Baby Steps Toward Reality

Great Britain

Lockdown has left its mark on many of us.

The famous Sunday Times verdict on JG Ballard was ‘He doesn’t care where he lives because he lives inside his head’. He invited his interviewers to conduct their sessions in the foyer of the Heathrow Hilton. A less conducive place for an intimate chat would be hard to imagine. The author’s attitude would have prepared him for the pandemic.

When your day job is opening a laptop and dropping into another world, you don’t need a holiday but you do need experiences. Stay at home for about oh, five months, and all you have to write about is a writer in a room. Into the internal life some external stimulus must fall. Nothing goes to waste; the memory of a trip to the shops becomes a springboard for a scene.

My consumption of stories, especially books and films, is prodigious. I spend so much time inside fantasies that there’s a very real danger of losing touch with reality. This half-life stops me from being a team player. I don’t just work alone – I have trouble relating to other people’s lives, so it’s important to keep talking to strangers.

With this in mind, I took my first baby steps to a place I had long taken for granted; the English coast.

In the face of government muddle, people have taken to unlocking the Lockdown themselves. It’s not so much lifting as dissolving, so we joined some friends in Kent. My parents lived in Whitstable for many years, and I know Kent and Sussex quite well, if only from the window of a car.

Deal never struck me as having much to offer. It has a long shingle beach, a featureless pier and several rows of unspoilt Georgian houses. It is quiet and still; this part of the coastline does not get lashed by waves. Most of the time the sea is flat enough to scull on.

Deal is on the up. It is relentlessly middle class, with good restaurants and genteel, over-polite residents. Once its alleyways were home to smugglers. Now its waters are patrolled to stop migrant boats. Sea frets settle a milky-aired caul of calm over the town. There are three main streets, the Promenade, a street in the middle called Middle Street, and a high street called High Street.

In this small space there were once squeezed 156 pubs, but there’s little sign of rowdiness now. There’s a single small amusement arcade on the front, but then there’s also an antiquarian bookshop. It seems more Norfolk than Kent, without the icy winds.

There are Dutch gabled houses and wood panelled rooms. There’s a 1950s powder blue ice cream parlour, and a lurid pink 1950s beauty salon. There is much walking of dogs. Writers lived here, and still live here. The English tend to self-isolate by nature, so Lockdown has lent Deal a more graceful air.

Nearby, though, is Thanet, a miserable, depressed and depressing area which is infamous for being Brexitland and Nigel ‘Quisling’ Farridge’s home territory. David Seabrook’s slipstream book about the place, ‘All the Devils are Here’, is astonishing. 

Deal turned out to be a place for introspection, then, and a perfect start to re-entry.

20 comments on “Baby Steps Toward Reality”

  1. Mrs Fever says:

    I laughed aloud at your explanation of Middle and High streets.

    I live on an island, and the road names here are equally unambiguous. The main road that loops the island is called – depending on which side of the loop you’re on – East Island Drive and/or West Island Drive. The road that cuts across the middle of the island, should you prefer to go across instead of around, is called (shockingly) Cross Island Drive.

    We go for creativity in road mapping around here. *laugh*

    Though somebody in the Road Works department must have decided at some point that all that disambiguity was just No Fun. Because smack in the middle of my neighborhood, we have “Bambi” and “Thumper” streets. 😉

  2. John Griffin says:

    I used to live in Beeston, next to the University, Nottingham. It boasts a High St, Middle St, Nether St AND a Lower Rd! The imagination ran to Station Rd (to the Station) too.

  3. Roger says:

    “Reality is a very nice place, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

  4. Wayne Mook says:

    So it wasn’t a raw deal, thank you.

    The most uninventive street name must be Avenue Street, there is one in Bolton and Wigan.

    Although as you walk from Altrincham to Bowden, you can go via The Downs, which leads to the Higher Downs and as you walk it you pass the Upper Downs, which then goes into Enville Road.


  5. Roger says:

    …but no Lower Downs, Wayne?
    What a complete failure of lack of imagination.

  6. Dawn Andrews says:

    We live on a road named Derrynameeo. So far I’ve counted at least fifty ways to pronounce it locally, each and every one of which is the correct one.

  7. Paul C says:

    Peter Cushing lived in Whitstable and a small area of the seaside is called Cushing’s View for him.

    Seabrook’s book is excellent and his only other book ‘Jack of Jumps’ on the Jack the Stripper murders is worth a look too if you have a strong stomach. He died young and there are conspiracy theories that it was murder.

  8. Martin Tolley says:

    Maybe there’s something Kentish about names? A place called Ash, just outside Sandwich (close to Ham) has a street called The Street. And at the very end of The Street, it changes into New Street.

