Sunday, March 04, 2007

Seaside Fun

If there is a more depressing rail journey in the world other than the one on a wet and miserable day through the outer reaches of East London followed by the mudflats of Essex, I'd like to hear about it. Mind you, I would have to go and see for myself since, frankly, I wouldn't have thought it possible.
My destination was Southend. Leiff Erickson, on finding a piece of land consisting largely of rock, snow and ice, in an attempt to encourage settlers, named it Greenland, thereby perpetrating the first real estate fraud in history.
The good burghers of Southend followed suit by appending "on Sea" to their Victorian town. They were fortunate inasmuch as most of the clientele came by the newly built railway from the East End of London and were thus unlikely to have seen much in the way of sea to be able to draw any unfortunate parallels.
And Southend tried, they really did. They built the longest pier in the world in an attempt to find some sea, without much luck but giving you the unique opportunity to walk a mile over gooey mud without getting your shoes dirty.
Winkles, whelks and cockles love the place and feel right at home here. Not coming in that category, I was expecting the worst and the name of the hotel into which I had been booked did nothing to cheer me. "The Camelia" sounded to me very much in the style of "Bide a Wee," "Dun Roamin" and similar names that the proprietors of the little Bed and Breakfast places like to indulge in.
But the hotel stood out like a diamond in a pile of coke, to paraphrase P.G. Wodehouse. And all at once, Southend took on an altogether different hue. Some dirty looking water came sloshing up over the mud, some seagulls, drafted in to give it the appearance of a seaside town, squawked away, the rain cheesed it and the sun came out.
I attribute this improvement entirely to the management of the hotel and I am happy to be able to say that I am actually looking forward to my next visit.
I was there researching for a book and also to see if it was true what I had heard of Essex girls. The first I accomplished easily enough but for the second I can only say that, from a brief visual and aural assessment, I suspect that all the rumours are true.
The other invaluable piece of information I gathered from my observation during the train ride was that the inhabitants have adopted a uniquely simple way of dealing with their rubbish. They dump it in the railway cutting.
But I do recommend "The Camelia." As the old music hall song went:
"Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside."
Especially when the tide's in.


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