kent


I
As we travel through the midlands, middle-aged couples eat baps from polythene sandwich bags. A pair of small girls perch opposite me, one just returned from the loo with her father. 'We went through a dark tunnel a minute ago, Jade', she says, and the other replies in delighted surprise, 'I went through one too'
Near Wembley, in the light mist, we pass a gable with PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD carefully printed in capitals. Perhaps we are descending into a Blakean city of corruption, yet the Virgin West-Coast Line feels rather quotidian, and London reassuringly cloudy. 
Changing trains, I pass a businessman eating sushi from a tray. A Eurostar waits. I am heading south.

Stratford International Alight Here For The Olympic Village could be Sangatte for all its cast concrete and fencing, but the Sortie/Exit signs timidly say it's no prison, and still just about in England. Ebbsfleet International is hardly more continental despite the foreignness of its surrounding trade-parks. Tesco and Bluewater Shopping Centre stand-in for local place names, until in the distance I recognise a sign for Tilbury and vaguely remember Queen Elizabeth once made a speech there. 
Rain spits horizontally across the window. Another tunnel. Any of these could take us under the channel and we'd emerge in France, blinking mildly, 'Did you go through that tunnel too?'




II






Wind whips our hair out sideways as we emerge at the top of the lighthouse. The tide is high, weather report U for Ugly, brackets, (Threatening). And over there is the lurking nuclear power station, unreeling its spool of pylons inland next to a steam-pleasure-railway.















Inside the lighthouse, we find a disco's red and green bulbs chilled to a glassy still.



                   



Here, anything can be a dwelling. Sign posts announce Fresh Bait. Lobster. Smokery. Free-Range Eggs For Sale. Fifth Quarter Mystical Gift Shop – Open. Angling Parties– Please Ring. Artist Studio and Gift Shop – Welcome. An old lady sleeps in her front porch. Pinned to a telephone pole, a plastic wallet ripples furiously and shreds itself. 



                 














































We press ourselves into the salt-wind and walk over desert plants with nuclear leaves, over pebbles, over rusty rails once laid for fishing-boats. Some of the huts betray the affluence of their owners – the cars outside, the paintwork, the patch of garden are all too tidy. Derek Jarman's house now falls into this category, whereas the living artist's hut near the lighthouse feels more authentic, in its drunken state.
Fishermen fling lines and retreat, coat-hoods up. A couple sit under a large umbrella. We pour tea from our thermos and survey this desert-on-sea. 
If the train really did tunnel us to France, this could be the Camargue, but only starving gulls are here. Looking inland, it could be America. White-trash shacks, territorial fences enclosing playgrounds for Caddy, Quentin and Luster, maybe.

 I can almost hear the crackle of an early radio transmission, and suddenly it's the 1970s, and a girl has appeared from under the umbrella, quite naked, leaping around with an orange flare. It is as if the power-station is emitting a tangerine billow. Then the scene blows away as fast as it came. 
































           



III

'Halloa! Here's a church! Let's go in! Halloa! Here's a couple of pairs of gloves! Let's put 'em on! Halloa! Let's have a wedding.'
So we do. Where the flowers appear on the earth, and the fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom, here in the Garden of England, atop a little hill, is a wedding. 
There are other places which are the world's end, some at the sea jaws beside moribund lighthouses, but now we are well inland and tucked into a bucolic history. This is the England that looks on tempests and is never shaken, Kent – canto – the island's rim. 

It is as foreign to me as the American midwest, yet as familiar too, in what I've seen and read and sung and dreamt. I leave, my head chattering with lines, like reels of fish spun in from the sea.