Fifteen miles from nowhere, we saw a faded sign for ‘Fish Shack’. We followed a road to the middle of the beach desert until we reached a decaying old boat that was almost as big as a whale. Yes, and the B52’s track was playing in my head…
Parking the car on the uneven tarmac, we hobbled over the pebbles to the shack. Luckily, I found a table overlooking abandoned boats and Dungeness Power Station. Optimistic that my husband had reserved a love shack to celebrate two decades of marriage, I congratulated him on this romantic setting. Alas, always thinking of his stomach, the Fish Shack was the destination.
Expecting greasy fish and chips, I was handed plaice and salad with a large cup of builder’s tea. The food was absolutely delicious! The plaice, caught only hours earlier, was cooked in olive oil on a hot plate. The fresh salad had an olive oil and lemon dressing. It was served in a small cardboard box, but they will probably steal this idea on the Great British Menu. And builder’s tea could be the new Pinot Noir. I must confess that I declined the bread roll, but understood that it was a nod to the fishermen who eat this food.
Seizing the moment, we decided to go for a walk on the beach. We were told it was fine to walk on the beach if we didn’t touch the ‘fishing tackle’!! Forget visiting a maritime museum, there were artefacts on the beach such as rusty anchors and abandoned nets. These savvy people are obviously protecting the objects d’art to prevent art galleries and Michelin starred restaurants from displaying them in their gaffs. The food and the setting were perfect: The Fish Shack is indeed a funky little shack. Get yourselves off to the food getaway!
Who knows? Maybe this place will become either the Dungeness Modern Art Gallery or even the Derek Jarman Modern. An art gallery and restaurant without walls could be the new concept of the 21st century. Visit now as in the future you may need a credit card without a limit.
Derek Jarman, the artist and filmmaker, lived in Prospect Cottage, Dungeness.
Au revoir France and goodbye ferry. Hello, White Cliffs of Dover. Where are the bluebirds?
Have you guessed? We stayed in Blighty for our holidays. But I feared that we would miss the sunshine and the dégustation. A ‘Blightycation’ ahead of us, we visited: castles, gardens, castles, seaside towns, pubs and yet more castles.
Travelling the roads, in search of another castle, I spotted a brown sign for a vineyard. Barnsole Vineyard was perfectly situated in a picturesque Kentish village. The entrance to the bijou vineyard took us straight to the vines. Alors! We were en France. We were invited to sit on a terrace surrounded by flowers. My mind wondered back to those many, many heady days of wine tasting en France. I wanted to say, ‘Bonjour. Dégustation s’il vous plait?’ But my schoolgirl French wasn’t required. The only headache that threatened was from the wine, rather than trying to dredge up my language skills.
The proprietor gave us a warm welcome. She was passionate about the vineyard and keen to point out that ‘nature throws its challenges’ at the winemaking process. This vineyard oversees the whole process from the grape to your glass. Despite the hard work, the proprietors were relaxed. They had learned the art from the previous Polish owners. On the day that we visited, their friends were bottling the sparkling wine. I felt like I had walked into a scene of the many romance novels that I have read. However, I was concerned that the lovely proprietor was spitting out the wine onto the grass. I didn’t like to comment at the time!
We were welcomed with a tray full of bottles to taste. No complaints were heard from me as I wasn’t driving. The only hint of Blighty was the cool breeze that threatened to bring a few drops of rain.
The wine was delicious! We enjoyed the fresh citrus flavours of the white and another had a slightly floral taste. The red wine tasted of berries. My tasting senses were working! According to the experts the Red Reserve 2013 had ‘redcurrants and sense of delicious spice’ while the Recheinsteiner was ‘complex with a great body’: I don’t remember him but I was right about the berries. We also bought some sparkling English wine for Christmas. I did feel a warm glow from the effects of the wine tasting. However, I could walk in a straight line to the car. Feel free to congratulate me on this because I concentrated with all my might! Apparently, I am lined up for an award.
