I moved to Tunbridge Wells.
Well, not really.
Merely almost left somewhere I have never been.
Clever as clogs, those sabots I've had for generations - sit grinning in yellow with a lick of a red stripe
By this new fireplace that has as much integrity as
Being born again in 1810 urns of plastic.
I have holy neighbours now, screened by propriety
And fences that barely cover my naked, unruly soul that is the garden
Back and front, for God's sake.
What am I to do with that?
Move the furniture.
Handle the air, look for signs of life. Scrag the hands on man-made hills
Of broken glass
Skirt the lanes terrified of space. And green.
A bottle abandoned, is welcome. An empty can, perhaps?
From the back bedroom window, I see figures appear like thumbs
White and bald of sentience, squimmying between the houses, tongues
Stilled by certainty.
Guilt clad, I venture noticed.
Habit of a footpath, traversed and squandered by an American Beach Cruiser.
They know I'm here now, a viper in a the Garden of England
There is a long alley to my house, cowed under ferocious green
With lampposts to illuminate the industry of tallying night murderers
Who could itemise the semaphore of the paranoid city immigrant.
When you get there, that is.
The potential, during that viscous trudge, of at least fifteen cars
With urban seeking missiles to locate she who wears trousers beneath her frock
And will never cease to be a stranger.
Once, we lowered our hearts onto the Thames, where she carried us off and forgave us.
We had a good conversation. We spoke to each other a lot.
Light journeys of thought bounced from ruined banks, like the fetched up angels of clay pipes
Ideas that didn't need strong calves, rested and offered their white flesh to be massaged
By the constant ebb and flow of police sirens
And the soft, black stench of drug dealer's breath as they lay dying like tar
On a Deptford bench for ten years.
Would you have me back?
I see you from the train, shining in muddy skies, a thin ribbon snagged twixt the effluent towers
Then wide as a hand running holding Catamaran and bridge –
My skin is still radiant from the pure.
I try to wave but my heart can't lift a finger.
If I could stand in you again; would I?
I moved somewhere nice, with skies and green.
A blank, left somewhere
I might have been.
A burial divided between two gardens.
All the people
What can I say? It has been almost a decade now that I've been in Tunbridge Wells. A decade that has seen friends come, some have left, but most have stayed. Groups spring up, and some thrive and develop, others run their course and change. What do I enjoy that keeps me here? It is a question I get asked all the time. Always by others living in London or elsewhere. I tell them to come down and see for yourself – they really do. I think the woods are too close, the fields on the doorsteps must scare them – seeing where their roast beef 'lived' before it found its sad way onto the supermarket shelf.
For me, I think it is the woods, the pubs, the fields, and slower pace of life, the community to be found – but above all, it is you, the people of this town in your all different guises - whether you be a millionaire hiding away near the Pantiles, a single parent on benefit living in Showfields, also near the Pantiles. No, it is the mix of you all walking around town, looking in shops and sitting in the parks and on the common. Letting the sun shine down upon you as you rest for a while. Or the dog walkers and their 'mutts' roaming about saying hello to one and all.
Oh, how I love all the different groups of people, all separate but all working together to create something better for themselves. For we are not 'disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' but 'eccentrics of Tunbridge Wells'. The green groups, the religious groups, the different music groups and bands that have found for themselves a home and a community.
The history may talk about Lord North and his hangover cure. But we know different, for we have been here thousands of years looking out at the High Rocks and sheltering under the trees in summer and winter. Eating the fruits of the land in this, our own little sheltered piece of earth.
Support Worker for adults with learning difficulties
The A26 through Southborough is always congested. And I am always in hurry. Particularly on Thursdays. On Thursdays, I drive from my little cottage in Tonbridge to Que Pasa in Tunbridge Wells. Driving in Tunbridge Wells scares me because I haven’t lived here very long and I don’t know the roads. I always seem to end up where I don’t want to be, stuck in a one-way system, wondering where I went wrong. My route to Que Pasa is etched into my brain and I stick to it with dogged tenacity.
I park outside the bar in the taxi rank. The manager says it’s ok to do this and I haven’t got a ticket yet. Then I unload the car. It takes me about three trips but eventually, everything I need is upstairs. Then I start to set the room up.
Some weeks it’s easy, the poles go up straight and I am ready when my students arrive. Other weeks, it takes forever and all my patience to get them up, straight and firmly secured.
At half past eight, we start; gentle warm up, lots of stretching and some funky dance tunes. By nine o’clock, we are pole dancing. Every week I teach spins, poses, jumps, climbs and, when they are strong enough, inverts. My students come from every walk of life; sixteen-year-old college students, young mums, doctors, grandmothers and businesswomen gather. And you know what? They love it. Every one of them.
