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White Cliffs

This tag is associated with 8 posts

A Home on the Rock

To tell the history of the Cliffs is to tell the history of our country, one that stretches back for centuries and reminds us that we are a nation of immigrants who are brought together by nothing more than shared land and the history that goes with it. We can and should build an open, inclusive, generous and hospitable patriotism, and we can lay the foundation stone for it on the White Cliffs of Dover.

Don’t let the barbarians hand over the Cliffs

It’s a bitter irony that, just as the National Trust is successfully raising funds to buy a section of the White Cliffs of Dover for the benefit of the nation, the Government could be about to sanction the sale of another stretch right next to it. Dover Harbour Board, a non-profit independent statutory body which has run the docks since 1606, wants to privatise the docks, along with a section of the cliffs that form part of their backdrop. The buyer would be a wholly owned subsidiary of the board, a company limited by shares. A decision is due in the next few weeks…

Long live homo cambiens

As the closest point between France and England, the White Cliffs Country has been a centre of trade for centuries. The lorries loading and unloading from the ferries are the latest incarnation of a long tradition. From the outside, it can just look like stuff moving soullessly, a cog in the capitalist machine. And trade can indeed become no more than that, with customer scanning their own goods at self-service checkouts or ordering goods online. The dangers of this can perhaps be seen in what happens when city traders deal with nothing more than numbers on a screen, with no connection to the people or things behind them. Homo cambiens – exchanging man, tis not the same as homo economicus: a single-minded maximiser of financial gain, and we should not allow him to become so.

Can you really see France from here?

The channel should be a two-way street. After waving the cliffs goodbye we should turn round and look towards the coast of a country that is remarkably close but still very different, knowing that we can truly enjoy la différence for a few hours and return to the home we love soon enough. It is often remarked that you can see France from the White Cliffs of Dover. It’s just a pity more people don’t look a little closer.

Slowly shifting sands

There are numerous reminders along this coast of the continuities of human nature and the flux of nature. In that respect, the Cliffs are a kind of lesson in time. They remind us that nothing lasts forever, but that although our individual lives are all to short, there are scales by which human society and nature move more slowly. We are bit characters in just one chapter of a much longer book, a book written into the chalk at Dover.

Welcomes and warnings

An information panel outside the White Cliffs Visitor Centre describes the landmark as “A symbol of steadfastness, safety and home”. I think that’s a pretty good encapsulation of how they are normally viewed. But within this is an apparent paradox: they are seen as both a comforting symbol of home and a fierce symbol of defiance and defence. They wrap one arm around us in a warm embrace and raise the other with an intimidating fist…

Lost in the fog

Nature herself set the tone for today perfectly. When I rose early to be at the South Foreland Lighthouse at 7:20 for a Radio Four interview, the cliffs themselves were hardly to be seen, obscured by a succession of thick rolling clouds of fog. Their invisibility turned out to be remarkably apt, for in what followed the real cliffs were never really called into action at all. Today, they existed almost entirely in representations and as symbols…

A perfect symbol for a new kind of patriotism

The white cliffs of Dover have a very special place in the collective imagination, even for those who have never seen them. Nat Burton, who wrote Vera Lynn’s famous song about the cliffs, was an American who had never crossed the Atlantic, let alone the Channel. We should harness their emotive and symbolic power, as we should with many other features of our coast and countryside, to help build a sense of togetherness and nationhood…