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It’s one of those summer days where we feel like smiling, blurry faces in an old polaroid. Sunshine tickles our chilly little digits and we skeeter and skip like big boobs in a string bikini. The Lost Prom haven’t seen each other for a while, so our trip to Southend, once again in the company of honorary Prommer Lindsey, has a giddy first-time feel.

 

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We start the day with banana milkshakes and omelettes in the Pier Arches Café. The lovely waiter takes pictures of us with our cameras, gives Lindsey a different colour straw so she can“be different” and then entrusts us with the key to a special, secret toilet.

 

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Well set up for a good wander, we stroll onto the pier but quickly stroll off again when we find it’s £3 just to walk along it. The lady on the gate doesn’t exactly sell its delights to us; “What’s on the end of it?” “Just a lifeboat station and a café”. Oh OK, we won’t bother then. Southend Pier is the world’s longest pleasure pier and Arthur and Terry used to march along it throughout the ’80s in the end credits of ‘Minder’. But even the thought of bellowing along to “I Could Be So Good For You” is not enough to tempt us to part with £3.

 

Scream if you wanna go faster

Scream if you wanna go faster

 

Instead we meander along the seafront checking out the sunbathers. There are scores of people, of all races and nationalities, plastered onto the muddy looking beach, united only by big bottoms and questionable dress sense. They speak many languages but their lingua franca is Cockney. And Southend is where they come to escape the smog of London for the scree of Essex. From picnicking pensioners to gangstas, taking a day off from gangsta-ing to lick ice lollies on the sea front, Southend is alive today. It is not a particularly attractive town, but on a hot day like today it has a brash holiday sense of thrills and spills with a whiff of danger.

 

Tough Luck

Tough Luck

 

Now for the arcades, where Lindsey is trying to record sounds for an ‘apocalyptic fête’ she is planning as part of the music festival (Watts Fest) she helps to run. Old ladies playing bingo stare at us suspiciously so we slink around the back where we find a pile of broken, abandoned arcade machines, an overstuffed red armchair and an ornate iron gate saying ‘Orient Express’ which leads to a rubbish tip. A man in a mobility scooter smoking a pipe cruises by. We are tempted by a £1.50 bounce on a trampoline, and think about tucking our skirts into our knickers, but well, we’ve just eaten. So instead, we explore Adventure Island theme park where Lindsey records some screams.

 

Adventure Island

Adventure Island

 

We stop to get an ice cream from Rossi’s, a 1930s ice cream parlour famous in Southend. Lindsey has maple walnut, Tamsin has butterscotch and Nhung has classic Whippy. For want of any benches or pleasant spots of green, we sit licking them by the roadside. The man in the mobility scooter goes by again…

 

I'll be on my mobile

I'll be on my mobile

 

It’s time for a trawl around the shops and we make a few modest charity shop buys. However, the best shop in Southend is Bubblegum Records (downstairs from retro clothing shop Now Voyager). It is packed with vinyl, including a big selection of 7”s at 20p a pop or 7 for £1. Tamsin buys 11. Confusingly, we overhear a teenage boy getting overexcited about finding a Rush record. Rush? What are they teaching them nowadays?

 

Salvo the Clown

Salvo the Clown

 

On the strength of its nice retro lampshades, we stop for a drink at the Market Place. Lindsey knocks over a dog bowl and we discuss inadvertent enemas on water slides. Then we head back to the seafront, on the way encountering Southend legend Salvo the Clown, a slightly unnerving man who stands on the high street every weekend making balloon animals for children (and on our trip, hen parties).

 

The tide is low

The tide is low

 

We want to go for a paddle but the sea has mysteriously disappeared and the beach, never very beautiful, is now a sludgy black swamp with various young girls emerging from it looking as if they’ve been mud wrestling with drunk octopi. Lindsey finds a plastic joke torso on the promenade. Then we sit for a bit on some pebbles and enjoy the late afternoon sun. It’s nice being at the seaside in the summer.

 

The longest pier

The longest pier

 

Lost

A dip in the sea (due to the tide going out)

Nose for the boom mic on Lindsey’s sound recorder – almost (she had to go bounding down the road after it as it rolled away)

 

Big wheel

Big wheel

 

Found

Brown umbrella with fake bamboo handle

Green soup mug with the logo ‘Hot Soup’

Brown & white patterned scarf

11 7” singles

Plastic torso

Salvo the Clown

Summer fun

 

Clown feet

Clown feet

 

 

Please be seated

Please be seated

 

dodgems

dodgems

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.

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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.

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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”.

wicked witch of the east

wicked witch of the east

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.

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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.

jaywick casino

jaywick casino

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’.

jaywick

jaywick

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.

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Jaywick

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.

mersea

mersea

Lost
Novelty teapots
Vegetarianism
Tiger tattoo
Feels like everything

Found
Dark green cheese dish
Paisley print teapot
Dragon and skull tattoos
New career in pottery or murder
Feels like nothing

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