The curse of Grey Dolphin

October 13 2020 – Minster Abbey, Minster, Isle of Sheppey, Kent.

“Make much of your steed. He has saved your life but he shall yet be the means of you losing it.”

Cursed the witch upon the head of Sir Robert De Shurland as he rode his favourite horse, Grey Dolphin, ashore at Scapgate on the Isle of Sheppey, after being pardoned by King Edward I for the killing of a priest at nearby Minster Abbey. In an effort to thwart the curse, Sir Robert drew his sword, thrusting it deep into the neck of Grey Dolphin, killing the horse immediately. He left the corpse to rot where it lay on the beach.

Three years later, while walking on the beach, Sir Robert came across the sun, wind and sea-bleached skull of Grey Dolphin, half sticking out in the sand. In a fit of grief-filled anger he kicked the partially exposed skull, badly breaking a toe in the process. A blood infection caused by unhealed bone fragments took his life not long after. The witch’s curse was fulfilled…

As I was driving from Sheerness to Shellness I spotted a sign for Minster Abbey. I had not heard of it before so a visit was not on the plan, as I was doing a ruin-based road trip. I love an abbey it so seemed remiss to not take the short detour to the highest point on Sheppey. It is not that high. There has been an abbey on this hill in Minster in some form or other since 664.

There is not much left of any of the various abbey structures that preceded King Henry VIII ordering the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541, but it is a lovely and quite space; and right next to the working men’s’ club. The museum was closed so I took a walk around the outside instead.

The buildings have been renovated beautifully and are in wonderful condition. They look fabulous in this weak autumn afternoon sunlight.

I am guessing the year on this stone reads 1826, though it could read 1226. Who knows, who cares? Whatever. I love how one number has been worn by footsteps so much more than others, yet it is a number in the middle. Why?

I was mainly interested in the grave stones, which have all been moved to the perimeter, lined up in some order or other. I wonder what has happened to the bodies that these stones marked? Are they still where they were buried, broken down into dirt by time and nature, or have they been dug up and relocated with or without their head stone. Are the curses of old still placed upon those long passed?

Why a skull? Was this a plague grave or do they mark the burned or drowned remains of a witch buried here in this consecrated ground? A warning to those who came after to not disturb this ground.

I could not make out from the writing as it has faded too much, if these two joined in death by the vines were joined in life by other ties.

I wasn’t here long, and would like to go back and visit the museum which was closed on this autumn Wednesday. Apparently there is a great view from the roof, and that is rumoured to be in memory of a horse named Grey Dolphin.

|———————-|

As usual, as I started writing this post I researched the building and location to at least get some of the historical facts right. Normally I rely on Wikipedia as an (un)reliable source of information, though this abbey appears to be so insignificant that no one has bothered to create an entry for it.

There is a very detailed history page on the abbey website, and for such a small place it has a fabulous and long history and it is worth reading.

http://www.minsterabbey.org.uk/3.html

I also carry an immense burden of guilt as my cousin Roger, lives on Sheppey and I know he works with the churches on the island. In my research I saw that he is the treasurer of the abbey. I have not been in contact with him for quite some time. I am terribly negligent in contacting family, I keep meaning to be better, but…. well, there is always another excuse.

Shellness, Sheppey.

October 13 2020 – Shellness, Isle of Sheppey, Kent.

The Isle of Sheppey, yes, I went there. On purpose, and for no other reason than going there to see it. No one made me. I think that is somewhat unusual. I even went to its furthest south-eastern tip, probably as far from anywhere you can get in Kent, a county that rubs up against London on its western flank, so it is hardly remote.

This is day two of my isles of Kent road trip, and Shellness, at the fore mentioned south-eastern tip was the final location to visit before driving back to St Leonards. The attraction, a lone second world war bunker sitting on the beach, the final relic of fortification to see and photograph on this trip, the newest and only one built in the 20th century. Its purpose; to guard the entrance to The Swale, the river that makes the Isle of Sheppey an Isle.

It is an isolated place, people come here to fish, and possibly in these difficult and austere times, to live in campervans and other, less suitable vehicles. Away from people, problems and maybe those who represent the law.

