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Tag: The Times of London

Fight Them On The Beaches

Mark Simpson tests Essex’s coastal defences against renovation 

(The Times Magazine, 2001)

Whitstable, Broadstairs, Brighton and most of Suffolk have gone already.  Swept away forever under a tsunami of renovation. These once proudly tatty towns have been lost forever to the unsmiling, unfriendly, label-dressed invaders who prey on coastal towns (but curiously always seem to come from inland). Planning their devastation with the aid of Psion Organisers and some back issues of House & Garden, these are the worst kind of invaders of all. These varsity-educated Vandals set about destroying your town by doing it up.

The scramble of Londoners looking for a second home where they can actually swing a cat without having to mortgage their grandmother has already taken its devastating toll on much of the South East coastline. Having made London too expensive to lie down in, City and Media types are exporting themselves and their property problem to hitherto inexpensive-but-scenic areas within striking distance of London.

For some years now, sleepy seaside towns have been awoken from their slumbers by the terrifying noise of turbo-charged Land Cruisers, the ominous clatter of Prada-shod feet and the awful rumble of extensive remodelling, as the overachieving, overactive aliens from the Big Smoke have arrived – demanding larger kitchens, ‘wet-area’ bathrooms, cafes offering café latte and shiny fitness centres with comfy sofas in the reception area.

In fact, so successful has their invasion been that they are fast running out of targets. Soon every home on the South East coast will have polished wooden floors, an Aga and a well-into-three figures asking price.

However, there is one plucky strip of coastline between Harwich and Clacton which has so far held out against this onslaught. A part of the country which is forever…Essex. What was once the South East’s first line of defence has become its last. Can this stretch of East Essex beachy coast, considered of the most likely landing point for the invasion fleets of both Napoleon and Hitler, just a tantalising hour or so from London by road and rail, hold out against the yuppie commandos?

On a grey, out-of-season day on the Essex Riviera, Clacton-on-Sea seems blissfully unaware of its imperilment. But then, perhaps this is its best defence. Maybe it’s the sky, but the sea, choppy in a bitter wind slamming in from Holland looks an unfortunate muddy colour. For its part, Clacton pier looks less like an invitation to hedonism than a factory shed on stilts. As if acknowledging the prosaic reality of the English weather, most of it is covered{ it’s one of the bitter ironies of the ‘great English seaside holiday’ that you could hardly choose a place more exposed to the damp English weather than a place by the sea.

The usual ‘attractions’ are all present and correct: dodgems, smoky amusement arcades with twitchy, solitary adolescent lads manning a machine here and there, fluorescent strip-lit works canteen caffs with moulded green plastic chairs, Formica tables and friendly matriarchs dispensing all-day breakfasts; and a palmist booth with a familiar sign outside:

This lady is here to help you with any question you want to ask her. She has advised a very famous astrologer and many other stars who cannot be named as all readings are private and confidential.

I’d like to ask Rosalee what the future holds for Clacton, but it seems she’s gone home early, perhaps to advise another star who can’t be named.

On the sandy but windswept beach, kids watched by their mums, throw stones into the sea or bread to the seagull. Mum seems to be drinking in their child’s limitless enjoyment of such simple pleasures. Probably because they know it won’t last, and soon their little angels will be demanding rave holidays in Eyeebifa. In a greasy caff on the seafront, elderly couples sit snug, sipping hot drinks, counting the summers gone and staring through the plate glass as if looking for early signs of the next one.

Truth be told, Clacton-on-Sea and its pier owe its very existence to the hated Metropolis. In 1872, when seaside holidays had become popular, a local entrepreneur, Peter Bruff, opened the pier so paddle-steamers of the Woolwich Steam Packet Company could stop and disgorge their cargo of loaded Londoners looking to large it and take in the ozone. By 1893 some 327,451 were paying to visit the pier every year. Clacton’s fortunes continued to rise, and in the 1920s-30s the pier was extended and refurbished with three theatres, a dance hall, a zoo, a funfair, amusements and the first open-air swimming pool in the country.

In 1937 Butlin’s arrived and up to 100,000 visitors, many of them Eastenders, would march through their gates every week for some sensibly regimented leisure (Hi-Di-Hi was filmed a few miles further up the coast). The 1930s was Clacton’s heyday and it’s left its mark all over the town: the municipal-style construction of the 1930s is everywhere. Here and there a few Edwardian houses contradict Romford-on-Sea demeanour of the place, but thankfully nobody takes much notice.

