Our Search for A Sandy Beach: Nine Out of Ten

We first discovered Broadstairs just after the Millennium celebrations, sometime in 2001. As empty-nesters in a London flat, we were interested in finding a seaside town in which we could purchase a second home as an investment – hopefully a town that had sandy beaches like those we were accustomed to in the United States. As transplanted Americans from New Jersey living in London since 1973, we were used to with wide sandy beaches like the cities along the Atlantic Coast. My wife took holidays in Atlantic City where her family had properties and I worked as a teenager in Wildwood, NJ.

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Beach at Atlantic City, NJ USA

We had searched many locations in the British Isles in an attempt to find beaches we liked. Much to our disappointment, we were not able to do so. Cornwall and Devon were too far away from London. Even though we were attracted to the charm of such lovely areas as Whitstable in Kent and Eastbourne in Sussex, these beaches had stones or shingles, not inspiring to us transplanted Yanks.  We had never even heard of Broadstairs.

The suggestion to look here came strangely from our bank manager who mentioned that Broadstairs was a town where people bought investment properties and many services and facilities of the town catered for holiday lets.

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Beach Huts on the Broadstairs Seafront

So sometime around 2001, we visited the town and walked along the coast taking a close look at the Seven Bays of the area from Botany Bay to Dumpton Gap. We were astonished. Not only were the beaches sandy, they were empty! I recall asking my wife Pat at the end of the day what she thought of Broadstairs on a scale of 1 to 10. Her answer was a very emphatic ‘Nine’.

Shortly thereafter we purchased a small flat on the seafront at Victoria Parade and became familiar with the delights of the town . . . ice cream at Morelli’s, the unusual films on Tuesday evenings at the quaint Palace Cinema and the excellent seafood to be enjoyed all along the coast from Margate to Ramsgate. In no time, we became interested in a larger property and began to look for a house.

Immediately, we were taken aback when we overheard a conversation by someone from down under complaining that there were no seaside properties left in Broadstairs. In a panic, we noticed a ‘For Sale’ sign in Rectory Road and soon we were the proud owners of a terraced house on that street. We sold the sea front flat in no time.

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Crabbing Baskets at Viking Bay on the Broadstairs Seafront

We have been surprised over and over again about how little Broadstairs is known. That is, except for the cognoscenti, many of whom were brought here as children with their bucket ’n spade. Maybe it’s because the locals like to keep a little quiet about how salubrious it is being here. A few years ago when one of the national newspapers published a piece touting Broadstairs as second only to St. Ives in Cornwall for a seaside destination, one could hear a collective groan from the residents fearing even larger crowds of visitors.

In 2007 my wife decided that she would take an assignment with VSO, an organisation for individuals of all ages to volunteer in places like Africa and further afield. She chose Ethiopia and started on a two-year program as a teacher trainer in the the small town of Asella about 175 kilometres south of Addis Ababa.

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Pat in Ethiopia

 

The question was . . . what was I to do? I had recently sold my travel business and was looking forward to developing a new career as a writer, mainly in the history of science. I had a good start with books about Stephen Hawking (1995) and another on Quantum Theory (2007) published in the popular Beginners series by Icon Books. They both became best sellers and were translated into a dozen languages.

Now I had a new commission which was more ambitious: A Brief History of the Universe as a part of the Brief History Series by the publisher Constable & Robinson. This was to be a review of the great discoveries – from Stonehenge to the Big Bang – which has led to the present day understanding of the nature of the Universe. So, we decided to rent the London flat and I would live in Broadstairs full time and write while my wife was away.

The first activity of the day, after the morning paper from Victory News and coffee on the terrace of the Albion Hotel, would be to look at the tide tables published on the internet. From these tables, one is able to predict the high and low variations of the sea level before scheduling any long walks along the beach. This I did frequently during my sabbatical from marriage and walked to as far afield as Ramsgate and beyond.

I was particularly intrigued on one of my walks by discovering the disused Hoverport landing site at Pegwell, just beyond Ramsgate. In the late 70s, the Hovercraft was our family’s favourite mode of travel to the continent and our youngest son thought that inventor Christopher Cockerell was the most clever man in the world. How sad now to see the eerie, vacant parking lot where we waited for the technological marvel of the day to skim across the surf, descend on the beach and load up with automobiles.

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The Hovercraft Arriving at Ramsgate circa 1975

Many locals have noticed me on the way to Ramsgate traipsing along on the firm sand washed by the channel, frequently with my walking sticks. I think I became known as ‘the man without a dog’.

