Silly Saturday – Strange Storms

Exactly six years ago we had just had the Valentine’s Night Storm; we did not know it was called that till we had had it. The next year, in 2015, the Meteorological Office of the United Kingdom and Met Eireann decided to name storms in advance, with an alphabetical list of popular names they picked out from Facebook. It was claimed this would make people take storms more seriously and it worked, because since they started naming storms they have got worse, with more flooding. Last weekend it was Storm Ciara and as you read this we will be having Storm Dennis. Female and male names alternate, so luckily by the time we get to N ( probably in a few weeks time ) we can have Storm Noah.

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Storms come with amber and red warnings, plus constant warnings from weather people in the cosy news studios to stay away from coastal areas. They then show photographs the public have taken just before they get washed away by waves and ‘go over’ to reporters being blown off the sea front to give us live coverage. It is so windy we can’t actually hear what they are saying.

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Mike Jefferies Photography

This photo of Storm Ciara, thanks to Mike Jefferies Photography, saving me getting wet, appeared on Facebook. It is the famous cob at Lyme Regis in Dorset, one of the settings for Jane Austin’s novel Emma, where a trip to the seaside nearly ends in tragedy when a young lady contrives to fall off the cob. I don’t think the weather was this bad in that scene, but if you ever go to Lyme Regis the cob slopes and if it is wet it is very slippery.

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Meanwhile back to Saturday morning 15th February 2014; after a night of the wind shaking our house I suggested ( insisted ) we go down to the cliff top at high tide for some bracing fresh air and this is what we saw.

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It gave me an idea for a story and eventually became the opening scene for At The Seaside Nobody Hears You Scream.

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The Wonder of Wetherspoons

Christmas and Culture in Margate

We spent Christmas with Team H in Margate and as Team AK were also coming down we volunteered to stay at the Premier Inn.

Premier Inn is a British hotel chain and the UK’s largest hotel brand, with more than 72,000 rooms and 800 hotels.

On our various trips and breaks we do stay at blogworthy bed and breakfasts and hotels of character and weirdness, but Premier Inns are a good choice if the location is handy. You know what to expect; the rooms are big enough, the beds comfortable and everything is purple. The Margate Premier Inn is by the railway station, looks out to sea and the walk to the home of Team H takes us within view of many cultural landmarks.

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We have stayed a good few times and never had a room with a sea view, this time we did, but the view was blocked by the air conditioning unit on top of the Brewer’s Fayre pub and restaurant below. But the winter afternoon was drawing in and it was time to check in with the rest of the family, then back to the sea front for another family tradition – dinner at Wetherspoons.

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J D Wetherspoon plc is a pub company in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Founded in 1979 by Tim Martin, the company operates nearly 900 pubs and a growing number of Wetherspoon hotels. The company is known for converting unconventional yet attractive premises into pubs.

Another chain where you know what to expect, Tim is obviously a chap who, unlike most politicians, cottoned on to what people want. Cheap pub food, refillable coffee cups, meals served from morning till night and a relaxed place where you can take your granny or your grandchild. As you order at the bar, or with your smart phone, you can wander in and out for a handy loo visit or perhaps hang out all day. The added bonus for writers is that you can watch all sorts of people and for photographers many of the branches are in amazing buildings rescued from neglect. Another interesting fact; it is claimed that every Wetherspoon has a different pattern of carpet, inspired by the location and specially woven; you can even buy a book about them.

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The Margate Wetherspoon has just been refurbished and now boasts comfy booths where you can charge up your various electronic gadgets. The walls are adorned with framed snippets of the town’s history. It is called The Mechanical Elephant, recalling the creature that used to give rides along the promenade in the 1950’s. This little bit of history inspired my short story ‘Thanephant an Elephantasy’ which was included in Thanet Writers’ anthology ‘Shoal’.

On Christmas Eve morning it was time to return to Wetherspoons for breakfast, but first another cultural landmark. At this end of the main sands is the Victorian Nayland Rock shelter. In the late Autumn of 1921, the bank clerk poet T.S. Eliot came to Margate on doctor’s orders to convalesce. He was in a fragile state physically and mentally and took a tram to sit on the seafront every day. While looking out at the expanse of grey water, watching children playing and war veterans exercising on the beach, he drafted part of The Waste Land.

