{01/07/2012}   Visiting Brighton

I was in Brighton yesterday.  Every time I visit Brighton I think about how much I’d like to live there.  But then I think about lots of things that kind of annoy me about Brighton.  I’m not sure I ever will live in Brighton, but I did once get as far as being poised to rent a flat as well as starting a temp job and I have a few times looked to live in Brighton and commute to London.  But what is it that always stops me yet draws me in in the first place?

Brighton is, on paper, pretty much perfect for me: by the sea, lots of independent shops, lovely flats and houses, regular train service to London in about an hour and a lively, vibrant feel.  But there are some things that bother me: there is a whiff of unemployment, it’s expensive, it’s very trafficy (I have a car that I have no intention of getting rid of just to live somewhere in particular), it’s quite debauched/henny/staggy at night, it’s full of people trying painfully hard to be cool/alternative/hippy and I never get a feeling of it being as multi-cultural as I think it might be or should be, apart from all the language students.

I think my longer-than-expected list of things I don’t like about Brighton could well have made me realise why I don’t live there!  But I think it’s unusual to have such a love/hate feeling about a city.  I have that with London but it’s big enough that you can live or go out places that cater to your “love” feelings.  In Brighton there is kind of no escape, you just have to live and socialise amidst love and hate.  Ultimately, Brighton is quite small.  Brighton & Hove actually.

I think perhaps I am more Hove than Brighton, but a lot of Hove has an air of past grandeur, it doesn’t have Brighton’s buzz, which is reflected in the huge numbers of parents and children you see wandering around in a middle class bubble of, “I’m cool, I live in Brighton”.  That sounds a bit harsh but I can imagine why you would want to live in Hove with young family: beach, commutable to London, bigger and nicer home than you’d get in London; a bit of a mini London by the sea.  Maybe Blackheath by sea.  But I wish it were just Hove and that the influx of relatively wealthy families wouldn’t demand London things at London prices … that concept may need thinking about.  I guess my irritation on this score is that such enclaves always seem exclusive, but Hove isn’t supposed to be like that, I don’t think.  I used to live in Blackheath and it felt like a 2.4, white, wealthy middle class enclave where others were reluctantly admitted.  The prices in local cafes and shops were not for the likes of me.  Parts of Brighton seem to be heading this way, in fact have been for a long time.  Hove isn’t really like that, if anything it was the other way round, but I fear there is a chance “traditional” residents of Hove will be priced out.

But on a positive note, despite all my moans, I really love it there.  It is a city (it’s a town to me!) that I have visited more than anywhere else, having visited since I was a baby and even had a few birthdays here (I was obsessed with the Dolphinarium!); it is also the place I have always gone to to make big decisions (whether to take a job in Germany at 18, go to Japan at 22 and even end relationships).  Maybe one day I will live here, though I doubt it, but I am very happy to have a good friend who lives here that I can visit and stay with!


               We all talk about the weather in the UK.  I would say we complain about it more than we revel in it.  It’s easy conversation if you’re trying to fill a potentially uncomfortable silence, it’s an ice breaker and, most importantly I imagine, it’s something we can all have an opinion on and that we’ve experienced.

                To my horror, in court the other day one side’s counsel, complaining about the conduct of the other side’s witness, announced that the witness had also been “speaking to the transcribers”, which he deemed to be inappropriate.  I felt myself redden and squirm.  Fortunately the judge said she saw nothing wrong with that.  However, wary that any conversations we’d had with the witness would have been recorded, I rapidly thought about what we’d discussed: spellings and, you’ve guessed it, the weather and how hot it was in the court room (despite the frosty atmosphere between the two sides!).  The weather is, or should be, an inoffensive, uncontroversial thing to talk about and in that scenario it saved us sitting in the non-sitting court room in complete uncomfortable silence.