Tunbridge Wells has a reputation for being very middle class and very staid – rightly or wrongly. I smile inwardly every time I strut around in my six-inch stripper heels. ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ would have a field day if she/he could see me now.
My ladies show off their bruises proudly. They clap and cheer one another regularly. They laugh an awful lot. They feel sexy, and feminine, and they enjoy their bodies without shame, guilt or self-consciousness. The sense of achievement is profound and it keeps them coming back, week after week, month after month.
At the end of the class, we stretch again. They take off their high heels, change back into their ‘normal’ clothes and go out into the night – each with a secret smile of satisfaction at the pleasure they have just allowed themselves.
I take the poles down, put everything back into the boot of my car, say ‘Goodbye’ to the staff at Que Pasa and wind my way back through the town, past The Trinity, up Mount Ephraim and onto the A26 to Tonbridge.
Pole and exotic dance teacher
Happy mispent youth
Internet land makes me feel very small and insignificant; it’s a whole world vying for our attention and money. Finding Tunbridge Wells Tells by complete accident was like bumping into an old friend in the street.
I lived on Tunbridge Wells High Street for the first 14 years of my life, above a menswear shop. I went to Claremont Primary school and later Bennett Memorial. We moved to Sherwood when I was 14 and then to Pembury but I loved living in the hustle of sleepy TW. I was especially annoyed about moving at 14 as my favourite pub was at the end of Castle Street and it wouldn’t have been far to stumble home (age seems to have swiped the pub name from memory).
I lived for Saturdays when I would walk up into town and hang out in Our Price (generally making a nuisance of myself and staring at the long haired employees). We loved the local bands Deuce, Dog Patrol and Parisenne Blond and would follow them around the venues of TW…Doughnuts, Southborough Hall and a multitude of local pubs.
For those first 14 years my whole world was focused in that town; I used to deliver papers early morning around the High Street area, all around the park and down towards the Pantiles. I felt safe even though I had to escape from lecherous milkmen now and again.
I went to Brownies in the High Street Church and then to Guides (hating both), I swam at Monson Swimming club along St Johns and to ballet lessons opposite the old telephone exchange.
I think the town has changed a lot from my days (1970-1984); the shopping precinct changed the feel of the town, making it more faceless, just like any town. But that didn’t matter back then, it was all about friends, boys, music, bikes and pubs which if my diaries are accurate, were all in abundance.
I miss TW; it represents home even though only a niece and nephew live close now. We have all spread around the world and friends have moved on. I now live in Scotland which embodies me now as a married, settled glass artist but my childhood lives on there and whenever I visit I still smile to myself and remember the naughty things I used to do there.
Happy Birthday TW, may you continue to grow and be happy forever.
Little is written about the villages surrounding TW. I grew up around the rocks, woods and Kent countryside.
As kids we would get up to all sorts of mischief and adventures. The Spa Hotel golf course was an old haunt for thieves who would run out from the bushes and pocket a ball or two, leave them in watery vinegar overnight, polish them up and sell them back the next day to the same golfers who had chased us off the links the day before. Not all golf balls were loaned. Sometimes we would run out and put one of the golf balls into the hole before the golfers came in view. A good ten minuets would often pass before a player thought of looking in the hole and not rummaging in the bushes. Many a round of drinks must have been downed in the clubhouse under false pretences.
The town also had gangs from outlying areas, made up of testosterone filled teenage boys and the occasional girl hanger-on. Occasionally they would meet up for a sort out, usually a Friday and usually on the Pantiles. I remember once the gangs met up in Hurst Wood, I think it was the Southborough lot vs the Rusthall lot. A great deal of facing up took place with an accompaniment of shouting from the rear supporters. Someone shouted out ‘Coppers!’ The stampede that followed found foe and enemy alike running together in the direction of the woods. Much laughter ended the fight!
Tunbridge Wells is now a place I visit. I no longer see faces I knew, shops have changed, bus numbers have altered, people now sit in doorways making a living from passers by with a penny or two to give. The cinema like all the others that once frequented the town has gone. That clock thing where the bogs at the Fiveways were is apt. It looks like it’s a giant metal monster straining to relieve itself.
Tunbridge Wells once had character, a community both in and out of town, Rusthall and Langton now blend into each other, the town grows in size, but on its journey it loses its TW feel. Just another town. Bring back the little boys who steal golf balls, bring back the weekend fights and let’s all go to the flicks and fill the air with smoke while chucking ice cream wrappers at each other. How about re-naming the town, Today’s Wells, yep, that will do nice.
