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An unveiling

February 6

Kent’s Lord Lieutenant, Viscount De L’Isle visited the village of River outside Dover today to unveil a bicentenary plaque at Crabble Corn Mill. The Mill is the finest surviving example of an early 19th century merchant watermill in Europe, and it’s a Listed Building of National Importance having a grade II star.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuilt in 1812, on the site of a much earlier one, the Mill used to be managed by Dover District Council, but when major repairs became necessary in the mid 1980s, they decided it was too costly a project. The building stood for years in a state of near collapse, supported by scaffolding and having failed to interest the National Trust, the council decided to apply for permission to demolish it.

But in 1987, a group was set up by many local people and tradesmen to save the Mill. The resulting Trust is an independent chairty whose sole responsibility is to own the historic watermill and preserve it for posterity. The Reid family are a central part of this, Harry Reid being the Trust’s chairman, his wife Pat running the cafe and tearooms, and son Anthony, the Mill’s manager.

After the speeches made by Harry Reid and the Viscount De L’Isle, the unveiling of the very smart blue plaque took place accompanied by the quacking of ducks and clicking of press camera shutters.

In attendance at the ceremony were local dignitaries including Sue Nicholas – the Chairman of Dover District Council, Pauline Beresford – River’s District Councillor, Derek Leach – the Chairman of River Parish Council, and many Mill trustees and volunteers, whose work, given for free, along with workers from the Community Payback scheme, maintains the building. Disappointingly, Charlie Elphicke, Dover’s Conservative MP, had been invited, with no response.

As for the future, the Mill cottages, bought in 1995, aided by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, still need considerable refurbishment, but two spaces are now used as Mill shops, providing a small additional income. More urgent, is the repair of the waterwheel itself, which lost some blades in a mishap towards the end of 2012.

The Mill runs an annual beer festival in May, a cider festival in October, and a big Christmas event. In addition, quiz nights, folk music nights and OAP lunches are held every month. Amazingly however, few of River’s current 4,000-plus residents have visited, or support this important building in their midst.



Insomnia, pottery and a gin palace

February 5

I couldn’t sleep. Something was on my mind, but nothing particular was on my mind – images were random and passing. I even tried visualising sheep jumping hurdles in order to count them.

Obviously I sleep eventually, as we are woken by a tap on the door. The postman with a parcel. By the time I’ve descended the stairs and opened the door, he is in his van and driving away, leaving a card.

I take the dog and walk into town. A bright day, but with chill winds. The parcel, when I get it home, turns out to be a little pottery frog I’ve bought on eBay. It’s by a 1970s Mexican potter called Carlos Villanueve (Charlie Newton – in translation, I guess), whose work I would like to collect.

Dinner on our friends’ boat in Ramsgate Harbour.  It’s all walnut and stainless steel, cream leather – and I feel a little astonished we have friends with this level of luxury. The lights around the harbour glow in arches, and the masts of yachts clang like Tibetan monastery bells.


A hunch it was him

February 4

The news is full of stories about gay marriage. There are so many narrow-minded people in ‘power’. There’s nothing wrong in gay couples getting married and it could be more sincere than a lot of heterosexual marriages, which are often made for money, security, escape from home or country. Some men buy brides as no more than domestic slaves. That’s okay is it? I’ve known some truly committed gay couples, who have been absolutely charming to be with – the kind where you bask in the glow of the love and good companionship they give one another.

Meanwhile Richard III’s remains are confirmed. They run stories about his fatal wounds, sounding sympathetic. Unpleasantly, there is evidence of a dagger being thrust up his anus – just like Muammar al-Gaddafi then – not a lot changes in the brutal human heart.

There’s to be a presentation at Crabble Corn Mill on Wednesday. I’ve been helping to clean and tidy it in preparation. One other volunteer is particularly hostile towards me. My dog knows, and barks at him.



February 3

An early start before the sun is fully risen, my usual giant bowl of coffee, and I’m into the car and heading to a boot fair. This one, just outside Canterbury is on hardstanding, so no mud.