However, of late I feel that the weather has been over-used as a topic of conversation.  It’s been so bad and changeable over the past few months that I have even been in regular, lengthy conversations about it, even down to recalling things like, “Ooo, I remember this time two years ago smearing myself with yogurt, I got that sunburnt”.  While it is good to have a bit of a rant, discussing the weather in such detail will do nothing about it other than make you feel ever more sorry for yourself.

One of the good things about having all this wind, rain, chilliness, etc, is that on the few days it’s been sunny of late, there has been a veritable spring in everyone’s step and lots of cheery Facebook statuses along the lines of, “Wow, I’d forgotten how lovely the sun feels”.  The novelty of sunshine.  In summer.

When someone gets back from holiday, what are the questions you’re most likely to ask?  I reckon the weather is definitely in the top three.  Why on earth are we so utterly obsessed with it, other than as a conversation starter or ice breaker?  I do find it kind of interesting.  It being changeable is a feature of the UK.  On the few occasions it happens that you walk between rain and no rain, I find that amazing.  Or that there will be a thunder storm where I am but hot sun where the person I’m on the phone to is sitting.  It’s uncontrollable, unpredictable and of consideration to what we wear every day.

I moved to Japan in late winter.  Everyone there warned me that one day – I reiterate “one day” – it would become summer.  From that day until the day you left your house when it became winter, it would be hot, day and night.  There would be rain.  But it would be hot.  One day, I remember opening the door of our flat and being hit by a wall of heat.  And there it was, summer had begun.  It was horrible, a big sweaty horribleness to me, but at least you knew where you were:  cool clothing, ideally that would cope with the sweat, for outdoors and wintery cardigans for indoors because of the icy air conditioning being pumped out of every possible indoor space, public transport to shops.  But little variety in conversation, “Blimey, isn’t it hot”, or “Wow, we really needed that rain, didn’t we?”

Maybe, in fact probably, the weather really is part of the culture and character of our island nation and our cultural identity.  It’s going to be unpredictable because we are an island, in fact quite a few islands, and maybe having a common interest amidst such a diverse population is something to be celebrated.  After all, when there are floods and other dramatic and devastating weather activities, people always seem to be united, with stories of rescues and people pulling together.

{01/06/2012}   Eating food on trains

One of the many things that shocked me about returning to the UK after two and a half years living in Japan was how much food is consumed on trains and how smelly and intrusive it is.  In Japan it just isn’t done, and on a few occasions when I tried surreptitiously to nibble something, I felt guilty, naughty even.  I don’t feel naughty eating on trains in the UK, but I would rather not do it as it adds to the all-round train aroma resulting from being trapped in a carriage, usually without opening windows, with a whole load of strangers with all their whiffs and pongs!

In dire need of sustenance a few months ago, I resorted to eating my egg sandwiches on the train.  I felt ostracised, probably rightly so, for the smell seemed like one great big almighty fart.  Egg or fish sandwiches are probably the most offensive and should be banned, but a McDonald’s meal or a hot pasty is also overpowering.  I have got the vomit comet home before.  I am not a post-booze eater, though I do get why people want to eat after a drinking session.  It’s just that on a train, with no escape, smelling such strong food mixed with the inevitable sweat and booze stench makes me feel a touch queasy.  I also don’t appreciate food remnants on the seats and floor.  Listen to me, I shouldn’t be allowed onto a public forum like a blog, it brings out the moaner in me; something I would (should) otherwise keep restrained!

I am writing this and hearing my Victor Meldrew gearing up for full rant mode.  If I were in charge of trains (I know this applies to all public transport, it’s just that I get more trains than any other mode of transport), I would have a food-free carriage in addition to the quiet carriage.  There would then be a dining carriage in which you could eat your lunch, whether purchased on the train or brought yourself.  The only issue, as ever, is the security issues of leaving your bags and seat unattended.  Maybe I could ban fast food outlets at train stations?  Maybe that would make me hugely unpopular?  Oh, and the other night, I bought a Leon’s superfood salad (I did go for a less smelly option, ruling out the salmon) on my way to a dinner time train.  I had to eat it on the train.  Hmmm, I am seeing flaws to my ban-fast-food-outlets-near-stations proposition too, there are times when you can only really eat at a decent time by eating on the train!