Then came the war and Clacton’s famous sands were covered with tank traps, mines, barbed wire and dragon’s teeth to keep out Mr Hitler, and its ‘champagne air’ was filled with the sound of air-raid sirens. Clacton never really recovered – post war, people expected more sophisticated entertainments and had the money to pay for them. Light industry kept the town ticking over, but the recession of the early 1980s put an end to that, and Clacton became a centre for high unemployment.

Along Pier Street there are more amusement arcades. But their neon flashes and the screeching electronic fun sounds seem especially stranded and unhappy. Outside one of them, in the middle of the pavement, a crane-grabber game. A couple with a slightly scruffy kid in a pushchair are playing it avidly, trying to grab a stuffed toy. They fail. They try again. They fail again.

Away from the sea, towards the centre of town, like blood that has retreated from the cold, life returns and the shops and pavements are crammed with busy shoppers, the air filled with the roar of buses and the squeal of Boy Racer tyres. Crop-haired lads in brand new Adidas walk alongside girls in smart jean jackets wheeling pushchairs. No sign of yuppification here. Not even an All-Bar One.

Certainly, space is less of a premium here than, say, Bethnal Green. According to the ads in an estate agent’s window on a 1930s esplanade in the centre of town £90,000 seems to be the going price for a three bedroomed house. Thankfully, however, most of the houses on sale in the window are ugly, fairly modern houses with double glazing, plumbing that works and no dry rot, which should deter the Londoners (what would they have to talk about at dinner parties?).  Something, more Edwardian, more renovatable, more colour supplement will cost significantly more. I pop inside the shop and ask whether Londoners are beginning to buy up property here.  The estate agent, a thirty-something year-old man in one of those estate agent suits I imagine are available through mail order, eyes me warily.  He seems to think that it’s some kind of trap.

‘Well, I don’t think I can answer that question,’ he says hurriedly, turned sideways on to me, as if getting ready to run out of the back door. ‘It’s all very well you asking that kind of question.  And in fact, it’s a question that I could maybe discuss with you – if I had a few hours to spare,’ he explains, his eyes darting around his empty shop. ‘But I don’t, I’m afraid.  Good day to you.’

(I think this meant ‘no’).

So Clacton is safe for the foreseeable future – the seafront wrapped in the arms of a garish, almost Potter-esque memory of 1930s cheap-but-no-longer-quite-so-cheerful popular escapisms, while the town exudes a ‘vulgar’ vitality that should keep most self-respecting Yuppies at bay for some time to come.

Perhaps they will strike a few miles up the coast instead, at ‘respectable’ Frinton-on-Sea, a town whose whole reason for existing would appear to be to keep Clacton and much of the rest of Essex at bay. Once through the ‘gates’ as the locals call them (they’d like you to think that they live in Camelot, but in fact all they’re referring to is a level crossing) you will find no pier, no amusement arcades, no ice-cream vans, no seafront caffs. No fun, in fact.

In a supreme act of snobbery, with the exception of a row of studiously unpainted beach huts and signs threatening heavy fines for cyclists or dog-walkers who dare to venture onto the beach, Frinton refuses to even acknowledge the sea at all. There is merely a treeless windswept green lawn – the famous ‘greensward’ – between the houses and the seafront, where today a bored teenager can be spied flying a kite. Perhaps missing the customary seaside funfair and looking for any kind of thrills he can get, he allows himself to be dragged along the grass by his own kite.

Like Clacton, Frinton also owes its origins to London past. Founded by Richard Powell Cooker in the late Nineteenth Century as a genteel seaside resort for chaps who worked in the City while their wives played tennis or maintained the pallor of their skin in their beach-huts while observing the children paddling, he laid down strict rules which forbade the cooking of tripe and the keeping of ‘houses on wheels’ in the gardens. Frinton grew rapidly and by the 1920s and 30s was the chic place to reside in the Summer.  Edward and Mrs Simpson liked to stay here and once brought their Nazi chum Von Ribbentrop. Legend has it he was so put out by the frosty reception he received from Frintonians that he told Goering to make sure that the Luftwaffe bombed Frinton, which they did in 1942.

Since then Frinton has had to accept a few modern depravities, such as a fish and chip shop (albeit called ‘Nice Fish and Chips’) and, recently – despite vigorous protests from the FRA, or Frinton Residents Association – the opening of a public house.  However the real enemies have clearly been kept at bay: there is no Seattle Coffee House on Connaught Avenue, the main drag (watch out for the electric granny carts: they’re silent, surprisingly fast and driven by demons). While the curtain shop remains a glorious, reassuring temple to chintz. No wooden Venetian blinds here.

