Totally gonna win the Turner Prize for this.
So this weekend I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time and went to Margate. For someone who is fetishistically obsessed with depressing seaside towns and has lived in London for about five years it’s strange I’ve never been there before (although maybe not seeing as it’s usually £30 on the train!). All I really knew about it was that Tracey Emin’s from there, they have the Turner Contemporary Gallery and the shell grotto and that my colleagues at Evil Art Empire™ are always going. For these reasons I assumed it would be full of tourists and bougie arty types. Although there is that side to it, and I must admit I probably sometimes fall into the arty, bougie, touristy categorical triptych, it’s not exactly the first thing you think when you come off the train.
My friends and I got there when it was grey and overcast and looking at the grey buildings gave a pretty melancholic feel, then we saw the amusement arcades on the seafront, one of which was called Dreamland and had its name written vertically on the side of a faded brown building in extinguished neon letters, it was dwarfed by a huge 1960s tower block behind which dominates the Margate skyline, the combination had a pretty amazing Soviet-style architectural effect.
Like anywhere there are the more bougie bits of Margate –mainly the old town which is aimed at us tourists- but it’s mostly a working class town and I am guessing from the high street which is dead (yes there was that Mary Portas documentary but we won't go in to that) it’s been hit hard by cuts, etc. You pass the odd teenager wandering the streets necking beers which you could attribute to there being not much to do. This might be correct but then what’s wrong with walking the streets with a beer? It’s the type of thing I did as a teenager in a big city and still often do today.
I love the old-skool arcades and the bleakness of the Margate seafront, something always drives me to want to be by the sea. Any water is good, even when I cross some bridge in London over the Thames I feel instantly better about living there. If I don’t get my sea-fix for too long I feel suffocated. I grew up in Birmingham which isn’t by the sea at all so I don’t know where the drive comes from, or perhaps it’s an urge you just have for no apparent reason like wanting to find someone or several people to have sex with. Inland there is always a sense of suffocation. The sea is such an instantly pleasing thing, I mean what’s not to like, but perhaps there’s also something about seeing the edge of things that makes me feel less trapped, though realistically what am I gonna do? Swim to another country? I remember being at the Danube Delta in Romania and this fisherman who was there described it as being ‘like the end of the earth or maybe the beginning’. I know that sounds like a contrived line from an American film but it wasn’t and I think he had a point. I mean about the sea generally, even in Margate.
Mrs Booth the shell lady of Margate keeps a silent watch on
the town, biding her time until she hatches her evil plans.
The light by the sea is amazing which is why, as a friend pointed out the other week, so many artists live by the sea, 90% of whom are terrible generic watercolour artists who paint generic paintings they sell to tourists desperate to buy things and after a couple of ciders I start to delude myself that I’m JMW Turner with my crappy camera phone taking inadequate pictures of the sea and the sky. This got even worse when it came to evening and it actually started getting sunny so the light became this really bright evening sun amongst big shadows and then it got dark and I got hooked looking at the stars and the neon lights by the sea reflected in the water/sand. There’s something about electric lights at night in harbours and places where there’s not a lot going on that I’m really drawn to. I’ve always had it, I can’t explain it. Something alive but synthetic in darkness, or it points to where people are or where people have been when it’s surrounded by no people. A lot of the bars in Margate were empty or partially empty even on a Saturday night in June but we found a cosy one that was busyish by the lighthouse and the terrifying statue of the shell woman. The bar also had a pretty awesome barman with loads of tattoos and great facial hair. We spotted many gays at that bar too. Score. Then we went to Sundowners which I think is Margate’s only official gay bar. It was great. The website, which might need an update, makes it look like it would have a very cis man-only exclusionary vibe but there was a good mix of genders and ages there and everyone we met was super sweet and friendly. I think London is such an unfriendly, impersonal city sometimes, especially when you go to bars and people are scared to enjoy themselves in case it makes them look bad. But then you get that in other places I've lived like Brighton too... Anyway in Sundowners no one was ashamed to dance and everyone was loving the karaoke. We hid in the corner but the landlady found us and bought us all enormous shots of tequila imploring us to come back. It’s one of those places up several stairs where they have to buzz you in which I kind of like, but if it’s because of homophobia then that’s not so great.
I’m not gonna up sticks and move to Margate shockingly enough, I had a great time there but the town has its problems and its very white and very small and there's not loads to do, for all the foibles of London I prefer living there. But Margate did fulfil my delusional romantic tourist notions and my seaside town fetish, I also met a lot of super friendly people and my friends and I enjoyed making up fantasy lives for random people we passed on the street or saw in bars. I will definitely go back. Triggered by the landscape I had these two songs going round in my head all day:
The lighthouse glows red at night making it look like the evil eye of
Mordor which is pretty awesome. You can speculate that the red eye is
really a device which turns people into zombies and that that device is being
manipulated by the shell lady who in turn is being controlled by the swamp witch
who hangs out by the harbour, at least if you’re anything like me.