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Neptune Cafe

Neptune Cafe

The Internet doesn’t like the Isle of Sheppey. Widespread opinion seems to be that it’s violent and grim. Our pre-trip research reveals reams of poisonous and condescending lines written on the place; it’s the fight capital of Britain, second roughest place in the UK after Chatham, a holiday spot for cockney hardmen too lazy to go to Spain and so snarkily on. We also learn that it’s home to several major industrial installations, a sprawling dockyard, 3 prisons, an army of caravans and a thriving population of scorpions. It sounds like just the Lost Promenade’s kind of place, but, as we park, in the island’s biggest town, Sheerness, the baleful stares of loitering teens seem to confirm the stereotype. However, our worries are misplaced; everybody we speak to is incredibly friendly and we generally have a bumper fun-packed time.

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We knew it was going to be good, travelling over the bridge onto the island, “oohs” and “aahs” chorus through Lindsey’s car as we spot exciting looking industrial structures – complex pipes like metallic entrails, a mysterious long blue tunnel-type thing – the first charity shop we visit has a poster that says ‘Happy as a Pig in Shit’. They must have read our minds.

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Back to that first charity shop and Nhung and Lindsey head blankly and simultaneously towards a video called ‘Ice Road Truckers: The World’s Deadliest Roads’ as if hypnotized. They only just manage to conquer a perplexing urge to buy it, and Nhung is able to save her pennies later for a WW1 flying helmet she falls in love with.

labour hall

The town centre is fairly unmemorable. And every SINGLE charity shop has an old wedding dress in it. Could this be the island where romance goes to die?

There’s a sign that says ‘Swimming Pool Chemicals’, apropos of nothing, lots of wrestling posters and a mill without its sails hidden behind some gates, but as we peer into one window, we see people making lanterns (for an upcoming parade) accompanied by two others on harmonicas. And best of all, we find an amazing eating spot – the Beano Café. Its theme is of course, the comic and the walls are covered in homemade drawings and knitted figures of Dennis the Menace. However there’s also a random mixture of other images; Elvis, Spiderman, the Royal Wedding and a poster of Michael Jackson with the slogan “King of Pop.” It would have been nice to have some Freddie Krueger snaps to compare jumpers with Dennis, but you can’t have everything.

Tantra

The seafront is surprisingly bleak with a pebbled beach and a grey concrete seawall. There’s one amusement arcade, a barren looking nightclub called Tantra and a big sandpit. There’s not much to see here, so we head to the outskirts of the town, and the area called Bluetown, originally built to house the dockyard workers.

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We park near a garden gnome factory with a forecourt full of stone ornaments that seems to never end. Life-size Roman centurions, scantily clad goddesses, yawning eagles and cod Easter Island heads all crowd surreally into one space like a concrete platoon. This area is fascinating; eerily quiet, cobbled and full of boarded-up old pubs and a sex shop, in which we overhear, perhaps one of the finest Lost Promenade quotes of all time; “My mum’s a GILF. Not that I’d like to fuck her. But people do.”

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It’s going to take a lot to top that, so we decide to leave Sheerness and have a quick drive around the rest of the island. Amongst the caravans and suburbs, we spot a heartbreakingly derelict art deco house, more amusement arcades and a burned down hut and we try to get near the prisons, but it’s restricted access. We console ourselves with some fries and milkshake action at Mickey’s Rock Diner – all retro décor and posters advertising future Chicory Tip performances – despite it being on the wrong side of the motorway to get home, we can’t resist.

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Perhaps I haven’t made enough notes for this trip, but for some reason; my memories of the actual appearance of the island are remarkably hazy. But I do remember we liked the place. The Internet may not care for the Isle of Sheppey. But the Lost Promenade do.

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Lost

1930s wedding dress (the nicest of the charity shop wedding dresses, but too small for any of us)

Ice Road Truckers: The World’s Deadliest Roads video

A pier (we understood from our research that Sheerness had one, but we didn’t see it)

A peek at the prisons

Chicory Tip show

Memories of Sheppey

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Found

Brown v-neck jumper with a fish motif

3 Mills & Boons books (Nhung has decided to start collecting them for the cover art)

Holiday souvenir Florida mug

Lint comb

WW1 flying helmet

Scorn for internet bullies

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Calshot Castle

Calshot Castle

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.

fawley quarry

fawley quarry

Lost

Otter nursery (we see it en route and imagine a baby otter crèche but it turns out to just be a garden centre)

Hurst Castle

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

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Found

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

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