Monday, 4 July 2016
Clacton and Southend have always merged in my mind: sea side resorts where London's great unwashed spent the limited summer hols they had in the middle of the last century. Except Clacton is miles further east and north than Southend.
I'd been to Southend a few times. It's pretty run down, seen better days and all that, but does have a majestic pier which is worth a trip in itself. I'd imagined Clacton was similar. Standed by the tide of Brits abandoning unpredictable summers and "Kiss Me Quick" hats for the sun,sand and sangria of Spain in the late '60's and '70's.
It doesn't help that it's almost impossible to get to these places. There is just one road the poor put upon A12. It hiccups its way through East London into the Essex countryside - at most 2 extremely badly maintained lanes. We experienced a major blockage last Thursday when we set off for the north Essex coast.
After being stuck in a queue for ages at Gant's Hill ( I always see it as Gnat's Hill) we managed to turn around and head up the M11 onto the M25 to pick up the A12 a few miles and half hour later from where we'd been jammed up.
The rest of the journey was straightforward - by passing all the big C's - Chelmsford and Colchester and worrying that Harwick and Felixstowe seemed to be far too close for comfort - we were almost in Holland for heaven's sake. We got to Clacton, after an unplanned detour to the delightful village/small town of St Osyth - the sat nav lady misdirecting the missus.
I now realise that I have seen this part of the coast line before: from the North Sea. Thirty years ago I went sailing from Bradwell on Sea on the River Blackwater and past Clacton, Frinton on Sea and up the River Alde to Aldeburgh - where we nearly lost our boat - but that's a tale for another day.
Last week we were heading to the Clacton-on- Sea to buy a house. Not for us, but for neighbours of ours. They were fed up of living in a smallish house with a large family and even more pets and Clacton has an abundance of imposing large houses. We had three lined up.
The first appointment was at 2 o'clock. A large 7 bedroomed property built in the early 1920's - so it was well constructed with ample front and back gardens in a quiet road off the promanade in the smart side of the town.
An elderly couple occupied the place. They'd been there for over 20 years and their family of 5 sons had moved out years ago. Illness and accidents now made the house impossible to manage and they were looking to downsize - with no stairs.
We loved the house and its owners. The house was delightful, old fashioned and rather dated but clearly a much loved home. One of the seven bedrooms had been given over to a large model railway which the husband had constructed. There in the room it was being dismantled and packed away: so pitiful. The house had been on the market for over a year and they weren't getting any younger. They were delightful, warm and keen to please.
Our friends were impressed. It was big enough to meet all their requirements: the only problem was whether it would suit an elderly person who couldn't climb stairs.
The next viewing was at 3 pm, just along the sea front and we had half an hour before then so we headed for the local beach cafe.
The shoreline was deserted; not a soul in sight. In the large cafe were just two customers and the owners. The walls were stuffed with sea side paraphernalia. Buckets and spades, water wings, blow up sharks, Stingrays, games, fancy and novelty items. Desparately, and failing to evoke all the fun of the seaside - We ordered fish and chips and sandwiches.
It had been a terrible summer the owners told us: there were loads more sea side stuff stored away - unsold. If it wasn't for the locals there'd be no business. We explained we were house hunting and expressed our surprise at the difficulty in selling houses in Clacton. That was quite easy to explain we were told. Most people who now move to the area are old; they don't want large storied properties , but easily maintained bungalows. They go in a jiffy: large family homes hang around.
As we were eating we noticed an elderly couple in swimming gear crabbing their way to the water's edge. When we left the cafe, they were bobbing up and down far out to sea.
We arrived at the second viewing: the house was empty. The estate agent turned up after we phoned. They needn't have bothered. The place was lifeless. The contrast between the first home could not have been greater. We had a quick look around and left. Not for our friends.
And so onto the third viewing. This was closer to the centre of Clacton in a very pleasant road again off the sea front. Another 1920's build but this time very much up to date. We were shown around by the woman of the house; in her late 40's. Her two eldest daughters had left home and with just the young son still at home she and her husband were looking for somewhere smaller.
The house was immaculate. You know the sort of place: you could move straight away and all you'd have to do is flush the loo. It was possibly too nice and tidy and it only had four bedrooms.
On the way home our neighbours discussed the pros and cons of the first and third house. Initially the last house was favourite: Clean, up to date, able to move in without any need to do very much. The first house would require quite a bit of love and attention and alteration. As London approached, however, the balance shifted. The elderly couple's home was just the right size, alterations could be made and it had such a lovely feel about it. It's location was great. Just far enough away from the centre but close enough not to be inconvenient and with a lovely wooded area just outside the front garden where the dogs could be exercised.
By the time we got back to Walthamstow, the first house was favourite, but there was a lot they had to think about.
Secretly we hoped they'd go for the lovely seven bedroomed place. We so wanted the elderly couple to be able to buy their bungalow.
Yesterday we learnt that our neighbours had put in an offer on the first house and it had been accepted. They are cash buyers so assuming the survey doesn't throw up any major blocks two families will be extremely happy.
Now I have a soft spot for Clacton-on-Sea.