His Union Jack
Flows in the wind
Like an 80-year-old
Walking with arms
That have swallowed rocks,
His sail gone –
Cut loose, undone.
Dungeness // 11.08.14
Black inky pools in choppy brown sea. Vicious hardening winds. Strange vegetation and porous cabbage. Flat desolation with the power-station looming behind, a vast sprawling monolith. Unnerving, vast quiet sadness.
Lydd Camp // 12.08.14
Live ammunition rounds of Lydd Camp echoing in the near distance as the rain pounds an inhospitable half-suburban landscape. Huge electrical pylons appear like alien communication systems punctuating the ground – a dot to dot network for horoscope minds.
Rye / Ypres Tower and Parish Church // 12.08.14
Slanting cobbled streets, black timber door frames, medieval script advertising tea rooms and antique shops. The parish church with a Christ made from driftwood – a driftwood Jarman. And Ypres Tower (which I think I visited with my father 25 years ago. The canons on the south wall of the castle seemed to unlock some distant memory), two distinct things worth noting. Ornate truncheons used by the authorities, beautifully painted and delicately carved. Getting a beating came with a degree of style. Secondly, the smuggling trade had ingenious ways of disguising themselves from customs officials. Wearing masks to blend into the night, the smugglers wore bee keeps with eye slits. A carnivalesque treat.
Hastings // 12.08.14
The two fortune tellers outside of the amusement arcade at the beginning of the entrance to the old town. Hans Bellmers in glass boxes, cheap thrills for your kids, House of the Dead 4 for Dad. An overall orange glow, vibrating arcade, sterile without the stale yellow glow of cigarette smoke. A junkshop that attempts to close a sale of some bizarre object or other, based on what you wear and how you sound. Pin-point capitalism. A humorous macabre in the old town – tattoo parlors with medieval torture devices in windows. Chains and skeletons, Halloween monochromes and a dash of orange.
The shopping centre is home to the customary heroin-bard, boot cut jeans and vans, playing Oasis on repeat – a cracked mirror to the neo-liberal monstrosity that is the machine of the popular music industry. Ragged guitar out of tune, “you’re my wonderwaaaaaaall” under the permanent SALE signs of Sports Direct.
The Huge Goth, gammon flesh rolling out under a Halloween corset, dyed blond dreadlocks flailing in the wind – striding like a cygnet – the shopping centre as catwalk for the pedestrian.
And the four-year-old boy, strapped into a bungee harness outside New Look. Bouncing 30 feet into the air, everyone clapping in ecstatic unison. A few shop girls watching tentatively, obscured by a rack of cheap skirts.
Return to Dungeness // 12.08.14
Eerie, immaculately flat. The huge wind turbines of Lydd revolve majestically in the evening sun, shimmering with potency. The MoD base at Camp Lydd stretches for what seems like miles, bordered by a 10-foot barbed wire fence. A council estate flanks it from all sides. Overgrown shrubbery and the thuggish flora of military training grounds populate in abundance, punctuated by old buildings and stand-in villages, infantry training for the locals.
This morning as the rain lashed the ground you could hear the thud of live ammunition reverberating in the distance – a loutish lullaby as the rain whipped the asphalt pavements.
Dungeness at Night // 12.08.14
The wind still howls from within this tweed box. I can hear the rustle of the weeds and shrubs on the coast, flat impending gloom in invisible rock pools and oily black junctures. The odd car zooms by as familiar seagulls sing high over the baritone of that eerie wind.
Walking the two miles from The Pilot Inn towards where I’m staying at The White Horses Guest House, the road is relentlessly straight. The sea is a distant black jewel beyond the flatlands to the east, where bungalow after bungalow line the coastal road for miles in taunting angular repetitions. I observed shadowy figures staring out blankly, from their sitting room chairs as I walked north, hood up, black jacket, both harbingers of doom. Those interior figures seemed concealed, locked into their catheter tubes. Necks rigid, eyes stiff, the distant unique monotony of the waves the lashing brain. I imagine saliva condensed into overcooked, faded vegetables.
It becomes clear throughout the landscape that time moves slowly – and ghosts line the shore. I think of a diagram earlier at Ypres Tower, Rye, detailing the shipwrecks along this coastline. The phantoms of forgotten men, howling history in the wind.