Maybe I should just stop moaning and eat my egg sandwiches oblivious to how stinky and unsociable it is.  Maybe having a public rant about it is enough to keep me quiet for a few more smelly train journeys!  I wonder perhaps also if our varying standards are what make we Brits, for example, a diverse, relatively unpredictable population; more independent and less rule-bound than, say, the Japanese.  There, not so ranty after all, there’s hope for me yet.

{12/05/2012}   Train journeys in the UK

Yesterday, I caught a train from Edinburgh to London, pretty much five hours down the UK.  There is something quite exciting about long train journeys, and, yes, I do want to go on the Trans Siberian.  I always take a selection of activities for train journeys, but usually end up looking out the window, particularly in the less familiar, ergo more interesting, north.

Travelling through the UK, I always get an overwhelming feeling of appreciation for our verdant land and windswept beaches (admittedly only seen for bits of the northerly parts of the journey).  I also got a better understanding of flood issues of late and even saw changes in the weather, from mottled cloudy blue skies to heavy rain clouds and rain.

Admittedly, I did get the usual waves of boredom and, “oh, surely not another two and half hours left” type internalised whines.  But I got a letter written, wrote my blog, did some work (though that resulted in issues as the wifi was down), read a magazine and a bit of a book, looked out the window and started planning another UK road trip.  Useful; doing things I always complain I don’t have time to do.  Actually, I am rose tinting it a little bit because I did have a major boredom spell of about an hour.  Plus I had a headache and felt I’d travelled across seven time zones by the time I got to King’s Cross.  But it was still a good experience, especially as I had a friend to meet at King’s Cross and we went to the St Pancras Grand for dinner and had champagne before the final hour of my journey back to Folkestone!  Very civilised.

On a sort of down side to train travel, I get ludicrously hungry.  I stopped at a supermarket before I set off and filled a bag with food supplies.  And ate them all.  I could have eaten more.  My train cup of tea with a bakery sausage roll were the highlight of that journey (a good sausage roll is a treat indeed).  Maybe it’s a psychological thing, feeling you’re doing something tiring, travelling, thus needing sustenance to keep you going.  Maybe it’s just that I love food and see it as a means of filling time, an excuse to eat!

In terms of the landscape, I love the variety, seeing changes all the way along the journey, then seeing landmarks you recognise, stations where you get off to visit certain friends and a feeling that all that is part of your homeland.  I’m not a particularly patriotic person, I moan about loads of things about the UK, but despite the abundance of hideously ugly modern housing estates, etc, I love opportunities to travel across (or above, when there are no clouds below!) the UK for it is a beautiful island and it seems like most of us only really explore the vicinity of our homes.  So friends around the UK, brace yourselves, I feel another UK friends-stay tour coming up soon!  Though, sadly, it’s more likely I’ll do that by car as it’s far too expensive to travel by train, especially if there’s a champagne bar at one end of the journey!

{05/05/2012}   Bank Holiday Weekends

Raining?  Check.  So there you have it, simple, it must be a bank holiday weekend, woo hoo!  I am soon to be kayaking (second lesson, this time most likely in the rain) and this afternoon a friend is coming to stay through to Monday.  She will be getting the train from Brighton, which somehow manages to take about 2 and 3/4 hours, so I feel there should be some excitement to the day to make the cross country train journey worthwhile.

Over the latter half of Easter a friend came to stay and the rain was so bad we hardly went out.  There was also the Easter Sunday confusion as to what if anything would be open.  This weekend, Sunday should be normal and Monday, at worst, should be like Sunday in terms of opening times.  So what to do when it’s raining?  You’d think we would all have bright suggestions for rainy bank holidays because there are so many of them, but when it rains it seems I have in mind outdoor activities.