Rock music, rock climbing and rocket
Rock music and rock climbing; probably neither are on your mind as you stroll the polished flagstones of the Pantiles, or ride the escalators in the Victoria shopping centre. But at the bottom of town, on the edge of the common disguised as a Victorian public toilet is a Tardis-like rock music venue: The Forum.
I don’t remember the first time I stepped in to its dingy confines, but it was during the mellow summer of 1995, with our GCSEs behind us we whiled away many evenings on the common sitting in lochs of sunshine between lengthening shadows, chatting, laughing until the bottle of tepid cider made its final lap when we’d sweep the grass clippings from our back and wander down to the Forum. We rarely knew, nor cared, who was playing. We’d sit through out-of-tune local bands. Then, sometimes, unknown bands a month or two away from stardom, like Kula Shaker, Space and Catatonia would come from afar and we’d mosh and sweat. Even Oasis played once, but we were a year or so too late. I celebrated my 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th birthdays on its sticky beer-soaked dance floor and watched our friends’ band plight for stardom through its smoky haze. Then they got gigs in London and we stopped going to The Forum. And besides, I had become interested in rock climbing...
From The Forum, if you head east, you have a good chance of stumbling across a sandstone outcrop. Within a few miles of the town centre, lie about half a dozen outcrops large enough to offer challenges to rock climbers. In fact, these crags have been important in the history of mountaineering, with the likes of Eric Shipton, who was seminal in the first ascent of Everest, and Chris Bonnington cutting their teeth on these rounded and problematic buttresses. In the century that climbing has been practised in this area, well over a thousand climbs have been recorded. If climbing doesn’t appeal, then you should explore the canyons and gullies that cleave these rocks. In the height of summer, they offer an oasis of surprising coolness. And if the sun is at the right angle, they can be as beautiful and atmospheric as anywhere I’ve been.
These days, as I weave through the Pantiles and up the High Street on the way back from adventures on the crags, I am drawn by the appeal of the bars and restaurants with sunny tables outside and expensive meals served on beds of rocket. Maybe that’ll be part of the next chapter.
Sixteen years ago I came to live in Tunbridge Wells and from the start I was fascinated by Dunorlan Park. Living nearby I saw it almost daily and marvelled at the everchanging effects of weather and seasons on its beauty. Then there are the many and diverse events staged there throughout the year.
The park has been described as 'The Jewel in the Crown of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council', an accolade now even more deserved since the Restoration was completed recently. When the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council acquired the Dunorlan Estate in 1945 it was in a state of great neglect!
The Council set aside 30 acres of the estate for a public open space and during the next few years footpaths were created and new gates, fences and bridges erected. Then boating on the lake began. Thus the Park continued to evolve until the Hurricane of 1987 caused a lot of damage necessitating much clearing and planting of new trees.
Over the years the popularity of the Park has increased and in 1996 a regular and enthusiastic user of the Park, the late Peter Reynolds, founded the friends of Dunorlan Park dedicated to its restoration, preservation and development. He was particularly keen to see the Fountain and Cascade restored and was the inspiration and driving force behind the successful bid for Heritage Lottery funds. This, together with the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and the Friends, enabled the restoration to be done and has further increased the popularity of the park.
So successful has the restoration been that the contractors, ISS Waterers Landscape, won an award and the National Landscape Awards for its work. In addition the Friends of Dunorlan Park, jointly with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, won a Conservation award from Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society for the restoration of the Cascade and Fountain.
There will always be ongoing work to be done and in addition to planting and pruning and daily maintenance there are plans to restore the inside of the Grecian Temple. Also, the Victoria Cross Grove is to be enhanced as part of the 400th Anniversary Celebrations. How fortunate we are to have this Jewel of a Park in Tunbridge Wells.
Girl on the hill
There is this girl, strange girl - who lives on a hill, Pigs Hill. She has black hair, long, long black hair.
The colour - a blue door and blue windows on that house on a hill, Pigs Hill.
13 is the number on that blue door, of that blue house, on the hill, Pigs Hill. One and three, one and three which makes four - but there's no knock on that door.
The girl who lives on the hill, Pigs Hill, has a name, a nickname "Lelly".
Her sisters, two sisters - "Lolly and Christina".
"Lelly, Lolly and Christina", grew up and parted.
Lelly lives on a hill, Pigs Hill.
Lolly lives at the foot of a mountain.
And Christina lives at the entrance of a forest.
