Thursday, May 31, 2012

Beautiful Blighty

There's no better place to live than England when the sun shines.  Trouble is that only happens 5 or 6 times a year so I guess I really lucked out this last weekend when I went back to England and my home town Sarfend (sniff).

OK, we're talking about Southend-on-Sea which of course is the home of the Blues and NOT The Shrimpers.
Its been a number of years since I left Sarfend (1981!!) so coming back is interesting.  The town has never really been considered to be 'the jewel of the Essex riviera' as I refer to it, but when the sun shines it looks way better than say a wet afternoon in November.

I was there to play in my school old boys' cricket match so would be meeting some guys I hadn't seen for 30+ years in some cases.  However it was also a chance to tick off those boxes of must do things in Sarfend (sniff).  My brother wasn't around and as I was staying with my friends Kevin and Gill, both of whom were busy, I was able to go through the list: (1) jam doughnut -- I'm a sucker for them!  (2) My old tennis club -- Thorpe Bay Lawn Tennis Club.

No real grass any longer but still in pretty good shape.
(3) My old cricket club -- Leigh-on-Sea Cricket Club.

Leigh-on-Sea CC's home ground at Chalkwell Park
(4) Old Leigh -- and one of my favourite pubs (The Crooked Billet) but also the cockle sheds (Osborne's) where you get the freshest cockles, whelks and mussels no longer alive alive-o.

The mud flats at Old Leigh

This was at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning with the sea 2 miles away across the mud flats and the tide not due in for another 9 hours!  

The mud flats of the Thames Estuary
It was also the Southend air show when a bunch of aeroplanes of all ages flew along the estuary for the enjoyment of upwards of 100,000 people.  The stars of the show were the WWII duo of the Lancaster bomber and the Spitfire.

The speck is a Lancaster bomber
But the weather!  It was wonderful.  It was difficult for anyone to be unhappy in such weather so it was a happy time.  Just as well actually as things aren't so great in England and Sarfend at the moment.  There were many, many empty shopfronts in town and from chatting with my ex-school buddies it was clear that banks aren't lending to small businesses and people aren't going out as much.  As Sarfend is only 30 minutes by commuter train from the financial district of London, it is very much a commuter town.  Thousands of jobs have been lost since Lehman collapsed in 2008 and you can see the result in Sarfend.

My school was no longer operating as it was sold when the owner/headmaster died over 10 years ago to a competing local school.  Our cricket match was being played at the school grounds with tea on the lawns of the big house where the headmaster's widow still lived.  The school (Eton House) moved here in the 1940's when the buildings were derelict and rebuilt.  The main house once belonged to Admiral Nelson's heart throb, Lady Emma Hamilton, so has some history in it.  It was so strange though returning to a place so long after the last time -- everything was so small!

The Old Boys after tea on The Lawns
Capping a wonderful weekend off was the car I hired -- an Audi A4.  I'd hired a VW Golf but that was sold out when I showed up and the offered Hyundai something didn't sound too alluring so I asked about an upgrade and they gave me the Audi!  What a great car.  Smooth, fast, diesel, comfortable and 50 mpg.  I think it could have been the best car I've ever driven.  Or maybe it was the great weather that made me think that.  Nope, it was the car.  Fabulous.

Audi A4 with parking ticket an annoying extra
Great trip.  Thanks Sarfend, it was good to be back.  Thanks guys, it was really great to see you all again after all these years.

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