January 26th 2023 and our first away day of the year.
It was so cold I had the notion to stay local – Hastings could wait – so after pulling on two pairs of socks, and the rest of a wintry attire we set off for ~ Tunbridge Wells six miles south of our cottage.
When we set off for our jaunts I have to physically take my mind out of the inside of my head and slide it outside. I have to abandon introspection and look around me. The trees the dead badgers, the potholes and the colour of January. Grey with a smattering of icy sun nudging its way through the thousands and thousands of demolished trees. There’s a building frenzy around us. New homes that only those on six figure salaries can afford. Ancient woodland slashed by property developers who wouldn’t know an arsehole from a shaggy ink cap.
The slums of the future are being built on every spare inch of land. No mention of schools or sewage, not a nod towards gardens and hospitals. The shortsighted fuckers are lining their own pockets as squirrels and voles, dormice and ramblers run for cover.
The transition from what was to what is is brutal and inevitable. This must be what it felt like when railways cut through fields and navvies built the canals. Only now we should know better than to chuck people onto the scrap head whilst a minority of grasping fuckers take home the booty.
Everywhere is affected including good old Royal Tunny Wells.
In Tunbridge Wells we have a hill. On the right hand side, as you climb towards the Trinity Arts Centre, away from the Pantiles, there used to be bank of shops, including an electrical appliance outlet that was run by a chain smoker. Walking in to buy a kettle you walked out smelling of Rothmans and smoke. All the shops were closed to make way for a development that is now in it’s umpteenth year of dereliction. Tunbridge Wells tore down the local cinema where the kids were dropped off and Marc the manager fed them sweets and gave them posters of ‘The Adamms Family Values’. Family values that the borough council forgot about.
For years and years hoardings were erected with pictures of the hopes for the Kentish town. Promises broken as the locals had to walk past charity shops and a lone dry cleaners. We are now being promised a development for oldies. The plans have been drawn up for brick small rise flats with shops attached. Don’t hold your breath.
We parked in the central car park. Tapped in the cars number plate, waved the debit card in front of the machine, then pledged to pay later. We walked past barbers and a patisserie shop and entered the newly refurbished library and town hall the ‘Amelia Scott’ centre
It was serene and clean with displays of 18th century shoes and waistcoats, into a gallery of cricket balls and Subbuteo boxes. The very game invented in Tunbridge Wells. Another gallery of historic Tonbridge Ware and a real Magic Lantern. Ivory embossed walking sticks and tiny white leather gloves for the gentry. White the chosen colour to indicate how rich those lily-white hands were. The leather had to be kept clean so no coal collecting for those monied women who pranced about the Pantiles in their fancy frocks drinking the waters from the Chalyebeate Spring. The fancy history of Tunbridge Well was displayed in the middle of a well stocked library.
Boys from the independent grammar school were quietly researching computer wizardry whilst sitting in front of cabinets of cobblers paraphernalia and photographic equipment. Then and now merged together. The Northerner and I whispered to each other it was a library after all.
And then we went for coffee in the caff.
An unflappable team of waitresses who waited with a smile, and a display of cakes and confection worthy of a Royal borough.
Not many young mums, who frequent ‘Juliets’ in the High Street, this was a buzzing hub for men of a certain age. Silver surfers eating their toasted sandwiches and doing crosswords.
The old git and I had black coffee and a bag of dried apricots.
We talked about clearing our house of clutter and reading to each other to fall asleep. I said Dickens he said ‘The Magician.’ a book about Thomas Mann.
I got quite excited at the thought of us reading to each other in bed, our feet on hot water bottles and the cat curled up in the duvet.
Of course it won’t happen, he’ll go up first and I will join him three hours later boggled eyed from watching Bafta films on me lap top.
But in the centre of TWells
‘The Amelia Scott is an integrated service facility providing a unique and innovative experience. Visitors are able to explore exciting temporary exhibitions, discover the fascinating history of Tunbridge Wells and the wider borough, access library services and feed their creativity with hands-on arts and heritage experiences.
Who knew I could do pottery, make jewellery, read a library book and eat a tuna wrap all at the same time. That couple of hours immersed in Kent culture and our away day had lived up to its former glory.
We stopped off to buy blueberries and a bottle of Cabinet Sauvignon, a box of cat food for Dennis and a packet of frozen fish for £1.60.
If anybody would have told me that a daughter of Communist Party rabble rousers would end up in the high falutine, genteel world of cricket balls and cobblers, I would have laughed in their face. I am an East Ender at heart but banks of rhododendrons and the promise of a well risen scone in the Pantiles drew me away from Wapping. Make no never mind I’m not giving in to the well mannered world of the Cunt Kentryside but a day out, with the old git, in a warm library surrounded by books and clean lavatories can turn a girls head.
So to quote the mantling and the motto of Tunbridge Wells ‘Do Well Doubt Not’ although in my case it’s ‘Do well and Doubt everything.’
Why change the habit of a lifetime?