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Posts Tagged ‘Folkestone Harbour’


Even the gulls are taking a morning off
As I drift around the deserted harbour;
The tide is out, the sky deep blue,
And the beach warm and yielding
Under my inappropriate footwear.

Amidst this light brown desert,
Brief rivulets of muddy water
Command me to take a run
And leap to reach the
Next patch of firm dry sand.

The railway viaduct now fenced off,
The Grand Burstin and Rocksalt
Both dark and sad and empty;
And the metal gates to the Harbour Arm,
Anticipated host to thousands
Over this warm Easter weekend,
Are firmly closed.

On a morning as delicious as this,
It would have been perfect
To stroll its two concrete tiers;
But the only tears today
Are for the sick and fearful
Imprisoned in homes and hospitals
Across an anxious but resolute land.

Bob’s seafood stall and Folkestone Trawlers
Plough lone furrows on the deserted Stade,
While a pair of deep wrinkled fishermen
Lean against the chain railing and reminisce
When fish was plentiful and the ferries full.

I bound another murky stream
And lean against the pink house;
Planted in self-isolation,
Its former lustre lost too,
With peeling paintwork and ponder the fate
Of the next Triennial, triumphantly announced
Barely a month, but another lifetime, ago.

I turn the corner of the East Head
Under the rock perched orange house,
That, unlike its pink neighbour,
Has had a reviving lick of paint;
Two young girls lift their skirts,
And paddle in the gentle, shallow waves
On the incessant, incoming tide;
I cannot avoid the uncharitable suspicion –
A sign of these strange and fretful times –
That, as they giggle and jostle each other,
They may not be from the same household.

I could stay here for hours yet,
Till the water washes over my shoes,
But an insistent call of nature,
Prosaic and not infrequent visitor
To this man of a certain age,
Summons me to return swiftly
To my home by the park.

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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 fearless chick loiters with intent
By Bob’s whitewashed seafood stall,
Affecting to ignore the cartons of
Whelks and cockles and lobster tails
Dispensed a few short steps away,
But pouncing on any edible debris
Unwittingly or deliberately dropped
By thoughtless human passers by.

By Pent’s red brick sluice gate
They luxuriate in a bracing shower
In muddy, minute puddles left behind
By gone, at least for now, high water;
With half an eye in the direction
Of Chummy’s charitable staff who
Discard empty shells on stony ground.

Teetering on bare, oarless rowing boats,
Or perched on piles of greying wood
Wedged deep into the hardening mud,
They pass the interminable time
Till the small crafts stir and sway again
And the sun glints on the wind blown water.

A fretful throng starts to assemble
At the end of sloping Rocksalt jetty,
Squabbling over the best viewing spot
To wait in line for the painfully slow
Incoming tide to reappear;
In the meantime, scavenging for scraps
On the Stade’s concrete harbour floor,
Disdainfully dropping bottle tops,
Dog ends and paper coffee cups.

Shrieks and cries rise in intensity
As the prodigal, once truant waves
Flood through Folkestone’s golden gate,
Between the now closed off East Head
And war ravaged remnants of South Quay.

A frantic chick chases after its mother,
Letting out a constant stream of whistles,
Pleading for a morsel of fresh fish
Now washing over its grateful feet;
But the peevish parent pecks its bobbing head
And bids it bide its time a little longer.

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This is an adaptation, and considerable shortening, of a piece I wrote a couple of years ago.

 

Mermaid Beach at Dusk

On a night like this, the Cote d’Opale
Might as well be a thousand miles away.

It is a calm, quiet, otherworldly evening
After a dank, dreary December day;
Sky and sea present an ashen canvas.
Tonight it is impossible to tell
Where one ends and the other starts.

Despite slimy conditions underfoot,
I elect to descend from
The well-lit comfort of the Leas
To the chilly Channel seashore.

Barely a whisper from the surf tonight.
I cannot even hear Matthew Arnold’s
“Grating roar of pebbles
Which the waves draw back”,
So faint is nature’s melody this evening.

Across town, an artwork springs to mind,
Above Tontine Street’s old post office
Proclaims that heaven is a place
Where nothing ever happens.

Because nothing is happening tonight
In this desolate speck of paradise.

But then, everything is happening.