I visit the headquarters of Frinton-on-Sea’s Home Guard, otherwise known as the tennis club.  Covered today in that Essex stucco which looks like lumpy cake icing, it was the first thing that Mr Powell built of course, and with 850 members is still going strong today (even if many of the members using the clubhouse this afternoon seem more likely to lean on a golf club than swing it). The Secretary, Lt Col (Rtd) Roger Attrill is a very genial and affable man in tweeds. But I’m not fooled. I suspect that beneath this friendly, modern demeanour is someone who, when called upon, can defend Frinton from yuppie invasion. ‘There is still a men-only bar until 6pm,’ he mentions in the course of showing me round the club. ‘The ladies have their own lounge.’

Mind, there are some very large and draughty looking old houses here. Many of them art deco. So is Frinton at risk after all? I pop into the local estate agents, where I receive a much warmer welcome than in Clacton. ‘I don’t really think there’s much evidence of people from London buying a second home here,’ admitted the estate agent. ‘Quite a few want to hire a house in the Summer, but not so many want to buy here. There’s always been a premium on property in Frinton, you see. It’s managed to maintain the distinction between itself and the surrounding areas.’ Indeed it has. An ordinary semi-detached three bedroom house in one of Frinton’s Avenues will set you back £250,000.

That settles it. Frinton is impregnable. The ‘gates’, the cladding, the curtains, the golf club and the speeding granny carts would deter but not prevent the yuppies. But the property prices make Frinton a veritable fortress against change.

‘You might want to try looking in Walton-on-the-Naze, just up the coast,’ advises the agent.  ‘There you’ll find the same sized house for about half the price.’

Now I’m a little worried. Perhaps Walton is the weak link. I’ve heard there is a marina there, and we know what that means. Once in Walton, I breathe a sigh of relief. Walton has a secret weapon ranged against the invaders – one that will strike terror into their hearts. A pier. And not just any old pier, but one that is bright yellow. So yellow, in fact, that it hurts to look at. It’s almost as if the pier is trying single-handedly to live up to the ‘Sunshine Coast’ Monika Tendring District Council have improbably given this stretch of seashore. Certainly you could get burnt if you stood too close to it.

Inside there’s the usual pier amenities and, even better, a ten-pin bowling alley which smells of chips. The pier extends an impressive 2610 feet out into the sea, and along the last 1000 feet or so are a score of single men fishing in bulky jackets and woolly hats, eyes watering in the wind. Looking landwards you can see the long sandy beach which stretches Westwards up to Frinton and above it a multi-coloured shanty town of English eccentricity, the beach huts. They seem to be clinging to the cliffs like wooden birds staring blindly out to sea, waiting for Summer to come and open their eyes again.

The winding streets of Walton don’t seem to lead anywhere much except the Naze Tower sea mark, a navigational aid for seafarers built in 1720 by Trinity House on the highest point of the Naze (an Anglo Saxon word meaning ‘headland’). On it some nearly writing nearly completely worn away by two hundred years of wind and rain warns that you will be fined ‘a sum not exceeding fifty pounds’ if you vandalise it. Looking at it, however, it’s difficult to imagine how you could vandalise such a solid piece of Eighteenth century perpendicular brickwork. You would have to be very determined and even more bored. (Obviously the sign was erected before the ten pin bowling alley was installed on the pier).

From here you can make out on the horizon the silhouettes of the huge container vessels and tankers churning their way through that mud-coloured North Sea for Harwich, reportedly still training their telescopes on this very spot to make sure they don’t run aground on the treacherous offshore sand banks.

Only a few feet from the tower is the cliff edge, and on the beach below, some distance from the cliffs, are Second World War concrete pillboxes (which would make such lovely bungalow conversions, in the minimalist-brutalist style). Now covered in seaweed and limpets, but which once scanned the horizon for Mr Hitler’s invasion barges that never came.

The sea round here is however intent on its own invasion and remodelling, and it’s winning. Slowly this part of Walton is falling into the sea. In a few years, the Naze Tower itself will tumble onto the beach below. Alas, change isn’t always something inflicted by human activity, or property prices.

Looking on the bright side, however, it does mean that the Naze Tower will probably escape the indignity being converted into loft apartments.

The Liberal Media’s Hillarycidal Urges

God, but they hate her. Really, really hate her. They hate her so much they want her dead. And it’s gone way past a bloody metaphor.

