Adam Bird


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Monday, 10 March 2014

The Town that Time Forgot


A work colleague of mine shared her account of a weekend spent by the sea in celebration of her birthday. Whilst she recounted her various stops around East Kent the hopeless romantic in me dreamt up visions of walking along a wintry seafront with a brisk chill in the air, before warming up inside a cafe on the beach with steamed up windows and drinking hot chocolate with sticky marshmallows floating on the top. Which is exactly what we did last weekend except I left with an even bigger romantic desire than the one that lead me there in the first place.

Margate, a seaside town that evokes memories of hot summer days, childhood, sunburn and laughter. Memories of my dearly departed grandmother and my great-grandmother too, ladies who loved Margate and everything it used to stand for, namely good old-fashioned fun. I have fond recollections of riding the Scenic Railway, the Mary Rose and the Looping Star as both ladies watched on by with smiles just as big as mine.

But as time passed merrily on by, Margate for one reason or another has since fallen into disrepair. Dreamland is now nothing more than a collection of nightmares. The Scenic Railway nothing more than a charred remnant of yesteryear in the town that time seems to have totally forgotten.

Why then, of all the places available to a Kentish family looking for an afternoon out did I decide to drag us all the way to Margate? Seaside cafes are plentiful everywhere, as is this time of year the availability of a brisk chill in the air. Hot chocolate and marshmallows might be a little harder to find but the beverage doesn’t make the moment it purely enhances it. But for the very reasons above, the voyeur in me wanted to see how far the past had fallen.

And in all honesty, it has fallen horribly far, but to leave it at that would be doing a terrible disservice.

Margate hasn’t been totally forgotten, at least not entirely. It is instead very much a town of two halves. On one side of the esplanade you have the old quarter, with the imposing Turner Contemporary which has given the town a new heartbeat. And on the other, where Dreamland lies in tatters and Arlington House stands decaying as a monument to architecture gone bad is a whole swath of wasted land and opportunity.

It certainly isn’t for the want of trying. Campaigners and developers have for years been trying to resurrect Dreamland in some shape or form. Permission has been granted to breath new life into the park by restoring it to some of its former glory in the shape of a ‘retro’ theme park with other forgotten rides from obsolete parks around the UK. Plans are also in place for Arlington House, which sadly aren’t as optimistic, although as yet gratefully unfulfilled. Tesco’s want to move in, remove the tower block and concrete hub at the bottom and replace it with a seafront superstore. Arlington House may be the ugliest, misplaced building in the UK, but it is still a damn sight better than another soulless supermarket.

That promise of regeneration, the breathing of new life into old dreams is exactly where my new romantic desire lies. So saddened by what I witnessed over the weekend has made that need for an elusive EuroMillions win even more important. Imagine having a huge pot of money and a vision of something better. It’s exactly what the people behind the Dreamland project have, a vision, but the money remains desperately out of reach.

There is so much potential in Margate to make something remarkable. The old buildings that lay in gradual decay, like the Cliftonville Lido, how great could they be again with investment and a bit of love and care? They might not be used as they were originally intended, but what’s the alternative, a place that resembles the apocalypse and left to rot?

Nostalgia, dangerous in that it obscures the reality of what once was. Margate a town now in decay? The paint wasn’t exactly fresh when we went as children. It certainly wasn’t all shiny and new. But what nostalgia does do, is it fuels impetus to make change. The likelihood is, I’ll never be a EuroMillionaire and therefore I’ll never build anything that sits cloudlike in my mind. But what people like me can do, is support the right proposals and visit the places from our past. By taking small actions like buying a hot chocolate in a cafĂ© on the beach, providing valuable custom which helps keep businesses afloat. All the while there are people making a living, the town will keep on breathing. And where there is breath, there is life and when there is life, anything is possible.


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