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“Ramsgate has developed a continental cafe style culture with bars and restaurants on its seafront parade (citation needed)” – Wikipedia
Oh. That’ll be the same Ramsgate with the roughest-looking pub in England, the throngs of beer-bellied bikers and an epic battle over dog turds will it then Wiki? Too right, citation bloody needed. Let’s start at the beginning…
After a tediously long walk from the station, almost the first building you see in Ramsgate proper is a hangout of the Kent chapter of the Outlaws biker gang, nestled slightly surreally amongst leafily-fringed properties. However, that aside, Ramsgate is very attractive. Although a large amount of the shops and pubs are closed and boarded- up, there are many lovely buildings and the pedestrianised town centre is livelier than many, with market stalls and a traditional butcher’s shop still thriving.
But then we go up the road and encounter one of the grimmest-looking pubs we’ve ever seen. Festooned in St George’s crosses (although in 2012, what with the Jubilee, the European Football Championships and the Olympics it’s quite difficult to sort out the fascist from the mere dunderhead) and flanked by furious-looking men who wouldn’t look out of place in a reality show called something like Britain’s Lardiest Wifebeaters, it’s nearly as unappealing as the barbers across the way, which looks like the ideal venue if ever you fancied hosting a flick-knife vs nunchucks convention, with Charles Bronson as keynote speaker. We, probably unfairly, nickname this part of town “the racist end” and retreat in the other direction which has a shop called ‘Trendy.’ We think about going in so that we can be trendy too, but that’s just too much excitement, even for us.
We decide to calm down in the usual Lost Promenade way and stop for something to eat in posh-looking Corby’s Tea Rooms. As it’s a sunny day, we sit outside, at the back, overlooking a set of street furniture shaped like a 3 piece suite,on which some teenagers are performing impressive parkour moves. Suddenly a kerfuffle develops; a man is yelling at a woman for failing to pick up her dog’s mess, followed closely behind by another woman hooting plummily, “I’ve got a poo bag if you need one!” They disappear behind a wall for a moment, then emerge in a maelstrom of fury – the man is dragging the dog-owner along by the wrists, apparently making a citizen’s arrest while she shouts and kicks and bites. “You don’t care about the starving poor people all you care about is poo”, she screams, “Your watch is worth more than you”. The teenagers cease leaping and start filming on their phones as the woman gets more and more riled, finally breaking away and making off, with dog in tow, but sans poo bag. A while later the fuzz turn up and the man spends the next ten minutes searching for his hearing aid that got lost in the fracas. Ramsgate – continental cafe style culture at its very best.
Out along the jetty and all this is forgotten as we finally reach the seafront – another marvellous tangeriney Kent beach of delight. A small girl is practising somersaults in the air and people and dogs hurtle about like hairy pinballs. We take a relaxing boat trip around the harbour, a bargain at £3. The Port of Ramsgate is expanding year on year due to the demands placed on it by the phalanx of clockwork daddy long-legs glinting off in the distance – Thanet’s offshore wind farm, the largest wind farm in the world.
From the sea we spot an intriguing looking bric-a-brac shop under the promenade arches. A cave-like space stuffed with mannequins, fairground signage, and pianola music, it’s definitely worth a visit, as is Pelosi’s, a gorgeously preserved 1960s ice cream parlour, all pinks and mint greens, chrome and Formica. We walk along the beach past similarly-hued striped storage huts and kids flying kites. More mental than continental, unlike its neighbour Whitstable, Ramsgate is no manicured weekenders’ haven; however, dab a little at its grimy cheeks and underneath is a flawed bathing belle, a few teeth missing but a lovely smile.
3 7” records (too scratched to buy)
Brideshead Revisited Audio Book Collection (Nhung considers buying something Brideshead related on every Lost Prom trip but decides against it)
Saturday newspaper (Tamsin forgets to buy it and regrets it during the 50 minute wait at Ashford International for a connecting Brighton train)
Concerned citizen’s hearing aid
Spotting Birds book
Dark green ceramic pot with the word ‘celery’ on it
Red leather tote bag
Book about matchbox labels
Vintage black & white photo postcard of 2 girls on the beach in Margate
Our first witnessing of a citizen’s arrest
Wind is tearing like a banker destroying evidence and although the rain is holding off for now, it’s never far away, cradled precariously in voluminous steel grey cloud pantaloons ready to fall at any moment. Ladies, gentlemen and the rest of us, welcome to the British summer.
