on margate sands

On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken finger-nails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
Nothing.

la la

To Carthage then I came

there is a victorian pavilion in margate where ts eliot wrote the third section of his most famous poem, ‘the waste land’. it’s the sort of poem that seems to draw people to it, although it is also among the most complex and least understandable poems ever written. i was certainly taken in by it when i first read it during a high school british lit class i won’t say how many decades ago and have been trying to understand it since. i mostly still don’t.

my time in london has got me closer, for much of ‘the waste land’ is about life in london. like me, ts was a yank in london – a fact many seem not to realise about him – and lived long in this city; long enough to have absorbed the futile shuffle of city workers across blustering london bridge every morning and how, somehow, there is still beauty in that.

london also drove ts mad, as it will do any person who lives here long enough. he captures the sort of love-hate that every londoner feels at some point, almost alluringly referring to the city’s ‘violet hour’ just before vitriolic adjectives about ‘the human engine’ and the river thames ‘spewing’ oil and tar and drifting logs. like most londoners, ts loved this city, and yet he sometimes felt it was killing his soul.

margate is a seaside town on the southeast coast of england in kent, which had its heyday during the victorian era just before the turn of the 20th century. queen victoria thought open-air bathing and sea-salty oxygen were good for the health (which…obviously). until rather recently, margate was on a mostly downhill trajectory since that time.

ts went to margate in 1921 to recover from a ‘nervous breakdown’; as far as i can tell, this just means he just went a bit mad for awhile, and haven’t we all. when ts arrived there, it likely would’ve still been busy with cafe-goers, electric trams and swimmers polka-dotting its crescent beach. over the decades, these were replaced by gaming arcades, greggs and wetherspoons.


a friend of mine – a self-described london dilettante and the sort of person who can be relied upon to think up these kinds of odd and wonderful excursions – suggested a day out in margate recently, and we happily obliged, thinking first of the sea air and rumours of a revival of pubs, particularly the ‘micro’ variety, selling good ale and nothing else. yes please.

it wasn’t until i started reading about margate that i discovered the ts connection, in particular, the seaside pavilion where he sat writing ‘the fire sermon’ (drawing on saint augustine at some length) and looking at the sea. i expected to feel something special here, or at least see what ts saw when he penned such mighty and difficult-to-comprehend language.

the sun was dropping to the west and we were almost to running late for our train back to london when we paused at the pavilion, after a day on the ales following a rather random group of morris dancers around margate’s excellent selection of small pubs. the sky was an ethereal grey-blue of the sort where the colour is washed out by a brilliant, dusky almost-evening light. the sea was steely and shimmering, but calm.


inside, the pavilion has a bunch of fold-down, cinema-style seats facing the water, where i imagine ts must’ve sat during his long days recovering and writing. but that day, in one corner, stacks of stained cardboard boxes, used tesco bags, grubby blankets and empty bottles surrounded a small group of homeless people holding cans of cider and looking menacingly at anyone daring near their makeshift residence.

what of that. i am not sure. the pavilion was designated a grade II listed building by english heritage in 2009. because of that it still stands, and it is indeed magnificent with wide views out over the north sea. add a high salt breeze and it seems almost anyone would be penning poetry under its latticed gables. too, it would be easy to compare the state of things there now to ts’s uneasy state of mind as he embarked on writing ‘the waste land’s’ tumultuous part III – downtrodden and eroded by too many days in london (a condition most londoners will still report with semi-regularity today). but even that metaphor seems too forthcoming for such a work as ‘the waste land’.


what i can say is go to margate. drink some ales. if you are unafraid of the cold, have a swim.

look at the sea from ts’s vantage, and you will feel something – possibly inexplicable. i did.

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a walk to the chislehurst caves

in an effort to get my blogging chops back up (obviously, it’s been awhile), i want to talk about bill’s and my recent walk to the chislehurst caves. chislehurst is a leafy suburb of southeast london that is, incidentally, not all that far from where we live in hither green.

Chislehurst Caves
Image: Banalities, CC BY 2.0

now, those of you who know me know two very important things about me: i love exploring my local area and i also love google maps. the latter possibly to a troubling, or at the very least obsessive, degree.

when we first moved to london, i spent hours looking at google maps trying to orient myself to the local area, see what was nearby (translation: find the pubs) and generally figure out what the place looked like. one thing kept popping up in my searches of google maps: the chislehurst caves. now, i love anything cavey or geological or eerie historical, so i immediately asked bill if we could go. he was rather less enthusiastic than i was about spending time in dank, dark caves.

after almost two years, i finally convinced him to go last weekend (a testament that nagging works), and we decided to combine it into what turned out to be a fairly long walk from hither green to chislehurst (some 9.5k). to be honest, we’ve done a lot of walking in london – especially around the southeast – and this was not one i’d be likely to repeat, as there was a dearth of green spaces and also pubs or cafes at which to stop along the way and rest our feet (i mean, what is a walk without pubs?).

but finally, we arrived to the caves in time for the last tour of the day at 4pm. our guide was a funny older chap (bill said he looked like a scout who never stopped being a scout) who kept using cockney slang (“dustbin lids” = children, “elephants” = drunk).

