Sunday, March 18, 2007


I have been suffering unduly of late from unhealthy vapours. "Get out and have a good blow," advises my mother, "it'll clear your head." Along with 'water as hot as you can drink' this is the universal panacea of mothers everywhere. I tried Little Hurst, the wood opposite. It was exceedingly windy and as such, the wood opposite was a rather like being in Primeval but without the CGI or the pneumatic female leads. The overhead noises usually heralded the arrival of a falling branch rather than a flying lizard.

Instead I went for a slow drive around and as is usual when I am in these parts, I ended up at one of my most favourite of places, Dungeness. If you read The Guradian, live in London or laugh at people who don't know who Edie Sedgwick was then you probably know absolutely everything about Dungeness already because of this place. Get out of here then, you're not wanted. Anyone who has only visited Dungeness since Prospect Cottage became well known will have actually missed something essential. In fact they will have missed the very reason Jarman chose it as his retreat in his final years but has unwittingly helped to destroy. Not by encouraging visitors to see his empathetic garden but by starting the process off that turned it into something that can be "bought". The old railway carriages and largely serviceless shacks and holiday cottages that formed the community until a decade or so ago are fast disappearing. They are being converted into proper houses with six-figure price tags. Fulham on Sea. You wait, there'll be a deli and an expensive fishmonger soon. Shame they can't do anything about the salt and the shingle kicks spoiling the paintwork on your 4 x 4s but that's the Dungeness Experience for you. I've nothing against Jarman at all. Nobody knew or cared who he was when he arrived and he appreciated the place for the correct reasons. Nobody asked for the place to be "made".

Those of us who have been visiting for the last 40 years or so have rather different memories. No boardwalks back then, you lugged your fishing tackle over a quarter of a mile of shingle after chaining your bike up to a post. Then you wondered if it would still be there when you got back to it because it wasn't unknown for the raggle-taggle gypsy-os from the other side of the power station to cruise along looking for some easy pickings. It was even rumoured they'd creep up on you and nick your tackle while you weren't looking. Never happened to me but I did once chase a fox away from my rucksack with my banana in its slavering maw. Then the fog would come down and the foghorn would start up. I don't expect that happens anymore though. Sensitive city ears have probably whinged about that because they can't hear their Lily Allen over the noise.

The essence of Dungeness is storms. It didn't exist until medieval times. It was formed through storms and howling gales; vicious tides moving millions of tons of shingle in hours. It's the largest expanse of shingle in the world. Go to the top of the old lighthouse and look at the lines of the previous shorelines, evidence of what nature can do on its own without our help. Today was no different. A bitterly cold northerly froze my face and the sea was leaden. The tide was out but on the turn, ready to bite more out of the beach and spit it out up the bay. You don't swim there. It's raw and fierce, unearthly, beautiful and remote. Yet less than 20 minutes from this room.



Bob Woolmer


He was an elegant and effective all-rounder who played one of the best innings ever to save a test match; he managed to mire himself in controversy more than once although gained huge respect amongst the players he coached along the way. More than anything, he played for Kent where he was immensely popular and would readily sign autographs. That meant a lot to a kid and you don't forget things like that. Big loss to cricket.

5 Vegetable peelings:

Blogger Murph said...

Nice Post, Richard.

(I suppose they will be opening shingles bars at some stage.)

11:21 am  
Blogger krusty the baker said...

My own thought of Bob Woolmer is the excitement and joy he brought to Warwickshire in the early '90s, as a coach, and with Dermot Reeve shaped a real team that played for one another to the last man, and swept all before them. A loss to all team sport.

9:50 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Murph, you old wag.

Krusty, it was Kent's AGM this evening. I wonder if they discussed any plans to incorporate a permanent tribute at the re-developed St Lawrence?

10:41 pm  
Blogger Shelley said...

Lovely post. It always makes me sad when wonderful places are "discovered" and ruined, in that order.

2:12 am  
Blogger Tennessee Jed said...

I am way to American to know anything about this place in Kent. Poor untraveled American I should say. Your tales take me there.

I can not imagine trying to build a structure like that awesome old lighthouse much less in the wicked weather.

I live in a temperate rain forest, at the deepest part of a valley near a warm river. The forest has been cut back over the years, but it suits me fine. I think I will omit Dungeness, Kent as one of the places I might like to live in my next life.

12:54 am  

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