I gravitate to the jumble of boxes that signify a house clearance – so none of those pieces stuck in an endless trade loop, passing from hand to dealer’s hand, rising each time in price.

Along with the excitement I always feel (treasure hunting) I’m aware of a dichotomy – that the items I rummage through were the property of someone who has passed away. So I try to be respectful, but need to elbow with speed and aggression, others like me, looking for that marvel amongst the mundane.

I stand back and see them briefly as scavengers. And we are, just as creatures in nature pick over carrion remains to benefit their survival, so do we, except our survival, complicated species that we are, has become all about material things.

I come away in triumph, finding a blue and white Royal Doulton Norfolk cheese dish, and beautiful pastel 19th century plate by Bloor Derby. It has a wading bird in the centre and rim decorated with flowering shamrocks. Next stop eBay.


St Columba’s ruin

February 2

In the late 1800s “a large and handsome” church was built at the bottom of Dover High Street, not far from the Town Hall. Its tower, rising to a height of 80 feet, was “a striking feature”, and the whole “an ornament to the town”. When first opened on 7 September 1904, it became a United Reformed Church dedicated to St Columba, revered as a warrior saint, and often invoked for victory in battle.

As well as being a place of worship, St Columba’s was also a focus for the community, and for many years used as a drop-in centre for asylum seekers and refugees in Dover. Work was progressing to convert the church into flats but, sadly, on 22 September 2007, the building caught fire and was severely damaged. Only the ragstone shell has remained these 7 years, like an open wound on the High Street.

Yesterday, as I walked into town, I saw surveyors, yellow-jacketed against the rain, with theodolites, picking their way carefully over rubble. A hunk of rough wood blocking the entrance to the church had been pulled open revealing its fallen, charred remains. I crossed the road and asked what they were doing. They said they were seeing what could be done with the old building. When I asked for who, the surveyor said ‘for a client’ – he wasn’t permitted to tell me more than that.

I spent today in the shop, rubbing down wood-filler on the front door while it was quiet. At home I cook chilli-con-carni, and after recording the Dover Community Radio Sunday news, settle for a quiet evening.


Politics and ping-pong

February 1

After meeting Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, yesterday when he visited Dover, many thoughts I have about the town began to crystalise. But more than regeneration, employment, education – all the usual concerns and subjects, I started thinking how disconnected our whole system of government is between local and Parliament.  They should do away with parties and just have MPs. Having general elections every four years is actually counter-productive. Too many projects that the outgoing party have begun get rubbished and all the money spent on them wasted, as the incoming party wipe the slate and start again. There’s no continuity.

Meanwhile, I dreamt of being in a modern detached house on a steep bank. A huge torrent of muddy water came, causing a landslide, taking the house with it. I sat in the front window with others as we were swept down and along the road with other houses.

Later, I rather enjoyed walking the dog in the pouring rain, safe under a big golfing umbrella. In magpie mood, I brought home a heart-shaped piece of chalk, and a large piece of heavy bark, washed up at the base of a waterfall.


Little earthquakes

January 31

The shadow chancellor visited today. I am seated next to him and ask what he can do for our poor war-scarred and disheveled town. His eyes are blue-grey and very direct. He listens carefully and answers as politicians do, but seems interested. The device I use for interviews shows a jagged graph, like seismic waves, but nothing said today will shake the earth.



January 30

All night the wind harassed the roofs and treetops, rearranging anything it could. Ferries in the Channel hastened to safe-harbour; lifeboatmen and coastguards balanced on the edge of high-alert.  I dreamt of being lost in concrete stairwells – a university perhaps – looking for dorms, but finding doors to shopping malls, car-parks, or hospital wards – or locked. We oversleep, woken by the gentle insistence of the dog.  Downstairs, I open the curtains. The sharp white sun, low in its streaked sky, reveals dusty windows and other evidence of neglect.