These were the nicknames given by their gran, Molly. Although Lelly has another nickname, also given by her gran - "Jilly".
The other night Jilly was lying in bed, in the blue room, of the blue house, on the hill, Pigs Hill.
She was missing her dad, he passed over three years hence.
3 times lost; her father, her gran and her cat - her faithful cat, who waited and waited at the top of that hill, Pigs Hill. Waited for her to return from work each day.
Jilly heard her gran call out her name - "Jilly".
The sound rang round and round the room.
Then Jilly fell asleep…
Every third Wednesday of the month she walks and walks down Pigs Hill to the Royal Oak to the moot. 3 turns and you'll be there.
Jilly, Pigs Hill, Tunbridge Wells
I can't help it, I see the girl on the pavement,
her brown skin and hair lustrous; when her eyes
turn to the right she looks disturbed. Her calves
and arms are too fat for a waist that small.
Elsewhere, the bogeymen pedlars of baubles are
abounding in felony and lies. But I fall into
their arms every time, doublevisioned. A hungry
child to mummy with the jaffacake jar.
You know I know this town and I squeeze its innards
For spirit and find an iniquity. The dancers stunted.
Several times I have sketched out a Valentine
plot, though will my subject be lust or massacre?
I don't feel. But Calvary Park could be the venue.
There to escape the sanitised version of myself,
where the Gypsy violinists in my heart have long since
packed up the dogs and the fire, sold the
merrypainted caravan and gone to ply
their swirling flourishes in the blacktie brasseries
of Budapest for goulash and florins.
At least I can afford the ancient-looking roses,
Grandma's flowers, and clinical white lilies
on offer at the barrowboy's kiosk at the
station. I could get some and present them
to the mysterious, beautiful slim ones, that stretch
out in the sun at the foot of the cedars.
They would love it as they love themselves.
Then there is the army shop neutered, that sells
gunmetal leathermen and helmets,
fearsome and camouflaged, run by a geek.
He always alone in there. It looks cold.
He taps the counter nervously as I pass.
I have means to do business with him.
Either, or. Either or. So it is in every corner,
From Mount Ephraim to Mount Sion.
The old seems so old here, the young so young,
and it feels like it's more through luck than merit
that we are all not hanging from wheels
placed as a warning a few feet from the
town gates, like sparrows in a forest fire.
But perhaps my high-cheekboned Beatrice is
worlds away, perhaps she is stood there just
over the way, where the arcade splits us,
and the sun floods our faces, and the prayers
that I fire in my mind at an illusory wild
will be played back to me and drown me in
their truth, or what good there is; perhaps the
redemption, when it comes, when it comes,
or the judgement, will surprise even me,
here, now, at the Hooper's roundabout,
by the sheet music shop, staring at the wine
merchant that closed some obscure years ago,
as buses grumble and heave with the weight of it all.
Oli Hudson, 28
I grew up in East Grinstead, West Sussex which meant there was a 20 mile journey to visit Tunbridge Wells and there was rarely any cause to come here. But as a little girl when I started my ballet lessons at three years old, there was only one place in the region to get my uniform - and that was in Tunbridge Wells. Later, a dance shop opened in East Grinstead and from about 1972 there was no longer any need to come to Tunbridge Wells.
These quests held a really special excitement because they were dedicated to me alone. I didn’t have any sisters. There were aspects of the route that were still vivid in my memory when I re-travelled the route as a adult; the Holtye Road leading out of my town, the Holtye golf course, the first glimpse of the town centre as you turned off Mount Ephraim onto Church Road with the pretty row of houses on London Road, looking out over the Common. I remember the Town Hall at the crossroads and I remember the pink building on an unusually angular junction, with the door right at the apex of the triangular shop. Inside it was filled with shoes and leotards, ribbons and bun nets, tutus and tights, with names such as Gamba, Freed and Bloch. It had a special smell, and most of all, it was pink.
Thirty-odd years later I now live in Pembury. When I moved here in 1992 and started to browse the streets of Tunbridge Wells again, I was stopped in my tracks by a sight on Victoria Road, unaltered since my earliest memories. The shape, the colour and, yes, even the smell were the same. I have never dared ask any questions of the young girls who work there, as I go to buy things for my own three daughters; about the history of the shop and its owners and to ‘witter on’ about how much affection I hold the place in. After all, it must be unspeakably improbable to these lithe dancers of today that I was once one of them, let alone that they share my nostalgia from 20 years before they were even born!
For anyone remotely connected to the world of dancing, there will be no mistaking the subject of my eulogy, but to everyone else, it was and indeed still is, the Dancing Boutique.