Nodding off on the journey home, I did see the bluebirds. This Francophile may have been converted. We will all be delighting in ‘Blightycations’ very soon – just you wait and see. Meanwhile, I am thinking of organising a pre-Christmas wine tasting celebration. Would you care to join me?
Broadway village, in the Cotswolds, is constructed of honey coloured stone.
Dripping with charm, this village always makes my heart glow and coaxes me to find souvenirs for the senses – and not the bric-a-brac variety.
Broadway Delicatessen and Broadway Wine Company are always essential destinations on our culinary compass. Broadway Wine Company is a boutique wine shop. The wines are displayed like precious books and each bottle has a blurb. Every label tells a story, and the wine merchant invites you into the narrative. Then like a conductor, he throws his arms around until he finds the right melody of flavour for you.
Drunk with enthusiasm, his mind travels to the various wine regions. His words ramble down the dusty tracks to the vineyards, until you reach some possible destinations for your wine choice. Oozing knowledge, he tells you where and how the wine is produced. Listening to your preferences, he starts ‘winestorming’ as he searches for the correct notes of flavour. Speaking, without pretention and without pausing, he finds the perfect match for your taste.
On our last pilgrimage, the wine evangelist helped us to select a trio of wines from the Old World and New World. We paired the Sidewood Reserve from the Adelaide Hills with some Gloucester Old Spot Sausages, served with Worcester apple sauce. Low and behold, it was a perfect match!
This novel awoke my social conscience and forced me to place farthings in my handbag for the ‘poor souls’ that suffer in this novel. Woe betide anyone that doesn’t have tissues ready when they read this book.
This is a story of three generations of good, ‘soft-hearted’ and compassionate people with a social conscience and an increasing sense of rebellion. This book roused the ghosts of my ancestors and took me to the heart of the world that they would have inhabited.
From the outset, I was drawn into this world and the ‘hardship’. A child tries to say a final farewell to his mother and ‘each tap’ of the coffin ‘pierced William’s heart’ and my own. The love radiating from the poor people immediately arouses compassion and sadness.
Initially, I hated the threat that the aunt posed to the loving family unit. But I received an education in opportunity through William’s eyes. It warmed my heart when William delighted in his full belly and compared Aunty Betsy’s Christmas feast to the meagre ‘turnip and potato soup’ that he was accustomed to.
It is impossible not to admire Aunty Besty’s tenacity in a gentleman’s world; this former maid uses her opportunities wisely to educate her nephew. The hopelessness of the times is reinforced in the stark setting:
‘Cherry blossoms fell, unopened and desolate, onto the frozen ground while Betsy listened for birdsong and found it sparse and desultory.’
The cold weather collides with the delicate beauty to reinforce the desolation. Furthermore, the ‘blackening sky’ is like an omen and I worried about the characters’ proximity to poverty.
The contrast between William and his brother, who was in the poverty trap, reinforces the difference that money and opportunity presented. It is easy to understand how the grip of demon drink took hold as a means of escape while religion provided a spiritual compass and ‘hope of a better life’. It is intriguing to observe how William’s son, John, applies his education and opportunity against the backdrop of a changing world.
This book is an intelligent study of the harsh conditions of the times. One is shocked, educated and made to feel compassion like the central characters. I tasted ‘the grit and grime’ of the novel from the safety of my armchair, and felt the warmth of ‘the straightforward good folk with no pretentions or guile’. Yet, I did want to get on my soap box and rant on behalf of my ancestors who would have struggled as ‘wealth and poverty oozed through the smoke from the chimneys.’ I wanted to call on Sir Titus Salt for help!
Enough of my ranting! I suggest that you read the book and let Betsy, William and John guide you through the hard times. This is a powerful narrative combined with an interpretation of the historical context: the reader learns about the making of the working class. Rather than simply observing the appalling circumstances, the reader learns why people behaved in the way that they did. Furthermore, the novel will help you to reflect on the 21st century.
