The Margate of my youth was a poorer place without Ms Emin and her revealing artwork (an example of which can be seen above) but I am nonetheless delighted to say the working class seaside atmosphere remains, despite the arrival of Bohemia and East London.
My son and I had a thoughtful morning at the Turner Gallery to view an exhibition “Seaside: Photographed“.
While I can not claim Cleopatra’s immunity to age, the sloughing off of most commercial ties has led me to a new vitality. I find myself increasingly moved by art.
This was art with deep personal relevance. I had a grandmother in the seaside town of Ramsgate, whose ancient and musty dwelling was full of old black and white photographs of her siblings and stern forbears. Women in severe black dresses of the Victorian age, men in mutton chop whiskers and heavy suits. She lived but a few yards from the harbor and seafront where great glories were to be found. Donkeys on the beach on which my sister and I had our pictures taken, a smelly old harbor with fish stalls and tarred wooden cobbles, cockles and whelks, egg and chip cafes, the “Merrie England” funfair.
Our summer home was in Birchington, a rather posher enclave in those days, but Margate was a mere 4 miles away and supper was often had in the long gone seafront cafe “Longhis”. So many Italians in those days, some of whom survive. Morelli, Pelosis, Marchesi: they all ran ice cream parlors and old fashioned, delightful seaside restaurants around the Thanet coast.
One day when we sat in Longhis we were treated to a vicious battle on the sands. The Mods vs the Rockers. One of said gangs even brandished a shotgun outside the window where we ate dinner. The roar of motorcycles, the sinister swish of chains wielded in battle. The blue uniformed police trying to control the tide of vicious rivalry.
But there were calmer days. Old couples sat in deckchairs on the beach, fully clothed in town outfits, though sometimes with knotted handkerchiefs on the head to ward off the summer sun. Kids splashed in the sea or the boating pool, young women revealed a dash of cleavage.
My great grandmother used to ship her 500 girls down from her garment factory in Walthamstow for their annual summer treat. She had a splendid old summer house herself just around the coast.
And so the exhibition was a big treat. A nostalgia trip but also a pleasant reminder that it is all still going on. The young lovers, the drug crazed raves, the sedate old couples.
There is and was poverty and grime in these old seaside towns – Thomas Cook and his ilk took away their glory days. There are boarded up shops on the seafront, the amusement arcades suffer from internet gambling. And all of it suffers from the horrible English weather.
But it survives. Blackpool is still there. Graham Greene could still write Brighton Rock. The funfairs struggle on.
Lap it up, enjoy it. Long may Margate survive, with or without Minge and trendy artists.