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“On Margate Sands/ I can connect/ Nothing with nothing/”
I have to confess I haven’t read The Wasteland, but I have just downloaded it onto my Kindle for 99pence.

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Margate is on the Isle of Thanet, a real island until a few hundred years ago. It is on the east coast of Kent, but actually faces north across the Thames Estuary, so the sea can be grey on a grey day. The first day trippers used to come by steamer down the Thames.
On Christmas Eve morning the sun had come out and on the beach we saw the new attraction, a recreated bathing machine; the steam arising from the roof gives a clue to its secret, it is actually a sauna. I was almost envious of the chap emerging from the sea to clamber inside.

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Near the Mechanical Elephant is Dreamland. Amusements have been on this site since 1880, it was first called Dreamland in 1920 when the Grade 2 listed Scenic Railway wooden rollercoaster was opened. After going into decline early this century and being closed down there was a public campaign to restore the park and it re-opened in June 2015.

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Dreamland’s morale has been greatly boosted by the opening of the Turner Contemporary Gallery in 2011, bringing a big buzz to the town. Cheap property prices and a fast train route to London have brought artists and fresh blood into the town – DFLs Down From London. The gallery is built on the spot by the harbour where the painter JMW Turner’s landlady had her boarding house.

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At the end of last year the Turner Prize took place in Margate, the four artists exhibited at the gallery and the award ceremony was held in the Hall-by-the-Sea in Dreamland. It was an unprecedented event as the prize was shared between the four artists.

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Our Christmas break finished with a family breakfast at Brewer’s Fayre. If you are staying at Premiere Inn and want breakfast this is where you go, sneaking in a secret door at the back…

Brewers Fayre is a licensed pub restaurant chain, with 161 locations across the UK, known for serving traditional British pub food and for their Sunday Carvery.

There are several advantages to be enjoyed, refillable coffee cups, up to two children under fifteen can eat for free at the breakfast buffet and there is a soft play area where your toddler can end up well beyond reach and stuck there forever unless you persuade him to come down in the slide tube. If your child is a strapping fourteen year old they will be too big for soft play, but can eat twice as much as the adults for free!

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Where do you like to stay when you are away? How many doctors these days advise their patients to go on holiday to convalesce and write?

Part of my novel ‘At The Seaside Nobody Hears You Scream’ is set in Margate.

Silly Saturday -November – Know or No

What are the pros and cons of going on holiday in November – in the Northern Hemisphere? If you plan to trek to the North Pole there are no pros, you had better wait till summer which won’t be much better… but for elsewhere?

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Pros

There are not too many people around, you don’t have to queue or worry you won’t find a parking spot.

You won’t have to book accommodation well in advance.

You can take advantage of last minute cheap deals.

You won’t have to book on line well in advance for places of interest.

Packing is easy, just your winter clothes.

You can work up a good appetite with the chilly weather.

You can enjoy sitting in front of a log fire.

There are plenty of hours to enjoy the night sky.

You will not get too hot when going walking or climbing.

It is invigorating walking by the sea or on a hill top.

It’s not the school holidays.

The autumn trees are a beautiful colour.

You can start Christmas shopping.

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Cons

It’s too quiet, there aren’t many people around.

Your hotel is empty and depressing, the staff bored.

That last minute bargain deal is not a bargain, the hotel was cheap because it’s awful.

The places you were glad you didn’t have to queue up for are closed for the winter.

Lots of places are closed for the winter.

The places that aren’t closed, close early, usually just before you get there.

Packing is hard as you have to fit in gloves, scarves, thick socks, hats and lots of everything in case you get soaked in the rain.

You can’t have picnics.

It’s hard to find somewhere open to eat.

It’s even harder to find somewhere open in the evening to eat.

The days are too short.

If you go walking out in the country you will probably slip in the mud or fall into a fast flowing stream.

