It is half past six on a Saturday morning: and soon I must take leave of this siren coast.
Siren, because it beckons like those old Greek hags.It is shabby and hook nosed and wispy haired, with its ungainly concrete sea fronts and ugly utilitarian industry.
Graffiti is everywhere. It is unloved and unfunded.
And siren, because sirens have marked life and death here. Sirens, sixty years ago or so, sent civilians on an inadvertent front line – one caused by geography – scurrying for safety, in tunnels in the chalk cliffs, in shelters in the towns.
Not a pretty place. But when I woke the sun was rising over the old Napoleonic martello tower on the golf course, and it bathed the coast of France in rose.
This coast, this coast: does one have to be English to feel in the air that more than once it has marked the end of the free world? That once, a fleet of tiny ships ferried cornered legions, tired, and shell-shocked, across the tiny ribbon of water to England, and to safety?
Or to feel the bustle of a Roman port beneath one’s feet?
The shabby buildings which line the coastal road summon the opening moments of Dickens’ Tale Of Two Cities. Here, at the Royal George Hotel, Mr Jarvis Lorry and his like would rest before they headed out to revolutionary France to rescue the rich from Robespierre and his like.
We are on the shabby end of an island, with all its charms and flaws.
Time has left real wrinkles here. The signs this place has lived a long life are in the Roman Pharos, or lighthouse, on the hill; the steep narrow Folkestone lanes once lined with houses that bawled bawdily of ill repute, and still stubbornly refuse to be respectable; great and beautiful Georgian houses with grey net curtains and peeling paint, covered in the grime of a port; the great gaunt general of a castle crouched up there on the cliffs.
Men have always left signs here. They have all gazed where I am gazing, across a glassy ribbon of rose-tinted sea to another country, and reflected on their lives.
But when one is in the midst of scrabbling an existence on this seafront it does not do to be sentimental. Threat comes from the sea, whether we choose it or not. Life happens, and it is not the thing writers write but a red-rent sober business of merciless, relentless minutiae.
It is half past six on a Saturday morning: and my minutae are drawing me away from all this life. From a place which has stood against Romans and French and Napoleon’s hordes and Hitler’s phalanxes, and Heinkels and Messerschmidts and Wehrmacht guns.
And away from this glassy sea where great white ferries carry men to and fro from this self-important island.