Category Archives: Folkestone

Lost and Found

St_Eanswythe_FolkestoneIt’s been a death-intensive year for my family. After Dad dying in January, my much-loved Uncle Bill died a couple of weeks ago. His funeral was last Thursday at a pretty church in Hemel Hempstead.

The ‘moor’ of Boxmoor is a small green space on the edge of an ever-growing town that has swallowed up the cottages and cowslips of my Mum’s 1930s childhood. When I was small, heading to the millpond by the canal with a fishing net, it was a wild expanse of trees. Probably with bears.

So it feels timely that a poem I sent to the fun Verbatim Poetry site back in the summer inspired by, yes, death, has just been posted. The Verbatim Poetry idea is to add punctuation and spacing on to non-poetic text, from ‘road signs to shampoo bottles.’ It is, I warn you, addictive. As well as editing any text in front of me, I now scan it for verse potential, which often means talking aloud to myself in shops and other public places.

I took my poem – Floral Tributes – from the excellent and informative handbook produced by the Natural Death Centre.

Up until today I felt I’d lost my regular blogging ability. The Weekly Blog Club was such a wonderful impetus.

Now found: my own much-needed ‘just get on with it and don’t rely on wonderful Janet E Davis to encourage you’ push to post regularly again.

By the way: the photo is a different churchyard: St Eanswythe in Folkestone on a summer’s day. Definitely my favourite saint with superpowers as she made water run up hill.

Here is a wonderful description of another favourite and local to me cemetery, with some stunning photos – the gloriously gothic Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park: visited by The Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life on a a misty winter morning. Beautiful and moving. And that’s enough death, thanks.

Lookout: Folkestone Triennial 2014

The_Electrified_Line_Gabriel_Lester_Folkestone_Triennial_2014‘Lookout tells as many stories as there are visitors discovering the artworks’

I’m glancing through the Folkestone Triennial 2014 brochure I bought yesterday: the page is open at The Electrified Line, by Gabriel Lester.

The brochure notes how the sculptor valued the aesthetic presence of bamboo scaffolding while he was in China. His sculpture ‘proposes the coming ‘Chinese century’ in Folkestone’s heart.’

In the background, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme advises British businesses how to invest in China. It seems a good place to start a quick post on the first few works I visited yesterday. Please don’t think this is even a vague attempt to look at the Triennial with any form of critical eye: it’s just personal experience.

Our party comprised one would-be art appreciator, a local now based in London (me); a bolshy 17-year-old whose potential love of art has been largely trashed by GCSE drudgery but likes Gaudi (daughter, hereafter referred to as 17) and my mum (78) who likes nice pictures of flowers and the countryside.

They’re a good example of  ‘two fixed points determining the position of a third’, as described in the brochure. I’ll only get to go where they’re prepared and able, or can be persuaded, to visit.

From the brochure again: ‘The unofficial brief is create something ambitious, high quality, fun, surprising, challenging, and maybe a bit crazy: these things make an exhibition memorable and thought-provoking.’

I arrive home to much excitement. ‘There’s one of them headless chickens on the Martello Tower and you can see it lit up from your bedroom!’ Mum hands me a  piece of paper from one of the small notepads Dad bound when he worked at a printers.

She’s written down the different colours that roofoftwo’s Whithervane turns at night, depending on the output of alarmist words in the newsfeeds it monitors. On Saturday night, it’s green: fear levels are low. Mum is concerned that it’s been blue and whoever told her the colours hasn’t mentioned this. We agree it’s probably a nice colour.

The view from the tower is one of my dearest and best. I am allowed to walk to the end of the road for a look at the illuminated chicken, in the dark, on the promise that I won’t go up on the cliffs at this time of night. I am 52.

Sunday morning: I meet Best Friend for coffee. Best Friend is a very talented, though no longer practising, artist. We talk about the best-known work: Michael Sailstorfer’s Folkestone Digs. News of this had reached me on holiday in the forests of Sweden, with several friends emailing, texting and tweeting  that Folkestone was full of people digging for gold.

