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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Valentine’s: Shooting A Rhino In The Face

Just when I thought I was all grown-up and had accepted that Valentine’s Day is a mass-market scam, I fell into the huge boggy bit of my heart that I thought had near-dried up with the desiccation of age. Like when Dawn French falls into that unfeasibly deep puddle in the Vicar of Dibley – there I was just ambling along in my terribly modern cynicism when SLOSH – waist-deep in forgotten goo.

It’s become terribly unfashionable to like Valentine’s Day. Confessing to enjoying the Hallmark hullabaloo, or even its older quainter conventions, is almost becoming un-PC – like saying you’d like to abolish disabled parking bays, or go on your summer hols to Tanzania and shoot the last of the black rhinos in the face.

I thought I was a fully paid-up member of the Puke Patrol. I thought I could stay steely before a proffered rose. I thought I was one of the great denouncers of accepted Romance; could snort derisively at Keats if quoted on the fourteenth day of the second month. That I was way above making doe-eyes over an overpriced meal in a restaurant flatulating at the seams with helium balloons; that I’d knee a man in the nuts if he waved anything bought at Clintons anywhere near me.

STEELY MY ARSE.

I should have suspected I wasn’t quite up to the current vogue of Non-Schmaltz standards when watching Sleepless In Seattle recently. The Empire State building flooded with red hearts just as dear Meg was sweetly dumping her fiancé for Tom Hanks AND I OUTWARDLY SNORTED THE CONTENTS OF MY CRANIUM SO HARD I STILL HAVEN’T FOUND WHERE IT ALL WENT. I think I might have blown open another portal to Narnia. Some poor fawn is probably wandering around with my snot as a jaunty hat.

What caused me to wobble off the Wagon of Well Hard? What reminded me of my roots de romarnce? (Chris De Burgh ref there, ballad-lovers; you’re welcome…)

I’ll tell you. Someone I know told me it was their first Valentine’s day, with an actual Valentine, with a lover.

I didn’t believe them. They are in their thirties, and cute as a button. But they were telling the truth, and for them it wasn’t a silly day. Granted, they didn’t want to run down the street slathered in chocolate body paint, rattling handcuffs that chimed the theme to Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet, but they wanted to mark it. They wanted their Valentine’s Day.

It reminded me of what Valentine’s Day used to mean to me, before I’d had a few extraordinarily bad boyfriends and a divorce under my belt. Making cards for hours, doodling boys names in biro hearts on my arm like love-charm tattoos, my first real card from a boy that wasn’t just my Dad doing bad handwriting, my first Valentine’s kiss, hotels, restaurants, post bunk-up bed-bouffants… Et sexera.

I wondered if the true magic of Valentine’s Day doesn’t lie in the day itself, but in the future that it paints. There’s mystery in all that love stuff. You’re not just excited about the date you’re on, but the dates that will come. What does love have in store for you? What is your future? Love – the confusing dance around the simple biological urge to procreate – is about what will come, as it were, and what will come after that. Love is how we ensure that our silly messy little race will continue. Love is our survival. Shouldn’t at least one day in 365 be a little bit about that?

Love should not of course be vouched by homogenised overpriced tat. Of course I know the best stuff is free – poems on a napkin, holding hands in the rain. A ruddy good snog-up in a doorway.

But surely the people who have been lucky enough to have all this typical Valentine ‘stuff’, cards and flowers and chocolates and stupidly huge teddies delivered to work, don’t really have the right to denigrate it? If you’ve had it all and don’t want it anymore out of some consumerist stand, then don’t have it, but stop telling people that’s what you’ve decided, every fricking year. Grumpy repetition merely creates an alternative-tradition, a parallel non-celebration, a contra-dedication of your time and energy, and certainly one with a less uplifting message at its heart. If you don’t believe in something – the hype of Valentine’s Day, the existence of God, whatever – you have already asserted something strongly enough to yourself. Humans should be content with knowing or supposing what they think they know or suppose, and live their own lives accordingly as they wish. They don’t need to make big outward proclamations; they’re pretty pointless outside of the environs of an invited debate. Having a non-belief in something is not something to be proud of, is not something which defines you as interesting or intelligent; it is just a fact about yourself, like having blue eyes or an outie belly-button. In decrying something essentially harmless we have nothing to offer but a bad energy and there’s enough of that floating about.

Next year I will honour the romantics’ right to an unsullied day and keep my cynical mouth shut. Maybe even while humming Let’s Get It On through a pink fluffy gag…

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