Category Archives: Folkestone Quarterhouse

I do like to be beside the seaside – Folkestone rediscovered

Spending a few days in Folkestone, which might surprise those who know I live in Dover. Longish quite nice story. Not for now.

It is beautiful in a way I had not expected even though I work here and live so close. It feels rough and ready in many ways and in many places, with ingrained grubbiness left over from a busier more nautical era that does nothing to reduce the charm and energy that exists there now, rather it acts as a counterpoint, an authenticity. Money has been spent on it, for sure, but that on its own would not achieve the lasting elegance and colour I have found. Wise and clever people-focussed spending is the key. Don’t be misled, there is significant poverty, sickness, mental turbulence. There is also grit, strength and heart to match and manage it, and the emerging beauty in the environment makes use of that and encourages the entrepreneurial activity I can see in abundance. What we create we value. The local initiatives have been rooted in the local communities, and that has given them a better chance of budding and flowering, and many of them have taken that chance and flourished – and those that didn’t are reinventing themselves and sailing in a new direction with the wind behind them.

As I write this I am looking out over the channel – I can see France, it feels as if I can almost touch our European counterparts. I can see the glorious Harbour Arm with Lowry-like people moving like ants in perpetual motion carrying their trophies – the view, a coffee, a book, their dogs leads – often overtaken by arrogant seagulls and for all the world like those desk toys that swing back and forth. Kinetic. That’s it! Folkestone offers a kinetic energy, a comfortable dynamism that is almost tangible.

I am pootling around the town for the next few days in between working. Perhaps there will be more to share with you about this glorious, throbbing, vivid, secretive, smudged, slightly slatternly but beautiful and blossoming coquettish town. It draws you in, promises to show you the sights, honours its citizens – the memorial arch is stunning and moving, all the more so, for some reason, as a result of the knitted poppies that surround it – and  Isaiah-like (“I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places”) keeps revealing, bit by bit, another of its treasures, another half-hidden bauble that it soon becomes clear is a precious jewel, and then yet another follows……

I know I have only skimmed the surface so far. I have plans to visit a few places that I would otherwise miss: have a pint on the harbour, breakfast at Beanos, dinner out somewhere I have yet to decide, spend time in the museum and galleries – there are many galleries and bookshops  in the streets leading from the harbour some of which also do coffee. Books and Coffee, two of my favourite things……There is a fabulous creative quarter – I work actually in it but not of it – and I need, literally need, to explore that. Restaurants and cafes will also be taking a hit.  I also need to walk around the bits that are not attractive to tourists, that shelter the people I probably know best.

Through this week I will be noting the fresh chapters,  great initiatives, seamy side and chequered entity that is Folkestone. It is likely I will share this with you…….brace yourselves.  I will try not to write after that pint! No promises…..

 

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Germaine Greer at the Folkestone Quarterhouse, childbirth, and the Universe. (Warning, some dubious language is employed……..)

I nearly didn’t go. I was behind with everything and had so much to do, and am still working on not being a workaholic, which prompted me to actually go – take time for me. So, I went to the audience with Germaine Greer at the Folkestone Quarterhouse last week. And I am so glad I did – and a massive thank you to Stephanie Karpetas who arranged it.

Germaine has morphed so many times, as indeed we all have. We have to morph to keep up. And we have to keep up to make a living and to stay afloat – if we don’t morph we run  the risk of drowning in redundant self images and out of date mores, a painful way to go as they can stick in your throat.  Her current incarnation suits her well – a slightly world weary battle scarred Grande Dame who has worked out that she hasn’t worked it out yet but is still having a damn good try and is happy to take us with her. As a Spare Rib veteran and a bit of a Grande Dame myself I found no startling revelations and no new truths in the evening, but I wan’t expecting any. What I did find were prompts and nudges, a few winks and pointers towards where my natural urge for introspection should go. And a bit of a jolt. I found myself remembering how I had been, how I had felt all those years ago when I had realised the world was a bit off balance, that some people did not have the same opportunities and rights as others, and quelle horreur, I was one of them! As a woman there were some barriers to  what I might achieve. I remember as if I were back there watching how it felt and what I thought: fuck ’em, bring it on.