We agree that it’s fun, bringing optimism and life to the Outer Harbour. I admire her suggestion that all the digging should be filmed on timelaspse camera and then put on two minutes of video to the Benny Hill theme.

Her shop in the Old High Street is next door to Andy Goldsworthy’s Clay Window and Clay Steps. She’s watched its progress with fascination. I meet 17 and 78, who look into Georges House Gallery and its tiny 3D printed figures and chorus ‘Ooh no!’ at the idea of being scanned and turned into teeny  statuettes like The Luckiest Place on Earth.

We walk to Payers Park and I read aloud from the brochure about the ‘series of open-ended invitations to visitors to occupy and appropriate structures.’

‘Like that,’ notes 17, nodding at a woman changing a nappy on the grass. ‘It’s a nice place,’ 78 says. ‘Bit steep but good for you.’

At Something & Son’s Amusefood , 78 is enchanted and spends a long time talking to the attendant. The aim to produce fish, chips and mushy peas aeroponically is a response to the twin evils of obesity and food scarcity.

17 and I have talked about this very subject on the train, as it’s part of her A Level Geography course; she hadn’t known we’d visit this. She’s initially excited, then disappointed at the small scale, then saddened by trying to work out on what a huge level this would need to be to produce a meal on demand. It’s made her think.

A look at Clay Steps meets with hisses and mutterings about modern art from 17 and frank confusion from 78. Both are reluctant to enter the thick darkness of the shop interior, and then:

‘Oh! It’s so beautiful!’ 17 is impressed by Clay Window. 78 has a nice chat to the attendant about ‘her’ Whithervane.

Off to Electrified Line. It made an unexpected impact on me. I’m saving that for a separate post after I’ve gone back for another visit. 78 notes that she wouldn’t have gone up it if I hadn’t made her and she’s glad that she did: you can see the posh people having their lunch at Rocksalt and it’s the closest she’ll ever get to it.

We walk to the harbour and stop to stare up at Alex Hartley’s Vigil, eventually rewarded by a wave from the tiny, tiny hand of Em Peasgood. Please, please read her blog post here, from Saturday 6 September. One of the most moving and inspiring things I have ever read. What a truly brave woman.

17 has recently given up climbing after four years and is reluctant to engage with Vigil in any way. 78 is again frankly bemused. After a cup of tea at the Station Cafe – top hospitality there – we walk along the old platforms, reminiscing about the ferries. Tim Etchell’s Why is the Place is pronounced ‘very nice’ though it would look better if the railway line were weeded.

I am FURIOUS that the pilot station has been demolished and the only way I can see the work as it was installed is in the brochure. I hope it’s one of the works that becomes permanent but suspect the likelihood of vandalism will rule that out.

We walk along the Harbour arm towards Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Weather is a Third to Place and Time. I regret the silencing of the foghorn, which would have been a wonderfully mournful soundtrack on such a misty day. 78 says no, because it used to keep her awake. All three of us look through the telescope, in separate admiration.

There are faded knitted poppies along the rusting handrails. ‘I wonder if Prince Harry came along her,’ says 78. ‘He should of done.’

I have a five-minute dig for gold (nope) under the distant disapproving eye of 17. Then home to London but I can’t wait to come back.

 

 

Takeaway at Death Cafe

Death Cafe, San Carlos

Death Cafe, San Carlos

No, no skulls in a brown paper bag or zombie food in an insulated box. Nothing morbid.

Morbid. That’s the word I ran into, again and again, when I said I was going to my first Death Cafe. ‘Morbid’, said my mum and daughter and the man at the underground sweetie shop.  Underground as in Tube: nothing morbid.

It’s possible I might not have picked up on the idea of an event where people meet to eat cake and talk about death, had it not been for my dad dying. I found myself reading more about death online and went to the first #DeathSalonUK (attracted by the idea of intellectuals gathering, I admit.) I read about Dying Matters’ Awareness Week, well underway this week with stacks of impressive national print, broadcast and online coverage.

