Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Dungeness 2


I couldn't quite believe it when I stumbled across the picture on the internet last night. 'Lighthouse For sale'. And there it was, the Old Lighthouse of Dungeness, for sale for the meagre price of £150,000. Dammit, if it hadn't been snapped up, and 'this property is no longer available' printed across its peak.

This is the same lighthouse I climbed on Sunday with B. We stood in the gale force winds at the very top, looking out over the bleak landscape and mused with him about how it would be to own such a magnificent beast of a place.

"You could throw some great parties here" he considered.

The only kind of parties I could imagine B throwing were ones he could immediately depart from, even if he were the owner of such a cool pad. No, he would be slinking off as the champagne corks popped, up to the very top, alone, watching out to sea or maybe spotting passing gulls in the darkness with his binoculars, pointing out star constellations.

I've wanted to be a lighthouse keeper ever since I can remember. Preferably somewhere off the coast of Scotland or Wales, wild and rugged, only reachable by a wobbly, dangerous rope bridge. I imagined the copious amounts of tea I would drink, alone and startled awake through to dawn. I imagined sailors I would save and the shipwrecks I would salvage from days gone by, pieces washed up on the shore. I imagined the joy of absolute solitude, and the beam of light that I would direct all around the stretch of coast, keeping all sea farers safe for another night.

Another fantasy went like this. One night whilst rambling out on my own, I would stumble across a lighthouse via the dangerous wobbly rope bridge. I'd pull at the clunky door and find to my surprise and delight that it opened. I'd then climb the tower of steps up to the top and find the Old Lighthouse Keeper sitting there. We'd sit together through the night, and he'd regale me with exciting tales of sea and shore. Occasionally he'd get too drunk (for he like a tipple), and I'd be forced to take over, hence saving numerous sailors from certain death had I not been there.

There is something mad about lighthouses, something deranged. And something so beautiful, I can only compare it to the cracked glacier or the uncrossed desert. Yet it's man made, the last outpost of humanity in an inhuman natural world. The Lighthouse Keeper is the last person to stand between this world and that.

I heard recently that before lighthouses became automatic, they employed three men at a time to work in them. Apparently, at first they were manned only by two men, but in one occasion a Keeper died up there (or was murdered by the other Keeper) and so the other was left to man it alone. Since there was no communication with the outside world for months at a time, he sat, alone, and slowly went insane. So apparently they changed it so that lighthouses had three men at a time, just in case one man dies or loses his mind.

So when B and I found the 'new' working lighthouse at Dungeness at nearly midnight on Saturday evening, that stands only a few hundred metres from the old disused one, we were excited. A beautiful thing. Its beauty is a perfect balance of masculine and feminine, towering upwards in spirals, a curved thing of wonder yet tall and erect, reaching high and proud upwards in the sky. I wanted to break in.

We were both convinced that if we did indeed hop over the fence, pull the door, find that it had been mistakenly left open, that what we would find when we reached the top would be my very own flat, supernaturally transported from Hove through time and space to Dungeness. For there appeared to be a curtain in each of the lighthouse windows that was coloured Brighton Rock pink, and behind that, a wall of duck egg blue, both colours just like I have in my living room. I imagined tiny white polka dots on the curtains and an ageing Keeper in a smoking jacket and pipe up there, listening to Parisien cafe music and doing the Times crossword. He would smile as we stumbled in and offer us Port.

But we didn't break in, instead crossing the heavy shingle to the shoreline, where in the wind and darkness, the waves looked huge and ghostly. They looked as though they were moving backwards rather than towards the shore. Strange and chilling.


christmas_cats said...

"i want to marry a lighthouse keeper and keep [her] company. i want to marry a lighthouse keeper and live by the side of the sea"

Jo said...

Great post. You're right. I must go. That railway track is really doing it for me.


Anonymous said...

Your creative writing exercise is offensive to Dungeness residents. Imagine, if you can, some curious people coming to your street and making sweeping judgements about your neighbours. What if they came to the conclusion that a murderer lived in your house? AND posted it on the web for the world to see! When you next visit beautiful Dungeness please read the notice at the gate. This notice politely reminds visitors to respect the people who live and work here all year round in harmony with this wonderful landscape.

clare said...

Dear Anonymous,

thankyou for your comment, and I am sorry that my post has offended you, it was certainly not my intention to be disrespectful.

However, to point out, I think you have taken what I have written very literally. I can see why, in one sense, because I am giving, in part, a description of Dungeness, including some facts about it.

However, (if you read other pieces I have written on this blog, you will see this), the way I write is very much from my own impression as a poet, and so when I write I rarely am writing in a way that deals wholly with facts and literal truths, but rather with my own feelings, interpretations, and psychic responses to places and events, where truth and fiction often merge. If I say "only.. murderers..or the crazy..can live here", of course I am not implying that psychopaths literally occupy the houses of Dungeness. It is my way of trying to describe how the feel of the place, to me, as an individual outsider, was so highly unusual, with an exceptional, brooding, mysterious energy to it. This was my impression, and I am not trying to state some fact.

I wrote that piece because I was so impressed and amazed by Dungeness as a place when I went there, and what I wrote about it was, in my eyes, absolute praise for it. I have been there more than once, and it is one of my most favourite places in the world, and whenever I have visited it, I certainly feel I respect it and the people who dwell there.

However, I can see how you could have taken my words as offensive or disrespectful, and so, once again, I apologise, I can see you are justifiably very proud of your home and your landscape.