Shopping.  We could go shopping, but that never strikes me as a great activity unless you’re on holiday.  Museums/galleries etc.  This part of Kent is not South Kensington, though I am sure there are some.  But they will only be open on Saturday and would most likely be busy.  Zoo.  There are two zoos near here but they are very much outdoorsy places and any animal in its right mind, especially considering few come from rainy climates (or at least hot when there is rain).  There are lots of National Trust/English Heritage places, but dreary weather stops me appreciating such places as it brings back memories of being a child feeling that I was being dragged around historic buildings etc on rainy days.  It must have been a parental weather plan b.  It’s not exactly warm so a bbq or picnic under the wee-filled arches by the sandy beach probably isn’t a fantastic proposition.  There is cake and tea that can be sought out, but that’s hardly an all day activity that you would travel almost three hours for.  See, now I’m struggling!

Indoorsy things.  We could play Scrabble but right now that seems too serious.  We could drink tea, bake things, eat things and lounge about.  Hmm, that doesn’t seem too dreadful and idea but, again, worth travelling for?!  There is always the cinema, and there is a lovely independent one in Folkestone, but she’s visiting so we can chat, so watching films doesn’t seem right, but that could be an option.  I wonder what’s on, think back a few months!

And there endeth my current thoughts on bank holiday fun!  I suppose sometimes – “usually” of late – you just need to embrace the rain and time indoors, perhaps venturing out merely for supplies.  Who knows what we will end up doing and maybe I should just appreciate the fact we have two days of good quality catch-up time and accept that this is how it swings with bank holidays: rain, tea and cake!  See, I feel positive and enthusiastic about the bank holiday weekend already!  So come on rain, do your worst, we will overcome and have a memorable and enjoyable long weekend in true British weather style.  Ooo, now there’s a thought: a picnic in the car overlooking the sea, complete with steamy windows from a flask of coffee!  Oh yeah!

{27/04/2012}   UK identity

All Brits, are you English/Scottish/Welsh/Northern Irish or British? This is something I have been thinking a lot about recently. I don’t feel I have an identity within my country.

In my ideal, fluffy world historical issues would be irrelevant and the UK would be one happy nation and I would possibly quite like being British, encompassing the huge diversity within the British population. Increasingly, I feel I might be English. But then I get uncomfortable about all the extremist associations. I was born and raised in Kent and I live there now but I don’t consider myself Kentish because I have no idea what that means. What would someone from, say, Northumbria think about me if I said that? Why would anyone know what makes someone Kentish? I have only chosen Northumbria as it’s one of the furthest counties from Kent, but our geography and economy are very different. If we both say we’re from England, doesn’t that unite us, at least a bit?

There are some many aspects of British culture that I can’t and don’t identify with. I remember a Japanese student who I would have a laugh with in class, some months later, telling me that he’d met a few English people before but hadn’t thought he liked English people because he hadn’t liked them. He said that I’d made him like English people. I felt this was good for England‑Japan relations but it really struck me the extent to which people base their impressions of a country’s people on the individuals they meet. Without a shadow of doubt, and it disappoints me hugely to say this, I don’t like most members of the British general public I come in contact with. For that reason, I guess that’s why I have identity issues.

My answer to what is an English person will be staggeringly different to that of most other people, though I wonder if, increasingly, there are other people out there like me who would merely answer: I don’t know.

In terms of the UK breaking up, I guess maybe it’s become necessary (but that’s a whole other issue!), but that won’t help with my crisis of social, cultural identity. Am I English? If so, what does that make me and what do I have in common with every other English person? I mean, my dad was from Latvia and he lived in the UK since long before I was even born. Does that change anything? Such a lengthy issue, I’m amazed I’ve kept this so short!

Owing to my recent car quest, “Car Chris” and I have spent a lot of time in industrial parks. After one distressing McDonald’s lunch, we went out of our way to go to a Pizza Express, the only other outlet we could find. Our two pizzas, two soft drinks and one dessert cost £35. Today, as a thank you, we detoured to The Granville, Lower Hardres, near Canterbury and had two starters, two mains, two (free – explanation to follow) desserts, a pint of beer, a soft drink and two espressos for £35. Their being the same price prompted a discussion on value for money, etc.