Caroline Mazzey, 44
Gardener, writer and teacher
Living in the Village
I live in the strange area of Tunbridge Wells which local people now call the 'village'. It is a bit like a village and even has a sort of village hall in the shape of the TOC H hall in Little Mount Sion. There is a WI Market on Thursday mornings and activities such a Yoga, Pilates and Flamenco dancing. The Village Residents Association has its meeting there. These are really parties to which all comers are invited. Little time is given to protest, complaint or expressions of disgust. There is a children’s party at Christmas, and a picnic in the Grove for children and their parents in summer. The 'village church' is Christchurch in the High Street, though many feel King Charles the Martyr belongs equally to them. Technically, most of the village is in the parish of Christchurch.
The village is probably the oldest part of the town and sprang up in the wake of the growing popularity of Tunbridge Wells as a spa and resort in the 18th Century. Many of the houses in Mount Sion, now respectable and sometimes elegant dwellings, were once boarding houses and brothels built for the growing number of visitors to the town. The village surrounds the little park called The Grove and incorporates the narrow streets on either side, which connect the park to The High Street and Grove Hill Road. The area is more properly known as Mount Sion, from which the steep road leading up from the Chapel Place end of The High Street gets its name. Mount Sion, the entire hillside above the High Street, is the subject of a hefty 480 page book* by Roger Farthing. Roger was a local historian who spent 10 years writing it, and died shortly after its publication. Never, it seems, has so much been written about so little. But, as so often happens, the closer you look the more you seem to discover.
Mount Sion also gets a mention in Still Life, Sketches from a Tunbridge Wells Childhood
by Richard Cobb. The author was a distinguished Oxford historian, whose affectionate, but a little jaundiced account of the town is a good read, whether or not you have a special interest in it. He manages to capture the quirky, oddness of the place, which still persists. He recalls, for example, that at the top of Little Mount Sion, 'there was a tiny shop-window painted a deep green, and marked, in white letters: Engineer. In the window was some sort of engine: cog-wheels, ball-bearings, a thickly greased piston, a mysterious object the presence of which suggested that of even more mysterious objects inside.'
The shop window is there no more, at least not painted green. Once the 'Village' consisted of a group of shops - dairy, butchers, bakery, grocer, greengrocer etc, which made it unnecessary for inhabitants to go even as far as The High Street for their shopping. Most of the shops are now private houses. Their origins are betrayed mostly by their former shop windows now displaying nothing more than blinds or curtains, with an occasional cat looking back at passers-by. Commerce still persists, however, in the shape of a fish-and-chip shop, Miles Garage (which has been servicing cars since they first came into common use), the offices of Index Magazine, a specialist car dealer called Compass Cars and two pubs – The Compasses and The Grove Tavern.
What will future generations have to be nostalgic about? Perhaps the chip-shop smell which hangs over the streets on still evenings. Or the scarcity of parking places, which accounts for the number of times you see the same drivers on their second or third turn round the block. Or the foxes which come out at night trying to solve the problem of how to get into wheely bins.
*A History of Mount Sion
. Roger Farthing. Philimore & Co Ltd. £50.00. Probably available, as new, from Hall’s Bookshop in Chapel Place.
Ice on Dunorlan
It seems that most of my memories of Tunbridge Wells, and they are numerous, involve walking somewhere. Walking to my piano lesson in St. James’s Road, or school in Kingswood Road, going up to St. John’s to get to the grammar school or walking into town on a Saturday to go to the library.
The library is one of my most vivid memories. I can recall the position of the alphabetical order of the wooden book shelves, where the little chests of drawers stood that housed the catalogue, the glass door into the room where newspapers were, and those little cardboard tickets that slotted into a sleeve on the book.
It was a 1950-60s upbringing and Tunbridge Wells was just the town to do it in. Safe, gentile but with just that hint of the ‘hippy seventies’ that were soon to arrive. Camden Road was the rough end of town, with secondhand furniture and fish and chip shops. The Duke of York pub in the Pantiles was where all the young crowd met, many from the wild environs of West Kent College. Some of those students used to get on the bus from the St John’s and I dreaded Wednesdays when we had Domestic Science in the afternoon and I had to negotiate the spiral stairs to the top deck, desperately clutching a shepherd’s pie in a too-hot dish, not yet sufficiently cooled from the oven.
