Last week, we took our first seaside trip of the year. In the party were Lucy, Jeremy, their (rather unwell) boxer dog Callie, Briony, and me.
As is our custom, we met at the Broca, outside Brockley Station, and bought coffee and vegan cupcakes to take in the car.
Our initial destination was the Leigh on Sea Vintage and Handmade Fayre - 'vintage and handmade' meant that there were stalls selling handmade jewellery, clothing, and homewares, stalls selling vintage examples of same, and stalls selling things handmade using vintage materials (the two-tier cake stand made from an old LP and EP was a particular favourite of mine). But the highlight of the fayre, to my mind, were our fellow-shoppers, many of whom had dressed for the occasion - saddle shoes, pomade, and elaborate hairstyles were much in evidence.
Then we headed to Southend for lunch at the Railway Tavern, a vegetarian pub with anarchist-punk roots, and live music in the evenings. We were told that dogs were sometimes allowed, but not today (what time would have been better than a sleepy Saturday afternoon is a mystery to me. Perhaps Callie would have irritated the meeting of militant vegetarians sitting at the table next to ours (overheard: 'I think, probably, everyone who works in a slaughterhouse is psychotic').
Our waiter looked like he was probably still in his teens, and was visibly relieved when we all ordered the same drink (fresh-squeezed orange juice). 'Well, that's easy to remember!', he told us. After a slightly less straightforward food order (three 'crassburgers' - one without sauce, and a goats cheese burger), he brought out our cutlery, wrapped in purple napkins, My little bundle was, to be frank, a bit of a mess. 'I know it's not very neatly done', he apologised, 'but I do try!'
The kitchen staff didn't look any older than him, and as we waited for our meal I caught the occasional glimpse of a 6th-former pan-frying onions or deep-frying chips in the kitchen. As our waiting time lengthened, my expectations for our meal diminished.
How wrong I was - those teenagers can cook! The unfortunately-named crassburger was a big, soft, flavoursome patty in a warm bun, served with caramelised onions. It was miles ahead of any other veggieburger I've had in years. The chips were hand-cut, fresh, and delicious.
After our meal, we headed to Southend's seaside, strolled a bit, sat on its (small and crowded) sandy beach, then headed back to Leigh (but not before a convertible drove by filled with teenage girls all singing along enthusiastically to Tenacious D's classic, 'Fuck Her Gently' (with its eminently sing-alongable line 'What's your favourite dish? I'm not gonna cook it but I'll order it - from Zanzibar!')
All day we'd been discussing good coffee, and Lucy told us she'd scoped out Leigh and Southend for good cafes with no luck. But as we drove past it, I spotted The Coffee Bean Company, so we found a place to park and Jeremy and I doubled back to the cafe while Lucy and Briony browsed a vintage shop we'd happened to park next to.
When Jeremy and I returned with our (very good) coffees, Briony had gone into 'It's Teatime', a German tea shop, to buy loose leaf fruit tea. Briony beckoned me in so I went inside, acutely conscious that I was carrying their competitor's takeaway coffees.
'What is that you're carrying?', the proprietor asked me. He was an imposing German man wearing a rather incongruous Calgary Flames t-shirt. 'It's coffee,' I said sheepishly.
'Hmmph! You have it in a paper bag,' he observed.
'Umm, sort of...' I replied.
'The taste in a paper bag is no good. But even here, we give customers paper bags when they ask for them. I was in American - and Starbucks, they had to stop serving coffee in paper bags, they went back to porcelain, because their customers did not like the taste.'
He was on a roll, so I didn't correct him, just made noises of assent and told Briony I, and her coffee, would wait for her outside.
We waited for quite a while, because after painstakingly measuring out Briony's tea into foil packets, he took her through the brewing instructions for all three types of tea. This was going an especially long distance beyond the call of duty, since the instructions for all three teas were identical.
'For this tea, the water must be 100 degrees, yes? Put one teaspoon for each person, and one for the pot - this is very important. Then let steep for five to ten minutes. Five will be weak. 10 is better.' It's worth mentioning that this information was printed, with numbers and graphics, across the bottom of each label - but this man was leaving nothing to chance.
Finally, he reached the last packet. 'Unfortunately, this is in German only,' he apologised, before pointing to the graphics and numbers printed at the bottom of the label: ''For this tea, the water must be 100 degrees,' he recited. 'Put one teaspoon for each person, and one for the pot - this is very important. Then let steep for five to ten minutes.'
Having since brewed the tea at home, I can say unequivocally that it was worth the wait. And if I return, I will take time to have a tea or coffee (in porcelain cups) at one of their tables.
Then it was on to the day's final pre-planned destination: What the Butler Saw, an old-style arcade of small vintage shops. It turned out that a recent barista-school graduate (and serious coffee aficionado) has set up a little cafe in the arcade, so we felt compelled to have another coffee. I sampled her first-ever attempt at a soya flat white, which was delicious. We had a hypercaffeinated browse through the arcade (Briony wanted to buy the reclining dentist's chair, Jeremy and I were tempted by the Super Nintendo system (with a note saying it had been tested, and was fully functional!). At the back of the arcade, we came across a rather sinister sight:
We finished our trip with a walk by the seaside as the sun went down. It was low tide, and lots of boats (including one battleship) were left standing up on the sand. As we walked, a group of local youths were shouting abuse at some poor guy walking near us. Eventually, one of them shouted 'Oy, briefcase wanker!', which I can only assume referred to me. I guess there's not much to do in the evening in Leigh on Sea if you're a teenager. Though at least one local resident has an elegant way with a spraycan:
After our walk, it was time to head home, with Zeppelin on the stereo and good cheer in our hearts.