The Referendum, 2016 seen from 2026

My father had been a schoolteacher, and he always said that windy days brought trouble in the classroom. Wind rattled the windows, for sure, but it rattled the children more. And that June in 2016 had been a windy one. It felt like the rough winds, blowing down the North Sea and hitting the east coast, and crashing in across the Atlantic, never stopped. Perhaps that wind rattled people, or perhaps it was an omen; it certainly brought nobody any good.

In the final weeks leading up to the vote on whether Britain was to stay European or not, the weather was the last thing people really worried about, but it was of course a constant low-level grumble. It was wrong; where was the glorious summer? The campaign to leave had become more hysterical, making wilder and wilder claims and bigger and bolder promises. Lower fuel bills, cheaper homes, free beer and an overflowing cornucopia of good, British, stuff.  Things would again be stamped Made In Great Britain on their bottoms. The church clock, and honey still for tea.

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The remain campaign seemed to be unable to stand up to such claims; while Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage were happy to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and spout sub-Churchillian speeches, Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron were such unlikely allies they refused to stand shoulder-to-shoulder. Both spent more time dealing with squabbles in their own parties than on taking the message to a wider audience.

So up until the day of the vote, it was uncertain which way the country would swing. Except on the morning, when strong winds were joined by wild rain and the country felt like it was being hit by a very British Armageddon. The electorate were already depressed by a never-ending campaign, and now the turnout was depressed. Polling Stations reported low numbers turning out; the strong wind heavy rain was putting all but the most enthusiastic voters off. Election officers also reported numerous incidents of  scuffles and fights, started by angry Leave campaigners who took out their frustration on anyone with an ‘I’m In’ badge or tote bag turning out to vote. These reports reduced numbers turning out even less. The Remain campaigners were always more moderate, less fanatical, and the combination of getting wet and being attacked was enough to put many off turning out at all.

By the evening of that day, the media had realised that the Leave campaign had won but were still bound by electoral rules, so couldn’t say so clearly. But the worried faces of the middle class reporters, thinking about losing their French farmhouses, made it obvious.

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That night was the first time the word leave moved from being a dry, academic, legislative choice to being an imperative.

Forty years earlier, a generation of Indian and Pakistani immigrants had arrived, worked hard, and transformed the UK’s shopping habits quietly by opening small, neighbourhood shops. In more recent years, young Polish and Eastern European immigrants had started to do the same, and Polish Shops were becoming a familiar part of the neighbourhood high street. However they weren’t yet as rooted, as familiar, and as accepted. On the evening of the referendum, the first reports came in of the slogan LEAVE being daubed across shop windows in small towns with histories of immigration causing problems. Polish shops in towns like Margate, Boston, Dover and Bognor Regis were attacked. The media quickly reported it, eager for a coded way to announce the results ahead of Polling Stations closing. In a number of inner city neighbourhoods – Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, London, Bristol – copycat slogans appeared shortly before windows were smashed. The first real winners in the referendum were emergency glaziers, called out across the country.

So the next morning, Britain woke up to the news that it was leaving the European Community. The draw bridge was being raised. Rail workers had been effectively striking across the south in the weeks leading up to the referendum; the day afterwards the south coast trainlines ground to a halt, and the Channel Tunnel had to close. Unconnected, in reality, to the referendum, it seemed to be a powerful symbol nonetheless.

And it soon seemed that the last people to leave on Eurostar might be the lucky ones. Britain was, literally and metaphorically, tearing itself apart. The vandalism of Polish shops continued, and the Police were called to numerous incidents of remainers who had Better In posters in their windows finding they had a brick thrown through them.

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Meanwhile, the two political parties were in freefall, with David Cameron forced to announce an early resignation, leaving the party to fight amongst itself, with jostling between real radicals like Michael Gove, opportunists like Boris Johnson, and a bitter presumptive successor George Osborne looking increasingly like a man who’d been at the party too long, and wasn’t coping with the pills or powders he’d thought were a good idea earlier in the evening. The Labour party had never rebuilt after Jeremy Corbyn split them into a mass popularist movement on the left and a power-hungry experienced political clique on the right. And Nigel Farage, now completely powerless as his party’s European funding fell away, looking like a man who’d got what he wanted, but was only now realising he’d accidentally kicked away the scaffold he was standing on to do it. None of the mainstream parties would ever command a majority again, and the country would have to get used to coalitions and consensus politics.

A few weeks before the referendum, British Home Stores had collapsed into administration, and their stores started to close in the week after the referendum. Seeing the familiar name stripped from streets felt ominous, and no new retailers came forward to fill their large empty stores. Quietly, a number of European-owned stores announced their own closures and started to slip away. Other big names on the high street would follow, as city investment – which was the only thing holding them up as Britain had never truly left the recession of 2008 – moved overseas. Alongside the boarded-up Polish shops, looted after young Poles quickly left for home, the nation’s high streets started to go dark.

It wasn’t just young Poles that left the country. A number of young Australians could see the way things were going, and decided that Britain’s rainy streets were no longer as attractive as the sunny side of the world. And a growing number of Chinese and Japanese people, who’d come to Britain looking for a European home, left  too.

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They were balanced out by what started as a trickle of older, suntanned British migrants, drawn home from Spain and the South of France. The initial returnees mumbled about how Britain was better now, everything would be the way they remembered, that they had only left because Britain in Europe wasn’t the Britain of Empire Annuals, toy British soldiers beating the nasty Huns, Austin cars, and Dan Dare that they’d loved. It soon became obvious, though, that the real reason was they were being made to feel increasingly unwelcome on mainland Europe. The countries that had welcomed them as part of a shared community were now checking passports, being more vigorous at collecting local taxes, and starting to be more enthusiastic in their enforcement of local planning regulations. Swimming pools were being filled in, and roof terraces closed down. In the three years after the referendum, over five million older Britons returned home. They far outnumbered the people who left Britain, and – being older – put an immediate strain on the already stretched National Health Service. They contributed little to the struggling economy.

And they put an extra burden on the nation’s housing infrastructure. Many were used to having space to live, but their southern European homes sold for so little that they could afford only flats in the UK. As their exiting crashed the ex-pat housing market abroad, they filled homes that were needed by young people and new families here, and even more people found themselves stuck in their parent’s home. The dream of home ownership was effectively killed, and an older model, of multi-generational families living together returned. An unexpected casualty of the referendum were the UK’s care homes, as people no longer sold up to afford the high fees, but instead moved in with their aging mother or father. Hundreds of care homes closed in the years after 2016.

And while the high streets and care homes closed down, so did the factories. The other European governments, wanting to head off any such rebellion amongst their voters, were tough in their negotiations as Britain untangled itself from the EU. They had no interest in kindness, and while Britain thought Europe owed it a debt of gratitude, the European politicians were pleased to see the back of MEPs who moaned loudly but rarely turned out to debate, discuss or even vote. With Britain’s political parties split, there were no strong negotiators at the European tables, either. So the trade deals imposed on Britain were crippling, or at least would have been, had Britain had any trade. In the two years of negotiations, one after another European-owned company had quietly slipped away, leaving empty business parks and factories, and the few big American companies had started to bring everything back to the USA too, as President Trump’s isolationism made overseas trade and manufacture harder for them.

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And so we got to here, the tenth anniversary of the referendum. In many ways, Britain is better. We’re a greener country, from the offshore wind farms and solar farms of Kent that bring most of our daily electricity rations to the cities filled with bicycles, with cycling at a level only our Dutch neighbours could have achieved ten years ago. At first, ditching the car was a purely economic choice, but people soon realised that cycling brought greater benefits. They were fitter, happier and lived more local lives.

Our exports are smaller, obviously, but still based around technology, all about IP, design and creativity. In many fields – music, literature, film, art, games – we still lead the world. Hardly anything physical leaves our shores, and very little is brought in; we’re a closed loop, and most of our exports leave through our nearest European neighbour, Scotland. That relationship, rocky at first after they broke up the Union, became easier and it made sense to relocate parts of the UK government to Northern cities, closer to our best European friend.

That has spread the wealth across the country a little more evenly, and accidentally released the pressure on the price of property in London and the south east. Property prices are, of course, lower than ten years ago – but they’re also more equal. They’ve risen in our manufacturing centres. The hottest spots for property today are Stoke where pottery’s made, Coventry where they build bicycles again, and around the northern government centre of Leeds. Our manufacturing is getting stronger, based around efficient use of resources, fired by technology, driven by recycling what we already have.

And all of that has led to the most surprising outcome of the referendum. We no longer have any right wing politics. The people who thought they’d won, ten years ago, exposed themselves in doing so. It became obvious that they didn’t have any solutions, and that the things that made Britain special were always on the left; our creativity and invention, our philanthropy, our public services. The things that make Britain great are still here, and probably always will be. They’re resilient, tough,  deep in the grain of the nation’s identity, embedded at the genetic level. They survive.

 

Estuary Lab – Discordianism

To introduce myself to the other artists taking part in Metal’s Estuary lab, I was asked to make a ten minute presentation about my work. I went at it… sideways.

After I was born, I lived in a small house with my mum and my nan. Number 33 Handley Road, Worthing. I was happy there. My nan still lives there. When I visit I always feel relaxed and calm. So – I like the number 33. It resonates, reverberates.

As a teenager I worked at the Connaught Theatre, Worthing – backstage. I left to join a small touring company, and that was where I learned – about conspiracies, about global patterns of power, about old religions, about mysteries, about Shakespeare. The director – Nick Young, trained at the RSC, staged a nude Romeo & Juliet in the 1970s – he was a good teacher.

The address was 33 Eriswell Road. We rehearsed in the front room. Next door, my office, store and workshop was in a little annex to the original house tacked on at the side.
33. It figured, I thought.