  9. Peter Dixon says:

    The most popular street name in England is High Street (2,077 listed), followed by Church Lane (1,800), and then Station Road (16,236), however; in England, Scotland an Wales combined, the second biggest scorer is Station Road (2,030).
    London Road comes 7th.

    So, if the railway and locomotive hadn’t been invented in Newcastle we wouldn’t have over 16,000 street names – never mind the pubs and hotels called The Railway (Inn, Hotel, Arms, Feet, Liver, Onions).
    I refer you back to our hosts previous post.

    Sorry, just really need to kick London up the backside – its fascinating, historical and full of amazing resonance – I love the place for about 48 hours each time I visit. But it is very rich in terms of dodgy millionaires ( I read a newspaper report last week by a guy, who has written about organised crime and the mafia internationally, who described London as the most corrupt city in the world).

    London has little to do with the rest of the country. I’m sure the folks of Middlesbrough, Nottingham, Leeds, Sunderland, Oldham, Hull etc are weeping into their cornflakes over the fate of West End theatres, the Albert Hall and the South Bank Centre and hundreds of others that their taxes and Lottery money subsidise but that most of them don’t have the money to see in their entire lifetime.

    I do love London, really, really, but it needs come down a peg or 5. If most of your economy is based on rich tourists then Sadiq Khan and Bojo et al need to spend a bit of time living and thinking outside of the box.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    Imagination didn’t spark out here in the colonies, either. In the small seaside village where I grew up there is Hall Road (which goes past both the community and the church halls) the Lower Road and the Upper Road (also known as Highway 101) but there is Flume Road which was named for a logging flume that carried logs to the sea. Oh, yes, and School Road which went past ~. It’s logical, actually, because people cut, then widened, then paved roads to join specific points and the roads were referred to that way and no one felt the need to put an artistic or historic name to them. What usually happens, though, is that the road’s goal disappears, like School Road in my village which no longer passes a school. The church on Hall Road has been closed and I do not know about it’s hall, but the community hall has been declared unfit for use several times until repairs or changes were made so that one is also in question.
    Please tell me there is a Lower Down. We need it.

  11. Terenzio says:

    Charles Hawtrey from the Carry On films lived in Deal. There’s a blue plaque on the house where he lived. He passed away in a nursing home in Walmer, the next town down from Deal.

  12. Paul C says:

    Terenzio – Seabrook’s book mentioned above has a grim chapter on Hawtrey’s final years. Best to remember him in his Carry On appearances which always make me smile.

  13. admin says:

    Hawtrey was rescued by firemen while seated in his bedroom as it burned around him. He quite enjoyed being lifted onto a ladder by big burley men. Read ‘The Man who was Private Widdle’.

  14. Liz Thompson says:

    OK, very staid street names. But Hull has Land of Green Ginger.

  15. Brian Evans says:

    Been there Liz. Got the T-shirt and the mug.

  16. Terenzio says:

    Paul C
    I don’t know. Sounds like he had a pretty good life. He was 73 when he fell and was diagnosed with peripheral vascular disease. They wanted to amputate both his legs to save his life, but he declined saying he wanted to die with his boots on, which he did three days later. Maintained his sense of humor till the end. He didn’t linger for months or even years suffering from a debilitating disease. A lot to be said for that. Not pleasant for the person or those who have to watch.

    However, you are right that it’s best to dwell on the good times. He was funny. And the early Carey On films are quite good.

  17. Simone says:

    I come from Deal but live in London. I still visit family and friends often there.
    Deal has greatly improved over the years, do much so that I intend to move back within the next 5 years.
    Deal has such a rich history from Ceasar to smuggling and modern history.
    Over the years Deal has become popular with Londoners, film crews and celebs. It has changed for the better. Sadly, employment and wages in East Kent don’t reflect the new popularity in so much as locals are getting priced out of the mortgage and rental market.
    Still, enjoy Deal, it is a true gem.

  18. Wayne Mook says:

    There are a few other Downs but sadly there is no Lower Down. Going North there is a Roughtown, Moseley way, over to the west though Bolton has some splendid names, Tonge (there is a river Tonge) has all the Tonge related names, Tonge Moor, Tonge Fold, Tonge Park, even Back Tonge Moor Road. Round that way though there is a Bleak Street. Although the best names are Hunger Hill which is next to Chew Moor, and then there is of course Doffcocker.


  19. Jan says:

    There’s a Came Down near Weymouth not far from the A35….

  20. Ian Luck says:

    The High Street in my town has no shops on it. Never has. It does, however, have our Museum (which used to be on Museum Street), an annexe to the Art College (which used to be the Art College), and a rather fine pub, which often hosts Jazz nights, although they weren’t the last couple of times I’ve been in. High Street is aptly named, though – it’s a calf-strainingly steep hill.

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