It is a sobering thought that 21% of people still live in poverty today. Like Betsy, William and John, can we understand and help those in need rather than judging? Where would we be today if everyone had ignored the injustice?
Broadstairs was the fifth seaside town we had visited on a glorious, Arctic summer’s day. Nostalgia fatigue was attacking my senses beside the seaside, and I didn’t have any ‘Great Expectations’.
A sickly scent of palm oil signalled the end of lunchtime. Ignoring the proud white villas, I noticed the litter on the beach. I snubbed another ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ presenting the British souvenirs from China. Branded eateries and coffee houses were shoehorned into the old buildings, and the walls seemed to be bulging with despair.
I couldn’t find any inspiration. The stark, white house in front of me was as blank as my mind. A tourist, wearing shorts and flipflops, pushed past me. An optimistic tourist was buying a sunhat. My husband was pointing to another plaque above a door. I considered retrieving my thermal gear from the car.
The plaque was attached to the indistinct Royal Albion Hotel. The sooty coloured plaque indicated that Dickens had lived there and written part of ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ during his time there. Now, I marvelled at the view that would have inspired him. The Royal Albion Hotel had sheltered ‘Our Mutual Friend’. Turning to my phone, I googled information about Dickens in Broadstairs. My twenty first century phone found a gateway into the mind of the nineteenth century Dickens who spoke to me of:
‘prowling about the rooms, sitting down, getting up, stirring the fire, looking out of the window, teasing my hair, sitting to write, writing nothing, writing something and tearing it up.’
Dickens teased those ‘Hard Times’ faced by authors into the long sentence, each thought slamming into another comma, then another comma and another. What the Dickens? If the master suffered writer’s block then it must be fine.
On returning home, I ‘lit the fire’,’ teased my hair’ and began to write. The ink bottle remained unopened as I tapped on the keyboard. I pressed delete, delete, delete and rejoiced that there will be some ‘Hard Times’ before the story flows. Indeed, Dickens knew that:
Hungry for more inspiration from Dickens. I searched for the places he had stayed in I found out that Dickens had also stayed in Folkestone. Dickens stayed at Albion Villas, Folkestone and wrote part of ‘Little Dorrit’ in the house. He also used to frequent The British Lion.
What the Dickens? We used to live on The Leas, in Folkestone, and I had never known about the connection. My travels revealed that:
‘Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight when it comes.’
It was a pleasure to welcome, historical novelist, Rosemary Noble to Wales. We met at Newport Station. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day but that was soon forgotten as we chatted about her novel, Ranter’s Wharf and retraced the Chartists’ footsteps as we walked down Stow Hill. We went to visit the site where the Chartists were believed to have been held captive. Unfortunately, the original building has been demolished but the whispers of struggle can still be felt in the town.
Finally, we visited a fish and chip shop before I drove Rosemary to the Chat Room. There is a good fish and chip shop in Newport that honours the northern tradition of cooking in beef fat. Back at the Chat Room, we ate fish and chips and talked about Grimsby – the setting of the novel.
Jessie: Your novel is well-researched and rich with historical references. You have developed strong characters that one cannot fail to empathise with. I can rant on and on about the merits of your book as I did in my review. Can you summarise the book in a few words?
Rosemary: It’s a moving family saga about love, loss and betrayal set in 19th century England. It follows three generations as they attempt to find a way to live honourably in tumultuous times.
Jessie: Your novel has been a very popular download on Kindle. I have noticed an impressive number of reviews. Can you retrieve some reviews that capture the essence of your book? Always modest, Rosemary hesitated a little until I insisted that we read the reviews.
