The Armada comes to Southend?

A good friend of mine, that I shall not embarrass by using his name, said to me recently that he admired my get-up-and-go. If I made up my mind to do something, I would not prevaricate. Once decided, off I went. I make a decision and then act upon it. No further discussion.

Let me give you an example. An item on the BBC website last week talked about a Spanish galleon visiting our shores. Last week it was moored in Weymouth but, more usefully, it was due to arrive in Southend at midday on Wednesday and moor at the end of Southend Pier.

Not the kind of thing you come across every day, I thought. Besides, hadn’t we sunk the last bunch of galleons to come our way? Francis Drake? Playing bowls? Fire ships et cetera. It all comes flooding back.

Well, this is of course a replica galleon, not the real thing. None of those left. Nonetheless, worthy perhaps of a little excursion with the camera.
Geographically it looks simple. Thirty five miles as the crow flies. Easy peasy.

The thing is that the crow doesn’t fly from Tonbridge to Southend. The crow’s hypothetical 35 miles transmogrifies into 56 miles by road and sill more by rail. Big deal I hear you say. And for any other motorist, the 56 miles present no obstacle. But for old parky boy here it might just as well be 500 miles. My motoring these days is confined, by mutual consent with my children, to little more than trips to the supermarket or to the local pub for a glass of alcohol free stout (and yes such a thing does exist). You have to know your limitations and these are mine.

But a few weeks ago I was issued with my disabled persons railcard, providing a 33% reduction in rail fares. So I decide to let the train take the strain. No crows, no cars. Onto Trainline to calculate the various permutations of the journey available to me. 09:44 Tonbridge to London Bridge, due to arrive at 10:19. A quick overland schlep to Fenchurch Street in order to catch the 11:12 to Southend Central due to arrive at said destination at 11:58. Simples.

For a normal able-bodied person with a car, the itinerary goes something like this:

11:00 a.m. Get in car and drive to destination.
12.00 p.m. Get out of car at destination.

For myself a person with Parkinson’s it’s more like this:

6:11 AM all Start to draw up list of required items (medications, sunglasses, hat, disabled Railcard, blue badge, walking stick, tens pads, camera, phone and three speed orbital sander. Yes, you’re right about the orbital sander – just checking to see who is still awake.
6:55 AM Pack said items (minus the orbital sander) into appropriate bag.
7:05 AM Go through selection of bags to determine which is most appropriate. Finally pack the items into the bag again.
7:33 AM Go through possible weather scenarios in order to travel with due deference to the weather but not obsessive.
7:38 AM Take 30 minutes to redefine obsessive and weather. Repack bag once more.
8:08 AM Leave house.
8:11 AM Return to house and check all doors are locked.
8:13 AM Leave house.
8:20 AM Reassess weather and decide Arctic grey Russian hat is surplus to requirement. Return to house to adjust packing.
8:23 AM Leave house.
8:37 AM Arrive at Tonbridge car park.
8:38 AM Take 11 circuits of car park to decide upon the best disabled parking spot. Switch off engine.
8:43 AM Switch on engine after seeing a car vacate a better spot.
8:49 AM Pursue said car to exit then take said space. Switch off engine.
8:58 AM Stand behind painfully slow woman to buy a ticket. Woman is from Latvia, has two children and a husband in the Russian army. She does not understand the ticket machine and is trying to scan her passport. The queue is getting longer. Rail employees explain that she does not need her passport. This takes a while. None speak Russian. Trains come and go including mine.
9:11 AM Mood of the queue is turning ugly. Nobody able to help (unless tut-tutting counts). Decide to pay on train.
9:17 AM Take the next train. Conductor cheerfully informs passengers there is no working toilet on the train. Not good news.
9:58 AM Jump off the train at London Bridge with the kind of speed associated with Olympic sprinters on way to toilet.
10:01 AM Snatch victory from the jaws of defeat so to speak. That was a close one.
10:11 AM Set off to Fenchurch Street on foot.
10:22 AM Lurching walk persuades me taxi is the better deal.
10:26 AM Flag down taxi.
10:27 AM Swiftly realise taxi driver is unrehabilitated West Ham supporter.
10:28 AM Forced to listen to entire lifetime’s worth of racist drivel.
10:41 AM Decide not to tip him.
10:42 AM 30 minutes to spare before connecting train. Time to compare the culinary options for lunch. M & S for a sandwich of crayfish tails, a side salad and a pomegranate spritzer. Or Burger King’s “Meat Is Murder” slab of dead things in a bun.
10:51 AM Decide to slaughter crayfish instead. Not sure why things that live in water have a lower moral price. Not sure I would agree if I was a crayfish.
11:01 AM Train is announced. Platform three.
11:12 AM On time departure.
11:58 AM Arrive in Southend punctually after around 20 stops. Mostly modern boxy dwellings. Lots of BMWs with tinted windows. High preponderance generally of drug dealers it seems. Essex. Not a fan.
12:05 PM Walk down to Southend Pier. Masts visible in the distance. Decide to use the little railway. Decidedly rickety. Like me. The souvenir shop sells postcards showing occasions when it appears the railway collapsed into the sea. Not reassuring.

A word about Southend Pier. Apparently, and entirely unbeknown to me, Southend boasts the longest pleasure pier in the world at the length of 1.34 miles (over 7000 feet) and more than 2 km. By any standards, a large narrow projection out into the estuary although wide enough to have its own railway along its length. In the words of one time resident, the poet laureate John Betjeman “the pier is Southend. Southend is the pier”.

The length of the pier is largely determined by the geography. Southend mud flats extend so far beyond the coast that high tide is as little as 18 feet, making navigation closer to the shore impossible for keeled boats and yachts. The pier was first opened in 1889 and the railway a year later. Used as housing for prisoners of war during World War I, and by the Royal Navy in the Second World War, the pier has experienced several fires.

12:15 PM Join the queue waiting to be allowed to board the galleon at 2 PM.
12:35 PM Much queue jumping by people who don’t speak English. Apparently Spanish do not queue.
13:05 p.m. Take out my camera only to realise I have left the SD card behind. Young mother asks me not to swear in front of her child. I apologise and explain. Another takes my email address and offers to take pictures on her camera for me. Sue from Shoeburyness. Touched by her kindness but not optimistic I will see the photos.
13:30 PM Interviewed by local news station for their evening bulletin. “Is this my first time aboard a Spanish galleon?” Er…yes.
14:05 PM Nominal opening time of 2 PM comes and goes.
14:25 PM Gate finally opens and we are ushered/bundled aboard.
14:55 PM Shown off ship. Buy sticks of Southend Rock and head back to shore on rickety railway. Can’t remember when I last had candy floss. Must be decades. Decide against the “Kiss me quick” baseball cap. If
15Which:15 PM Same goes for the pirate hat.
15:22 PM Train back to Fenchurch Street.
16:11 PM Taxi to London Bridge (Millwall supporter this time, just as politically incorrect). He doesn’t get a tip either aIffter listening to the sewage which passes for informed comment in his book.
16:32 PM Train to Tonbridge. Uneventful.
17:29 PM Home.
17:54 PM Phone pings. Message from Sue. Photos of galleon attached. What a sweet lady.