Past the fishing spot, the public car park and the golf lies the settlement of Shellness. It is accessed by a rutted, pot-holed single lane road that could well be below sea level. A high seawall runs along one side and swampy fields the other. At the end of the road, next to the fenced off houses of Shellness lies the Swale National Nature Reserve.

Parking the car I donned my jacket and gumboots, (I am so glad these were in the boot of the car), and walked down towards the beach. It was blowy and not particularly warm, though the sky was bright and the light savage. I wasn’t here for birding or dog walking like the few others I saw early on this Wednesday afternoon. I wanted to see the old bunker which sat small, alone and forlorn in the distance.

This is a strange place, swampy, marshland, odd coloured foliage that I have not seen before, a long ditch dug, to protect the wall.

On the other side sit a few houses, old and new; gated, fenced and warning-signed away from you and I. Strange and unwelcoming.

I liked the old bunker, perhaps because unlike most of places I attempted to get to over the past two days I could actually get to it; or perhaps because it is just there, all alone, with nothing much around it. Brutalist in a completely different way to what is a beautiful, but possibly quite brutal environment. I would not want to be out here on a stormy night.

Walking around to the front I was pleasantly surprised to be confronted by a painting by the street artist ATM. I faintly recalled that he had painted this, possibly around 2013/14 when I stopped being interested in street art. It suited this environment perfectly.

More so than the rest of the spray painting.

As you would expect the interior of the bunker was a complete mess; smashed bottles, dozens of empty drink cans, an old mattress and signs of a long history of camp fires and parties. It was not out of place and sort of added to its alien and alienated beauty. The view out of the bunker over The Swale to Whitstable.

I did not stay long, I walked around took some photos of the bunker and with spirits lifted after a frustrating couple of days walked back to the car. I was looking forward to going home.

Ruin hunting.

October 12 2020 – Isle of Grain, Kent.

Holiday.
Day one of two.
Raining.

It was totally predictable to be honest; I take two weeks off work, and plan to go away with my camera for two of those 16 days. Firstly my main camera is broken, at least this time it is repairable, but it is in the shop for at least two more weeks. Secondly, the first full day of drizzle and rain of my two week break is day 11, the first of the two day road trip.

The Isle of Grain has fascinated me, admittedly in a fairly minor way for a while now, the main attraction being the Grain Tower Battery, a fort built in 1855 as part of the defence systems for the rivers Thames and Medway. The fort is about a hundred metres off-shore but is accessible at low tide, it does look pretty cool. In my pre-travel research I also discovered a lot of other forts and castles around the north Kent coast, so planned on a two day excursion to the area. Day one focusing on the Isle of Grain and the Thames estuary and day two the Isle of Sheppey and the River Medway.

But first, I had Oare Gunpowder Works in Faversham to visit. I liked it, just the sort of place that appeals to me, especially in this drizzle and gloom. Lots of overgrown brick work, quicky things, mould and bits broken off. There were a few other people there which was almost a shame as it would have been much better to have been there in complete peace and quiet, alone.

I was relying on Google Maps to guide me around the confusing mess of small roads in and around the Isle of Grain, though it just did not cope with there being a couple of closed roads. My first stop was to be Shornemead Fort. Was to be. Google Maps took me on a four mile loop to get around this closed road, just to put me back right here again. I saw two vans at least three times going in the opposite direction, to me obviously as confused and lost as I was. They were trying to escape, I was trying to get in.

Eventually I managed to get on to the single road that goes to the fort, only to find it fenced off where it appears to go under a railway track. OK. Plan B. Drive to Cliffe Fort and then walk back along the seafront. The road the Cliffe Fort was much easier to find, except it is a private road belonging to an aggregate company that seem to be digging most of this part of Kent. The Fort is on the edge of the Cliffe RSPB reserve and it appears to be a mile long walk to Cliffe Fort. It was raining and later than I wanted to be because of the traffic, the wet roads and the faffing while Google Maps drove me round in circles, plus I was getting hungry having not had lunch and it was now early afternoon.

Next stop. Slough Fort in Allhallows. In a positive turn of events I actually managed to get to the fort this time, sort of. It was closed off the public with a nice high barbed wire fence surrounding it and a locked gate barring access. I am not sure if it is actually open to the public on other days. Maybe the next stop….

