My first experience of Grayson Perry was seeing his bonnet clad, blue eyebrowed grinning face in a review for his show at The British Museum, Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman. I liked the look of him and his pots so went to see it, only to be told it was completely sold out but I could become a member of The British Museum for £60.00 and get in that way. I thought "this is bullshit" and left.
Six months later I was staying the night at a Holiday Inn on a roundabout in Newcastle and realised Grayson's All In The Best Possible Taste was starting on Channel 4. The series is about the tapestries he made to reflect the traditional British class system. I liked the humour, the middle class guilt, the satisfaction of seeing them woven and I thought Grayson was brilliant. I love his honesty, his hair and how often he makes himself laugh.
I always worry about saying I'm a fan of something in case someone then interrogates me like it's my Mastermind specialist subject, but I am a Grayson fan. Last year he was the star on top of my Christmas tree and I have bought more shoes in Irregular Choice which I believe is his influence. But what I really love is his fascination with Britain and we the British people. It's the tension between our traditions whilst embracing the new that I really like about his work. How we want to be seen against what we actually want. I love that Grayson often finds humour there. Our identity is a series of contradictions, we want tea in a pot and we want order and custom but we want it all to have wifi.
The latest show of Grayson's work is Provincial Punk, at the Turner Contemporary in Margate. Delightfully this combines my love of Grayson Perry and the English seaside so we packed our macs and got the train from London St Pancras. After an hour and a half, squealing at the first sight of the sea, we arrived and loaded off the train with the other day trippers come to have a look.
Margate is having a moment. That should probably be #Margate is having a moment. Suddenly all the cool kids are going to the beach, buying sticks of rock and instagramming "Scream if you Wanna go Faster" posters. The temptation is to turn on the hipsters and shoo them away but I presume it's this kind of attention that keeps small seaside towns going. It's also spreading to Whitstable, Hastings, Ramsgate and Southend-on-Sea.
It's easy to get caught up that people are simply chasing the party and going to exercise some sort of working class seaside voyeurism. I have my own problem with this. Had we just come to go back in time and live out some kind of retro seaside fantasy? Were we contributing to some DFL (Down from London) influx that would see overpriced coffee and too much litter? Was it all a bit macabre, taking pictures of old fairground rides and seagulls? Or had we just come because we like Grayson Perry and want to eat chips and look at the sea.
Growing up in The North means I have no experience of Margate, its history or its charms but if you had to draw a postcard of Britain by Sea, you would draw Margate. It's sort of like it's been laid on, as if you ordered the seaside with union jack flags, a clean perfectly tanned beach and "Kiss Me Quick" hats. I was disappointed there wasn't a man with a knotted hanky rolling up his suit trousers to have a paddle. It's also got enough of a grimy edge to make it lived in and not too shiny. A smashed up phone box and a dirty puddle in front of the old Dreamland entrance remind you this is a town that's seen things and got some personality.
We walked along the front towards the gallery and stopped for tea, coffee and the best tiffin I've ever had in my life. The lady in the cafe told us about a performance she was hosting later by a group called "The Roaring Fannies" so she had "three fatsuits hanging up in the kitchen." In one of the second hand shops we looked over the old mirrors and champagne glasses and the skeleton of a 19th Century lady, who the chap in the shop called "Jackie in the Box". I lusted after a man's lobster tail from Mannings Seafood and pointlessly tried to terrorise the seagulls away from our fish n chips.
This is far from a review of Provincial Punk as I already knew I'd love it. There are 80s pictures I had never seen of Grayson Perry dressed as Claire (his female alter ego) as well as the very early pots or films he'd made. There is a time lapse video of him making one of the pots that no one could take their eyes off and in the final room are three of his tapestries. It's a brilliant introduction to his work as well as a good solid retrospect. I would probably say don't go on a packed Saturday afternoon but that's true of most exhibitions.
After a pint on the Margate Harbour Arm we started to head back to the station. I have to admit we'd dismissed Dreamland as probably a tired old amusement arcade but, shallow as I am, it was the lettering on someone's Dreamland Emporium paper carrier bag that intrigued me.
Dreamland has had a £30 million overhaul headed up by Wayne Hemingway, the chap behind Red or Dead. I fell upon the tea towels, mugs and notepads in the Emporium before we went through to see the milkshake bar, shiny arcade games, photo booths and brilliant old dancehall ceiling leading on to the theme park. Mike Skinner is DJing the Roller Disco this weekend and there's still The Ballroom and Hall by the Sea bits to come. The whole thing has been done so brilliantly you feel sad you don't live next door and could hang out there every Saturday afternoon. I almost stamped when we had to leave.
The Dreamland flyer says "we salute supporters and urge you to tell your friends, family and everyone you meet to visit Dreamland Margate and become part of the resurgence of a seaside icon and a great town, Margate."
On the train home I used #Margate on Instagram, not to include myself in some cool discussion but because I had a really good time. The people are lovely and the seafront and little squares and shops are as well. It's a gorgeous day out and I want to go back. I won't feel guilty either because going to #Margate has got to be better than not going at all.