A definite feature of this little town is the variety of eateries here. Deciding on lunch was always a pleasurable chore for me. Often I would opt for fish ’n chips at The Charles Dickens or an Italian pasta dish at the wonderful Posillipo right on Albion Street. In the evening, the charming Thai for Two or the Broadstairs Tandoori tempted me away from another stir-fry at home (my specialty). On Wednesday evenings I would carry my Baritone Ukulele down to The Tartar Frigate and join in on the session of folk songs. In short, I was very content and didn’t miss London very much.

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Dickens Week in Broadstairs

 

One negative aspect of our success in renting our property has been that we have still have not experienced the excitement of Broadstairs Folk Week. Although Dickens Week has delighted us several times, we have been able to rent our house so easily during the month of August that we give up the dates of Folk Week to some regular clients. This will soon change though as we intend to keep that week open one of these summers for our own use.

Yes, my bank manager was right, Broadstairs was indeed a discovery and a gem of the Kent coast.

By the way, I should mention that I did finish the book, and almost on schedule.      J.P.McEvoy

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A Brief History of the Universe, written in Broadstairs

 

 

 

What I Did After High School

I am dedicating this blog to my dear sister Mary who passed away on Valentine’s Day, this year.   In one of our last marathon trans-Atlantic telephone conversations, she implored me to return to my blogging, especially those about my personal experiences.  She particularly enjoyed references to Camden Catholic, the high school which we both attended. 

And I thought no one was listening !                                                                                                                                                       

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In September 1955, after graduating from Camden Catholic High School (NJ), I was fortunate to be accepted for a work-study degree course in physics at St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia. The idea had come from a remark by a radical nun, Sister Mary Claver, who simply said . . .’you’re good in math Joseph, why don’t you study physics’? This was the first in a series of shifts in my life, which can only be attributed to serendipity.                                                                       Physics has been good to me.

At St. Joseph’s, after two tough years catching up with the students from Philadelphia’s best prep schools and passionately following the beloved Hawks basketball team under their new coach Jack Ramsey, I started an apprenticeship at RCA in Camden images-1as part of the work-study program – another good break. There I learned about the world of business and science and earned some decent money while continuing to complete my degree at St. Joseph’s, graduating in 1959. By this time I had fallen in love with Pat Miller, a Class of ’57 CCHS grad who I met whilst attending  a mixer at Georgian Court College in Lakewood, NJ. (Remember the scene in Mike Nichols’ film Carnal Knowledge when Jack Nicolson and Art Garfunkel walked into a room full of lovelies standing around the punch bowl ? Well, that’s where I found her.) We married in 1960 as John Kennedy began his short-lived presidency and have recently celebrated our 55th !

imagesThe generosity of RCA was responsible for the next steps in my education, funding my graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania (M.S. in Physics, 1962) and awarding me the David Sarnoff Fellowship two years later. I chose the University of London for my doctoral studies and this became a crucial move in the development of my family. As Pat and I boarded the TWA jet in Philadelphia in September 1964 with our two young sons, Michael (3 yrs) and Joe (1 yr), we already sensed that something profound was about to happen.

The influence which three years in London in the mid-60s had on us as a family was indeed profound and when we returned in November 1967 with a third son, Mark, and a PhD presented to me by the Queen Mother, we were ‘different’. (See blogpost A Sonnet for Sir Laurence, 21 Jan 2015)

I went back to RCA, but this time at their research lab in Princeton. Then, when Robert Kennedy was killed a few months later and I was shocked by some of my colleagues indifference to the tragedy, I asked to be released to take a faculty position at Clark University in Massachusetts. We headed to what was to become our beloved New England where we stayed for six years while I pined for the exciting life we had enjoyed in London. (A future blogpost , Hide the Daddy, set in our big house in Worcester gives a sense of our happy life in Worcester, MA during those years).

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Our home in Worcester, MA during the years 1968-1973 with the VW Beetle parked in front

 

 

In 1973, as the Watergate scandal unravelled, I somehow managed to convince my wife and the boys (now 12, 10 and 6 years) that our life in London was not yet played out. After selling two cars and giving away the dog, cat and the pet rabbit ‘Flopsy’, we sailed from New York with 22 trunks on board the QE II while our loyal and supportive families wiped away tears amid the confetti and the streamers at dockside in Manhatten’s harbour.

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Arriving in Southampton on the QEII 1973

During the next  years to the present, we all have found a niche in London, the cosmopolitan capital of the English-speaking world. After seven years teaching physics at the American School in London (ASL), I founded a travel company for ex-pat Americans and ran it for twenty-five years before selling the enterprise in 2007. I have also been able to develop as a writer of popular science with several books published based on the history of physics.

