I found Margate watching the sea. And I walked the streets thinking they had left it sometime in the 70s, like an old street sign hanging pleadingly over shut cafes. It was an old stand-up comedian who had been successful; lived a rock and roll lifestyle; pissed away his money on hookers and gambling; become an alcoholic; and performed the same routine from ’79 in the backs of pubs to old men who all wished they could disappear.
It was a wonderful place. My bag was small, not enough clothes for the time there, and a playlist of Stevie Nicks in my ears that soundtracked the walk up the seafront. Out of place Fleetwood Mac posters, too small for the cases they were in, too old to be hanging along the railings. The B&Bs shouldered each other, grey cream grey again. A pretty town – full of fish and chip shops that didn’t open, and Mayfair packets chased down the road by wind. Spring hadn’t come, which was fair enough, given that the fat woman with the red dyed hair was stood outside Dreamland in a red vest top, shrugging off the grey sky.
The pub served whiskey and cokes that I took my time with, watched one eye on the football score on the screen across from my head. It felt like a holiday. No real worry for my things, which I left across my seat when I stood out front of the pub smoking, listening to people who knew each other, talk. When the pub shut, drunker than I wanted to be, I walked towards the seafront to the line of B&Bs that stood mostly empty. I rang the doorbell, and the Lebanese man turned the key on the other side of the glass door, opening it. Just him and his wife, and a small child that smelt of shit who turned circles in what should have been their living room. A brown desk and an old computer in the corner as their reception area.
– You waiting for somebody? – No. I tell him. – You shouldn’t wait for anyone, he says, – no one is worth it. – No, I say, – it’s just me. – No dirty weekend? he says. – No. – That’s ok, he says, – it’s ok to be here alone, he says, – it’s ok. I paid, took my keys and followed him up to the second floor, where the clean double bed was all I wanted, and the shower pissed over the toilet.
I slept well, a drunkness mixed with little sound outside. I woke when the Lebanese man banged on my door at seven in the morning, to say his wife had made coffee. I don’t know why I was there. A cut-off, a place that had no relevance to my life. Somewhere I could take the rubbish that was in my head, and dump it, under the nailed-up ‘To Let’ boards, and the old Lido sign that I had more in common with than anything at home; stood on a wall watching over something that didn’t exist anymore. I spent the rest of the morning in the station cafe, avoided more rain. By lunchtime I was in a small ale pub, sat with a fire, ate animals in pies, drank, a full day like this. It filled later. The long table beside, each seat taken, where men and women became drunk, and lifted instruments from their cases. They played, sat in their seats around the pub, no fuss for a stage or to be closer to each other, or practice and rehearse. They just played, violin bagpipes the accordion. Braces pulled tight over shoulders, trilby on head – Play Irish they said, gypsy, E minor, and the tattoos flashed on arms across the room as they danced through us, the piss goers. – We’re in tune with ourselves, the girl with the big glasses and the round face said, and they tapped hands against chairs. – Feet makes its own music. This, from another person. Miles from home, them locals, and the music never stopped playing – A lot happens in a year, a year. And the old guy with the short white beard rolled a cigarette, – in a year, or two, a lot happens in a year, with it’s own soundtrack, a lot happens,
I walked the seafront like I fucking got it. Took useless photos of the sea without a flash, so it didn’t show up. With moonlight and flashing colours that kept changing, somewhere around the lighthouse, I fucking got it. I took photo after photo, zig-zagged lights on the camera, recorded everything, including a pink scribble of light far down on the seafront. They were words, lit up in night time, written in neon pink lights and raised out from the dark, hanging on the front of the white building set back between sea and sky. And I fucking got it, raced the sea to see it better, chased the lit neon text further down the seafront, cheered to being away, couldn’t feel the season, as though I had skipped continents, instead of an hour and a half away by train. I grinned at the sky, thought I had answered all my own questions, thought I had dumped it, and him and you, between ripped posters of dead Fun Fairs and Lido signs. I sang lines from songs, remembered everything with the camera, snapped every bit of black around me as if I couldn’t miss a thing. I felt like I had found common ground, seen things in a place that had been more honest with me than home had been. I thought I was free of it all, changed from it all, thanked the sea for its reliability, and I walked the seafront, drawn by the brightly lit words further down in pink lights. I stepped out in front of Droid House, the text, lit with pink bulb throughout the night, hung from it, white columns, clock at the top. The only bright light on the otherwise dark Golden Mile, from neon words written across it, and I looked up, drunk, released, to read it.
I never stopped loving you.
It says. In brightly lit letters above my head. Always in brightly lit letters above my head. I walked up the hill, a straight walk. The B&B with its lights off, and I sat on the wall and smoked a cigarette. – Have you got a light? and I handed it to the drunk man, loose clothes, bruises on his face. – Waiting for something? – No. And he climbs the stairs at the front of the house, next door to the B&B, the basement of the house dipped far below street level.
He’s trying to tell me his name when he falls 20 feet on his head. Fuck. I think. I’ve just watched a man die. It doesn’t matter that he stays alive. Because in my mind he fell to his death, so nothing changes those few seconds. The ambulance people say – We think you saved his life. And I don’t care. As I light cigarette off cigarette off cigarette, and think he’ll do it again soon, and tonight hasn’t changed a thing. At least the sea looked nice.