Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Sending out an S-o-S...

There are certain cities and locales in the world where the reputation of its population proceeds them. Parisians, for example, are world renowned for their aloofness and pungent odour. New Yorkers are famous for their over-hyped level of self-importance, and thusly their implicit coolness. Another such place where no matter where you go in the world people will have heard the stories and be aware of that populations’ reputation is Essex. And it is there I ventured last weekend.

If it’s not the cockney villains you’ve heard of then I’m sure you’ll be familiar with the reputation of the infamous Essex girl: fake tan, peroxide blonde hair - pulled back tightly in what’s known as an “Essex Facelift” – frighteningly short mini-skirts, white heels, and badly thought-out tattoos. And, unbelievably, this is actually a case of style over substance. Yes, Essex is a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.

I should point out now that I can’t offer any photos of said females, or any other eye sores for that matter, as taking a $500 digital camera into the County of Essex is the definition of stupidity.So why venture into such a dire location? Well, it promised to be a cultural experience void of any culture; but, more importantly, my two mates Matt and Tom, had promised to take me to their home town for a true Essex experience.

Geographically I didn’t know too much about Essex except it was out of London. I first learned that it costs just £9 and takes 45 minutes by train to get there – which surprised me because I can travel for 45 minutes from my house and barely be in the next borough. Nevertheless we arrived in Southend-on-Sea, where Tom and Matt grew up. It’s a small town at the head of the Thames River; and if, for example, you were a whale and swam past Southend-on-Sea it may be a good idea to turn around and head back to the Black Sea or a confusing few days and ultimately death awaits you up river.

The plan was to hit their favourite club, The Pink Toothbrush. While the club’s name may seem absurd it’s not a patch on its former incarnation. Known as The Croc, it was named so because a live crocodile resided in the entranceway. The RSPCA soon closed it down so it was to The ‘Brush we ventured.Thankfully this was one of the classier venues in Essex so I needn’t worry about getting a crowbar in the back of my head from a jumped-up Cockney. But there were a few well-heeled Oompa-Loompas with Essex Facelifts to remind that I was no longer in London. What was most memorable (or perhaps not) about The ‘Brush was the drinks menu… most of the “cocktails” on the list were devised and institutionalised by Tom and Matt’s friends and named after characters such as Del-boy and Rodney from Only Fools and Horses - my favourite being the latter. A Rodney is concocted from half a pint of lager, with the remainder of the glass filled with cider, fruit juice and a shot of blackcurrant concentrate. You barely knew you were drinking an alcoholic beverage… which I guess is the point of these things.

The night fast turned into a culinary experience; when the club closed everyone ventured round the back to Daryls - quite simply a takeaway caravan in the club’s carpark. It was apparent the signwriter made two major mistakes when working on Daryl’s caravan; firstly he left an apostrophe off the massive “Daryls” sign that emblazoned the top of the caravan. Secondly, on the chalkboard menu he included chips… and, as has quickly become legend across Essex, Daryl doesn’t serve chips. Those feeling brave enough ask: “Are there any chips tonight, Daryl?” To which Daryl yells: “No, there’s never any bleedin’ chips” as he chases you down the road waving his spatula violently. I ordered a cheeseburger, without chips, and scampered away.

The next day we headed into Southend for a look at the waterfront. This included the world’s largest pier. I was unable to walk along it as, not for the first time in the town’s history, the pub that proudly occupies the far end of the pier burnt down setting fire to the entire structure. Southend now boasts the world’s longest piece of charcoal.Also on the waterfront was an amusement park with all the usuals: Merry-Go-Rounds, Log Flume rides, Mini-Golf, Ferris Wheels and Haunted Houses. I had a crack at the suspiciously complicated goal kicking competition. No one seemed to find my Johnny Wilkinson impersonation as funny as I did. They got the last laugh and my £2.

I should mention now that this amusement park was no Disney Land, or Walt Disney World, or - worse still - Euro Disney. Hell, the Caroline Bay Carnival in Timaru would give this fun park a run for its money. This was more of a straight man’s Brighton.

And things got more ghastly along “Electric Avenue”; which is the road running the length of the waterfront. Casinos, arcades, bowling alleys – a sea of art deco draped in neon lights with all the style and elegance of an Essex girl.

I may sound like a high-and-mighty Londoner poking fun at this slice of small town kitsch but I had one of my more entertaining nights out, ever, and thoroughly enjoyed Las-Vegas-Essex-Style. I came to Essex with the promise of knife attacks, bitch fights and stolen cars.

But I’ll happily return for a chance to win a Bart Simpson doll at the goal kicking competition and the even greater challenge of getting some hot chips of Daryl.

Because, afterall, a true Essex experience is all about being robbed blind or chased down the street.


At 7:14 pm, Anonymous Anita said...

Hi Randall

Another well written funny update.

So the next time you go to Essex (as it sounds you're considering) will you be "stupid" enough to take the camera so we get to see the Oompa Loompa's?

Good to hear you've got a 3 month contract. Hopefully they'll allow you to have some input. Otherwise I'm not sure how you're going to survive what you've described as being boring.

How can you NOT fall asleep at your desk! Maybe some sort of electric shock set up will teach you not to allow your head to touch the desk :)

Take care

At 9:45 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

good on ya sonja.
well written ginger boy man. seems like you juliened said block of msn fame. im impressed and now missing essex. im such a hotty in my full essex kit (my mini is there...).
muchos aroha big boy
kimmay x

At 10:22 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey bro.

Anothr gr8 blog. Its fab to hear about yr life on the othr side of the world. Glad its u & not me tho.

Very pleasd u get 2 spend anothr 3 mths there 4 nw. Hope the elusive job is just around the cornr so u can stay on!

Sendng our luv etc,

At 6:23 pm, Anonymous Phantom 48 said...

The Caroline Bay Carnival huh? Well that put's Essex into perspective - lol!!! Good news about the contract and 3 mths not 2. Hope the BBC conglomorate gives you a call soon tho so your talents are put to better use.
Thanks for another great blog update.
Luv - Mum

At 7:24 pm, Blogger Bee said...

I feel out of the loop, ppl are mentioning a contract. wot's that about.

It is so good to hear from you and in such funny stories.

It sounds like from other comments in the blog the new job will give you time to keep writing UK tidbits for us.

Take care

B, M, I & D

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