If anyone ever fancies a realistically priced, way above average meal in a rural pub, complete with central fireplace, The Granville would be hard to beat. It is a sister pub/restaurant to my beloved Sportsman in Seasalter, near Whitstable (one Michelin star). It was almost embarrassing handing over the same amount of money for that meal as the Pizza Express chain meal.

Pizza Express serve good pizzas, you know you will get a decent meal, it just seems overpriced. We both ordered from a lunch set menu today. There were maybe four or five choices for starters and mains and three ish for dessert. I had fat, juicy, fresh mussels in herby wine. Exceptionally good and the kind of fresh that makes you wonder how fresh mussels you have eaten previously have been. Chris had a Chinese style crispy pork salad. Also delicious. He had pollock with a generous selection of vegetables, a mussel tartare and roast potatoes. He had finished it before I had even got around to asking to try some! I ordered coq au vin, a favourite dish of mine and one I rarely see on menus. It wasn’t the stewy dish I usually have, rather slow cooked chicken, mushrooms in a meaty winey sauce, a fat bacony rasher on top, wonderfully creamy yet still potatoey mash and long stem broccoli. Wonderful and a perfect sized portion.

Two courses: £12.95. Three courses should have been £15.95 but as we arrived in the midst of a lunch time rush, thus ending up waiting too long, the chef sent us a message, apologising for and explaining the delay and offering us free desserts as compensation. Yes, we did wait quite a long time but we both appreciated first an update then the chef’s message and free puds! They were great. We both had delightfully tangy blackcurrant with silky, dense white chocolate cheesecake on a non-soggy biscuit base. Mmmm, all exceptionally good.

This was not intended as a review, though it has ended up a bit like one; my point really was something I’ve said before in this blog, namely how hard it is to know whT your money will get you in terms of meals out. Somewhere like Pizza Express isn’t a bargain option, but at least you know you will get a decent meal. At a pub, you never know, likewise non-chain restaurants. But sometimes you find somewhere that serves good quality, fresh food in a lovely environment for the same price as soggy fish and chops in an over-priced pub or restaurant. Today’s £35 was handed over easily and I have now found somewhere to eat that’s a c20-25 minute drive away from home. I would rather pay the petrol and not drink alcohol to go there than walk to a, say, Pizza Express. Go there (book if it’s not a week day) and enjoy British produce at its best.

{08/04/2012}   Easter Sunday

I am not religious and I do not celebrate Easter but I do at least like to understand and keep up a few traditions.  I’m not even referring to chocolate, it’s the pussy willow tapping that I’m interested in!
My fact for the day is how the date of Easter Sunday is determined.  Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox (this occurs twice a year around 20th March and 22nd September and is when the centre of the sun is in the same plane as the equator, when night and day are approximately the same length).  For Easter purposes in Christian countries it’s taken as 21st March, thus Easter Sunday is between 22nd March and 25th April.
Easter eggs nowadays stand for new life but they actually symbolise the empty tomb of Christ.  Easter Sunday marks the resurrection of Jesus, the foundation of the Christian faith as per the New Testament.
In England, apparently we eat ham on Sunday and tap people with pussy willow branches to bring good luck.  I can see there could be some misunderstandings; I wouldn’t be hugely impressed if a stranger came up to me and hit me with a stick!  There is also a game called Lifting and Heaving that we play.  This is to fill time on Easter Monday and Tuesday.  On Easter Monday, tradition has it that young men would carry a chair decorated with flowers from village to village and any female could sit in the chair and be lifted three times to bring her good luck.  She would thank the men with money and a kiss.  I am not entirely surprised this tradition seems to have died out, though it could make for some fantastic YouTube clips.  Oh, and on Tuesday, the women do the same to the men!
The Scottish (apparently) follow a pagan era tradition of lighting fires for spring festivals.  I like the idea of spring festivals.  But where I live it’s pissing with rain so I’m not sure what a plan b would be.  It’s April showers!
Ireland does a lot for Easter if my minimal research is accurate.  Today, there should be lots of dancing in the streets and dance offs for the prize of cake!  Excellent, I like that idea.  Apparently a lot of eggs, real eggs, are eaten, often dyed and decorated.
As for the chocolate egg tradition, I have been hugely put off this tradition in recent years because of the stinginess of chocolate egg makers (the mass produced kind at least) and that the eggs are on sale for a ludicrously long time before Easter Sunday.  But I’m not going to rant about excess, over indulgence and packaging.  It is the French and Germans who started the chocolate egg Easter in the 19th century.  In England, Cadbury made the first mass produced Easter eggs in 1873.  I bet they had more chocolate in/on their eggs in those days.
As for my Easter Sunday, it will be with two friends and we will be embracing the feasting element of Easter (not that I think any of us gave up anything for Lent so as to justify Easter Sunday excess!).  This may not be a faith-inspired Easter Sunday but it will be one about friends, sharing and good quality Kentish roast lamb.  And a nice Rioja (thank you Fiona, of kitchen and cellar, for that recommendation!).