Raising the subject of death has invariably met with a shudder and a desire to change the subject among most people I know, in case they catch it or something. Now there’s the feel of something of a cultural shift, where there is more openness in acknowledging death. I’m sure there’s plenty of research into whether it’s the case but I think so (QED.) Huge hat tip to whoever came up with #YODO, by the way: You Only Die Once. Inspired.

So, I decided to go to Cafe Rouge at Hampstead on Monday. There’s a cultural shift for a start, when you live in Stepney. Rather a dearth of fried chicken and sari shops in Hampstead. Cute coffee bars and designer clothes shops and sunshine combined to help my cheerful mood but I know that having my mind on death honestly contributed.

I fairly skipped along, in a ‘Hello, busker! Hello, prep school kids! I’m alive!’ cross between Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Fotherington-Thomas from the sublime Molesworth books.

Fotherington Thomas, a wet and a wede,  sa Molesworth

Fotherington Thomas, a wet and a wede, sa Molesworth

The upstairs room was packed, mainly with women of all ages. There were large tables and smaller ones: I chose a table for four and am glad I did. We started talking almost straight away, before organiser Josefine Speyer rang her little bell to say this was the first anniversary of Death Cafe at that venue. She explained there was no agenda for discussion and that each table had a facilitator, who each identified her- or himself.

With growing interest in Death Cafes, there were a number of journalists present, Josefine said. I wondered if it might be like the mythical Ku Klux Klan meeting, where every sheet hid an undercover reporter, but they all stood up and said they’d be happy to speak to anyone who wanted to afterwards. Anyone who didn’t want to be photographed could also stay off camera.

My table had a journalist, who was frank, charming and made a real contribution to the discussion. We four talked families and funerals and how we did NOT want to die (in pain and without any capacity for choice.) One woman was wonderfully pragmatic; her instructions for conveying her to the Dignitas clinic are in a cupboard but I’m not telling you which one.

We laughed quite a lot. After about an hour and a quarter, which sped by, there was a general session to offer views. One man thought the waiters were obtrusive. ‘Antonio? Never!’ cried everyone else.

My own happy highlight was nervously raising my plan for Dad’s ashes next month, which my table liked. Relief. They’ve been at the undertaker’s since January and I haven’t been able to raise the subject with Mum. This week gave me the impetus to do so. He adored watching the Red Arrows and never missed a display: when they fly over at Folkestone Air Show next month, we’ll be near the cliffs and he can join the coloured smoke trail in the air.

Dying matters. Let’s talk about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven ways London went wrong

Courtesy of @twittaxristy on April 1, 2014

Courtesy of @twittaxristy on April 1, 2014

From Sunday 31 March, I ran the @londonisyours Twitter account for a week. You’ve probably seen these curated accounts round your way, where a different person gives insights into their daily life in a town, country or continent. @Sweden is one of the most-followed and I think it’s consistently interesting.

Signing up a few months ago, I tempted the Fates with my plans. There’d be a day or so at wonderful places I support with yearly membership but never seem to have the time to visit: Kew Gardens and the Chelsea Physic Garden. I’d travel by boat, taking in Tate a Tate en route, among a plethora of shows, galleries, museums and lectures.

I’d revisit areas I’d lived, from Stockwell to Stoke Newington; the bars and cafes of Islington, the City and Barbican. There’d be fascinating crime anecdotes from former workplaces at the Home Office and Met Police, and topical observations on paying nearly £1K a month for childcare back in the late 90s.

Cue the vengeance of the London-wrecking Seven:

1. Dental misery. A visit to the dentist the previous week led to antibiotics and endless days of head in a bucket. ‘Oh, those! They make you really sick,’ said everybody, while I was being really sick.