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Years later, I moved from being production manager to Rainbow Theatre to putting together my own things (and all of that happened because I spent time hanging out on a Shoreham houseboat, Yerba Buena, which had been Nick Young’s home when he started Rainbow – and I was working on a series of colour-themed art happenings on board). I followed a path from the KLF and the Illuminati, to the K Foundation and contemporary art, to Bill Drummond – and I brought Bill down to Worthing.

Through reading about his work, and his training under Ken Campbell, working on the Illuminatus Trilogy, I came across Discordianism.

From Wikipedia:
Discordianism is a religion and subsequent philosophy based on the veneration or worship of Discordia, the Goddess of chaos, or archetypes or ideals associated with her. It was founded after the 1963 publication of its holy book, the Principia Discordia, written by Greg Hill with Kerry Wendell Thornley, the two working under the pseudonyms Malaclypse the Younger and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst.

The religion has been likened to Zen based on similarities with absurdist interpretations of the Rinzai school, as well as Taoist philosophy. Discordianism is centered on the idea that both order and disorder are illusions imposed on the universe by the human nervous system, and that neither of these illusions of apparent order and disorder is any more accurate or objectively true than the other.

There is some division as to whether it should be regarded as a parody religion, and if so to what degree

Now it turns out that I’d brushed up against Discordianism a few times – Bob Dobbs and the Church of Subgenius, the Slackers. A real parody religion rooted in Discodian ideas.

I discovered Bob as a teenager in Brighton. In the old Jubilee Market – Tesco before the market, the Komedia these days – the Bob Dobbs gang had a stall selling stickers, T-shirts and slipmats. I bought in to this mysterious, enigmatic character and a philosophy of calm, acceptance, slack.

Everything the KLF did, you see, led me elsewhere. And all those KLF videos and their sleeves covered in pyramids – the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, the JAMMS.

(and – that led me to uncover the thing the KLF sampled, to the MC5, to finding out my dad had seen the MC5 in a field outside Worthing, to my sister working in their hometown Ann Arbor, to me visiting her in Michigan and standing outside their old communal house – but – that’s another story.)

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And that number 33. Well, the Discordianists like numbers:

The Law of Fives states simply that: All things happen in fives, or are divisible by or are multiples of five, or are somehow directly or indirectly appropriate to 5. The Law of Fives is never wrong.
— Malaclypse the Younger, Principia Discordia, Page 00016

The real point of the Law of Fives is that it as a symbol for the observation of reality changing that which is being observed in the observer’s mind.

When you looks for fives or thirty-threes you find them, when you look for conspiracies, ways to determine when the apocalypse will come, connections, you will find them.

So Discordianism worked, it reverberated. It still echoes through the things I do:
Chaos. Magic. Making up religions. Finding connections. Following threads.

About ten years ago, Nick Young moved from his house at 33 Eriswell Road.
Just before he moved, he uncovered something strange after dowsing in the house. Under the front room floor, under the floor we rehearsed the company on, was a well. An ancient well.

A well dedicated to the goddess Eris. And who’s she? Well. I talked about her earlier, under her new name.

The older name, the Roman name, for the Goddess Discordia – was Eris.

 

Estuary 16

Estuary is a new, biennial arts festival curated in response to the spectacular Thames Estuary and presented in culturally significant and historic venues along the Essex and Kent shorelines.  An exciting mix of new and existing works will pull together powerful themes resonant to the place, its history, landscape and communities in an ambitious programme of contemporary art, literature, film and music.

From the Metal blog.

 

I’m among the artists creating new work for the first Estuary biennial. Metal are making it all happen, and brought together a small group of us to work alongside each other and explore Southend, Tilbury and other significant sites along the Estuary for a week.

The places we saw are truly magical – real industrial edgelands with layers of use, occupation and meaning. Places at the end and the beginning of so many English stories. Making it an incredible commission; a chance to weave together all sorts of fragments, places, moments in time. Can I live up to all the possibility? We’ll see.

From my original proposal to Metal:

As I sit here, I can see the full spread of the Thames Estuary; the Isle of Grain, wind farms, the sea forts, the constant tides and changing shipping. At night, Southend sparkles on the horizon. I live eight floors up in Arlington House, Margate, big aluminium-framed windows facing down the estuary. In winter I huddle down and watch storms build and move along the shore, and in summer slide the windows right back to let in warm sun and the sounds of play.

The estuary’s an impressive space. Where I was born, the sea is on the south and is somehow smaller. The sea and sky here is huge.  And this view is one which is full of stories, as well as surrounded by estuary-side towns with their own tales. Submarines and pirate radio, independent nation states and messages in bottles, migrant seabirds and immigrant communities, containers full of Chinese-made knick-knacks, the rusted skeletons of crashed Zeppelins, the last flight of a Vulcan A-bomber.

 

An Industrialist and an Elephant: Lord George Sanger in Stoke

From the introduction to It’s All About The Road, where this first appeared in print: ‘An Industrialist and An Elephant’ is presumed to be written by Lord George Sanger; it is taken from a copy of a manuscript in the archives of the Dreamland Trust. Thanks to Jan Leandro from the Dreamland Trust for access, Sarah Vickery from the Shell Grotto for the introduction, and Kate Kneale from HKD for the loan of Sanger’s ‘Seventy Years A Showman’.

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After our winter in Liverpool, we again headed south-east, stopping our grand procession in Stoke-Upon-Trent, the first of six stout Staffordshire towns known as The Potteries. I have good reason to remember that first stop on that season’s travels, by an exciting incident that occurred.

The rectangular green where we pitched our wagons was just outside the town, on a road leading to the countryside. At night, on one side of our encampment was darkness and the hoot of the night owl, but on the other side the town was alight through the night with the glow of the fires in the hearts of the pottery kilns. These bottle-shaped brick structures were amongst the most impressive of any buildings I have seen in the northern industrial cities, and there were many hundreds across Stoke-Upon-Trent and the neighbouring towns of Tunstall, Hanley, Burslem, Fenton and Longton.

I endeavoured to visit this industry, which to my mind blended the arts and the sciences in a most interesting fashion. By the best of chances, I was able to visit a new manufactory which was just opening. Mr William Kirkham had bought an older works on the very road on which we were pitched and was using it to make earthenware and terracotta. His purpose was the manufacture of hospital and laboratory ware, school and artists’ requisites, chemists’ receptacles and a wide range of components for industry. Mr Kirkham was only too pleased to provide a tour of his magnificent works, to show me some of the hundreds of items produced and exported around the globe, and to explain the various chemical processes involved in the making and the subsequent decoration of pottery wares.

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I visited Mr Kirkham’s factory again in subsequent years, and we became firm friends, confirmed in the propinquity of our interests in the arts and the sciences together. Mr Kirkham became an active figure in local politicking, and was thrice Lord Mayor of Stoke-Upon-Trent. He also acted with great responsibility as the chairman of the committee appointed to implement the Technical Education Acts in the borough. He was a member of the town’s school board, was elected to Staffordshire county council and was county justice of the peace. I am certain Mr Kirkham was a great aid to the development of one of the finest towns in the Empire, but in that first year he was also of great aid to me.

The unique circumstances of our pitch in that first year, with wilderness on the one side and industry on the other, was to unsettle some of our company. As I walked our encampment at night, walking-stick in one hand and oil-lamp in the other, I was aware of a slight susurration which was not always present. The glowing of the kilns and the noise of the continuation of industry through the dark was unsettling man and beast, and there was a chatter throughout that first night. If I had acted promptly that night, I do wonder if the events of the next morning might have been avoided.

As we always did when in a new town, that very fine spring morning we staged a procession to advertise our arrival. We formed up the parade on the green where we had stayed that last night, with Mrs Sanger costumed as Britannia sitting atop a gold carriage at the fore, with a Lion and a Lamb at her Feet. Behind her were some of our finest horses in full regalia, a herd of elephants dressed in Indian garb, and assorted jugglers in tights and spangles, rope-walkers in fleshings, the clowns, pantaloons, harlequins and at the very rear a demon. All the attendants would be as Roman Gladiators, Crusaders and other such characters. We would parade up the road towards the town, passing Mr Kirkham’s manufactory, stage a brief demonstration of juggling, clowning etc. outside the local market, I would proclaim our hours dressed in my customary Hamlet clothing, and the band would then perform before leading the procession and the towns-people back to our circus-site.

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A short way along the road, it became quite clear that the beasts were restless after their somewhat disturbed night. Now our elephants were calm and placid beasts, in the usual run of circumstances. As I have commented elsewhere in this book, though, if you want to keep the animals in your care safely and in good health, there must be no relaxation in the attention they are given either by night or day. This meant that their handlers had been awake much of the night, and were as tired this day as the elephants.

One of the elephants, an old beast called Charlie, was of an independent mind. Shortly after we passed Mr Kirkham’s, where my friend and some of his managers had stepped outside to watch our parade, Charlie decided he would rather return to the green field which was his temporary home and catch some more winks of sleep! His handler, a young man called Reeve who with the aid of some darkening made an excellent native called ‘Indian Joe’, was pulled quite off his feet and dropped the elephant’s harness.

Luckily, the folk in procession behind the elephants were quick to respond to the changing circumstances and pulled to the side of the road, allowing Charlie to pass. He was chased by poor Reeve, who was very tired, quite in a flap and was unable to catch a hold of his harness.

As Charlie came alongside the factory I had visited the previous day, my newly-made friend Mr Kirkham and three of his managers stepped forward to the aid of Reeve. With some stout rope from the factory yard, they were able to catch a hold of Charlie. The five of them together were able to bring my elephant quite to a halt.

That afternoon I was able to profoundly and publicly thank Mr Kirkham when he visited our matinee performance. It was the start of a friendship of which I am most proud, and in subsequent years we visited Stoke-Upon-Trent again, and the other towns in The Potteries.

