I don't think I've ever been to Margate before and, despite warnings from neighbours who said I must be mad, I set off on the train a few days ago to see the new Turner Contemporary gallery.
Turner used to travel down by paddle-steamer from London, which sounds much more fun, to stay with the seaside landlady who kept a warm bed for him. He enjoyed Margate's brash vulgarity, its pubs and eel-and-pie shops, as well as its sunsets.
I knew it was run-down but I still wasn't prepared for the depressed unloveliness of Margate today, for the derelict high-rise that welcomes as you come out of the station, for a town that can't even be bothered to put up a signpost to its new £17m gallery.
The opening exhibition is very sparse and minimal - and at first I wished that they'd opened with more of a fanfare. But once I'd shaken off the blighted amusement arcades and local youth discussing the latest knifing (overheard along the dreary promenade), I found myself smitten by the lovely light and space of the gallery. And although Margate needs an awful lot of regeneration, there were signs ... an old bank turned into a 5* charity bookshop, some shops worth mooching around in the old town. I hope it works for them because some people are clearly trying very hard to put the soul back into a town that seemed to be dying of shame.
You wouldn't think it was only 10 minutes on the train from lovely, cheerful Broadstairs with its rock shops and Punch and Judy. Where I enjoyed a knickerbocker glory in an ice-cream parlour with a fountain that looked as if it should have been trickling with pink lemonade or champagne.