31/3/90

HAMPSTEAD HEATH AND RIOTS After a late and drunken night, we slept away a good part of the morning, then had a big breakfast of bacon eggs and sausages.

We decided to go out to Hampstead Heath to get some fresh air so we caught the Underground over to Oxford Circus then caught a bus out to the Heath. It was a bright sunny day but there was a cool breeze blowing by the time we got off the bus.  We bought some pastries and fruit then walked up into the park, which covers a couple of hundred acres of rolling hills. We lay in the sun talking and watching the many different varieties of dogs going by with their owners.

After an hour or so we wandered on through the park and eventually ended up amongst the posh, uppercrust houses of Hampstead Heath. We had a drink in a local pub full of rich kids comparing their allowances, then walked back into another corner of the park and lay in the long grass beside a small Lake. Finally we walked up the main street of Hampstead, a ghetto of flash cars and flashier people, and sat on the steps of a building watching the efforts of a hectored traffic warden to stop an unending stream of Yuppies and tossers from parking their convertibles on the No Parking line.

We caught a bus back to Kings Cross Station and from there another to Victoria. Finally, we caught another bus to Piccadilly Circus where the bus conductor informed us a riot over the Poll Tax¹ was in progress. The bus became jammed in traffic about halfway up Piccadilly Circus, so we got off and walked up to the fountain [Eros] in time to see the tail end of the mob as it moved on it’s path of destruction up Regent Street.  A black swarm of police keep the crowd of sightseers and tourists at bay, while the sounds of the mob, left unchecked, could be clearly heard as it smashed it’s way up Regent Street, above the roar of people chanting “NO POLL TAX” and the screams of sirens.

We walked down Haymarket where every window was smashed in by uprooted rubbish tins and pieces of asphalt dug out of the street. Horatio Nelson looked down on the scene of the battle. Trafalgar Square was a mess of broken wood, scaffolding, bricks, cardboard, and 100 other forms of rubble. The portacabins on a building site next to the South African Embassy had been set on fire and their burned-out shells still smoldered as groups of punks skinheads and other dropouts who hadn’t gone off on the rampage, milled around the square heavily outnumbered by grim-faced police.

We walked up Whitehall past number 10 Downing Street where it appeared that the fighting had started, then over Westminster Bridge and back to the pub. For the rest of the day, and long into the night, the scream of sirens echoed through the city. 

¹For a description of the cause and result of the Poll Tax Riot, check out this entry on Wikipedia.

30/3/90

I.L.E.A ABOLITION DAY (Explanatory note: The Inner London Education Authority was a monolithic bureaucracy that oversaw all of the schools in London. It’s offices were near The Red Lion and many of our regulars were I.L.E.A “workers”) On March 30th, 1990, I.L.E.A was closed down, having been replaced with a less centralised organisation. Many of its staff were made redundant and were paid out large sums in redundancy money. They came and spent a great deal of it in The Red Lion that day!) 

The pub was a heaving chaotic mass from 12:30pm till 2am next morning as all the people from the defunct Inner London Education Authority had their final blow out.

17/3/90

We woke up to bright sunshine streaming through the window and the sounds of Saturday morning activity coming up from the street. We hung around waiting for our breakfast to be delivered at 8:30 but decided we were supposed to go downstairs for it. We went down to the dining room and were treated to a huge English Breakfast of cereals, bacon, eggs, sausages and tomatoes with heaps of tea and toast to follow. After brekkie we went up and packed our things then went out to explore the village, leaving our bags on the landing to be picked up later. 

We had a fact sheet about the town of Sandwich with a step-by-step route marked out on it so we set out to explore some of the village’s history which goes back to the days when it was a busy Cinque Port. These were a group of five coastal towns along the coast of Kent which held special privileges because armies came and went through them (en route to- or from wars in Europe) and their residents could be called upon to defend the coast from invasion. One of the privileges the towns received (by Royal Warrant) was the power to try and execute Peers of the Realm. This was done at Sandwich on several occasions and the paddock where the gallows once stood still only has black sheep in it.

Starting at St. Peter’s Church, we walked up Market Street and into Strand Street where, in the attic of a house called “The Pilgrims”, smugglers used to signal the ships coming in with contraband that it was safe to land. Although Sandwich is now about 2 miles from the sea, at one time it was at the seaside. Further along the street we saw a carved lintel over a gate with the date 1605 carved on it.

