At the sharp end, from home
Stephen Rayner Editor Faversham Society Newsletter
On Christmas morning, Santa brought me acute sciatica, a condition so painful that I was obliged to hire a wheelchair. On social occasions before lockdown, notably the wonderful Faversham Literary Festival, I experienced from my chariot the sensation of being talked over. It was a new experience. At 6ft 2in on a good day, I am usually above the conversation.
Just as the sciatica was improving (I can walk a lot better now, thank you for asking), the coronavirus arrived and my wife Christine and I, both freelance journalists, agreed to self-isolate.
It was a sad but necessary decision. We are a close family and usually spend much of the early week in child care. Now we would not be seeing our three grandsons, except for conference calls. Children are efficient disease carriers and their father (our son) is a clinical pharmacist working in health centres. The risk of infection was too great.
My proper job two or three days a week is news sub-editor for The Sunday Times. I have, for some years, been allowed to work from home when necessary and was therefore at a distinct advantage when the order came from our posh HQ opposite the Shard: Everyone (but a few brave mortals) must WFH!
Some of my colleagues were thrown into – I won’t say panic, because panic cannot be part of a sub-editor’s job description – a little disarray. Our night editor was in The Wirral, the chief sub-editor in Crouch End; others in Norfolk, Suffolk, Sevenoaks, Brighton and Croydon. A couple of them had to rely upon beat-up old laptops. Two didn’t have a smartphone (needed to get past the security into the company computer system). Others had a broadband connection that wafted in and out like the spring breeze. But we hit have deadline every week.
My wife and I have been spending our spare time reading (a little), finishing the production of Bygone Kent (which we own and publish from our Newton Road HQ), advising a couple of friends on producing books they are writing (yeah, we do that too) and sorting out the family archive. I have been scanning negatives – sometimes of images that were never printed. They are quite a revelation. O yes, and I badly need a haircut and really wish I could find someone to deliver draught beer to my doorstep.
Most of all I have been thinking about what happens after the virus. Will the world be the same place? I hope not. I fear many independent businesses will shut (a schoolfriend economist agrees) and Britain’s economy will suffer, like all others. But perhaps we will become a nicer place. Newton Road has been certainly been quieter – no idiots racing at 60mph – and we can hear birdsong and are trying to identifying it with the aid of the Woodland Trust website. Suddenly, we wish we had our parents’ knowledge of flora and fauna.
The NHS will become sacrosanct. Its staff are giving their lives to save others. No future government will ever dare make cuts to the service that has, as I write, just saved the prime minister’s life.
People are beginning to grow their own veg and enjoy the simpler pursuits, some artistic, some practical (mending clothes, for example, because there are no shops to buy new ones). We are phoning people and chatting – often on the Zoom app, which has been a boon. (Tip: if you use it, make sure you have a nice backdrop. On one work conference call a half-naked man was wandering in the background: another had boxes of rubbish and a clothes airer hanging with unmentionables, some quite exotic. I suggest highbrow books that you can pretend that you have read.)
We are looking out for other people and they are looking out for us. A neighbour we hardly know put a note through the door on the first day of lockdown, offering to help with picking up prescriptions, shopping, or even just having a chat.
Perhaps, in the future, we will be more community-minded. Perhaps, too, we won’t feel impelled to drive everywhere or take short-haul flights on a whim. Maybe I’m being naïve. But if we make it through this nightmare, we might just enjoy life a little more and value it as never before.
My alleyway keep-fit Dorothy Percival
Some bullet-point trivia from our domestic lockdown.
I have been in isolation mainly because of my daughter’s immune-compromised condition and underlying asthma and I, of course, am designated old but could have done little shopping forays except for the risk of bringing infection back.
Small moments of pleasure. Finding two Christmas mince pies in the bottom of the freezer, having a day when I owned a whole dozen eggs, my daughter (who lives in her own part of this house) saying that she couldn’t think of anyone better than me to be holed up with, having a spare enormous cabbage which I hurled down the front steps to a neighbour who caught it with stylish aplomb. Must have been a rugby player.
