Earlier this month I spent a few days in Kent after promising my mate Keith I’d visit. Kent is a long way from the Midlands and is almost in France so it’s quite a scramble and I’d put it off. It’s a beautiful county though and I’ve fond memories of training for the BTP in Ashford in the sunny summer of 1997. You can read about Whitstable elsewhere on this blog but we also got the train to Broadstairs – Dickens fans rejoice – and I was impressed. So here’s a whistle stop tour based on the pics.

The Scotsman

After stopping for a delicious and very rock n roll cream tea (10am and I broke the cream saucer) we walked down to the front and saw this poor tartan fella salvaged from a wreck off the notorious Goodwin Sands.

Dickens everywhere

You can’t blame Broadstairs for cashing in on its links with our most famous author. He crops up frequently but I’m glad he hasn’t lent his name to an apple- based drink. (Dickens’ Cider – please behave and cut the end of the pier stuff, Keith).

Also of Covent Garden

Had an amazing coffee and fudge and strawberry ice cream here. The views are spectacular and well worth a stop. It was full of locals too. My Dad always said to eat where the locals did. Which usually meant a Full English or McDonalds/KFC.


I had to take a piece of chalk home for my physical geographer son. It had already fallen off but I still felt as bad as Candice Marie in Nuts in May, admonished by another Keith for taking part of the beach home.

Gimme shelter

What a wonderful vantage point. The park has tremendous views but despite the sun it was so cold. Obviously not cold enough to bother a professional northerner/midlander. I wore a vest and scoffed at the icy sea breeze describing it as ‘balmy.’

Coastal erosion

Further up the coast in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire it’s a real issue and Kent is under siege from the waves too. I shudder to think how much of these cliffs disappeared in algebra on my teachers’ blackboards and, alas, I still remember none of it.

Broadstairs is bracing

It’s a beautiful bay with the caramel coloured sand at odds with the white chalk. There’s also a kind of boardwalk on the beach for southern types who might get a bit tired carrying their cappuccino or skinny latte to the shore.


Great colours and lovely to see them but I imagine each one costs the equivalent of a whole street of terraces in Stoke.

Town and beach

Dickens might’ve bathed here. With Inspector Bucket (and spade) no doubt.

Dickensian streets

He crops up again. I’d love to have seen some character names in these streets – Dick Swiveller, Newman Noggs, Abel Magwitch, Sowerberry.

More chalk

More chalk and one hell of a fault line.

The bay

A final glimpse of Broadstairs from around the cliff. It was a beautiful day and a fascinating place. I like Kent and it has something very much in common with my home county of Staffordshire: people often pass through it and don’t stop. It is well worth visiting.

Christmas Lights in Stafford

Christmas lights. Yes I know it’s only November. But putting that perennial debate aside I took the dog for a walk and took a few snaps of Stafford town centre yesterday evening.

I like the lights in town.

The lights were switched on by the Mayor of Stafford on Saturday after some fireworks and karaoke and carols. The 1990s heyday of celebs turning on lights is long gone. Those heady days when Midlands market towns bankrupted themselves or cancelled gritting roads or collecting bins so they could get Wolf from Gladiators or Bouncer from Neighbours to pull down the Christmas lights lever alas are no more.

Merry Christmas Stafford!

After Saturday’s frivolities Town was quiet except for a few wandering drunks and a fella talking to a postbox.

The Swan, Greengate Street

The Swan has a rich history, visited for dinner by Charles Dickens who enjoyed his grub but was unimpressed by the fading decor. Dickens described my hometown ‘as dull and dead a town as anyone could desire not to see.’ Ouch. I know it’s the fashion to cancel artists with unappealing viewpoints (step forward Ian Brown and Steven Patrick Morrissey) but I’m not going to stop reading Dickens because he thought Stafford a one-horse town.

Nativity at St Chad’s

St Chad’s is a beautiful 11th century church and this nativity is always out front. It’s the oldest building in town, dating to the 1100s and has wonderful stone carvings inside.

The kind of door you’d knock with a sword pommel
Gaol Square Christmas tree

I like the Gaol Square tree. I like that everyone under 30 spells it Goal Square – even the council on a road sign – as gaols are universally jails these days. If Dickens had visited Stafford for his steak dinner (very Del Boy) a few years later he’d have seen that my hometown certainly knows how to turn out for a proper bash. Around 30,000 squabbled over the best vantage points for the hanging of the Rugeley Poisoner Dr William Palmer. This was in 1856 outside Stafford Goal. Sorry Gaol. I mean jail.

Greengate St from Market Square

Deserted except for me and Bruce…Dickens must’ve visited when Greggs was shut too.

Market Square

Sadly, our Shire Hall is empty. But very pretty. A use needs to be found for this building described to me by my eldest as ‘like the one with the clock in Back to the Future.’ I had to explain in Clarkson tones that the original Shire Hall was older than the country that spawned Marty McFly and Doc Brown.

Finally, I wonder if the days of silver/white decs may be over. There are at last a few glimpses of colour again. White and silver is so sterile. I long for the greens and yellows and blues and reds of the 80s, twinkling beneath a sheen of tugged and stretched angel fur. With some crepe (yes crepe) handmade decs tacked to the coving.

The Fly-tipper’s Lament

Fly-tipping is a problem in my local area. We’re near a lot of major roads such as the M6 and A34, but close to open country. Unfortunately, this means that dodgy types use glades and spinneys and gateways and paths as a dumping ground for rusting cookers, broken tiles, half bricks, empty paint tins and, inevitably, dirty mattresses.

