Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Talking and Reading

How many of you read that title and understood it to be referring to two activities rather than an activity and a location?

Yesterday I gave a talk in Reading, (pronounced 'redding') the town in Berkshire. It was the first time that I had visited it for about twenty years. Back in the 1960s I spent occasional evenings at the greyhound racing track where I was surprisingly successful in my betting when you consider that I knew nothing about dogs and could not count. My clever technique had nothing to do with either dogs or counting -- I always stopped when I had won more than I had started with. 

What did I know about Reading? Huntley & Palmers made biscuits there and, according to my friend Anthony who knew everything there was to know about buses, Reading was the first town in England to install a contra-flow bus lane.

So yesterday I was talking and reading in Reading.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Best Food in Canterbury

On Friday, author of Dogs on the Runway and martial arts expert, Roger Thyer-Jones and his wife, Michelle, took me out to lunch at Rafael's Restaurant. It is situated on the mezzanine in the Goods Shed at Canterbury West railway station. If you have not yet visited it, do so now.

The Goods Shed food market, Canterbury.
Rafael's Restaurant is up the stairs on the left.

Open every day except Monday, the Goods Shed is a market for local produce -- meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, bread, beer & wine and such like. I like to buy my apples here because they are all shapes and sizes, not uniform Tescometric, and no matter what the variety they are all priced the same so you pull a brown paper bag from the hook and serve yourself, mixing them all in the same bag.

Rafael's Restaurant serves the finest meals in Canterbury and much of the food is sourced from the market itself. I ordered a lamb leg steak having seen it just being brought up from the butcher's counter below.

A half-scale model of the locomotive Invicta
which hauled the trains into Canterbury.
 The atmospheric cloud of steam is coming from the bread oven.
The Goods Shed is near the site of the original station of the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway which, I am sure you remember, was the world's first, fully steam-hauled passenger railway, opening in 1830. What the enthusiasts sometimes gloss over is the fact that some of the steam hauling was done by a stationary winding engine in the Blean woods because the locomotives of the day could not cope with the gradient out of Whitstable. Canterbury West railway station also boasts another record: a plaque on the wall declares that the world's first railway season ticket was issued there.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Art Deco and NADFAS

I had to go to London yesterday to a meeting at NADFAS now that I am a NADFAS accredited lecturer. I took what we call the 'fast train' which whisks us from Canterbury to London St. Pancras in about 56 minutes. Historically, East Kent has always been linked to the London stations of Charing Cross and Victoria so arriving in the north of London was quite a change for me. Of course, had the Duke of Bedford not forbidden the London-Birmingham Railway et al from crossing his estates in the nineteenth century then Euston, King's Cross and St. Pancras stations would not have been called such because they would probably have been built somewhere near the Strand.

Trinity Court apartment building,
erected 1935.
If you are wondering what NADFAS stands for, it is the 'National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies' and in honour of such an affiliation, on my walk down the Grays Inn Road I stopped to look at Trinity Court which is a rather attractive (in my view) Art Deco building erected as an eight-storey block of apartments in 1935 to cater for the demand for service flats from the rising middle classes.

Detail of balcony

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Our very own Desert Storm

During the period of atrocious weather which much of the UK suffered recently I felt that East Kent, the bottom right hand corner of England as viewed from Space, was being treated quite gently.  An interesting characteristic of this region is that it houses the UK's only desert, Dungeness.

When travelling through Court at Street a few days ago I saw the weather front moving in from the English Channel to engulf this barren spit of shingle and seagull and I realised that I was witnessing our very own Desert Storm.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Identical snowflakes

I think that, for many years adults have misjudged the reasoning powers of young children.  When we were nine years old our teacher recounted the conventional story about the discovery of bacon: the Chinese farmer's pig sty caught fire and as he tried to herd the pigs to safety he licked his hands to keep them cool. The repeated action of licking his hand and touching the pig's hot skin brought an enticing flavour to his taste buds and, hey presto! bacon was discovered. I thought it was a lovely story. The boy sitting next to me said, 'Well what was the farmer keeping the pigs for in the first place if it wasn't for eating? They don't lay eggs, you can't milk them. Did he have them as pets?' I thought that such a challenge to authority was disrespectful. And then I remembered the snowflakes.

Crocheted snowflakes frozen in mid fall.
It had happened when I was six years old and the teacher had announced that no two snowflakes were ever alike. It had been proven. To a child who had watched snowflakes melting on the sleeve of his navy blue gabardine raincoat this was astonishing news. How had they managed to check all the snowflakes against each other before they had melted?  The answer I quickly realised, even at the age of six, was that it was one of those silly things that adults wanted children to believe. It was patently impossible to prove or disprove and as an adult I can see no reason to change my initial assessment.

But if you want to try, go to the haberdashery shop in Tenterden High Street. There you will see a display of crocheted snowflakes suspended in mid blizzard. 
You can check for yourself whether they are all different.
LATEST UPDATE: Have a look at the snowman they did for 2015.