We are deep in the New Forest, driven by new Lost Promenade friend Cass and our first stop is Lymington on the Hampshire coast, a town that thinks it’s special, but is strangely featureless. Dominated by boating bores and with not much to distinguish it from anywhere else, it does at least have lots of charity, antique and bric-a-brac shops (although the interesting pickings to be found in them are pretty sparse, dominated by generic pastel-covered, twirly-fonted, killing-spree-inducing chicklit and the limp floral hand-me-downs of Middle England). However, there is an interesting retro shop which specialises in mid-century transport-related collectables, a refreshing change from the usual girlie vintage shops. Printed ephemera with titles like ‘Motor Car Lubrication Simply Explained: Running as Smoothly as a Ball’ and old signage, including one that would surely be in demand amongst sex offenders: ‘Mine’s a Minor’. The shop’s owner talks about the “equinox weather we’re having” and demonstrates a nifty vintage Kodak duffel bag that also doubles as an inflatable float; “The air is free. ” He directs us to the vintage cameras on sale: “Film photography is fashionable at the moment – people like low-quality flukey pictures”.
We continue on to a church hall craft fair and unlike the usual modern craft fair disappointment, this one is an old-school affair. No owl cushions, no cupcakes; instead there are dolls knitted by elderly ladies, and proper fairy cakes, just like it should be. One stall holder has crocheted a doll labelled ‘Ellie (Good Witch) and Her Bag of Good Wishes’. “I once knitted a bad witch with a wart on her nose but I prefer doing good witches” says her creator.
We also look at a shop plastered with officious signs, that claims to be the rudest one in Britain – “If you can’t leave these books tidy then leave them alone”, “Don’t be beaky”etc. However the most endearing junk shop in town is called Julie’s. “Please buy something, no-one else has today” Julie pleads, and so we duly oblige.
There is a market running the length of the high street. Nothing exciting for sale, however but our interest is held by a flower stall trader whose shout of “Any bucket on the floor for a fiver”, sounds suspiciously like “Fuck it on the floor for a fiver”. There is also another craft fair, this one in a Masonic hall, and featuring yet more old-style crafts. Amongst them is a stall of extra-realistic “reborn” baby dolls, laid out in satin layettes like the dead children of Victorian post-mortem photography. The artist’s website talks of “Genesis heat paint, kid mohair…babies filled with fibre fill, baby fat and glass beads to wieght them (sic)”.
We finish off at a stall run by “The Bag Lady” and Cass and Nhung both buy totes (Nhung’s has horses on, Cass’s has chickens) and try to persuade Tamsin into getting a bunny rabbit one, but she holds firm against their peer pressure.
Up till now Lymington hasn’t felt very seasidey at all, but near the harbour it starts to get a bit more so. However the boaty bit is dull, too similar to other boaty bits of towns we’ve visited to warrant much exploration. We stop for lunch at a hugely overpriced tearoom (£6 for a toastie, £7.50 for omelette and chips), then at the other end of the scale, top it off with a bargainous 50p New Forest ice cream from a street stall.
We’re done with Lymington so we drive on, passing through Milford-On-Sea in search of Hurst Castle. Gigantic globs of sea foam are blown onto the promenade, like escapees from an ogre’s snow globe, whirling around as a group of pensioners stoically carry on a game of crown green bowls buffeted by the cranky winds. No sign of the castle though.
We travel further along the coast in search of another castle when Nhung screams “STOP!” She’s spotted industrial installations in the distance, a sight always beloved of the Lost Prom. Eventually we end up in a place called Calshot, which is fringed in multicoloured beach huts and cavernous aircraft hangars and features an actual castle – a Napoleonic fort, at first a bit small and disappointing, but up close, quite sweet. It has a moat at any rate. There is also a silent coastguard tower and a forest of boat masts, jangling in the wind like a ferocious carillon. Across the harbour lies a metallic labyrinth of oil refineries and chimneys. The sky is an intense grey with a glowing light behind the clouds and if feels like the edge of a nuclear winter. It’s June and we’re in Hampshire, but it could be Chernobyl. It seems a long way from the stolid low-rises of Lymington. The Lost Promenade knows which view they prefer.
Otter nursery (we see it en route and imagine a baby otter crèche but it turns out to just be a garden centre)
Milford-On-Sea (closed by the time we reach it, so we only drive through)
£25 from Cass when she incurs a parking ticket due to the pay-and-display voucher slipping from view
Balance in the high winds
Yellow Kodak duffel bag-cum-float
Set of 1970s bird print place mats (from Julie’s)
2 handmade tote bags – one with horses on it, one with chickens on it
Brideshead Revisited (Nhung has always meant to read it)
A book called ‘Hampshire Days’
Crochet flower brooch
Pink knitted pig keyring
2 books about graphic design
A 1970s German Barbie doll promotional leaflet
Relief that we live in Sussex not Hampshire