Keeping going. Every day I do 1,000 steps round our alleyway and other pathways not on the street. Does the sense of achievement compensate for the boredom? Not sure. Zumba is more fun but no fresh air with that.
New skills. Got to grips with online banking and after a few false starts learnt how to pay our gallant shopping friends. Invented a new game of solo table tennis with half the indoor table against the wall. Improves response speed a treat. Made some face masks. System of paying shoppers devised – they put goods on top step, ring bell, retreat. I take bags in, throw down money in an envelope weighed down with a “thank you” sweet or home-made cake. Good result.
Small joys. Reliably identified a few more bird songs in the otherwise silent garden. Neighbour opposite has been sitting on his sunny front steps playing the guitar. Been doing a jigsaw of Faversham Market Place at Christmas. Fun, but made me nostalgic for last Christmas in our beautiful town before the recent horrors. Discovered Radio 4 Extra as antidote to constant bad news. Only catch up with headlines once a day. Trying to get back to piano playing and reading. Enjoyed Lesley Jameson’s recently published book A Love of the Sea which was listed last month in new books on sale at the Fleur. I’ve written a separate little review about it elsewhere in this newsletter.
Lots of thinking, lots of worry. As with all of us I expect, confused sad and frightening thoughts come and go in a kind of surreal disbelief that it’s all actually happening. We have been so lucky in the response of neighbours and friends doing shopping, assuring us that they “are there for us” and sending messages. The awful helplessness of people with no job, no money, no garden and an unknown future is intensely painful to think of.
A Love of the Sea. I always enjoy books that draw me into the world of another person’s lifelong passion. Lesley Jameson’s new book A Love of the Sea is one that achieved that very successfully for me. I never actually saw the sea until I was about nine, when I was taken to Broadstairs on a Sunday School outing, so it was never part of my early life as it was for Lesley. For her it was in her family and in her blood from earliest years, and led to a life of adventure and rich experiences all over the world in different vessels. Her time in Galapagos was particularly fascinating as she and her family were there before it became the tourist destination that has come to threaten its unique wildlife in recent years. Lesley’s observation of birds, landscape and the sea itself are impressive in their detail. The evocative pictures they paint take the reader into the heart of her travels and her emotional bond with the world’s oceans. The risky and unpredictable nature of life at sea is very much in evidence, as is the bravery of those who have to respect and adapt to what the waves and weather throw at them. As the Fleur complex is closed, copies are available from Lesley for £7.99. Call 01795 536698 to arrange purchase.
Hell but no zombies Pat Reid
What links Vasco da Gama, an old Soviet-built cruise ship, the Hellbound Train and Faversham? We Reids and the coronavirus, I fear. On 6 January, Jim and I set out on the dear old Marco Polo (originally the Aleksandr Pushkin) to follow in da Gama’s footsteps round Africa, up the east coast to Mombasa then across the Indian Ocean to Sri Lanka and India.
Then we abandoned the Portuguese adventurer’s trail and struck out for the Red Sea, Egypt and Jordan, the Suez Canal and five more ports of call on the way home. We were due back on 24 March.
It seems crazy now, writing this on 10April, but it wasn’t until we were going through Suez on 12 March that the seriousness of the pandemic came home to us all. The Marco is an old-fashioned ship with very limited and expensive wi-fi, and the daily news bulletin had not been particularly worrying. On that day the visit to Ashdod, Israel was cancelled and within 24 hours all of the remaining ports of call were,too: the ship went straight for home.
There was no question of cabin lockdown – we had no coronavirus cases on board – and this is where the Hellbound Train starts up. This is the train on which sinners party wildly on their way to Hell and that’s what happened on the Marco as she charged through the Mediterranean: the bars alone must have generated a fortune for Cruise & Maritime, the Marco’s owners. Our young and very talented showtime team were wonderful, completely dedicated.
