Essex is bad gravity. Oort cloud disruption. Dark matter at England’s edge, pulling me from canalside.
Dragged backwards, I watch London unravel. The city stutters, loses momentum in the Essex fringes. Unable to finds its place on the page, its story ends long before the official psychic marker of the M25.
What makes it worse is that every journey back here recently seems to be made under migraine weather. Bruised sky sulking low over suburban roofs and spent fields. A constant static of cold, spiteful rain.
By the time the track is flirting with water between Leigh and Chalkwell, a mist is fleeing the estuary. Sky, sea and land becoming enmeshed. Everything drawn from the same palette of battle-weary greys.
Punching through this confusion is the solid form of the former HMS Wilton. A dead minehunter enduring an afterlife moored in the limbo between Thames and North Sea. Distilled naval drabness. The ‘plastic pig’ was the world’s first warship made of glass-reinforced plastic. Its construction designed to reduce its magnetic signature. In this colour hypoxia, its greyout camouflage keeps it invisible to the last
Before Wilton, the mooring was taken by the Bembridge. A 1930s pilot tender and Dunkirk hero. Plucky amateur battler being replaced with hardened professional warrior whilst my back was turned on the old patch forces me to remember.
There was furtive childhood exploring of the Bembridge. My fear at being caught as dense as the smell of dead engine oil. The stealthiest of steps still producing wooden creaks and metallic echoes.
The ship was a highlight of winter walks along the shore path from Old Leigh to Westcliff. Every step of the journey accompanied by a pulsing beat of rigging forced to slap mast by the wind. The crowd of dinghies stored on wooden jetties till spring a providing the most intense rhythmic chorus. When I got my first watch at the age of seven, I used to hold it to my ear. I could free myself from whatever was troubling me by listening to the workings. I did not hear tick-tock, I heard magic. I marvelled at how the thing on my wrist captured the sound the boats and bluster.
This in part is the power of Essex. It was home. It will always make me remember. History is gravity.