Friday, 26 December 2014

Benches in Benenden

I recently drove to  Benenden Hospital in Kent. Those of you who have visited it will know that access from any direction is via a wilderness of country lanes. 

On my approach route I was surprised to see a bench positioned on a corner. Why would anybody want to sit there? Who would be walking, miles from anywhere, just to sit and watch the traffic go by?

It was only from inside the hospital that I learned the reason.

Benenden Hospital was built from 1905-7 on three smallholdings which had been purchased by the Post Office Sanatorium Society. The purpose of the hospital was to treat the postmen who were disproportionately represented in the statistics of tuberculosis sufferers. Why were postmen catching TB?

Benenden Hospital, opened 1907.
Research discovered that when the mail trains were unloaded at London stations, the bags were dragged along the platforms upon which the travelling public had expectorated and a proportion of these people suffered from TB. The spores were absorbed by the bags and when they were upended at the sorting office, the postal workers breathed them in. So Benenden hospital was built, and NO SPITTING signs appeared on railway stations.

I met a lady who was treated at the hospital for TB when a girl. Some patients stayed for two years and part of the cure was considered to be fresh air -- thus the reason for siting the hospital in the middle of the countryside. She recounted how their beds were pushed out onto the verandah during the daytime and one day in winter she lay there watching the snow falling onto her bed.  And this brings us back to the bench. As the patients improved they were encouraged to take the two-mile circular walk around the lanes but of course, they could only walk in short bursts and so benches were placed on the verges, a short distance apart, all the way around the circuit.

And this must have been one of those benches.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Cycle lanes are for lorries.

In my latest book, Neither Civil nor Servant, I make a passing observation that East Kent has become one big lorry park. The port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel act as a funnel for all the TIR lorries of Europe and they have little regard for this green and pleasant land.

Park your truck here -- it's only
a cycle lane and footpath.
As a cyclist I am doubly dealt by lorry drivers. When they are not trying to kill me they park on my cycle lanes. These cycle lanes are installed so that cyclists have less chance of being run over by lorries.

The road is not mine and it is not theirs. It is ours. If you park in 'my' cycle lane you must expect me to be in the carriageway which you consider to be 'yours'.

And if the grass verge or even road signs get in your way, just drive over them, they won't hurt your lorry. 

Rather like cyclists.

In case you were wondering that the purpose of the road sign was, it was telling you that this is a cycle lane, sorry, lorry park.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Canterbury Monopoly a big disappointment.

It is many years since I have played the board game Monopoly. When we did play it we always availed ourselves of the 'short game' rules whereby you did not have to auction or purchase every property the moment that it was alighted upon. This made the game more fun for us children.

The 'Canterbury' version of the board
game Monopoly on sale at last.
I am not a great fan of board games (or any games for that matter) but when it was announced that there was to be a Canterbury version of Monopoly my interest was awakened. It would be fun buying and selling the local streets and even more amusing would be to learn what was considered to be the local equivalent to the cheapest Old Kent Road or the dearest Mayfair.

Well, the game has been released and it is a great disappointment to me. I suspect that the manufacturer auctioned the squares on the board to the local businesses since no streets appear, only enterprises. Mayfair is Canterbury Cathedral. What sense does that make? I was going to ask, 'how can you put a hotel on the cathedral?' but of course, they have already done it in real life.

Why is Rochester Castle illustrated in the middle of the
Canterbury board version of Monopoly?

But what must be a rather embarrassing aspect of this undisguised and rather callous marketing exercise is the artwork itself. What is Rochester Castle doing in the middle of the board? Rochester is a town on the River Medway, forty miles from Canterbury.

Oh dear!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Rude People of Canterbury

As I wandered down Palace Street in Canterbury with my camera hanging around my neck a kindly local resident mistook me for one of the thousands of tourists who daily throng the city and so offered to show me a good vantage point from which to photograph the cathedral. I was a little bemused by her proposal, considering that I was patently standing with my back to the cathedral and taking a photograph of something else. 

I demurred politely, saying, 'Thank you very much but I am more interested in those two rude ladies showing their breasts.' 

Her eyes followed my glance. 
'Good Heavens,' she gasped, 'I've never noticed those before.'
And she tottered off to get herself a stiff drink.