And of course that was the time of the great freeze in 1963 when our rose bushes disappeared under the snow and, best of all, Dunorlan Park lake froze solid and we were allowed to ice skate on it. Nowadays, you would never get it past the risk assessments and COSHH forms but then it was a carnival atmosphere, with everyone trying out their skates and tobogganing into the lake. Amazingly, I only seem to remember one boy getting wet! There must have been music of some sort because the Beatles had just arrived and I always associate the lake with Love me Do played on some tinny transistor. Pure decadence.
I go back occasionally and get quite disorientated with some of the changes but it still seems to be a good place to live and bring up children in. I think ‘Mr and Mrs Disgusted-of-Tunbridge Wells’ have to be thanked for that - long may they continue to express their opinions and keep that air of gentility alive and well.
Elderly research scientist, mother and aunt!
From little acorns to rows of beans
The aspects of this town that have special interest to me are the Royal Oak Pub and the Hawkenbury Allotments.
I could describe The Royal Oak pub as a country pub in town. It is an old fashioned pub with good beer and a no-nonsense attitude to food. It’s a place where you can chat to people on the most obscure subjects and of your fellow drinkers at least one will be able to comment constructively. You may even find that you are lucky enough to be in the company of an expert!
Examples of obscure subjects that you might find knocking about are the evolutionary development of the human thumb, early pornographic collections of the Catholic Church and the all-time chestnut – the nutters who frequent pubs in Tunbridge Wells. I am of course included.
I do not seek to deride the drinkers of this public house, but to celebrate the lively and varied conversation that is to be found here. Obscure and challenging subjects are discussed most pubs and bars around the globe, but not in such a way as in the Royal Oak. Here it is done with frankness, honesty and above all, joviality. An exhibition of the kind of trivia that can be overheard is held every Thursday night, namely the pub quiz.
On the 3rd Wednesday of each month this is the meeting place of the Friends of the Moon Moot. A pagan moot
has met here for over 2 years now. And, even though the Salvation Army place is just across the road, so far no one has battered an eyelid!
If you take a left turn out of the Royal Oak pub you will be travelling in the general direction of The Hawkenbury Allotments. Here I have a plot where I grow vegetables and herbs (or rather they grow and I harass them occasionally). I enjoy the peace and tranquillity here, the wind and the birds on it are usually the only sounds to be heard. Once in a while a sparrowhawk might zoom by in pursuit of an unfortunate songbird, or a blackbird might belt out an alarm call to shock me back to work.
Tunbridge Wells is in some way unique, but why, no one really knows. I think it might be that everyone here suffers from a mild, but quite enjoyable form of madness.
Archibald Schonk, 23
Rendezvous in the RVP
‘Same old, same old’. Thus has gone the brief exchange of e-mail nearly every Wednesday for two years to arrange my rendezvous with my old friend Nick. We meet at the end of the precinct, between Café Nero and The Body Shop. Stage two of this well-rehearsed meeting sees us head for Seattle Expresso, for a well-deserved, civilized escape from our nine-to-five jobs.
Situated in the Royal Victoria Place shopping mall, between BHS and M&S, in the shelter of the escalator and stairs, the coffee shop has two seating areas--one by the counter for smokers and the other, across the passageway, for non-smokers like us.
‘A regular cap and a cup of tea. In China cups, please’--it’s always £2.40, we always try to drop about 10p into the tip jar and they always tell us to ‘take a seat and we’ll bring it right over’. And in that single sentence we’ve hit upon the two factors that make this the best coffee emporium this side of the war memorial. You can have your drink in a proper cup and saucer, not have chew on a piece of old cardboard, and the waitresses will bring it to you when it’s ready. Surely it’s not too much to ask, when you’ve spent a morning stuck behind a desk doing some mind-numbing job or another and you’re trying to make the most of the 60 minute break your boss has grudgingly allowed you in the middle of the day, to have someone wait on you--however briefly. And it doesn’t hurt that the young ladies who work there tend to be quite easy on the eye, as well as pleasant and chatty. Never has a 10p tip been so justly deserved.
We like to sit at one of the tables on the far side of the non-smoking section, with our backs to the wall, if possible--affording ourselves the best view of the people walking through the mall, or queuing to buy their own drinks. While we put the world to rights, discussing love, work, politics, pop music, cinema or TV, we can keep an eye on the passing talent. The cream on our coffee those Wednesday lunchtimes is the appreciative inspection of the high calibre of office girls, shop workers and young mums that Tunbridge Wells has to offer.
Now that’s civilization.
Tim Knight, 35
I've never lived in Tunbridge Wells having lived most of my life in Hove. Now I live in Tonbridge so Tunbridge Wells is slightly more prominent though I've always had some link with it, whether it's family, friends or Christmas shopping.
