My Kind of Town: Margate was never the last resort – for some it was just the beginning
It’s only recently that I have started to refer to London as home, despite living here for 25 years. Now I live in the East End of London. One of my main reasons for wanting to live here is because I feel geographically closer to what I used to refer to as home. A quick scoot through the Blackwall Tunnel, bomb down the M2 and you arrive at the Isle of Thanet – Planet Thanet as it always used to be referred to, as if all the beings and inhabitants had miraculously arrived from outer space.
One of my favourite views in the whole world is when you first hit Margate seafront. Whether by train or by car it makes no difference; the view is virtually the same. It’s the view that Turner loved and many great Victorians and, previous to the Victorians, our gentry folk from the eighteenth century. Hawley Square, Margate, was one of the poshest addresses in Britain. Margate was a seaside town built and created for the educated and wise. A place to become healthy and spiritually assured (the Big Sur of the South East). Many great architects hung out there for a while and stamped their mark. Pugin to name just one.
Margate was never the last resort – for some it was just the beginning”
For years every time I went back to Margate I would want to cry, not just from my own demented, strange melancholia but for the fact that there would always be something missing. For years the local councils ran down the place with the speed and zest of fascist vultures who were just after a quick quid or two. No one in control viewed Margate as a long-term venture. Sundecks, the pier, the sea walls, the wrought iron railings, the dolphin street lamps, the Victorian schools, the sea-bathing hospital, picturesque wind shelters and Dreamland. You name it. Gone. I remember actually crying when I said ‘Where the fuck is the big wheel… it’s gone!’ Something which had dominated Margate’s skyline for decades. With a snap of the finger and a blink of an eye gone, and now it’s the neon. The once beautiful Golden Mile is now becoming drab and dreary as Wetherspoons and gymnasiums and tanning centres take over. The beautiful neon lights, halogen, nitrogen lightbulb extravaganzas going, going, gone. Where are the two fat ladies when you need them? Donkeys, fish and chips, jellied eels, cockles, Tony Savage at the Lido playing the organ, graceful, elderly people in May doing the foxtrot out of season. The Lido tower beamed with its phallic luminescence. Old theatres, music halls, the Winter Gardens, Frankie Howerd, Danny La Rue, Mike and Bernie Winters.
I have always said to people, if you want a dirty weekend, you really have to go to Margate”
It was never the last resort; for some it was just the beginning. But for now when you look at Margate and you remember the grandeur of the 1970s, the pure rock ‘n’ roll excitement, teddy boys, mods, hells angels, more teddy boys (punks), more mods, soul boys, new romantics. Margate was the place to be seen all year round if you were really cool; an out of season shag hotspot. I have always said to people if you want a dirty weekend don’t go to Brighton – you really have to go to Margate!
Extraordinary sights, unexplained visions. The shell grotto, Victorian folly or ancient shrine? The Margate caves, a smugglers’ escape and hideaway, an ancient secret church. Millions of caves and passageways lead to the cliffs, a warren of man-made escape routes taking them only to the sea. A sea that is half channel, half giant sea. Land faces in a strange direction, the knuckle of England, a fist turned in on itself. What should be north faces south and what should be west faces east and what should be east faces west. This is what gives Margate, if not the most beautiful sunsets in the world, then by far the most beautiful sunsets in Britain. The sun sets like a giant orange ball, slipping off the face of the earth. Margate is one of the last true places where, if we really wanted to, in our childlike hearts, we could believe that the world is still flat. A sunset that stripes every colour ever known to man, the rays of the sun become green, the colour of the sea becomes red and the sand that we walk on becomes heaven. Margate is dead, long live Margate!