We arrived back at Avonmouth, Bristol, two days early, on 22 March, the day before the nationwide lockdown. The train journey home was a bizarre experience, nearly empty coaches and crossing central London from Paddington to St Pancras, with the taxi driver firmly shut behind his screen, was like being in one of those disaster films like 28 Days Later or I Am Legend, except without zombies. St Pancras was completely shut down and tomb-like. When we reached Faversham there were no taxis at the station so we began to totter down Preston Street with our luggage until we came across an abandoned supermarket trolley … If you’d told me six weeks ago that I’d be walking down Preston Street and through to Provender Walk with suitcases in a wire supermarket trolley, I would not have believed you – as it was, thanks to the person who abandoned it outside Wetherspoons!
Now we are tucked up at home, with the usual lovely view of the creek, leaves bursting all over the place and tulips nodding in our garden. The advantages of living in a town like Faversham have become even more obvious – supermarket and doctors (for pills) within easy walking distance; 99% of folk observing social distancing but being even more courteous and friendly; good broadband. We have even managed to get our newspapers delivered through the door – a real treat for which we are very grateful.
We are both over 75, and Chris Wootton has been very helpful with top-up shopping (bread, milk etc). What more can you ask for? And at least we are not stuck in cabins on a cruise liner moored off Japan…
Colour amid the gloom Patsy Rogers
I took the picture of a flowering cherry tree while I was doing my exercise walk. It is on the pathway to Norton Church at the side of an apple orchard. I shall take pictures of the apple trees next week when they are in flower.
I do miss being with lots of friends and the band practices. However, we have to stay at home. Emily shops for us in Faversham and we drive in to collect it.
Lots of love and best wishes to all who read the newsletter. I shall look forward to the time when I am printing it again!
Postbox delight Sophie Kemsley
I am a writer and live alone, and so one of the few positives of the Covid-19 crisis has been the additional time for my hobby. My personal coping mechanism has been to write a journal, and the excerpt below comes from a Tuesday in mid-March, when we were all very much getting into the habit of social-distancing, but before the full lockdown was announced a few days later. I have stayed away from the town centre since and I miss it terribly, but know that it will bounce back. It’s Faversham, after all. Here’s what I have written:
After another bizarre day of not seeing anybody in the flesh during the working day – but having plenty of work-related phone-calls at a kitchen table ordinarily associated only with meals and personal gatherings – I begin to get extremely excited that I have a letter to post. Excited, yet also somewhat dubious.
On one hand, I get to go outside! And there’ll be people there. And I rarely see those now.
On the other hand, I have to go outside. And there’ll be people there. And I have to avoid those now.
I walk and post the letter – envying the envelope’s travel plans – and carry on into the town centre. The charming guildhall building on the square is lit up – as it usually is – but the cobbled pavements that surround it are completely empty. Nobody is stumbling out of the pubs after a few Shepherd Neame specials like they usually are, and I almost miss the cursing and burping usually overheard at this point. Benches are vacant. Restaurants remain lit up, but the view inside is just of a set of plain brown squares that represent empty tables.
The only people I see are dog-walkers, joggers or those who – like me – are out alone running an errand. I pass them – but keep well away. It feels very rude.
In this town, we usually say hello to strangers when we pass. Today we don’t, because we’re keeping too wide a berth, veering out into the road to avoid passing too close on the pavement. It’s heartbreaking. But we just have to do it. Fight now, and celebrate later.
In the midst of the feelings of despair and fear that have dominated the last few days, I walk down Abbey Street
Abbey Street – a place I usually associate with my jogging route and tipsy walks to (and especially from) The Anchor. Abbey Street – one of the most iconic streets in Faversham. Houses that have been there for more than century. Houses whose timber frames represent so much more than an historic method of construction. As I pass I imagine all the occupants of the past, generations who experienced similar hard times – the two world wars, for example – but who fought through it. Who survived. Who morphed their challenges into the creation of stronger communities. Much like we will, once all of this is done.
