The Return to Blighty

From Spain to Southend on Sea

G and Grimble had been trying to settle into Blighty life. Blighty life that composed of grey skies, drizzly rain and an overwhelming feeling that winter was looming. Grimble felt shudders of cold damp every waking moment and she yearned for blue skies and warmth. Added to the grey and overcast world that they now inhabited, was the dreary world of work. They were back to routines and living for the weekends. Living for weekends was all well and good but it always seemed a little odd to beg for the passing of time to go faster and naturally for them to get even older than they were. However, slowing down the passage of time to endure work wasn’t going to work, so living for the weekends was the only way forward.

A trip to the seaside might brighten their spirits, well it couldn’t dampen them any further, could it? Southend was the rather unusual choice for their visit. Plus, for G this was a chance for nostalgia or so Grimble had decided. After all, he was a Cockney geezer and, as Grimble understood it, all Cockneys spent their summer in Southend, didn’t they? They went there in bus loads to eat cockles and do geezer like things. On their journey there, Grimble asked G all about his childhood memories of Southend. Strangely, G had very few, as unlike the atypical Cockney that Grimble had invented, it seemed G’s East End family spent the summers on the Costa del Sol, Mallorca and, even more non conformist, New Orleans.

As the drove from what had seemed like fairly decent weather towards the East, the sky had bypassed grey and was an ominous dark hue of black. It was certain that these clouds contained gallons of water and every twenty minutes or so these clouds deposited their load on the car. Grimble trying to remain ever positive against the odds of the U.K. weather, decided that at least the rain would wash the dust off the car. This was a feeble argument given that they were driving through mud.

However, there was a glimmer of late sunshine as they drove into Southend past endless discount shopping malls, car sales rooms and supermarkets. They drove towards the coast and Grimble hoped for golden sands, azure blue sea and a wide promenade. Grimble knew that she was being ridiculously optimistic but even half of these hopes would be a start. As she surveyed the vista that was Southend on Sea, her optimism faded. Bright neon lights of amusement arcades permeated the front, interspersed with fish and chip shops and shops selling garish tat. Nowhere to be seen were lovely cafes with decks overlooking the sea scape. In fact, as Grimble looked harder, she realised that this was not the sea as such given that there was no evident tide or even much of a beach.

She knew that the full location name was Southend on Sea but as she could see land at the other side, this name was becoming very much disputed in her head. The land on the other side was a silhouette of oil refineries. Grimble looked quizzically at G to explain this southern mystery and he informed her that Southend was not exactly a sea front town. The water in front of them was the Thames Estuary. So really, Grimble mused this was Southend on Thames. She then thought of the places that she knew with a Thames moniker: Henley on Thames, Walton on Thames and her local, Lechlade on Thames. She looked at Southend and decided that perhaps Sea was the better option.

Their trip to Southend on Sea was going to be concluded with a reservation at a highly rated fish restaurant. They could have gone cheapo with a fish and chip supper out of paper in the car. However, G was known to have trembling fear fits when food was just simply carried in the car, let alone eaten. This had caused Grimble to introduce online supermarket shopping to their lives to save G from a life of trauma and pain. The decision to go posh was motivated by their desire to do something nice in Southend and perhaps to relive the delicious fish meals of Spain.

They’d picked a sea view establishment and, despite the previous warnings of the limitations of online reviews, they selected it on this basis. The hope for fresh fish given the sea location spurred them on. The outward signs were not encouraging. It was a strange hybrid of an over large garden shed, modern Indian restaurant interior and the odour of a bog standard chippy. However, it was busy so they retained some hope.

They ordered a fish platter, which indicated a whole range of scrumptious seafood. The plate arrived and G and Grimble felt a small part of their hearts die as they looked at a plate where every item had been fried to within a inch of its life. Even the oysters were fried and then put back in the shells. Grimble had heard that oysters were an aphrodisiac but the chance of these shrivelled offerings giving her any lusty longings was highly unlikely. Every item was battered and fried and even the chips were proper greasy fish shop chips. The type that cost a pound a bag. These were placed in a ceramic bowl to make them seem more elegant and restaurant like. However, there could be no denying that these were chips from the chippy. Now G and Grimble loved a chip shop chip but not in a restaurant. In an expensive restaurant, they expected flouncy descriptions like triple cooked or duck fat chips and served in weird and wonderful Jenga like constructions. Add this to the fact that G’s glass of coke cost an outrageous £6.00, a price that was more than Grimble’s glass of red. The whole experience was eccentric, eclectic and average: a bit like Grimble’s evaluation of Southend on Sea.

Ultimately, the attempt to recreate their costal heaven of Spain was over. They realised that, for the time being at least, they’d have to put up and shut up. They’d have to find ways to deal with grey skies, over priced fried food and soft drinks, and places that confused sea with rivers. As they looked at the longest pier in the world that stretched nearly to the oil refineries at the other side, they felt content to live for their weekends until they could live for each day.