We could always rely on Mr Kirkham. Unfortunately, as you shall see in a subsequent chapter, we could not always rely upon Charlie and it is with some regret that I imagine how different things could have been if I took firmer action that day in Stoke.

Theatre conference in Galway

There is no individual act in performing arts that does not require collective effort to be realised.  Together each individual element, be it the artist, producer, venue manager or facilitator, forms a collective experience for our sector, and our wider society.

Too often the “Them and Us” distinctions we draw can become entrenched and hostile.  This conference, will look at these perceived boundaries through a variety of lenses – exploring the separation of artist from state, distinctions between makers and audiences, performance spaces and communities, the “established” and “emerging”. Do common issues and concerns arise?  Are there shared approaches that could be more fruitful? What is our single and collective responsibility?

There are plenty of opportunities to talk, and in my time I’ve covered leadership styles for multinationals, digital strategies for social action, grassroots regeneration of town centres and everything inbetween. In June, I’m travelling to Galway for the All-Ireland Performing Arts Conference (APAC) to talk about the performing arts need individuals and a collective effort.

It’s a subject that I find very interesting, particularly as theatre (where my career started) offers such a different approach to the visual arts, which hold up the myth of the individual as the artistic genius. I was standing on the waterfront in Newcastle, NSW a few years ago talking to a bunch of interesting people after a conference (Marcus Westbury, the Renew Newcastle gang, the great people from Gap Filler in New Zealand) – and we realised that all of us, and the people we admired who were taking creative collaborative approaches to urban renewal, had a thread of theatre in our backgrounds.

And it’s an approach I’ve applied to 15 years of working with mostly visual artists. I am beginning to realise that the lines between the different elements of my practice, between performance and design and visual arts and regeneration and urbanism and social action, are very thin.

Perhaps, in a dozen universes that are just a subtle knife cut apart, I have different job titles; artist, writer, activist, producer, urbanist. For my talk at APAC, I’ll try to tie them all together.

 

 

Hannah and Hanna in Dreamland

Fifteen years ago, the National Front marched in Margate. The end of the 20th Century was much like the start, and refugees were fleeing from war in Europe. Arriving in Britain, they were met by fear, hostility, anger and lies. The Jews, fleeing Germany and Eastern Europe in the 1930s, had received a similar welcome in British seaside towns. Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts paraded in Worthing in the mid-1930s, and the National Front continued the tradition in Margate 65 years later. Some things never change; perhaps racism runs through seaside towns like letters run through seaside rock.

As the 21st Century begun, the Isle of Thanet was home to only about 3000 asylum seekers, most living in Margate. They were fleeing from something real. A local doctor reported treating “shrapnel wounds, scars from beatings and torture, wounds from landmines” and the psychological problems associated with such injuries. The people he was treating included doctors, ex-army officers, dentists and teachers. Many were Kosovans, in England to escape death at the hands of the Serbs.

Once here, they were met with open hostility by people who lived in a largely closed, settled community, unused to foreigners, and which was struggling with its own problems. The local industry, a tourist trade which had started in the 1700s, had collapsed. Thanet’s people had always had low incomes, uncertain jobs, and seasonal employment but, by 2000, things had reached a low point. Boarding houses were filled with Londoners, resettled by local authorities who had run out of space in the capital. These new residents often brought their own problems, which were only increased by unfamiliar surroundings and social isolation.

And the relationships London’s local authorities had made with landlords in Margate, meant they could use the town to house their refugees, too. Once grand hotels like the Nayland Rock, and the larger, prouder guesthouses in Cliftonville, were just empty spaces to council officers. Seaside landladies saw a quick buck, and either filled their vacancies or sold up to London councils. Kosovans didn’t choose to come to Margate; they were sent here.

“The people in Thanet don’t like us, nobody likes us,” one told the local paper, “We are here because of the war, because our lives were being threatened. We are not here because it is an easy life.”

A local teenager saw things differently: “They come over here and they have it easy. Then they are rude, they try and rule the place, they barge past and are very arrogant. They are trying to take over. I am not a racist person. I don’t support what the National Front do, but asylum seekers are not liked by a lot of people.”
Of course, asylum seekers never did take over. In 2015, just 8.59%of the population in Thanet were born outside of the country. The national average is 12.5%, London has 37%, and even in sleepy, middle class Canterbury 10.96% of the population were born abroad.

In Thanet today, 11,599 people out of a population of 134,186 were born outside the UK. 3500 are from new EU member states, such as Croatia, Latvia and Poland, and 3700 from the old EU states, such as Belgium, France and Italy. 4300 people are from outside the EU. Very few are from Kosovo.

P1180988P1190009Playwright John Retallack wrote Hannah and Hanna, about a 16 year old Margate girl meeting a Kosovan girl and forming a friendship across hostile lines, in 2000.
The founder of Actors’ Touring Company, a director of the Oxford Stage Company, Retallack is particularly interested in theatre for and about young audiences. He’s written a dozen plays for young people, and has recently spent two months with La Chartreuse de Neuville in France, researching the lives of young refugees in the notorious camps in Calais.

Returning to Margate in 2015 to write a sequel , Hannah and Hanna in Dreamland, to his earlier play, he struggled to find any Kosovans to talk to. He journeyed instead to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, to find that most people had returned there, after the war.

He found a city with a hard past enjoying a rebirth that, in some ways, mirrored Margate’s own.

P1190036.JPGMargate today has a growing tourist trade. The new visitors are here for Turner Contemporary, the Old Town’s vintage shops and cupcake cafes, and the Hemingway-branded Dreamland, where ‘heritage’ is a dirty word but ‘retro’ or ‘vintage’ are perfectly acceptable. The town is the hippest destination for London’s cool under 40s, and is in the middle of a property bubble as people relocate here, swapping East End flats for big seaside homes as they start families. This new crowd, known locally as DFLs (Down From Londons) , experience a lesser version of the anger the Kosovans experienced before. There are fears of gentrification, of rising property prices, of the new ideas these economic migrants bring with them.

And there’s still a racist tension underneath everyday life too, still a fear that the town’s somehow being taken over, and it’s most evident among a slightly older generation, who saw their town’s fall, and are still looking for someone to blame. And a younger generation have inherited that anger. The teenager quoted in the Thanet Gazette has gone from “I am not a racist person…” to having a pitbull tattooed on his chest, and giving his support on Facebook to pages like the English Defence League, True British Patriots, English and Proud, the Royal England Infidel and one called ‘I Was Born In The Uk. So Why Do I Have Less Rights Then Immigrants’ [sic].

UKIP tried to capitalise on this cross-generational anger in the elections in 2015. Throwing everything they could at the Isle of Thanet, swinging a well-funded party campaign into action, UKIP booked every billboard for months, filled hotels with their campaign teams, and pushed leaflets through every letterbox every week. They failed to get their prospective MP Nigel Farage elected. The party collapsed into bitter infighting soon after.

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So while many things in Margate are the same, 15 years on, there are great differences too. Hannah’s still friends with Hanna, but it’s a different world they live in. Margate’s new London incomers are more used to a multicultural society, and the town’s relaxing into the 21st century.

Retallack’s new play might find that perhaps, just perhaps, it’s possible to change the letters in a stick of rock.

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There will be a rehearsed reading of excerpts from Hannah and Hanna and Hannah and Hanna In Dreamland at Turner Contemporary as part of Looping The Loop. The event is organised by UK Art International and Theatre Royal Margate.

Hannah and Hanna In Margate is an ongoing photographic series by Dan Thompson, capturing Retallack in Margate, as he researches, writes and tests the new play ahead of a UK tour in 2017. It will be exhibited alongside the rehearsed reading at Turner Contemporary before accompanying the show on tour in 2017.

Women At War

 

I have been interested in the rise of these images on social media; often, people who would be proudly anti-war usually, post photos of women at war with some pride. As if war is somehow better, now that women have guns, too.

All of these are images found on social media. I’m interested in the way they’re spread, without any context. Are these the good guys or the bad guys?

In Eden

22488765014_5762f06585_o.jpgUp at the top of England, sceptred isle, just below the border with Scotland, in a corner that’s always been on the edge and often in a state of flux, is Eden, demi-paradise.
Eden district is full of places that sound incredibly English – Appleby, Crosby Ravensworth, Eamont, Greystoke, Morland, Ravenstonedale. But also of places that sound older, Celtic, Viking, Scottish – Hesket, Kirkby Stephen, Kirkoswald, Langwathby, Shap, and Penrith itself.

Eden has less land taken up by roads than almost anywhere in England (and it claims, probably falsely, that John McAdam, inventor of the tarmac road, lived here). And – at 97.9% – Eden has the greatest proportion of green space of any district in the country. The River Eden flows north to Carlisle. In Penrith, the River Eamont, River Lowther, River Petteril, Thacka Beck and Dog Beck come together. Engineer Joseph Locke casually diverted one of the rivers when he spent two and a half years with ten thousand men driving a railway line through Penrith.

Penrith is a market town, on an old Roman road. It’s a quiet centrepoint.

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Richard III, William Wordsworth’s mother, Samuel Plimsoll, Harold Wilson’s wife, and England cricketer Paul Nixon lived in Penrith. Perhaps King Arthur did too. Perhaps fifty of Arthur’s knights gathered at Eamont, on the southern edge of Penrith, to fight for the hand of Arthur’s daughter. Perhaps.

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And just north of Penrith, the Battle of Arfderydd, fought in 573, lasted six weeks and three hundred men were killed. “It was one of the three futile battles of Britain, fought over a lark’s nest.”

Certainly more important than a mythical king and a lark’s nest, though, is the story of Athelstan. In 927, “the kings of Strathclyde and Scotland came south to Penrith to pay homage to Athelstan, first King of England and one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon kings.” Penrith is where England began, with Athelstan the first king of the whole country.
And in Penrith, you’ll find Eden Arts. Since the start of the 1990s, they’ve been fighting a quieter battle to bring art to the area, never needing to kill anyone to achieve their aims. They’re the most rural of all the arts organisations that Arts Council England supports as part of its National Portfolio.

