Saturday, 5 May 2012

Further Tunbridge Wells things

Being back in Tunbridge Wells has churned me up quite a bit.

A lot of my past remains there, abandoned.  Walking around it this week, actually reminded me that I did have a lot of good and happy memories of the place.  It was probably the last place I was happy at school despite, by all accounts, The Ridgewaye being the poorest School in the County, which is why it no longer exists.  My schooling, post The Ridgewaye, was marred by not really being able to adapt to the moves, the changes in temperament of the various peoples, etc. (Humberside was particularly noxious, as I've probably mentioned).

Thing is, I so focus on the negatives, I forgot that a lot of the time, I was actually quite happy at Southborough and High Brooms.  And, my brother not withstanding, I had happy times with my family.

Walking around Chartwell, home of Sir Winston Churchill, something I had done with my parents, was a particularly poignant reminder of the way in which my folks tried to educate me.   I don't think I appreciated it at the time - and I remember getting much more excited about the fig trees than the house or it's history - but in the context of an adult visit, I finally learned to appreciate the lengths they went to to enrich my learning.

Chartwell seemed smaller.

I felt older.

Carluccios in Tunbridge Wells.

Sort of a restaurant review, I suppose.

I'm not big on 'name' restaurants, I've been to a few (most notably on of Rick Steins places in Padstow) they usually come with so much expectation that they are hopelessly disappointing I'm looking at you Ramsey!)

Carluccios was a better option being part of a chain that has a famous name attached.   Slightly different prospect.  Anyway, we went in and was taken to a nice banquette by our waiter.  We'd barely got the menus open when he was back asking us to order drinks.   As were don't really do alcohol, we wanted to look at the soft drinks and we asked if we could have another couple of minutes.   He seems to be mortally offended by this and stomped off.   20 mins later he finally came back to us after seating people either side of us, taking orders, and delivering starters to both sides, all the while steadfastly refusing to acknowledge us.

Disturbingly, he was also flirting/slobbering over the young girls on the table next to us.  He sidled into the space between table and bent over.  A lot.   There isn't much space between the table which meant that for most of lunch, we had a waiters arse in our face. Had it been a nice arse, it might have been seen as a bonus (and he might have got a tip, arf, arf!) but as it was, it was a rather unpleasant distraction.

The food eventually started to arrive and the Chicken Liver Pate was exquisite.
The Milanese di Pollo not so... nothing wrong, but it needed something with it other than salad leaves to make it fly.  The dessert, a rum and vanilla panna cotta with candied orange peel, was enough to make a grown man weep.   Once we actually got it.

We were, thanks to the ineptness of the waiter, running out of time before our next appointment of the day, so we ordered dessert and coffee together, even having a bit of a joke about it and having a mad discussion on the difference between a single and a double espresso.  The dessert arrived.  The coffee did not.  The dessert was cleared away, the coffee did not arrive.   After much flirting by the waiter, again with the next table, we finally managed to catch his eye. And he somewhat sourly asks us if we'd like to order coffee.   We already have done, we equally sourly respond.  There's a brief moment of huffing and "no you didn't", after which I remind him of the conversation we had about it.   "Oh yeah", he says and a full 25 minutes later, from the second time we ordered it (some 45 minutes from the first time) we get the coffee.  Which, it has to be said was awesome and possible the best espresso I've tasted.

But the whole meal, which would have been hugely enjoyable, was spoiled by a waiter who seemed to determined to put the concerns of the contents of his pants before the needs of the customer.  Plus, y'know, I had a blokes arse in my face for nearly two hours.   Not the best advert, I'm afraid.

****Addendum.   I went back to the shop part of Carluccio's in Tunbridge Wells as I'd seen some rather tasty looking Mortadella.   Being a mortadella fiend, I had to get some.  Despite being the only person in the deli part it took 25 minutes to be served and then, after asking for mortadella, I was given first, ham, then mozzarella and finally mortadella.  The person serving, although she was very pleasant to chat to (eventually) had absolutely no productt knowledge.  I might have asked for grated fruit bat given the blank look on her face when asking for mortadella.

It sad when a potentially great experience is turned into something less than enjoyable and extremely frustrating by staff that don't seem to give a toss.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Onward Christian War.

