Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'Margate should be somewhere I rejoice to come back to. But every time I visit I am filled with dread'


I've spent the past few days doing exactly what I wanted to do. I've been driving, driving round and round and round, not just aimlessly but with some intention, with an instructor. The idea was to become more confident, neater, more precise. So I bought myself the time and the teacher. After hours of reverse parking, parallel parking, windy country lanes and motorway safety, I do feel a slightly better driver. But the whole point of driving is to get me somewhere. And today my driving has got me to Margate. It's got me back to exactly where I came from.

I'm like one of those people who sit in their car with a flask and a sandwich watching the tide roll in. It's so windy, the spring tides are rising high and a crest of white foam rides on top of almost every wave. The sea shelf is black in high contrast to the pale blue sky with puffy Cirrus clouds. There is a slight pinkiness to them and a slight pinkiness across the sea to give a vision of a strange nostalgia, like looking at an old tinted photograph. Sea gulls flap around, dodging in and out of the wind, swooping and diving like a cliché from Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

As a child we had a plaque hanging up on the kitchen wall. It was blue with a white seagull flying high and below the seagull were the words: "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it's yours." At the age of 10 I always thought this quote from Jonathan Livingston Seagull was the most profound thing in the whole world, and I suppose to a certain extent it is.

Margate for me should be somewhere I rejoice to come back to. A sort of spiritual place bound up in childhood memories and the fecundity of the sea. It should be a place of passion mixed up with Edwardian charm. A place of kinky contradictions, that's how Margate always used to be. But now every time I approach the Golden Mile I am filled with dread and fear of what I may think.

Every time I come here something has gone, something is missing. This time it's the scenic railway. Another time it's the big wheel. After the storms of 87 it was the pier. In the Eighties it was the entire Lido complex. Every single time I come something has been burnt, destroyed, fire bombed, boarded up, demolished or just completely forgotten about and left to go in to a tragic state of disrepair.

It's strange to witness the death of a town. In some ways there is a melancholy romance. It's like the tragic set of a film, but the sad thing is that the star is Margate. Margate has become Britain's tragic Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard, almost nothing can save her.

I never imagined in a million years that, at the age of 44, I would be sitting in my car, staring out of my window, thinking these thoughts. As a child Margate had magic. It had charisma. It had a sense of humour. But it also had incredible architecture, thousands of holidaymakers, daytrippers, beauty competitions, a thousand fish-and-chip shops, a harbour full of hundreds of brightly coloured fishing boats and an incredible Victorian funfair.

All of this had the backdrop of some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. And that is not an exaggeration. Turner painted enough of them. And if you study Turner's seascapes, in many of his miscellaneous seascapes, imaginary seascapes, the sunset you most definitely see sets in Margate. There is something about this place which is so shaggable. It lends itself to raunchy. It makes me feel sexy being here. Even with the depression of everything falling down, everything collapsing, the sexiness of Margate overrides any of that kind of depression. Kiss Me Quick is an understatement. I sit here feeling very, very sad.

I want someone who is a giant to come along and treat Margate like their very own special model village. I want them to return Margate to its man-made majestic beauty. I want them to lovingly recreate the scenic railway and the big wheel. Make Dreamlands a place possible for teenage lovers to have dreams, the Teddy Boys to whirl on the wurlitzer and Mods to dodge with their girlfriends on the dodgems, the Victorian promenade to be graced with beautiful, wrought-iron railings.

I want the giant to flick the switch on the battery box and Margate's summer lights to twinkle and dance between every guesthouse and hotel. I want all the boarded-up hotels and guest houses to be opened up and come alive again. Tiny figures to be placed at the Lido swimming pool. The giant bends down and nimbly, with thumb and forefinger, replaces the 30ft diving board.

I am not complaining, I am just making a sad observation. An observation I'm sure many, especially those who live in Margate, have made. This tiny knuckle of England has truly been forgotten, left somewhere in the early Eighties to just die and decay. What makes me very sad is that all that is lost of the better days, of the better times, of Margate are the things that have made Britain great. An inheritance lost that belongs to no other place in the world.

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