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London Diary, 25/09/22
“I want to show you the REAL England, Nic. It’s time for you to get out of London for once and experience England Proper. You might change your views on the country afterwards.”
This was the pitch that I received to step out of London and visit Ramsgate, a seaside town a little over an hour to the east of the capital by train. I am always in the mood for a little cultural anthropology and sight-seeing, so I was happy to confirm to him that I would visit him and this part of Ingerlund.
Sunday. St. Pancras Station in London. Train to Ramsgate courtesy of the Southeastern Line. Utilitarian, yet still comfortable. I arrive in Ramsgate without any fanfare.
The town sits at the southeastern end of what was once the Isle of Thanet (connected to the mainland hundreds of years ago thanks to the silting up of the Wantsum Channel). Even on a cloudy day, one can spot the coastline of France in the distance, with the area just to the northeast of Calais the most visible. Legend has it that the Saxon invasion of the British Isles took its first dry steps on the beach at Ramsgate.
This shore also saw the largest number of “Little Ships” streaming back to Blighty from Dunkirk in the Spring of 1940. To add another layer of historical sediment to the story, Julius Caesar led his legions inland from these same beaches back in 54 BC. With the chalky cliffs to each side of the beaches acting as ramparts, Ramsgate has provided a soft landing spot for thousands of years for invaders to begin their conquest of the British Isles.
It is rather unfortunate that not much remains of pre-19th century Ramsgate today, but there are more than enough existing stately homes that were assigned to royal officers during the Napoleonic Era (and afterwards) to give the town some charm beyond its seaside. Naturally, it’s that very seaside that holds title to the bulk of the town’s overall charm. The arrival of the officer class saw the rise of Ramsgate as a summer vacation spot, with even Queen Victoria making it her favourite place to bathe during warm weather.
Ramsgate suffered from neglect and decline during the course of the 20th century, making it one of many locales in the UK that was left behind by history. An overwhelmingly English place (98%!), it has long been derided by cosmopolitans and other shits as being “inbred”. Predictably, this made Ramsgate a hotbed for both #Brexit and UKIP, with the latter eventually winning power in the local council. This relegated Ramsgate to the caricature of the “Little Englander” in the eyes of those who ‘know better’.
This insult in town form would not be permitted to stand, as the UK is a forward-thinking progressive global leader and shouldn’t tolerate such backwardness on its own soil. There was one obvious solution to remedy the situation: gentrification.
Over the course of the past decade, Londoners have begun to colonize Ramsgate. A trickle at first, these new arrivals are now streaming in, being either priced out of the parabolic London real estate market, or downsizing due to retirement. Not only are they bringing in their shops, their pubs, and their restaurants, but their politics as well. Much like Californians exporting their liberalism to states like Texas, Montana, and Wyoming after relocating, these Londoners come with their liberal sensibilities in tow. It’s all part of the same package.
With this in mind, my friend decided that we should do a proper pub crawl, one that would cut across class lines so that I could observe up close the juxtaposition of old school next to the arrivistes.
Nigel is in many ways a caricature too; a 70s punk with all the Marxist politics that it implies (the pub is full of communist memorabilia from the Eastern Bloc). A close friend of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, he recently produced and directed a documentary with her as star entitled “Wake Up Punk”.
An affable chap, Nigel joined my friend and I outside for a few pints. I was incredibly tempted to ask him about Margaret Thatcher, because I knew it would result in an hilariously anachronistic rant due to the fact that she somehow still occupies an outsized parcel of real estate of the British liberal brain. Unfortunately, he was simply too nice of a man for me to be a mean shit to, so I decided not to fuck with him at his expense. (See, I can be a good Christian at times!).
Nigel was one of the first gentrification scouts in Ramsgate, having arrived some dozen years previously. He was not shy in telling us about some of the issues with the locals, particularly those involving drug-addicted burglars. “Yes, many of them don’t like us newcomers”, he conceded.
More rounds were had at different pubs over the course of the afternoon, and by nightfall we made our way to the Artillery Arms. This is exactly what I was hoping to see that entire day; a base of Little Englanders who have lived in Ramsgate their entire lives. The distance from the front door to the bar is roughly eight feet in length, and upon first foray I was accosted by two or three of the locals who were making comments in an unintelligible local accent, one distorted no doubt by the consumption of several rounds of lager. My guard immediately lowered when I realized that they were being friendly in their own, unique way. This meant that it was time for me to barrage them with questions, an action that I did not hesitate one extra second to begin.
“Frosty” is a well-known local and denizen of the Artillery Arms. Clad in patriotic gear to signal his military service on behalf of the Crown, he took no time in accepting my approach to shoot the proverbial shit. He immediately sized me up as a foreigner, and upon me answering “Croatia” to the first question that came out of his mouth, we got down to the business of discussing (what else?) war.
“War is hell. It’s not pleasant, mate. I saw a lot. I thought I’d be okay, but when I got back I realized that I wasn’t perfectly fine”, Frosty explained to me slowly and methodically, staring right into my eyes without blinking. A PTSD case, no doubt.
“Where did you see action, Frosty?”, I asked.
“Iraq, mate. First Gulf War.”
“Were you in the Coldstream Guards? SAS?”, I asked, tepidly.
“RAF Refueling…..they call it RAF Logistics now.”
“War is hell”, I shook my head, empathizing with him in light of the horrors he must have seen while on duty.
Changing the subject from the apocalyptic topic of filling up fuel containers 150km away from enemy lines, I turned to the heated subject of gentrification.
“We call them DFLs: Down from London(ers)”, explained one older gent. “We don’t care for them too much. They’re beginning to price us out of our homes.”
My friend was by this point quite drunk, so we doubled back towards his home, making one last stop for a few more rounds.
The Bedford Inn was the first stop during the day, and it would be the last as well. Here are found the gentrifiers. A Tribe Called Quest was audible through the speakers, but not too loud, as everyone inside was on the wrong side of 30 (mostly 40+, to be honest). Grant, the handsome bartender, was quick with the wit and the bantz, making the professional class women swoon and laugh. Just like the locals down the road at the Artillery Arms, they too welcomed me upon arrival.
“He’s a wannabe journalist and does produce some half-decent writing”, explained my mate, really drunk by this point.
“You should write about Ramsgate!”, suggested a beautiful and statuesque English woman (yes, they actually do exist). I canvassed the bar regarding the idea of writing a piece about the tensions between the locals and the gentrifiers, with Grant leading the dismissals by calling the idea “cliché”.
“Of course you’re gonna call it cliché, Grant. You guys are baddies in this story”, I retorted.
It was at this point that the beautiful and statuesque English lass went on a drunken rant about how the locals are lazy and indolent, and how she, herself a local, made a success of herself in spite of her upbringing. I tried to pay attention to her lengthy diatribe, smiling and nodding the entire time I was sexually objectifying her. “Yeah, you’re right. 100% correct. Can’t be lazy. Nope. Gotta work. Totally agree with you.”
I have always preferred the British sense of humour to that of the American types as I enjoy wit and absurdity. Yet this instance provided another case of too many witty types trying to top one another, leaving me completely exhausted. After at least six or so rounds during this leg of the Bataan Death March, I informed my fun and charming new friends that I had to go back to my planet.
Besides some minor trivia and the fact that my friend can’t hold his booze anywhere near my level of capability, I didn’t learn anything that day that I didn’t know or hadn’t surmised already. Ramsgate is Little England, but Little England too is changing rapidly, albeit nowhere near as fast as London itself.
I think I will check out the Norf of England later next month when I return to Blighty. If so, I will report back.