I continued around to the Christchurch Gate of the cathedral and studied its decorated stone archway.

Through the centuries hundreds of thousands of people must have passed under this arch, no doubt with their heads bowed in reflection or prayer. How many of them, I wonder, ever raised their eyes?

Had they done so at the propitious moment then they would have seen an equally rude man flaunting his genitalia.

Whatever next?

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The first frost.

We have had the first frost of the winter but it only touched one corner of my garden.

Let's hope that it kills all the slugs that creep into my kitchen at night and crawl up the outside of my fridge.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Polluting East Kent

Air traffic control in 1929.
Back in the 1920s when commercial aviation was in its infancy, this corner of England was already the main road to Europe. This illustration is an 'airway traffic controller' in 1929, plotting the route of an 'Air Express' by means of radio triangulation. The planes flew from Heston Air Station and then later, Croydon Air Station on daily services to capital cities in Europe. By 1930, fifty aircraft per day were crossing the Channel, and they all flew over Kent.

Air pollution in 2014.
Fifty per day? 
Now it must be fifty per hour. 

This is the East Kent sky. What you might believe to be cloud is pollution from aircraft. Those pretty silver vapour trails that aircraft inscribe in the blue do not go away -- they get broader and spread across the sky.

Roman-built Richborough Castle
 under the polluted sky.

This would have been a clear sky and a sunny day for us in East Kent had it not been for the thousands of you above us intent on your holidays.

So next time you check in for your flight, spare a thought for those whose lives you are blighting.

By the way, I enjoyed my trip to New Zealand in February.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Not a real fox -- faux fir?

On a rather damp cycle ride with MyMate John (of Hunting the Golden Lion fame) a few days ago, he drew my attention to this fox foraging in the front garden of a cottage.

Of course he knew that it was there because he also knew that it was a statue.

From our viewpoint in the lane, I could not see sufficiently clearly to discover what the fox was made of.

It could have been carved from a log. 

Would this, I wondered, have made it faux fir?

See how a real fox copes with being hunted, visit my post:

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Holiday Inn Aylesbury -- could do better

Arriving at the Holiday Inn Aylesbury at midnight on Monday after a two and a half hour drive we were looking forward to a quick shower and a good night's rest.  The lad at the front desk had our check-in details ready and all looked good. When we got to the room, things started to go wrong. We had no towels. 

It's pretty obvious that there are
not towels on this rail
 I telephoned the front desk and he assured me that he would send up some towels. At half past midnight we were still towel-less so I picked up the phone to call front desk and discovered that we were also now telephone-less. It was as dead as a dodo. So I had to get dressed and present myself at the front desk in person. 

I was the only person there. The Holiday Inn, Aylesbury, was the Marie Celeste. The lights were on, nobody at home. After a few fruitless minutes I went off to explore and down a corridor, through three doorways, in a back room I found a human being. He very kindly offered to deliver the towels to our room in person, a feat which he achieved at 00.41 hours.

Holiday Inn!  You knew we were coming. We had booked and paid for our room in advance. You had had all day to get it ready.

What were you doing with your time?

Friday, 7 November 2014

Hawkinge and H. E. Bates

I cycled through Hawkinge yesterday. This Kentish village used to be dominated by a World War 2 fighter aerodrome which by the time that I bought a house nearby in 1975 had ceased operation and was earmarked for housing.
Hawkinge aerodrome in 1933

When the field was ploughed up I recall seeing the distinct remains of the chalk circle which had been laid out to identify the field from the air. It is now covered by houses and I wonder if any of the gardeners ever ponder why they have a line of chalk running through their flower bed.

Cat & Custard Pot Public House
When living there I read the Kentish novels of H.E.Bates -- an occupation whose enjoyment was augmented by the realisation that I was living in the 'field of operations', as it were. 

He even mentioned a pub which the airmen used to frequent, called The Cat and Custard Pot. It was our 'local'.

The pub is still there and now fully recognises its heritage by declaring on its sign that it is 'An original Battle of Britain pub'. When I knew it, the pub  was jocularly known as 'The Temporary Sign' because the original sign had been taken down to be repainted and was not replaced for ages.

