Day 123: Margate to Sheppey

‘Ere Kel can I come in the toilet wiv ya?’ – courting rituals, Sheerness.

I awake with really bad fatigue. It aches to even stretch my legs, whilst elbows creak and crack. I haven’t had much sleep, finding it torturously difficult to even drop off, listening to the shouts and arguments of drunk teenagers somewhere nearby on Margate’s promenade. Everything hurts!

In most travelogues, one will notice that the ending is often hurried, inconclusive, even bad-tempered. Bill Bryson seems to lose it with everyone, Paul Theroux is increasingly impatient, whilst on their bicycles, Josie Dew and Mike Carter both tear through their final few days without seeming to even look up from their milometers. I used to wonder what malaise affects travellers on their tail-end of their journeys, but as I’ve approached closer to home, a great physical and mental fatigue has taken me over. With the exhaustion of yesterday still aching through my bones, I’m feeling like I’m repeating the beginning of this trip, as if I’m mirroring my old movements, those first few days where every part of my body wailed out its pain in a slightly different pitch so that I was able to hear them all at the same time. I’m back to that. The prospect of cycling even ten miles today feels unlikely. Perhaps I should’ve had some more rest days. But with darkness kicking in now at 6.45, and the cold beginning to bite, this has to be it. Nearly there…

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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 121: Brighton to Dungeness

‘We’re protected from their malice by their incompetence’ – Laurie, Brighton.

Strange times, these. Everyone seems to believe so much is wrong, but no-one’s offering a way forward. We’ve become uneasy about right answers, and fixated with locating wrongs. Hope has become a debased currency, one feels embarrassed at the exchanges about even taking it out one’s pocket. Clunky, greasy, funny spelling, weird symbols. Better traded for cynicism or snide complaining. Wandering around the marketplace of ideas, all one hears is the hullaballoo of people demanding refunds.

I’ve been travelling across a land-mass and nearby islands where not even the English language is a universal definer. There’s a vague sense of common-ness among the peoples I’ve met, but the regions, cultures and histories of these islands are so diverse that I can no longer imagine them as one country, say ‘the United Kingdom’, on a map. You can call it ‘UK’ if you like. But there is no king here, and little united about it. UnKnown might be more apt.

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