The next stop was to be my last one for the day, The Grain Tower Battery, and I knew this would not be fenced off. It is in the sea.

I finally stopped at a convenience store in the town of Grain and grabbed a couple of sandwiches before driving off to find somewhere to park on the seafront as close to the fort as I could get. The worst of the rain had abated, a leaving a fine light drizzle.

There were some friendly horses in the field opposite where I parked my car, next to a stinking factory. I had no idea what they were making way out here but it did smell bad. Not horse bad, chemical bad.

I had timed things right and arrived as the tide was on its way out. The fort is about 100 metres off shore, and there is a clearly defined stone path out to it. Thankfully, that mud was very sticky and mid gumboot deep. I am glad I had the gumboots in the car.

I am not sure what the thing is on the tip of the Isle of Sheppey on other side of the River Medway, though I do attempt to get closer to it tomorrow.

Reaching the fort I soon realised that I would not be going to try to get up and in. There is a rickety old ladder, tied on and together with bits of rope. If I had been with someone else I would have gone in, but I was not prepared to take the risk on my own. One slip, and well when the tide came back in I could be in serious trouble. Next time.

I took a walk around the outside and took a few photos,

then headed back to shore, and the safety of firm land.

I walked along the sea front a bit as I had seen another interesting looking thing from the road, the roadside being heavily fenced off and very deeply buried in bramble. The sea-front side was surrounded by water as. I didn’t bother trying to get in.

I was really pleased to get to the Grain Tower Battery, it was the primary reason for the trip. However, it was a disappointing day, the weather and driving conditions were not fun, the bizarre directions I was given by Google Maps didn’t help with how I felt on the road. That most of my objectives were to be unattainable left me a bit disappointed. I was also a little unhappy with the quality of the photos I got on the small camera.

I stayed in a hotel near the M25. I wanted to spend some time finishing a first draft of the short story I have been working on for weeks, seemingly never getting the time or the right mood to write. Happily though, tonight it all came together. There is a way to go but the story is, I think, coherent and complete.

“Welcome to Kent’s finest”

October 13 2020 – Somewhere in Kent.

As I enter the narrow lane that runs from the A206 down towards the River Thames, not far from the southern footings of the Dartford Bridge and a busy M25 interchange I feel like I have stepped back in time to yesterday, or a version of a yesterday that could have taken place any time over the last 40 years.

The outlook changed in an instant from the sunny, bright and warm morning of a minute ago to the wet, cold and dingeyness of yesterday. The high hedge on the side of the lane completely blocking the morning sun, leaving the part repaired pot hole riddled surface wet and puddled. The scrubby field and uncut grass on the opposite side of the lane will fail to allow much of the afternoon light to penetrate and bring respite to the bleakness of this short wet country lane.

I hear what sounds like gunshots. A loud crack, quickly followed by a second, then complete silence as all around appears to stop to try and confirm what was just heard. Bang…. Bang… two further loud cracks. I stop the car, turn off the music and wind down the window. Did I really hear them? Were they really gunshots or just loud bangs from the nearby quarry? I wait a couple of minutes, then earing no more I wind the window back up, but do not turn the car stereo on, and then slowly continue my journey.

__________

This is the second of two weeks off work. I needed a break and with Covid still on the scene, and getting worse, the opportunity to go travelling somewhere was not really there, and while there are places to go it was just not going to be practical or that much fun with so many restrictions. I will mostly stay home during the break; finish a bunch of chores and some minor DIY, read and listen to music. Basically relax and unwind. Just what my mind and my body need.

I did, however, book a night away in a hotel so I could explore a bunch of ruins on the Isle of Grain and then the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. I wanted to (needed to?) do some photography to help clear my mind and I like doing photography on my own. I also wanted to spend some time away from distractions to finish the first draft of a short story I have been working on.

__________

At the end of the lane where the road takes a sharp turn back into the sun’s light and warmth I find a place to stop and park the car. Back in clear blue daylight and after reading a sign where I parked the car explaining what I just heard the gloom and doom is lifted. Relief. I can at least a look around without the fear of being shot.

I am here to visit the site of the abandoned Wells Fireworks Factory. The company was setup by Joseph Wells 1837 and remained under family ownership until the 1980s when cheap Chinese imports pretty much ruined the business and it was sold. The land is now owned by Greenwich University, and has been abandoned for a long time.

