Some Margate Gems

This week I was invited to photograph Margate for the local tourist board, while joining them on a whistletop ‘fam tour’ of the town. I like to think I know Margate well, as I divide my time between my flat here and London. But I have to admit that most of the places we visited had previously been off my radar. I can now say that I’ve ventured down the shell grotto (a cave decorated with shells ‘recently’ discovered in 1835 but no-one knows why the shells are there and who put them there); stepped inside the beautiful Tudor House, which I have previously only admired from the outside; done time in a prison cell – now Margate History museum, and hopped on-board the bus cafe at The Old Kent Market.

I’ve come away now knowing that the shell grotto has a fantastic gift shop; that Tudor House was nearly demolished by the council because they didn’t know what historic gem was quietly lying underneath a rough plastered facade (a lesson for us all perhaps…); the Old Kent Market bakes lovely huge teacakes on the premises, that are effectively Hot Cross Buns but without the cross. (So you don’t have to wait until Easter to eat them); the History Museum is housed in a former gaol and is really large and that Helen Shapiro, who sang at the Winter Gardens, was actually Columbian (a random fact gleaned from the history museum).

I also got to have a private tour of Dreamland amusement park on the first anniversary of its new incarnation (sadly the rides were not operating during my visit – I guess only the Royals get that kind of private tour) and discovered that the park is now free to visit (you just have to pay for the rides).

I also got to see the latest exhibition at the Turner Contemporary gallery, which is basically centred on all things round; and popped into a few shops and bars including the lovely Morgans, which I returned to later on so that I could enjoy the sunshine from their beautiful seaview terrace.

Next week I’ll be joining them on another fam trip and photographing the local Kent villages. I can’t wait!

The woman in all of us?

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I love pictures that tell a story. In fact in my opinion all pictures should tell a story. In this photograph, taken in Margate, I like the way we have three totally different types of women represented. First we have the sexy, sassy young thing in her pretty summer frock; further along the road there’s the artistic and quirky lady dressed up like Rosie the Riveter.  Both are obviously very conscious of their respective styles and seemingly still making adjustments, just to be sure that they are looking their best in their individual ways.

Finally, on the sidelines and almost blending into the mundane backdrop of cardboard boxes, stands another female who seems to be standing quite defiantly and looking on rather disapprovingly (or possibly dejectedly) in her ‘uniform’ of sensible shoes and comfortable clothes.

I wonder which of these figures my female followers can most relate to. Or maybe there is a touch of all three in each one of us – the desire to be feminine; to be a bit of an exhibitionist, or sometimes to just be plain comfortable?

T.S. Eliot’s study

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T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland is considered one of the most important poems of the 20th century – and part of it happened to have been written in Margate, in the seaside shelter featured here. While recovering from a nervous breakdown the American poet wrote part three of the literary masterpiece, including the words: “On Margate Sands./I can connect/Nothing with nothing./The broken fingernails of dirty hands./My people humble people who expect/Nothing.”

There is no plaque marking the significance of the literary undertaking in this spot. Rather the building has now seen better days and is pockmarked with graffiti and dirty glass ,while it’s current ‘artists in residence’ tend to be tramps or Margate’s young lovers making out for want of a better place to practise their passion. Maybe that is how Eliot would have wanted it – for the place to have retained some of the desolation and grittiness from when he took artistic shelter there.

For me it is just one of the many remarkable things about Margate that I keep discovering; another thing to endear me to this place a little bit more. He was in good company as the artist Turner also spent substantial time here. Given its illustrious past it seems somewhat prophetic that Britain’s first dedicated seaside town has since turned into some forgotten wasteland preserved for society’s underclass. But the tide is definitely turning. The inspired Turner Gallery is now a well established presence; the decaying Dreamland amusement park is set to be revamped vintage style; the iconic Winter Gardens has an impressive line up this season ranging from UB40 to Jools Holland: and the lido has just been snapped up, so watch this space. It won’t be long before a preservation order will be slapped on Eliot’s shelter and we’ll be paying to sit and be inspired by following the gaze of Eliot and Turner towards that trademark Margate horizon that us mere mortals seemed unable to appreciate – until the artists finally moved back in, and the developers followed on their coat tails.

The Hot Snack Stand at Margate Car Boot Sale

DSCF3906The finale of my recent magical Margate mystery trip was a stop off at a car boot sale on route home. “Can we? Can we?” pleaded Mair as she expertly swerved off the road into a conveniently placed parking spot by the gate. How could I say no when she was already slamming on the brakes and unbuckling her seatbelt?

