Oh, Southend…

Good morning Southend,

Did you sleep well? I did. I woke up when you elbowed me in the head but it didn’t hurt. It’s fine. No, seriously, it’s fine.

So, Happy Valentine’s Day, my love. Let’s just lie here for a bit before the days gets all bonkers. Hang on, you’ve got a bit of sleep crud in your eye. Wait. Got it.

How long have we been together now? 31, 32 years? YOU GET LESS THAN THAT FOR MURDER. Seriously. You really do get less. Ah dear. We’ve had some right old times, haven’t we sausage? Do you remember when I got bored of everyone at the casino and went swimming in the sea fully clothed instead and lost my shoes? And you just rained on me the whole way home but it’s alright because I was drenched anyway. Never did find those shoes.

I just don’t think I’d feel at home anywhere else. I’m not saying there aren’t other places that would make me happy, I don’t believe in soul mates or that there’s just one town for everyone, we live in a big beautiful world, and I certainly wouldn’t kick Paris or New York out of bed, and, ok, if that filly Florence came calling I’d have to pinch myself hard to keep myself on the straight and narrow, but for now, and for a long time, you have been the one I choose to wake up with. I have chosen to stay with you. That must mean something, right? I know there was that time I got a bit mad at you and was going to move to Stoke Newington but I’m glad I didn’t. Likewise, Clapham. Lucky escape. I’ve known people who moved to Clapham and I’m not sure I feel the same way about them now.

I love your ways is what I’m saying, Southend. There’s no one I’d rather snuggle up to at night. You big bear. I even love your morning breath. Like wet sand blowing up from the beach. I don’t even mind you on bin day when you’re not at your best. I don’t mind all that. I love you for all that you are. Not just the sunsets and the seafood and the estuary skies and your ‘Let’s pretend we’re in Miami’ palm trees that I suspect might actually be dead. I love your gulls squawking and your sea mists and your changing light, but I also love your peeling walls and spilled chips and your fights. You’ve got spunk, Southend. I like it.

I love all your familiar places. I’ve nestled into your nooks, your pubs and bookshops, shoved my head in the crook of your arm for comfort. I’ve lain on your beaches and rolled in your sand and swum in your waters and walked your streets. I’ve got beautiful friends scattered along you. Your skin is like a constantly changing tattoo. I like to scooch up to you and look at the new pictures, see how you’ve changed, see how you’re reflecting us and our lives. I love finding secret parts of you I’ve never seen. Just when I think you’re all about change, seeking sleekness and self-improvement, I look up and see a faded Lending Library sign from the last century fading into old bricks but holding fast. Your wrinkles are endearing. I wouldn’t wish you smooth. You’re a complicated creature Southend but I love you for it. You’re grand and humble and peculiar and a bit oversensitive and grumpy but you always remember your sense of humour just in the nick of time.

Oh Southend. You’ve still got a bit of crud in your eye but I love you.

Looks like it might be a nice day. Spring is coming. You look really pretty in the spring.

 

 

Metal are launching Love Letter to my Hometown – a chance to tell Southend what you love about her in her 125th year. The work will be displayed at Village Green Festival on 8th July. If you’d like to contribute, words or art, pick up a postcard from Chalkwell Hall or email chalkwell@metalculture.com 

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Tambourine Girl

The last time I shook a tambourine it was quite by accident. I was carrying it for someone in a band who let me help load a car so that I could pretend I was a rock star. As it jingled lightly I felt guilty – as though the Gods of music might smite me for daring to unsettle their percussion with my arrhythmic clumsiness.

The time before that was as the backing singer in a staff band named Detention when I was a teacher, but it didn’t count because we only played to a hall full of nonchalant kids at the end of term. ‘As a treat’. It didn’t matter if they didn’t think I was any good because a) what did they know about anything anyway, and b) I could just give them Ds to make myself feel better.

I’m one of life’s tambourine shakers. Because it’s the only way, other than humming, that I can join in with that almost celestial art, Music.

But a tambourine accidentally fell into my hand again last week, drawn to my fingertips by that powerful sorcery of wanting to make a ruddy noise. I was very privileged to be the only non-member to enter the rehearsal room of awesome band The Lucky Strikes. I thought that I might disintegrate on entry to that hallowed ground, but instead I walked through the door and was whammed in the nostrils by the smell of stale farts that had soaked into the sound-proofing over the years. It put me at ease somehow – despite the fact breathing had become markedly harder.

I was there to work with the boys on a show I’ve written called The Vagabond Diaries, which sews together stories inspired by their songs. Collaborating with proper musicians was a new thing for me. I was a little daunted by having to speak up in case the language and methods of an actor-writer sounded dumb to cool musicians. I didn’t want to sound like a wanker. But once they started playing (‘jamming’ I believe it’s called in the trade), I got so excited to hear the words I’d written coming together with their amazing songs that I forgot that I wasn’t actually a part of the band.

That’s when I may have picked up the tambourine. I may have tried to do a bit of shaking against my leg like a hippy in a scout hut. The boys looked at me. I put it down and said something very clever and droll about the cross-pollination of genres being really liberating. (I didn’t. I reminded them that I had brought them cookies and hoped that would prevent them from beating me with the sullied tambourine).

I left ‘the studio’ (jargon) feeling a bit high. It may have been the vapours of ghost farts I’d inhaled, but I think it was because we all felt like we’d stumbled onto something exciting and new.

I went home humming, and as I fell into bed I thought about the old adage that music is what all art aspires to. I think it must be true. I wasn’t thinking about the words I’d written, or the stories or characters within, or the themes of the piece, or even the brilliant lyrics that had inspired me in the first place, I was humming. Just the tune. The notes repeating in that magical order. The music is what stayed with me as I fell asleep, and it’s what was there as I woke in the morning.

The Vagabond Diaries – tales of being human accompanied by the music of The Lucky Strikes – can be seen in the Old Trunk Theatre Tent at Village Green on Saturday 13th July.

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