Cleaning v Instagram Pat Ross
No work to do. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get rid of all the clutter, have a ruthless real tidy up, then a great clean – like scrubbing the oven for instance. You would think so, wouldn’t you? This is week three of the lockdown – and what have I done so far?
Well, I seem to have found other things to do instead, like joining Instagram. I had to ignore all the celebs you can follow because I didn’t know who most of them were for a start. Instead, I am following Port Lympne Zoo – have just watched some lion cubs playing football. Fantastic!
Have wasted a lot of time, too, watching Facebook, which is very moving at times and very funny at other times. Instead of going out every day, I am now having the newspapers delivered. I then seem to have more time to read more of it than I usually do. Also watching YouTube – the Marsh family singing the song from Les Miserables. Loved it. I am looking forward to reading what other people are spending their time doing and I would be very grateful for any ideas (so that I don’t have to actually do any clearing up of clutter or cleaning!). Keep safe.
Our 66th, isolated Peter Stevens
The coronavirus meant that my wife and I spent our 66th wedding anniversary on 25 March in isolation, but thanks to two good friends – Anne and Bob Graves – we have been kept stocked with food essentials.
Sadly the virus has caused the death in Hemel Hempstead Hospital of my 91-year-old brother-in-law, Joe Masters, whose father was headmaster at Davington and, later, Throwley school in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Among his possessions are some postcards of Throwley schoolchildren with the head, Sidney Masters. If anyone is interested I would be pleased to pass them on.
Sidney Masters served in the Royal Army Medical Corps in the First World War. Joe served in the Education Corps for his National Service and his cousin, Mrs Helen Stein, taught at the District Infants’ School and later in Sittingbourne. Helen, who died in 2011, served as church organist for 50 years, first at St Saviour’s tin church and then at Brents and Davington.
Queuing in the spring sun Anne Salmon
A first memory of Faversham in the time of Covid-19: a warmish, dry spring morning, a queue along Bank Street outside Payden’s pharmacy with staff asking customers what they are there for and then bringing out their prescriptions with the staff wearing masks.
Then, standing in a queue spaced at two metres along Market Street, with very few people walking by, waiting to go in with no more than two allowed in at a time to Nationwide. At the same time at an extended right angle, a queue spaced at two metres across the Market Place towards the Guildhall in front of Natwest. Vans and cars, parked outside shops but not very many. Above, a yellow town council flag on the guildhall at half mast in memory of Bryan Mulhern, a former Mayor of Faversham and Swale.
Covid and community Harold Goodwin
When I finished my PhD research at Manchester in 1976 there were few jobs available in adult education, and there are of course fewer still now. That’s how I ended up in Kent.
Born in Coventry, I went to university in York and then Manchester and became a committed northerner – I valued the sense of community which contrasted sharply with my experience as a child. I was dismayed when I had to move to the Home Counties. I found a house-share in Ashford and my prejudices were confirmed. I carried on looking for jobs, hoping to escape.
With a couple of months, I was asked to go to Faversham to meet Jack Harris, who then chaired the Faversham branch of the Workers’ Educational Association. The branch was floundering. I met Jack at his home in Bramblehill Road, and almost immediately he suggested that we should go to the Sun Inn.
He introduced me to the landlord as an old friend and demanded, nicely, that I be treated as a local. Jack had influence. One beer followed another and I slept on Jack’s sofa. Not sober enough to drive back to Ashford, I walked around the town and like so many of you decided to stay. I vividly remember standing by the traffic lights and thinking I’d like to die here – not imminently, but in Faversham. I moved into Sommerville Close and I’ve lived in three houses within the same half square mile ever since.
