Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Chocolate Jelly Babies at The Kymera Coffee House

I made my first proper trip to Maidstone on Friday (Cathy lives in the town centre – she’s the ‘local’). All I had to guide me so far was a page in Harold P. Clunn’s ‘Face of the Home Counties’. "Maidstone, the name of which is a corruption of Medwaystown or of the Saxon Meddestane."

As soon as I hit the platform at Maidstone West Cathy sent me a picture message of a Tudor building with the instruction to meet her there, somewhere near the town hall. This was a pain as I was instinctively drawn to the Bishop’s Palace keen to seek out the cell that Wat Tyler had sprung ‘The Mad Priest of Kent’, Rev John Ball from at the start of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381.

The building in Cathy’s MMS found me rather than me finding it. Once over the river and across the road you are sucked into Bank Street, a winding paved way that was the home of the town’s Gin distilleries. It retains a Hogarthian air in the architecture (and the street scenes after dark), dank alleys draw you aside between shops into disused yards revealing intriguing views of the backs of buildings. Bank Street is a good first reference point – there was nobody around too, on a busy Friday lunchtime, giving the requisite feel of an under-celebrated spot.

We viewed the council chambers where we’ll base ourselves for the June Architecture Week event. Apt that the home of the local democratic body will be given over to a people’s re-imaging of the town, a kind of civic mass-authoring of the visual Maidstone.

Then later we attended the launch of the Artists’ Quarter Quarterly a feisty new zine aimed at promoting the idea of a Maidstone artists’ quarter around Earl Street, Market Buildings, Bank Street, Rose Yard and Pudding Lane. With a bit of spin and imagination in a few years this will become a Kentish Left Bank, a Home Counties Hoxton, a Medway Greenwich Village. Things certainly kicked off in decadent fashion with a chocolate fountain at the Kymera Coffee House, but instead of the usual tame stuff to dip into the molten choc we had jelly babies, yep chocolate jelly babies at the Kymera Coffee House. Let Chatham Bard Pete Molinari celebrate that in song. In Paris in the 1920’s they got off their bonce on absinthe, in Maidstone we gorged on little multi-coloured people dipped in melted (organic fair-trade?) chocolate. In years to come pale art students will gather to recreate this moment with fondue sets and jelly babies and toast the Maidstone Movement who eventually overdid the E numbers.

I missed my train. Which gave me a chance to review some historical notes. The symmetries with Wycombe jumping off the page. In Wycombe we marked the presence of Dr Martin Lluelyn, the man who tended to Charles I on the scaffold and took the monarch's gloves as a keepsake. In Maidstone we have the figure of Andrew Broughton who read out the king’s death sentence at his trial. And of course there’s Disraeli, the man who tried and failed three times to get elected MP for Wycombe before taking the seat at Maidstone. And both towns were centres of paper-making and religious dissent.
All bodes well.

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