January 29

Tuesdays is deadline day for my newspaper column.  I write about forthcoming village events, local issues etc. Today I forgot to tell the story about the barefoot woman in the park who I saw in the water trying to catch a swan. The parkkeeper left a ramp overnight for it, to no avail. The swan was the same one I saw last week on land with others in the snow.  A shelduck was sitting on its head bullying it.  The keeper and I looked on as the woman cornered and caught the swan. She passed it up the steep bricked bank onto the paving.  It waddled off and joined some others nearby plucking at the grass. I said her feet must be freezing. She said she couldn’t feel them anyway – she had MS.


Green church

January 29

Morning-song.  The chirping choir, serenade, trill and warble of it all. They raise an hallelujah, a song of praise.  The still bare trees show their architecture and reach into the baby-blue.  In the distance is the sound of traffic, and somewhere a chainsaw wails, but I shut it out. The snow has gone – ground saturated and lake overflows its banks, but on the woodland slopes, snowdrops show their buds, and catkins dance.  Today, being pagan would make absolute sense.


Sunday roast

January 27

Chicken and tatties in the oven.  The aroma of Sundays – roasting meat, garlic and herbs, leaving an expectation for apple pie.



January 26

It took me a while to find keys to the patio doors. They hadn’t been opened for a long while and were home to hiding spiders and dusty webs. On this icy day, I stepped through into full sunshine heating the flagstones.  The rotting sills began to dry.  I scraped off the old paint and brushed on a bright-white. At the end of the garden the brown vegetable patch was near waking, dreaming of sweetpeas, butterflies and fruit.



January 25

Ninety eight percent of cells in the human body are replaced in a ten year cycle.  Hardly any of my skin or heart is the same skin or heart I had ten years ago.  Yet it retains old characteristics – a birthmark here, a scar there.  Some percent of the time, I rankle against my marriage, am irritated by the sound of him chewing his food, his tugging at the duvet, or the way he leaves his clothes.  So when he’s away, I revel in the solitude.  A tidy house, a whole bed to sprawl in – but strange the relief I feel when his key turns in the door.


Bricks for bridges

January 24

Full of energy, good will and fresh ideas, it’s frustrating to meet other people’s brick walls of negativity. But no type of metaphorical sledgehammer will change these attitudes. Such a hotchpotch of emotions make people that way:  change, losing control, jealousy, stubbornness, laziness – most of it is fear.

‘I come in peace,’ I say.



January 23

The pavements one side of the street have a boiled sugar-like crust of ice. On the other it has gone. The frying pan has given up being non-stick, four curtain hooks have broken, and the door handle to the sitting room is stuck open. Two avocado pears are ripening in the vegetable basket and the white azalea on the dining table struggles for life. I have bought a stylish (old) anglepoise lamp. It puts things in a new light.


Widows and windows

January 22

I passed several people in the High Street, some young, some old, and could not guess who it was with the ganja smoke waft.  Muddled thoughts – I have been painting window frames this morning – the sashes reminding me of my old house.  I listen to the story of the woman who chained herself to a tree to prevent it being felled.  At the parish council meeting they discuss the problem of a lonely swan on the Mill pond, her mate killed by a passing car.



January 21

Sometimes a day fails before it has begun. Everything is blunt and numb. Yesterday the sky fell in endless snow and dressed it like a bride. It made it Narnia-bright, mysterious and new, but today it hampers in the things I want to do.



January 20

The crisscross pattern in a footprint, compressed tracks of sleds, whoops and squeals, the barking of dogs, burdened branches, travel arrested – all this, yet undeterred, the smooth green blades of hyacinth pushing through.



January 19

He throws the remote at me and says I’m nasty because I want to see the end of the programme I’ve been watching.  It will eat into the first five minutes of football starting on the other side.  He takes the dog out for a walk. Without watching the end of the programme, I turn off the TV, and feeling thoroughly nasty, take myself to bed early.


Duvet day

January 18

Severe weather warnings.  Danger in degrees.  Strange movements in the upper stratosphere.  Some days the only thing to do is fold one’s legs onto the sofa, shut out reports, those different images all the same, forecasts of worse to come, and settle down with an old movie.