They helped make the Eden Benchmarks, a series of carved stone sculptures which also function as seats, on public paths along the River Eden. They helped bring Andy Goldsworthy to the valley, to make drystone wall Sheepfolds. They marked the hill farmer’s ancient and enduring relationship with the upper Eden Valley with a Poetry Path, carved in Stone. They left a fifty ton megalith between the ancient earthwork known as King Arthur’s Round Table and the nearby Mayburgh Henge, to mark the millennium.
Nowadays, they march to a different drum, more interested in people and the life they bring to places than in heavy stone markers.

Eden Arts made the Signs of Penrith, a series of small, temporary signs scattered therough  the town’s streets, local stories, things that made the place distinct, light and not outwardly serious.

They organise C-Art, a festival spread across Cumbria, when artists open their homes and studios. C-Art also organises an annual exhibition celebrating the best contemporary visual art from the region, and an award for young Cumbrian artists.

Picnic Cinema brings open-air screenings to forests and other quiet places across the area; a regular event is the Withnail Weekender, screening the cult film Withnail & I at the remote location, Sleddale Hall, where its heroes holiday. When they’re not outside, Eden Arts tour their film equipment to rural village halls, allowing local people to stage their own film screenings.

New Writing Cumbria covers the whole county, too, with a network of live events, publications and workshops connecting contemporary writers and readers.

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And the Winter Droving is an annual event, a brand new tradition, fresh thinking wrapped up in a fake mythology, a revival of an ancient thing that never happened before. It’s a day-long party in Penrith. The beautiful town centre, red stone buildings and old market places, is blissfully closed to traffic. A market mixes fresh food and odd art projects. Strange characters walk the streets. The district’s toughest compete for the Drover’s Cup, tug o’ war and running with pints and carrying baled hay. Small stages, bands from the blurred edges of folk tradition and crusty, festival culture. Fire. A torchlit procession as the sun falls, giant paper lanterns carried by local children. Masks. And an anarchic ball in the local leisure centre to end it all, live bands and masked mayhem.

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It’s all about place, everything Eden Arts does and has ever done. It’s all about creating something locally distinct, tied to the history, culture and fabric of the landscape. In an urban context, it’d be the hippest thing London or Manchester or Brighton ever saw. Up here, on the edge, it might be missed. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less important.