To the east, the lighthouse blinks
Through the thick, enfolding gloom;
A tuneless, abandoned church bell
Hangs silently suspended above
Where once stood rotunda, swimming pool,
Boating lake and fairground rides.

A dalmatian puppy snuffles among
The seaweed encrusted pebbles
On the dark shoreline, while its
Fretful owner punctures the peace
With impassioned and fruitless pleas
To follow her back across the beach,
To the refuge of her Range Rover.

A lone fisherman sets out his stall
For what appears a long night ahead,
Reminding me of all night sessions
With my teddy boy uncle fifty years ago,
On the shingle beach at Dungeness.

I wonder now why I ever went,
I was never interested in fishing!

Pastel hued beach chalets are now
Padlocked up for the winter,
Along with the Mermaids Cafe Bar,
Welcome pit stop on the promenade
From Folkestone to its upstart neighbours,
Sandgate, Seabrook and “posh” Hythe.

I defy anyone to assert that they
Do not like to be “beside the seaside”;
And I look forward to a first full summer
Season in my coastal home next year.

However, it is at moments like this,
With the cold, dark sea alone for company,
When enjoyment is such a feeble word
To evoke the effect of this magical place;
I can only equate it to a profound love,
Both infatuation and long term comfort.

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From centuries of slog and slime,
From Pent and Channel battered,
A sleepy, careworn fishing village
Today becomes a town that matters.

Herring, mackerel, crabs and sole
Now make their way to Billingsgate,
And fetch a price not seen before
The railway raised flat Folkestone’s fate.

Sun, with constant bedfellow, breeze,
Smiles on the arrival of the first class fares,
While locals rush to harbour viewing points
From auction sheds that plied their wares.

The first wave of “down from Londoners”
Steps from gleaming horse drawn coach
That brought them from a makeshift station
In lieu of soon to be rail track approach.

A boisterous band blares out the latest hits
Of Wagner, Chopin, Strauss and Liszt,
As crinolined ladies, with handbags and fans,
Tease gentlemen whose advances they resist.

Steam powered Water Witch, focal point
Of this auspicious day, adjoins the quay,
And nervous passengers clamber aboard
In clothes unsuited for a swelling sea.

But the water’s calm and the crossing smooth
As guns and flags bid travellers adieu,
In three hours, on Boulogne’s teeming dock,
An even louder band greets guests and crew.

Now, La Marsellaise and God save the Queen
Salute the excited but exhausted crowd,
A necessary triumph for entente cordiale,
Two towns so far, but now so near, made proud.

In Folkestone, normal service is resumed,
Men mend nets and women cook and clean,
Habitual chores for o’er a thousand years,
Yet a smaller, faster, world can now be seen.

 

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Harbour Morning
High tide, low spirits,
Sun splits the glowering clouds,
Grave beauty unveiled.

 

(Steep Street) Coffee House
Young mothers converge,
Coffee, cakes, conversation
Drown creative talk.

 

Radnor Park Lake
Dawn birdlife clamours,
Noon anglers cast silent floats
Night, serene moon shines.

 

Sunny Sands
Gulls shriek across the sky,
Dogs bark and prance in the surf,
Stoic mermaid stares.

 

Checkpoint George (Lane)
Tourists face loafers,
Chocolate or bacon sandwich,
So close but worlds apart.

 

Old High Street Morning
Dalla Corte steams
Boot heels on sodden cobbles
Curved hill comes to life

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(10 am, Steep Street Coffee House)
Only two people,
It’s ninety degrees out there,
I’m an OAP
And I don’t need the money.

I really can’t be arsed;
I think I’ll just order
Another pot of Earl Grey.

(checking phone)
Please let there be a new message
Saying they can’t make it.
I do wish their car would break down,
Or they can’t find the bottom of the Old High Street
Where we are scheduled to meet.
Or – wash my mouth – one of them is taken ill.

Damn……no messages.

What’s wrong with me?
I whinge and whine
About people not turning up,
And then when I get bookings
I can’t be bothered!

But wait a minute.

I’m a pro,
I can’t let them down.

And it’s time,
I can’t get out of this.

Right…..deep breaths,
Big smile.
Let’s do this.

Sigh.

(Three hours later, back in Steep Street Coffee House, knackered and sunburnt)

Well, that was great!
What a nice couple,
Showed a real interest,
Even laughed at my lame jokes.