For my family, my mum was educated there and her sister and brother in law live there with three 'children' who are a bit older than me. I sometimes visited them mainly for Christmas or a family barbeque. I can remember spending one Christmas there, opening presents excitedly. I still have a photo of me in my orange cowboy pyjamas and dressing gown tearing through wrapping paper and inspecting presents. Other memories include a box of safari and farm toys that I'd always play with and even a 'mysterious cupboard' that apparently led down a rather dark basement with slippery stairs that someone disappeared down once. But really it was nothing more than a drinks cupboard. Other interesting features were two pirate faces hanging from a wall, a lamp that had a genie that 'looked like smoke', and a small chair for kids that even now my cousins kids use.
Every year there would be a family picnic on the August bank holiday. This was spent playing around being fussed over by the adults and wondering whom the strangers were that mum and dad seemed to know. Of course my uncle had his family and even now at 22 I'm still trying to work out some of them.
One day I went to stay with my granny in Mayfield, Sussex for a week. One day we went for a visit to Tunbridge Wells. It's probably of my earliest memory of the main part of the town. It was quite fascinating as me and my sister saw 'A Day at the Wells' museum, investigated and climbed some of the many rocks scattered around the area and had a nice lunch in a tea shop at the Pantiles.
Of course now I have a new reason for Tunbridge Wells. For a few years I have called myself a Pagan, which for me is a spiritual relationship with Nature, inspired by pre-Christian myth and lore. Many dark, windy and rainy times have been spent in Tunbridge Wells natural features communing with Nature or sharing some fellowship in a cosy pub with a pint.
So that is my experience of Tunbridge Wells.
Adam Brough, 22
Clean air and safe streets
I was asked today, ‘What does Tunbridge Wells mean to you?’ I stopped to think....
Was it the grand houses that permeate the town with their Georgian elegance? Could it be the High Street, with the expensive boutiques, artistic galleries and antique bookshops?
Is it the people, I muse - everyone is so friendly, well mannered and still insist on ‘ ladies first’. Or maybe the Farmer's Market - I go every fortnight on Saturday morning to sample the local delicacies. The smell of fresh bread and home-baked cakes emanates through the air, and you can taste the goodness in the vegetables and the succulence of the meat.
No, it must be the air, so fresh and pure - I inhale deeply as I try to expunge the dirty grime that lines my lungs from my daily commuting.
Could it be the little paths and back alleys that remain hidden until someone shows you where they are and when you walk down them you feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland?
It's probably afternoon tea with scones and clotted cream, watching the world go round in the exquisite surroundings of the Pantiles.
Or the open front restaurants that expose themselves to the elements in the height of summer to bring a cosmopolitan feel to the town?
Maybe it's the Chalybeate Spring - the reason for the town's being. After all, had Lord North not discovered the spring on his hunting outing, it wouldn't't have existed at all!
Perhaps it's the fact that I feel safe and would be happy to go out on my own at any time of day or night, a feeling I rarely experience anywhere else.
Camden Road is in the running, with the plethora of charity stores and unique shops to explore and the delight you feel when you discover a real diamond in the rough.
Or Wellington Rocks on the common, which I used to scale as a child without a care in the world and now look on with in trepidation - how high are they and more importantly how do I get down again? HELP!
But I do like the parks, especially in the summer - those long afternoons spent lying in the sun with a bottle of wine and the gentle chatter of my friends around me, laughing and giggling.
And then it struck me, ‘Tunbridge Wells is my home’, I replied.
Fenella Clark, Tunbridge Wells
Walk in the park
I cross and re-cross the Common, peering through the undergrowth, watching rabbits in tussocky clearings, magpies on the cricket pitch by Wellington Rocks and squirrels chasing round tree trunks. In spring, I hunt for hidden blossom – a pink horse chestnut, or a wild apple tree. Summer comes when the grass at the edges of the hard paths is cut for the first time, smelling green, crushed and faintly oily. I amble down the avenue, waiting for the last week in June when pockets of air fill with the light scent of lime flowers. It comes and goes from pace to pace with no pattern at all. You breathe it, lose it and take a step back trying to recapture it, but it’s gone.
My friends tell me not to walk on the Common alone. ‘Anything might happen.'
I shrug. ‘You can hardly move for all the bloody pushchairs. I’m probably most in danger of being hit with a Frisbee than anything.’
