Monday, October 22, 2012

Tales from the UK VOL VI: Dartford

(In the spirit of generosity, I am providing for your reading pleasure the sixth chapter of my UK memoir. You'll have to buy the bleedin' book if you want the previous four. . .)

From the Archives. . .

           My first glimpse of the town of Dartford, in the county of Kent was of an empty train station in the middle of the night. I was alone on the train, all the passengers having gotten off at earlier stops. As if they knew something I didn’t. There was not a soul in sight, nor a lit window anywhere. There were no taxis in the car park, no city maps posted, no streets signs or visible addresses. There were no coffee shops or petrol stations where one might have asked for directions, or at least bought a map. For all I could tell, the city was dead.

            “ Oh dear,” I thought. “ This town and I aren’t going to get along at all.”

            So how’d I get here you ask? Well, let me take you back a couple months.

            In our last episode, our young protagonist (c’est moi) found himself enmeshed in the sea weed of British bureaucracy and dragged under the raging waters of unemployment. At this point, he called up the agency responsible for his employment (though not, apparently, for his lack thereoff), and reminded them in no uncertain terms that he had signed a contract which guaranteed full time work which he expected them to honour and didn’t gave a damn if they hadn’t checked with their government first.  

              Well,” said the nice young lady on the phone, terribly embarrassed.  “ Here’s what we can do for you. . .”

            And they sent me to Dartford, in the county of Kent, where my Canadian police check would be recognized.  Let me tell you about Dartford:

            Dartford is a hole. A dump. A wasteland. A blight on the landscape, a scab on the countryside, a stinking, steaming, fly-infested heap of a town decorating Kent county like a turd on a Persian rug. As picturesque as Chernobyl, as culturally stimulating as Abu-Gaib, as welcoming as a venus flytrap, Dartford is the nadir, the bottom of the barrel, the amputated gangrenous stump of the English urban landscape. I hated every pockmarked pebble of it, and I was stuck there for the better part of two months. 

            It’s the sort of place that makes it clear from the outset that it doesn’t want you there.  It’s the kind of place where street lamps go out as you approach, where streets aren’t named and buildings aren’t numbered. Where bovine drivers shout at you from their rust bucket cars. Where the streets are paved with cigarette butts, the lawns seeded with Styrofoam containers, and the river is filled with shopping carts.  The buses are never on time and the shops are never open. There is not an inch of Dartford that does not exude ugliness and inefficiency.

            Dartford strikes me as a place that just couldn’t adapt to the modern era. That suffered all the debilitating effects of technology, but none of its benefits. The little cobblestone streets are crammed with traffic now, and the historical church that dominates the downtown core accordingly looks like it spent the last twenty years inside an exhaust pipe. The air reeks of exhaust, asphalt, and the Galaxo-Smith Kline plant up the road. What greenery exists looks like it was bred on a triffid farm, and mainly serves to hide junkies and football hooligans from view. There is a central park area that looks like it would rather be somewhere else.

            If the plaques on the pubs are to be believed, Dartford has quite a history behind it. Henry V and Bloody Mary were said to pass through (they didn’t stay long), and it is reportedly the birthplace of Mick Jagger (which would explain “Sympathy for the Devil”). The guitarist for Bruce Dickinson’s first band also supposedly came from here, though it has in no way improved the town’s Metal scene. Dartford was the site of a major tax revolt in the twelfth century, and it has been revolting ever since. The leader of the revolt was a disgruntled peasant named Wat Tyler, who, like Henry and Mary, didn’t actually come from Dartford, but was only passing through.

Tyler now has a pub/inn named after him where I stayed for my second night in Dartford – the first was at a place called the Campanile. Here, I met an old war veteran who kept ordering me drinks then running away when the bill came, his son, who couldn’t say much besides “Nah, yer no Canadian!”, and the only other person in the UK I’ve met so far who knew who Noddy Holder was (I must not be trying hard enough). In the morning, I found a dead mouse in my room that I could have sworn was not there when I checked in.

The next night I went back to the Campanile.

            Returning to Wycombe that weekend was like dying in Ypres and waking up in Elysium. Wycombe! Sweet Wycombe! All is forgiven! Is that the attar of roses I smell? Is it just me or does the rain taste like Shiraz? Even my neighbour’s bloody wind chimes which kept me up all night when I first moved in sounded like a choir of angels singing the Hallelujah chorus. Wycombe, High Wycombe! Let’s never fight again. . .

NEXT EPISODE: Gypsy Roads, or Steve vs Bathroom Sink.

1 comment:

  1. I have never visited Dartford. Having read this, I never will.