I have never been good at the likes of charity shops or car boot sales. I just find it impossible to spot the diamonds amongst the dross. Mair, however, is very good at it. She came away with a vintage De Longhi heater for £2.50 (no I didn’t know that De Longhi did anything beyond coffee makers either) and a stack of tantalising vinyls including one by OMD that sent my brain on a little trip down memory lane to many a night spent listening to said CD in my youth. Sadly, I could not prise the damn thing off of her even when I played my trump card and told her I was once a signed up member of the OMD fan club. Perhaps it was something to do with the fact that she knew that I don’t actually own a record player. But it sure was lovely clutching that record again! I’m beginning to admit that spotify is lacking that all-round sensory appeal.

So, with shopping out of the question for me, I did what comes naturally and started taking pictures. I was a bit nervous because I wasn’t sure how the amply-built and boldly-tattooed locals would react to this interloper with her camera. I found myself clocking the gate and working out my exit strategy just in case things got dangerous. Finally a stall holder came up to me and asked, in the nicest possible way, if I was taking pictures on behalf of the local Social Security benefit office. I replied, in the nicest possible way, that no I wasn’t, I was just someone who disliked shopping but enjoyed taking pictures, and so was doing this while I waited for my friends. You sensed the entire cuddly toy, 70’s pottery and kitchen gadget laden field breathe a collective sigh of relief. As if given his cue an elderly gentleman sidled over – an immigrant of Eastern European origin. “What nationality are you?” I asked. “British,” he replied, with a slim smile that was a blend of cheekiness and pride.

Before I knew it I was buying a slice of Mo’s homemade cake and discussing the state of the nation with her, then buying two, no three, sweet papers from an elderly lady who wasn’t getting a lot of trade. She saw me photographing them in their wonderful Union Jack box and boldly asked me if I would like to buy one. “How much? I reluctantly asked. “20p” she replied. “20p!!! Why don’t you have a price sign if you’re selling them so cheap?” I gently scolded her. She just shrugged her shoulders and I handed over 50p and asked for two. She scrambled around for change and I told her that seriously two sweet pepper plants for 50p was a bargain. But she politely disagreed and insisted that I take three.

As I look back, part of me wishes that I’d come away with the whole damn set of peppers in their lovely Union Jack box. But maybe that would have been a bit flash. So instead I will nurture my three little plants and as I watch them grow I will remind myself that not all commerce is bad. If it helps those who are hanging on in there in society by virtue of a bit of get-up-and-go on a Sunday morning then it’s perfectly fine by me, and I for one won’t gripe about immigrants coming over here and taking over our jobs or people doing a bit extra on the side while claiming their miserable benefit.

The cake was lovely by the way – moist in the middle and crisp around the edges, completed by a generous topping of coffee flavoured icing. Far better than anything I’ve ever tasted in Starbucks. But she’s just a lady getting by through selling the fruits of her labours for a few pence in a half-empty playing field in Margate. So what she creates doesn’t really count in British society does it? Which is a sad waste of good honest cake I think. Because it really was rather good.

 

 

Living life in Margate

 

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This morning someone posted on my facebook that her sister, who is currently attending the AIDS convention in Amsterdam, had narrowly missed being part of the terrible tragedy of doomed flight MH17 by virtue of having switched flights. Just now someone else posted that his partner had also been reprieved after he had persuaded her to switch airlines.

It seems such a mighty coincidence that the loved ones of two people that I know have had such a close brush with death. It made me wonder how many times all of us are we are all having these near-misses and yet are totally oblivious to it because it is only in exceptional circumstances that you given the concrete evidence of how close you have come. It probably happens more often than we would care to imagine.

Just as the world was reeling over this terrible event I was being whisked away by a friend in her magical mystery van on an unexpected trip to Margate. Part of me felt that I shouldn’t go – I had too many chores to do at home; too many excuses not to take time out from work. But the prospect of a day at the beach on what was set to be the hottest day of the year was too pervasive an argument not to stay at home. I’m so glad that I over-ruled my head because I ended up having the most incredible day that then morphed into a weekend, having got caught up in a spectacular storm there that evening. I made acquaintances with so many people –  from a lovely transvestite to friendly ‘retro Rosie,’ to some local folks at a car boot sale; I witnessed the most incredible storm I’ve ever seen in my life and chatted until the early hours with some warm and entertaining people who unexpectedly had three guests staying over and yet if I’d booked myself into Margate’s finest hotel I wouldn’t have been more comfortable. Oh, and I also got some photographs to be proud of.

I headed back this morning with barely any possessions – not even a toothbrush – but instead a head-load of  memories of the finest kind. Thanks Mair for reminding me that life can be a mini adventure every day, if you open your heart and mind to the possibilities.

In memory of those lost in Flight MH17. I hope that they passed away with their heads and hearts full of happy memories and with few regrets.