Whitstable is one of the nicer towns in Kent. Which would be a compliment anywhere else: Kent as a whole being f*****g crap, Whitstable is merely crap.
It’d be a lovely place to go for a weekend. You could toddle down Harbour Street, look in all the boutiquey shops, eat fish and chips, have a pint and then go home to a place that actually has other things to do in it. Because in Whitstable, that is it. There is nothing else whatsoever. There’s nothing to do at night for anyone under 30 other than getting ratted on supermarket cider and throwing up on the beach, no permanent cinema – there isn’t even a McDonalds within the town itself. And getting a job? Forget it, unless you’re willing to wipe pensioners’ arses for a living.
Why? Because it’s being steadily converted into a Disneyland version of itself for middle-class 30-something Londoners and their annoying children. Harbour Street is a tiny bubble run by Londoners for Londoners – half the shops aren’t even open on weekdays – selling the sort of useless cutesy s**t that nobody who actually lives there needs or wants but evidently fills some sort of emotional need for twee ersatz overpriced cack that Londoners apparently require to prove to themselves they have actually been to the fantasy version of the seaside they possess. Seeing a load of wet stuff with fish in it seems to not be sufficient. The real British seaside town experience – perpetually paralysingly bored and half-pissed, trying to dodge seagulls shitting on you and blot out the crippling ennui of depression and unemployment with daytime TV and sniggering at the double-entendre product names in Iceland – presumably doesn’t cut it.
There’s something like 17 (no exaggeration: I counted them) art galleries in the town, in a town of 30,000-odd people, for all said Londoners to pay to exhibit their awful pictures in and everyone else to studiously ignore. There can’t be many towns on which half the local economy is based on the art equivalent of vanity publishing.
So what’s it like outside that bourgeoisie fantasy? The same existential crisis-inducing airless, lifeless grey hell of bungalows, drizzle, squashed chips and sea the colour of untreated sewage that lines the rest of the Kent coast, and indeed much of the rest of England.
Live in it for five years and you become the sort of person who goes to B&Q for excitement and starts knitting out of cat hair. You forget what excitement and interest and joy are, until you leave the town and the constant grey malaise and ennui hanging over you produced by listlessly pawing through the rails of the Cancer Research shop for the 470th time momentarily shifts and you realise once again that there is happiness and light and purpose in the world out there, if only you could escape the black hole-like grip of east Kent.
I left a year ago and I’m never, ever going back.