Not most Democrat voters, of course, who have given her at least as many votes as Obama, (and though many Obama fans hate her passionately, religiously, a surprising number don’t actually have it in for Hillary). No, it’s the traditional media and the blogosphere that are driven, pretty much unanimously, into a murderous fury by Hills.

Last week after her slim victory in Indiana and Obama’s large one in North Carolina, both of which were pretty much as predicted, the media, as if on some pre-arranged signal, treated this as big, front page, defining moment news, all agreeing that she was ‘Finished’. ‘Toast’. ‘Over’. ‘Dead in the water’. ‘Done’. ‘Washed up.’ The powerful Senator for New York was headed for ‘Oblivion’. Ding! Dong! The witch is dead!

Again.

The London Times op-ed page cartoon last week (above) by Peter Brookes graphically/gratifyingly illustrated the Hillarycidal tendency by showing That Woman – finally! – face down, dead, speared in the back by a star from the American flag. Hurrah! America strikes back! Like most satirists, Brookes has gone to town on Hillary from the beginning, portraying her as a spiteful, hideous hag and harridan – which is his job. But, again like most satirists, and most journalists, he has found himself strangely unable to do his job when it comes to Obama: his caricatures are more like loving portraits, or religious icons. Reverse the roles and put Obama the black man in Hillary’s position, face down with an American State in his back, and the cartoon becomes utterly inconceivable except as a comment on American racism.

When Hillary had the effrontery to fail to comply with the media’s universal death sentence last week, and, instead of lying down dead on the ground, remained very much alive and well and carried on campaigning strenuously, they tried the ‘Hillary enters death-with-dignity phase’ angle. Or talked about how she’s only staying in the race because she’s ‘after money’. Or ‘campaigning for 2012′. Or how she was just ‘mad’.

And then this week, Hillary wins a huge victory in West Virginia, handing Obama his biggest defeat of the Primaries – not bad for a corpse. Though you might have missed it, because most of the media tried to bury the inconvenient Hillary-Lazarus story. If it covered the West Virginia landslide at all it was usually in the form of asking whether ‘racism’ was at the root of it. A question which it curiously failed to ask when Obama won 90% of the black vote in North Carolina, but which it now asks repeatedly whenever Hillary wins. Obama you see wins because he’s a good candidate and because black people are good people who recognise a good man when they see one; Hillary wins because she’s a desperate candidate and working-class white people are stupid and mean and… low-class.

The unanimity of the (educated, well-heeled, liberal, overwhelmingly white) media class is such and has been for some time now that you might be forgiven for thinking that some of them would feel uncomfortable with parroting one another. But then if you did, you’d be underestimating the gutless, herd-like nature of the media class.

Besides, they’re defending their interests as a class.

Why does the media class hate Hillary so viscerally and want her dead? Partly because her main constituency, the white working class, is the only group they are permitted to look down upon – and boy, do they. By accusing the white working class of being racist, which is a charge that seems to easily trump classism and sexism, they are really accusing them of being ignorant. Which they obviously are, since they don’t vote as instructed by the Fourth Estate – who know better than the electoral backbone of the Democratic Party what’s best for the Democratic Party. The shocking nakedness of the media’s bias against Hillary and her supporters is deliberate – it’s meant to demonstrate their moral and class superiority.

But the main reason why the media’s Hillarycidal fury is so extreme and so universal this time around is because they told us she was ‘dead’, ‘finished’, ‘over’, several times before – and she proved them very wrong. Repeatedly.

So she must DIE. They really want to wipe her out – not just because she proved them wrong, after all, it’s their stock-in-trade to be wrong, but because she has succeeded in conducting a campaign without their permission. That represents an intolerable challenge to their authority. How dare a politician in the 21st Century in the most advanced, most powerful country in the world carry on winning elections without the support of the media or the blogosphere? Who the hell does that bitch think she is?

Hillary’s chances of winning the nomination are certainly not, as the media class keeps telling you – and has been since February – non-existent. But they are very slim. And I make no claim, from this side of the Atlantic, in one of the US’s military satellites currently at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, to know who would make a better President of the United States – even if I think it crystal clear which one has a chance of actually beating the Republicans who embarked on those wars (clue: the one who keeps winning the big swing states).

But I would love for Hillary Clinton to win the Nomination for one reason and one reason alone. To force the media class on both sides of the Pond to choke on its hideously unattractive Hillarycidal hat.

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