This morning, to make my short working day reap at least a little financial reward, I caught the 07.14 slow train from Folkston to London, c1 hour 50 minutes.  This train takes twice as long as the high price high speed train but there are mornings (I just want to get home on the way back so that direction always seems long) when I am happy for it to be an even longer journey.  Yes, really.

I am almost an hour into the journey now, I have done some writing, I am drinking coffee, it’s a lovely sunny morning, I’ve seen lambs, horses, cattle, flowers, signs of spring emerging further, farms, oast houses, dog walkers tramping across fields, misty lakes and I was the only person in my carriage for the first 20 minutes.  As usual I also have a bag full of train activities.

Commutes are generally horrid.  The journey home is by far the worst for me because everyone is tired and smelly, public transport is usually too hot and everywhere is busy.  This morning’s commute progresses with the rising sun, the waking up of towns and cities.  People are quieter, no one is sitting next to me yet and we haven’t had as much time to have had or be having a bad day.  Yes, yes, I can see that there are days when you’re too tired to function, in winter it would still be dark, train delays, leaves on the line, people standing in the aisles.  Yes, hideous, and I would have posted a rant no doubt.  But for now, just allow me this misty eyed love-in for this commute.

I used to commute from Whitstable.  As a general rule I enjoyed my commute in to work but in the morning AND the evening, I always got a seat.  But doing c1.5 hours each way most days was tiring.  I don’t usually work five days a week and I don’t (especially then as I wasn’t working such long hours, as will be the case today) usually have to travel in return rush hour so it wasn’t too bad for me.  But there were days when I could barely stay awake, when the train was late, it once took three hours to get back, in snow it was embarrassingly bad and by the time the train got to Bromley South it was packed and I get seat guilt, which I really don’t need to endure.

Overall though, I do prefer the high speed train because 55 minutes is a good time to get home and a good time to get things done.  I always have a table and I have written many a letter and blog post, read books and magazines, caught up on emails and texts, completed editing my work on the way home; it gives me time to do things I always claim not to have time to do.

When I returned to London after my six and a half months living in Whitstable, I genuinely missed my commuting time.  I had vowed to get up at the same time and read before getting up and getting ready for work.  Did I?  Yeah, right, not even once!  In my ideal world (assuming I had to commute) I would have a one-two hour commute to work (I can do mornings.  It may not be pretty and I may struggle but I know I am at my best in the mornings) and a ten minute commute home.  Currently, I am slowly waking up and enjoying my morning.  When I get to London Bridge I will have to change for a Charing Cross train, which will be busy.  My commuting love will end round about then.  But as I’m being a cheapskate this morning, I will have a c25 minute walk to where I’m working and that will be partly through St James’ Park so I expect to have a second pre-work high.  I love London parks in the mornings prior to the tourist/lunch break groups taking over.  I will keep quiet about my post-work train dawdle back home!