There is a large number of small buildings where the fireworks were made and stored, it looks intriguing and just the sort of place that appeals to my bleak tastes.

I was sort of under the impression that the site was pretty open and you could walk around and just the buildings themselves were fenced off, however there are large barriers around the outside, complete with the usual warning signs.

It is all very overgrown and getting around inside the fence would be tough going. On the road side of the fence there seemed to be a ditch under the brambles, nettle and what appeared to bamboo and I was not prepared to venture into that to get around the back of the site.

I abandoned my plans to enter the abandoned site and just took a couple of photos from inside the gate and along the roadside and then leave. I am not very brave, even less so on my own.

I had parked my car next to the wonky and open gate to an overgrown field, with a broken down house not that far in. I don’t think it is part of the fireworks factory.

As the gate was open I went in and had a quick look, regretting not putting on the gumboots in the boot of my car as the grass was long and wet.

I chose to go round the back which was the wrong choice as, like the fireworks site, there was ditch at the back and not wanting to linger in the field any longer than necessary I left, taking a couple of photos and my wet feet with me.

Human Gatherings, a photo exhibition.

October 17 2020 – Hastings.

A few weeks back I saw a call out on a local BookFace group for people to search through their photographic archive and look for images of human gatherings for an upcoming exhibition being organised by Photo Hastings. While Hastings and St Leonards-on-Sea have escaped Covid restrictions in any major way (so far) we are covered under the England wide ‘rule of 6’ guideline that attempts to ban any sized gathering. The idea of Human Gatherings is just a memory now, but a memory that should be remembered and celebrated, while we can.

We are now not that far away from a ninth month of some sort of lock down restriction, which has meant no gigs, or any other form of entertainment. Worse than that is the thought that things like this will happen in the UK before Christmas has long been erased from any sane persons mind. I cannot foresee the date when they will eventually happen either, it all seems such a mess.

This makes me extremely jealous of New Zealand, which, at the time of writing, has Covid very much under control and life is pretty much back to normal with gigs and all other events back on again. I hope it remains like that through summer and for when we eventually return, hopefully  later next year.

I trolled though some old gig photos and submitted four to the organisers, who selected one for the exhibition; a photo from a Dan Deacon gig in Auckland in 2009, back when I was doing regular gig photos for the website that can no longer be named.

The exhibition opened three weeks ago at the Priory Meadows shopping mall in Hastings, it is on the back wall of an empty shop and is open Friday-Sunday 14:00 to 16:30. It finishes this coming weekend.

Eleanor and I popped along to have a look, and for me to chat to the organiser, local photographer and activist, Amanda Jobson. I liked it, Amanda said it has attracted a lot of visitors and local interest. There are some great photos on the wall, from a bunch of different photographers, stretching back as far as the late 80s.

It was good to be part of something in Hastings and I hope it leads to me being involved in other Photo Hastings projects.

Back to the office. (Once, hopefully not again)

September Monday/Tuesday 28/29 2020 – London.

After a very long period of procrastination I finally got around to calling my doctor about an unevenly growing mole on my leg. I was surprised that even though Covid is gaining ground in the UK again I was very quickly offered an appointment at the dermatology clinic in Whipps Cross Hospital; a 30 minute walk from our place in Walthamstow. As an aside; it seems we are now both referring to St Leonards as home, and Walthamstow is now the place we visit, a complete reversal from five months ago.

As we were going to be in London for a couple of days I elected to spend a day in the office. I am working on a procurement project and have five response documents to read, totalling almost 100 pages. With so much to process my preference is to read and annotate paper. However, I was not wanting to use my own printer; plus my printer is slow enough that I suspect they would still be printing as I write this 10 days later. I also wanted to see how many colleagues had responded to the offer to go back to the office. I was also interested to see how quiet it is in the Westminster and Regents St areas.

