There is something hauntingly beautiful about the British Seaside in early winter. The sun desperately trying to peer out behind moody clouds casts glimmering ripples across the harbour, whilst the skyline tinged in tower block grey declares a melancholic calm. Stepping out of Margate train station you can feel the crisp breeze of the sea air, just that little bit colder than inland, but enough to make you appreciate your woolly hat and scarf. We amble down towards the harbour along the main drag, past the iconic Dreamland and the mural of Del, Rodney and Uncle Albert in homage to their infamous ‘Jolly Boys Outing’ to Margate in it’s hay days. Still a big kid at heart, I drag my wife and friend into the amusements, my futile efforts to win a toy sheep from the clutches of the slick claws of the grabber bring much amusement to my companions. They finally manage to drag me away with a commiseration game on the air hockey table, 7 – 3 to the wife who beats me spectacularly.
Without further ado, we head down to the Turner Contemporary, which opened in 2011, to see Tracey Emin’s “My Bed”. Emin has always had a bittersweet love for the town of Margate, which she called home for many years, and is set to move back there to open a studio next year. “My Bed” was first displayed at the Tate Gallery in 1999 and was shortlisted for the Turner prize, grabbing much media attention. It was inspired by a sexual and depressive phase in her life when she would often stay in bed for several days drinking alcohol. The bed, unmade and stained with bodily secretions, surrounded by used condoms, underwear, empty bottles and other detritus represents Emin’s own realisation of what a mess her life had become. It was a turning point in her life, and by displaying that raw emotion through her work, Emin gained notoriety and was able to see a new path for the future. It was an incredible turning point in her life. “My Bed” is on display until the 14th of January. Regrettably we have come at midday, high tide, so are unable to see the sculpture by Antony Gormley, “Another Time”, part of a series of one hundred, solid cast-iron figure, that have been installed all over the world. Gormley states that “The history of western sculpture has been concerned with movement. I wish to celebrate the still and silent nature of sculpture. The work is designed to be placed within the flow of lived time.” The sculpture itself is placed out in the harbour sea, and only becomes visible about 3 hours before low tide. There is however a video of the piece available to watch in the Gallery, if like us, you forget to check the tide times first. Also on display were a retrospective of work by Jean Arp: The Poetry of Forms and John Davies: My Ghosts, a collection of figurative sculptures and drawings. The entry to the Turner was free (suggested donation £5) so we all treated ourselves to some postcards and souvenirs from the well-stocked gift shop, as well as donating.
We then took a stroll around Margate’s Old Town, a bustling microcosm of creative types, boutiques, vintage curios, tea parlours and galleries. A fitting homage to the golden age of the British seaside, when Margate was one of the most popular places to go on your summer holiday, the Old Town area is a welcome regeneration, in stark contrast to the desolation of the high street, where empty shop windows litter the barren road. We do however love a good charity shop, and there are still a few left in the area. I was particularly impressed by the window display of Age UK, where they had entertaining recreated “My Bed” on a miniature scale.
As it would be rude not to, we head back to the seafront for a traditional fish and chips, with plenty of salt and vinegar, making it just in time before the after-school rush, with hordes of hungry parents and children clambering in for a chippy tea. Stuffed by the generous portions, we decide to partake in a couple of swift halves before heading home (again, it would of course be rude not to!). Firstly, we head to Fez, opened in 2015, this pint sized micropub certainly packs a decorative punch. Decked out with retro antiques and collectables, with a delectable selection of local ales and ciders to choose from. The place is buzzing already and has a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere, the kind of pub you can go in for one drink and leave five hours later having made several new friends. After this we venture down to The Harbour Arms, located, as you would expect, on the harbour arm. Chocked full of nautical memorabilia, this maritime micropub also delivers on an excellent choice of local ales and ciders. It’s great to see this place is busy too. The regeneration efforts in Margate, will surely bring this great seaside town back to fruition in the years to come. Heading back to the train station, a little weary after a fantastic day out, another installation by Emin catches our eye, the words “I never stopped loving you” in dazzling pink neon above the Droit house on the seafront. A fitting and touching love letter, to this seaside town.