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Today’s trip is to Clacton, Lindsey is driving us. It’s Halloween and grey and dank, the sky a trembling old lady, adrift and sobbing, goose-pimpled spindleshanks sprouting from dirty pop socks. And the ‘lost’ part of the Lost Promenade is uppermost in our minds, or at least in Tamsin’s mind, for earlier this month Tamsin has lost something big. A commonplace betrayal, a partner of 13 years who scared of dying, yet also living, confused sex with love and chose a slow wino decline and the breathless little girl act of another self-abusing self-deluder. Chose to lie and keep on lying. Chose the path most shallow. And left Tamsin to walk alone. But although nothing is constant apart from dogshit, pain and Friends reruns, the coast retains a protean permanence, and everybody knows that sea air is a cure-all.
So here we are in Clacton and Jolly Roger’s restaurant on the pier looks like a black silo. Tamsin can only see things through a sheet of scratched plastic, everything is blurred and distant. Controls are set to numb. Nhung and Lindsey try to rally her, but it’s hard.
What can a silly woman do in such circumstances but get her fortune told? And hope the gypsy will spin some comfort to wrap around like threadbare candlewick. Tamsin places her palms over the crystal ball, Gypsy Rosa Lee’s hands are on top and Tamsin can feel her pulse. What does Rosa Lee see? Travel connected to water (quite frankly a bit difficult to travel anywhere without crossing water, but as the Lost Prom are going on a cruise next year, we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt). A female friend betraying confidences. A new career, working with her hands (as she’s useless at anything practical, Tamsin can only assume that she will become a strangler, Hands of the Ripper-style). A face from the past, and the great revelation – Tamsin lets her heart rule her head. No shit. Tamsin’s stupid tears splash onto the gypsy’s liver-spotted hands. And as Tamsin picks up her bag to walk out of the door, Rosa shouts after her “Don’t be so soft!”. And this is absolutely true. But every person who has ever gone to a fortune teller on a seaside pier could be described that way. Tamsin asked Rosa Lee if she enjoyed her job. She has done it for 25 years. She finds it tiring.
There was an aquarium. It promised a shark. But we didn’t want to risk our pennies on what would probably be a disappointment, a haddock with a Dairy Lea triangle sellotaped on its back. However it was Halloween, so it would be churlish not to have a ride on the ghost train. Through the tunnel we clattered, past unconvincing tableaux of angry dogs and Norman Bates’ mum. The Lost Prom were giggling when suddenly a man in a gorilla suit ran up to us and started shaking our shoulders, yelling over and over “Why are you laughing? Why are you laughing?”. We pictured him being “discovered” for his job…a passing fairground impressario with a big cigar spots a local care in the community street shouter: “Boy, I’m gonna make you a star. Today Clacton Pier, tomorrow Coney Island”.
After shopping for temporary tattoos on the pier, we head to the town centre, and it’s like nearly all the other modern town centres we’ve visited – same shops, same dispirited shoppers, same architecture that can only be described as of the “Exeterian ring road” school, except this time there’s added fun – a BNP stall! Plum in the high street, nobody seemed that interested in talking to the racist twats, but nobody was challenging them either. Clacton started to look even less fun.
Lindsey was searching for a teapot. The charity shops weren’t very promising, then suddenly we found a shop that sold almost nothing but teapots. Novelty teapots in all shapes and sizes; cottages, gnomes, strawberries, nipple clamps, whatever teapot you could want, they had it. Except they wouldn’t sell any to us as the owner was out and hadn’t said how much to charge. Oh well. Lindsey did buy a slightly less exciting teapot and a cheese dish (to use as a butter dish) in another shop. And as the helpful lady behind the counter suggested it could also be used as a cake stand or a church collection dish. So that was nice.
Time for food and as Clacton is a destination favoured by Cockneys we decided to go to JD’s Pie ‘n’ Mash. Lipstick on the milk jug, Bobby Moore on the wall. The nice lady serving asked if we wanted gravy or ‘liquor’ with our food. ‘What’s liquor?’ we asked, so she spooned some out for us to try. It was green, leafy-looking and quite pleasant, so we liberally slopped it over our mash and tucked in. Towards the end of the meal, the lady came over and we got talking to her about the shop and its recipes. “So what exactly is in liquor?” asked Tamsin. “Oh, parsley” the lady answered, “Yes, I thought it tasted like parsley” said Tamsin, “And eel juice” continued the lady, devastatingly. Tamsin has been a vegetarian since she was 12. Lost her boyfriend, ate some eels.
So that was enough of Clacton; we decided to drive on to have a look at neighbouring Jaywick. And even through a haze of heartbreak and unhappiness, Jaywick is fascinating. A collection of chalets, huts and prefabs, all decorated differently and eccentrically and dumped on a beautiful white beach like a collection of Kinder toys littering a sheepskin rug. Little houses are decorated with leprechauns, mosaics and clocks and come in every colour. It is ‘Pimp My Shack’.
In its individuality and otherness, Jaywick is a bit like Dungeness. But in Dungeness, the residents are called artists, whilst in Jaywick, they are labelled as criminals. Jaywick is one of the most deprived areas in the South East. Everywhere you look there are vicious looking dogs and people who look like they’re in witness protection. The pub is called the Never Say Die. Sweet Tina’s Curtains, with its “macrame, pelmets, swags and flounces” sells dreams of glamour amidst boarded up casinos. Jaywick has one of the most lovely beaches we’ve seen so far and is bordered on its other side by green fields. Although a flood-zone, it’s a beauty spot. I wonder how long its current residents have left before they’re turfed out and the land is sold to develop new ‘beachside living’ luxury apartments? If it wasn’t for the current recession, the clocks on the chalet would all be pointing to midnight.
Finally onto Mersea Island, and the mist is coming down in earnest now. It hovers low over the fields, making eerie shapes, and visibility is poor, but Nhung is still able to spot a semi-deflated heart-shaped balloon lying abandoned in a field. We stop at a pub, the Peladon Rose, for a wee and a pudding. We put on our temporary tattoos in the toilets. Lindsey’s goes on well, Nhung’s is OK, Tamsin did it wrong and it didn’t go on at all. Lost her boyfriend, ate some eels, shit tattoo. We hear a rumour that driving may be difficult as the fog is now very thick and we fleetingly wish we could get stranded here, just like in a book. It is Halloween, what could be more exciting? Maybe we would have an adventure – maybe something that could tear down this net curtain of numbness, push aside the nicotine-yellowed carapace from Tamsin’s heart so she can feel alive again. But, the fog clears, we drive home. We listen to Eels.
Feels like everything
Dark green cheese dish
Paisley print teapot
Dragon and skull tattoos
New career in pottery or murder
Feels like nothing