Once we’d put our bags into our hotel room (oh – after I discovered I’d booked the wrong night and we ended up having to pay more than planned for the one sea view room they had left) we decided to head to the high street to check out the shopping that Southend’s tourist website had bragged about. Oh Ehm Gee. It was all one big bargain bucket and I can say with confidence that it was the most rubbish high street I’ve ever seen in my life. It wasn’t all gloom (I did find a deliciously sexy pair of red heels in Debenhams) but mostly it was pretty awful. Cheap and tacky women’s wear in every other window, wedged inbetween endless pound-shops, pawnbrokers and JD Sports. There HAS to be a different shopping strip hidden somewhere – this surely cannot be all the poor residents of Southend have?! Proper shit, like.
But the high street wasn’t an anomaly – Southend is pretty shit all round. We did not spot a single nice looking bar, beyond the Park Inn hotel’s casino and the Ocean Beach Bar (or whatever it was called) on the sea front. The Adventure Island funfair is closed during some of the winter months, so perhaps the place livens up with that in action, but the short strip of amusement arcades was little short of tragic, their names hinting at aspiring to something this place would never, ever be: ‘New York’, ‘Monte Carlo’ and ‘Sun Spot’.
Nothing to stop B and I heading into Monte Carlo though (I’d say we accounted for 10% of the total number of customers in there – and this is Saturday evening…). I tried to win a cheap and probably highly flammable soft toy, but we soon gave up and went on to the driving game where we managed to have a giggle – how can crashing a Testarossa not be fun? Like the arcade, this game was too dated to feature the Ferrari I’d REALLY like to drive (the 958), but I can compromise and it was quite fun – partly due to the game, partly the company and partly the sad setting.
We’d hoped to see lots of tacky Essex people, but the “best” we got was what I suspect Lucy Mecklensomething from TOWIE will look like in 20 years’ time – mutton dressed as lamb with an 80s kind of shaggy hairdo, too much make-up and, yes, you guessed it, a fake tan in a shade of orange you normally only see on high visibility vests. No harm done, though, we still have the TV show whenever I fancy cringing at other people’s misfortunes and there’s never anything stopping B and I from having a great time, so we decided if we can’t point and laugh at tacky Essex girls, we can go for a refreshing walk out on the pier.
Southend’s pier is the “longest pleasure pier in the world” and over two kilometres long (roughly 1.4 miles to those of you who still don’t grasp metrics). Went to the entrance and although it looked open, there’s a dude at the door greeting everyone. When I say ‘everyone’, I refer to a sparse line of people who are all dressed up and seem very excited.
“Are you here for the exhibition?” entrance dude asks us, smiling broadly.
B and I look at each other, then at him. “Er.. No.”
“Don’t worry, feel free to join us, the next tram leaves in five minutes, come on,” he says and ushers us in.
As we walk over to the platform we walk past the walkway part of the pier, which I notice is closed.
“This is the most opportunist thing we’ve ever done!” B giggles as we get on the tram, both of us realising now that we’ve somehow managed to gatecrash some invitation only event.
Out on the pier, everyone gets off the tram and we follow the little crowd to the main building right at the end of it, the rest of the pier is dark and deserted. I squeeze B’s hand a little tighter as he looks at me and can’t suppress another inappropriate giggle. What the hell is this? I glance at the wall of the building, which informs me that this is an exhibition by someone called Rick Buckley and it’s called ‘Black Bile 84’. Oh, goodie!
This is what Black Bile 84 (and trust me – the hint is in the goddamn title) is all about: two displays. One containing what appears to be very old stuff, including a book that I can’t even be bothered to look at beyond a quick glance, and the other stripy wooden sticks that look like something Monkey might have produced at nursery around the age of three. Then there are three large screens that alternate three different video clips moving around the bottom of this pier in the dark as well as the tram tracks, all set to the background noises from The Blair Witch Project. It’s utter shite and we’re looking at each other in disbelief, and also with an increasing fear that we’re now stuck here for hours – this is outside of the pier’s opening hours and some invitation-only event, so at this point we have no idea whether the tram trains will be running at any frequency or if they’ll only run to take people back at the end of whatever is going on here.
“Come on, I can’t bear this!” I hiss and drag B by the hand out of there, back outside on to the deserted pier where it’s icy cold due to the harsh wind.
The entrance dude is outside smoking a roll-up (what else – he is too arty-farty to smoke anything other than roll-ups).
“The next tram leaves in 15 minutes,” he informs us without prompting.
“Oh great!” I exclaim, unable to hide my relief, “thanks!”
We take shelter in a tiny tram carriage which is clearly a very old one and only there as some sort of exhibit of days gone by, and can’t stop laughing. This, like so many other insane things we end up entangling ourselves in, has got to be one of the most random things we’ve done. Almost as random as gatecrashing a dog show in Dorset for the Society of Greek Stray Dogs.
The dinner at the lovely hotel is wonderful though, and somehow we manage not to break our Sober January pledge – I really did think we’d end up both drinking and smoking, but I blame the lack of Amy Childs clones to get me in the mood for debauchery.