Today, when I walk through the town, I don’t recognize it.
Tattoo shops, nail parlours and To Let signs have replaced the bakers, butchers and greengrocers of my youth.
A brightly-lit mall has landed among the Dickensian shop-fronts, squatting among them like an alien spaceship. In the High Street a plaque commemorates ‘improvements to the town’.
Facing Central Avenue, the statue of a bargeman stands proudly at the wheel of his vessel; beside him, a dog whose bronze back has turned gold, burnished by children’s hands like the statue of a well-loved saint. The bargeman stares ahead, cheerful, confident. But the Creek is behind him. Where is he steering?
On the road to Canterbury, there’s a sign to the Barge Museum. But it’s been whited out. The museum burned down. Arson.
The town I knew is imploding.
A year after the mill was demolished, our local newspaper closed.
The Crimean War, brick-makers’ lock-outs, bargemen’s disputes and the spectacular crash of an enemy airplane in World War I, its three occupants falling to their deaths, one shattering his head against a brick wall: all were reported by The East Kent Gazette.
Our newspaper ran for 150 years. But modern regulation proved fatal. A failed takeover and the Gazette slipped out of sight.
The paper is gone. The presses are silent. Our story is ended.
Photograph: Traditional pawn shop sign, Sittingbourne High Street