8/7/90

THE MOORS  The day dawned cold, overcast and windy but patches of sunlight were occasionally breaking through to brighten and warm the land. We left the hall at 12:30 after having drinks in the main lounge of Sutton Hall with the other, mostly snobbish guests¹. We drove up the steep gradient of Sutton Bank and had a look through the information centre at the top.

Rievaulx Abbey.

Eager to explore the Yorkshire Moors we headed off through the rolling, windswept wheatfields, slowly climbing higher until the farmland gave way to the bleak moorland. En route we spent an hour or so looking at the impressive ruins of Rievaulx Abbey. The Abbey was founded in 1131 by Cistercian Monks from Clairvaux in  France. The Abbey prospered for several centuries, but overspending by the monks on building a huge cathedral put the Abbey into debt which it never recovered from and by the time of the Dissolution only 28 monks remained of the 200 to 300 which once lived in the Abbey at its height.

Up on the moors it was cold but very very beautiful. The endless expanse of heather was reddish brown with patches of purple flowers to break the monotony. Amongst the heather grazed scraggly blackface ewes, their long coarse wool giving them ample protection from the harsh wind.

The road led down off the moors through small wooded gullies in most of which a small neat village nestled. It twisted and wound in and out of small valleys, crossing and recrossing small creeks and finally it led us back to Sutton Hall.

¹Sutton Hall is an 18th century manor house which had been converted into eight timeshare apartments.

7/7/90

We got up at 8 and packed up then walked down to Waterloo after saying goodbye and thanks to Lucy who was still in bed, and Alex who was an hour late for work. Over at Helen and Brian’s hotel we waited while they checked out and then we caught a black cab around to South Kensington where we picked up their hire car – a Volkswagen Jetta – from the AA hire car department.

It was reasonably easy to find our way from South Kensington through Knightsbridge and onto the Edgeware Road which led to the M1 motorway. There was a lot of traffic and we had to sit amongst a couple of tailbacks so when we got as far north as Leicester we turned off and took some of the A-roads¹ leading North through endless rolling feels of cereal crops to the Humber River. Across the huge Humber Bridge we drove into the rolling hill country of South Yorkshire. It was raining and cold but still the countryside was very pretty and soon we turned off the A19 at Thirsk and drove the last 4 miles to the village of Sutton-under-Whitestonecliffe.

The huge 17th century mansion of Sutton Hall was like a palace to Linda and I after our adventures of the last 2 years. Helen and Brian’s suite contained two bedrooms, a huge lounge, kitchen and bathroom and the place was full of comfortable furniture and Nouveau antiques. As we settled in we couldn’t believe our luck!!

Sutton Hall.

¹Roads in Britain are designated M for motorways, A for main roads and B for secondary or back roads.

6/7/90

We met Lyd, Jen and Megan Francis for breakfast at the pub when Lyd and Jen work in Mayfair. We had a great couple of hours laughing and talking there. Then we walked up to Piccadilly Circus and met H&B in the London Pavilion. First of all we took them up to the top of NZ House for a look at London then walked up Whitehall and had lunch at a restaurant by Westminster Bridge.

After lunch we sent them off on a cruise down the Thames and we sat in Parliament square for a couple of hours until they got back. It was 4:30 by then so we walked up to Westminster Abbey and got there just in time to be let in for Evensong.  We sat in the front pews of the great Cathedral next to the altar where’ for a thousand years, kings and queens have been married, crowned and buried, and listened to the exquisite voices of the choir echo around the church.

When we left the Abbey, we caught a bus over to Oxford Circus and went to Break for the Border for dinner. Later, back at the nurse’s hostel we watched music videos that went to bed.

1/5/90

Brian gave me the morning off to make up for working all day on Sunday so I took Jim’s bike again and headed off at 8:00 into the hot and hazy morning. I rode over to the Embankment and turned left downstream to Tower Bridge. The traffic on the roads was really heavy but on a bike I could nip in and out of the rows of cars.

After I had crossed Tower Bridge the first place I stopped to explore was St Katherine’s Docks, one of the first of the old Thames docks to be re-built. What was once a seedy and atmospheric old shipping dock is now a haven for the yachts of the rich surrounded by sterile apartment buildings but it was quite picturesque so I took a few photos then moved on, parallel with the river through rows of renovated warehouses on cobbled streets.

After a mile or so I came across the Prospect of Whitby pub, the oldest riverside pub in London and the place where, in times long gone, sailors would go to look for work on the ships of the English Merchant Navy.

Another few miles brought me to the Isle of Dogs where the huge monstrosity of the Canary Wharf development is going on. I didn’t linger long amongst the noise and traffic there and left the towering cranes behind to go and find the river again. Eventually, after traipsing around a series of bland dead-end streets I found a park with the river on the opposite side of it. I stopped for a rest here and decided that this would be the furthest downstream I would go on this trip.

It took about 3/4 of an hour to get back to Tower Bridge as I explored some of the leafy backstreets of Wapping en route. I left the river at the Tower of London and pushed my bike up the hill to St. Paul’s and pottered about in that area for a while, gradually working my way back to Parliament Square and back to the pub via Lambeth Bridge.

The evening was very quiet.

8/4/90

We had a leisurely get up after a busy night behind the bar. There was a disco in the top bar and Linda, John Doherty [barman] and me were rushed off our feet from 10pm till midnight. Linda and I caught a bus over to Trafalgar Square to go to the National Gallery but it wasn’t open when we got there so we walked up Haymarket and went to a cafe called the Three Lanterns for a good value lunch of beef stroganoff for me and roast beef for Linda. The whole meal only cost us 16 quid with starters and drinks.

We followed a Hari Krishna parade back to the square and stood on the terrace overlooking the fountains watching them dance while making a passive protest about their temple being closed down. It seems that inflation has even hit Krishna as a bald, pig-tailed guy offering free books on how to achieve heightened conscience demanded “at least a pound” for one of his Divine Highness’ books!

There was a large, jostling crowd filtering into the National Gallery so we decided to give it a miss and go over to the Magnum Exhibition at the Hayward Gallery on the Southbank.  After crossing the Hungerford Bridge, ignoring the pathetic pleas of the assorted dossers gathered there, we finally found the entrance to the gallery with a long queue and an entry fee of 4 pounds which we didn’t have.  So we settled for watching a group of kids skateboarding in the car park then wandered back to the pub.

5/4/90

April 5th. After work Linda and I caught the tube over to Gloucester Road to meet Jenny and Lydia for tea.  Linda forgot to take Jenny’s written instructions but by trial and error we found our way to the flat where they were staying with Lydia’s sister Avril. Posh would be the only way to describe not only the flat but the whole neighbourhood!  We settled in to gin and tonics while we chatted and decided where to go for tea and eventually the decision to go to the nearby Texas Steakhouse was reached. We had a wholly un-memorable meal there, then went back to the flat for further g&ts and copious quantities of Kahlua and milk. It was a very relaxing evening and it is a long time since we have spent time just sitting in a friend’s flat talking over drinks.  We were sorry to leave at 10:30 and catch the underground home.

Footnote: Throughout my diary-writing life I always included the lyrics of the Talk Talk song April 5th in my entry for this day. Here they are from that day in 1990.

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