I live in Broadstairs on the East Kent coast, near Margate.
The Queen's coming to Margate today. She's going to see a naked couple snogging.
A lot has changed since I left London and moved here, in 2003. People said I was mad. Maybe I was but moving here wasn't. When I lived in Peckham everyone who I worked with at the BBC said I was mad. Maybe I was but living in Peckham wasn't. They lived in Acton and Ealing and Chiswick and Richmond. Media people lived in West London. I didn't. I had lived in South East London since leaving university. So had many of my close friends. I loved it. Still do.
Watching the riot police exercise their horses along a deserted Rye Lane in Peckham on a Sunday morning, from the window of my flat above the Job Centre in 1985, wasn't everyone's idea of "location, location, location". But it was home to me. Some friends had kindly offered me a room to rent and so that's where I ended up. But that's also where I stayed for the next 18 years. Not in the same flat (I'm not mad) - but other flats around South East London - eventually settling in a terraced house back in Peckham.
I lived in the Peckham house when I got married. My twin daughters were born there. So was my eldest son. Life had changed for me. And life had changed in Peckham. Media people lived there now too. Down the road, East Dulwich was media city. You can't move for media people in Peckham and East Dulwich these days. Queuing for their free range, organic, meat flavoured hair products. Shopping for their sun dried; wind cured, oak smoked toilet rolls. Pushing their balsamic sprinkled toddler buggies with their caramelised, sugar-free toddlers inside. I love it. I just can't afford it. This particular corner of South East London changed - big time. As Take That once sang, everything changes. As Paul Young once sang, everything must change. Ch.Ch.Ch Changes. The BBC is moving from Shepherds Bush to Salford. Literally, Media City. That's one hell of a daily commute from West London. Who's mad now then?
Moving away from London had nothing to do with the old cliché about being tired of life. I wasn't tired of life. I loved life. I still do. I loved London. I still do. But I love my new home as well. It wasn't all easy at first. Not long after we arrived in Broadstairs my daughter said a little too loudly in public, "I really miss the South Bank". We quickly shoved a coat over her head, bundled her into the back of our car and drove away at speed, to avoid being stoned to death by local residents. But she soon got over it. It wasn't difficult. There were national treasures here too. We had swapped the South Bank for East Kent. We had the swapped the Thames River for the English Channel, London's leafy parks for sun kissed (sometimes) sandy beaches and we had swapped the museums and art galleries for...um...well...er...the Ramsgate Motor Museum?
Sadly even the Motor Museum eventually closed - along with the Smuggler Museum in Broadstairs (if you can call a collection of scary shop window dummies with beards, a museum) and the Model Village. All gone. But as well as the losses there have been some gains. Useful new shops. Interesting bars and restaurants. A faster train journey. The Old Town in Margate has been transformed. And this year the Turner Contemporary opened in Margate too. A proper art gallery for the area and one which rivals anything of its kind in London. A taxi driver told me it's a waste of money. Then he told me that he'd never been.
The current exhibition Nothing in the World But Youth is excellent. Bright, brash, busy and bulging with bags to see and do.
You can listen to my audio contribution here by the way
But there's proper stuff too. Hockney, Warhol and Blake are there. Peter Blake was there in person last month and he signed my Stanley Road cover. My marvellous moment of Mod 'n' Margate . Turner is there of course and incredibly - something that would have seemed so unlikely during our first summer living in Broadstairs, when my kids were tearing round the windowless motor museum, high on petrol fumes - so is a breathtaking sculpture by Rodin - The Kiss. And funnily enough - it's much larger than you think. Larger than those coffee table book photographs. Larger than life. Two great big naked marble giants snogging. And today The Queen will visit and she will see them.
I took the kids on a bike ride along the cliff tops towards Margate once and I saw a couple snogging in a car. Well, actually I think they were more than snogging, so I encouraged the kids to cycle past quickly, pointing out to sea at a non-existent item of interest to distract them. It's the seaside. You expect that kind of thing in a region steeped in the traditions of Kiss Me Quick. But I didn't expect a Rodin to be just down the road.
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