Saturday, 28 August 2010


I’m in the back of brother Edward’s fancy car heading back from Southend on Sea. I’ve been on a day out with Sascha, Gemma, Michael and little Thomas. We seem to be listening to a Eurovision Song Contest playlist, which is making a good job of obliterating the memory of the ghastly town we've just visited! I don’t often say this about a place, but Southend is a horrible dump with few, if any, redeeming features.

I love nearly every British seaside town. Some are posh, some are arty, others, Like Whitby are stranded in a sort of joyous 1950s world. But Southend seems to be singularly lacking in any form of charm. The town itself feels like any number of Essex towns; down at heel and badly affected by the recession. I tried to find Nathan an anniversary gift and could only find a TK Maxx, a Superdrug and various pound shops. The seafront has a couple of arcades, a little amusement park and a never ending supply of chip shops, rubbing shoulders with Rossi’s ice cream parlours, but it’s filled to the brim with really tragic-looking characters. Women with faces plastered in makeup walk hand in hand with toothless young men plastered in shell-suit material. Pubs advertise lunchtime striptease acts alongside signs which offer “entertainment for all the family.” In Southend, it’s obviously deemed appropriate for a father to stick his son on a bucking bronco in a pub car park whilst he sneaks off for a quick ogle at a few hard-faced Eastern European whores; deeply unsavoury in a sort of soulless way. This town has plainly lost its way...

Imagine our surprise, therefore, to discover literally hundreds of black Christians, bedecked in white robes, being baptised in the sea. From the markings on the mini-buses they arrived in, it appears that most had come down from Doncaster; begging the question, why on earth were they not baptised on the beautiful Yorkshire coastline? The Christians were arranged on the beach in two distinct groups; one sat in countless rows praying and singing, whilst the other gathered around the seashore, some waist deep in the water, doing whatever ritual they’d come there to do. It was deeply sinister. I’m of the opinion that religion should be a very private thing. These public displays make me feel as uncomfortable as I do when I'm forced to watch a young couple snogging whilst wearing braces! Why not head for a private beach, or frankly somewhere with a bit more atmosphere, class or beauty? Who were these people? Why were they all black? What branch of Christianity were they followers of? And why on earth did they choose Southend?

August 28th 1660 was a Tuesday and Pepys spent most of his time at home with Elizabeth. The day generated another passage which I’m using as text for the motet; “some time I spent this morning beginning to teach my wife some scale in music, and found her apt beyond imagination.” Attempting to teach Elizabeth music became a regular occurrence in Pepys’ life. The cycle would start with him writing about how talented his wife was, but always end in disaster with him becoming utterly infuriated and Elizabeth running away in floods of tears!

Later in the day Pepys called in to the Privy Seal and emerged with 80l, which he took home, delightedly. He was, however, sad to hear that his mother was unwell again, and wrote that he feared “she will not last long.”

Pepys went to bed, greatly troubled, not just because of his mother’s illness, but because he was worried that his boy servant, Will (not to be confused with his trusty clerk, Will Hewer) was a thief. A letter from Mr Jenkins with half a crown inside had gone missing and all the evidence suggested that the lad had pocketed it. Oh dear...

Culture clash in Southend

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