A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words.
‘Once Upon a Time in Folkestone.’
As part of my on going ‘A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words’ series, I thought I’d tell the tale I’ve told to my fellow military-modellers on the odd occasion, but never have I put it down on pen and paper, or digitally as it were. The location is the Skuba Bar in Folkestone, England. A funny little place. Attached to the Portland Hotel on The Leas in seaside Folkestone it’s a place infamous to locals, and a daytime watering hole to Euro-Militaire attendees for years and years.
So then the tale. I do so now tell it as it so directly relates to the photo of the Skuba Bar above. I have changed names of businesses to protect the honour of both the brand and their employees. Or as you will see – lack thereof.
This takes me back all the way to my second Euro. 2004. These were heady days. A Post 9/11 World. Economies were on a tear. Some even called these years ‘A Golden Age’ for modellers. Dragon Models (DML) was coming out with what were then state-of-the-art kits and aftermarket companies such as Aber in Poland and Royal Model in Italy were producing more detail sets in brass and resin. There was an endless stream of new merchandise released each month. And all of roads led to Euro-Militaire each September. You were likely to brush elbows with the likes of Marijn Van Gils, Adam Wilder, Ulf Anderson or MIG. The energy there quite incredible.
With all this in mind and after my first experience in ’03 I needed no nudging to return. So, on a Friday night, 17th September in 2004 I met Jon Tamkin— who introduced me to Euro-Militaire—in the Clifton Hotel bar before dinner. He informed me we off to a restaurant just across the street, a Thai restaurant beneath the terraced pub called Skuba (also known as the Portland Bar as it is in the Portland Hotel). I liked Thai cuisine so why not?
When I arrived I learnt there were others joining us—
the crew from a well known manufacturer of marvellous resin kits and accessories. I’ll just refer to them as Resin Manufacturer, to protect their reputation. I was well acquainted with the company having bought a number of kits from them.
We had drinks on Skuba’s terrace, chatting over beer and cigarettes. Think I was smoking Dunhill blues or American Spirit mild-yellows in those days. I’ve since given them up three years ago now.
It didn’t take long for us to work out that at night Skuba became Folkestone’s local watering hole for queers and a tranny or two.
Our dinner reservation hour rolled around and we descended to the Thai restaurant downstairs. I was gobsmacked to be honest. It was a who’s who of modelling manufacturers: Aber, Resicast, Royal Model, Azimut ADV, and magazine editors from David Parker of AFV Modeller to Raymond Gulliani from Steelmasters.
We tucked into our Thai supper. It was average fare at best. A lot of fried bits. A great difference from the way Thai is prepared at places like Chandara in Los Angeles. Still, it was superior to pub grub served upstairs or the rubbish being served in the Clifton’s dining room in those years. We ordered a round of drinks. For some odd reason, the beer one of the chaps from the Resin Manufacturer fancied was not on menu in the Thai. Rather than choose an Asian Singha or Asahi, he had to have some heavy ale, requiring him to troop upstairs to fetch it. When he returned he had a naughty little smirk on his face. Of course we asked.
In his thick brogue he proceeded to explain how he had been upstairs fetching his ale when there in the midst of gyrating boys he saw a lovely woman. ‘Mind you, a bit tall, and with big feet and hands, but lovely none the less.’
We all had a laugh. Seemed the all of us but him realised this was in fact a tranny.
After a few laughs about the matter and usual piss take on life in general we finished our dinner and headed upstairs to the bar to see this mystery ‘woman.’ On a Friday evening, the bar was completely packed out and so dark as to make it near impossible to make out anyone in detail.
So then, our friend panned the bar like ack-ack for the woman who had given him the glad eye. He moaned when he could not find her, blaming us for keeping him downstairs at dinner for too long.
Then. ‘There she is,’ he said. He spotted her. Across the bar. And then so did we. ‘Sure, she’s a bit tall, but she’s lovely.’
The all of us giggled. It was obvious to all but him that this was a tranny * ‘She’s tall,’ we explained. ‘Because she’s a man, mate.’
‘Aw, fuck right off,’ he replied. ‘You’s just jealous she lookin’ at me, nae you.’
All right then. Have at it. The thing went outside to the terrace. So did he.
The rest of us had a few good laughs. A few pints. A few cigarettes. Before we knew it, it was gone 1 in the morning and no sign of our friend. We shrugged and then returned to The Clifton. The chaps from the Resin Manufacturer were staying further down The Leas at the Salsbury (The View Hotel now).
Next morning I headed to the trader’s hall in the Leas Cliff and found our friend sitting in a chair behind Resin Manufacturer’s trade stand. He looked knackered
and a bit humiliated. I greeted him with a good morning and where had he gotten off to?
‘You can’t fuckin’ believe it,’ he began to explain. ‘I took her back to my hotel bar for a drink. She took up a pint and when she slung it back I saw the Adam’s apple in her neck wobbling and I thought to myself—what I done?’
‘Oh that’s terrible,’ I replied. ‘So, what did you do?’
‘Ah,’ he replied dismissively. ‘I did what I could.’
Make of it what you will. It made for years and years of laughs in its retelling.
* I learnt many years later, in 2018 actually, that this tranny is an infamous local and still bangin around. In fact Daiana and I crossed paths with it on the High Street. It was raising funds for an Owl Charity. I did a double take. Still tall. Still big hands and feet. Face like a bulldog, loaded with make-up and chewing a wasp.