I’m in Essex girl…Part Two

One thing that I left out of the account of day one was the somewhat unusual conversation that took place between the hours of midnight and six am. Now, despite having a somewhat overactive brain, I’m not actually given to debate, and especially not on the matter of religion. It’s not that I don’t think about these things, just that I tend not to discourse on them. I find that with only the slightest stimulation, my brain goes into hyperdrive and simply won’t shut up and go to bed for hours like an errant child.
Which is why, when talk turned first to the supernatural, and swiftly after that to religion, I tried first of all to steer the conversation away, and when that failed, resorted to a clever little tactic I learnt in debate club. For anyone not skilled in the art of debate, I’ll fill you in. What you do is, take your fingers, put them in your ears, while simultaneously going ‘la la la la’.
I tried this for a while, and soon realised that the discussion was continuing apace. I had no choice but to get involved. In those hours before dawn, we discussed religion, the place of God in society today, what would happen if God as a concept were to be ‘phased out’, and if so what would replace religion, Dawkins, before finally rounding up with a discussion on relationships and gender roles. It felt like I hadn’t used my brain since university, and it took me a while to be able to talk eloquently or with any sort of structure. I didn’t entirely manage it, not while the sky was getting lighter and the gin and tonics were still in my system.
It did make me think, though. We get so out of the habit of debating (‘philosophising’ as Chekhov always called it, to my delight) once we leave our years of study, and the power to reason slips floppily away. Blancmange brain, I call it. I think it’s incredibly important to keep this at bay, and I’m keen to start reading more, and…well, thinking.
At around 8am, I woke. Shards of sunlight broke their way into the room, and despite having to keys, and both Sean and Nanna being asleep, I knew I had to explore. Harwich is so full of history, and not just in that ‘ooh, every house has a plaque’ way. It’s more a physical thing. You can feel it seeping into the walls, the buildings, the atmosphere. It sounds like utter rubbish, but there’s something there. (Not just my hangover)
Morning turned to afternoon, my two companions woke up, and it was time to face the world. We drove through spectacular countryside, pitched up in a delightful town (Maningtree, I believe) and perused the local market. I was already delighted enough, and yet still we drove on. Eventually we rounded a few narrow lanes, and there we were. The most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.
We’d eventually found our way to Constable’s old stamping ground (for want of a better phrase), Flatford Mill. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt quite as calm and at peace as on that day, with the sun beating down the back of my neck, bare legs in the river, with swans and boats drifting aimlessly along around me. We spotted where Constable had painted from, examining his perspectives. We sat in Flatford field for ages, eating elderflower sorbet, letting every worry unfold and escape.
 After experiencing the wonder of this stunning little place, we rolled on to Dedham. Sean showed us ‘Camp Musical Theatre Jesus’, hanging on the wall of Dedham church. With apologies to our Lord Jesus Christ – this was a Constable interpretation, and….wow. If you listen very, very carefully, you can actually hear the great JC singing ‘I am what I am…and what I am needs no excuses…’ I was utterly captivated by the old school at Dedham. Rusty bricks were carved with the names of schoolboys, on the day they left to go into the big wide world (probably still Dedham, for most of them…) We saw dates from the 1700s, and there was something so strange and humbling about touching a name like that.
Far too soon, we were back in Harwich and packing our stuff. Cider in a pub courtyard, a lot of thank you’s later, a long drive and infinitely more car dancing later, and we were home. Perfect weekend. 

I’m in Essex girl….Part One

….well, Harwich, actually. Which is on the Essex/Suffolk border. But that’s not quite as catchy, is it?

Anyway, after my delightful friend Sean trecked all the way down from said sea port town for my birthay party back in January, he issued us with an invitation to come up and see him (he probably added ‘make me smiiiiile’, being the musical theatre performer that he is.) It took us a shoddy amount of time organising – over four months to be precise – but new jobs and MBAs and adulthood got in the way. Anyway, the bout of long weekends we were blessed with in May seemed like the perfect solution.

And so it was that on a sunny afternoon, I piled into my friend Nanna’s little car with inordinate amounts of shopping bags and two VERY glittery Lola’s Cupcakes for sustenance. We slipped on a little bit of ‘Slammin’ & Jammin’ (Nanna is nothing if not a BRILLIANT CD namer) and off we steamed.

Now, before I tell you what happened next, I must explain a little something. Before ‘Made in Chelsea’ came into my life, I was something of an avid ‘The Only Way is Essex’ viewer. I know, they were unenlightened times – but I had yet to be introduced to MiC, where the pale skins, white Blackberries, copious amounts of fur and friends with silly names made me feel infinitely more at home…Anyway, Nanna and I were delighted to find out that with a little tweaking, our journey to take us right through the Towie Motherland – Brentwood.

Feeling a bit like bold explorers crossing into a brave new world, we ventured into the town. Practically quivering with excitement, and with Kelis’ ‘Bossy’ blaring out of the speakers (our travel anthem of choice), we peered out of the car, looking for any perma-tanned pneumatic women, and their Ken doll counterparts. An old woman eating a sandwich on a bench, a bunch of 10 year olds, and some perfectly respectable people was what our eyes did in fact alight on…

Still, we were bubbling over with excitement, and doing our very own brand of ‘car dancing’ (pointy arm, pointy arm, wiggle, double dream hands), we shrieked with excitement as we pulled up round the back of Sugar Hut (as I’m sure all the worthiest Brentwoodians have), and proceeded to take photos in the middle of the road, nearly killing ourselves in the process. I bought some fake eyelashes, we cranked up ‘Bossy’ again, and then it was time to get back on the road and head to our real destination.

As the countryside leveled out, you couldn’t have had a greater contrast. Broad skies and yellow fields suddenly surrounded us, and soon we were winding our way into Harwich itself. After a slight technical hitch, whereby we drove past the same group of teens misspending their youths at least FOUR TIMES, much to their amusement, we finally reached the most divine little cobbled street, all tucked away.
We eventually located what we assume was the right house (I knocked on the door and then ran back into the car, we were welcomed into Sean’s house, the most incredible converted Tudor pub. The place had a wonderful atmosphere, and after a brief pause spent gawping at the bottle of champers Sean had been given by Cameron Mackintosh, admiring his well stocked kitchen (this blog is a euphemism free zone, please remember), and reapplying our lipstick we headed out for a drink. Sean seemingly knew everyone – and no one seemed especially surprised to see him ushering two young blonde girls around. We sampled some sort of Polish martini; sadly eschewing the Cosmopolitan, the description of which bore the legend ‘Sex in the City (sic) comes to Harwich!’.
After a delicious supper cooked for us by Sean, and copious amounts of champagne, we embarked on what passed for the local disco. ‘The Stingray’ is the local to end all locals. Teenagers breathed the same stale air as Harwich’s elders; framed pictures of ships hung on the walls, and you could get a glass of wine with an awful lot of change from a fiver. Unfortunately, much of the evening is a blur to me, but I do remember dancing with my shoes off, executing a wobbly cartwheel in the middle of the dancefloor, watching Sean pirouette gracefully, and finally gawping openly as a dead ringer for ‘Nessa’ from ‘Gavin & Stacey’ copped off with not one, but TWO not-ostensibly-disgusting young men.
I woke up early the next morning, breakfasted on a  leftover Lola’s Cupcake, and marched off for a two hour seaside walk. By this point, I was firmly in love with Harwich. But the best was yet to come. Part two on the way…