|Our hotel, just as Victorian as the rest.|
You get to Folkestone Central on a high speed train but you pay a bit extra for the speed. It's worth it for the comfort and the saving of some forty minutes. It is early evening when we arrive. Our organiser H is waiting at the station to pick us up. Let's go straight down to the beach hut, drink a glass of wine and watch the sun go down, she says. That is not an offer to be refused though it is gradually chilling down. We sit and talk and sip white wine. The sun does indeed go down, just as she said it would.
The question again. How did I get here?
The answer is not 'by train', or not entirely. It happened through Twitter. I had never met H, who is a novelist, but we got into a conversation on Twitter about something I can't now remember and at some stage she mentioned the Folkestone Festival and the beach hut and wondered if I would come to read. I wondered whether a beach hut would be ideal for a reading (the noise of the sea, people talking on the beach, gulls, radios, potential for rain, lack of amplification, lack of space for an audience) but the idea appealed and I agreed to come. No fee, just expenses: travel and accommodation, not even a meal. (My usual nominal fee for readings is £300 btw)
Why say yes? This was going to be three events (London/London/Folkestone) one after the other, with not a fee between them, and no travel either except in this case, just half a day after returing from Hungary which was just four days after returning from Boston, and none of the clear days exactly clear. It is crazy but then sometimes crazy is good. So this is good.
The hotel was along the upper promenade, one of several Victorian hotels, leftovers from Folkestone's days of grandeur. The room was splendid, the view overlooked a park shared by other hotels. As in Boston, keys were keys and not swipe cards. The hot water worked. The maitre d' in the hotel restaurant had something of the Estuarial Lugosi about him. He spoke East London. He offered us steak and kidney pie. His dark hair was glossy and swept back with a bald patch on the crown. He was game for conversation, telling us how many hours he'd worked, how the hotel trade was mainly coach parties nowadays and that business has been bad ever since they stopped the ferry. His smile was an almost-smile. He was short and somehow managed to look both straight-backed and stooped at the same time. He had the air of a man who had done many other things in life, not all necessarily legal. And then there was the faintly vampirical air. His waiters were all foreign young men. The only female staff we met later were both maids that we came across on the stairs like passing ghosts. The guests we saw that evening and the next morning were essentially working class parties on their way to here or there, maybe by the Channel Tunnel.
Next morning was sunny and warming. H came to pick us up and that is how I found myself first inside, then outside the beach hut as the sun rose and simmered while the sea skipped and exploded with light like flashbulbs going off. The event was about to begin. See post 3 for a report on that.