Sandwich street.

At the end of the street, after passing round the Barbican [fortified gate] built by Henry VIII, we stood on the bridge where the monks of Christchurch in Canterbury collected a toll from everyone who crossed. The toll was only abolished in 1977, ending a tradition dating back to King Cnut, one of the early Norman kings, who granted the monks permission to operate a ferry across the river. 

Holy Ghost Alley

We walked along the river until we came to the Millwall, part of the original defences of the town. At the end of the Millwall, we turned into Millwall Place and walked back to the centre of town past St. Peter’s Church, Holy Ghost Alley and the old town gaol. 

We collected our stuff from the pub and set out to walk the 2 1/2 miles down to Sandwich Bay. Once we were  out of town we were walking through lush coastal farmland and just before we got to the coast we passed through Sandwich Bay Estate, where the second homes of many wealthy Londoners are situated.

We emerged from the grassy sand dunes, and the calm waters of the English Channel came  into view, washing gently up on the shingle beach of the Bay. We walked slowly up the coast towards the town of Deal, just  visible through 5 miles of coastal haze.

We lay for a while on a wooden slipway leading out into the water from the Sandwich Bay Yacht Club HQ,  soaking up the warm sunlight and breathing the clean fresh sea air. A few hundred yards offshore, lighter coloured patches of water marked the position of the Goodwin Sands. A passing couple told us how, at the lowest tide of spring, two cricket teams play a short game on the exposed sands before the water claims them for another year. These britons are crazy!

We left the coast and walked inland across a couple of golf courses to a pub called Checkers for a pint and a ploughman’s lunch, then walked the last 2 1/2 miles into Deal where we caught a train down to Dover. Dover is not a nice place. Cluttered with tourist shops, and swarming with a German and French tourists, it is a far cry from the fabled White Cliffs. We walked down the main street to the wharf where we bought a couple of Mr Whippy’s and sat watching the ferries and hovercraft coming and going to and from the port. Above us, and to the left, the huge portals of Dover Castle stood watch over the port, it’s stone ramparts catching the last rays of the afternoon sun.

We wandered around and had a drink at a pub in town then had some tea. We slept most of the way back to the noise and grime of London.

16/3/90

Wednesday and Thursday had been beautiful, mild days and Friday dawned the same. Because of the way the roster had worked out, we had Friday night and Saturday off, so we had planned a trip to Dover. Tom¹ lent us his Railcard to get some discount on the fares and with the promise of a fine weekend ahead, we set off after the morning session and walked up to Waterloo.

Return tickets only cost us £15-90 and we caught the 17:58 train to Dover and Ramsgate. It took about 20 minutes to leave the built-up area of London behind and the train rolled out into the sparse farmland that surrounds the city. The grass was green and shining with new growth and lambs gambolled with each other in the warm afternoon sun.

We passed through the hop-growing area of Kent, the Garden of England, with its strange drying towers and then, as dusk was falling, we arrived in Folkestone and had our first glimpse of the White Cliffs of Dover and the English Channel.

It was nearly dark when we arrived at Dover Priory Station but even in the poor light we could see that it was an industrial sort of place and decided to stay on the train and see where we ended up. I asked a lady sitting in the same carriage (there were only 4 of us by now) where a good place to get off would be and she suggested a place called Sandwich, where she lived.

About 15 minutes later, the train stopped at a tiny station and we got off. The lady, whose name was Lucy, was met by her husband, Lionel, and their little dog. They took us up to their house, a small, converted smithy, in the centre of the village. She showed us round the gorgeous little house, which dates back to the 16th century, and we had a cup of tea with them. 

When we left, we wandered around the dark, cobbled streets looking for somewhere to stay. The only sound to be heard was the tolling of the church bell. We enquired at several places, to no avail then finally got a room in a B&B pub called The New Inn for £30-00 including brekkie.

