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Look out of the window – what’s occurring? Grinding rain and scything murk? Perfect for a trip to the seaside. And today we’re visiting one of the few places where murk adds to the atmosphere – Dungeness. We’re being driven to our destination by Lost Prom friend, Lindsey, and are also accompanied by two more new friends, Billy and Sam. It would be a jamboree if the weather wasn’t so frigging unpleasant.
However, as we progress, the rain dies down, and by the time we get to Dungeness, the sky’s a bored grey (ennui gris), but at least it’s dry. The journey has been enlivened by some surreal roadworks, where we had to wait at the red light for a “convoy vehicle” to escort us along a stretch of country lane. We were at the head of the convoy, following a little man in a disability vehicle and we felt like kings. Whatever happened to Hippy Convoys? Where did they go? And why were they such a threat in the late 80s? They were a summer craze, like flesh-eating disease and pit bull terrier attacks. What will it be next year? The main summer tabloid perennial is Travel Chaos (and Bank Holiday Misery), but surely that’s a little tired now? Come on Convoys – the time is ripe for a revival.
So anyway, over-excited, and gabbling away like schoolies, we head for the green and white check tablecloths of The Light Railway Café for jacket potatoes, chilli, chips ‘n’ cheese and mugs of tea. Billy interviews us for his radio show and everyone else in the café discreetly listens in. Neither of us can remember the URL of The Lost Promenade. Sam finds a magazine that tells us how to identify different types of marine eggs, each more revolting-looking than the last. Lindsey accidentally invites everyone to spend Christmas in Cleethorpes. We mean to hold her to that.
For some reason “The Trolley Song” from “Meet Me In St Louis” is stuck in Nhung and Tamsin’s heads as we set out for a walk along the shingle, but it soon dies away as the sweeping desolation of the landscape becomes apparent. Dungeness consists largely of a huge expanse of shingle beach, two nuclear power stations, a couple of lighthouses, a miniature railway and a smattering of ramshackle huts. It’s a bit like the BBC Quarry in a 1960s Doctor Who episode. Famously bleak on the surface, underneath, the place is teeming with wildlife; hundreds of varieties of plants, insects and birds thrive here. However, somehow it’s the human activity that is more moving. As we crunch past the power stations, their 60s brutalist shapes look almost cute against the unforgiving backdrop and workers in cheery blue uniforms wave to us.
The shacks are fashioned from old railway carriages and Womble-like bits and bobs, and decorated by eccentric artworks made from rubbish, like a tree made of flip-flops and a flowerbed sown with paint-spattered old tools. There are retro caravans, one all curvy and pod-like with windows Nhung describes as “bubulous”. There is an abandoned red balloon and a mouldy old sofa. A smoky smell hangs in the air and the power stations constantly whirr and thrum, whilst strange varieties of sea cabbage germinate on the shale.
We walk lost in separate thoughts, this year has been a strange one for many of today’s companions. Two sets of them are fairly new couples, but have been through adversity to reach this stage. One person is alone today and feels it. But maybe the others feel this way too, despite their coupledom. Dungeness does this to you. One thing that strikes Tamsin is that although on first glance, you might think you would move here for solitude, in fact there would be anything but. On sunnier days the area must be full of people like us tramping about and staring into the windows of the quaint homesteads. And in a place like this, everyone must know their neighbours. In fact, you’re more alone in a city towerblock; if you die in Dungeness, you can be sure that your body would be found soon. No-one knows you’re dead in the city till the stink attracts the rats.
We jerk ourselves out of our introspection and run wildly ahead, playing kick around with a pebble. Someone remarks that it would be funny to see a celebrity now. We laugh at the incongruity of spotting a star on a bleak day like this on the edge of the world. Tamsin reveals that if she ruled the universe, by law, all movie themes would have the title of the film sung in them in the style of “Rita Sue and Bob Too”, such as “Schindler’s List, Schindler’s List, ooh them Nazis, boo and hiss”.
There is of course, nothing to buy here really, though Nhung got a swan badge in the café. However, we get excited when we see a tiny New Agey gift shop called The Fifth Quarter, carved out of the front room of one of the huts. “Oh” says the lady who owns it, as we tumble in, “you just missed Boy George. I said to him, ‘you look like Boy George” and he said, “I am Boy George””.
So even on a bleak day on the edge of the world, celebrity can come calling. According to the lady, Boy George bought an angel oracle and 3 types of crystal; tigers eye, amethyst and obsidian. Nhung knows about these things and she says this means he’s looking for strength and grounding This was just before the climax of his recent court case – now he’s got all the grounding he needs in Pentonville. Picture him huddled in his little cell with only his crystals for comfort…
Billy interviews the woman for his radio show, and asks her why she chooses to live here. “You’ve got nature and the sea and what have you, and also the power station”, she answers. Billy buys some incense called something like “nagwanker”. He would like it to be known that he bought it because he felt he had to, not because he’s a hippy. We consider pursuing Boy George paparazzi-style towards Derek Jarman’s cottage, but we can’t be arsed and we want to have a look at Camber Sands before the light goes. In fact, by the time we get to Camber, it’s too late for more than a 10 minute walk. So we go home, and each of us again engages in separate thoughts. And nobody knows what anybody else is really thinking. But it’s probably something to do with wanting chips.
Wing mirror of Lindsey’s car
Tamsin’s purple beret (left in Lindsey’s car, but she got it back later)
Our way, briefly on the way to the beach
The light at Camber Sands
New Lost Promenade companions