Thursday, 29 December 2011

Marvellous Margate?

Margate is one of those places that never seems to shake off its rather tacky image of a down-at-heel seaside town with its fair share of amusement arcades, 'kiss-me-quick' hats and peeling paint. As you pass the once fashionable Lido and the countless boarded up shops and grotty bedsits with their filthy nylon curtains and ugly double-glazed units of the greying plastic variety, it's not particularly hard to see why. But if you half close your eyes and look beyond the years of filth and neglect, you can just make out a town of grand Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian proportions. For this indeed was once a fashionable resort for the wealthy residents of London's middle classes. The golden age of the railways brought families with their maids and housekeepers to Margate in their droves. The wealthy bought themselves summer retreats here, and no expense was spared.

Friends of ours have, almost 130 years later, decided to move from London to buy one of these grand properties as a permanent home. Margate may desperately need a makeover, but if you are prepared to see its potential, property here is astonishing value for money. Our friends now live in a majestic Victorian home built in 1890 with incredibly high ceilings and much of the original features like panelling, architraves, ceiling roses and fireplaces all intact. When fitting period chandeliers to the downstairs ceiling, our friends discovered the original wires for bell-pulls that were employed by its very first occupants to summon their servants.

The house boasts five large bedrooms. The master bedroom is enormous and includes a large bathroom-en-suite. And even the rooms on the third floor have ceilings far higher than you'd expect.

I didn't get to see the cellar, but I'm reliably informed by my wife that it's large enough to house a reasonably sized gym - our friends' next project.

The house came with a quality fitted kitchen incorporating an impressive double stove and gigantic American fridge, as well as a separate utility room - all for the price of a one bedroom basement flat in Kentish Town, North London with just about enough room to swing a small cat.

Now that Tracy Emin has opened the lovely Turner Gallery - the town's one cultural claim to fame, one wonders how long it'll be before hordes of Londoners up sticks and seek affordable splendour in this much neglected neck of the woods.

Alex Pearl is author of Sleeping with the Blackbirds 

Friday, 16 September 2011

In Memoriam - 18 Feb, 2010

At times like this, it’s always difficult to know quite where to start. How to attempt in a short space of time to try and sum up an extraordinary life.

Well, while looking for a notebook to jot my thoughts I inadvertently knocked a box of children's chess pieces off one of our book shelves. And as the pieces flew every which way and the lid fell to the floor, the answer lay there staring me in the face. Because in the corner of the broken hinged lid my eye fell upon the spidery handwriting of a child. In clear pencil the words were quite legible. They read: A. M.Pearl, Avondale Road, Liverpool.

Dad would probably have been no more than ten years of age when he left his mark on the lid. And it’s touching that a piece of his childhood should manifest itself in our children's world of board games two generations later.

One of eight children, he was brought up in Liverpool’s poorest back streets and had no formal education to speak of. Indeed, I remember him telling me that some of his teachers were the poor wretched souls who had seen action in the trenches of the first world war and were still suffering the effects of shell shock. But despite the obvious hardships, he never spoke a bad word about his childhood and bore no grudges over the very obvious lack of opportunities that presented themselves. Indeed, his memories of childhood were always recounted with great affection. One gets a sense that any shortfalls in material possessions were more than made up for by a loving family environment. And I guess it was these formative years that helped shape those qualities that we remember him for. His modesty, generosity of spirit, selflessness and desire to help others. These were traits that certainly carried his name.

He will always remain in my memory as a remarkable husband to our dear mother – caring for her right up until he went into the home three weeks ago; an incredibly supportive father to his two sons; a loving grandpa to his four grandchildren who he adored; and a cherished friend to so many. And today as we remember him for his generosity, wisdom and good humour, I’m comforted by the thought that these qualities will undoubtedly live on. Because in no small way, he left his mark on all of us.

Alex Pearl is author of Sleeping with the Blackbirds