2. Childcare. I thought those pricey days of toddlerdom were the worst. No. that’s appeared in the shape of weeks of exams where lives are at stake on a fairly literal level. So any money required for cocktails in theatre intervals needs to be spent on extra tuition and I have to give my ‘free’ time to helping remember facts about covalent bonds, cystic fibrosis and El Nino.

3. Family. Dad left almost nothing when he died in January but that doesn’t seem to have negated the need to visit out of town solicitors to whom digital has little meaning. Mum was trying to get over what would have been their 59th wedding anniversary so I needed to stay with her a little longer. Leading me to …

4. The provinces. I was born in London but left for Folkestone at six weeks. Most people I know here aren’t from London. I complain about Folkestone but it is where I was brought up and I have a lot of interest in seeing it thrive. So it was lovely to chat with one Folkestonian following the account, more followed and, on my visit, I met one lovely person I’ve talked to on Twitter for a while.

5. Work. The contract for my last job ended on the day this Londoning began. Rather than the free time I’d envisaged, this meant getting straight on with the first freelance jobs that came up.

6. April Fool’s Day. This left me frankly terrified to post anything as I am one of those people who believes that ‘gullible’ isn’t in the dictionary. Having said that, the great ‘Underground Overground Wombling Free’ sign of Whitechapel went down a storm. And if you didn’t see one of the most charming and creative charity campaigns ever, do check this post via Charity Chap on the Girlguiding/Minifig takeover. Inspired.

7. There wasn’t really a seventh. But seven is the world’s favourite number. I’d voted for four which, with a pleasing elegance, came fourth. Go forth and curate your hometown. Seven aside, it was a fun week and a great experience.

Ron Finley, Frank Sidebottom & a Headless Chicken …

… are My Three Best Things About … being online this week.

The first involved a *presents positive spin learned as government press officer* happy mistake. Well, okay, a mistake: made by me.

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus, you get strawberries.”

Ron Finley is an awesomely-inspiring, creative man who’s brought guerrilla gardening to bring fresh, healthy food to  South Central Los Angeles. He ‘wanted a carrot without toxic ingredients I didn’t know how to spell’ in a community where the drive-through kills more than the drive-by. The authorities tried to stop his planting. Ron won.

A year ago, he gave a wonderful TED Talk. I posted this on Twitter at work at the time and spotted it again this week while looking through links for an evaluation report on the Local Food Programme project where I’ve been working. I tweeted it again, managing to get both the date AND his name wrong. Ouch.

Ron graciously pointed this out in a reply – and started following the Farm. I apologised straightaway, giving my name so none of the other folk who post would get any criticism. He sent a lovely response: @StepneyCityFarm @TEDTalks @KarenJKHart #AllGoodThings That cheered up a night of insomnia.

‘There are currently two films about Frank Sidebottom in production, one meticulously searching out the world of Frank (Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story) and the other exploring the idea of what it was to be a man in a fake head (Frank, for which Ronson was screenwriter)’

Poor Jon Ronson has had rather a challenging week, saying on Twitter that he’s ‘a man being yelled at by 8000 Guardian readers’ for Frank. The quote above explains more about the two films; it’s from this feature in The Skinny.

My husband and I met through The Archers. After a get-together of a group of like-minded people, we wandered off for an evening at the Bull and Gate in Kentish Town: a Frank Sidebottom gig.  Fantastic. Yes, ‘Guess who’s Been on Match of the Day? is Our Song.

We’ve finally got round to ordering Being Frank: there’s still time to support the documentary and get listed in the credits. My husband commented on our gig story and got back my second best thing, this lovely response from Steve Sullivan, Director of Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story:

‘Surprisingly, you’re not the first person to say they got together with their partner at a Frank gig! Surely not the romantic of atmospheres, but then there was magic in the air!’

And the Headless Chicken: best thing number three.  The Folkestone Triennial announced this year’s artists, including Yoko Ono and Andy Goldsworthy. I’m looking forward to ‘Whithervanes … a neurotic early worrying system.’ One of roofoftwo’s five sculptured birds will be on top of that Martello Tower, just around the corner from my Mum: a 21st century weathervane measuring levels of concern on the internet.

