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Golden Memories of Growing-Up in Broadstairs.
B and B's apart, this is a lovely spot.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Things don't change as much as they stay the same
How It was - and still Is - In Broadstairs.
If you are lucky enough to have decent weather, as I did during a recent jaunt to Broadstairs, get up early and wander down to the jetty before your B & B breakfast time. In doing so, I was surprised to see several little local fishing smacks bringing in their catch to the stairs at the end of the jetty. They had crab/lobster pots and a wicker basket of fish in each. The boats looked like miniaturized trawlers with cabins, nets and running gear. They must have been supplying local fish mongers and restaurants, although by the attention and reverence being paid to a largish and resigned looking lobster, he was going to grace the captain’s table that night.
The jetty here has a feeling of great age, in fact, there has been a harbour of sorts here for more than 500 years. I leaned on the old capstan that once used to winch boats onto the hard, and let my mind drift back to the middle of the last century…
…I used to fish off here as a lad before I became spoiled with great fishing days in Australia and Mexico; when I was content with simpler days and was much happier to boot. Then, it was a stumpy rod and an old reel, no multipliers or all that fancy stuff. And the bait was locally dug lug-worms, poor things, we threaded the vicious hooks right down through the worm’s body with no thought to the agony or desperation it might have been feeling. Never caught much, either, horrible slimy pouting which came up “pouting” more than usual I suppose. And the occasional minute flat fish: two eyes on one side of its head and slowly, slowly sucking the bait into its mouth so we never knew it was on the line until we began to reel in, saying, “It’s bloody seaweed again.” Or athletic, fast moving green and brown crabs, claws snapping as they tried to avoid the boot that soon crushed the life out of them and kicked them over the side to the ever-present herring gulls with their special cries I can still hear echoing in my mind 50 years later.
Sitting in the back booth of Anselmo’s on Harbour Street, one of the country’s great cafes, open for generations until the wonderful family gradually died or moved on. Local girls, simpering and smelling of talcum and fruity lipstick sat with us, ready for a kiss and a cuddle in any nook that could be found. A great place for this operation was on top of the deck chairs, under the covering canvas, at the top of the beach steps to the Main Bay, now called Viking Bay, after the arrival of the recreation of a Viking Long Ship, “Hugin,” in 1949; or under the cover of the Compton organ in the Garden on the Sands. Trying to keep a passionate kiss going and look slick while undoing the bra with one hand by pushing the two straps together until the clip opened. “Here, let me,” they would smile, reaching round and freeing themselves in a trice: great girls and in love with love. I wonder where they all are today: with arthritis and four grand-kids, cracked, old and ignored, with just the memories of how exciting those kisses and cuddles were back then, although we never went “all the way.”
The electricity of first holding Verny in my arms and dancing, sort of, in the bandstand during the hot summer nights we don’t ever seem to get any more. She and her mum came down every year for about 4 years and then disappeared. The feeling was more magic than sexual; I can’t remember being troubled by an erection back then. My first real sexual encounter was with P. under the piano in her front room after her parents had gone to bed. Then we had to become engaged of course. But that didn’t stop R. and she doing it on Stone Gap beach while I was away at Suez in the navy. Good friends couldn’t wait to tell me about it and the engagement ring passed through several lady’s hands after that.
The old Anderson Shelter was still in the little bungalow where I was born in Rectory Road for many years after the war. I guess they were harder to get rid of than to put in place. Millions were spent on them but they saved few lives in Broadstairs as the war largely swept overhead and left us in peace. We were shelled by cannon fire from a German plane once in my Gran’s house in stone Road, and one shell went right through the roof, through the bed on which my uncle, Bobby, was asleep and down on into the kitchen floor and the foundations, where it still lies as far as I know. It missed him by about six inches. But he only lived on another couple of years as he was killed when his Spitfire got blown up by a British landmine near Hawkenge…
…All these thoughts and much more ran through my mind these few weeks ago when I was waiting to return for my 8 am breakfast in a typical B and B in on the Eastern Esplanade, Broadstairs, town of childhood hopes and dreams. Bed and Breakfast places haven’t changed so much as they have stayed the same. The complaining, elderly landlord and his wife are still in attendance, and the smelly retriever that comes around at breakfast time, mouthing a noxious tennis ball which it dropped to wolf your bacon. “You don’t mind dogs, do you,” they say obsequiously. Saying yes would make an enemy for life and probably mean cold fried eggs, so the answer is always “No.” And if they cared at all, the dog wouldn’t be there in the first place.
Settle the ridiculous bill of 75 quid for a night spent in uncomfortable Victoriana, little helped at all by the fact you can put your jeans in a trouser-press, watch the TV by standing on your head; bathe in a dribble of warm (or too hot) water, and make a thimble-sized cup of stale coffee in the room. All those little packets! What have we come to? It’s all worse now; once you put up with slightly worse habitations, but you had your own thermos of good coffee, and the rooms were three quid a night, for goodness sakes.
Lovely beaches: deserted…no wonder, eh?