Although most of the airfield is now under bricks and tarmac, there are many interesting indications of its existence still remaining.
The cleared area alongside this lane is one of the dispersal points outside the perimeter road where individual fighters were parked and camouflaged to protect them from an attack on the airfield.

And this rather sinister looking mound with the vents is the former underground fuel store. You can see the new housing estate behind it. 

I hope the store has been properly emptied.....

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Banksy -- here today, gone tomorrow.

A graffiti (or should that be a graffitum?) attributed to the artist Banksy appeared on a wall in Folkestone a few weeks back.

Very quickly one could see life imitating art. 

But not any more.

I went to Folkestone today and it had gone. A section of the wall had been sawn off and carried away.

It seems rather a drastic technique for removing graffiti.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Toddington is more than just motorway services.

Back in the days when I was an impoverished student I used to hitchhike up and down the M1 between Hemel Hempstead and Sheffield. The chances of picking up one lift which would go all the way were minimal - I only did it once in all my time thumbing lifts.  It seems strange now to remember that the motorway was often silent for minutes at a time during the night and the motorway services resembled the land of the living dead. They were gloomy and drab and depressing... but we loved 'em because we had never seen a place that stayed open all night.

Toddington services were the first you met going northwards and it was a pretty poor show if your first lift dumped you there. You knew that you were in for a long journey. Next came Newport Pagnell which at one time entered the Guinness Book of Records for having TWELVE petrol pumps. Then came Watford Gap where you had to make sure that your driver was not branching off down the M45 to Birmingham. And so on to Leicester Forest then next stop, the Tinsley Viaduct exit for Sheffield. My quickest journey door to door was four hours, my longest, twenty four hours.
Toddington is a pretty village,
not a motorway service station.

And Toddington? Well, until yesterday when I gave a lecture there, I had never actually been to the village of Toddington. 

You know, it's quite a pretty place.

Mind you, I am not sure of their provocative suggestion that we should offer violence to oculists.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Tea and Talk in Tewkesbury

Yesterday I gave a lecture in Tewkesbury. On my previous visit to the town I was thirteen years old and interested only in trains so I don't think the environment made any impression on me.

I had time for a quick look around the town this time. I loved the alleyways and ancient doorways giving glimpses of life behind the street front.

Alleyways of Tewkesbury.
And we enjoyed a terrific scone and tea in the Abbey Tea Rooms in Church Street. This is a must visit for anybody. The strawberry which came as a charming decoration with the scone was the sweetest, tastiest strawberry I have eaten all year.

Our table is in there somewhere.

The tea room serves full meals as well as cream teas or even just a cup of coffee if you wish. 

Several customers were tucking into a full roast dinner which looked very appetising.

The walls are covered with
1950s & 1960s memorabilia.

If we ever return to Tewkesbury, and I hope we will, I shall make a beeline for for the Abbey Tea Rooms. 

Hilton Puckrup Hall -- could do better.

I recently stayed at the Hilton Puckrup Hall hotel. It is an impressive old country house set in extensive grounds a few miles north of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. The staff were pleasant and helpful but I feel were let down by the infrastructure.

First of all, the room we were given was throbbing. I could not locate the source of the noise and neither could the receptionist but he agreed that it made the room uninhabitable and moved us to a quiet room. Full marks for the staff, zero for the building.

Secondly, a coach party were eating dinner in the dining room so we were served dinner in the ante-room.  THE ROOM WAS FREEZING. The staff tried to turn off the air conditioning but nothing happened. I was sitting in a blast of cold air. Why do we need air conditioning on in October? I was so uncomfortable that I had to go to my room and collect my overcoat. The guest on the table next to me immediately got up and returned wearing his coat.

Thirdly, when I arose in time to enjoy a swim before breakfast I was told that the pool was unavailable because of a technical problem which had occurred overnight. This was a pity because I really did need a swim that morning.

So, an uninhabitable bedroom, a freezing dining room and a non-functioning pool. I feel the Hilton Puckrup Hall hotel could do better.

And whatever happened to soap?

Pretentious or what?

Friday, 10 October 2014

Haywards Heath is the limit.

