkestone, are a young mum, aspiring writer or lady that lunches (other socio-economic groups are available), and have not tottered down the Old High Street in the past year, you are missing a treat.

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Our first morning in Bernal Heights was spent in getting the washing done from the week in Tahoe (one of the most welcome features of having your own place in the city), catching up on the morning commute and weather forecast on KRON4, trying to avoid re-living the Giants’ frustrating defeat in Phoenix the night before and re-acquainting ourselves with proper granola and sourdough toast.

We finally slipped out into the warming sunshine (was the rain really so torrential when we arrived last night?) a few minutes before one o’clock, heading for our favourite lunch spot (well, actually our only one up until now) of Progressive Grounds on Cortland.

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Lugging – perhaps unwisely – bagels filled with cheese, egg and peanut butter in our stomachs, we set off on one of the neighborhood stairway walks described by Adah Bakalinsky in her extraordinary book entitled, strangely enough, Stairway Walks in San Francisco. Bernal Heights has the greatest number of stairways, around fifty four, in a city boasting several hundred.

Normally, we would wander aimlessly around the area, stumbling, or not, upon some natural or architectural gems purely by chance. But today I wanted to ensure that we didn’t miss any of the sights (though locals will surely disabuse me of such presumption when they read this ).

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Our walk began at Holly Park Circle at the intersection with Bocana Street. The view looking back towards the hill provided perspective and familiarity.

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One of the most satisfying features of a visually stunning city are the signs at the intersection of streets. For me, they are as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz or cable cars.

Whilst Haight/Ashbury and Powell/Market may be among the most celebrated, it is those that you discover in half-forgotten corners of downtown or out in the neighborhoods that provide the real thrill, not least when the juxtaposition of names appears particularly incongruous.

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We circled Holly Park, stopping intermittently to scan the horizon – from downtown to Bayview, Hunters Point, Candlestick Park and McLaren Park. The marriage of sky and trees enabled some lovely photographic opportunities.

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The decision to follow a recommended walk was vindicated because we might otherwise have missed a number of delightful and ingenious gardens and stairway as we criss-crossed the streets of the western side of Bernal Heights.

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Stunning views of Twin Peaks, Diamond Heights, Noe Valley lay before us or peeked through overhanging trees at every point.

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The love lavished on these community gems was evident in the signage that accompanied them. How could you argue with such requests?

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This being San Francisco, the stroll was never on the flat for very long.

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Fortunately, there were rest areas laid out to enable the perspiring hiker to take a breather, notably on the long, steep Esmeralda Stairway that we dipped in and out of towards the end of the walk.

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Such a shame there isn’t a Wordsworth Street, especially in such a literary and artistic neighborhood.

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Why couldn’t this have been a downhill stretch at the beginning of the walk rather than the latter?

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Finally, proof that aliens are among us.

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At the top of Esmeralda we joined Bernal Heights Hill where, as had been the case when we visited last year, dogs greatly outnumbered humans. We sought out the mud and pebble path of the short Moultrie Stairway and, via Powhattan and Bocana, returned to Cortland where frappés beckoned at Martha and Brothers.

The walk had been every bit as thrilling – and challenging – as we had anticipated, undertaken in increasingly warm conditions.

A great first afternoon in the neighborhood!

 

 

 

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I have never been a great fan of Starbucks on the grounds, pun absolutely intended, that I don’t find their coffee strong enough (perhaps I should order something other than latté in future).  I prefer the more astringent taste found in Caffe Nero or Costa Coffee or, even better, a traditional, independent Italian coffee house, though they are becoming, along with corner bookshops and record stores, increasingly hard to find.

That said, I think Starbucks has more to commend it than its core product.  Firstly, it plays the best music, with a lot of classic jazz and blues and a smattering of folk rock.  As I write this in the large branch in Bluewater (Kent), Bob Marley, is singing Three Little Birds, and we’ve just had Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi and Ella Fitzgerald’s Paper Moon – a fine playlist in my books.

The company also has a history of selling CDs exclusively from its outlets.  I was lucky enough to stumble across the live One Man Band by James Taylor whilst on a long, lonely road in California a few years back, but sadly missed out on the live Gaslight recording of Dylan because the offer was only available in the US (a long, expensive way to travel for a $10 album, even for Bob).

Then there is the ambience, which is particularly appealing in this branch – massive picture window opening out onto a sparsely populated mall, a casual mix of comfortable armchairs and stiff backed seating, and wooden framed photographs celebrating the coffee making process and posters advertising the latest special offers.

Shelves of packets of tea and coffee, assorted cups and other merchandise are arranged in the corner by a long perspex fronted counter that displays a tantalising array of things to eat, including tuna melt and mature cheddar panini, skinny lemon and poppyseed muffin and roasted chicken with herb mayonnaise sandwich.

I’ll confess that the food in Starbucks is another selling point for me.  My favourite delicacy is the toasted cheese and marmite panini, whilst my wife, who has a decent claim to being a connoisseur on the subject, asserts that the carrot cake is the best anywhere.  This reminds me that, although I usually eschew the (hot) coffee, I cannot resist a coffee flavoured frappuccino, which may actually be the best frozen / cold concoction available in any coffee chain.

With the busy lunch period past, the branch is now half empty.  The muted lighting generated by small, widely dispersed clusters of yellow and blue lamps, the gentle hum of conversation and the unobtrusive yet satisfying music all contribute to a civilised atmosphere.

Opposite me, two new mothers compare breastfeeding strategies, in word rather than deed, which acts as the perfect sleeping pill for their previously irritable daughters.   In the far corner, a gaggle of young shop girls from Zara, Gap and Hollister meet up in their mid afternoon break to slurp strawberries and crème and caramel frappuccinos and relay tales of annoying customers and bossy supervisors, whilst simultaneously maintaining text conversations with their boyfriends.

An elderly couple on an organised coach trip, nibbling at blueberry muffins and sipping “traditional” tea, suspicious of the exoticism of coffee that isn’t instant, bemoan their blistered feet and the cost of everything.  A bald, middle aged man with paunch protruding through ill fitting suit leers over his espresso macchiato at a female employee, and potential lover, young enough to be his daughter yet flattered by his worldly patter (not an entirely civilised scene then).

As my wife approaches (is that solitary slice of carrot cake still available?) I suddenly reflect – I like the ambience, the food, the fairtrade commitment, the music and some of the drinks  – should I not consider rewriting that first sentence?

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