If you go to the seaside to  photograph winter waves you may be swept away by a freak wave.

Children are at school, you’re surrounded by pensioners on holiday.

The trees are bare and depressing.

The shops have started Christmas too early.

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The 199 Steps

Whitby is a scenic harbour town on the east coast of Yorkshire; the harbour piers face north so it has an east and west cliff, both of which are worth clambering up. You don’t have to climb the cliff face, you can arrive at the west cliff hotels or the east cliff abbey ruins by coach, bus or car, but it is more interesting to tread the many paths and steps that wind upwards. Count Dracula took such a route up the east cliff after his ship was blown off course in the north sea. Disguised as a black dog he ran up the 199 steps to the church of St. Mary and the ruins of St. Hilda’s Abbey, thus creating a tourist attraction for the fitter holiday maker.

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Author Bram Stoker is not the only famous person to have lived here, son of Yorkshire, Captain James Cook attended school in Whitby and was born in a nearby village.

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This was not our first visit to Whitby, but it was our first attempt at airbnb. We chose a cottage in town according to good reviews; as first timers we had to register with some personal info and after being accepted received reams of instructions on where to park the car and how to get in the door. I know from people who use airbnb, when working away from home, that some places are literally a room in someone’s house, someone often glad of the company. We were not to be greeted by a real human. However, we managed the key box without any trouble and were delighted to find ourselves in a cosy three storey home. The bathroom was on the middle floor and the bedroom at the top, the two flights of winding narrow stairs were more like mountain climbing and getting our luggage up was more of a struggle than reaching Everest base camp.

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Exploring on foot is the best way to enjoy Whitby, the swing bridge is a quick way to get from one side of town to the other and if you like fish there is no shortage of fish restaurants to choose for your dinner; many have claims such as best fish and chips in town, best east side fish restaurant, best harbour view fish and chips… Though we were self catering we didn’t actually cook any dinners on our four nights there – a fact that made it easy to keep the pristine kitchen clean.

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On the first evening, after a meal, we popped into a quaint harbourside pub that looked full of character and was full of characters. Anyone popping in later on would have thought they were in a scene from Fisherman’s Friends, happening upon some local folk singing, but none of the people we met were locals. Two Australians were delighted to meet someone who had lived in Perth (me) and the lady from Edinburgh to discover Cyberspouse was Scottish. It turned out the Aussies were originally ten pound Pommies who went out on the very first jumbo jet to Australia in the early seventies. Their friend, who looked like a local fisherman, spent half a year in Perth and the other half in Whitby. The highlight for me was when the two chaps started singing and had great voices.

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The next day we easily walked up the 199 steps, but were soon soaked in the rain, photos of the abbey would have to wait. The abbey was ruined by Henry V111, but St. Mary’s church is fascinating with all the pews in boxes; respectable families had their own boxes, strangers were kept separate and the rabble squashed into the more uncomfortable boxes. There is also a lovely building which now houses a youth hostel with its restaurant open to the public; in the rain this was too busy, but we visited on the next two days.

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Other highlights of our stay were climbing up the 81 steps of the harbour lighthouse and the long walk to Sandsend along the coast before the tide came in. Showers were followed by sunshine as we reached the lovely village with cottages either side of the little river.

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On the last evening, a stroll down the pier found us gathered with a few others round a man who was taking his five Saint Bernard dogs for a stroll, he said he had seventeen rescue collies at home which his wife exercised. Apparently the key to his happy dog household was that he was the leader of the pack. I would have loved to have seen his house!

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The next morning we packed up, tidied up and followed the unlocking procedure in reverse.  Later on we received a thanks e-mail from the owner; but to see his review of us, we had to review his cottage first. We gave it 5 stars and he gave us 5 stars; we’re officially airbnbers – though I’m never sure how to write it. And the host we never met? Well it’s obvious he must have been a vampire.