Standing outside of HIgh Brooms Boy school yesterday, I remembered one of the peculiarities of the school.
We still had those assemblies where the singing of hymn was mandatory unless you were Jewish, in which case you had to sit in silence with the school secretary in her office.

Anyway, the school wasn't huge and didn't have a piano.   It used to have one, but being a Grand (I saw pictures) it took up too much space and was dispensed with.  The only teacher who could play recorded on of the hymns onto reel to reel tape recorder and when the singing of hymns was required, someone would change the tape to the appropriate human, press play and we'd all sing along.

Except that the favourite hymn of the school - Onward Christian Soldiers - had been used so much the tape had become warn and had eventually broken.   The thought of the school without Onward Christian Soldiers being belted out was simply not on, so they cut the broken bit out and taped what was left back together.

Chorus 3 now went "Onward Christian So-o-o-o-diers Waaaaaarrrr".   This was fine for those in the know, but each year there would be an entire first year of baffled first years wondering what the hell happen to "Marching As To" from the third chorus.

The some bright spark yelled "Have a banana", all hell broke loose and Onward Christian Soldiers was never sung again.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Tunbridge Wells (3)

After a fortifying breakfast of fruit salad and Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks, Tunbridge Wells (the one with the super fit barista.  YUM!!!) we ser out on something of a walk.

Down Camden Road to the Recreation ground, half of which seems to have vanished and built on, paying particular attention the pond and ‘caves’, the site of the former Satellite Club and what used to be a vast tract of waste ground – now a very large housing estate and a small amount of woodland replete with huge quantities of wild garlic..  Following that, a walk along Clifton Road – site of the old homestead – to the playgrounds –extensively rebuilt and wooded – and then the walk to school.   Well.  Schools.  My junior School – High Brooms Boys School which has now merged with High Brooms Boys School, been extensively rebuilt and is now called ‘St Matthews School’.  The old boys school building is still there, just…built onto.   I would have given my eye tooth to have a look around.   As it was I felt a bit sleazy taking photos of the outside of a boys school.   God knows what the local residents thought… there’s a story about the assemblies tha I must remember to write down.

Next up was a walk up Yew Tree Road and along the Ridgewaye; site of the last school I was happy at:  The Ridgewaye School.

Sadly, it was knocked down some years ago, although the old Home Economics block is still there and being used by the council for some reason or another.  I walked past where the Woodwork and Metal Work workshop were; along the length of the main teaching block; a moments silence at the place where the stage had been; a fond remembrance of the kitchens where Phoebe the awesome dinner lady worked. 

We went past the place where the mystery gardener lived; past the sandpit with the dodgy story attached (see later) and on to Southborough Library, site of the majority of my education.

From there, we went down Chestnut Avenue, along South View Road past the Toc H and onto Dynevor Road.  Number 35 was my Nans house, it’s been converted into two flats, although given the bizarre layout of the house, I have no idea how that works.  I’ll write another entry about my nans house later.

From there, along Silverdale Road, onto Upper Grosvenor Road and back into town to Carluccio’s for lunch…

Tunbridge Wells (2)

It’s about 6am and after a terrible night’s sleep thanks to appalling stomach-ache, I'm thinking about family and community; community being high on my list of bugbears at the moment.

I’ve always sought the comfort of community from communes, religious or spiritual organisations, clubs, etc.  I wonder whether this is because of my necessary abandoning of my family?   My meeting with Donna and Brenda yesterday was great but the weirdness of people being completely accepting of you in that way is something I’ve searched for for years.  And there it was.  In my family.

Suddenly, I feel as if I might have made a huge mistake.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Tunbridge Wells (1)

I’ve been pretty churned up about this visit to my old stomping ground for a number of reasons.   Not least because it’s where a lot of my family live; family I haven’t seen or kept in touch with since 1978.  Okay, I found myself in touch with two cousins a couple of years back and there have been a few emails/facebook chats, etc., but today, for the first time in 34 years, I’ll be with family other than my parents.

I’m sure this happens with a lot of families; internal politics becomes so fraught that people just disappear off the radar.  I was fed up with trying to keep up with who was and wasn’t talking to each other and why.  That and what I suffered at the hands of my brother just made me think that family wasn’t worth bothering with and I retreated as soon as retreating was an option.

