I can see for miles and miles

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.

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35 thoughts on “I can see for miles and miles

  1. Your words give such a profound sense of place and does indeed cause one to think of what has come before, the good and bad. The photos are wonderful, love the rainbow rising from the sea as if seeking its own place in the sun.

  2. Dear Kate, if you ever write a novel or a memoir or a book of reflections on a year in your blogging life, I believe this essay could be the Prologue. A poignancy, pervades it as you place the past before us. And yet a seed seems to be breaking open on its journey up to light.

    This may be my favorite of all your postings. You have a gift that needs sharing with a much wider–much wider–audience than just those of us who come to your blog knowing always that we will learn about the foibles and the follies, the events and the experiences, the habitats and the havens of life in England. Thank you for all you’ve ever shared with us. Peace.

    1. Oh, Dee, I might have to print this out and stick it on my fridge! What lovely words, and what a call to arms from an already accomplished writer such as yourself! Must go away and ponder that seed.

  3. “and soon I must take leave of this siren coast.” Miami Dade County, Florida, USA has this too. In some areas you can hear the police sirens and ambulance sirens all night and the pop, pop, pop from gunshots too.

  4. Your story is such a pleasure to read. Your descriptions are so vivid and eloquent. Your phrase, “the steep narrow Folkestone lanes once lined with houses that bawled bawdily of ill repute, and still stubbornly refuse to be respectable;” is just beautiful. I can see it clearly … even from across the pond.

    Other posters here are correct. You should share this with a much wider audience. Your sense of place, your historic backstories … all are wonderful.

    1. Thank you, Judy. It is that part of the world which brings it out: an unloved place. You say where you’re going on holiday and people gawp incredulously and say, “You’re going where?”

      And yet it holds a powerful place in time.

  5. I appreciate that you’ve shared your travels, insights and images with us on your vacation. Even though I may visit few of the places you’ve been, I value these virtual visits and the historical significances you reveal. Plus, you know I’m a sucker for dogs. I look forward to reading whatever tales you have in store for us in fall.

  6. Lovely – the words and the pics. I always feel quite emotional coming back from France and seeing those white cliffs, knowing that through history they have represented home, safety and family to all those returning from the wars.The relief and anticipation they must have felt is unimaginable.

  7. It must be so amazing to stand and drink in the spirit of history! It must be heady! I certainly understand the demands of daily minutae, Kate, and I hope that as you return home you’ll be able to place yourself once again where you can see those white cliffs in your mind. This is such a lovely piece, and I think you’d find yourself nourished and strengthened for the daily journey, simply through contemplating the way you did today. Wonderful photos! Debra

  8. I like the way you write:

    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.

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