Margate

Margate has been a seaside resort for over 200 years, but like so many coastal towns these days, it’s pretty run down. Nevertheless I love the tackiness and nostalgia of the seaside, and when I was asked to go down for the soul festival last weekend on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year, I jumped at the chance.

The Margate Soul Festival consists of a deck full of DJs setting up in various locations in the old town and harbour. Chuck in an equal measure of dancing and drinking and things start to hot up. I know from previous experience that it all gets a bit hectic, and camera-wise I wanted to travel light. The Nikon F90x is always my first choice when things get a up bit close and personal, so that went in the back of the car.

As it turned out, what didn’t go in the back of the car was any 35mm film. Despite being a laid-back guy, this is the sort of thing that can almost annoy me. What I did find however was my Mamiya 645, left there from a trip out the day before. Now this really did annoy me, because I’m never normally so careless as to leave one of my precious cameras in the car overnight. The good news was that there was film with it. The bad news – just two rolls of medium format FP4. That’s a mere 30 frames at 645, not a great deal for a full day and night.

The only thing the F90 and the Mamiya have in common is the ability to kill someone with a single whack round the head. Other than that they are the complete antithesis of each other. Where the Nikon is fast and easy to handle, the Mamiya is heavy, ponderous, and the last camera you’d ever consider for in-your-face fast moving candid shots. So I thought about what I should do. Ration the film and take a few shots every hour? Take a load of stationary seascape shots? In the end I just decided to photograph the first 30 things that caught my eye, sling the camera back in the car and enjoy the rest of the day and evening. And that turned out to be the right thing to do. Although I try my best not to let my need to document get in the way of fun, sometimes it’s good to just not have the choice.

Mamiya 645 Pro TL / Ilford FP4 / Rodinal 1+99 60 minutes

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Dennis Wheatley

When I previously visited Brookwood Cemetery, I bumped in to an old guy who, like me, was wandering around the graves. We chatted for a while, and he told me that many years before he’d come across the gravestone of novelist Dennis Wheatley, but had never been able to find it since. I was skeptical. Before leaving home I’d scanned the cemetery website and seen no mention of him on the list of famous residents. I assumed the chap was mistaken, and besides, you do meet some strange people hanging about in graveyards. Which is probably exactly what he went home and told his wife 1.

As with so many things, I was of course wrong. Back home, a small amount of searching revealed that whilst he was cremated in Putney, his ashes are indeed buried in Brookwood. But what struck me was how little interest there appears to be in this. Wheatley was one of the world’s best-selling writers from the 1930s through to the 1960s, and his Gregory Sallust espionage and adventure books are reputed to have been the inspiration for Ian Flemming’s James Bond. Several of his occult novels were made in to movies, including Hammer’s incredibly successful 1968 production of The Devil Rides Out (which I’ve previously mentioned here).

The truth is that even when I was enjoying his books as a kid in the late 1970s, they were already rather dated. Wheatley’s characters inhabit a world of cravats and worcester suits, pink gins and martinis, and leather armchairs in wood-paneled gentlemen’s clubs. His villains are villainous simply by nature of being working class or (heaven forbid) being one of those Johnny Foreigner types. None of this mattered to me as a child of course. I doubt I even noticed. And even today I’m still able to enjoy his books with the knowledge that he was a product of his time. Context is everything. I was quite pleased to see recently that after years of being out of print, many of his books have now been reissued.

Of course, all of this was a good reason to go back and make another visit. Because hanging round graveyards is something I really need to find an excuse for.

1. [Following recent legislation, other gender combinations of spouses are now available. This is A Good Thing.]

Mamiya 645 Pro TL / Kodak Tri-X & Ilford FP4 / Developed in Rodinal 1+99 60 minutes

Memorial of Dennis Wheatley with my 1965 copy of To The Devil A Daughter (1953)


And again. This time remembering to switch off the double exposure lever on the Mamiya


Deliberate double exposure this time. The Mamiya has a little lever that when pushed up, disengages the wind on mechanism. When you crank the film advance it cocks the shutter but doesn’t move on the film, allowing as many multiple exposures as you like.