Saturday, February 10, 2007

Jaywick on Sea - the bleakest place in England?

Here's a picture of Austin Avenue (taken from

I knew once a rather posh, confident girl called Kate who grew up in Maldon and who used to go on about how scummy Jaywick, near Clacton is. Recently, one of our neighbours has been forced to move there because they can't afford the mortgage due to the husband leaving work due to disability. But Kate really was a few class grades above to put it gently. With a day off from the wife, I took a bus there from Clacton and your ''greeting', ie if you prefer, entry into the Twiglet Zone, for that is how it felt, believe you me, started when the bus left relatively oridinary 1930s suburbia and entered what I described to Lynn as 'township on sea'.

Now, if anyone from Jaywick is reading this, puh-leeeeze, don't think I'm having a pop at your town. He who comes from Dagenham, after all, has very little right to be snobby about anyone else's yard. Its just, for once, I'm shocked. Oh bugger it, if you are offended, I don't much care, you've heard it all before anyway.

The bus starts out by taking a road onto a brownfield site. The sort of place which you can imagine once contained animal feed factories and will, after the heavy duty decontamination work has been done, truckloads of heavy metals have been transported somewhere else, and in a year's time, the site will be host to sprawling avenues of Prescott Mansions of the tickytackiest order. But no. The houses, should you deign to call them that, are built already. Quite futuristic looking Swedish style wooden shacks are on both side of the road. You do a double take. Wood works in Sweden, but it doesn't work here. This style of building works in Sweden because they know how to care for wood structures and how to prettify them. These places don't look cared for, or prettified. But they contain a huge slab of (liff word) zeerust. They are almost ghostly - they should not be in England in 2007. This isn't a class or snob thing, far from it. They don't belong because cerise pink sky just doesn't belong. Looking at their not-belongingness gave me the creeps in a trans-siberian motorway sense. Nick, a guy who took a lot of the pictures of the town on, seems to have placed an inordinate number of shots of signs declaring the dangers of tsharp rocks, riptides and sharp shellfish you can injure yourself on and posted liberally along the sea (correction, mud) front. These amused me. It amused me that there is a whole road of bungalows (shacks) whose front windows look at not the sea but at a brown wall which presumably was put up after the floods of the 50s.

Essex, until the 50s, was famous for its 'plotlanders' who, being mainly reasonably well-off working class East Enders, bought a small parcel of land in and could pretty well do whatever they wanted with it, including building houses. Historically, I believe this was due to the fact that Essex, being a marshy county, wasn't parcelled up for agribusiness in the way most land in England had been. I'm not sure whether Jaywick was plotlander territory, but if it was, it explains the way the place looks since it reminded of old pictures of Basildon I saw before it became the new town of today. Jaywick looks like a throwback from the 50s, or before.

The pub is called the "Never Say Die'. We need to visit that too. Either the place is going to be full of boiled and carrots eating cockneys from the 30s or the kind of redneck with three eyes and where the women look like men and the men look like asylum escapees. With guns, probably. They smuggle them in from Holland when the tide is high enough not to get the bottom of your boat ripped to pieces by the sharp shellfish or grounded in soft mud.

My comments, actually aren't directed out of any sense of dislike to the place. In fact, I am very much drawn to it. Plotlanders in Basildon were paid a pittance for their sites when they were forcibly bought in the 50s. Once again the working class try and better themselves only to be sharfted by those who own or who can buy the law. It was a noble cause, a chance for those who had grated to buy into a system that had hitherto been beyond their reach. No doubt the Basildon Plotlanders were offereed very fair rents on the council houses they were not in a position to refuse. The very unplanned nature of the place is appealing. Its just that when I saw a black child for the first time (as I did at the late age of five), the first though I had - translated from the infant is "this can't be..." as all my preconceptions about what humans look like had to be reset and adjusted for the new circumstances. This is the case with Jaywick. Its not that I dislike the place, its just I'd never imagined somewhere like it could exist. And it does.

I'll be back there.

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