24/09/2021

SOUTH BENFLEET

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We were living in Byfleet Surrey and I was working in Southend-On-Sea, not the kindest of journeys around the South Circular with nightmare roads either end of my trip, the A3 and A127. Today everyone whinges about the M25 but this was worse!

In Benfleet we bought an upside-down house, living upstairs, sleeping down. Its name was ‘Platform 1’ with a railway platform sign outside; it was apparently salvaged from a redevelopment of the adjacent station. We only had one delivery problem, that went to the station itself.

Platform One, Station Road, South Benfleet Essex SS7 1NG
my Citroen CX 2000 and Jane’s Capri in the garage

Jane and I, being from Bristol, had grown up with a trip to Weston-Super-Mare as a routine childhood day-trip. As a result we’ve always loved an occasional trip to the traditional English seaside resort with its prom, pier, arcades, donkey rides and the usual candy floss, toffee apples…  We therefore saw the proximity of Southend as a real bonus.

The previous householder part-owned a promotional agency that had supplied the inflatable pig used at Pink Floyd concerts. They had ‘wall-papered’ much of the house with calico and there were several other quirky features. But the USP was the view from the dining room and balcony that looked out over Canvey Island. The house below us on the steep Station Road, conveniently blocked our view of the industry on the island and left us a remarkable view of the rural elements of the island, of ships on the Thames estuary, boats on Benfleet creek, which, with the trains and cars, provided 24-7 entertainment.

Just around the corner was a famous pie ‘n’ mash stall where you could buy jellied eels and pie, mash and liquor, a real East-End tradition. While we lived there someone was shot from a passing car, while queueing for an order.  However, this was exceptional; the area was otherwise pleasantly suburban.

KeyMed helped the Palace Theatre in Westcliff-on-Sea by paying for a new sound system and as a result we got tickets to every production.  This meant we went to see many things that would not normally have attracted us, finding them almost universally to have merit and interest, including a night with Hinge & Bracket which I would not have chosen to see.

Dr Evadne Hinge & Dame Hilda Bracket

This led to us developing a long-term interest in attending West-End plays and musicals. Fortunately, friends we’d made back in Byfleet produced theatre curtains and soft furnishings for many new shows and they got us invitations to several first-nights.

I had one traumatic speedy journey from Benfleet. I learned from Mum that Dad had a stroke (his first), subsequently something of a family habit, and she was fearful for his survival. I drove the 175 miles from Southend to Bristol like a lunatic, flashing my lights, using my horn, I had rationalised that if the police stopped me, they would understand my need to get there. This was pre-M25 though my experience of that road suggests it would not have helped. I went straight through London and made it, during a business day, in just under four hours. No-one batted an eyelid along the route, but then cameras were not yet on every junction and traffic light. Thankfully my father pulled through, but this proved to be the first of four or five strokes that weakened and eventually took him.

ASIDE: Working with Keymed, I had a very strange experience in a small ivy-clad country hotel in rural Derbyshire, while visiting an RAF station. I had checked in, eaten and was reading in bed. I turned out the light and immediately there was a scratching at my window. Spooked I switched the light back on and it promptly stopped. I went to the window, drew the curtains to see ivy all around the window but no sign of what was doing the scratching.

I tried a number of times and the effect was the same. I called down to the night porter explaining my problem and asked him to go out to the front of the hotel and look up to my room when I switched off. He reported seeing nothing and came to the room where we tried again, we were both a bit spooked by now. Eventually all was revealed. In the window recess was a lamp and the lightshade was made of some two-layer plastic material. It was this material cooling when the light went out that was producing the noise. I found it settled down after ten minutes.

 

Sarah & Matt 1977-8

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