Day 122: Dungeness to Margate

‘Money is still a big problem for us’ – Slavo, Margate.

My word, last night was probably the strangest experience of my life. As I awake, there’s nothing around me in the distance that would suggest red flashing signs or strange floating jackets or gently gliding samurai-like figures hovering over the shingle. Looking back, it’s actually a little terrifying, or certainly weird, the froth of a highly disordered brain. Like listening to Brian Eno’s ‘Lantern Marsh’ on repeat until one’s cerebral arteries collapsed. The sleep of reason… There’s something so eerie and empty about Dungeness. Wild-camping here sober would’ve been odd enough, but the added intoxicants seem to have momentarily torn through the veil of perception and hinted at a far more strange and inexplicable one.

The sound of feet padding through the shingle sends shivers down my spine. That night seemed to last forever, like a limbo without people or the possibilities of ever experiencing emotions again. It tapped into a taste for solitude and pointed out the isolating chaos at its core. In a bizarre way it reflects the myopia of seeking something that never actually existed except as a concept one already possessed. My eyesight impaired and my imagination running riot, I was compelled to wander all around this dark and empty beach in search of something that was already nearby me, that I should’ve seen because I’d placed it there. Does ‘Albion’ exist anywhere outside of a couple of poetry books and English literature surveys? My mind felt possessed in a way I imagine ants and other small insects are when the parasite cordyceps lodges itself inside their brains, forcing them to climb higher and higher so that its powerful urge can find a place to blossom and, in doing so, kill the ant. Some ideas can drive you mad.

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Day 118: Wight to Southampton

‘You never know what’s around the corner’ – Adam, Portsmouth.

I wake up on the edge of a recreation ground, outside a sleepy hamlet on the desolate coastline of the Isle of Wight. This is the last Monday of this journey, and my plans indicate I should reach London by Sunday night. That gives seven days to come up with something remotely conclusive about these islands, Albion…

Because I should come up with something conclusive, right? I’ve come all this way… would it not be disappointing if I were not entirely changed, or if I could not say: this is England, that is Britain, here is the truth? Perhaps pick up and discover in some discarded object, or exchange, or moment, a definitive instance of this experience which encapsulates everything, everywhere, on these islands? Sure, I’ll need to make some concession to passing fashions, and ensure whatever thing is might be is appropriately politically correct yet still attached to a sufficient number of recognisable clichés – perhaps a non-white child dunking a digestive biscuit into a cup of tea at a royalty-themed street party. Just don’t mention institutional racism, child abuse cover-ups, poverty, ritalin, or that his disabled mum hasn’t eaten for two days because her ESA was cut off. But now I’m falling into another cliché, that of anger. The task I set myself was impossible: find an essence of life and the living in this part of the world. It is too big, too big for anyone. That’s what so irked me about everything I’d read about the British or the English, usually drawing on a heap of clichés for both, of pigeon-fanciers, cucumber sandwiches, warm ale,Wayne Rooney and the Queen.

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