bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog
The Places Where We Fall To Bits
Saturday, September 25th, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Write a comment
If you come out of Gillingham station – Gillingham in Kent, not the Gillingham in Dorset – you will find a chemist which sells balls of wool. Venturing further down the High Street which lies adjacent, you will find Hair Pavilion, Nail Palace, and a pet shop, on the wall of which someone has written the word ‘Whore.’. Just like that, with the full stop and everything. To reach the pet shop you’d have walked past a cafe, which, due to a catastrophic apostrophe miscalculation, has the word ‘Caf’e’ emblazoned in gold lettering across the window.
By the time you have walked the length of the High Street, which will take you six minutes, you will have noticed that this is a very run down place indeed. Gillingham is part of the Medway Towns, and the three Medway Towns have traditionally been built upon the military; Rochester has a castle and is the administrative centre, Chatham had a dockyard, and Gillingham had the Royal Engineers. There is no university in the Medway Towns. It is not therefore a region used to producing academics or skilled workers, although Charles Dickens lived here and Samuel Pepys got off with a chambermaid in Rochester Castle. There is a MacDonald’s at the station end of the High Street, but that’s as far as the franchises have ventured. Everyone is old, or weirdly, arguing – six minutes in Gillingham High Street took me past three separate arguing couples. There has been a lot of south east London overspill in the area, and it is strange to consider that it’s so out of touch that the chav kids are yelling at each other in the London accent not heard in actual London since 2001. In fact, the phrase ‘chav’ itself was coined in Chatham and used to describe the otherwise indescribable people who would collect in and around the Pentagon shopping centre, which looks from the outside like the sort of building where thought criminals are taken to confess and disappear.
A great deal of my genetic material comes from this part of the world, and despite everything I remain fond of it. I didn’t feel threatened or in any kind of danger as I walked along the High Street; I just felt, well, sad. Admittedly, something has to die before you can resurrect it, and I would love to see the Medway Towns sort itself out, but it would need five thousand Bens and Lauras, with speech containing phrases like ‘let’s grab some coffee’ or ‘I know where we can get some really good sushi’, or who start sentences with ‘So’ all the time and only describe things as ‘good’, ’so good’, or ‘amazing’, and the fact is that they just aren’t going to move there. I pondered this as I left the High Street and checked into the King Charles Hotel, a place I assume was built with the express intention of giving conference attendees somewhere to kill themselves.
It just has that sort of desperately bleak atmosphere. You somehow imagine that every room houses a sales rep, or a consultant, or an area manager, swigging vodka from a bottle while wanking and crying at the same time. Or, I dunno, it’s somewhere you’d go for a dirty weekend with someone who shamed you. Just that sort of thing. Everything was polyester, I quickly noticed. If you spilled tea on the carpet you’d melt it, and if you rubbed against the curtains you’d probably explode. The staff were excellent, it is worth pointing out – although you still wouldn’t want to actually touch one of them – and the other guests were friendly enough. Despite my sense of grubby unease, it was obviously a venue for romance as, according to the noticeboard in reception with plastic push-in letters, a local couple called Daryl and Cheryl were getting married there the next day, and the day after that, another couple whose names now escape me were having – in another thunderbolt of dislinguicity – their vowels renewed. Or possibly, their bowels removed. I found myself in the bar quite late, watching Sarah Michelle Gellar in a sequel to something, and reflecting that the King Charles probably only shows sequels to things, and mediating in a strange Welsh turf war between a coach party from Merthyr Tydfil and my mate Jon, who is from Aberdare, via text. Sensing that I had reached the apex of joy for the evening, I went to bed. The next morning I wrote ‘I’m lonely’ in the guest book and left.
I did at least have the funeral of a beloved aunt to look forward to, and this was indeed my reason for going to Gillingham in the first place. Auntie Mavis was a very religious woman, a fact reflected in the service. She lived withing walking distance of the church itself for decades, and the vicar pointed out that she would be in no doubt that she was among family and friends. For the previous seven months she had been aware that she was in Gillingham, but thought that Gillingham itself was in South America – I therefore found it comforting to reflect that, at last, she knew where she was and who we all were. Auntie Mavis was certainly a formidable lady, and it is a shame that anyone marrying into the clan in the last decade or so would only have seen her somewhat cantankerous side, but she did teach me to read with the Illustrated History of the Medway Towns – although not to illustrate, which may have been of greater use in the long run – and throughout the hundreds of hours we subsequently spent discussing everything we could think of over the intervening decades, I was never able to stop looking at her through the eyes of a four year old.
This weeks meander through the photard archives has produced:
Top: Notebook ramblings.
Middle: Reggie, a Jack Russel terrier, who hid under my Greenwich stall having been walked all the way from Blackheath.
Lower: Auntie Mavis, my grandparents, and myself practicing the look of resigned apprehension that I’ve had thirty years to perfect. If you look closely, you’ll notice that my grandfather was a great believer in sunglasses, but very sceptical about sun block. Shirtless, he would be invisible against the curtains. I wore a lot of tartan trousers as a child.
Twitter: Because everything is fascinating, obviously.
Facebook: Someone wandered off, but Chris Brown joined, who seems nice enough. This has put us up to a record 118, and represents a growth rate of 17 members in a year, although a few of them aren’t actually people.