Memories of a childhood in Kent

Apple blossom in Kent: photo courtesy of Bruce Williamson on Unsplash

Until the age of nine I lived with my family in Gravesend, Kent. I was happy there and did not want to leave, but life took me in other directions and it was about sixty years before I went back. I found many changes, but still felt an attachment to the town and the surrounding countryside, and had intended to return this summer from my present home in New Zealand. That trip is no longer possible because of coronavirus travel restrictions. Instead I joined several Facebook groups devoted to the area, and seeing all the old photos posted there has triggered a few memories of my own.

Our address was 22 The Overcliff, a Victorian house which is now a children’s day care centre. I believe there had been an orchard on that site, and the back garden contained many fruit trees, mainly apples and pears. The Bramley apples, individually wrapped, were stored in the basement over the winter. The front bedroom looked out over the Thames, with the port of Tilbury on the other side, always busy with ships sailing in and out. Between the street and the river was a disused chalk quarry where I used to play, for children were left to their own devices in those days. It was a short walk down to the river itself, and it was there that I learned to swim; no doubt the waters were polluted but I came to no harm.

I attended Milton Road Primary School but remember very little about that, and it’s not there any more. My best friend was called Jennifer Clements; we lost touch years ago.

Much clearer memories relate to outings with my grandfather, Ernest Guy. He was head of the Technical School in the 1940s till the early 50s. He had a great love and knowledge of the English countryside and, especially after he retired, took every opportunity to drive his old black car (an Austin 7?) to different parts of Kent. Summer holidays were spent camping in the Isle of Sheppey, or visiting resorts on the south coast.

Short local visits involved identifying wild flowers and birds, exploring local churches, collecting nuts or blackberries or mushrooms to cook for tea. I remember the orchards and hop fields and oast houses, and walks near Meopham, Shorne, Cobham Woods, Holly Hill … and wonder how many of the old footpaths and woodlands have now been built over, and how many “areas of natural beauty” developed into tourist sites. With no prospect of international travel in the near future perhaps it is best to remember these places as they used to be.

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Jennifer Barraclough is a retired doctor, originally from England but now living in New Zealand, who writes medical and fiction books. Her latest novel You Yet Shall Die, a family mystery set on the North Kent marshes, is available from Amazon.com.

Writing companions

Writing is a solitary occupation and the writer’s life can be lonely. Festivals, courses, talks and local groups provide valuable opportunities for professional development and social contact, but attendance can cost a lot of time and money and distract from the writing itself. For myself, one of the most productive, economical and enjoyable forms of support has come from a long-term partnership with one other person.

My first meeting with Jean was serendipitous. After being introduced at a lunch party in Auckland given by mutual friends, we discovered that we had both been brought up in Gravesend, a small town in north Kent, and had left England because of being married to New Zealand men. We arranged to meet for coffee a few weeks later and then found that we were both already published authors, Jean in the field of education and me in that of medicine, and both working on new books. This turned out to be the first of 100-odd coffee dates that have taken place almost every month for the past ten years.

Over this time we have developed a close friendship, discussed many topics ranging from animals to the afterlife, and supported each other through the trials of family illnesses and bereavements. But the main focus of our meetings has always been writing, and we have exchanged a great deal of factual information as well as encouragement and support. When we first met, we were exploring what was then the relatively new option of self-publishing. We have since both gone on to self-publish several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Most of Jean’s are set in north Kent, and my next one will be too.

We have read each other’s draft manuscripts and offered constructive criticism; shared information about the technicalities of using the various publishing platforms; exchanged recommendations for editors and cover designers; and tackled the challenges of marketing.

I have been very lucky to have found such a faithful and compatible “writing companion”. Maybe, if it does not exist already, there is a place for the equivalent of a dating website to pair other writers up?

Here are the links to Jean’s author pages on amazon.com  amazon.co.uk and smashwords.com. The corresponding links to mine are amazon.com  amazon.co.uk and smashwords.com.