Eleanor and I have been very good at maintaining some work disciplines throughout this Covid event, and the alarm still goes off at 6:35. Admittedly rather than leaping (stumbling) out of bed, we do have a coffee in bed before showers, breakfast and commuting to our workspaces in different rooms of the flat. As I was going to do a proper commute we were up early and I was on the Victoria Line at 7:15, a bit earlier than I would have been in normal times. This was my third journey on the tube since March, and the first in any form of rush hour. It was OK, 95% of passengers had masks on, and most of those had the mask on properly; except of course the person next to me. When we left Walthamstow Central the carriage was only this full, by the time we had got Kings Cross all seats were taken and people were standing, though nothing like ‘normal’. There were not a lot of white collar workers, and only two others left the station with me at Pimlico.

The roads around Marsham St where my office is located were very quiet, though the queue in the Pret by the office was too long to want to go in, so I went to Leon and picked up coffee and breakfast; doing my bit for the local economy. Most of the cafes here are part of large chains and I care little for them, though they do provide jobs and I was pleased to see the young woman who made coffee in Leon before lockdown was back making coffee again. I bought lunch from a small independent Italian cafe, their coffee is not too my taste. Much as I like independents, I like coffee more and I could not be bothered to walk to the very good NZ owned coffee shop up the road.

The office was really quiet, in our area of perhaps 100 desks, four people attended during the day, including me. Our director was there and I saw some of the senior civil servants and the permanent secretary, but very few of the junior staff were in. The earlier exhortation to get staff back in the office seems to be failing; though the message that week was only come in if you really want to. To be fair to my department, they have very much pushed the message that no-one should feel compelled to attend the office.

Nothing physically has been done to make the office Covid safe, the desk layout is the same and there are no screens; however lots of process changes have been made, signs everywhere, you have to book a desk, one person per pod, two people in the bathrooms and one in the kitchenette etc; there are a lot of cleaning staff present. There were minor frustrations; signs on the lift doors asking to use hand sanitizer before entering the lift, but no sanitizer by the lifts and wipe the printers before and after use; but no wipes nearby. Naturally I did not point these out, just moaned about them. I am British after all.

I was in to print documents, so naturally the aging printer fleet that was there when I left had been replaced, so I need to install new printer drivers, register with the new service and faff, faff, faff. An hour after arriving I finally had five documents printed. It was worth it though. The printers are nice, so much better than the old ones.

I spent about six hours in the office, it was quiet and I got stuff done but it was strange being there without workmates and the office bantz.

I chose to take the tube home from Oxford Circus so I get a bit of a walk through some of the key London tourist spots. I walked past Westminster Abbey,

Horse Guards Parade,

Trafalgar Square,

Piccadilly Circus,

and up Regent Street to Oxford Street and the tube station.

There were very few people about, less than I expected, though there were  a small number tourists shopping on Regent St, which was the busiest place I walked. If I wasn’t still in the work day I would have walked through Soho as well to check that out. The mid-afternoon ride home on the tube was a lot quieter than the rush hour journey in and if felt a lot more comfortable with less people. I had bought a couple of new masks specifically for today, with adjustable straps; what a difference it made. My old elastic strapped masks hurt my ears after a few minutes, these new ones are fabulous. I guess I will buy more. Shop, shop, shop. Save the economy.

I am glad I went in to the city, it was good to see what it was like and it was good to see how I felt about it. I was not comfortable at all and I am reasonably cavalier in my attitude towards our new way of living; compared to some anyway. I won’t be rushing back in, but at least I can say I tried for myself.

My appointment at the dermatology clinic was for 9:15 and naturally it was drizzling when I left, I chose to walk as I need the exercise and it is always a nightmare parking at hospitals; though there was loads of empty spaces when I arrived. The drizzle didn’t last long and I had a mostly dry walk; though it hammered it down when I was 100 metres from the clinic.

The good news is that my weirdly growing mole looks to be fine, and its behaviour was not anything the specialist was worried, they didn’t ask for a biopsy. So Yay.

Large parts of Whipps Cross Hospital are in a terrible state, fortunately not outpatients were I had just bee. Victorian buildings, like this closed nursing quarters, and abandoned workshops with asbestos warning signs and weeds growing through cracks in the walls and roof. Our glorious government (who have been in power for 10 years and have done diddly for the NHS) have announced that 40 new hospitals will be built, though one of those ‘new’ hospitals will be a complete renovation of Whipps. It needs it.

I drove us back to St Leonards-on-Sea after work. It was good to visit London, but even better to drive back home.