The thing is, I actually liked Tunbridge Wells.  I had good friends there new my way around and was beginning to get excited about the possibilities that post-puberty would bring within – and outside of - my social group.

Just as things were getting intense, that is having exploratory fumbles with willing classmates, we moved back to Yorkshire.

Initially, this was a blessing as we’d all longed to get back there, instead I ended up at a school in Humberside which, wouldn’t you believe it, was genetically pre-disposed to despise anyone and anything from Yorkshire.  The bullying I suffered was horrific.  The depression compounded.

I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere and I knew no-one. I wanted to move back to Kent.  Bearing in mind the family hassles that were happening when we left, this surprised me and quite rightly mystified my parents.

The practical upshot of this is that I retreated into myself, and became increasingly insular.  I lived with my head in a book, or a comic.  It was that that gave me my education, rather than the hate filled schooling I received.  I spent so much time hiding in the cloakrooms, round the back of the cricket stand or squashed between the portakabins, hiding from my oppressors that I didn’t have time to do school work.

But I'm digressing spectacularly.

I had wondered whether I should just slip into Tunbridge Wells and slip out again without family even knowing I was going.  I decided not to do that.  I got in touch with my cousin and suggested lunch.  She said fine.  And then 5 minutes later said “Is it okay if my Mum comes, to.  She’d really like to see you”.

I had mixed feeling about this but went with it.

The journey to Tunbridge Wells was conducted in almost total silence.

We arrived at the meeting place and I felt sick.

The phone went:

“Are you here yet?”

I said yes and waved them over having seen them come in.  My cousin Donna and Aunty Brenda who, terribly indiscreetly, was always my favourite Aunt, were standing in front of me for the first time in 34 years.

We hugged, laughed, lunched and chatted away as if we’d been doing this regularly for decades.

And to think I was nervous.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Faith (Part 1)

It's been three years since I lost my faith.   Well, technically, three years since irreversibly acknowledging that I'd lost it

Most of the time it doesn't impinge but yesterday was a bit fraught.

I believed in Gods (multiple) and, for ease, I called myself a witch.   I'm not sure what happened but one day I woke up and just thought "Hang on . . ."  For an unidentifiable reason, suddenly Gods, Magick, etc.  Just stopped making sense.

I fought against it for a year or so but inexorably, it just dawned that the thing I found most comforting in a largely cruel world, was a lie.

I'm sure there are rationalists out there cheering and, ironically, telling me I've stepped into the light, but what has actually happened is that I've stepped in into a colder, less caring and more brutal universe.  I"m finding that a huge struggle.

I miss the comfort of ritual.  I miss the community. I miss the warmth of knowing that what I do and how I behave impacts on how I live my next life.   I have no next life.  I get stuck in a hole in the ground and that's it.

Yesterday was something of a test for me.  I've been going to Avebury since I was 18 and considered it a holy place.  I'd often meditate there, occasionally doing some small scale ritual. It cropped up in my writings and poetry and left a massive psychic - and I use the term advisedly - imprint on my life.

I'd not managed to get there for some years as I was in Leeds and since getting back I've been avoiding going for what must be obvious reasons.  However, yesterday I decided it was time to bite the bullet.

We did the whole experience.   We stopped off at the Polly Tea Rooms in Marlborough for elevenses, moved on to Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow - places merely of historical interest rather than places of emotional attachment - and then onto Avebury.

Have you ever met an ex-lover in the street, years after breaking up, and although it's nice to see how they are doing, you wonder why you ever loved them?

Seeing Avebury was a bit like that, except Avebury broke up with me and I still loved it.

For the first time, I could only see Avebury in terms of History, Archaeology, Anthropology and folk tale.  That mysterious 'other' was missing.  It wasn't like losing a limb, it was deeper than that.   More like losing a cardio-vasular system.

I only managed to walk round about a quarter of the circle before weeping.   I can't believe how painful it was.
I noted with a certain dryness that I couldn't even rail against the sky, shouting cliches like "My Gods why have you forsaken me" because no one was there to listen.  I don't think I've ever felt so alone.