On one of the many charity shops in Faversham, Kent, I am trying to find a jumper, because for some reason – stupidity? Blind optimism? – I chose not to pack my fleece when I left Brighton. The vast majority of clothes for sale are for women, and although I am confident in my masculinity I am not sure I could pull off something pink and faintly glittery. There is a pathetic rack of men’s clothes, and on it some hoodies, but they all have writing on the front, lots of writing and symbols, and presumably have been passed on to the shop because the 12-year-olds they once contained have grown. I find one without writing, or without much writing, on the front. It is charcoal grey and restrained, and costs £6. I wear it on the walk back to my temporary home. Only the next day do I notice that it has “LEARN TO CODE” in very big letters on the back.
And such is Faversham, where old and new walk side by side… no, that’s rubbish. Old is everywhere, and the young walk through it like ghosts. I was asked how Faversham was treating me by my friend Erika, and I replied that the place was both incredibly beautiful and incredibly boring. I thought for a bit, and added, “I had a girlfriend like that once. It’s an English type.” (Actually, no one that beautiful could bore me at all, even when her lips moved as she read the Daily Mail. She is now an estate agent, and earns about fifty times as much as I do.)
There’s not that much to do in Faversham, except browse the charity shops and go to the pub. I’ve seen the youths hanging around outside Morrisons after school, looking pale and bored, smoking cigarettes with uncertain defiance. They can’t be older than 12. “I started when I was younger than you,” I think of saying as I pass, but decide against it, for several reasons.
Well, it has second-hand bookshops: two. That’s good. There are also two butcher’s. That is also good. Do you know how hard it is to find a butcher’s in Brighton? It’s hard. There is, basically, one, and it’s a bit out of the way. This means you are roughly three hundred times more likely to find a place dedicated to puncturing your flesh than you are to find a place dedicated to selling flesh.
The place is not, if I put my ear to the ground, as Brexity as you might think, even though most people here, it seems, are over 60, white, and not visibly radical. I’ve seen one ex-hippy with flowing grey hair and combat trousers; and someone who looked very much like him standing up in one of the large bins behind the flat. I heard him say something so I turned and said “Hello?”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” he replied angrily. “What are you looking at me for? Just because I’m standing in a bin?” Well, I was only trying to be polite, but I must admit that one of the main reasons I was looking at him was because he was standing in a bin. He had had the air of someone who was doing something meaningful and necessary, as if he were going to tidy its contents.
I have seen a few non-white people here, although they tend to be young. Also, I have discovered the shop where they sell the New Statesman, although they only get two copies a week and I was too late to get last week’s. (If you’re reading this in Faversham: hello!) I have seen a sign in a window asking for a People’s Vote, and it is unmolested. I then saw a sign in another shop calling for the cancellation of a solar power project at nearby Graveney, and thought, “Oh, that’s not so good”.
But then later, while sitting in the Anchor, in the newly established monthly freesheet the Faversham Eye I read a long and informative piece about the project, pointing out the dangers of Lithium-ion (Li-on)batteries, particularly when there are lots of them together.
The Graveney project is going to be the largest Battery Energy Storage System ever built. If a fire starts (and Li-ion batteries do catch fire, far more often than you’d like) then it will be very difficult to put out, and release huge amounts of toxic gas and chemicals that you do not want to be within 50 miles of. Even if everything goes smoothly, there’s still the loss of a wildlife habitat, a leisure amenity, and unexplored archeological goodies to consider.
Anyway, the pubs. I went for a drink in a couple of them with H—, a fellow hack who has just moved here, and who spotted me in the street from his car. The Bear I strongly recommend – its Shepherd Neame, the local beer, is extremely well kept. We also tried one of the micropubs and that was good, but we were still the youngest people in there by a decade. Later, I tell my youngest, a mathematician, about my “LEARN TO CODE” hoodie.
“Just,” he replies, “when I thought you couldn’t get any cooler.” Wretched child. I’ll show him. I’ll learn to code.
This article appears in the 16 Oct 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Syria’s forever war