The Vampires: From It’s All About The Road

This is a chapter from It’s All About The Road, a collection of stories and essays which, together, tell a complete history of Stoke, from the Ice Age to thirty years from now, through stories from one road. This story was inspired by the death of a Polish pottery worked, Demetrious Myiciura, which is the only time in the UK  vampires are mentioned on a death certificate. the real story happened in 1972, and this one happens around then. Much of the detail is real, what happened after Lidice is true, the house as described here exists and I’ve stayed in it, and the head on the penny was designed by somebody who lived a few doors up from it.

~~~~~

P1130169.JPGThe rubber seals around the windows were cracked, and where the barrier was broken rivers ran down the curved walls each time the dark red bus turned its sides to the wind. The water pooled at the edges of the floor. It wasn’t the only water inside the double decker; the heat from the bodies had steamed the windows. So the world outside was filtered through two layers of water, thick rain outside and thin condensation inside. Like looking through the dirty lenses of old glasses, the world was grey and indistinct, occasionally details lurching into sharp focus. A tiled street name, Park Street, painted out in black. A masonic square and compasses carved in stone. Shakespeare’s face mosaicked in tiles. A tin sign advertising Spratt’s Canary Mixture, ‘Sold Only In Packets’. All fragments, a brief focus on a cinematic story happening, off camera, away from the lens of the bus window.

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Better than the days after he first moved here, though. There was the blackout then. But smog too, and a man had to walk in front of the buses with a torch. The only thing that could penetrate the dark then were a pair of searchlights by the gates of the Michelin Factory up the road.

In the seat in front of him, a woman sneezed into a grey handkerchief. The cotton was frayed, and would never wash to clean white again. He realised that what he had thought to be a stain was an embroidered pattern of deep violet pansies which had faded to a different shade of grey. Each outbreak of sneezes was followed by a dry, rasping wheeze. She had sneezed three dozen times since he had got on. Thirty six sneezes, thirty six wheezes. Again – thirty seven. Each time the bus hit a pothole and shook, he reached for the handle on the seat in front of him, and his hand brushed against the thick, rough knitted wool of her coat. It was thick with damp, and under that, grease that had built up over years. Each time he brushed against her, he closed his eyes and flinched.

He got off a stop early, stumbling down the curved metal stairs, off the bus, relieved to be in the open air again. He didn’t mind the rain, or the cold, or the wind. He had grown up somewhere colder, and whenever he felt the chill he remembered, and thought himself lucky to have this new country. The winds at home had been harsher, the things he had seen worse than anything that could happen here. But even so after the forty years he had been here, it was still new, and often surprising, and still not home.

This town welcomed foreigners, and always had. He remembered, not long after he had arrived, meeting the children who had arrived here on the Czech Kindertransport. And the way that the miners here had raised funds to rebuild Lidice, after the Nazis destroyed that village. ‘Lidice Shall Live!’, Stoke had declared, and it had. But while Stoke was warm, and generous, it kept foreigners as foreigners, held them at a distance. The contradiction was at the heart of this place. The potteries were always bringing new people in, always embracing the new ideas, technology, skills they brought. The pottery where he worked was full of Germans at the moment, bringing new lithographic machines and transfer cutters. He avoided them.

Generation after generation of immigrants, but still Stoke stayed distinct, and cherished history and tradition, he thought, guarding its own local food and the rich dialect. He spoke Stoke’s English but still with a Polish accent. To the Englishman he met when in London for meetings, he sounded like a man from Stoke; to the locals, he sounded foreign. To theoccasional Pole he met at work, his Krajna dialect sounded archaic, full of forgotten words and old inflections. He knew he was adrift, a refugee, and had been for the past forty years.

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The smell of baked bread was strong on the wind, and brought him back to the here and now. He remembered the last of the bread which he had burnt under the grill that morning. He had never mastered the grill and would lean forward watching the bread below the flickering gas flames. But he never judged it right. It had been a long time since he had tasted toast without a thin layer of burning, and his breakfast every day was like a burnt offering to an old god. He pushed through the heavy half-door of the bakehouse. As always, it pushed back, as if the shop didn’t want him to enter. Getting inside always felt like a small victory. He celebrated by buying a small loaf, and two scones. The bread here tasted faintly of the coal that fired the ovens, and for the second time, he remembered the place where he lived before. Bread baked in the kitchen that was the only warm room in a cold house. The room his wife so rarely left.

Distracted by the remembrance of his Yetta, his little home ruler, he hardly noticed he had stepped outside and then he was at the end of his road. The rain had pushed thick streams down the side of the rough dirt road. The rain remembered there used to be a spring here and was trying to find the fastest way down to the river at the bottom of the valley. Two thick pools stirred at each corner of his road, brought up short where dirt road met tarmac, and thin twigs twirled and twisted as they were caught in the contradiction. The pool on each side spun a different way, he noticed. There was some order behind the chaos of this small flood.

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He turned towards home. The thick stone slabs on the narrow pavement were slick and the smooth leather soles of his boots slid. He felt uncertain, unbalanced, the world shifting slightly. Stepping across the kerbstone, over the temporary stream, he walked on the dirt road instead. As he looked down, the road sparkled. White bones, broken bones, children’s bones underfoot. No. Crushed unfired pottery had been used to grog the road. He shivered at the understanding of what he had thought he had seen.He forced himself to move, through the heavy wooden gate, up the stone path, and under the porch. The rain was a thick sheet pouring off the tiled roof and down the dark red stained glass in the windows at the porch’s side. The light here always disorientated him. When the sun was bright it felt like being in a church, but on days like today the stained glass turned the light into something slow, thick and shadowed. He always thought this porch was an ambiguous space, and felt he was at the tipping point in a religious ritual. What was inside the front door might change, depending on this balanced, pivotal moment. He was in a liminal place, the connections fragile. But then bones and blood and ritual were forgotten as he felt the bread slip from under his arm. He caught it, reached for the key in his coat pocket, turned the lock and opened the door. His gothic mood was broken by the mundanity of a loaf of bread.

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He understood that he hadn’t chosen this house. It had chosen him. It wasn’t an English house, and he wanted to be English. The road was lined with near-identical buildings, all built in what the agent who rented the house to him had described grandly as ‘the European style’. He had thought to rent a house in one of the terraced houses nearby, not in this walled enclave where the well-to-do foreign factory workers had often lived in the past.

He had found old papers belonging to Mr Léon Arnoux in a cupboard in the kitchen. And had traced this man’s story, an engineer who became an artist and moved from the Sèvres factory, to the Minton works down the road. Every house had a similar story, a Louis, a Léon, an Alphonse, an Adolf. Why had he thought of that last name? Not a good name, not a name to remember

But when he’d asked for a house in a terrace, the agent had shown him this one. He had been promoted again, just before moving here, and although the rent was cheap this house matched his new status. He was, after all, an important man now, in charge of a department in an important British company. An Englishman’s home, a Pole’s castle. But it was too big; he knew it was too big; just for him. His Yetta and his children would have loved it but he felt adrift in the spaces his new home gave him. He couldn’t allow himself to think of them here.

He wasn’t even sure how many rooms there were, but there would have been enough for all of his family. There were five doors off the hallway downstairs and he climbed the stairs ahead of him. The hallway at the top was an L shape, and he was standing at the corner. He turned slowly, looking back at the front of the house. A tall window above the front porch let in more light than seemed possible for such a slender opening. It reminded him of the embrasure in a concrete pill box he had once stood inside, abandoned in the English countryside. A defence against something that never came.

He turned slowly and counted under his breath. There were seven doors there. He pushed a hand into his pocket, looking for a scrap of paper he had put there at the start of the day. His fingers found it and he pulled it out, dropping a copper penny as he did. It landed on the bare floorboards. ‘Tails’, he thought, but as he bent to pick it up the light caught the queen’s coronet. He always called tails, not heads, and he usually won. This was not a good sign. He dropped the penny back in his pocket and unfurled the scrap of paper. ‘Seven’, it said in his black spidery writing. There were still seven doors. Reassured that the upstairs was as he’dleft it he went back downstairs, and shrugged off his wet coat. He hung it on a hook below the staircase and stepped through to the kitchen at the rear of the house.

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The kitchen was where he spent the most time. There was a dining room next door, a grand room with a bold arch and a bay window where curved windows caught the light and flooded the room. He had a dining table which was an antique, bought from a junk shop on London Road and carried here by him and the shop’s dusty old owner. It had six matching chairs, the velvet on the seats worn, the gold thread faded to a dull green but still good. But he never ate in that room. The kitchen had an old, square pine table and two battered Victorian chairs. One was for his newspaper, and one for him. This was enough, so it was where he ate. He knew an Englishman should have a dining room, so he had one, but he couldn’t see a use for it.

So he opened a tin of soup, and tipped it into a saucepan. The pilot light never worked, and he wondered if they ever did. So he struck a match, matches from the Bali Hai Nightclub – Margate, held the match until the sputtering gas steadied into a constant flame, and warmed the soup slowly while he sliced and buttered his bread.

From the cupboard in front of him he took out a bowl, which had travelled the shortest possible distance from the factory to his house. The Biltons pottery was just across the road, and although that wasn’t where he worked, he liked their designs. His work was traditional, with crinkled edges and gold trim. But this Biltons pattern was modern. This set of crockery had a series of concentric circles, each ring made up of small squares. A central circle of black squares overprinted in green, and an outer circle left white. As he looked it induced a slight sense of vertigo, the pattern turning as he looked at it. He poured the orange-red tomato soup over it to hide his confusion and sat down to eat.

He finished quickly, and realised he had nothing else to do until going to bed. He dropped the saucepan, bowl, spoon and breadknife into the washing up bowl. Eating little, using little, he often took three days to gather enough dirty crockery to fill the washing up bowl and make it worth turning the immersion heater on. He left it and picked up the Daily Telegraph Magazine from the seat next to the one he’d used. Stepping back into the hall, he checked the number of doors, five, before choosing the one that led into the long, thin front room.

Running from the front to the back of this house, this was the room in the house he liked the most. There was light from each end, and he looked out of the back window, down the overgrown garden to the old coach house. This was a building he didn’t use, full of a tangle of chairs, small tables, bicycles, broken garden tools and chests of drawers which could never be opened again. The accumulated junk was like the inside of a sewing box which had been overturned, threads, needles, pins and buttons twisted, tied together into new, interesting but ultimately useless configurations. Nothing could be removed. It had all grown together. He had an intense dislike of the space inside the coach house, which seemed to grow smaller and tighter around him whenever he entered. He hadn’t ventured further than the few clear feet of cobbled floor inside the door from the garden, and had never risked the bowed and twisting wooden stairs which led to the coach house’s upper floor. He was happy to leave the building padlocked, and suspected it would, eventually, just give in to the future and crumble

Turning back to the front room, he chose an armchair as far from the back window as possible, and sat down by the empty fireplace. He knew he should light a fire to fight the continual dampness in the house, but the effort was too much. He picked up the magazine; ‘The Artist As Entertainer…Philosopher…And Social Conscience’ said the cover, with a photograph of a longhaired portrait artist, painting an old tramp squatting in a makeshift shelter in some woodland. He flicked through the magazine, enjoying an article about the problems of a button-shop owner with 50,000 buttons on which he had to calculate the new Value Added Tax, and an unlikely story about a seaside town in Northern Ireland, a world away from the bombs and bullets causing trouble elsewhere. He paused to read an advert, ‘Drive a Michelin. It makes a good car better’. Although he had no car, and consequently no interest in steel-braced radial tyres, they were made just down the road; his was the interest of a neighbour.

