So we returned to the beam of the lighthouse, sat under its protection in the midnight black, rain and wind lashing our backs. We drank sweet tea from a flask, and when I looked up into the sky, above us, a giant shadow loomed, of the lighthouse made twice as tall, like a huge black dalek, come to take us into the massive night sky.
Next day, Dungeness looked different, less like you were walking into a scene from The Wicker Man. But the first thing I spotted as we drove in was a shack next to a tumble down house with a straggly porch and, bizarrely, a plush bright red velvet sofa sitting on it. The shack had been enirely built from scrap pieces of wood and old window frames. It even had a ripped out car seat on its roof. Upon closer, surreptitious inspection, it became apparent that someone was sleeping in here, if not living, its sleeping quarters dotted with a little rug and strange paintings, a plastic ET figure.
And so, after a flaccid baked potato in the Railway Cafe (yes, there is a steam train that runs through the centre of this place to the surrounding villages, and it hoots its horn through the night like something out of The Hound Of The Baskervilles), we ventured to the Old lighthouse, which IS open to the public for the princely sum of three pounds.
Wow. I finally get to go in a lighthouse. And it is just as magical and beautiful and romantic as I have imagined. Climbing the green metal spiral staircase, eventually brings you to an amazing room of mirrored glass.
Here is the room with shutters of green and red glass in the centre which would have reflected light all across the sea and coastline to direct the sailors and let them know when it was safe to continue ahead, red for stop, green for go.
And then up past the different levels, to the room at the top where the keeper would have sat and done his work, and beyond that, the glass room of light at the very top, where the beam of the lighthouse would have circulated.
Out on the outer rim of the lighthouse, you can see the whole distance in 360 degree rotation, of the spread of Dungeness. For the first time that weekend the sun had come out (I had started to think the sun would never reach a place such as Dungeness), and the landscape looked almost like an ordinary seaside village, if you didn't look too carefully at the weird houses that looked like they had been plonked down randomly by some drunken god, and if you didn't look in the direction of the Power Station.
I have been to Dungeness once before, on a similarly gloomy day (it must be visited in the gloom). It had a huge effect on me. I remember crouching over a dead fish on the beach and staring out at a solitary fishing boat that looked like it was about to capsize in the wind and crying hot tears because I had never before experienced this kind of extreme beauty. I had never before felt the terror of nature like this, the sea, not as a mysterious and beautiful immensity of power that was wild but that still felt like some kind of lover, but as an alien force that kills, that throws up ripped apart things, like ships and crabs legs and beetles with spines coming out of their backs. That smashes and is the keeper of waste, of the untold story, of darkness and rotting and those places in oneself that one is terrified to go. The disgusting. The unwanted. The dishevelled. That desperate shingle of radioactive brain cells.
I'd never thought a nuclear power station could look so beautiful. A dark, awesome spectre. That I could be entranced by the black threads of pylons. And there stood Derek Jarman's house and garden, in the midst of all this, in black and yellow, the poetry of John Donne, nailed, each letter individually, onto its wooden side.
This is what I wrote, the first time I was here, the first time I experienced this vision of insight into living and death that lay within this stretch of Kent coastline, between The Pilot Inn and the far tip of the shore.
" Sea-side awry. Fishes beating on the wind trodden sand, eyes dead, fin soft and small. Eyes looking through me. Pregnant.
The tide's coming in.
One fishing boat, three men. Rocks its way back towards shore, blown each way like a plastic bottle. It looks comic. It rocks and rocks and rocks looking comic and frightening. Fish on the sand dune.
Shed black and strutted, opening door, melting, dissolving, falling out.
Fish on the sand dune.
Its eye looks beyond me.
I don't understand much of this.
A view from a dying man's living room.
So many cables.
I crouched, couldn't stop the sobs, standing over the fish, watching the rocking boat, the tide is coming in now.
Railway track leads down to the sea, I balance on it and I'm crying, and the tide is coming in and I am in art itself, this can't be real, England flags at half mast, the trucks outside look American. I could be anywhere but England. I fell in love again with death and life. The sea offers up discard...fishermen...it's harder to fish now with alll the radiation..all left...like a holocaust..hanging in time...dead fish watching me, boat rocking
like its gonna tip
like its gonna go down
Ghosts everywhere. Union Jack. Broken sheds. Cast away. Left.
Place of the forgotten.
No absolutes here. Beauty is complicated factors and mutability.
It is the dead fish's eye looking through me.
It is a rocking boat.
It is terrifying comedy."