Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Sunny Folkstone

Still from July....

“It was one of those hot clear days that Folkstone sees so much of...”. 

This was written by HG Wells and displayed somewhere on the walk that took us along the promenade, down steps and onto the Leas, paths –  sometimes wooded – that skirt the beach. We walked along a paved path beside the pebble beach, as far as a house painted turquoise blue and sporting a plaque saying that HG Wells lived here in 1898.


The Victorian bandstand erected in 1899 drew protests from the townspeople of Folkstone – they complained it would spoil the sea view.

The yellow rose beneath the olive tree, with a deeper more pungent scent than even the orange roses in the King's North Park. (The bright pink ones had no scent at all).
The gentle thump and rush of waves, below the olive and the pine tree, and the rose.

Walking down the zig-zag path, with its cave – it's funny the way they've made it to look as if natural, natural-artificial says C. This makes me think of a cave, a natural cave, called the Cyclops Cave, off the south coast of Cyprus. It was deep, but with a low roof, too low I thought, to house Odysseus, his crew, the Cyclops and all his sheep.

And further down, still looking down over the sea, an area where seagulls dropped down, wheeled around, spun, flapped decelerating wings, sometimes landed, most often flew back up to have another go. Like skiers on a slope, swooping and turning, an exhilaration of the seagulls, shrieking their delight.


A crumpled package sits across from me, on the other side of the path. It stirs slightly, unravels, a silhouette of black, a hunched magpie.

The clouds have thinned, into pale patches of lazy foam, adhering to the cup of sky. Maraschino morning becomes a cappuccino afternoon. Strong coffee, with a whiff of bitter chocolate on the white foam, indenting it like a rough track, a worn place, marking the only way across a desert.

A black bird shape perches in a nearby tree. Its back is to me, it faces out to sea. The lacy seams of the sea sleeve, la Manche, the silken garment that rests between this island and the continent we both love and turn our back on, we long for, and try too, to forget, the foam of this silk lies between us, a blue flag, stitched with a herringbone of white.

The beach and sea walk was fiercely lit by sun, a cloudless sky. The sea and beach were empty, near-desolate, but with this independence of the light, as if it came from it, was wedded to it, sea and ball of flaming light, they were the same source, springing from a cauldron of the cosmos so enormous and so empty, we can hardly contemplate it. The stony beach kept all away – swimmers, picnic-ers, day-trippers, locals. The sea burned in its solitary glory. Waves hissed and clattered up the stones, receded with a throaty, gargling sigh.

Then a silent moment, a pause, sea and sun caught in a memory of vast, empty and glorious expanse, beyond the net of human vision.

On the far side of the path, the beach huts are brightly painted – purple, blue, yellow pink and green. As if someone has resurrected colour – boxes of brightness, looking out on an empty pebble shore.


Yes, that was the best day, when the sun leaned out from its sky tower, allowed us to see the foamy ragged threads streaming from the seams of the Sea Sleeve, that outstretched arm of water between France and the chalky English shore.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Wales, Kent and Caveman Coffee

From July, some wondrously hot and sunny days in Wales and Kent.


C and I helped Joy Miller of the Sauniere Society, with her book stall at the Conference  in Dinas Mawddwy organised by the Network of Ley Hunters. I don't dowse for leys, though many years ago I was taught how to dowse with a pendulum.
I was staying at the nearby camp site in a minuscule tent. 

Evening at the camp site, after the Conference.


By the river, thoughts may be like the light reflected in the water. Stillness, after the day's hubbub, the rain, the coffee, the tipping into sunshine. The sky's brass band, burning an entourage of shadows.
During the day, we are introduced to straight tracks, waymarkers on a path towards the centre of the sky, with the circumference lightly indented at the edges.
To standing stones that mark – as well as dusty, infinite horizons – the paradox and the complexities of longing. The way the sun bisects the earth with morning, creeps like a snail across the surface of our memory, sparking it like a bottle of champagne.

The sky grows dark. The blue and red lights, in the misty evening, round the camp, will soon be twinkling.


 The path back from the village to the camp site is through darkness and long grass. After being with so many people, it's good to walk the darkling, misty path, alone. To zip the tent closed. To know the night is close, a thin tent skin away, the moon swinging, trapeze artist, in between the hills. Which crowd in close, a cradle for the moonlight, misty meshes fluttering like flags, just above the trees. The lights come on. The sun is long gone. Night lifts up from the ground it seems, a hesitation of the dark green tops of trees.


Kent. I'm staying in a caravan here, such bliss, after the tiny tent!

The morning we left Wales, I woke up, looked out of the tent flap. It was very early, about five or so. And I glimpsed that feeling I had when travelling in Asia, of being in an utterly strange place, quite new and unknown to me, an immense sky, and the wondrousness of being there, in that totally unfamiliar place.

Of course I wasn't, I was in Wales, but I did glimpse that feeling – so thrilling in its sense of total unfamiliarity and strangeness yet this very newness and strangeness had a sense of belonging.

Perhaps it's always the unfamiliar we crave; or rather, that the familiar, however beloved, can get in the way, can block, something that we yearn for, however dimly – or sharply – aware of this we are. At least for those of us who feel this, who have yearnings for something intangible, it could be that, the desire to lose all familiarity, in a moment, under foreign skies, in quite unknown terrain. Breathing unfamiliar scents in the air.


 Walk along the downs, near Folkstone

A visit to Canterbury

We take a bus from Folkstone and arrive at Canterbury's bus station. Coffee is on my mind, as I haven't had one yet today. And right away I spot the Lost Sheep coffee stand. It's just a few metres away from a sculpture of a lamb which is on the site of the old cattle market. So the young man in the coffee stand tells me. He also says that 'Lost Sheep Coffee' was here before the lamb sculpture was made. The coffee is really good. (He says it's 'Caveman' blend). This is important. Everywhere I go, I rate the coffee. Sometimes I've wished that I'd made a note of every cup I've ever had, so I could publish a guide, of where to get the best coffee, and which shops or stalls to avoid. But if I think about it, it's almost certainly already been done. Yet, on the other hand, since there are so many cafés throughout the world, there would surely be room for another guide. Possibly the worst coffee I have ever had was from a kebab shop (it was the only place open at the time) in Kehl, Germany. Another recent dreadful one was in Machynlleth in Wales, but I don't remember the name of the café. It would hardly be fair to mention it anyway, even if I did. Far better I think, to mention the good ones. The Lost Sheep coffee stand on the site of the old cattle market in Canterbury gets five stars from me.

We walk along the city walls then in the parks beside the river in Canterbury. There are boats on the water, moving slowly, someone standing in the stern, pushing the boat with a long pole. There's the chapel built over the river, enclosing both banks, in an embrace of utmost and perfect equality. Right and left, destra and sinistra brought together in these arches of ancient stone. Gothic, slightly pointed, rising just above the water.