by Alan Watkins
The other day was my eldest son’s birthday. His son, Max, was born just over a month before, while his daughter celebrated her third birthday yesterday.
If that wasn’t enough for the family’s birthday card-buyers, Gramps celebrated his 65th birthday with a trip to Wales.
It is a long time since I have been down the Valleys. They don’t change very much.
Most of the slag heaps have gone. You can actually see how green was the valley that Richard Llewellyn immortalised.
The docks have been transformed in a way that leaves me speechless – and must frustrate the Medway councillors who expected similar glory at Chatham Maritime.
It was where my grandfather occasionally visited as a merchant seaman and 40 years on I went in search of scrapheaps to photograph.
Half a century later, there is a Welsh Assembly in Cardiff Docks, copper-clad and more glittery than the University of Kent building. The Welsh, Irish, Scots, Manxmen, Channel Islanders all have their own parliaments, but the English are still ruled by a mixture of Welsh, Irish, Scots…you already had the picture, probably.
Chatham Maritime as the government’s mindbenders chose to rename the naval dockyard has a handful of shops, the obligatory iconic building (which actually does look like the artist’s impression we dubbed the Two Towers), half a dozen good restaurants, a housing estate, a new school with old problems, a working dock that could be swept away for more dormitory dwellings if its owner gets its way, and a splendid historic dockyard.
Oh yes, and Gun Wharf. Nearly 30 years after the dockyard closed, there are still large tracts of waste land waiting for someone, anyone, to build on it.
The dream is becoming a nightmare, and the quality jobs explosion that we expected? – it seems unlikely ever to come.
When you visit Chatham Maritime you are rarely stopped from entering any of its eateries.
At Cardiff Bay (the twee name dreamed up for the transformed Tiger Bay) there must be 150 restaurants and cafes vying for custom. They don’t take bookings on Thursdays, Fridays or Saturdays – the queues of hungry customers waiting for an empty table prove that marketing ploy is unnecessary.
Back here, the other day I was asked where I could recommend for a small group to go for a quiet drink and a bar snack. I’m still trying to find an answer in Medway.