I’m sure Frank would approve.

Lists, writing and memory

Folkestone_Triennial_Spencer _Finch

‘THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE CRICKETS. THE RAVINE. THE ATTIC. THE BASEMENT. THE TRAPDOOR. THE BABY. THE CROWD. THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE FOG HORN. THE SCYTHE. THE CARNIVAL. THE CAROUSEL. THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE. THE SKELETON.’

Ray Bradbury used lists to spark off his ideas for writing. The one above was detailed by Maria Popova, on her excellent Brain Pickings blog. There can’t be many people with an interest in any creative process who aren’t aware of her inspirational posts: it’s like having an enthusiastic friend who calls to say “Wow! Have you see THIS?” and you know it’s worth reading.

Bradbury elaborates: ‘…when you get the list down, you begin to word-associate around it. You ask, Why did I put this word down? What does it mean to me? Why did I put this noun down and not some other word? Do this and you’re on your way to being a good writer.’

Just look at the words Bradbury’s subconscious throws up: a short story in themselves. Mine is more along the lines of THE CAT LITTER. THE WASHING. THE SHOPPING. THE DINNER. THE BANK. THE HOMEWORK. Someone save me from the tedium of my own thought processes. I can’t go on …

To be honest, that was a deliberate list. I didn’t use the unconscious processes most beneficial for triggering thought and associations. A look at the Weekly Blog Club summary up to remind myself of the optional theme: colour, and there’s mention of blue light and blue sky.

Blue. That’ll do nicely: ‘SEA. SKY. HARE. FLOWER. FILM. FALL.’

Mark_hearld_Pisanellos_hare

SEA. The sea in Folkestone can be the blue of postcards but this is rare. One of my favourite highlights of the last Folkestone Triennial was Spencer Finch’s  The Colour of Water You can still see the colour wheel pictured above and spin it to choose that day’s Channel hue. The second part of the piece was only up for the duration: a daily-hoisted flag chosen to match that day’s sea-colour.

SKY. HARE. The picture of Mark Hearld’s “Pisanello’s Hare” here does not show the mouth-wateringly glorious blue of the sky captured in an original print. I’m lucky enough to own one of these and it’s the colour I see when I think ‘sky.’ It really deserves some Doge: ‘Such clear. Many cerulean. Wow.’

FLOWER. A blue hyacinth: from a bulb I planted in the little communal space downstairs and rescued after a hail-deluge this week. It scents the whole flat. In homage to Janet E Davis and her stunning still life paintings, I created Blue Hyacinth with Blue Heirlooms and Random Blue Washing-Up Liquid Bottle Lid. Unlike multi-talented Janet, I’ll never be an artist.
Blue Heirlooms and Random Blue Washing-Up Liquid Bottle Lid

FILM: Blue, by Derek Jarman. I saw him introduce this hypnotic and unique film at Edinburgh in 1993 – not belong before his too-early death – at a screening with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Here’s one of Jarman’s last interviews, given at that time.

That’s more than 500 hundred words: my new self-imposed blog post limit. But it’s the last thought that might lead to something: FALL.

I’m 17, being followed by a drunk boy I don’t want to see, near the Road of Remembrance on the Leas in Folkestone (not far from the Spencer Finch work.) It’s the slope that some ten million soldiers marched down in two World Wars, to sail to Europe. LeavingForTheFront-300x155

I tell him to go away. He says he will, if that’s what I really want, then swings himself backwards over a drop of at least 50 feet. His fall is broken by bushes of rosemary planted in memory of those soldiers. I remember screaming.

There are flashing blue lights: police and ambulance. Who called them? No mobile phones back then.  ‘Did you push him?’ a policeman asks. I’m upset, angry: of course I didn’t.

We go to the hospital, miles from home, in which my father will die more than 34 years later.

