Herne Bay A week ago the Herne Bay Festival was in full swing, but now the seaside town is sliding into autumn. In cafes and chippies on the seafront hired staff wait patiently for custom that's failing to materialise, although Wetherspoons is humming, because target audience. A couple braving shorts sit on the steps of the clocktower eating fish and chips, while local teenagers make the most of out-of-season inactivity to skate on the prom. On what's left ofthe pier a glum temp wades around the empty boating pool, the helter skelter stands empty, and even the Psychic Clairvoyant has time to leave his hut for a vape. Meanwhile at the Rotary Club's Telly-Go-Round, small children hope to score the jackpot ball so that Thomas the Tank Engine will emerge with two Magic Roundabout characters on board, whoever they used to be.
For reasons unclear, the 1st Margate Boys' and Girls' Brigade Band has rolled up to regale the townspeople of Herne Bay. Unfortunately they've chosen to do this in a car park on the King's Road outside a children's indoor playground, and the ratio of participants to spectators is disappointingly slack. Smartly turned out, the youngsters face the bouncy castle by the entrance and bang out MOR gospel tunes, hands skipping deftly across the glockenspiels while batons twirl and bugles play. Almost a dozen people are watching, most likely close relatives, while a table of soft drinks and cakes goes unconsumed. They drove miles to be here and practised the drumstick moves specially last night, because that's collective dedication, but controlled disappointment radiates forth.
On Central Parade, Cain's Amusements still delivers a traditional gaming machine experience, and a cheap one too. The change machines swap your silvers for 2ps, perfect for the coin cascade where a Minions keyring or Rodney Trotter's driving licence might be yours. Even the slots are only 10p a play, but there is a catch, which is that any payouts are made in tickets. Three cherries wins 100 tickets, which fire from the machine in a seemingly never-ending sequence as if to suggest some kind of jackpot. Not so, as a trip to the prize booth reveals. 100 tickets gets you a tin of Happy Shopper new potatoes, with Spaghetti Hoops requiring 150 and Heinz Beanz 175. When a set of The Voice judges (circa Jessie J) costs 300 tickets, and a Kellogg's variety pack needs 500, anything even half decent is going to demand an entire afternoon of lucky gambling.
Swalecliffe The Coast Rescue landrover drives up the beach defence to where a small crowd has gathered. Nobody is in danger, there being precious few watersporters offshore this afternoon, and instead attention is focused on an inert bundle of fur. A solitary seal is sprawled out on the pebbles a few feet from the incoming waves, and being observed with silent concern. The unspoken consensus is that it must be either sick or dead, but it could just be tired, and still everyone watches. One of the local ice cream vendors cycles up in case anyone fancies a lolly, waits a minute, gives up and moves on. Eventually a twist of the head reveals that the seal is at least still alive, and will eventually be reclaimed by the rising tide, and an uncertain fate.
Whitstable It must have seemed like a good idea to host the wedding reception in a chocolate box cottage overlooking the sea at the end of the summer. Instead the north wind is whipping in, and a vague strip of blue sky remains stubbornly on the horizon, and only the bravest of guests remain under the awning on the terrace. Likewise the 50th birthday party on the beach looks somewhat ill-advised, the guests in blankets huddled between a breakwater and a gazebo tied with helium balloons, while someone dishes out hotdogs, cake and beer. At the harbour village the pearl lady has packed up and gone home early, while a white-coated worker at West Whelks dashes to the waterside to hurl a bowl of ice into the dock. Not to worry, the fish and chips at VC Jones are always excellent.
The annual Hop Festival is underway, this year its 25th anniversary. Thousands of revellers have filled the streets and beer gardens of Faversham to drink the pubs dry of Shepherd Neame, which is brewed locally, and to listen to folk-ish bands on temporary stages. Technically the event is to celebrate the heritage of hop-making, and in this case also ciders, stouts and pale ales, but no major Kent event is complete without morris dancers and a Jack in the Green. The keenest participants wear a crown of hops, their green headdress occasionally mistaken for brussels sprouts by those less well informed. Stick it in your diary for next year, if mass social CAMRA worship is your thing.