Whenever I visited Margate as a child it was under sufferance. The problem was that I loved neighbouring Westgate, where I was allowed to play on the beach, and swim in the sea, and build big sand castles, and buy ice creams, and eat fish and chips wrapped up in newspaper, whereas whenever we visited Margate we didn’t do any of these things. The reason? Because it was always so bloody cold.
Margate occupies a more exposed position on the southeast coast than Westgate and, when the wind blows, it blows in icy blasts directly from Siberia, via the North Sea. So inexorably linked seem their two weather systems, that I am surprised that Margate isn’t twinned with Novosibirsk.
Margate was also a little bit ‘rough’. Whereas Westgate had a reputation for family holidays, Margate was a place where Mods and Skinheads met to fight.
In fact, as a kid, the only thing that I liked about Margate was the Shell Grotto. It was like a magical kingdom; a place from a fairy story; somewhere that I couldn’t conceive of existing outside the pages of a fantasy.
That was the Margate of my childhood.
When I next visited Margate, I had grown more cynical and Margate had grown no more lovely. But, as a nihilistic youth, I began to see a different side to Margate. What had scared me as a child, fascinated me as a young adult. Now I could see the beauty in the brutalist lines of Arlington House; could admire the abandoned neglect of the derelict Dreamland. I liked Margate’s seediness; its ‘seaside town that they forgot to close down’ vibe; its graffiti and its edge. The one thing that I no longer liked was the Shell Grotto. Now it seemed kitsch and twee and I could not see the point of it. It had no place in my new, harsh viewpoint of reality. It was somewhere that belonged to my childhood and as such was a place that I felt that I needed to shrug off if I was going to move on and grow up.
And then came Tate Contemporary.
Margate was suddenly cool. It began to attract cool residents. Pete Doherty bought a hotel there. The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing wrote Margate Fhtagn; Alex Chinnock placed his artwork From the Knees of my Nose to the Belly of my Toes in the town.
House prices started to shoot up; hipsters moved in; there were pointy beards and Cappuccinos on the seafront; people were prepared to commute from Margate to London; the town embraced gentrification.
I visited Margate again. I visited Tate Contemporary. I spent quite a long time in the café. I walked across the sands––they were every bit as wide and golden as my memories of the beach at Westgate––and I walked around the perimeter of the tidal pool, feeling like I was performing a balancing act on a high wire. I admired the pretty old townhouses in the Old Town, and I still shunned the tawdry amusement arcades along the seafront.
And the Shell Grotto? I am ashamed to say that I did not go back. In truth, I felt slightly guilty of the thoughts of my existentialist youth who had tarnished the innocence of my childhood memories. Some places are simply best not revisited.
These then are my three ages of Margate. Child, youth and adult. And, is there one thing that connects all three?
Margate is still bloody cold.
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny likes to be beside the sea.
This article was first published in E. C. Glendenny’s book Resting Easy: Selected Travel Writing.