I was employed in Leeds and Manchester, northern cities I enjoy, but I was never tempted to leave Faversham. Faversham has much in common with northern communities. I am reliably informed that Faversham has a large surfeit of volunteers who have registered to help during the Covid-19 crisis – so many that volunteers have been phoning to complain that they have not been asked to do anything.
Early last month I was struck down with fever and the phlegm-less cough. On 12 March I decided to self-isolate, suspecting that I had Covid-19, but in the absence of testing, I can’t be certain. I have worked from home for 40 years and have a well-equipped and well-connected office. But the lockdown is tough, and those shielding have 12 weeks at least of this.
I am very aware that the closure of the Fleur has come at a high social cost for many for our volunteers. The Faversham Society board and the Planning and Environment committees remain active, and our governance is now virtual.
This is a time to put health, family, friends and community at the top of our agendas. But we must too begin to think about how we tackle those important major issues which will return to the fore after this pandemic passes. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has confirmed that a decision on Cleve Hill will be made on schedule by 28 May. Our campaign has moved online. Please do not delay, sign the petition and write objecting to the secretary, Alok Sharma, and encourage everyone you know to do the same. This is a national issue, not just a Faversham one.
From the Faversham Eye 25th April 2020
Here in Faversham, we are luckier than most. There are far worse places to sit out a lockdown. Ours is – at least on the surface – a very English apocalypse. The sun is shining, the sky is clear, furloughed young dads push strollers and the empty roads are one long peloton of carbon fibre and lycra.
The weekly shop may have taken a turn for the weird but thanks to those still turning up for work in pharmacies, post offices and supermarkets or delivering our letters, parcels or meals, for most of us the new normal still bears a comforting superficial resemblance to the old one. But what makes us really fortunate is our community spirit. It's what makes Faversham special. As soon as the crisis hit, mutual aid groups sprang up, volunteers came forward and foodbank donations went up. Most people's natural instinct was to do anything possible to help. With so much to be grateful for, it would be easy to forget the hidden horror faced by our frontline doctors nurses and carers every day they report for work. original
This is by way of a public service announcement. Some of us miss going to the pub or dining out. It’s a small price to pay, though, for keeping safe and risking the spread of infection.
However, some of us may fancy a treat during lockdown. Here’s a list – supplied by the Swale branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) – of establishments providing takeaway food and drink.
The Elephant Pub in The Mall. Takeaway service £6 for two pints, plus 50p if you need a container. Small delivery charge to cover fuel. Call 07976 762114 to place orders. Cash payment only.
Mad Cat brewery Peter Meaney is offering a drive-by pick-up service from the brewery at Brogdale for minikegs and bottles. It also has a delivery service. Call 01795 597743 or 07960 263615 or email email@example.com.
Hopdaemon brewery This online shop operates Monday to Friday and you can order online on www.hopdaemon.co.uk. Delivery is available to the Faversham area.
Wantsum brewery Tony Hayes is doing deliveries. Text him on 07762 301364.
Steven and Christina Georgiou Fresh food delivery service from enterprising Swale branch members. Home-cooked and delivered to your door. Text Steven on 07523 915976 to find out what and when.
Bull Inn Pub in Tanners Street. Open from 3pm to 6pm “for all your pub needs as well as fresh fruit and veg”. Served from hatch between the two bar doors. Contact 01795 534740 or via Facebook.
Four Horseshoes Pub in Graveney. Offers delivery of meals and drinks. Prefer card payment on the phone when ordering. Contact 01795 538143 or via Facebook.
Three Mariners Pub in Oare offers full meal service for delivery or collection. Also vegetables, fruit milk, eggs, home-baked bread, and drinks. Contact 01795 533633 or via Facebook or thethreemarinersoare.co.uk.
Stop press: Furlongs in Preston Street will also be serving beer as an off-licence from 3pm to 6pm starting 15 April. Burning Sky Plateau and Goacher’s Gold Star are on the menu. Take you own containers if you can.