Jeep Ahoy!

At this time of year one of the best free shows in Kent takes place at Dymchurch (no I’m not writing about the Day of Syn again, once is quite enough). What I’m referring to is the annual spectacle, ”Jeeps Ahoy!”.

The 4×4 is the vehicle of choice for many summer visitors to the village. Most are content with driving at lunatic speeds through the High Street in search of Kebabs or perhaps a Saveloy*,but essentially,  something deep fried. However, a minority choose to be a bit more adventurous and go “off-road.”

* Saveloy- Bright Red sausage-like “meat” product 

ImageA pair of Saveloys in their natural environment

Should you be lucky enough to spot a 4×4 on the beach at low tide, you will probably be party to a thankfully rare occurrence.   Each summer only one or two visitors are daft enough to venture out with their vehicles onto the sandy expanse that is St Mary’s Bay.

The sands at Dymchurch are beautiful and marvellously clean, due to our daily tide; they are also fairly soft and in a few places, distinctly dodgy to walk on. “Disrespecte ye Sea and ye Sandes at thy Perill”  as the ancient saying goes.  Some visitors to Dymchurch don’t seem to have much respect for anything much at all – it doesn’t occur to them that there are no vehicles on the beach for a reason. They imagine that the beach is a playground  to spin and cavort in their “motors”, to perform “handbrake turns” to make figures of eight, write rude words and to generally show off – they ignore all the warning signs.

Inevitably after a while, the wet, soft sand entraps their chunky tyres, they spin their wheels in a desperate bid to escape, they unload the wife and the kids and the Instant Barbeque, the 48 cans of Fosters, they start to panic. They reach for the iphone and search for an App. that will give them an answer to their problem. And then, despite the urgency of the situation, the whole event needs to be photographed for Facebook.

ImageJeep Ahoy!

But soon though the vehicle has sunk so much that only the bodywork is visible…..

However, there is a way out of all this. The Dymchurch Anglers Club owns a trusty old salt encrusted, David Brown tractor, the fishermen know the score, they are watching with interest and will offer a tow-out – for a price.  The tractor option is the last resort, I have heard rumours of 3 figure sums being demanded by the entrepreneurial men of the sea.  Often this offer by the fishermen is refused, the hapless vehicle owners still believe they can “sort it out” on their own.

The Tractor under normal usage

If they choose the latter option, the gas- guzzling “Chelsea Tractor” will, inevitably, meet its end, to be claimed by the rising tide. As sure as day follows night, its entirety will be flooded  with a fatal dose of salty Channel  water.

Some people will never learn.

Paul Nash and Claud Lovat Fraser

When Paul Nash and his wife Margaret first arrived to stay in Dymchurch, they were not welcomed by everyone.

The young and talented artist and designer Claud Lovat Fraser liked to holiday in Dymchurch. He feared that the arrival of a “celebrity” painter and his entourage would spoil the peaceful solitude of the little village.

The Frasers actively avoided the Nash’s, until by chance they met whilst walking on the seawall. The actress Athene Syler was strolling with the Nash’s and introduced the Frasers to them, despite Lovat’s attempts to avoid them (not easy to do on the narrow seawall.)  The Frasers were completely enchanted, Paul Nash had a charming manner and the two couples became firm friends.

ImageClaud Fraser Lovat

Fraser, like Nash, had come to Dymchurch to recover from the traumas of the 1914-18 war. Both had experienced terrible things and needed time to recuperate and to get their artistic lives back on track.

Lovat Fraser’ health had suffered badly,  he had been exposed to  inhaling gas in the trenches and like Nash, he was frail he also had a weak heart.

Sadly and unexpectedly, in June 1921 at Dymchurch, Fraser, who was a very gifted and promising artist, was taken seriously ill, with an intestinal blockage . He died shortly after surgery  at the Bevan Nursing Home in Sandgate.