Read more about last week’s trip and my other travels this year at my website.

https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-four-travel-diary

You can find out more about Whitby and the Yorkshire coast here.

http://www.whitby.co.uk/

 

 

Sunny Salisbury

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A day out is even more enjoyable if everyone is having a day out and everybody was out in Salisbury on Sunny Saturday. Our day started at the free Park and Ride; the drive north from Bournemouth is slow but pleasantly rural. The walk from the bus stop to our brunch destination took us through the busy market in the square. Then towards River Walk where we bumped straight into a cheerful ‘Salisbury for Europe’ march by our fellow Remainers. Every town and county seems to have a ‘For Europe’ group, I’m thinking of collecting all the blue badges.

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After brunch we strolled to the cathedral, time was limited because we were going to a matinee at the theatre, but the cathedral is timeless. We jostled with tourists and locals through the narrow arch to the swards of green that surround Salisbury Cathedral. Cathedral greens and closes are usually delightful, with all the interesting old buildings and houses that have clustered round the great cathedrals over the centuries. On a sunny day, flowers blooming in window boxes and gardens, to live in such places seems perfect, though perhaps not with all the modern tourists.

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We paused at a red telephone box, peering in to see if it was still active or turned into a safe place for a defibrillator; we had hardly had a chance to see if it still took coins when an irate voice said ‘Excuse me’ in an accent that suggested she was not local. We were standing in the way of a lady trying to take an iconic photo of her husband with a red telephone box in the background. That was the only grumpy note we heard all day, for the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral on a sunny day are a happy place to be. People of all ages, language students, tourists and families; running, picnicking, painting, taking photographs, playing badminton. Even if you are on a whistle stop tour you can still treasure a few moments looking up at the spire soaring into the blue sky.

https://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk/

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The cloisters were also packed, I wonder what monks strolling along quietly contemplating would have made of modern visitors. There was a free grab a canvas event; children and adults busy painting on two sides while opposite, people sat with their refreshments.

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While in the cloisters you can pop into the restaurant and shop with glass roofs to gaze up at the cathedral.  There are also recently improved free toilets. Just wandering around is enjoyable. If you do get a chance to visit there is a voluntary donation to look around inside the cathedral. Surrounding the cathedral are museums, a lovely National Trust House and the home of the late Edward Heath, one of Britain’s Prime Ministers.

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Our first visit to the Salisbury Playhouse was to see Alan Ayckbourn’s first successful play, Relatively Speaking, which we had seen a long time ago. It’s a comedy so the audience were in a good mood and it was hilarious. The theatre is a pleasant light place which we hope to visit again.

https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/whats-on/main-house/relatively-speaking/

What is your favourite day out and does the weather make a difference to your enjoyment?

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Salisbury features in Three Ages of Man, a stand alone novel from my Brief Encounters trilogy.

 

Silly Saturday – The Past Unblogged

It’s a tragedy, so many years wasted, so many years of our lives unblogged and the more decades you have put in on this planet, the greater the loss. Interesting events could have been shared legibly with the world instead of scribbled on an aerogramme to a few family and friends.

For those who haven’t been to a post office museum, an aerogramme bore little resemblance to Instagram, but in its own humble way was very convenient. A foldable gummed piece of blue paper bought from the post office; the idea being to write in large neat script at the top, then realise you had plenty yet to say and pack the words in tighter. By the time you turned over to the fourth and last panel you were reduced to illegible scribble with hardly room to sign your name. Then stick it down and post in a letter box. Perhaps there are attics full of these flimsy blue papers, full of family history across the seas…

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On holiday people could send picture post cards and still can, but they would not be in the picture… how many miles of travel unrecorded on Facebook, Instagram and blogs? Travellers had to wait till they got back to their hotel or tent to try and write to their loved ones, more likely no one would know where they had been until they had returned and who would believe they had been at the top of that mountain or canoed round those tropical islands without proof?

If you could go back in time and blog about your life which times would you reveal? A worse thought; if your parents had been blessed with the internet would they have been writing funny blogs about your nappy disasters at the swimming pool changing room or your tantrum in the supermarket…

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Silly Saturday – Stretching Summer

Don’t worry what the weatherman says.

Astronomical autumn is defined by the Earth’s axis and orbit around the Sun, autumn equinox. This year autumn begins on the 23rd September 2019 and ends on the 22nd December 2019.