Chislehurst Caves tour guide
Our guide explaining the caves’ history

the chislehurst caves are actually a man-made series of tunnels and caves that were ancient mines and have since been used for all sorts of purposes, most notably as air raid shelters during the blitz on london in world war II. incredibly, at one time it’s estimated there were 15,000 people living full-time in the chislehurst caves – there was a hospital, a chapel, two canteens, numerous toilets and thousands of bunk beds down there.

the tour takes you through the tunnels and offers a glimpse into the caves’ history, with a special focus on their role as a bomb shelter. each pair or group is given an oil burning lamp, which adds to the spooky effect. our guide’s cheeky sense of humour gave a lift to some of the drier history (like when he took away the lamps and left us standing in total darkness and then banged a massive gong) and he was also full of ghost stories and local historical anecdotes, many of which (i can only imagine) he was personally privvy to.

Chislehurst Caves map
Image: Auz, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

the tour lasts about an hour (ours a bit longer, as it was the end of the day and Scout Guide was feeling particularly verbose) and traverses about a mile of tunnels. at £6, it’s a serious bargain considering the amount of history and geology you learn, not to mention the interesting anecdotes. this is a must for anyone with an interest in london history or anyone looking for a quirky day out of the city.

this promo video offers a good glimpse into what the tour is like:

the chislehurst caves
old hill
chislehurst
chislehurstcaves.co.uk
transport: regular trains from charing cross and london bridge to chislehurst railway station. the caves are a 5-minute walk.

things i want to tell londoners

20130203-152714.jpg
as i roll into nearly a year of working full time in central london, i have come to understand – and in some cases loathe – my commute. actually, most of the time my commute works like a well oiled machine, but there are still aspects of it that baffle, confound and annoy the shit out of me.

don’t get me wrong. i am incredibly grateful to have the access to public transportation that i do. to have the chance to gripe about my daily tube journey. but still. sometimes londoners do some weird things.

some things i want to tell londoners:

-if you don’t have your oyster card or ticket ready, don’t stand in front of the gates and rifle through your bag to find it. that is just annoying as shit.

-that whole “but i just topped it up” bit doesn’t work on the underground staff. i think they have probably heard it before once or twice.

-your agenda/schedule/day/mustn’tmissit appointment is no more important or urgent or life-threatening than mine, or anyone else’s. and huffing at me about it won’t hurry me up.

-walking fast and loudly behind me also won’t hurry me up. nor will your clackity heels (that goes for you too, boys).

-and also speaking to the boys, there are some of you who have chosen to wear a “cologne” that could also double as oven cleaner. mosquitos won’t go within a 10-metre radius of you and everytime i sit down next to you on the tube, my eyes begin to water. i am pretty sure that your dried up sex lives will attest to the fact that this scent is not, does not and will not ever get you laid.

-get a pair of decent headphones and turn the sound down. showing the world in no uncertain terms that you like justin beiber or that chick with the $ in her name is not doing you any favours.

and finally…

-jogging is just never a good use for a saturday afternoon. go out and get some culture, for gawd’s sake.

photo by brownincs

boy and busker on Grafton Street Dublin

on 2012 and things to come

i don’t often get sentimental about new year’s eve. i rarely, if ever, make resolutions. in our house, this night is more about hunkering down, having a nice glass of champagne and going to bed early, resting in the knowledge that tomorrow is just another day.

the louvre, paris, july 2012
the louvre, paris, july 2012

this year, however, things are a little different. yes, we are hunkering down for a homemade dinner and the compulsory glass (or three) of champers and an all-night movie fest.

Sexy Sea Lion - New Zealand
Sexy Sea Lion – New Zealand

but this year, i am in a reflective mood. i have been thinking a lot about the past 12 months and a lot about the 12 months to come. in january, i will be starting a new job with what is perhaps my dream company. the MOTHER SHIP, as it were, and since this change is also marking a new year, it’s easy to reflect on the past and future.

Homage to Ansel Adams - Queenstown, NZ
Homage to Ansel Adams – Queenstown, NZ

2012 was, in many ways, a year of financial health, for me. it was a year in which i transitioned from freelancing to full-time work and it was the first year in too many to count that i’ve actually not had to worry about money.

Shadow of a cat - pub in Reading, England, 2012.
Shadow of a cat – pub in Reading, England, 2012.

with it, though, came a creeping realisation that i was, in some ways, sacrificing my physical health (2011 was my year of kick-ass health) for my financial health. long hours, lack of a proper place to eat lunch (hence eating crap for lunch) and zero exercise have not been good to my body. it was a sacrifice i made very willingly, knowing that 2012 was my year of financial health.

London Eye and the Thames.
London Eye and the Thames.

i want 2013 to be my year of freedom. a year where i can have both financial and physical health. a year where i have the time to do things i love in addition to my work. things like updating this blog (the single post from 2012 can attest to how dry my writing life has been) and writing irishjaunt. a year to regain connections and rediscover my creativity, but this time, without sacrificing financial health.

Snow falling on London - February.
Snow falling on London – February.

2013 is going to be a year of travel. bill and i have already begun planning and dreaming the many city breaks we hope to take, which may or may not include galicia in northern spain, croatia, mexico and boston. we’ll see.

The drawing room at the Wallace Collection.
The drawing room at the Wallace Collection.

also, we are so happy in london, we’re staying. can you believe it? 18 months and counting in the same place. i think that’s a record.

Hasidic Jews - London crap.
Hasidic Jews – London crap.

finally, friends, i will leave you with this photo i snapped on grafton street in dublin over christmas. i want to be as inspired and in awe of the world and life as this little boy.

boy and busker on Grafton Street Dublin

the photos in this post are a selection of my favourites that i snapped in 2012. you can see them all at my flickr photostream.