I've had a day in Margate with Julia, who I used to share an office with. The train from Victoria was packed with families (minus their dads) and got progressively rowdier as we headed down the Kent coast.
We took off our shoes and wandered across the think yellow sand. What a lovely feeling: bare toes and cool gritty sand on a hot and windy day. We ate salad in a little cafe and drank Earl Grey tea.
Our office used to be fun. No matter what happened in our lives ( and a lot did) we could turn it around and laugh. Someone stole her PhD, and someone stole my Spice Girls toys with big heads and little bodies, my Ken doll with the red jumper made out of a sock, and even the bright green plush Hulk that Sarah gave me to guard my dolls.
It was a strange office.
Anyway, back to Margate. It seemed to have shrunk a bit since the 1980s when I and another youth worker took a coach load of yelling children from the Rockingham Estate in Southwark down to Dreamland, the funfair full of tacky and exciting rides. It is still shabby in a fabulous way, a cross between Redcar and Scarborough but with less evidence of fish'n'chips and unlike Brighton, not a Mr Whippy in sight; Dreamland, sadly, has died.
The Shell Grotto was our destination and we squeezed past a small pack of Spanish schoolchildren to head through the dark passage into the grotto itself. Within, shells blackened with age encrust the walls: oysters, cockles, sea snail and mussels, picking out fleurs-de-lys, a tree of life, Egyptian ankhs, eight-pointed stars and other mystical symbols. A small chamber has what appears to be an altar in it, accessed by an entrance corridor and an exit corridor, all completely lined with shells laid out in delicate swirling patterns and geometric lines. It was first discovered when a Victorian chap was digging a hole for a pond in his garden and his son fell into the grotto hidden below and there are numerous theories about it's age and what it is for. I imagined it to be an illicit place of worship for seafarers who looked to the Far East, across the waves, for spiritual succour and safety from the elements. It's age? 1700s, perhaps, when once it stood on a promontory looking out to sea before being buried to disguise its purpose.
Today, it was a cool and quiet refuge from the searing sunshine, hosting a perky group of curious pensioners as well as the schoolchildren and of course, ourselves. It's a little marvel, amazingly unkitsch in its cladding of darkened shells, and much loved by the man in the Millwall shirt who was manning the till of the shop upstairs.
Back across the beach to the station we wandered, crunching though dried seaweed and avoiding collapsed sandcastles. The air conditioning on the train was a cold but welcome shock and brought us back to reality after our small adventure in dreamland.