The main article, on page 36, told about an arrogant artist, ‘with a talent for upsetting people’, who was painting tramps and vagabonds. This artist, Lenkiewicz, an ordinary commercial portrait painter and an unconventional muralist, was the child of emigres. A couple who’d escaped from a corner of Poland, from Krajna! He felt a sudden lurch, the unlikeliness of this connection pulling him up physically. Today had been a day of reminders, blood red light and bread, pottery underfoot and painters in magazines. He felt old now, suddenly, and tired.

Perhaps the woman’s germs from the bus were already affecting him, bringing him down with a cold. That English phrase, ‘a cold’, when everything here was already cold and damp.He decided he should prepare for bed early. It was already half dark, the sun behind the heavy wet clouds providing little light and no warmth. He could forget today in sleep, and wake tomorrow.

He stood up, still holding the Telegraph Magazine. As he dropped it on the table beside the chair, a piece of square-cut wartime utility furniture with one leg shorter than the others, the room seemed to lurch. No, it was just the table, resonating on a loose and warped floorboard.He needed to use the kitchen to prepare for bed, but in the hour he had been home it had got darker. The kitchen, at the back of the house, didn’t get enough light late in the day. He pushed the solid Bakelite switch down. There was a slight fizz before the dusty bulb lit. Bare. It brought as much dark with it as it brought light. He turned to the sink, twisted the tap, filled the electric kettle, turned it on at the wall socket. While that boiled, he moved to the larder, opened the three-panelled door and found the cloves of garlic in a basket on a bowed shelf to the right.

Next to the board where he had sliced the bread earlier was a pestle and mortar, and he used it to break the garlic bulb into smaller cloves. He dropped the cloves into a small bowl.

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A drum-shaped jar, white ware from the factory where he worked, was full of poppy seeds. They were collected from the garden behind the pottery, the thin flutes of seedpods picked while green and carefully dried out on an old side-plate before being stored. He measured three teaspoons of them into a discoloured sherry glass.

The kettle started to whistle, so he pulled open a drawer and took out a rubber hot water bottle. He filled it, wrapped it in an old towel, and placed it on the side. He poured milk into a small saucepan and fumbled with the matches and gas again. A slow warming, a low heat, stirring constantly. The smell of warm milk meant the end of the day was near. He pulled out a silver tray, put a dimpled glass tumbler on it, and poured in the warm milk. He put the bowl of garlic on the tray, the glass of poppy seeds, added a salt pot, and tucked the hot water bottle under his arm. He turned the kitchen light off as he left.

He put the tray and the bottle down on a side table in the hallway, and pushed the heavy bolt to make sure the front door could not be opened from outside. A formality; he knew that, for the visitors he might expect, that would be the last place they would choose to enter. He turned to the stairs, counting the five doors as he did, before picking up the things he had put down. At the top of the stairs he paused, turned, and counted from one to seven. Each door was still there, but he couldn’t remember what was behind the fifth and sixth ones.

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The last door, the seventh, was the one he wanted. He pushed it open with a foot and looked up at a second flight of stairs. While the stairs from ground to first floor were wide, solid, proud, this second staircase wasn’t one to be seen by anyone other than servants. It was narrow, and twisted to the left at the top, into his bedroom. He climbed, the long and thin staircase lit by the last daylight falling through a slit of a window at the top. The last step was loose, but he knew that and braced himself for the wobble. In his room, he put the tray down on a plain chest of drawers, and tucked the water bottle, without its towel, into the single bed. He turned on the lamp on the bedside table. Even though it was just a plain metal frame, bolted together, he thought it must have been incredibly hard to carry this up here, through the twisted stairwell.

There were two wedges in the sash window, and he pulled them out to open it. Across the road, flattened in the gloaming, was his house reflected. Each house in the street started as the same, a kit of pieces, the same porch and roof and window styles and at the top, this tower. The architect, he imagined, had started with a set of children’s toy bricks. Square, arch, triangle, cylinder, rectangle. But each house was slightly different in its arrangement. The one opposite was his house reversed. He had never been inside, but could imagine the spaces there. He wondered, briefly, if they noticed, as he did, that sometimes the internal arrangement of the rooms shifted. He wondered if they knew what was in the front two rooms on the first floor. He knew the lady who lived there, an upper class Spanish lady with her thick black hair always piled high, and that she took lodgers. She used them, he supposed, to fill the emptiness he felt in his house.

He picked up the glass of poppy seeds, and scattered them across the window ledge before closing the window and putting the wedges back in. On the inside, he scattered some salt. He poured some more in a straight line parallel to the end of his bed, reinforcing a line which he had made many times, but which was blown and scuffed away.

He undressed, folding his clothes and dropping them onto a chair by the drawers. From the top drawer, he took flannel pyjamas. He drunk the still-warm milk. He placed a clove of garlic on the floor by the head of the bed. There were a few from previous nights there already, some old and thick with dust. This was a regular arrangement, part of the routine of bed time.

It was a simple protection, against an enemy that had never come for him, but which, he knew with certainty would, one day would. It had come for his lovely Yetta, and for the children.

He had worked in a pottery factory in Poland before the war. He was the factory’s technical director, introducing new machinery to an old works. The machines often went wrong, the workers were unhappy at having to change, the world was uncertain (but he had little time for reading the newspaper anyway),and he often came home from the factory, late, and dirty, and tired. He knew though that, however late, Yetta would have managed. Food would be warm on the stove, the bread fresh from the afternoon. The children would be clean, and in bed.

Not on that day, though. There had been rumours of war all day, but with his head under machinery he had not had the time. It was unlikely that the German army would invade, after all, because Britain had sworn to protect Poland’s land.

So he was unprepared for what he found when he got home. He found his family, drained of blood. He knew where it had gone, most of it. It was smeared across the He knew where it had gone, most of it. It was smeared across thewalls and pooled on the stone floor. Something had ripped through the wooden window frames, breaking glass into a fine dust, and had torn them apart. He knew that the things happening in the world that year had woken the darkest things in Krajna. Things that wanted blood and warmth. Vampires from his home weren’t the gentlemen of the English stories he had read since arriving here in Stoke, but were brutal and animal. He had seen what they had done to Yetta, to his two children. He had fled, ahead of the vampires, tumbling across Europe until he found himself here.

He had not protected Yetta, the children, but he would protect himself. Many nights he knew, with certainty, that he was a foolish old man and he did nothing. But after days like the one he had just had, he was more careful.

He climbed into bed, brought the dark outside in by switching the lamp off, pushed the hot water bottle further down and shifted himself into the warm spot where it had been. He had a last clove of garlic in his hand, and he dropped it into his mouth, without biting. As he pulled the blankets tighter he realised he couldn’t move, and the garlic shifted to the back of his mouth. He couldn’t breath, his body restricted and the clove of garlic blocking the air to his lungs, and the bad signs he had seen all day rose again; children’s bones, blood, and the darkness rising in his eyes as the last light faded.

Next time in TribevTribe

What didn’t work. In the spirit I always talk about, that discussing failure’s important, here are the bits I want to improve for future (and a rider to this – this is my personal list, not a detailed evaluation, and it’s thrown up quickly). Some of these are very local but are things to watch out for if the game goes elsewhere. You must read yesterday’s post about what worked alongside this one.

  1. The least used check in was the one inside Dreamland. While the Roller Disco and The Quarterdeck were well used, players didn’t get inside Dreamland, and we didn’t turn the people who were visiting Dreamland into players. We had Dreamland staff playing, but even they didn’t check in inside the park (even though they did go to other venues). If TribevTribe happens in big places, it needs a bigger presence.
  2. When staff from Dreamland and Turner Contemporary were playing, we could have made more of getting them to play against each other than we did. In week one and two, we kept them competitive, but it would have been good to have encouraged the organisations themselves to push this more internally. I had hoped this would create a game within the game.
  3. We didn’t use our players as the mechanism to get new people playing enough. We know this could work, and a few times it did, but we should have pushed it harder.
  4. We got some people Tweeting, using Instagram and watching the Facebook page, but we never took it further. We didn’t have the time or budget to fix the mechanics for people who wanted to play entirely online. An app overlaid on the real world game would be a good way to take this further, but you still need the real, physical game. Could the further away players encourage, mobilise, act as back room teams for the players locally? We needed this version of the game to work out how a more online version could work, though; it was like a big card sorting exercise.
  5. We didn’t add as many new check ins as we could have, mainly because I ran out of bits to make them! It would be good to have the time to mass produce log books, Chance cards and so on. To be more responsive, to add new check ins quickly.
  6. Some people ignored TribevTribe, and I felt that while it’s good that Cliftonville is developing its own identity, it was perhaps too separate. Visitors don’t care whether it’s Margate or Cliftonville, and could be encouraged to move around more. We tried to get Resort on the board, and the Tribes Festival was run from the Tom Thumb Theatre, but we didn’t nail either to involvement in the game. Venues in the Old Town and the lower High Street were more enthusiastic. How can we create something which drives visitors to Cliftonville, if Cliftonville doesn’t want to join up with what’s happening elsewhere? We made lots of good links, connections, and moved people to new places, but not in this case.
  7. With a bigger production team, we could have got check ins set up at some of the events happening around Margate too. We tried to get a check in at the Art Car Boot, for example, but didn’t get it sorted until very late so it didn’t happen. Again the short timescale we worked to made this harder.
  8. I think 6. and 7. show where we could have done with a little bit of help. TribevTribe played across some of the venues involved in the Tribes Festival, but a little bit of nudging other places from the Tribes Festival organisers might have meant we had check ins at more venues and events. I understand the budget and time constraints, but think future festivals need a bit of active curation to encourage collaboration. The space between exhibitions, events – the bit that TribevTribe occupied – the bit where audiences can find new experiences, move from thing to thing – is important. We need to develop audiences, get new people to see things, and make it easy for people who already see some things to try new ones. To make sure events, actions, happenings, dovetail.
  9. Our final week was the quietest, although it did swing the final results. It was after the school holidays, and after a big burst of activity in Margate, so there were fewer visitors in town, and fewer residents out around Margate as well. There were fewer check ins, but this allowed the Mods to play tactically, take places, and win the game. We could have pushed extra places, extra rewards more this week.

Game Over #tribevtribe

So after 30 odd days, TribevTribe v0.1 has finished. Game Over. What worked well?

  1. People played together. Families; we saw mother, daughter, and grandma playing together a couple of times. Was TribevTribe mostly played by women? Seems so, though that’s not data we recorded. Friends; we saw small groups trying to outplay each other, too. On different sides.
  2. People played as much or as little as they wanted. Some people tried to visit every venue, some tried to find every badge, some played for the whole month, getting tactical towards the end. Some people dipped in for a day, on a daytrip, down from London or on a day off work.
  3. People found new places, or found that TribevTribe gave them an excuse to go to places they wouldn’t normally go. Richard said he’d found the Shell Grotto by playing, and a couple said they’d had their first pints in The Quarterdeck when they went there to play.Tweet 1