So what do I do now?

Well, that’s obvious,
A beer and a toasted sandwich.

But then what?
The day is still young.
Go home, flake out
And watch some crap tv?

Or stumble into a bar
For another beer?

Wander round the harbour?
Oh no, I’ve just done that.

Promote the next tour?
No it’s too soon.

Throw myself off the East Head?
Now that would be reckless.

Jump around in Chummy’s fountain?
No, I might get arrested for that.

No, what I need to do is another tour.

Now.

I wonder if I can find another couple.

No, I can’t be arsed.

Beer it is then.

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This is where east meets west,
Dover Road and Augusta Gardens;
Where DFLs mix with Folky born and breds,
Cold war adjourned for one warm afternoon.

Tram Road traffic crawls and curls
Around a heaving Harbour Street,
Affording passengers an extended view
Of much loved, yet loathed, Grand Burstin.

A brisk breeze, cooling the searing sun,
Sweeps champagne flutes to a watery end
In the chastening Channel spray
That laps the lighthouse;
Proof that, sometimes, weather
Can be a first to place and time.

Sinatra’s call to Come Fly with Me
Gives way to the eclectic sounds
That entertain the growing queues
For Sole Kitchen and Hog and Hop.
While the Native Oyster Band
Has the crowds singing and swaying,
Kadialy Kouyate’s kora mesmerises,
Bringing the authentic sounds of
New Orleans and Senegal to
This English coastal paradise.

Children build bricks to knock them down,
Dash between Baba Ji and Pick Up Pintxos
Or search for the iron man in the water,
(Don’t worry, kids, he will be back!).


But if the heat and tumult are too much
And it is peace you pine for,
Retire inside to the Mole Cafe
For a mug of strong, hot tea
And a chocolate swiss roll,
Reminders of a quieter,
Yet more violent, time.

Tomorrow, normal service will be resumed;
DFLs will become RTLs
(Work it out!);
The Arm will be handed back
To anglers, cormorants and
A few unsuspecting souls,
Drenched by crashing waves
Cascading over the Folkestone sign.

But is this the lull before the storm?
Eden before the Fall?
Will those blissful views across
To ancient East Cliff and to Sunny Sands
Be there to inspire us still
In three, or five, or ten, years?

Or will the thunder of pick and drill
Drown out those of bass and drum?

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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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Rare town of Radnor and Rotunda,
Rowland’s rock shop and remembrance;
Even on this cold February morning
You have the power to enchant;
Strange Cargo’s Luckiest Place on Earth
Is not confined to the Central station.
Newly planted winter flowers,
Primrose and snowdrop, cyclamen and crocus,
Defy the bitter wind and freezing hail
On stately Leas and Kingsnorth Gardens.

Mouldering Martello wall,
Bonaparte’s mighty adversary,
Squints out across the grey blue sea,
Searching for our Cap Griz Nezbour;
While the cliffs, slowly, surreptitiously
Slide into the stirring sea below,
Where foreign fossil hunters trip
Among the seaweed and precarious rocks,
Exposed by low tide’s obligatory return.

Opening Day still six weeks ahead, the
Harbour Arm remains a magical spot;
“Gormley” winks across the harbour entrance
At doughty mermaid on dog-filled Sunny Sands;
Cormorants, gulls and a solitary fisherman,
Usurping the space where chairs and tables
For champagne drinkers will soon occupy,
Complete this noiseless, bracing scene.

Pieces of art, products of a reimagined town,
Embellish our streets and promenades,
Making honorary Folkestone folk of
Tuttofuoco, Coley and Tracey Emin,
Wallinger, Ruth Ewan and Yoko Ono.
The Living Advent Calendar and Pride,
Triennial, Charivari and Book Festival,
All further proof of energy and wit
That far exceeds its scale and reputation.

Food town no less than Art town,
Bridge breakfasts, Brew freakshakes,
And Beano’s griddled sandwiches
Tantalise my morning tastebuds;
While Marley’s and the Cliffe, Rocksalt and Shayda’s,
Bloom’s, Luben’s, El Diamante and Conchita’s,
To name but just a tempting few,
Contend for my evening custom.

More than half a century your admirer,
Even through the tired, toiling times;
Recently reunited in joy and wonder,
I feel blessed to account you now my lover.

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