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The following is my memoir of growing up in Sandgate during the 1950s and early 1960s. I should make clear that as my father was a policeman with the Kent County Constabulary, we moved around quite a bit, but as my granparents, Philip and Maude Drayner lived in Sandgate for most of their lives, it was only natural that I would spend a good deal of my summers and weekends with them.
I was born the 6th of November 1948, at Beachborough Villas, Folkestone, and some of my earliest memories, although foggy, are of Sandgate. I remember a petting zoo, and the cliff trams, and somewhere back in a distant memory some workmen tearing up a small train track. I have no idea where this occurred, it's just one of those images that never disappears. Perhaps another reader can shed some light.
My main haunts growing up were the chalk garden behind my grandparents' house, the High Street (the sweets shop in particular) and Granville Parade, where my aunt and uncle Richard and Eve Vigus lived on the top floor of a building overlooking the beach...I can't remember the address, but it was a black and white building, about 3 storeys.
A little down the road to the east was the Folkestone Rowing Club building, where the skulls were neatly stacked. My grandad would often leave me in there to wait while he attended to some business or another, and I can still smell the varnish and brine as if it were yesterday. When he was finished, he would come by and sometimes we would stop in at his pub, and I would get to drink the last inch or so of his pint...this of course when I was older. Bryan Evans has mentioned 'the fearsome Phil Drayner' in his memoires, but I think I had quite an altogether different image of him!
By the time I came to some degree of consciousness I was aware of him in the role of a fisherman, and I often accompanied him sometimes with others, on his boat, either putting down or pulling up lobster pots. One particularly comical incident involved a conger eel. My grandad had extricated the beast from a pot, and smartly smacked its head on the gunwhale. He assumed it was dead and returned to his tasks unaware of the conger resuming its natural nasty disposition. It bit him on his behind! I can still remember the small triangle of material hanging from his trousers! Mercifully, I don't remember what he said! Phil Drayner was a formative figure in my life, and when remembering the past many events feature him prominently. He would take the lobsters that were his catch to a man who lived near Sandgate Castle who would take care of boiling them. I was always warned to be careful when playing near the Castle, as it had a reputation for falling down without warning, or so I was told.
On many occasions the Channel would turn nasty, and on those gale swept nights, I can remember trying to get to sleep at my Aunt and Uncles' flat with the howling wind and crashing waves as a backdrop. One particular occasion stands out as being quite unique. After a gale that had lasted a good two days, all became still, and foggy by the morning. I woke up looking out over Granville Parade to see a tramp steamer with its stern on the beach. I believe it stayed there until high tide when a bevy of tugs came to tow it into deeper water. That reminds me of another story Phil Drayner used to tell, that of the wreck of the Bienvenue, which apparently was visible at low tide somewhere west of Sandgate, possibly toward Hythe.