Rosemary: Maybe like any author, I dread the first reviews because you wonder if anyone will get what you are trying to do, especially when the subject matter is unusual. But I have been overwhelmed with the kind words people have written. For example:
“The wonderful characterisations in this novel make light of a challenging theme and transport the reader through the harsh times of Victorian Lincolnshire in a roller-coaster of emotions A little masterpiece of its genre” John Broughton – May 26 2017
“The joy of this book is that it is absolutely gripping. Because of the sympathy with which the characters are portrayed, you find yourself really caring about what happens to William – adopted as a bewildered child by his rich maiden aunt – and his heirs who carry on the fight for social justice into the next generation.” Perdisima May – 15th 2017
“Delightful and informative. An intriguing story with a wonderful insight of the times.” Amazon Customer – April 15th 2017
Jessie: Can you tempt the reader with an extract from the novel?
Rosemary: “Her passionate nature freed itself from the reserve she showed the world, allowing her whole body to respond with joy to his smiles, with misery to his tears and a fierce desire to protect him.”
Jessie: How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?
Rosemary: In some ways, relieved because it was a hard story to write. It’s based on my 3x great grandfather who was an ordinary farmer until he was converted. I wanted the book to be engrossing and relevant but I had to keep the reader interested while dealing with the difficult subjects of poverty, politics and religion. Religion has featured strongly in all three of my books only because it was so important in the 19th century but it is not my natural element. My next book set in the 20th century will not be influenced by religion but will have its own problems for me to overcome as a writer and storyteller.
I always miss the characters in my books. As an author, they inhabit my mind constantly. Because the subject has relevance for today with Brexit and the Trump vote, I wonder what my characters would have felt and how they would react. I can hear William saying to his son,’ education is key’ and his son and nephew replying, ‘No, every man should have a vote if they contribute to the wealth of the country.’ I found myself quite conflicted when writing the final chapters.
Jessie: Who would you like to read your book and why? This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family.
Rosemary: People like my hairdresser’s receptionist who said to me ‘your book makes me realise I should always use my vote.’
If I can move someone sufficiently to learn how hard life used to be and then become more active in demanding the voice of the poor and dispossessed are heard today, then I will be happy. I am no Dickens or Hardy but am conscious of the impact they had on 19th century society. Our current times are troubling and I see the hard-fought-for Welfare State crumbling through cut-backs. Let’s not go back to those times, please.
If there was one famous person I wish would read my books it would be the director, Ken Loach. I am in awe of his work such as Cathy Comes Home and I Daniel, Blake.
Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?
Rosemary: For a dose of realism and compassion. Allow yourself to be transported to a time where life was a struggle not just in a material way but also in a spiritual and political way. I want to know how you would react to ‘the undeserving poor’. Would you turn your back, cloak yourself in respectability or would you act to mitigate the poverty around you?
Jessie: What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
Rosemary: A solitary gull glides and swoops in the azure sky below a trio of swifts cavorting and darting as though playing tag but in the far distance a black speck appears, a harbinger of death.
This is a note for my next book, working title, Sadie, which will link all my books together.
Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an independent author?
Rosemary: Getting noticed which means learning about marketing on social media. The key for me is the relationships you forge with other indie’ writers. In any walk of life, you learn so much from other people and you’re stronger together in a team. In our case, a virtual team of authors from around the world as well as close to home.
What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
Rosemary: Learn the craft but write the book you want to write. Stay true to yourself. I am in the lucky position that I don’t need to earn my living from writing which frees me to write what I want.
Rosemary is driven to give a voice to our ancestors, to those who never had a voice in real life. “I like to pose questions, encouraging readers to think for themselves, ‘what would I do in that situation, how would I cope’? The stories history sends us, have relevance for today and I like to tap into that because I am quite a political person though it’s only this year that I joined a political party.”
Rosemary is passionate about the messages that she conveys through her novels. Ranter’s Wharf did make me think about the way that my own ancestors must have struggled. Rosemary’s strong characters evoke empathy in the reader as she transports us to their world and their struggles. One only has to open a newspaper to see that poverty has not disappeared and neither has prejudice. I do worry about the Welfare State and hope that politicians will listen to their conscience. We must all continue to vote!