The town that just… really really likes Dickens
When I was about eleven, I had a strange obsession with frogs. They were everywhere. If something could have a frog on it, then it would – frog clothing, frog jewellery, frog posters. You name it, I had it.
‘Holly,’ I can hear you cry, ‘that is a very queer thing to say.* Why are you telling us this?’
I need you to see my parallel. The way I loved frogs is the way that Rochester loves Charles Dickens.
I understand pride. Dickens is one of the most well-known writers in English history, and I can see that you might wish to celebrate the man – perhaps a couple of times a year at his date of birth and date of death; maybe the anniversary of his books, once in a while.
But no. For Rochester, that won’t stand.
Walking down Rochester High Street, there is no way for you to ignore the fact that Dickens loved it. It’s sort of shoved in your face. You feel a little bit like you’re running through the street whilst a Victorian-obsessed mob throws Great Expectations or Nicholas Nickleby at you and screams “GOD BLESS US, EVERYONE.” Perhaps I am being overly cruel in my description, but I simply cannot understand why this town is obsessed with an author who was neither born there nor died there. I saw at least five eateries named after Dickens characters, not to mention the countless other knick-knack shops and book stores. The tourist information hall is covered with murals of his characters. You cannot get away.
Rochester just really, really likes Dickens.
I know it sounds as if I’m slagging Rochester off a bit. Really, my animosity should be towards Dickens, an author I could never stand. The city itself is really very sweet. With its old-fashioned buildings and bunting hanging between roofs, there’s a sort of quaint element to the whole High Street that is quite comforting. Rochester is mostly inhabited by small boutique shops or independent businesses with the odd Costa thrown in. You really get a sense of togetherness from it – a feeling that through solidarity, the little businesses will always beat the big brands.
Getting lost in a place like it is frighteningly easy, and soon, it was time to eat. Tucked away between two shops is Peggotty’s Parlour, a small café with only a single door leading up to it. There’s only eight tables in the whole place, but here, the phrase ‘size doesn’t matter’ really defends its corner. Thick, tasty sandwiches – featuring a sprinkling of salad to make you feel like it’s healthy – fresh bread, and cake which I would honestly kill for. **
I could have eaten a whole bucketful of the salted caramel and apple-cake they gave me, but alas, I still had to find my lighter.
A few shops and one scarf I begged off my mum later, I realised I had to lower my expectations. I was a little bit disappointed with Rochester for not supplying me with an interesting lighter – honestly, knowing Rochester, I felt like there would be one with Charles Dickens’ smug face slapped on it. Instead, I had to settle for a crimson one thrown at me across a counter by a less-than-enthusiastic corner shop employee.
Still, the lighter was a very lovely colour, and it sort of went well with my shoes. (Had it only been a brighter day I might have gotten a better picture of that.)
Bidding goodbye to Rochester with only a short stop on the way to nip into an art shop, I left feeling content. If you ever get a chance to spend an afternoon in Rochester, I highly recommend it – who knows, maybe this piece of writing has given you GREAT EXPECTATIONS.
*Just so you know, everything I say is queer. I am queer.
** In fact, when I told my mum I wanted dessert, she replied “why do you think that we eat here?”