Dream Land Welcomes You.

Posted June 11th, 2006 by Ben

I hope that no one has been too disappointed by the recent silence on this network. I’m presuming that thanks to the weather and the world cup no one has even thought of looking at this site for some days. If you have, and you’ve wondered where I am and what I’m doing, then thank you very much, I’m flattered, though perhaps a little concerned for your social life.

As it goes I took the opportunity of a free holiday and have spent the weekend down on the coast in Broadstairs, Kent with my Mum. Chris is in Chelmsford with his girlfriend, Quinny seems to have found us a replacement First AD and thanks to Shooting People we’ve got interesting leads on both a Jib Op and a Steadicam guy and so, with a week to go before we shoot, some time off seemed like the best option.

I’m on the train home now, pulling out of Margate where a silver sign “Dream Land Welcomes You” glitters in the early evening light, a motionless big wheel hanging above a silver sea behind. It’s the last train back into town and everyone is drunk and pink skinned. Down the far end of the carriage two men are shouting at each other and the conductor is making a desperate plea for police assistance over the PA. A young man in a pink polo shirt leaps to his feet flashing some ID and between them they do the best to separate the arguing men. All around me the carriage is alive to the violence, children turn round in their seats, peering like meercats above headrests whilst drunken Dads mutter gleeful encouragement “here we go, any minute now, here we go, it’s going to kick off”.

It doesn’t but with the two groups parted to different ends of the train we travel on with a contented sense that we’ve all seen something worth the ticket price. An event has happened, even if, at the end, all that happened was that it didn’t.

It’s been the hottest two days of the year and Broadstairs has been perfect. I’m pink, burnt, freckled and feel properly relaxed for the first time in months. I’m not normally one for the sun but then I don’t normally allow myself to feel like I’ve got nothing better to do than nothing. However with two very heavy weeks ahead I feel it’s almost my duty to sit by the sea and feel the salt air tickle my lungs whilst my skin pricks and fries.

Broadstairs is a funny and adorable place. Part old peoples’ home, part overspill for the bored and beered of Kent, part temporary residence for the boating set, it is a tiny and picturesque place seemingly held together only by the unconscious desires of its residents. This afternoon I was stood listening to a brass band play to an audience of OAP’s whilst eating an ice cream from Morellis, a perfect italian ice cream parlour that must have been dropped in amber in 1952. In the blazing afternoon sun, surrounded by flags, dogs and sun hatted children it was the perfect British seaside and could have been almost anytime since about 1920, as if all the rest of us were nothing but a determined illusion conjured by the phalanx of eighty year-olds clustered around the bandstand.

Sadly we’re a week early for the annual Dickens festival. Charlie was a big fan of Broadstairs and wrote large chunks of his later works in his holiday residence, Bleak House, which still looks out across the bay. Until it was sold, the old place was one of the most beautifully inept museums I’ve ever been in, complete with a plaque above his writing desk promising that his ghost will read any note left for the great writer. A couple of years back we happened to hit the Dickens festival and it was the sort of twisted joy that makes the English summer such a rare treat. The usual tombolas, amateur dramatics and jumble-sales of any village fete are given a special manic twist by the insistence of half the town to dress in full Victorian outfit for the week. The bizarre image of four ample middle-aged bosoms forced first into a corset and then into a Nissan micra, as two Mrs.Feziwigs race to retrieve a forgotten cake, is something that will live with me until I die.

One of the near-combatants of earlier, a tall, muscular young Russian man with an armful of tattoos has just walked back through the train towards the scene of the unfight. His progress is followed by a sea of turning heads like a bed of anemone caught in the tide. “He’s going down there to kick it right off” says one voice with quiet authority. Instead he and his girlfriend collect their pram from the luggage shelf and return to their seat.

However on his way back he does give a sarcastic “Good Evening” to a teenage boy sitting behind me who, on hearing his accent during the unfight, gave him a seated earful about “being careful in our country”. For the past half hour his Dad, or Uncle or similar older male relative has been giving him a misjudged lecture about violence. “You’re a young man and you’re full of testosterone and it’s only natural that you want to put yourself about…” (son and his friend nod with eager, violent pride) “…but trust me it’s a mugs game”. His son tries to change his face from a combative leer to a serious frown. However his Dad then goes on to tell him indepth about the time his mate Kipp started on this guy and suddenly fifteen of ’em come out of the van, there were fifteen, no are you listening to me? Fifteen of ’em come out of the van they kick him and his jaw breaks here, and here and here, and they kicked him so hard his stomach was outside ‘is body…

The moral of story is obviously that violence is wrong but he finds it impossible not to describe his and his friend’s part in the fight with a certain degree of pride and no amount of “I was wrong, it was wrong, but I ‘it ‘im” diminishes the renewed glee in his son’s eyes. In the same way the Dickens festival, with it’s proliferation of happy Nancys, Olivers and Tiny-Tims is a strange take on the bitter social comment of the original stories. Once symbols of poverty, child abuse, rape and murder now they are all gathered together as a grinning parade of patriotic pride. Earlier this afternoon the brilliant Jamaican sprinter matched his own world record for the 100 meters and within moments the BBC’s commentator, Steve Cram, was crowing about how basically that was a massive triumph for Gateshead “of course we needed an athlete of this quality but everyone said you couldn’t do that in the North East of England…”

Truth is like the sea, always there but always in motion. Britain is only surrounded, not submerged by the sea. Until the climate changes and then truth of it all will finally be inescapable.

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