I talk to a woman in a waiting room: we’re both from Folkestone. Her husband is being seen by doctors.  He’s a workmate of the boy. His name is Blue.

Soon after, I’ll go to university. The boy will be forgotten.

Pics: Folkestone Triennial, St jude’s Gallery, WW1 Centennial Network

Russell Hoban: with love and thanks

Ben_Osborn_Russell_Hoban_Feb_4_2014Russell Hoban  – it amazes me how some people still say ‘Who?’ Where to start with him?  I was lucky. When I was 18, my English teacher literally threw her copy of The Mouse and His Child at me as I was leaving for university and told me I must, had toNEEDED TO read it.

The RSC put on a new adaption of The Mouse and His Child in 2012, described in the Independent as ‘a thought-provoking delight.’ The Guardian called the book ‘both comforting and devastating’. I think all of those words can be applied to much of Russ’s work and perhaps to the man himself: the impact he seems to have on reading him and those, including me, who had the unforgettable privilege of meeting him.

The same year I started university, my best friend would not shut up about a new book she had read. She raved about its genius and made it sound awful. It was set in and around our home town of Folkestone, Kent, in a post-apocalyptic world and was narrated by a 12-year-old boy writing in a made-up language that was hard to get used to but ok if you read it aloud for a bit. Yeah, right.

The early 80s weren’t the right time for me to find this appealing. A nuclear meltdown seemed a real possibility then and was referenced all around, from Raymond Briggs’s heart-breaking graphic novel When the Wind Blows to the ITV bombshell (sorry) of Threads.

After university at Canterbury, I worked on the Folkestone Herald as a reporter. With Dungeness Nuclear Power  Station at hand, it wasn’t hugely reassuring to watch  local fire fighters rehearse their unstoppable defence of our safety by putting a rope around a notional radiation-blasted area.

I interviewed the inventor of the CND symbol, local resident Gerald Holtam, and was saddened and scared by his quiet melancholy about the state into which civilised people had got themselves.

And seeing that another Hoban book, Turtle Diary, had been turned into a romcom didn’t inspire me to read more. Idiot.

So I didn’t turn to Riddley Walker until nearly 20 years later. Now it’s my go-to book when I’m at a loss (along with Nancy Mitford. An obvious combination.) Yes, it demands concentration, probably complete attention. Good writing should and does. The rewards are endless. I read masses of children’s books now, not least as I’m trying to write them. It’s hard to think of another 12-year-old boy who is as real, powerful and engaging as Riddley.

In 2010, the Guardian chose Riddley Walker for its Book Club and writer John Mullan interviewed Russ. What better present for my best friend than a ticket? We sat with our mouths open throughout and then queued to get our books signed. Russ patiently listened to our various rambling theories about locations, made us laugh, posed for pictures (before selfies, hurrah) and chatted some more.

Not long after, Will Self interviewed Russ at the British Library. You wait years for one Russ Hoban to show up … Do read the article: a brief and affectionate capture of a hero to Mr Self and many more of us. Here’s Will Self,  reading Riddley Walker in his best ‘future Kent’ accent. We had more books signed; the security guards had turned off the lights and his taxi was waiting at gone 9pm but Russ, in his late 80s, stayed chatting and joking and signed my book by torchlight. What a gentleman.

Links for those events are on SA4QE: an inspired annual 4 February event that marks the date of Russ’s birth by encouraging people to note their favourite quotes from his books on yellow paper and leave them for people to find. You can see Tuesday’s quotes on @russellhobandotorg and at the official Russell Hoban website. I’m sure Russ would have loved the use to which Ben Osborn put his Pret wrapper, pictured above.

The fan sites and the event are a labour of love. Russ inspired it in so many of us. Please, please read him if you haven’t. Look – here’s where to start.

Russell Hoban: February 4, 1925 – December 13, 2011. Fine writer, fine man. Wel Im telling Truth here aint I. That’s the woal idear of this writing which I begun wylst thinking on what the idear of us myt be.