Many months have passed since
Crazy, cacophonous Charivari
Had snaked up that old thoroughfare;
And the ground had groaned
Beneath the weight of red-laced “Doc” Martens,
Worn by pilgrims strutting towards the
Grand Burstin or Gillespie’s
For an afternoon of Special Brew
To the sounds of The Selecter,
Prince Buster and The Specials.
I turn into that quiet, twinkling lane
And long for one last lingering look
At the dazzling, daily alchemy
Conjured up in Rowland’s Rock Shop.
The aroma of craft beer
Wafting from Kipps’
Cannot compete with the memory
Of the sickly sweet perfume
Pervading Rowland’s, where
Once I gaped in awe at the
Thick, long sticks of heaven being rolled,
A bag of broken bits
A highlight of my annual holiday.
It was often claimed that if it
Were to shut its doors for good,
Folkestone would die.
A prediction, thankfully,
Since proven dramatically wrong,
I stumble into Steep Street Coffee House
For flat white, cake, warmth and inspiration.
The self-styled Folkestone Poet
Has vacated his customary sales pitch
Across the way at Big Boys Burger,
His heavy overcoat and leather balaclava
No more a match for declining temperatures.
The bitter cold slices through my flimsy jacket
And hastens my progress down the hill,
But not without momentary glances
On either side at steepling steps
To ancient Bayle and modern Tontine Street.
I cross into the empty fish market,
Tiptoeing around the grimy puddles
That appear to assemble here
Whether it has rained or not.
A solitary gull plods apologetically past,
Pining for Spring and the reopening
Of Chummy’s, Bob’s and La’s,
When it can return to terrorising tourists
For fish and chips and tubs of whelks.
Back at the foot of the winding street,
Christmas lights flutter into action
As children huddle excitedly
Outside Blooms for tonight’s instalment
Of the Living Advent Calendar,
Jewel in the crown of
Folkestone’s festive year.
Apart from the echo of my boots
Upon the cobbles,
Silence is restored
As I drag my freezing bones
Back up the hill.
As I turn the corner
At the top
Was that really
A childlike squeal I heard?
And did I just catch
A whiff of granulated sugar?
OUR LADY OF THE HARBOUR
No fey fairy tale figure this Folkestone maid
But mature, full-bodied, strong and wise
Rooted firmly on the East Cliff rocks
Staring intently out on Channel skies.
Some try to clothe her in pity, some in fun
Hats, bikinis, scarves, have all adorned her form
But she is perfect as she is – broad, naked, deep
Impervious to pounding waves and winter storm.
Her hair forever drenched from tidal spray
Slicked back and sweeping down along her spine
Her lusty feet replace the mermaid’s tail
Resist and spurn the bitter lapping brine.
To the dogs released from summer servitude
On Sunny Sands she’s just another stone
Their ball might bounce upon from owner’s throw
Or where they can relieve themselves alone.
A bare six summers has she settled there
Yet it seems to have been so many more
As if she’d witnessed history’s changing tides
Declining fish trade and the road to war.
When packet steam trains trundled down the hill
Into the harbour station and France bound ships
When English tommy first tasted foreign food
Snails, mussels, garlic, frites instead of chips.
I trudge across still slippery lower rocks
To reach the stone she’s made her coastal home
And sit at her feet to see what she might see
While thwarting tourists with their camera phones.
Could she be looking to France or Belgium’s shore?
But rather her gaze looks upwards to the sky
As if in thanks this piece of Heaven should be
Where Cornelia Parker chose that she should lie.
Oblivious to the sights and sounds around
The squawk of seagulls or wave smashed shores
Mindless of games that gleeful children play
Upon the drying beach when tide withdraws.
Unheeding of the dirt and noise of building sites
Coronation Parade and Harbour Arm are now
She sits serene, majestic ‘midst the rush
A friend and confidant to all that vow.
Margate may have its Turner, Blackpool its Tower
Brighton its i360, St Ive’s its Tate
But none sing of the sea like our Folkestone girl
Stately and brave at England’s coastal gate.
I rise from the rocks with wave washed, creaking knees
While hers are as fresh and smooth as first she came
Two hours have passed since I joined her on that rock
A better use of time I could never dare to claim.
Two ferries cross each other in Dover’s strait
As the sun slides down over a silvery sea
Over her shoulder through darkening clouds
The coast of France gleams and bids bonne nuit.