Pat taught at ASL before developing her career as a counsellor and psychotherapist, obtaining the M.A. degree and other credentials in the British system of psychotherapy. She retired from ASL as the lower school counsellor after 25 years but continues her private work with families. Although everyone who has ever sat at her table tries to convince her to open her own restaurant, she has resisted. She concentrates on fantastic family feasts and is a passionate reader of contemporary fiction. Lately, she has developed as a competent watercolourist in a very short time much to the amazement of the rest of the family.

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New Eltham, London 1974

Our boys completed their studies in English schools and were drawn to further training in the arts. Michael has had a challenging career in music as a performer, arranger and composer, and is now a part-time faculty member of the Royal College of Music; Joe is a somewhat disaffected journeyman, political activist and poet living in Northern Ireland; Mark is an accomplished musician and artist but earns his living as a media designer and film maker. All three chose clever, delightful women as partners (a BBC producer, a school counsellor and an NHS psychiatrist)  and we are blessed with five interesting grandchildren. But that’s another story . . . ______________________________________________________________________

A few years ago, I visited CCHS for the first time in 50 years to talk about the discovery of the universe from the Babylonians to thee Big Bang. They gave me a good slot and let the whole school get out of class to hear from the old grad. My sister was there and she loved the occasion. I even got coverage in the local press . . .

Writer shares his love of physics at alma mater      

April, 2011          By Carl Peters

CHERRY HILL, N.J. — Science writer Joe McEvoy graduated from Camden Catholic in 1955, when the high school was in Camden, and he had never been to its current location in Cherry Hill. As he faced the students in the auditorium, he said, “This building is 50 years old, but to me it looks new.”

Of course, time is relative, as people like to say since Einstein revolutionized physics a century ago.

McEvoy likes to talk about Einstein and others who have shaped the world of science. He gave the Camden Catholic students a synopsis of the history of cosmology, from the ancient Greeks to the Big Bang — all before second period on April 7. He also spent time in classrooms during the day.

McEvoy describes himself as a “champion of science education.” He left research years ago to devote his time to popularizing science, to describing scientific discoveries and those who made them in an accessible way to a broad audience. He is the author of four books, the first of which, “Introducing Stephen Hawking,” was published in 1991.

A lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Hawking is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist who has made important contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes. But Hawking, who is almost completely paralyzed and speaks through a voice synthesizer, also has become widely known to the general public through his best-selling book, “A Brief History of Time,” as well as by playing himself in several episodes of “The Simpsons.”

McEvoy spent two weeks in Cambridge, England with the scientist and persuaded him to come to the Royal Albert Hall in London for the publisher’s launch of “Introducing Stephen Hawking.” At one point Hawking tried to back out of the appearance, worrying that no one would show up. The event drew 6,000 people.

McEvoy, who makes his home in England, went on to write “Introducing Quantum Theory” (1996) and “Eclipse” (1999). His most recent book, “A Brief History of the Universe,” was published last year.

Before he ever thought about explaining quantum theory, black holes or the history of the universe, McEvoy was a teenager living in the Cramer Hill section of Camden, helping his fellow students with their math. In his junior year, his friends began talking about going to college. Should he go to college as well? He still remembers asking one of his teachers, Sister Mary Claver, who told him, “Joe, you are very good at math. Why don’t you study physics?”

And that’s what he did, at St. Joseph’s College (now University) in Philadelphia. McEvoy went on to earn a master’s degree in physics from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate from the University of London.

He returned to St. Joseph’s to speak to science students on April 6, the day before he spoke at Camden Catholic. It was his 74th birthday, and he was doing what he likes to do.  McEvoy still sounds like a young man in love when he talks about the surprising work of astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt or Sir Arthur Eddington’s experiment that confirmed Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Someone McEvoy admires is Philip Morrison, a distinguished physicist who reached a popular audience through his numerous books and television programs, including “Powers of Ten” (1977) and the 1987 PBS series “The Ring of Truth: An Inquiry into How We Know What We Know.”

For McEvoy, explaining how we know what we know — and separating knowledge from superstition and unfounded ideas — has become his life’s work.

“If anyone tells you the Big Bang is not correct, give them my phone number,” he told his Camden Catholic audience.

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Joe McEvoy, a science writer and graduate of Camden Catholic in 1955, when the high school was in Camden, speaks to a class at his alma mater April 7. This was his first visit to the school’s current location in Cherry Hill.