Seb Reilly: An end and a beginning

Endings and beginnings Photo Brian Whitehead

We have almost reached the point where the old calendar comes down and a new one is put up in its place. 2017 is no more: this is its end. Much like Janus, the Roman god after whom next month is named, now is the time to reflect on the year past whilst simultaneously looking forward to the one ahead.

Throughout 2017, the opening line of the poem ‘Planet Thanet’ by local poet Sarah Tait has been stuck in my head:

“Island life, Island times”

Thanet is very much an island, and this year these words have been very reflective of the local area, I feel. Having seen Sarah perform this poem, I still hear those four words in her voice, with all the subtle inflections she includes in a mere six syllables. It is a mantra that, for me, encapsulates 2017.

Credit CC BY 4.0

After all, this year we discovered that our little Isle was in fact the landing point of Julius Caesar’s fleet. Having always assumed the fleet landed down the coast towards Dover, this is a historical finding of great magnitude, and fits with the account of Caesar’s invasion – Book IV of ‘Commentaries on the Gallic War’ – reportedly written by his own hand:

“[Caesar] reached Britain with the first squadron of ships, about the fourth hour of the day, and there saw the forces of the enemy drawn up in arms on all the hills. The nature of the place was this: the sea was confined by mountains so close to it that a dart could be thrown from their summit upon the shore. Considering this by no means a fit place for disembarking … he advanced about seven miles from that place, and stationed his fleet over against an open and level shore.”

That open and level shore, it turns out, is Ebbsfleet, Pegwell Bay. According to Caesar’s writing, upon landing he encountered “barbarians” (Thanet folk) who attacked using cavalry and charioteers, “a class of warriors of whom it is their practice to make great use in their battles,” and basically ruined the attempted landing.

As Caesar’s men were unfamiliar with the area and not used to fighting in the shallows on a beach, the Britons “spurred on their horses, and attacked [Caesar’s men] while embarrassed; many surrounded a few, others threw their weapons upon [Caesar’s] collected forces on their exposed flank.”

The Romans conquer Britain By Joseph Martin Kronheim via Wikimedia Commons

Changing tactic, Caesar sent his boats full of soldiers crashing into the beach, effectively charging the Thanet barbarians who were, up until that point, winning. This bought the Romans enough time to get onto dry ground, allowing them to attack in their typically efficient manner. Although the Britons retreated, Caesar’s men “could not pursue them very far, because the horse[s] had not been able to maintain their course at sea and reach the island. This alone was wanting to Caesar’s accustomed success.”

In other words, although Caesar won, we put up a good fight here in Thanet, and rightly so.

Along with discovering even more historical links in Thanet, this year has brought a lot of current positives, not least the launch of this very publication, along with the editor being awarded Digital Journalist of the Year at the Kent Press and Broadcast Awards. For any news website that award would be impressive, but to achieve it within the inaugural year is an absolute triumph. The quality of the reporting – along with the reputation of the editor – has attracted many writers to contribute to the Isle of Thanet News, and I am grateful and honoured to be counted amongst them.

Bleak House Photo Dan Thomsett

Speaking of writers, 2017 has been the year of literary heroes, meaning a lot of local focus on historical authors and poets. Along with being able to add Julius Caesar to the ever-growing canon of Thanet-linked writers, the likes of Charles Dickens and TS Eliot have been celebrated, and organisations like BroadstairsLit and Thanet Writers have shed light on the area’s writing past.

Photo AjayW Photos

Current writers – including Inspirations Writing Group and the Isle of Thanet News’ own Matthew Munson – have released new books, furthering the area’s literary legacy. Local authors and poets have continued to come together to support and promote one another, which is a wonderful thing to be part of. As a writer myself, being able to be part of such a thriving local community has invigorated my own creativity extensively. I love living in Thanet; being by the sea is where I belong.

There have been plenty of events this year as well, including a fair amount celebrating the written and spoken word. Literary festivals like the Margate Bookie have brought internationally-acclaimed authors to the area, adding to the already overflowing creative output of Thanet. There is so much art, music, writing and culture here, the Isle feels positively alive.

The General Election count

Despite all the successes of 2017, it cannot be ignored that this year has been, for lack of a better word, divisive. From controversial elections to important issues facing endless debate instead of action, there has been plenty to argue about. Looking forward to 2018, my hope is that we can come together for the greater good of the area as a whole, doing what is right for the community instead of what benefits the individual.

Even though Julius Caesar arrived two thousand and so years ago, the Romans still influence the way we live, not least in the naming of several elements of our calendar. Nonetheless, we proved to Caesar that in Thanet we give as good as we get, but also that we can come to agreements and negotiate instead of just endlessly battling.

Photo Visit England

We may have our quirks and strange local customs, as everywhere does, but ultimately we are a community. We are privileged to live here and share Thanet with others.

Thanet is a strange place full of history, culture and tradition, yet also progressive and ever-changing. That is a juxtaposition I will continue to embrace and one that, in my opinion, we should all celebrate. Here’s to 2018, and the wonder it will bring us on our bright Isle: Island life, Island times.