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.

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Cameron’s conference speech

Cameron’s conference speech was written by former ice cream seller Clare Foges. Whether you believe in what Cameron’s saying or not, there is some good writing. I am, for fairly obvious reasons, rather chuffed with this extract:

“Nobody wants false optimism. And I will never pretend there are short cuts to success. But success will come: with the right ideas, the right approach, the right leadership. Leadership from government: to set out the direction we must take, and the choices we must make. But leadership also from you. Because the things that will really deliver success are not politicians or government. It’s the people of Britain, and the spirit of Britain.

Some say that to succeed in this world, we need to become more like India, or China, or Brazil. I say: we need to become more like us. The real us. Hard-working, pioneering, independent, creative, adaptable, optimistic, can-do. That’s the spirit that has made this United Kingdom what it is: a small country that does great things; one of the most incredible success stories in the history of the world.

And it’s a spirit that’s alive and well today. I see it in Tania Sidney-Roberts, the head teacher I met in Norwich who started a free school from scratch, now four times over-subscribed. Her ambition? To set up another school and do it all over again. That’s leadership.

I see it in the group of GPs in Bexley who have taken more control of their budgets, and got their patients – some of the poorest in the country – free care on Harley Street. Their ambition? To cut waiting times, cut costs and improve care – all in one go. That’s leadership.

And we all saw it this summer. Dan Thompson watched the riots unfold on television. But he didn’t sit there and say ‘the council will clean it up.’ He got on the internet. He sent out a call. And with others, he started a social movement.

People picked up their brooms and reclaimed their streets. So the argument I want to make today is simple: leadership works. I know how tough things are. I don’t for one minute underestimate how worried people feel, whether about making ends meet, or the state of the world economy. But the truth is, right now we need to be energised, not paralysed by gloom and fear.”

PS this is the published version – Cameron slightly fluffed the lovely rhythm of ‘I see it/ I see it/ we all saw’

PPS David Cameron saying my name out loud doesn’t automatically make me a Conservative party member. If you want to find out about my politics, take me out for coffee and I’ll tell you.

Words for Ben

A singer-songwriter chum said he was having trouble writing about himself. I said I loved the sleeve notes from the back of early Stones albums. So here’s what happened when I wrote some words for Ben Salter:

Give a man a guitar, an honest voice and an interesting life and you’ll get great songs.

The greatest singer-songwriters blend fragility and confidence, serious subjects and a light touch. Think about the blend of humour and honesty you get with Billy Bragg, Jonathan Richman, Warren Zevon, Loudon Wainwright III or Graham Coxon.

They’re all people who’ve picked up a guitar, knocked a tune into rough shape and sung about their life. The message is the medium. Straightforward, honest, useful musicians; not clever, virtuoso tricksters. Punk not prog.

Great lyricists, to a man. Think about the couplets in ‘New England’, the exuberance of ‘Roadrunner’. It may be wrong to wish on space hardware, but Ben will, and he’ll care.

Suited East End artists Gilbert and George said ‘We want our art to speak across the barriers of knowledge directly to People about their Life and not about their knowledge of art’; Ben does that with music.

And the result is great lo-fi, scratchy rock ‘n’ roll – less garage band, more kitchen sink singer. Songs about opening milk cartons and most of the milk spilling, commuting, being in a band that never make it. Everyday stuff. The piper at the gates of school.