I have just given a talk at Burgess Hill. To get there I chose to drive through Haywards Heath. I like the A 272 - the traffic always seems to be flowing in the opposite direction when I am on it but the stretches where the national speed limit applies are becoming fewer and shorter and the frequent changes between speed limits can sorely test a driver's powers of observation.

Make-your-mind-up time in Haywards Heath.

But I think that Haywards Heath is the absolute limit.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Hanging Bridge and Sticking Up Stud

We are at the Hotel Puente Colgante in the Portugalete suburb of Bilbao. It is called the 'Hanging Bridge' because it is situated right next to the transporter bridge which crosses the River Nervion from Portugalete to Las Arenas.

The Puente Colgante at Portugalete. You can see
the pod crossing above the level of the river.

A transporter bridge is a pod which is suspended by wires from a truck which crosses the river on a very high level girder, the ends of which are supported on pylons erected on each bank. Vehicles and pedestrians are loaded onto the pod and they are carried across the river without touching the water.

The advantage of a transporter bridge is that it does not obstruct the maritime traffic. If a high-masted vessel wants to pass up the river the pod just waits until it has passed before moving across.

Our hotel is the pale yellow building situated next to the left pylon in the above photograph.

The photograph left is the view from our balcony upriver towards Bilbao.

And the photograph right is the front of our hotel and the transporter bridge.

You've seen the hanging bridge, now what about the sticking up stud?

Whoever designed the bathrooms in the Hotel Puente Colgante had a cruel sense of humour.

This is me, getting out of the bath.

And this is what I am about to put my bare foot on.

Don't laugh. It could be you next time.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Stags and Snails

Just before we leave France for Spain, I decided to share this with you.

French snails can climb this high.

But French stags reckon they can jump much, much higher.

A picnic ambush

In the Languedoc-Roussillon area, as we crossed the Montagnes Noires we stopped for a picnic at one of those loops of old road which had been left after the road had been straightened. In that desolate curve we were ambushed by history. 

 First of all there was the road itself. The surface was the ancient pavé. Treacherously slippery in the wet, it must have made negotiating the hairpin bends quite exciting.

And in amongst the bushes I found a stone commemorating a 1944 battle where a group of 150 of the Franc Corps de la Montagne Noire ambushed a 1,000 strong column of the retreating German Army and inflicted losses on them with only one soldier wounded on their side.

Just when I thought I had exhausted the interests of this abandoned corner I came across this modern monument.  Apparently we were crossing the Green Meridian. This was an imaginary line drawn from the Paris Meridian (which is like the Greenwich Meridian but nowhere near as important despite what the French might tell you) northwards to Dunkirk and southwards to Barcelona in Spain.

La Meridienne Verte was inaugurated in 2000 and along it, trees are being planted to make a green line across France from top to bottom. This was the French way of celebrating the millennium.

We built The Dome.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Cru La Livinière

Being teetotal you would think that I might feel myself unqualified to write about wines but, let's face it, nobody with any sense of self esteem ever reads what the wine pundits say and even fewer believe them. So, if you want to know about Cru La Livinière then look it up on the internet.

What I can tell you is that they are doing the vendanges. 

When I was at school I tried to get a job grape-picking in the south of France but they said I was too young.

Now they would dismiss my application automatically. There are no grape pickers. It's all done by one man operating this clever tractor-type grape harvester.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Deported from Borgo San Dalmazzo

Further down the valley from St Dalmas de Tende is the bustling town of Borgo San Dalmazzo. During the Second World War a concentration camp was established here and the Jews who had fled occupied France were incarcerated in it.

In 1943, on 21st November, 329 Jews were taken from the camp to the railway station and pushed into cattle trucks and transported to the transit camp at Drancy, near Paris. From there they were sent to Auschwitz. Only eighteen survived.

Go to the railway station today and you will see, set into the platform in front of three goods trucks, the names of those deportees in the positions in which they stood before being carted away.

The names of the survivors have been set upright in steel.

Part of the text on the board reads:

"Each name is a ray of hope that has been extinguished forever. Come closer. The sound of silence and the absence of people will help you to understand how much damage man is capable of causing when he puts himself and his rights above those of others."