What an enjoyable sunny Sunday afternoon! My friend and I wanted to see a few things: Lympne Castle, Aldington village (mainly to see Noel Coward’s former residence, which is now home to Julian Clarey), St Mary in the Marsh church (E. Nesbit’s grave), Saltwood Castle, Grigg’s beach side fishmonger (for opening times) and the hilly parts of Sandgate/Folkestone. A pub lunch was also on the agenda.

I was giddy with the amount of lambs we saw, the sunshine made the spring greens even more lovely and it all seemed so delightfully Darling Buds of May. It’s been years since I’ve spent an afternoon going for a sightseeing drive. It did make me feel quite elderly as we didn’t really stop and walk much (but I have earmarked places I want to return to), but on seeing a genuinely elderly couple sitting in a car with a flask of coffee steaming up the window, I felt positively youthful and realised I was a good few years off resorting to flask-coffee-scenery-viewing!

Lympne is a very pretty village, though there is very little to see really in terms of villagey things. The castle is privately owned so you can’t look around (I was a guest at a wedding there, it is lovely). However, the church and graveyard are extremely happily situated and from the far end of the graveyard, there are spectacular views across the Romney Marshes and out to sea. There are also lots of footpaths, ruins, sheep; great places for a sunny picnic with a fantastic view.

Walking up the road out of the village, we spotted a fairly high security fence … protecting the local residents from a field of bison! Ah, yes, Port Lympne Animal Park.

Noel Coward’s former farmhouse, Goldenhurst, (now occupied by Julian Clarey) looks lovely but we couldn’t really see it from the road and I didn’t want to try to snoop around someone’s home. But it’s a pretty area. The farm opposite was even nicer as it was higher up, a real sun trap. Noel Coward bought the property in 1927, making him a nearby neighbour to Joseph Conrad. I would loved to have lived around there then for, as he was a sociable person, his guests allegedly included Marlene Dietrich, Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh and Cecil Beaton. If you have the interest, here is a link to an interesting article about him and this house.

I was underwhelmed by Aldington village but there are lots of interesting stories (smugglers) legends (the entrance to fairyland being there) and lists of famous residents (from those listed above to Vic Reeves and Paul O’Grady). The countryside below the village, ie toward the marshes and sea, is really lovely.

At St Mary in the Marsh, we easily found E. Nesbit’s grave. I now want to read The Railway Children as an adult. We went into the pub there, The Star Inn, built in 1476. Noel Coward wrote his first successful play while living in the adjacent cottage! Historically it’s interesting but they weren’t serving food at 2.30 and I wasn’t that keen on it. But there is a large grassy beer garden, which on a warmer day may have made it more tempting.

By this time we were hungry. We agreed to eat in Hythe, but just outside Dymchurch we spotted The Ship Inn so stopped there (food until 5 on a Sunday). It’s nearly 600 years old and has all manner of hidden passageways, which I would absolutely love to visit. We had an ok meal, but not destination pub food. This pub was once Russell Thorndike’s local and it features in his Dr Syn stories.

Next stop, Saltwood Castle. It’s privately owned by Jane Clark, the late Alan Clark MP’s wife. You can’t see much of it but it looks amazing. Saltwood is an interesting village and I want to explore there soon.

Grigg’s should get a mention as it is a fishmonger serving the beach fleet (assuming “fleet” is at least two boats!) of Hythe. The fish is always fresh and well presented. It’s open 7am-1.30pm during the week.

As for the hilly parts of Folkestone, lots of surprises: houses hidden in little cliff cut outs, a massive area of MOD land and barracks, far bigger than I had noticed before, some beautiful, large houses and a lot of unspoilt areas of trees and greenery.

I am enjoying discovering the area around where I live and finding out bits of history. Next time, big walk and big picnic …and maybe a flask of coffee drunk outdoors!

et cetera