Showing the best of SS9
I had a friend come to visit at the weekend. She's been here before, but it mostly involved pubs, the Pink Toothbrush ("I remember being in a cage..." she reminisced), gigs and late night chips. This weekend, she came to visit in the actual day, and Leigh on Sea put on the grandest show for her. Sun! Real sun! Blue skies! Daytripping crowds! A glittering tide!
We met at Leigh station and trundled to the Old Town past the cockle sheds, smirking at wildly optimistic drivers thinking they'd get a space down there. The place was heaving. The queue for fish at Osbornes snaked around the corner. The queue for beer at the Crooked Billet almost reached the mini roundabout. We went to the (ssshhhhh, don't shout it) Mayflower. Swiftly becoming one of my favourite places in Leigh. One of the only places that ever has tables.
"They built a pub in the back of the chip shop," I smugly told my friend as we arrived, proud of the genius of it. We found a table outside and sat in the sun, ate, drank, caught up. We walked to the beach; the tide was going out, revealing those orca-smooth rivulets and channels, slick and shining in the afternoon sun. We stood on the always-windy Bell Wharf, amid industrial fishing crates stacked like a child's Lego tower.
We walked up Church Hill: it showed pretty soon that our friend has been running 10ks and we've... well, not. She strode to the top while Jo and I huffed and puffed, enforcing the "no talking" rule up one of Leigh's meanest, steepest (but prettiest) streets.
We joined another queue - this time for Poco Gelato. Our friend was impressed with Hot Cross Bun flavoured ice cream. I had a strawberry sorbet that tasted so much like a bowl of perfect summer fruit I could have wept. We walked. We showed off our new flat - not so new, a year old for us, but new to our pal. We went out into the garden. The plum tree is now in creamy-coloured blossom. The baby pink camellia is blooming. The ice-white hyacinths scent the whole garden.
We walked her down to the station via a quick drink at Ten Green Bottles where we were all separately approached by a very tipsy young man who tried his level best to engage with us, taken, sober and at least 15 years older. Ah, youth. Youth and beer.
After waving our friend off at the station we realised how much we'd walked: in full sun, nourishing, restorative spring sunshine. We've needed it, haven't we? I felt such pride for Leigh this weekend, showing off the best bits. When Jo and I got home, after the sun had gone in and we were reminded it was categorically NOT summer yet (despite the scant outfits witnessed in SS9, I do love British optimism) we said we felt like we'd been camping: our faces had that warmed, sunkissed feel to them from childhood holidays, our limbs tired, our tummies full of chips and ice cream.