Flip-flops & Bouffant Helmets – The Non-Safety-Conscious Girl’s Guide to Building Sites

It’s not often you find yourself walking down the pier in a fluorescent jacket and a hard-hat, but this week I was lucky enough to feel just that sexy and alluring. I’d just had a blustery ‘mile and a third’ trek and my mascara was everywhere. It was like a Southend version of Sex & The City – not leafy 5th Avenue, but the pier which keeps burning down. In this episode, Carrie (moi) was flanked by two men being unerotically whipped by their own ties and a council man with a cute bum I didn’t dare look at in case he whacked me up a tax band or two. We were there to check out the exciting new venue which will be the shimmering glorious stage for The Wave Comedy Festival.

Here’s a thing: I did something a bit despicable when I got to the end of the pier. Here’s another thing: what’s worse is – I’m proud of it. I did this. When the hurly-burly builder-boss looked me up and down and said I couldn’t go trotting through a building site in flip-flops, I sort of…just looked at him like I didn’t understand. I feigned stupidity. And here’s why. When I feigned stupidity, when I looked blankly at his ruddy cheeks like he’d just asked me to reel off the first hundred digits of Pi, he stopped talking to me. He looked despairingly around at the surrounding menfolk and walked off. So, I sort of…waltzed in anyway. (After I’d managed to wrestle the neon smock over my confused body. I swear they make those things with five armholes just to drive you mad.)

So there I was – helmet sliding down my dusty face, not even my newly wind-swept bouffant enough to hold it up Men half-looked at me (enough to make me feel like a girl on a building site, but not enough to make me feel like a girl being objectified on a building site) and I wondered briefly if in this PC crazy age they had to pass courses on not offending women before they even learnt how to mix a nice cement. “Bradley! She might be half-naked in a day-glo tabard but if you don’t put your eyes back on your bucket you’ll have this whole operation shut down faster than that No-Nails sealed up Gary’s Latvia hernia-burst. Sexism is frowned on now, remember. That’s why poor Gary had to go to Latvia for his Stag in the first place. You get fined in Brighton for lobbing chips at women now.”

What was I talking about? Oh yes. Helmets.

So I was wearing a helmet. I was tiptoing over screws like I was auditioning for Jackass for Girls. I walked around looking at scaffolding and went “hmm” a lot. I sort of scratched my head over how it’s going to be ready in time for the lovely comedy festival that you should all come to, but I maintained my optimism because that’s all you can do when you’re radiating the glow of fluorescent workwear like you’ve just pinged out of a plug socket.

Despite the dust and the builders’ tuts, and the inability to see which bit would end up being the floor, in my luminescent gabardine I began to get excited. This was a new place, being built on an old place, and it would soon be full of people, laughing. That’s a privileged stage to be a part of I think. Being in a building that hasn’t got its memories yet – putting your two-penneth worth in as to how it should all slot together. Here we were at the end of the longest pleasure pier in the world, with all of Southend’s history rippling around us, on our little speck of the Thames which has seen so much pass up and down its meandering curves – Viking settlers, warships and regattas – and we’re here, looking into its future. That’s the nice thing about looking into the future – it spreads out like a glistening thing before you, yet its not really there yet. An ungraspable sea.

We got a little train named Sir John Betjeman back to land and I had a rush of love for our town – its landmarks which crumble and reform, its people which come and go, and the laughter which becomes as much a part of its walls as the brick-dust itself.

The Wave Comedy Festival, Southend-on-Sea, is running from Thursday 19th July til Sunday 21st July.

Go to http://www.thewavecomedyfest.wix.com/thewave for more details.


Southend Pier. Before it burnt down. (The first time.)


Tyson Sabretooth Chompface VIII – An Accusation

Hello! Right, niceties over. The following rant goes to the dog-owner residing in the house where ******** and ********* Roads meet.


Here’s a little story for you. It was a bright morning a week or so ago, the sea-breeze danced, Dusty Springfield played on my ipod, and I was feeling liberated in yellow. For a wee while I felt like I was prancing along in the 60s. I stopped to sniff flowers, I might have kissed a stranger on the nose if they’d said hello. My dog Cooper trotted happily beside me, snuffling at the morning’s new smells. It was a good morning, chompable as a fresh bun. Until I got to your house. When I got to your house I heard screaming so heart-piercing I froze to the spot. A little way up, a woman was wailing and trying to drag her King Charles spaniel across the street. Why was it such an arduous task? Because attached to the side of her tiny dog was the lumbering growling hulk of a big black brute. Her poor dog was being shaken like a rag-doll while she cried for help and tried to drag it out of the steel-jawed grip of your robo-hound.


What I did next made me feel like an absolute louse all day. I did nothing. The only instinct which kicked in was to protect my own dog, by hiding him behind a parked car. I stood and watched as the woman struggled and cried. Then it was as though a switch was flicked on the black dog – it dropped the spaniel and swaggered off to your fence, where he stood, neck craning and eyes wild. A panic-sodden minute passed as I waited, then your dog punched its way back through a flap in the fence and disappeared, into your garden. I ran up to the lady, and quickly reassured her that her dog was, miraculously, only covered in drool and not blood. I have no idea how it was still alive. We stood chatting while she calmed down, and I left her talking to some community support officers who called the police. I got to work, broke down in tears, and projectile snotted on my best friend. I felt that awful selfish relief that it had not been me, not my dog.


Now I obviously love dogs, and I actually think a lot of breeds get a bad press because their owners are selfish brainless cretins who don’t train them properly. Some of the soppiest dogs I have ever met have been Staffies and Rotties. Good owners accept that there is a streak of instinct as old as Time itself which runs through all dogs and that it is their job to harness it through hard-work and a responsible attitude. Small dogs don’t have to yap, big dogs don’t have to bite. It takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. Like bringing up decent children.


I refrained from writing this column, until just now – when my (last week’s snot-bespattered) friend Hew texted to say that her colleague’s Labrador had had a similar encounter with the same dog bolting from the same house – except this time blood was drawn. She described the same frenetic attack, robotic switch-off, and fence-punching. When she knocked on your front door, you allegedly said “The dog can’t even get out”. Denial. After two reports in one week, your own beastly instinct was to protect yourself and not others. Utterly despicable.


If you are reinforcing your garden fence as I type, I apologise. If you are permanently affixing a muzzle to your unpredictable mutt, I apologise. If you are currently whispering last rites into the ear of Tyson Sabretooth Chompface VIII as he succumbs to the grip of a kindly poison because you could not bear it in on your conscience if he savaged another dog – or worse, a kid – then I apologise and applaud your morals. But if you are sat at home, playing a ‘harmless’ tug-o-war with your rabid hound, cooing into its psychotic ear and declining to accept responsibility for the actions of a powerhouse breed whose darker streak you have encouraged with your own nonchalance, then I slap your vile face and resent the fact that it is merely in writing that I get to do so.


I walk past your house every day. I was going to change my route, but I refuse to. If you see someone walking with a white dog, flinching a bit and tutting in a very British fashion, it’s me. Hi. I’d like to think I can walk past and know that someone nice lives inside, that they have acted honourably, that my dog and I, and others, are safe.


In short – be a decent human being and sort it out. Thanks.