Whitstable literature: Playing Possum by Kevin Davey

Another literary figure to watch

I’ve just finished reading Playing Possum by Kevin Davey. It is a new novel, set in Whitstable.

It is an intriguing book, but also quite disorientating as the story keeps fracturing across time and genre in a way that makes it difficult to know where you are.

thomas_stearns_eliot_by_lady_ottoline_morrell_28193429
“The central character is an American poet, Thomas Stern, who astute readers will quickly recognise as T.S. Eliot”

I suspect this is deliberate. The central character is an American poet, Thomas Stern, who astute readers will quickly recognise as T.S. Eliot.

Eliot’s most famous poem, The Waste Land, was supposed to have been written in a shelter in Margate, and it is to Margate that our fictional character is travelling before his journey is cut short and he finds himself in Whitstable instead.

The year is 1922, the same year The Waste Land was published.

That poem famously made use of overheard conversations and found quotations, and there is a fair scattering of this in Playing Possum too. Part of the pleasure, particularly for students of Eliot, will be in tracing the references.

The novel reads like a series of clues to a story you have to construct in your own head and is full of the most astonishing and vivid writing. It’s almost as if the author is channelling the spirit of the dead directly onto the page, as if he’s fashioned a time-telescope through which we can look in on the scene all those years ago.

Most of the action takes place between the Duke of Cumberland and the Bear and Key and many of the events really did take place. So there’s a film, The Head of the Family, which was shot in Whitstable in the early 20s, and a political rally under a gas lamp between the two hotels, in the place known as the Cross, the forgotten omphalos of the town.

The novel also cuts to scenes taking place in the present, with drunken conversations of the sort you would recognise in any pub.

Our town is currently marking its place on the literary map. Not only do we have Julie Wassmer writing detective novels set in Whitstable, and a thriving literary festival, but there are an ever growing number of writers and artists working here as well.

Kevin Davey is definitely one to watch.

You can buy the book here.

*************

From The Whitstable Gazette, 29/06/2017

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Whitstable People: Geoff Squires

Double glazing

I am putting this story up in memory of Geoff Squires of Coventry and Whitstable.

He was an unmistakable character, known as “double-glazing” because of his extra thick glasses. I’m sure there are many people in the Royal Naval Reserve and in the Labour Club who will remember him with affection.

The reason I knew him is that we were both Midlanders who came to Whitstable at about the same time. Geoff was from Coventry, while I am from Birmingham.

Geoff and I had one or two adventures together. Specifically, we went tobacco smuggling once.

Well, I say that, but it was Geoff doing the actual smuggling. I was just along for the ride.

But it was a hilarious day. Geoff had decided to look inconspicuous, so he’d put on a loud pinstripe suit and had a briefcase for his contraband. He was incapable of being inconspicuous, all five foot of him, with those bottle-bottom glasses of his, his head of wiry black hair like a brillo pad and his tendency to over act when he was nervous.

He told me that he’d been caught several times and I wasn’t surprised. The first time he’d been let off. The next time they’d given him a warning. The third time – despite the fact he had several hundred packets of mixed tobacco with him – he tried to claim it was for his own consumption.

“You see I don’t like any particular brand, so I mix it all up and then freeze it,” he’d argued.

“Freeze it! You can’t freeze tobacco,” the customs officer had said.

“You can freeze anything,” he said.

But they said they didn’t believe it was for his own consumption, and they’d confiscated it, so he’d lost all his money that time.

Fortunately the day we went they weren’t bothering to search anyone so he got away with it and came back with several hundred pouches of tobacco to sell around the pubs in Whitstable.

Energy

I can say all of this now, because no one can hurt Geoff any more. He’s finally immune to the arbitrariness of the law.

A lot of people used to laugh at Geoff because of those glasses of his, but I know the problems with his eyes were more than just cosmetic. He had to have numerous operations on them, and there were times when he was in great pain because of it. But he bore all of this – the indignity and the pain – with a certain fortitude and good humour, which never left him.

One of the most memorable things about him was his rendition of Wild Thing by the Troggs on Karaoke night. He didn’t have the best voice in the world, but he made up for it by the sheer energy of his performance, twitching his legs, clicking his fingers and waving his arms about, throwing his whole body into a sort of ecstatic fit of crazed untamed expressiveness.

He was the Wild Thing all right. He will be missed.