ImageThe Chelsea Arts Ball by Lovat

His death was a great blow to Nash, who had become great friends with the young artist. Nash, himself had a serious relapse in his health shortly afterwards. The doctor diagnosed it as “War Strain”.  This was in part due to one day finding his father in a state of unconsciousness on the floor of the family home.  Nash, in turn, collapsed and was said to have spent a week in a comatose state. Happily for the artist he recovered and began work on a series of artworks based on Dymchurch seawall. These pictures were to become some of the most iconic images of 20th century British art.

Wendy Carrig and Dymchurch Players

Good photography can be really exciting and thought-provoking. I came across a set of portrait pictures by professional photographer Wendy Carrig,   you can see her work at   http://www.wendycarrig.co.uk/

Wendy has made portraits of the cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo, recently staged by The Dymchurch Players. You can see the full set at http://www.dymchurchplayers.co.uk/

The Players are a very good amateur dramatic group, their performances at the Village Hall nearly always sell out. Everyone agreed their latest show was their best yet.

Wendy photographed the entire cast. Her pictures, like all good art,  have depth and can work on different levels.

The pictures are of the characters from the well-loved and familiar TV show as performed by the Dymchurch Players.  ‘Allo ‘Allo is well-loved and very British, innuendo abounds, there’s also an element of slapstick.

The photos are interesting because they are of a real person dressed as a representation of someone from the play, they are “in character”,  what you see is two potential personalities in one. Although fictional, they are also real people, most of whom are well-known in the local community.

The colours are also altered so each picture has a wistful, nostalgic feel, like a faded portrait on the mantelpiece, showing your grandparents, transporting your thoughts and imagination back to the 1940’s.   So what we have are serious pictures of comedy characters. There’s pathos and to me a hint of melancholy.

Image

I was reminded of a famous painting by the French artist Antoine Watteau of a clown called Gilles, a comedy character looking isolated, pensive and slightly vulnerable, a feeling that is probably familiar to all actors at some time.

Image

“Gilles” by Antoine Watteau

Image

The Players will, by now, be turning their thoughts to their Christmas Pantomime. What remains of their previous show are Wendy Carrig’s  photographs, a permanent and moving reminder of a fantastic  production.

I’m hoping the pictures will eventually be exhibited locally,  where you can then see them, “ in the flesh” and form your own opinions!

Chips with Everything

Image

Chips,Chips,Chips….

Browsing through the Dymchurch Parish records the other day I discovered an ancient script written on vellum , I managed to read the slightly faded handwriting which states;

 ” ye chippes muste be consumede wythe every plattere of foode that is servede in this village.”

I have proof that this bye-law (possibly from Saxon times) is still upheld with great enthusiasm in modern day Dymchurch.  The other day I ordered a portion of chips and was asked by the girl who was serving “do you want chips with that?”, I did a double take and then remembered that I was in the deep fried potato capital of the South East. Until recently only Margate challenged our village for this title.  Recently though with the advent of the Turner Contemporary Gallery,  Margate (or “TracyTown” as it is now more commonly known)  is becoming a haven for foodies and prices are rising.  In Dymchurch it’s always, “pile it high sell it cheap” so greater quantities are sold, thus preserving the villages’ reputation.

Image

The “Eat More Chips” lorry

While I’m driving on the M20 I often see wagons with the edict, “Eat More Chips” emblazoned on the side in a big red script.   It’s funny but they always seem to turn off at the Dymchurch exit……

Anthropowhatsit……

At this time of the year the “World’s Smallest Public Railway” is at full steam ahead for the summer season. The 13 magnificent 1/3rd full size locomotives with names like “Northern Chief”, “Green Goddess” and “Black Prince” plough up and down the  13.5 mile line  from Hythe to Dungeness.

The Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, you can read all about them on their excellent website http://www.rhdr.org.uk/.   But what I want to talk about is Anthropomorphism, take a look around, it’s everywhere……

an·thro·po·mor·phism

Attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behaviour to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena

The Victorian painter Edwin Landseer enthralled his public and Queen Victoria, his number 1 Fan, with his charming renditions of animals in human situations.  Paintings such as “Trial by Jury”, “Dignity and Impudence” and, most famously “Monarch of the Glen” ( featured on the Dewars Whisky bottle) appealed to Victorian tastes, although now they are very much out of favour.

ImageBibendum – The Michelin Man

That doesn’t mean that today anthropomorphism is unfashionable, in fact we can’t resist it.  The Disney empire is based on animals in human guise Mickey Mouse, Goofy and so on.  The cartoon world abounds with it, advertisers love it, The Direct Line phone, Winston the Churchill Insurance Bulldog, Comparethemarket.com, meerkats   and so on.

One of my favourite anthropomorphic characters is the Michelin man – a stack of tyres as a cuddly human  – that shouldn’t work, but it does, he looks so friendly and trustworthy – for a pile of tyres….

Anyway, back to the little railway. Last week it was Thomas the Tank Engine Day at the RHDR.  Thomas’s “face” was attached to one of the regular locomotives. He’s great favourite and  it’s good to see that anthropomorphism is alive and thriving on the Romney Marsh.

Image
Thomas – He’s almost human!

Early Biker Visits Dymchurch

Bikers and seaside towns are inextricably linked, one very famous biker, T.E.Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) visited Dymchurch in 1922

Why did he choose Dymchurch….was it?

  1. To get his “fix” of sand, having been away from the desert for some time?
  2. To ride his Brough Superior SS100 motorbike along the seawall?
  3. To meet up with Paul Nash?

The answer is “1”….. only kidding, it was of course “3”.

Who would have thought, T.E Lawrence in Dymchurch? He was, however one of a long line of “celebs” who came to the village in the 1920’s. Lawrence was an admirer of Paul Nash and was the first person to buy one of the artists’ seawall paintings this was, “Coast Scene” 1922. Lawrence paid £150 for the picture, money which the hard-up artist found very welcome. Lawrence bought the painting to hang above his desk in the Colonial Office in London.

                        Lawrence on his beloved motorbike

Lawrence also commissioned Nash to contribute illustrations for his book “Pillars of Wisdom” The book was an account of his war experiences. Amazingly, Lawrence re-wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom three times; once “blind” after he lost the manuscript while changing trains at Reading railway station. His visits to see Nash at his rented home on Hythe Road, were no doubt to check the progress of these particular works.

Tragically, Lawrences’ motorbike was to be the end of him. At the age of 46, Lawrence was fatally injured in an accident on his motorcycle in Dorset, close to his cottage, Clouds Hill, near Wareham.

 

It’s a Syn!

This August Bank Holiday in Dymchurch is the bi-annual event known as “The Day of Syn” – no, it’s not in the slightest bit naughty (unfortunately). The Day of Syn  is an event based on the exploits of a  fictional character of the same name taken from the Doctor Syn books by Russell Thorndyke.

Image

Russell T bashes out another Syn story

Sybil and Russell Thorndyke lived intermittently in the village for quite a number of years and apparently Russell could often be seen in The Ship Inn. The Thorndykes met Paul Nash in Dymchurch and were a part of what was a thriving social scene in the village for artists, writers and theatrical people, who wanted to escape from London to the seaside.

At present a large proportion of the Dymchurch tourism “offer” (as they say) is based around the aforesaid Doctor and his storybook buddies. The Day of Syn has recently, for various reasons, suffered decline, becoming an excuse for alcoholic excess, mostly by the scores of South Londoners who choose to make the village their summer destination. The Syn Committee, are making a special effort this year and in a bold attempt to introduce a cultural thread to the day have organised an art competition in addition to their usual pageantry.  Additionally the Dymchurch Martello Tower in the centre of the village, will be opening over the weekend. The Napoleonic Tower is probably the only one in existence that is authentically restored to its original state. Well worth a visit.