I am standing in a Victorian-era promenade shelter in Margate, a two-hour train ride from London in the district of Thanet in north-eastern Kent, looking out over the grey-green water, hugging my winter coat around me, and trying to imagine the iron pier that used to stretch into the bay here.
It was destroyed by a storm in 1978 and has never been rebuilt. I have come to Margate to find out why Thanet was once considered a UKIP stronghold and why the party’s prospects here and elsewhere have faded almost to vanishing point since.
T. S. Eliot would have known the old pier well. In 1921, Eliot applied for leave from Lloyd’s of London on the grounds that he was suffering a nervous breakdown, and then hightailed it to the the coast with his equally brittle bride, Vivienne, whose own cocktail of issues had largely helped to shake his. Eliot planned to benefit from the curative properties of seawater and perhaps to do a little writing. We know from his letters that there was one place in particular he liked to do the latter: the “shelter on the front”. The Waste Land was published the following year.
A shorter version of this piece was published in The Saturday Paper as ‘Waiting in Dreamland’.