Another walk I do – to find myself when I feel cross – is up Grove Hill Road and Prospect Road, swing right past the Royal Oak and through Dunorlan Park’s back gate. I follow the line of oaks, sometimes angling out to check the muddy red spring on the hill. Then I aim for a mysterious fenced copse, stopping to peer through the locked gate. I pass between the duck pond and the head of the lake, picking my way over the puddles and wishing my shoes were more sensible. They are tarting up the park now, trimming trees and draining squelchy bits. The lake is a muddy scar and the duck islands look as if they are holding their skirts up out of the water. I follow the shore round under the old mini golf course and then up the hill, past the café and on to the tarmac path, which is now blobbed with clay from the workmen’s boots. The car park is half blocked off and there are always a few people stunned by the work. ‘What on earth are they doing? Is it really necessary? All those trees.’ No-one can believe it will ever be made right. I leave the park and hammer down Pembury Road, back to the Royal Oak and down the hill. I expect at any moment to meet myself on a corner, waiting to go home for tea.
Clare Grant, 27
Will you link to my site?
Do you know, I think I might!
But only if:
- You submit 400 words. The link can either go in the body of the text, or it can go at the end.
- Your site is connected with Tunbridge Wells in some way.
- Your site isn't likely to offend any families reading.
What is this project all about?
In 1606 (i.e., 400 years ago in 2006), Tunbridge Wells was founded when a young nobleman named Lord North was riding through the woods near Tonbridge to cure the hangover from which he was DYING - yes, DYING. He stopped outside a swineherder's hut for a drink and noticed that the water he was given cured his hangover. Being an unselfish sort of chap, he shared the secret with his drinking friends and soon a lively spa town appeared.
To celebrate this miracle, I want to collect a big pile of 400-word accounts of Tunbridge Wells life and publish them on a website for all to read. Which is where you come in. Pick up a pen and write. And then send it to me, and I'll put it up on the site.
As well as being the number of years since Tunbridge Wells was founded, 400 is an easy number of words to write. It’s just a hand-written side of A4.
Are there any rules?
- Your piece may be slightly altered at the editor’s discretion. If you go over 400 words, it will be cut.
- I reserve the right to reject any submission without giving a reason - although if I am able to I will work with the writer to make an unacceptable submission suitable for the project.
- Copyright stays with the writer.
- I don’t want the site to alienate anyone so please keep your accounts suitable for families and free from hate, graphic violence and pornography. Also, I do not want to publish anything defamatory – if you have complaints about a business, person or institution, I’m afraid you’ll have to tell them yourself.
- None of your contact details will be sold or passed on.
How do I contribute to Tunbridge Wells Tells?
Simply email 400 words written by you about Tunbridge Wells to:
At the end of your piece, give your:
- Full address (we’ll only publish the street name and the village but we need complete details to contact you with news about the project and about any queries.)
- Email address (if you have one that you check regularly– again not for publication.)
- A phrase that describes you – i.e. student, bus conductor, home engineer, dreamer, bare knuckle boxer
If you want to be anonymous, please state this. Do supply a pen-name if you like.
I don't know what to put....
Blank page fright happens to the best of us, so here are a few ideas to get you going:
- Sit somewhere crowded and make a themed list - i.e. all the hats you see, how people carry their children, what people say when they meet each other, trousers, belts, footwear, what people are eating, how people wear their hair, different reactions to a street performer, what animals can you see? Then report your findings in 400 words. Use phrases like: In total I spotted 15 baseball caps. The strangest animal I saw was a twelve-foot python. I was surprised to see three people run up to the busker and give him a big hug. A hairstyle I particularly dislike is the pony-tail – only three people passed me wearing one.
- Write a letter persuading someone to or dissuading someone from coming to live in Tunbridge Wells.
- Imagine you have been asked by the police in the course of their investigations to describe your morning routine or your journey to work or school.
- What happens when you meet a friend for a drink? What are pubs like? What do you have to do to get a cup of coffee in this town? What food do you like when you’re out and about? What restaurants would you recommend and why?
- A good way to capture a place is to describe how it affects each of your senses in turn – I can see… I can hear… I can smell… I can taste… I can feel…
- Recount an unusual or funny incident that happened recently in Tunbridge Wells. It might help to pretend you are telling a friend about it.
- Do a vox populi – think of a town issue and ask ten people for their opinions.
- Give some directions between two places in town. Now imagine the person you are directing can’t tell left from right. How do you describe the route now? Or what if they can’t read signs? Instead of naming roads, you’d have to describe them.
- Something on your chest? Rather than a mad rant, what would be really interesting would be your impressions of how the situation came about and your ideas for resolving it to everyone’s satisfaction.
- What changes in town when it rains? When it snows? When it’s so hot you can hardly move?