Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Buckets and Spades

Ah, the Seaside. Not a post so much about Radio this time, just another of those little memory lane things, that I wish to share with you. This wasn't quite like the recent Glasgow trip, though. Different memories entirely, this one. We're talking 'Ramsgate' this time, on the Kent Coast. No distant childhood memories on this occasion, after all, I never lived there. But, due to friends of my parents being located there, it was always on the holiday merry-go-round of visiting friends and relatives most summertimes, year after year. It must have been in the late 1960s when I was there for the first time. Things were different then. Aren't they always ? Many, many visits later, through early teens, late teens, and, the last visit about 15 years ago, well, I felt I knew this little town fairly well. But you know, there's a cliche about small English seaside towns that is oft used, over-used even, but it does spring to mind. The phrase itself is 'seen better days'. Oh, what a horrible and somewhat unfair description that is. But we know what it means, and what images it can conjure up. The reason ? Well, way back, you couldn't get a flight to the Continent, be it Spain or France or Italy, for about £10. You can now. Things have changed, and the world, somehow, is a much smaller place. But to me, Ramsgate still has a certain feel about it.
A very 'comfortable' feel, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Sure, the big parade of 4 and 5 storey dwellings along the entire length of Wellington Crescent at the top of the East Cliff, overlooking the sea, are still there. A whole swathe of bright white painted tall dwellings, looking like one vast building, from a distance. In the 60s, 70s, 80s even, these were all Guest Houses and little Hotels. All 30 of them. Now ? To my surprise, just one Hotel remains, with the rest now private flats. The commuter belt has stretched it's muscle, for sure. The West Cliff has suffered a similar fate, local business wise, with what was around another 30 or 40 little Hotels, being whittled down to just 3. Private flats again. But that's life, and on the upside, it does mean more people are living there instead of just visiting, even if it is, for many, a weekend home only. The old supply shops for local Fishermen have dwindled - oh, there's still a few, with the rest along one of the three layers of the West Cliff suddenly now being rather swishy restaurants. But it looks great, I have to say.
The Harbour is spectacular, as ever. It always was. Lots of fantastic little boats dotted around, very picturesque, real picture-postcard material.
Back in my early youth, the place to be, was Pleasurama. A huge amusement arcade parked right on the beach.
It's gone now. Completely. Burnt to the ground some years back, and people still talk about it locally, in rather hushed tones in a 'was it deliberate' type of way. Rumours and gossip of insurance scams abound. But I guess only a handful of people know the real truth. Maybe that's the way it should be.
I was very happy to discover 'The Moonlighters' was still there. Renamed now as the 'Sir Stanley Grey' or something like that, a great little pub in an area called Pegwell Bay, overlooking the sea. Inside, it hadn't changed a bit. I was offered a Bars Manager job there some years back, working between there and the connected Hotel, across the road. I often wonder what path life would have taken for me if I'd taken the job on, this was back in 1990 after all, long before Record Shops and The Album Zone and any Radio at all, were in my mind.
Pegwell Bay itself is much quieter these days. A Hovercraft service used to run, until the 80s I think, over to Boulogne and back. Later, a Ferry service from Ramsgate to Dunkerque ran for a while too, though both have gone now, out-done and out-priced by the Dover Ferries and Catamarans, and cheap flights to France and the like, as mentioned earlier.
But, it's still quite cosmopolitan. Language Schools abound everywhere, so there are still plenty of visitors and students from abroad. It will get a lot busier in summer though, for sure. I saw it just on the cusp of the summer season beginning. That old phrase 'seen better days' is understandable, and a relaunch of Ferry or Hovercraft services may bring some glories back, but, as some locals said to me, these things never seem to pass the rumour stage. They remain just that. Rumours.
But don't get the wrong impression - it's a fabulous little place. I was heartened to see many little places that I remember from years gone by - still there, flourishing, and changed not a jot. The Albion Cafe, perched on a stairway half way up a cliff would you believe, serving breakfasts to all for a price which wouldn't get you one-tenth of a breakfast in London. Then there's Pelosi's Ice Cream Parlour, winner of awards too numerous to mention over a large number of years, and, if you ever visit there and have one of their home-made Ice-creams, you will immediately understand why.
Being England, particularly the South-East, it's natural that Fish n' Chip shops abound. But remember, this is all freshly caught fish, not some processed nightmare that you may get elsewhere in the country. Fabulous.
So, a wander down memory lane it was, for 48 hours or so. Past Tennis Courts where I played many years back, in and out of little Cafes which I thought were long gone but were still proudly there, in and out of the streets I thought I had forgotten about but still knew so well, and the sun shone, brightly. Very brightly.
And the Vanilla and Cappuccino Ice-cream that I had was fabulous. Just fabulous.

Johnny Reece