Dymchurch (passing through on the 102 bus) // 13.08.14
The young families with bruiser boys waiting for the bus outside a mobile home park in Dymchurch. Union Jacks fly full mast. The bus stops get more vandal proof, the litter bins more secure and tank-like. Everyone under 30 looks like they’re hoping to audition for X-Factor, everyone over 60 looks as if they’re ready to pack it in.
Hythe // 13.08.14
St Leonard’s Church Crypt, Hythe, contains over 4,000 human remains. Some 2,000 individuals. Skulls are stacked in neat rows on old wooden shelves caged behind chicken wire. To the left of the crypt a stack of human bones measures approximately 1.2 metres high and perhaps 7 metres in length. A few skulls protrude comically from stacks of femurs, fibulas and tibias. The crypt smells distinctly of salt-water, perhaps this is a natural preservation method.
A peculiar woman from the church, with rogue strands of tremendously long facial hair explains, “they didn’t all die in battle”. Apparently, the church had a renovation project in the 13th century, uncovering the collection buried in the grounds.
With England, the trauma of generations, plays itself out over many consecutive generations. Now our killing seems to be conducted in some other land. We’ve cleaned up war, packaged it for T.V and the internet, it’s sold to us in digestible bite-size snacks of evil.
Dymchurch // 13.08.14
Dymchurch is rough as fuck. A children’s playground for white bruisers, shit food and aggressive looks. The public toilets have a dispensary for needles and razor blades, it costs 20p for 15 minutes.
The beach at high tide is a concrete balustrade, pasty kids play ball games, lounging in rubber dinghies, eating ice cream. There are a couple of Napoleonic dome buildings called Martello Towers that used to house gun turrets on each of their respective roofs. I imagine they were subsequently used during the second world war. They stretch all along the coastline and are now owned by English Heritage. I tried to enter one, but it was welded shut.
10-year-old white bruisers run wild, licking their fingers hungry for some seeming monstrosity or other. A Tesco Express shines like a corporate watchtower overlooking Napoleon. Young military cadets swarm in the sun-lit chip shop, all crew cuts and camo-gear. An impression of defense is distinct and palpable here.
Romney Sands // 13.08.14
Day three and lashed up. Sitting under the television screen of an empty pub. The sun’s going down, leaving a grey escape. The tides out, far out – rocks in my pockets and stones in my mouth.
I pissed kneeling down in the sand dunes earlier – that’s how considerate I am. My lighter is about to die. I’m at the end of the world – no food, everywhere is shut.
Deal // 14.08.14
Deal smells of cow-shit, not seaweed. The castle especially dank – its concentric circles send you a little insane. A celebration as the last bastion of independence, yet obviously old Henry was a maniacal figure and prone to bouts of extreme vanity – to appoint yourself head of the new protestant church is in keeping with the violent contradictions of the catholic tradition, it’s strangely symmetrical.
Deal’s pier stretches out around 300 metres into a brown sea. It’s an ugly concrete modernist construction and probably very unique – almost as if the barbican architects had a brief sideline redesigning Victorian piers.
The high street is depressingly small with few local shops. However, the burgeoning roots of that depressing brand of independent coffee outlet seem to be laying roots, somehow out here.
Taking the bus earlier towards Ashford International, as I was leaving Dungeness to reconnect with the northern part of Kent, I noticed how it wound through tiny disconnected villages – churches, pubs and Sunday fetes now sponsored by Sainsburys.
Ramsgate // 15.08.14
Ramsgate maritime museum reminds me of my father – that distant sinewy figure. A child who fled into the merchant navy after discovering his own mother dead in a bathtub. A boy surrounded by men, on a boat, somewhere in The Pacific Ocean aged 17. Rope, tobacco, boxing. People create their own myths, I don't think he was different.
These seaside towns that seem so imbedded into the fabric of my childhood, are hostile, beautiful, lonely and unnerving places. The art nouveau architecture which is so intrinsic to this coastline casts a forlorn site. Windowpanes rotting with salt and rust, off-white bird shit staining the faded frames – ice cream, coffee-cream, ivory formica tables, chalky cliffs, sea-gulls, grey chewing-gum magnetized to the floor outside amusement arcades and ice cream parlours covered in more birdshit.