This poem imagines what a fly-tipper might say to justify his actions. Apologies for the sound quality and variation in light in the trees, but this was shot in a spot close to home where sadly old kitchens and tyres are often left.

I’m discreet, see. I make things disappear

Out of sight. Out of mind. But somewhere near

Keeps the petrol down. Saves me getting stopped

For balding tyres or the exhaust that’s dropped

There’s no name on me van, just a bashed door

Nothing to ID me. You know the score

I pick up at dusk. No fuss. Cash in hand

I’m just helping folk out. Meeting demand

I’ll clear broken tiles and busted settees

Filthy mattresses. Unwanted deep freeze

Gas cookers and lino. Cracked Belfast sinks

Black ash cabinets and carpets that stink

My punters ask: Is your setup legit?

‘You mean tax and stamp and using the tip?’

‘Nah, we don’t use council. I got this mate.’

‘That’s why it’s so cheap. Call it special rates.’

So, I park in the lane. It’s getting late

I open the doors, reverse through the gate

Everything’s emptied in brambles and nettles

So the weeds grow up and the dust settles

I know I’m hated. I’m doing no harm

There’s mountains more junk on your average farm

I’m just a family man, making his wedge

Slinging your crap through a gap in the hedge

I’m out all hours grafting. I’ve never shirked

I promise no squirrels were harmed in my work

Bookmarks – what’s your preferred choice?

Do you have a favourite bookmark? Do you always use the same one or change often? Perhaps it’s a piece of throwaway card or a receipt. Maybe it’s half a birthday card or a fast food menu. Or a present from a bookseller like a nice bit of tartan or a cartoon rabbit.

Double Deathshead by Jake and Dinos Chapman

This is my ‘dangerous’ bookmark from Tate Modern. It was meant to instil fear in train passengers on the 1607 out of New Street. It didn’t. The man wearing slippers and a tea cosy for a hat did that much better.

Hendrick Goltzius’s Bust of a Man with Tasselled Cap (1587)

This is a well-thumbed and well-travelled one ( hope that’s never said about me). It’s from the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. I wanted something different and everyone else was buying that vicar skating. I like this fella too. He likes a good deal, a nice wine and a cigar.

Boxing clothes label

This one fell off a hooded top I bought and travelled around with PG Wodehouse, Kate Atkinson and Louise Welch. What a great line up of fighters.

Christmas cracker

This one’s from a Christmas cracker but it can nip at pages. Really, your bookmark could be anything. There’s a sauna and swim receipt from Wimbledon leisure centre still marking Andrew Marvell in my Metaphysical Poets Penguin Classic.

Do you have sentimental attachments to a bookmark or will the local Pizza-the-Action menu suffice? Feel free to share…

Whitstable – Oyster Town

Looking west towards London

With some time between jobs, I finally visited Whitstable to see my friend Keith who settled here years ago. It was cold – even for a Midlander classed as a Northerner here – but sunny and with a calm, shimmering sea.

Anyone for oysters?

Whitstable is an oyster town, as you’ll see in the following pics. Oysters were basically the Georgian and Victorian version of the Big Mac – tasty and portable but with more goodness. Street food for all classes. And with lots of racy claims unlikely to attach themselves to a burger thrown in. That’d be the zinc. More info in the Standard here.


Back in the day horses drew the oysters up here before they went onto London. The best would stay local and the rest be sent up the Thames. In 1851 Victorian chronicler and journalist Henry Mayhew estimates 124 million a year were sold by costermongers in the capital. A piece on Oyster Day in Victorian London can be found here.


At least we spell the word differently. I believe Americans spell both as groin.

Someone ate the lot – totally shellfish

Yes, there’s an obvious joke about groynes too, but I’m not going to make it. Beyond us is the Isle of Sheppey (bit of a whipping boy for ‘that lot over there’ kind of jokes in these parts) and also Sealand. Plenty has been written about that fascinating principality if you fancy hitting Wiki.

Meanwhile we had a pint of Whitstable ale. What else? Just along from the Neptune pub is Peter Cushing’s bench. He’d sit there and enjoy watching and painting. It’s called Cushing’s View. The Hammer films actor’s name lends itself to the local Wetherspoons too. I don’t know if more or less blood is spilt there than in the Hammer films as we had a pint at the East Kent instead.

Swift one at the Neptune

I must’ve explained where I’m from several times (when asked). For those living in the south east England can stop at Wembley for many, with a vague football or musical or motorway idea of Brum or Manchester or Liverpool. ‘About halfway between Brum and Manchester but nearer Brum,’ I’d try. You know? Alton Towers? Teapots and plates. Kids without shoes? (You have to play up to their perceptions a bit – it’s expected). Still shakes of heads. But then many of us in the Midlands and North are guilty of failing to venture beyond London or Brighton and that’s a shame as Kent is beautiful with interesting history.

Back in the late 90s I did my BTP training at Ashford and rail replacement meant I often had a lengthy bus journey from south London. On those summer evenings the countryside was wonderful. I decided I could stare at orchards and oast houses from a train all day if Kent was the size of Texas.

Great building. Even better lamp.
A few yards from the seafront

I wouldn’t fancy hauling this boat up the gravel. Whitstable is flat but there are paths and alleys everywhere, similarly to other fishing towns.

A calm sea.

I look forward to returning. It’s about 70 minutes from St Pancras so very well connected to the Midlands and North via Euston and King’s Cross. I’ll get around to writing up Broadstairs next…..