I am not going to get into the details of inequalities and all the complex events and factors that reduce a persons or a groups opportunities – those have been done to death and only those with something to lose if it changed would say that those inequalities do not exist or are easily overcome with “hard work” and “persistence”. Those help, but do not address the core challenges. I am also not going to list the multiple groups affected, such as women, people of colour (I think that is still safe to use), people identified as disabled, people with a forensic history………too many to list here. I will only say that coming from a Convent education it was a bit of a shock to realise that women might not be powerful, clever and interesting to everyone else. Even the unpleasant ones in my youth had been clever and interesting, and certainly powerful. And if they also made me laugh – which most did – I could forgive them almost anything. Actually that still works now. Dammit.

Germaine talked about many things, and in particular how our biology impacts our lives. Especially apt with Wolf Hall doing so well on the Tellybox. I think all of Henrys wives would agree that their biology dictated their lives and even their deaths. I was reminded – how could I forget – of the birth of my first surviving baby in the 1980s. We had miscarried a few beforehand so I was almost surprised to find myself in actual full term labour. Being a dutiful middle class educated woman I had, of course, attended NCT childbirth classes with the Old Man and we had made a loose birth plan which specifically said we don’t expect it to go according to plan but here are a few things I would like you (the health care professionals) to notice and we had been careful not to be demanding, only make suggestions. I will not bore you with details – or scare you with them. It was a long and difficult labour and I met a huge variety of people all primed and ready to patronise me and on whom I was dependent. One image I carry still, and which memory Germaine prodded into the front of my mind , was when I had almost had enough and was exhausted but still polite and meek, and the shifts changed on the ward – remember how long ago this was! – and a new doctor arrived. She loomed over me and said – and I remember the words, the voice and the tone as clearly as if she was here now – ” I have read your demands. You have to remember that you have a precious package in there”. I panted, I rocked forwards, tetchy by now, and I said ” And there was me” pant pant pant “thinking it was” pant pant pant “a bag of FUCKING SUGAR”  collapse pant pant. Not my finest hour.

And even then I was aware of how dangerous and precarious childbirth is and how it changes things. And I was surprised at how it – my biology – changed me over the next few years. I had made all sorts of plans about returning to work within weeks without even considering how I might feel. The Old Man – also at that time an unrepentant feminist – was going to stay at home and I would go back to work. I was earning more, it all made sense. What took no notice of sense at all, in fact it looked at sense, threw it to the floor and stepped on it, several times, was emotion. I could not leave my baby. Why had I not considered that might happen? My feminism and independence were both kicked into touch by my biology. Who knew…….

Things are better now. Even my subsequent experiences of childbirth were better, less botched – there was no non-English-speaking doctor Down There stitching me up silently with the odd disturbing giggle, for example. Yes, that did happen. And the midwives were more assertive and in control – a much better situation. And one of my own daughters recent experience of childbirth was excellent – although it was overnight, and seeing the day staff and watching them work I think that might have been sheer luck and in large part down to her magnificent awesomeness. But it was what it was and she had a good experience so we will just be grateful. And another daughter is herself working in Maternity and Obstetrics and I know she will make a positive difference.

Germaine, with a weary but acute eye, brought all those things into focus for me that evening. She turned my gaze – which is too often on work and survival – onto me, and onto my daughters and son – also, to my joy, an unrepentant feminist – and their futures. We have come so far, so fast. Only a sockful of years since women were first allowed to vote, and we now have woman clergy, for example. But still so far to go. As long as we have FGM (as Germaine pointed out, often perpetuated by women on their daughters), rape as a weapon of war, convicted rapists lauded by football fans, page 3 as a “right” (WTF?), and violent porn freely available to offer  that warped picture of sexuality to our youngsters; as long as we have slut-shaming and twitter-trolls offering to rape women who hold an opinion, rooms full of influential politicians without a woman to be seen, the ex-prospective French presidential candidate casually abusing women and still believing it was ok (allegedly…..), women on television routinely judged and criticised for their appearance rather than their performance where men are not, and women still being scared into anonymity after domestic abuse, we will still have a long way to go. Women are not the only group to find ourselves overshadowed, but it was women we were discussing last week and women I am discussing now, unashamedly.

So, I am glad I went to see Germaine. I also met some women there who I would not otherwise have met – always a bonus. And they were all, yes, interesting and amusing and excellent company. Thinking is a genuine pleasure, and how happy I am that Germaine prompted some thoughts. Thank you Germaine. And thank you Stephanie Karpetas! And finally, a huge shout out for the Folkestone Quarterhouse – my first visit there and I don’t understand why I haven’t been before. A lovely venue with terrific staff and a wonderful menu for the next few months.

https://www.quarterhouse.co.uk/

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