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Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Hard Boiled Sweets

Southend on Sea: that jewel on the Essex coast; that mecca for millions of Eastenders; the reason why the summer holiday was invented.

For the missus mention Southend and she is transported to hot summer Sundays, early rises and soggy egg and tomato sandwiches, stewed tea and boiled over car radiators. In the early1960's a car trip to Southend was an adventure. Saluting RAC patrolmen on British made motor bikes; endless traffic jams as the masses poured onto the roads heading for the sandy beaches, toffee apples and fair rides.

That's how it should have been. More often than not, it was a blast of the wind off the North Sea, pinned behind the groyne as the sand co mingled with the sandwiches and tea cakes and floated on the scum of  vacuum flask tea.

So I said to "her in doors": "How about a trip to Southend this Saturday?" Her face lit up like the Blackpool illuminations. "Southend, I love Southend, I love the sea; brings back so many happy memories of Dad and Mum and Dad's driving. I reckon Monty spent less time planning the logistics of the Desert Campaign than my Dad did in organising a day trip to the seaside. What fun."

So we set off early last Saturday. "Bugger, driving into the sun" It was a glorious morning.

The reason I was going to Southend was not to revisit old memories - my sea-side days were spent at home in Brighton ( well, Hove actually). I was attending the quarterly meeting of the Essex Branch of the Eastern England region of our national allotment association. These meetings take place all over Essex.

The last one I went to was in the middle of the county, miles from anywhere. It was one of the few hot, summer's day last year. Ideally the local pub,cheek by jowl with the allotment club house, was having a real ale festival. Hot dogs, burgers, rock bands and dolly birds. I had a pint and then drove home.

The journey was trouble free - none of the angst of latter years with leaking sumps, blown cylinder heads and fading brakes. Southend has grown, it seemed an age from the outskirts to the centre where I dropped off the missus. I then reset my satnav and was guided to the meeting venue.

A lovely allotment designed for the mentally ill and handicapped. An ideal meeting place for us then. We're a sorry bunch those who attend such meetings. We spend much of our time potting about, digging, weeding, drinking endless cups of tea. By the end of a long hot summer most of us have the look and texture of well tanned leather. In the long winter months we spend hours staring out of the window, tapping the thermometer in the hope that we can get that cold front to shift.

There we were about 20 of us average age late 60's and 3 women. Our hosts have provided hot drinks and biscuits and at 10:30 we sat down to go through the agenda. We hear about the latest machinations at the association's headquarters somewhere in the Midlands. Learn that a few officials have given up in frustration. Collectively lament the hideous weather visited on us and the lateness of the growing season. "Well, I haven't got anything in the ground, we're still waterlogged..."You see we sit at the bottom of the North Downs and the rain just flows down and settles in my allotment patch. I'd be better breedin' fish!" We'd report the goings on at our allotment sites - very little as it happens - thanks to the weather. But we're all optimistic now the sun's out. "Lovely day, if this weather's here tomorrow I might thinkin' about puttin' my 'tats in. Mind you everything else is a month behind, but it'll soon catch up."

The date and venue for the next meeting agreed - another allotment site somewhere in deepest Essex in July - and we leave and head back home. Except me I head for the town centre to pick up the wife. We had sort of planned to stay in Southend and have lunch at a lovely fish restuarant which overlooked the Fairground and the beach. I headed for the sea front reckoning to park the car and then meet up with the missus. Unfortunately, the lovely weather has brought everyone out. The place was packed, the roads chockablock and the car parks full to bursting. I drove in and out of three. So I phoned the wife and I arranged to pick her up outside Primark.

"How was your day?" I asked as she clambered in "Wonderful, I walked to Shoeburyness. Such fun..the houses are really smart there and the sea was so clean and clear. They have a Blue Flag!" As my wife was talking the video of Black's 1987 "Wonderful Life" was playing behind my eyes. "It's a bit crowded, shall we find somewhere out of town to eat?" So we headed back through the tidy, well kept streets of Westcliff.

We stopped for lunch at Orsett, a commuter village not far from the A13 and the big smoke. What is it about Essex women, big, blond and blousy with a laugh that grates cheese. At the bar was a middle-aged man with a gut and a woman of indeterminate vintage knocking back the booze. Her dress clung to her body like a limpet. I thought/we thought we know why they're getting lubricated. But we were wrong. After another large glass of Chardonnay she left with the guy for the local golf course. No doubt to play a few holes in the bunkers.

Now that the floor-show had finished we left and in no time saw the heights of Canary Wharf  and the East End calling us back home.


Nota Bene said...

I hear that in some places people have to wait years to get an allotment...I think we should all be required to have one...a return to being connected to the land would do the national soul a power of good..and your description of Southend trips old an new conjures up some marvellous images...lovely!

Anonymous said...

After reading that I have cancelled the villa in Marbella and block booked a B+B down Southend.

Steve said...

Ah. Essex. My ex was from Essex. I miss her bunkers too.

Marginalia said...

Dear BN, thanks.

Dear Anon, 'er at No 9 does a lovely fry up.

Dear Steve, so you holed out.

Jo Jo said...

I have many happy memories of frolicking in "Sarfend" with my bro and having much fun with the local talent. We are both too busy for that now

Anonymous said...

An old farmer wrote to his son in prison. "This year I won't be able to plant potatoes because I can't dig the ground, I know if you were here you would help me." The son wrote back, "Dad don't think of digging the ground because that's where I buried the ...guns." The prison guards read the letter and the very next day the whole ground was dug by police looking for guns but nothing was found. The next day the son wrote again, "Now plant your potatoes Dad, it's the best I could do from here!"

Anonymous said...

Still stuck on the hard shoulder on the road into London? Or maybe you have run off with one of those Essex ladies?!

Marginalia said...

Dear JoJo, nice to hear from you. I hope you and bro' were kind and considerate to the Essex dolls. No doubt they were their usual welcoming selves.

Dear Anon (1). A very nice tale.

Dear Anon (2). Or as the Spice Girls would say has 2 become 1? I was given the cold shoulder by an Essex lady.