Style: Whitstable - the new Chelsea?
Not if the town can help it. CJ STONE on the spirited fight against DFLs (Down From Londoners)
Sunday 12 December 1999
Whitstable is a curious, possibly unique seaside town nestling on the Thames Estuary about 60 miles from London, and recently it has become incredibly fashionable. Almost every national newspaper has carried a major article about its peculiar charms. Several TV shows have featured it. You can see the Isle of Sheppey from the beach and, on a clear day, the tower blocks of Southend glisten on the horizon like modern fairy castles. It is characterised by picturesque fisherman's cottages, Victorian shop-fronts and criss-crossing alleyways. Once it was a smuggler's town. Since Roman times it's been famous for its oysters.
W Somerset Maugham wrote about it; Turner painted it; Eastenders have traditionally visited it on summer day trips, supping bottled Guinness from the off-license and eating oysters from the original Wheelers on the High Street. These days, however, there is a new breed of visitor to the town. Trendy media figures jostle with TV producers and City analysts for a seat in the overpriced Oysterhouse fish restaurant on the beach, or discuss their latest projects in over-loud voices at the plush Hotel Continental on the far side of the harbour. The Hotel Continental used to be called the Harbour Lights and was a biker's hang- out until the early Nineties, before it was raided for drugs and closed down. Now all of that has changed.
I went to the Hotel Continental with two locals: Charlie, an affable builder, and Bunny, a layabout with a nice line in bad-natured banter. We asked one of the waitresses if anyone famous had visited recently.
"Oh yes," she said, with a slightly bored air. "We had Jarvis Cocker down here in the summer. He was sitting with a piece of string tied to his foot. He was pulling the string to make his leg move up and down."
Later we went to another pub, at the top end of town. The DFLs only go to certain pubs and restaurants, and hang around the lower part of the town near the beach. I spoke to the landlord. "Do DFL's ever come in here?" I asked.
"Nope," he boomed. "And I wouldn't serve `em if they did."
Someone sitting nearby said, "What's that mean? What's a DFL?"
"You know, rich, fashionable people, down from London," I said.
The problem with the DFLs, I was told, is not so much the occasional visitor charmed by the peculiar ambience of the town. It's the ones who stay and then try to change it. One story I heard involved a London couple who bought a house next to the British Legion. The club had a Hammond Organ and regular sing-along nights. Sometimes things could get rowdy, with people singing at the tops of their voices and stamping their feet. Until the DFLs next door complained to the council and had the sing-alongs stopped. The Legion had to be sound-proofed, and these days the occasional sing-alongs are much more subdued affairs. The same DFLs have since tried to get music stopped at another local pub.
Other DFLs had a bench removed from the beach. The specific problem involved a security light that would go on every time anyone moved. So, of course, local teenagers would stand on the bench and set the light going. The council suggested that the light should be switched off. The complainant refused. The bench was moved instead.
Meanwhile the town is changing. The junk shop on Harbour Street closed down last week, as did the watch repair
shop - to be replaced by little chi-chi restaurants or delis, no doubt. House prices have risen by a third in less than a year. People are becoming bitter. Hence the term "DFL".
It could mean you.
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