Royal Naval Reserve

28-30 High Street
Whitstable
Kent
CT5 1BQ
Telephone: 01227-272068

Whitstable Moan: The Sign Outside The Old Neptune Pub

marine
Marine Terrace

The Old Neptune

For the second year running this sign has appeared outside the Old Neptune pub in Whitstable. It basically tells drinkers not to sit on the landward side of the seawall with their drinks, but to sit on the beach instead.

It is only drinkers from the Neptune who are being asked not to sit on the seawall. The people who live on Marine Terrace often congregate on the seawall, and can regularly be seen with bottles of wine and glasses in their hands.

Also, anyone can go and buy some beer or a bottle of wine from Threshers on the High Street and sit on the seawall and drink if they like.

It is patrons of that great pub, the Old Neptune, who are being picked on here. Who by I wonder?

I don’t think we have to look far to figure that one out.

One of the things that has always annoyed me is people who buy property near pubs and who then spend inordinate amounts of time and energy complaining to the pub about the noise.

The Neptune isn’t the only pub to have been subject to this sort of pressure.

Listen, everyone: if you don’t like the noise of a pub, don’t move next door to one. It’s that simple. Go and buy a house somewhere else.

There ought to be a law that enshrines the right of public establishments to remain as they are.

Marine Terrace

Of course, in the case of the Old Neptune, there are other things to be taken into consideration. Like money for instance. It’s on Marine Terrace. We are looking at some of the most valuable and desirable property in North Kent here.

I just checked it out on the net. House prices on Marine Terrace can be anywhere up to £525,000. That’s half a million quid for what is basically a 2 bedroom weekend cottage.

I suspect that a number of people living on Marine Terrace own more than one property.

I wonder if the value of these properties has anything to do with the pressure being applied on the Neptune to keep drinkers off the sea wall?

The annoying thing is that people have been sitting on that seawall with drinks supplied by the pub for as long as the pub has been there. Since some time in the late Bronze Age, I suspect. Certainly for as long as I‘ve been in Whitstable, which feels almost that long at times.

I remember the first time I came down the beach and saw the pub there, with people sitting out on the wall, laughing and carousing, with drinks in their hands. “What a great place for a pub,” I thought.

I think if you did an archaeological dig of the area around the Neptune you would find evidence of several ancient cultures gathering there to do just what the current drinkers do in this spot: drinking and watching the sunset.

The Old Neptune is known around the world. It has its problems, of course. Personally I hate having to drink out of plastic glasses, though I can understand the reasoning behind this. Sometimes the service is a little slow, and it can get too crowded at time.

But – with a view like that – how can anyone complain?

Whitstable People: Max Denning

Loud

This is in memory of my friend Max Denning, former landlord of the East Kent pub, who died in hospital a few years back after a short illness. He was living in Greece.

Many people in Whitstable will remember him. Indeed, having met him it, you would be hard-put to forget him. He was as loud, as boisterous, as up-front a personality as you can imagine.

Well I say “loud”. When I first knew him he was loud. When he rang the bell and bellowed “last orders!” you could hear it all the way to Sheppey. But after he developed cancer and underwent throat surgery, he went from Whitstable’s loudest landlord to its quietest overnight. From a roar to a croaky whisper.

He began his career in the pub trade as the Chairman of the Whitstable Labour Club, where I worked alongside him for a while. After that he took up residency in a pub in another part of the country, before returning to Whitstable and to the East Kent. The pub is currently undergoing refurbishment, but it’s previous layout was entirely down to Max, I believe. For many years after he left it still bore the mark of his personality.

He was fiercely left-wing, bordering on communist, with a great sense of history. He would have made a successful trade union leader. He could quote Karl Marx like a proper leftie preacher, so it’s ironic that in his last days he spent his time gambling on the stock market and making a lot of money. He was very good at it.

But he was also an astute observer of the small details of life. Running a pub, for him, was like living inside his own private soap-opera, with beer on tap.

Bounce

east-kent
The East Kent, Whitstable, Max’s old pub. For many years it still bore the mark of his personality

I have several memories of him. I can clearly see him now, one afternoon in the bar of the East Kent, very drunk, having a belly fight with one of the customers. They were bloated with drink, and were charging at each other, shirts off, to balloon off the others’ distended belly, roaring with laughter with every bounce.

That was Max. It was a wonder he wasn’t banned from Shepherd Neame pubs rather than being the landlord of one of them. But he was a great charmer and could sell anything to anyone. The bosses at Shepherd Neame were as bowled over by his charm as the rest of us.

Most of all I remember him, glass in hand, raising it in greeting. He was a larger than life character, as forceful as he was generous. The world is made smaller by his loss.

© 2016 Whitstable Views

 

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