Sunday, November 20, 2005

Dymchurch-under-the-Wall

I am an economic migrant. I've been living in London since December 1988 - just a few weeks shy of 17 years. But for the first 24 years of my life I lived in a little village called Dymchurch.

Nice, you may be thinking! And nice it was too: 10,000 people packed in along 3 miles of coastline; countryside on the one side and a beach to die for on the other. And wind. Lots and lots and lots of wind. Dymchurch lies on the edge of the Romney Marshes in Kent - you'll already be aware of this if you've browsed some of my poetry. The Marshes don't share the local English climate mainly because they're flat and jut out into the English Channel. Instead we got a sort of continental climate, hot and sticky in the summer and cold and wet in the winter. And windy.

In fact some power generating company has just got planning permission to build a huge wind farm on the Marshes. They're going to need good capacitors, because they'll be generating power 360 days a year! I think the wind farm will nicely complement the nuclear power stations out at Dungeness (on the very tip of the Marshes). But lots of people are moaning because they say it'll destroy the beauty of the place and kill birds. Huh? It's Dungeness, for eff's sake! This is the place where Derek Jarman ran away to build his poxy garden (I let my dog shit in DJ's garden, once). And anyway, more birds will be killed by airplanes when Lydd Airport gets planning permission to expand (heh - another saga that's been going on for 40-odd years). And most of the seagulls have already abandoned the seaside for landfill sites.

Which brings me on to the point of this post. There are a few poems around that mention the Romney Marshes (though I think I'm the only person who's ever felt a need to write poems about Dymchurch). One in particular I've grown to loathe:

A Major Road for Romney Marsh
by U. A. Fanthorpe

It is a kingdom, a continent.
Nowhere is like it.
(Ripe for development)

It is salt, solitude, strangeness.
It is ditches, and windcurled sky.
It is sky over sky after sky.

(It wants hard shoulders, Happy Eaters,
Heavy breathing of HGVs)

It is obstinate hermit trees.
It is small, truculent churches
Huddling under the gale force.

(It wants WCs, Kwiksaves,
Artics, Ind Ests, Jnctns)

It is the Military Canal
Minding its peaceable business,
Between the Levels and the Marsh.

(It wants investing in roads,
Sgns syng T'DEN, F'STONE, C'BURY)

It is itself, and different.

(Nt fr lng. Nt fr lng.)


And to make this a fair use of U's copyrighted work, I'll comment on it by saying that:

1) this is a poem by a person who has only ever visited the Marshes, signposted (heh) for instance in her use of the singular "Marsh" - Romney Marsh is just a small bit of the Romney Marshes;

2) if she had done her homework the author would have found out that there is already a major road crossing the Romney Marshes - it's called the A259 South Coast Road and it is a very busy road with lots of heavy goods vehicles trundling to and from the Channel Ports;

3) local people in Dymchurch and other villages bisected by the A259 have been campaigning for bypasses for close on 90 years;

4) you wouldn't be so eager to dismiss the call for upgrading the road with bypasses if some of your friends and aquaintances had been killed or maimed on it; and

5) people who want to consign other people into quaint rustic prisons by denying them the right to the fruits of modern development just need to be laughed at. Loudly. Or maybe taken outside and slapped.

Oh yes, and the poem has no resonance whatsoever for a person who was born and raised on the Romney Marshes. "Truculent churches"? Ye Gods and little fishes! Postcard poetry tied to political rant. And they teach this in schools?

There's more to Dymchurch and the Romney Marshes than this poem, Ms Fanthorpe. I, for one, should know.

3 comments:

  1. I'll have you know that Dungeness has a very fine bird reserve, and that the shingle ecosystem there is extremely rare and supports several species of plant and insect found nowhere else in the UK.

    There's a hide down on the beach (or there used to be) which is built to overlook the output pipe for water used to cool the reactor, because terns and gulls go fishing in it.

    I love that kind of flat landscape.

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  2. I knew that post would rile you, Harry!

    Yes, Dungeness has a very special ecosystem. Did you know there's a little coral reef growing around the outlet pipe? That's all going to die once the power station closes. Climate change will do for the rest unless we find more sustainable energy sources.

    But I think it's sad that you place the preservation of a flat landscape over the economic prospects of local people who live there year round.

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  3. I don't. It depends on the specifics of the plans. I don't have a particular problem with wind farms. I'd be interested to know whether there's any good evidence that they *do* kill birds, actually. Similarly with the bypasses - it depends.

    Most of Britain's windswept outlying areas - Cornwall, Wales, Scotland - are lagging behind economically. They're also some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. I don't think it's outrageous to try and take that into consideration when we work out what to do with them. Part of the problem is that these arguments become so polarised.

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