After we had deposited our things in the room (which was large and comfy) we went out for a walk around the village. It was so quiet and peaceful after the noise of London and the evening was windless and mild. After we had done a circuit of the centre of the village, we made our way back to our room to plan our next move. The disco downstairs was making a shit of a racket so we went out again and walked up to another pub called the Fleur de Lis (the flowers of the Prince). We spent the rest of the evening there in the company of 4 other people but it was nice to sit in a quiet pub and have a quiet talk.

When the place closed we went back to our room and watched a Dutch stick movie on TV as we dropped off to sleep.       

¹ The pub’s cleaner

11/3/90

Linda and I did the cleaning in the morning for some extra dough and we had planned to go ice skating in the afternoon. But the ice rink we were going to go to had closed down so instead we caught a train from Waterloo out to Hampton Court Palace.

It cost quite a lot to get into the palace but the gardens were free so we spent a couple of hours wandering around the immaculately kept grounds with their shaped trees, flower beds in bloom with the colour and smell of spring, and along the banks of the Thames which is only a fraction of its size up here. It was a mild spring afternoon and there were a lot of people out there. It is an interesting place and I hope we will be able to get out here again and go into the palace itself to see some of the rooms and hallways trodden by Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey and many of the characters from the Royal history of England.¹ 

We caught the train back to Waterloo at 5:30 and spent a quiet evening upstairs at the pub.

¹Sadly, we never returned to Hampton Court.

8/3/90

THE ROAD TO HELL Linda and I went to see Chris Rea at Wembley Arena.

We had arranged for Scotty¹ to meet us at the pub [The Red Lion, where we worked] beforehand for drinks but when he didn’t arrive, we headed out to Wembley without him.

A Road to Hell concert sticker is still on the back of my 1990 diary.

The concert was brilliant. The sound was spot on and he had an amazing light show complete with a live backdrop and a huge satellite that moved around the stage. He played many of his old songs such as Josephine, Passing Through, Stainsbury Girls and Ace of Hearts but the songs that came across the best were those from The Road To Hell [his latest album] as that was what most of the light show was designed for.

The guy is a brilliant guitarist but he hardly says anything on stage. Most of the songs came over very close to the originals. It was a really good evening.

¹John “Scotty” Rattagen, the driver of our African Overland truck the previous year.

4/3/90

SUNDAY Chopper came in for lunch at about 2:30. He helped us clean up the bar after the lunch-time session then we went upstairs for the huge feed of chicken and veges that Linda had cooked up. We pigged out on heaps of food then Chopper left to go out to Reading where he is working on a pheasant farm.

The evening session was pretty quiet.

3/3/90

SATURDAY We had a late get-up and mucked around upstairs for a while then walked up to Waterloo and caught the tube out to Camden Lock Market. It was quite busy out there and the crowds only added to the atmosphere of the place. The market consists of about 20 acres of tiny shops, lean-to stalls and narrow alleyways, with Camden Canal running through the middle. It is a haven for punks, buskers, tramps and all sorts of arty-crafty and ethnic people. We wandered around amongst the rows of stalls and I bought a nice chunky jersey for ten quid.

After we’d had a cup of hot chocolate at a cafe, we wandered round some more and Linda bought a hand-knitted jersey from Nepal for £27.

Camden Lock.

When we got back to Waterloo, lo and behold, we ran into Chopper!¹ He was waiting for a train down to Portsmouth where Ali Reid² is working on a farm but he flagged that away and came back to the pub with us where we spent most of the afternoon talking about old times.

In the evening, linda and I went to see “Return to the Forbidden Planet”³ at the Cambridge Theatre. Billed as Shakespeare’s forgotten rock and roll masterpiece, it was a hilarious send-up of Shakespeare and 1950s Sci Fi horror films. After the show we went for a curry then went back to the pub.

¹ John “Chopper” Darling was a shepherd from New Zealand that I had worked with during my days as a shepherd. I had no idea he was in the UK, yet here he was, shuffling across the concourse at Waterloo Station looking like a cross between a tramp and a farmer. Chops (as we called him) was something of a piss-head and was renowned for being one of the most untidy, dishevelled and easy-going people you would ever meet.

²Linda’s cousin and another high country shepherd currently in the UK. Ali was working on a sheep farm near Plymouth.

³Combining comedy, shlock science fiction and slapstick, this hilarious show ran until 2014. I wore the t-shirt I bought that evening for years afterward!