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Meteorological seasons consist of splitting the seasons into four periods made up of three months each. By the meteorological calendar the first day of autumn is always the 1st September ending on the 30th November.

This information is issued by the Met Office who call themselves that as they can’t remember how to spell meatioralogecal. In some parts of the world autumn is called fall to save remembering how to spell awtum.

So it’s still astronomical summer in the northern hemisphere, even if all the children have gone back to school and the leaves are falling off the trees.

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You can stretch summer further by waiting till the clocks go back… In 2019 British Summer Time will come to an end on October 27th. Easy to remember as that is the date of my first born’s birthday.

So enjoy some more summer.

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Enjoy 24 stories that take you through the year.

 

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Visication

A visication is when you go to visit friends or relations and have a free holiday, often somewhere you have not visited before and perhaps with unique accommodation. They might be showing you around with wining and dining, or you may be baby, dog and house sitting. It is always interesting if they have just moved home; a new location for writing ideas.

Team AK are living at a house on an organic farm. The cottage came with sitting tenants when the family bought the farm in the 1940s and apparently didn’t leave ( die?) until the end of the century; by which time there was still no gas, electricity or running water. Perhaps life with their wood stove and well water suited them. In 2000 the house was renovated and modernised, but still has loads of charm and real wooden doors. You can walk round the house; literally round and round. Every time we went through a door we were not sure which room we would find ourselves in. The stairs were shallow, deep and steep, luckily with banisters either side.

They don’t have to go far to post a letter as there is a royal mail letter box built into the wall of the house. A few yards from their front door is a farm shop like no other perhaps. No humans, just a coin operated organic whole milk dispensing machine and a help yourself cabinet with butter and free range eggs.

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There are quaint traditions associated with Visications. We are always invited on a bank holiday weekend and always get stuck in traffic. I pass the time by putting pictures of the scenery on Instagram and updating those at our destination with pictures of Eddie Stobart lorries or slow moving farm tractors.     I always forget something; this time my prescription sun glasses on the brightest sunniest August bank holiday weekend ever.

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Our first morning was enlivened when, after several months of waiting, the landlord sent the chap to replace the back door before any of us were up. Half of us stayed at home in limbo thinking he would be finished at any moment and we could go out, he wasn’t, but at least we had a secure door ready for…

Sunday’s departure of Team AK to go camping in Wales, leaving the house and all the equipment to do with their business in our safe hands? They weren’t going glamping, but they did have a blow up tent and a cool box… and a fridge…

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We enjoyed two outings to the nearby River Severn.  On Sunday afternoon we went to Bridgnorth with the aim of finding the Severn Valley Steam Railway. As we found ourselves in the lower town we crossed the bridge over the river and had a ride in the country’s steepest cliff lift. We discovered a lovely church on the hill designed by Thomas Telford. Another unexpected ‘attraction’ was the music festival; several locations, all playing what appeared to be the same music VERY LOUDLY. Pity the poor people who lived nearby. Looking it up on line it seems we missed the poetry and arts, perhaps they were on Wed-Friday and Monday.

http://www.visitbridgnorth.co.uk/

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Bank Holiday Monday found us visiting Ironbridge two years after our last visit; since then the bridge has had a major rescue and restoration and is now painted in the original red brown. If you get the chance this is a great place to visit, you can walk along the river and visit all sorts of industrial museums. The river banks crowded with trees are a far cry from the fiery furnaces of the industrial revolution.

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Talking to a photographer we discovered we had missed the coracle racing. Having a cup of tea at the Youth Hostel by the Coalbrook China museum we chatted to a New Zealand chap hostelling round Europe and visiting his son in Denmark for the son’s fiftieth birthday. You’re never too old to do youth hostelling. We talked to the lady booking people in, hostels provide all sorts of different accommodation and the supper club sounded fun, everyone sits down together at 7pm so you have company. Maybe we’ll try that when the relatives are tired of us visiting them.

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https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/iron-bridge/history/

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What are your favourite visications?

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