Our holiday, from the initial internet research, sounded too good to be true: a caravan site located right next to the sea, with miles of sandy beaches. A site just one mile from the “pretty village of St Osyth” – which, statistically, is the driest , sunniest place in the whole of the UK. And rock-bottom prices as well? Something’s up, surely?
One day, I decided to walk the three miles along the ‘promenade’ to Clacton. There you find miles and miles of beach – but not really the sandy kind, more the sand-and-pebbles-and-sea-holly-and-dogshit-and-syringes kind. Within minutes of starting, I was passing the coastal front of the town of Jaywick. Nothing had prepared me for the experience.
For every house with a proud elderly couple, be-deckchaired, sipping tea and surrounded by gnomes, there is another dwelling that is either boarded up, fallen down or burnt-out.
Why are there pensioners holidaying in a shanty town, I wondered? Whatever the reason, I quickened my pace, and glanced nervously down all the ‘roads’ perpendicular to the beach; most houses had old sofas and televisions piling up in the yard, with burnt-out or broken-down cars blocking the entrances.
The roads themselves are not made of tarmac, they are made of decaying, lop-sided slabs of concrete. The houses all look poorly-built, patched up over the years with odd, crumbling verandas and bizarre patios on stilts.
But the most striking thing of all about Jaywick was the lack of people – this was midday, and it was virtually a ghost town. If it wasn’t for the odd hunched-backed old woman scurrying nervously past me, and the couple of gangs of tattooed neanderthals kicking a ball about, eyeing me suspiciously, I could well have been in downtown Chernobyl.
I looked the place up when I got back from holiday, and here are the facts: Jaywick was created by a dodgy London wide-boy before the war who bought up a barren area of land, threw up tiny houses as cheaply as possible and marketed them as cheap getaway holiday chalets for the workers. The state of the buildings now is testimony to just how cheaply they must have been constructed. Some of the original Eastenders who bought up their dream affordable home, away from the smoke of London made it their permanent residence, and now proudly refuse to move in spite of everything else happening around them. And what’s happening is that Jaywick has become the place that the London councils and social services relocate problem familes and drug addicts, in the hope they might have some chance of rehabilitation away from the Smokes. As a result, according to official statistics, Jaywick is the most deprived area in the UK – which is going some.
On the plus side, it’s also cheapest place to buy a ‘house’ in the whole of the UK, which probably explains why the poor bastards who decided to plough their meagre life-savings into retiring there, cannot afford to leave. It has to be seen to be believed.