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.

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

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