Head East out of London, about as far East as you can go without falling in the water, and you will hit the sprawling conurbation known mostly as Southend-on-Sea.
Most of us have been there at some stage. Whether it’s to feed the slot machines and dig holes in the beach, or to go a-cruisin’ and a-clubbin’, it has for nearly two centuries been a playground for East Londoners. And it is furthermore one of the City’s most accessible dormitory towns. It is but a 50 minute excursion by (non-state-of-the-art) train across the Essex heartland, or 1 hour and 15 minutes drive down the oh-so-scenic A13 – in other words an easier journey than attempting to cross London. And it is for the most part a friendly, earthy town, a tad rough around the edges, but jolly and uncomplicated (a bit like Londonist in the morning).
But it is a town with a dilemma. Does it go all out to preserve the olde-world charme of the quainte seaside resorte, peeling pier paint, drunken ravers, blue rinses ‘n’ all, or does it ‘smarten up’, regenerate and reinvent itself as an uber-chic coastal destination, replete with marina, swish hotels, bars with real glasses and restaurants that don’t have ketchup on the table? (Actually a little unfair – Southend has a lot of nice restaurants; you just have to hunt around for them a bit, and they are nowhere near the, er, touristy areas.)
Londonist doesn’t know the solution. We like Southend. We like the squidge of mud between our toes, the warm beer and the cockles, and the geo-genetic bond that Old Father Thames gives us with this estuary town, like a salt-smelly strand of DNA. What we will say is that when last we visited, the seafront was jam-packed full of East-enders having a high old time, and the kiosks along the sun-kissed littoral were alive with the sound of ringing tills. Why change a winning formula and spoil a very long, loving relationship with the capital?
Photo of Southend pier is taken from yaraaa's Flickr stream under a Creative Commons License.