This blog now comes to you from Ramsgate. Sorry about the hiatus. I flew back from Ghana overnight and that day picked up the keys and entered our new home. Since then I have been ankle deep in plaster dust. There is a lot to do.
I share the outrage over the lack of a prosecution for the manslaughter (at least) of Ian Tomlinson. On torture and extraordinary rendition, and on policy in Afghanistan, I feel events have completely vindicated me and my efforts. But there are times in life when you need to step back for a brief while from a public role and concentrate on your family, and this has been (and still will be for a few days) one of those times.
I really like Ramsgate. It reminds me a lot of Sheringham, where I grew up, Jamie and Emily went to prep schools in Broadstairs and Ramsgate respectively. It was a great port, from which many historic journeys started. You can still hop on a ferry over to Ostend. It feels vibrant compared to most of our larger seaside towns.
There is of course another side. Some time in the last 20 years, whether by drift of events or by conscious policy of Kent County Council or the Home Office (maybe someone can enlighten me), Thanet became a prime place to dump people the state viewed as problems. Asylum seekers – many of them genuine – drug addicts, rehabilitating offenders, problem families, all found themselves put into the crumbling and unwanted seaside guest houses of Thanet. Some people cashed in – our house was illegally and horribly converted into bedsits. The despair and seediness of it all were brilliantly chronicled in the film The Last Resort.
Ramsgate, of course, is not Margate. But if you need a policeman in a hurry out of hours they come from Margate, as we discovered when we came across a middle aged drug addict attempting to throttle his similarly afflicted partner – who was bleeding from a blow to the face – in Ramsgate High Street at 6pm.
Only the second time I have had to call 999 in my life, and I had only been in Ramsgate 24 hours!
Into this extraordinary mix you then disgorge from the newly built high speed rail link a crowd of largely young professional London commuters. I am in a sense one, though I won’t commute. The attraction is that 70 minutes from St Pancras you can pick up a perfectly serviceable three bedroom house with a good garden for £160,000. Or if you are crazy like us you can pick up a rambling 1834 villa with 14 major rooms, all in a state of decay, and a very large garden for £295,000.
The High Speed Rail Link is really impressive as far as Ashford, running on the Eurostar lines allegedly at 140mph. After that it continues on not so much at high speed, as not as slow as a stopping train. Until the high speed link, trains in the 2000’s took 15 minutes longer to reach Ramsgate from London than they did in the 1890’s.
With its refurbished marina, swathe of new restaurants and official council attempt to create a “cafe culture”, Ramsgate becomes a still more interesting social mix. The one really functional bit of our house was an expensive and comprehensive alarm system – I am scared to fart unless the police come hurtling round. The security bars on our neighbour’s house remind me of living in Lagos. Plainly there are social tensions, at least in the minds of the owners of larger houses.
I know that I feel resentment at all the “foreigners” (ie non-Shannocks) who swamped Sheringham. As a child if I walked down Sheringham High Street, not only would I know everyone I saw, literally half of them would be related to my mum. God knows who they all are now. And Sheringham does not have the brash yuppie-ism of the Marina area at Ramsgate and its pretence at being Cannes, for young locals to make fun of.
But so far I have found Ramsgate people entirely welcoming, and there is at least some anecdotal evidence that the local economy is benefiting. Both the tree surgeon and plumber have told us that most of their work at the minute is from commuters who have just moved down from London. The last couple of evenings I ate in a Lithuanian/Russian restaurant named CCCP, and in an Indian/Bengali restaurant named Spice Fusion which was opened by lads from London who moved down the same day as me.
Ramsgate. The fashionable place to live. It must be – the Murrays are here 🙂