First trip back to my hometown, Margate, in two years – would Lou like it?
Back in the motherland! Good to be home. Well, until we got to customs at Stansted airport. The customs official decided to interrogate Lou on her intentions in England – the perfect chat after 12hrs on a plane. This put a damper on our arrival but we met my brother who had come to collect us. Fortunately for me, my brother Greg had not read any of this blog, it’s very unlikely he even reads this. If I want an article on aggressive gymnastics or Office quotes then he can’t think fast enough. However, I shouldn’t be ungrateful, he did come to collect us and was a gracious host. And, travel stories filled the journey home so at least we had something to talk about!
On the drive back we stopped for a break and to get petrol. After four months in Asia, Lou and I were excited to see proper chocolate again – the Wispa Golds radiated on the shelf in the motorway M&S store!
I grew up in a cluster of coastal towns called Thanet, located on the southeast tip of England, about two hours drive from central London. Unlike Brooklyn, Queens, Compton etc, you won’t see people celebrating Thanet with tattoo’s paying homage to their birthplace. For me, it’s home and always the butt of some jokes about the people. I wasn’t especially excited to show Lou the area, as for me, not much happens in Thanet and going back there reminded me. However, the chance to see family for the first time in over 18 months was well worth the initial cold shock.
On the other hand, Lou couldn’t be more excited by Thanet. Weird. Was this just the American way? In a few weeks back home, she reminded me that it wasn’t all that bad (ok some aspects are still bad) and that Thanet is quite a quaint (Lou says “cute”) little seaside spot. Despite the bad press over heavy debts and impending insolvency, the local theme park, Dreamland, backs onto my parents house where we stayed for the second part of our trip.The theme park does not boast the array of rides of the larger parks in the UK and felt somewhat unfinished. This is a shame, as with the right management and direction, I do feel the park could be much more vibrant and profitable during the summer months. Lou’s photography skills make any place look good but my initial impression of Dreamland was more like an amusement park abandoned in Chernobyl.
In addition to Dreamland, my hometown of Margate has undergone some changes since I left for Australia, with the addition of the Turner contemporary on the coast next to the lighthouse. After visiting the Turner for the first time, we concluded that it was pretty dull. However, it’s influence on cafe culture in the area has revitalised the beach and old town areas, bringing back customers, trade, and energy.
Our adjustment to the weather took awhile. Far removed from the mid-30 degree days of Asia we were now contending with the 10-15 degree days of June in England, with the wind chill to boot. Initially this lead to a bout of depression in both of us but, after a few weeks, the weather started to warm and we enjoyed three of four hot days at the various beaches in Thanet. And it’s a shame the climate isn’t better in Thanet because places like Joss Bay, Botany Bay, Broadstairs, and Margate beach come alive during those few days of summer.
I know that Lou felt some isolation in Thanet. In Asia, we could do everything by foot in the local areas where we stayed. Like most of the U.S, you need a car to get around in Thanet. Unlike the U.S, the roads and cars are much smaller. Lou would often wince as I drove down country roads with vans and trucks coming in the opposite direction. Sadly, and despite a lesson in driving a manual car, Lou couldn’t drive in Thanet and I think this fuelled her isolation. I was able to catch up with friends and family, and I tried to include her, but it was tough as she couldn’t really get anywhere on her own.
However, Lou’s enthusiasm to get out and see her surroundings did not diminish – sometimes that leads me into trouble (motorbikes, canyon jumps etc) but most of the time it helps us to find new activities and places. In Kent and Thanet I had done most activities during my childhood but it was great to relive some of these. We enjoyed the Whitstable Oyster festival, Dover Castle, and Canterbury Cathedral to name a few. I’d also feel guilty if I didn’t name our favourite restaurant, the relatively new Empire Room in Ramsgate – we were directed there by my friend Gareth, a chef, who does pop up events with the owner. If you ever get to Thanet be sure to eat there, the food is beyond great!
After our time in Asia, there were adjustments to being back in the UK but I really enjoyed getting to reconnect with family and friends, some who I had kept in touch with, and others that I could have done a better job reaching out to whilst I was living abroad. I’ll always class my best friends that, no matter how long you’re apart, will pick up a conversation right where you left off – we all have our own challenges in life and it gets hectic sometimes, but the best people don’t get consumed with anger or resentment at you for not being in constant contact.
As it transpired, this wouldn’t be our only time in Margate as we used it as a base to enable us to pack light and travel more of Europe – something I was excited to do after having taken access to the continent for granted during my previous life in England.