  4. All the stuff looked good. People liked the Dead Letter Boxes, log books and Chance cards. The mix of designed but homemade appealed; the lo-fi, some people said, made the game feel a bit edgy and underground. People nicked bits of the game to take home and keep.
  5. We let the Big Boys mess around. We hijacked a locker at Turner Contemporary and hid stuff in Dreamland. At both venues, staff seemed to enjoy the oddness, and were obviously excited or amused by players turning up. They delighted in making grown-ups say a silly password to get the Dead Letter Box.
  6. The history stuff got people talking. Places displaying posters for old gigs had conversations with their customers about those gigs, about memories, about what went before. People weren’t sure what was real, what was made up. Lines blurred.
  7. That and the Chance cards made people look a little harder, linger, even go back to find things they’d missed.
  8. People added bits, Children left drawings in Dead Letter Boxes. Other people added sweets. The boxes looked after themselves, or rather – people looked after them. Nothing went missing, nobody stole all the badges.Tweet 2
  9. We made things equal. Turner Contemporary got the same from the game as Breuer & Dawson, Rat Race was as important as Dreamland. Old places like The Shell Grotto were on the same level as new places like the Street Art Boutique.
  10. Players could cheat. Well, they described it as cheating; I think they hacked the game. Found ways to visit more places, found stooges to take their place for a day to score more, found ways to sign other people up for their team. It was a game that belonged to the players, not the referees.
  11. The Tribes Festival felt bigger because of the game. We took in more players, added a layer, got the places we were using talking about each other and about the game. TribevTribe was an effective amplifier.
  12. Bolting on things like the Wide Eyed Theatre workshop added layers to the game – even if that workshop had a low signup. Perhaps those things need a bit more integration to really work.
  13. We opened up Marine Studios. This place is a brilliant space. It’s got room for bumbling artists and anarchic thinkers, even while the main resident company are stretching themselves on a big pitch to an overseas client. More people came in, saw the place, and signed up as coworkers. The building, the space, was adaptable, agile, hackable and professional. We gave something back to the space by being there, too.
  14. It made me think, to look at my own work differently, to see a new angle on what I’d been doing for years.
  15. It was all done cheap, fast and dirty. We had about three weeks from the Green Light to having people playing. The budget covered a few days work, but people gave lots more because they were enjoying it.
  16. As well as TribevTribe, other work was made. Megan the producer made a series of drawings of the places in the game, and there will be more work for her from that. David joined us on work experience, shot a great bunch of pictures for his portfolio, was forced out of his comfort zone and got an exhibition.
  17. All that and it’s all only beta, test, trial, This version of TribevTribe is just the start. Imagine it with a budget and time.

TribevTribe

Five tribes will fight across Margate for the next month. TribevTribe is a month-long artwork which takes the centre of Margate as a board to play on.

When players choose to play they collect a Game Card, which randomly assigns them to one of five Tribes – Mods, Rockers, Punks, Hippies and Ravers. So if up to five people decide to play together, they’ll be playing for different teams.

Players visit venues across Margate, looking for a hidden Dead Letter Box. Usually taking the form of a wooden box, the Dead Letter Box is identified by some combination of the five Tribe symbols. Players can visit each venue once a week. In a few places, the Dead Letter Box is held by staff, and there’s a password to access it; the clue to these stashes can be found in other Dead Letter Boxes.

Chance back new copyEvery Dead Letter Box contains two things for sure; a Log Book and a pack of Chance cards. Players record that they’ve visited to score a point, and take a Chance card which can send them to other venues or set them another task to score more points. Dead Letter Boxes might also contain rewards or gifts left by other players. These might change week to week, and special rewards might be announced via social media.

Players can play by themselves, in secret; they can just visit each venue, find the Dead Letter Box and record their visit. The game is like a less technological version of geocaching. It’s a good way to explore Margate.

Or players can choose to play TribevTribe on a more social level. Players don’t know who else is on their team, but can accept Chance card challenges to use social media to meet other players.

Or they can, by gathering strangers together (and without even meeting them) play strategically, agreeing to all visit certain venues in an attempt to conquer them.

That’s important because scores are collected from the Dead Letter Boxes, and announced on a rolling basis. Each week, it will be announced which Tribe has scored most points and conquered each venue, encouraging the other teams to try to retake those places on the board.

Around twenty venues are involved in the work. Each venue can choose how to participate; the simplest way is just to host a Dead Letter Box. But some venues have chosen to get their staff playing, to add extra levels of content, or to champion one of the five Tribes on social media. The first fifteen venues are already in play – and more will be added next week. The venues are large, big public funded attractions like Turner Contemporary, and small, independent shops, cafes and attractions like The Shell Grotto, Rat Race and Proper Coffee.

Lower Third PosterOther venues are involved in another way. The game’s skin of subcultures has led to the creation of a series of posters referencing real gigs and events from Margate’s past; a residency in a community hall for The Lower Third, a Hawkwind community benefit, a wrestling match and so on. These post for long-gone gigs can be found displayed around the town, and players score extra points for finding them, too.

The game is designed to scale, flex and adapt as it happens; ‘it’s iterative design’, a Design Council expert said as she took her Game Card.

TribevTribe was conceived after carrying out evaluation of last year’s Summer of Colour, a festival organised by Turner Contemporary. That evaluation found that people’s movement across Margate from venue to venue was limited. And that people weren’t generally attending multiple events within the festival.

TribevTribe aims to address that, by giving people an incentive to move between places. But it also creates a linking structure for the diverse venues within the festival, and connects them to smaller independent shops, cafes and attractions across the town.

TribevTribe

“And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!”

“Have you used it much?” I enquired.

“It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr. “The farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.”

Lewis Carroll, Sylvie & Bruno

Whenever you go down the roads in Britain, you travel not in three dimensions, but in four. The fourth dimension is the past. And as we move to and fro in this fourth dimension, we see not only landscape but the economic, political and social forces at work behind the landscape. Shaping it, forever changing it, but leaving here and there the record, and the mark.

There’s life everywhere and the tracks we make are shared and crossed by the paths of others, who know this world better than we do.

Travis Elborough & Bob Stanley, How We Used To Live

Tribe Icons only

TribevTribe is a game uses the town itself as the board, and is played not in three dimensions, but in four. It’s a game which celebrates Margate’s place as a home to youth culture, and lays that past over the present townscape.

Players move through the town, and in and out of history, winning points by completing simple challenges, finding clues or building their tribe. As they play they win points for their tribe; Mods, Rockers, Hippies, Punk and Ravers. The Isle of Thanet, which history tells us is the correct place to land if you want to conquer Britain, will be conquered again as each tribe wins and loses territory in the four weeks the game is being played.

TribevTribe has been created by Dan Thompson, a social artist whose work is about mapping, public space, towns as places to play, and social history. It’s been commissioned by Marine Studios, who are behind the GEEK festival, which brings play, art and technology together. It forms part of the Tribes Festival. TribevTribe is funded by Kent County Council and the Tribes Festival.

Arlington House Auction

Margate’s beautiful Main Sands is bookended by two Brutal buildings, bold seaside architecture that is the spirit of a town that’s on the edge, both physically and metaphorically, told in concrete. Turner Contemporary and Arlington House are a pair, a duet, Margate’s story made solid.

Because Margate’s a living, breathing place. It’s not pickled heritage painted in Farrow & Ball, not a Cath Kidston nod to a Ladybird book past, not a 21st century take on a kitsch saucy seaside postcard, but is a colourful, chaotic and always contemporary place. It’s always faced firmly forward and Arlington House is as much part of that story as the Georgian squares, Dreamland’s Art Deco cinema, David Chipperfield’s Turner blocks or the crazy Clocktower.

And right now, Arlington House is the bit that’s been left behind. From the tower’s east-facing flats, you can see Turner Contemporary and watch Dreamland coming back to life. And Arlington has to be next. The site has been in limbo, since Tesco pulled out, and worryingly there’s still planning permission for demolition of the shops, car park and the tower’s elegant 60s-styled foyer block.

So we need to fight. When it was first proposed Turner Contemporary was a crazy idea, and when residents stood up for Dreamland they were told it was never going to happen. Except – Turner’s there, and Dreamland is. By getting together, Margate’s residents and visitors have shown, big things can be made to happen. Arlington’s next. Tell everyone, Arlington’s next.

So right now, we need to get some cash into the Friends of Arlington House accounts, to pay off some of the legal costs from a long fight to save the building and to give them a fighting fund to look ahead. Like I said, it’s Margate’s residents and visitors that will make things happen; and they’ve donated some frankly (and yes, the word’s overused, but trust me – it fits) awesome lots to a fundraising auction.

So – would you like some art or Wayne Hemingway’s autograph, some coasters or some cushions? Advice on making your home, garden or just your body a bit better? Would you like food, or drink, in one of Margate’s ace eateries? A stay in a boutique b&b, an Old Town apartment or in a flat in Arlington House itself? Would you like records from a frankly rather hip label, or would you like to learn to DJ with them? The Arlington House Auction is odd and inspiring, eclectic and entertaining, and packed full of stuff which I re kon you’ll love and which will help Friends of Arlington Margate keep fighting for this national treasure. Fifty-odd fab lots – bid here in the Arlington House Auction.

 The auction closes tomorrow at 5pm.

The Red Chair

Great theatre gets inside you, and leaves its shadows across the world when you look at it afterwards.

David Glass Ensemble’s production of Gormenghast, which I probably saw more than 20 years ago, had that effect. The world looked different afterwards. Darker, more shadowed, layered. It still does. Theatre De Complicite did the same to me. So did the work of Bruce Gilchrist.

When I watched the preview of Clod Ensemble’s new show The Red Chair, I had a similar feeling. Like David Glass Ensemble and Complicite, the show conjures a dark, twisted world and tells a long tale on stage.

But while David Glass and Complicite rely on a whole company, The Red Chair creates that intensity with just one actor on stage.

Sarah Cameron wrote The Red Chair and performs it. It’s two hours long. It’s an intense, physical experience, for her and for the audience – there’s no interval, no respite. Cameron makes a decaying household from words and once she’s created that place she tells the story of a man who eats and eats until he becomes swallowed by the chair he was sitting in, and the story of his wife who feeds him, and the story of their forgotten child. She drags you through a Grim(ms) Fairytale, full of lush lyrical language and tumbling poetry.

The world she creates looks, I think, a little like this:

Follow Dan Thompson’s board Red Chair on Pinterest.

The set doesn’t: it’s just Cameron, a chalk circle to contain the things she conjures, and a wooden chair. There’s a shot of whisky and some chocolate for the audience. They only reinforce the sense that this is some dark mass, some strange ritual.

The Red Chair is coming to Margate. Go, and I promise you won’t ever forget it.

 

 

 

An alternative crowdfunding

So… would a bunch of you pledge some money, crowdfunding style, without knowing what it’s going towards – but knowing that three people with good taste will pick an artist and commission a piece of work of work with your money, and you’ll get something cool in six months time?

Ed Vaizey on the UK games sector

On the outside Games Expo East Kent (known for fairly obvious reasons as GEEK) is a fairly straightforward games expo, with thousands of people descending on Margate’s Winter Gardens this weekend to play retro video games and find out about the latest in computer gaming. But underneath that is a serious purpose, to look at the place of digital in a town like Margate. If GEEK proves anything, it’s that digital today is all about a little bit of chaos, a lot of collaboration, endless crossovers and constant innovation. I edited the GEEK Gazette this year, a free paper distributed across the area, and asked guest writers to contribute. Here’s what Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, wrote:

Ed Vaizey at Turner Contemporary, Margate  © Robert Canis
