Yes, there’s spaces around the house I can work at. And yes, my house – like yours – also has delivery people, family members, animals, a fridge, a kettle, housework right in my face, a garden pleading for me to be out in it and lordie lord who knows how many other potential distractions. Pre-lockdown, we were a small group of sufferers but since Covid, the challenges of home working are well-known.
When I need to GSD I wash my face, get out of the gym shorts and head to town to hotdesk at Freedom Works, where I find a calm and productive environment. There’s a kettle there too, of course. (And free fruit, toast and cereals). But by the magic of performativity, once I’m in that shared space, my kettle trips are fewer. Tea made, I walk with energy back to the desk and get on with it. Interruptions only happen when I purposefully choose them: a word in the kitchen about what another space-user is working on; a run across to Sourdough cafe for broccoli salad and a Turkish coffee; a brisk walk to collect the dog and bring them in to be ‘office pup’ for an afternoon.
Back at the desk, the ambience nudges me to keep on working. When the guy sat opposite you is taking intense calls with a high-powered manager at a London borough about a new public health initiative and when the people up the corridor are huddled in a meeting about social media strategy for their NGO (yes, I eavesdrop and yes, so would you), then it’s hard to sit timewasting on Tik-Tok.
This year, I realised that I can work anywhere.
Yeah, I know. Late to the ‘remote working’ party. That’s Boomer socialisation for you – full of crap like ‘work hard, play hard’ and – what about this one – ‘cradle to grave’? Hohoho, we believed it, lived it, wrecked ourselves with it. We took the ‘working’ part of our working lives too seriously and neglected the life part. But lately, there’s been a culture shift and all that conditioning is out of the window.
Living at the seaside undoubtedly helped with my own process of undoing. All the years when I was commuting to London, every time I stepped off the train, I put on metaphorical flip-flops and beach shorts. The coast encourages us to remember our lived and embodied humanity and our small place in the greater global. Lovely.
The first remote work foray was a bold one – 6 weeks in Bordeaux. Gorgeous, but weird. Setting an alarm for 6.30, sitting indoors at a laptop for 9 hours while outside was all sunshine and vineyards. I’ll be sharing more soon about that trip and what I was doing.
A recent excursion was more modest. 4 days in Whitstable. I booked a hot-desk and a campsite and went off to work, cycling every morning down the steep hill to the seafront.
Growing up in Kent, Whitstable-and-Tankerton (we always called it) was most definitely not in our top ten of day-trip destinations. Flashy Margate or family-friendly Broadstairs drew us in. But I was interested to take a look at a southern coastal town that, like Worthing, and in a less spectacular way than Margate, has undergone big change.
You often have to leave home to understand and appreciate it.
Whitstable grabbed me as soon as I landed there: an amazing community centre with cafe, projects, and workspace. Immense nostalgia for St Paul’s and regret for what could have been, in that gorgeous town-centre space of ours, smacked me hard in the face as I moved around in the Umbrella community space. Those regretful feelings added a melancholic edge to my pleasure in the great food and ambience.
Moving outside, Whistable main drag is chock-full of tiny shopfronts. The design in one yelled at me and I stood, catapulted back to our little 1970s council house and the wallpaper in it.
Sending a photo of it to our family What’sApp, I asked my mum and sister-
Isn’t this familiar?
An explosion of emojis and exclamation marks –
Yes!!!! Didn’t we have that fabric in the front room curtains?
We did!! (Should we get it again?)
Whitstable felt comforting and familiar; welcoming; a high street that hadn’t undergone the flatten-it-and-rebuild process that altered the UK forever during the 1980s. The town appeared to have somehow catapulted straight from 1960s to the 2000s. Time felt woozy. Millenial nostalgia for the mid-century modern collided with memories of actual mid-century, when life really did feel modern, in a not-ironic way.
Then I saw a church wedding, with horse-drawn carriage and guests dressed to the nines. Heart-expanding.
I was loving on it. For an hour or two, I lived the fantasy of moving to Whitstable for the last part of my life: a return to Kentish birthplace but folding in that seaside vibe I’ve grown to love.
I gorged on buns
And drank coffee from a Huskee cup, made using recycled coffee husks.
The fantasy lasted until evening. The cracks showed up fast.
Many spaces I entered felt like they belonged mainly to original Whitstable region people or to incomers, not to a comfortable blend of both.
The seafront on Friday night was pure weirdness. Here, you could see ostentatiously busy and well-heeled Londoners, failing to enjoy themselves on their weekender or day trip while they sank beer, gin, and oysters and stayed glued close to the phone. You could hear them, too – they talked so very loudly, just in case you hadn’t realised how very busy and important they are. Hilarious. The seafront oyster shack was like a parody of itself. (After this, I can’t decide if WoBy on tour wants to go and do Margate or if it would break me).
I shot a photo of the beer list to a Worthing beer lover.
£8 a pint?? They responded. Yes, there was one beer on the list at that price.
Visitors all along the seafront were gulping down oysters like they were Viagra.
Over 4 days, I visited restaurants, bars, cafes, bakeries, shops, in my breaks from work at the hotdesk. By day 4, I could tell before even walking in what kind of place it was likely to be.
I found several times that, depending on whether people looked at my clothes (bougie casual) or listened to my voice (Kent working class), they would be more or less friendly towards me.
I kept hearing about DFLs – Down From London people. There are two sides to that story.
I sat in my favourite pub and listened. (Whitstable is small and my tastes predictable – it only took 2 days to locate a favourite pub).
“You can live here 30 years and they still call you a DFL”, one guy remarked bitterly and sadly, still an outsider after all that time.
“There’s houses on the seafront that cost a million quid! That’s mental!” a Whitstable-born bloke told me, laughing with about the same quantity of bitterness and sorrow as first guy.
What would it feel like to settle in a place that could not welcome you in? What does being priced out of your own home town feel like?
A lovely thesis from James Kennell at University of Greenwich digs into the Thanet district’s story of gentrification. I remember my conversations with Graeme and Sophie of Independent Worthing and how we came to feel that, so far, Worthing makes room for everybody and everything without too much abrasiveness. Worthing has some notes of genuine bottom-up regeneration and not simple brute redevelopment in its particular blend of change. We don’t have an outpost of a posh London gallery here; instead, we’ve got Creative Waves, a community-based arts project. Lifelong locals and incomers alike have joined in campaigns for affordable housing and against unsustainable costly projects. We’ve all been watching Teville Gate closely. We’ve witnessed a change in the council that could, if the council’s listening policies keep up, help blend everybody’s concerns into policies that will mitigate social division and nurture integration and thriving for everybody.
I came home to Worthing from Whitstable feeling grateful. Grateful that our town is managing the balancing act with a degree of grace, goodwill and care. Grateful that I can confidently feel at home here and call this place home. Grateful that nobody names me as OFH (over from Hove) or IFK (in from Kent).
Uk is a place of mobility and movement – always has been. It’s to the credit of Worthing that people here seem to recognise that.