Ed Vaizey at Turner Contemporary, Margate
© Robert Canis

The digital landscape of the UK is undergoing a period of tremendous change, a transformation that I believe is vital for the economic growth of our country. Government and local authorities are investing £1.7 billion to help bring superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the UK by 2017 – to enhance the connectivity and digital capabilities of our homes and businesses.

An improved digital infrastructure will help drive the growth of business within our creative industries, and particularly the video games sector. We recognise the incredible contribution that video gaming makes to our economy and are determined to do all we can to support its continued growth.

That is why we introduced the video gaming tax relief. Industry estimates it could be worth up to £25 million per year for the sector. We are also invested in the development of up and coming talent. Through collaboration with Creative Skillset our funding for the Skills Investment Fund is widening access to industry-led training. We have already seen a positive impact with the Fund helping to place over 100 trainees in 67 games companies.

The UK games sector generates £2bn in global sales and contributes almost £1bn to national GDP. We cannot underestimate the importance of this industry. The UK is a great training ground for the developers, animators and programmers of the future. We are attracting overseas investment and industry figures show that our games studios already employ over 9,000 creative staff, whilst indirectly supporting close over 16,000 jobs.

Within the video gaming world, the UK is renowned for its talent, creativity and the innovation of its products. We can boast of the creation of many world-beating games, such as Elite, Lemmings, Tomb Raider, LittleBigPlanet and Moshi Monsters.

This sector is a shining example of the UK’s strength in innovation and creativity and it is great to see video gaming claiming the recognition it deserves. The UK is already home to the largest games development community in Europe. Together with industry, we will continue to strengthen our position on the world’s stage, ensuring more and more globally successful games will be conceived, developed and produced right here in the UK.

Ed Vaizey MP

Margate Is…

Margate is facing away from England. Margate is where Britain began. Margate is Anglo and Saxon and Roman and Celtic and English and European. Margate is always continental, never Little England.

P1160328Margate is made for Down-From-Londons, bearded faux-bohemians, hipsters and artists and has been since 1730. Margate is sea bathing, sex and sand. Margate is cheap and brash and elegant and high-end. Margate is old and Margate is new. Margate is a dirty ageing tart with new earrings. Margate is where contradictions contradict themselves until everything makes sense.

Margate is where England swung. Margate is where mods fought rockers. Margate is where it all kicks off. Margate is never crossing at the lights. Margate is where friendships are made and comradeships forged. Margate is where old people come for bungalows and young people come for cheap property and Eastern Europeans come to learn to be English and where UKIP come to die.

Margate is on an island. Margate is defined by lost rivers. Margate is chalk and concrete. Margate is beaches of sand and seagreen bottle glass and old Stoke pottery smoothed by saltwater.

Margate is the second oldest theatre in the country, and the smallest. Margate is a derelict Dreamland and big plans. Margate is the ball that rises once on a clocktower. Margate is a David Chipperfield building without a front door. Margate is an abandoned tidal pool that people swim in anyway. Margate is a cave covered in shells to worship the Sacred Duck.

Margate is TS Eliot and Chas & Dave. Margate is Tracey Emin and Tom Swift. Margate is Dean Thatcher and Dinsdale Landen. Margate is The Beatles at the Winter Gardens and John Le Mesurier & Hattie Jacques at Albion Lodge. Margate is Karl Marx on holiday.

Margate is Retro and Margate is looking towards tomorrow. Margate is then and now, and Margate is dreaming of England’s future.

Written for the Swifty’s Sunday Social fanzine, and first published there.

Photos from the London Road project

Stoke’s London Road connects the buzzing, active communities of Boothen, West End and Oakhill to the town centre along a long, straight road that’s full of history, unusual buildings, old architectural features and public spaces waiting to be brought to life. This year-long artwork commissioned by Appetite will end in the publication of a book. This will be a psychogeographical, slightly fictional telling of the story of London Road, from one end to the other, from the Roman to the modern day.

Here are some of the photos collected during the first six months of the London Road project,

Buildings and street scenes general photographs from London Road.

London Road – a Walking Tour – takes you from one end of the road to another. An archive of a Tweeted tour.

London Road as a green belt – is Stoke the greenest city in England?

P1150169

#chumbrella on London Road – an artwork by Sarah Nadin, commissioned by the London Road project and Appetite.

The abandoned London Road Library – inside a forgotten building, sold at auction in 2014 for £128,000.

P1150047

Inside Portmeirion Pottery – a successful pottery, producing 150,000 pieces of best-grade pottery every week.

Inside Middleport Pottery – a working Victorian pottery, restored by the Prince’s Regeneration Trust and making Burleigh ware.

P1130633

London Road Festival 2014 – a community-run festival, where the London Road project started.

Open air art gallery – part of the London Road Festival in 2014.

Expedition – performance on London Road – commissioned by Appetite as part of the London Road Festival 2014.

People I want to collaborate with

I’m looking ahead, from halfway through a year long residency in Stoke, and thinking ‘What’s next?’. I’ve always enjoyed collaboration and have been lucky enough to work with some cracking artists, makers and designers; I’d be far richer if I didn’t use the small budgets I get for projects to work with other people. So here are a few of the people who’ve been on my mind, that I’d like to collaborate with over the next couple of years8:

Lloyd DavisLloyd Davis is currently working with me on a project in Sittingbourne, Workshop 34. He’s a master of many things, carries a uke and makes me think and smile.

The Ossett Observer gang are dangerous, full-blown anarchists. They tend to have ukes too. And poetry. And pigeons.

Geek is a rather neat festival in Margate. Built around vintage gaming, it’s really about technology in East Kent. It was set up by Kate Kneale from HKD, and she also has some good ideas about pottery which ties in with my work in Stoke.

She Makes War is the musical project from Laura Kidd, who’s also a film-maker – she made the Pop Up People project much better than it would have been without her. I can’t play anything so don’t know what our collaboration would be… but hey.

I absolutely love The Shell Grotto. It’s got real English magic and mystery and it inspires me every time I visit. Run by great people, too.

Equally bonkers is the Powell-Cotton Museum. I was lucky enough to work with their education chap, Keith, earlier this year. I’ve spent a lot of time around museums, but he’s something special. Another project there would be great.

Company of Makers is the latest thing from Steve Bomford, who joined me on the Empty Shops Network tour a few years back. Top chap, top project.

Tom Swift, madman, That’s all.

P1120627Andy Lewis didn’t used to be nearly as cool as he is now, when I DJ’d with him at Blow Up. Ogh alright – he was always rather cool. But now he’s Paul Weller’s bass player too. Another musical collaboration.

I’m already collaborating, kind of, with Sarah Nadin, on #chumbrella. Lovely artist, cracking good ideas.

And further afield – Gap Filler in New Zealand, and Marcus Westbury and Simone Sheridan in Australia. But they take a bit more planning…

* (and no, it’s not an exhaustive list – it’s one thrown together quickly – so don’t worry if you’re not here. It’ll grow over the next few weeks.)

Swifty’s Sunday Social, 20 years ago

P1160328It’s odd, looking back and realising that the summer of 2014 was 20 years ago. We were just having fun in a battered seaside town and I don’t think any of us considered that what we were doing would have such an impact. We weren’t a gang, and never called ourselves Imaginists back then. What we were doing wasn’t a conscious attempt to shape the future, even if we did all secretly believe we could change the world. But Margate was burning bright in 2014. There had been months of great theatre, incredible art happenings, a buzz in the national media (newspapers, back then – newspapers!)

It really came together on a Sunday afternoon at the sleepy end of that summer; Swift hadn’t had even one platinum album then, there was little to suggest he’d win the Turner Prize twice, and the idea that there’d be a room dedicated to him in Margate’s Imaginist Centre was faintly ridiculous. He was Tom Swift, not Swift; he hadn’t become, like Madonna, somebody known by a single name. He was just oddball painter Tom Swift, a lanky, awkward character with an eye on the main chance, fingers in some odd pies, a hatful of ideas, a neat line in drippy paintings. And, in Caspar, a mentor.

Yes, that Caspar – he was charismatic even then, but we didn’t realise how dangerous his religious quackery would become. I’m not sure then he even believed in the Sacred Duck; it was just an in joke. I think after Apple introduced the smart drugs, they started to alter the world around him, and he believed the coincidences and chances meant something. If we had known how far he’d take it, well; we’d have pushed him off the harbour arm, the Thames Barrier wouldn’t have been damaged so badly by that ridiculous Rubber Duck, and London wouldn’t have flooded.

P1160550Anyway – together Swift and Caspar and me cooked up the plan for Swifty’s Sunday Social at the Black Cat Club. Not the one you can visit now, of course – that’s a shameless cash-in, a Disneyfied version of where we hung out. It’s not even in the same place. There never was a Black Cat at the Imaginist Centre on the seafront. Back then it was an art gallery called Turner Contemporary, and that summer it was exhibiting work by Jeremy Deller. Forgotten now, but back then he was the big star, not us. Today’s Black Cat at the Imaginist Centre is just an imitation, as authentic as The Cavern in Liverpool, but it’s made Keith Roberts rich and famous. When I watch him on the panel of England’s Got Talent, I can’t help but remember the Gabicci-wearing, quiffed, suited and booted wideboy he was back then. He hasn’t really changed much, has he?

Our Black Cat, back then, was across the road; it’s the toilets of Starbucks now – I know, tiny. It was a proper underground club, sweat dripping from the ceiling and the walls sticky. It was where Swifty’s Sunday Social started, and my own Face Up! too. That was just supposed to be a one-off night, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Mods vs Rockers battles in Margate in 1964. I never saw Face Up! becoming the brand it has become, and every one of our coffee shops around the world has a little bit of the Black Cat spirit, every item of clothing in our shops is inspired by what people were wearing in Margate back then, every disc and download in our record shops could have graced the turntables that year. But I digress; the first Swifty’s Sunday Social, all those Sundays ago, is what I’m writing about.

It was a good afternoon. There was a DJ, a local vicar called Emmet Keane (remember, there was still a Church of England back then!), playing reggae and dub; and Helen Seymour performed her poetry. She was an interesting character; slight and hauntingly beautiful, magic eyes, slightly awkward as we all were, slipping rhymes and interesting images into rambling stories. I saw the spark in her, but still can’t believe she’s the same person who wrote that poem for the old Queen’s funeral, let alone that her brief affair with a prince that started at the funeral could topple the monarchy.

P1160510And there was a Simon Williams film projected on the wall, too. I know, I know, it seems unlikely – a Turner Prize winner, the Poet Laureate, a ten-times Oscar winner, a TV superstar, the Prime Minister and me all in the one place, on one Sunday afternoon, but it’s true. It really happened. Simon’s film was a precursor to ‘365’, that won him that first Oscar. It was a black and white film (timelapse, of course, could it be anything else, from him?) shot from Arlington House, which wasn’t the swanky, gated place it’s become. Back then it was just a towerblock, Margate just a seaside town.

The crowd that Sunday afternoon was full of good, interesting people, too. Joe Brown was there; he was a shopkeeper, ran a junk shop with Kelly. He hadn’t become a politician then, had no ambitions to become Prime Minister. Really! Back then, people were career politicians, not people like Joe who just rose from nowhere. There were photographers, and writers, and painters, and dancers, and shopkeepers out that afternoon. The Breuer and Dawson boys, before they hosted their TV makeover series, before Breuer and Dawson was just a chain store. IndustroChic wasn’t a thing back then. A good crowd, for a rainy Sunday afternoon, but not as many people as have said they were there; we’d never have fitted everyone that said they were at the first one into that tiny room. I remember Simon saying we needed ten more people to make it feel busy; Caspar wanted fifty more. There was room for ten, room for fifty, and there weren’t queues around the block back then for anything Swift did.

I guess it’s that weekend that changed it all, really; that made it clear we had a scene. I know the Black Cat is compared to Warhol’s Factory, and while that’s a lazy comparison there’s something in it. The atmosphere maybe, that bottled sense of excitement, that belief that we could take on the world and win, that buttoned-down madness – but the impact of the Imaginists has been so much bigger, deeper, wider. It all started one Sunday, and nothing’s been quite the same since.

Margate, November 2034