Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Give me eggs and decent toast and I’ll be in Frinton like a shot
- Credit: citizenside.com
I was back to Frinton for filming, on 2017’s finest Sunday morning so far, writes Martin Newell.
A few years ago, Frinton-on-Sea was the subject of a BBC 2 Wonderland documentary. If I’d hoped for something better I was stupidly optimistic.
From start to finish the film was a classic example of the metro media sneering at the provinces.
The Curious World of Frinton was based on the usual tired premise that Frinton is full of people who, by virtue of the fact they’re old, must be out of touch, reactionary and senile. Unfortunately, they did film one woman who, it was later discovered, had Alzheimer’s.
On the last day, as they loaded the van, I’d imagine that both production team and crew were in jubilant mood. I’m glad about this, because they left out all of Frinton’s best bits, thereby ensuring it has not yet been invaded by doltish Londonists who’ve been priced out of places like Southwold and Aldeburgh.
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Frinton, Essex, on a sunny April morning, is stunning. It has nearly everything going for it but my breakfast, as I will soon discover. That’s another story.
The smart seaside town was conceived out of pure snobbery. The lack of a pier, amusement arcades, fun-fair rides and candy-floss kiosks was deliberate. They wanted an English answer to Deauville in Normandy, which during the 1920s was popular with the swan-roasting set.
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If the modernist architect Oliver Hill, along with his colleagues, who were busy giving Frinton a makeover in the early 1930s, had not argued with the builders quite so much, and if the money had not run out, we might well have had the full Art Deco experience here. The money, however, did run out. Then the Second World War intervened. Hill’s proposed ocean-liner of a hotel never got built.
Speaking of the war, one little-known gem about Frinton is that it is credited as the last place on the British mainland to have been attacked by the Luftwaffe.
Like an architectural Ozymandias, Hill’s incomplete monument remains the finest collection of Art Deco houses in the country. There are about 40 of them, and if you like that type of thing they’re great. I can take or leave them myself. I certainly wouldn’t want to live in one.
Apparently, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, the Hollywood actor, war hero and Anglophile, liked them so much he bought one and lived there. It was eventually demolished in traditional Essex style. An even more traditional block of flats stands on the site today.
As a matter of personal preference, I prefer the houses at the opposite end of town. Stroll down the gently-sloping greensward and you will see The Rock Hotel, which has seven rooms, reasonable prices and a brace of very warm reviews to its credit. In fact, I think I may go and spend a weekend there the next time my own town decides to hold yet another arts festival.
Close to The Rock Hotel are Frinton’s crown jewels: the Avenues. Frinton’s beautiful avenues are probably where Beverly Hills in Hollywood stole all their best ideas. Nearly every house is an individual example of suburban English beauty. In these splendid dwellings will also be seen the witty borrowings of Spanish, Italian, French and even medieval styles. Each house has its own whims and follies but the dominant flavour remains Tudorbethan.
The Avenues are generously wide and tree-lined. There are no pot-holes, nor do cars belt up and down them at speed every few seconds, as occurs in other celebrated Essex towns.
I have no idea who lives in the Avenues nowadays. Decades ago, however, I was given to understand that distinguished old generals, admirals and matrons settled down here after living their great lives.
People lately tell me that perhaps Frinton’s shops in Connaught Avenue are not quite as plentiful as they once were. They are still better than those in many other towns.
Butchers, bakers and fishmongers are still to be found here. I have one gripe.
Last Sunday, because we needed to catch the light and film the streets before they became too busy, it was an early shoot.
By 9am, I was becoming light-headed because I’d had no food. The first place we entered managed my cup of coffee, as well as toast and marmalade for the camera crew. Twenty minutes on, however, my poached egg on toast still hadn’t arrived. We enquired. It arrived. It was cold. I didn’t make a fuss, but paid for what we’d had and went in search of another place.
Another 20 minutes later the scrambled eggs I’d ordered arrived, along with some warmish toast and four pats of butter so comprehensively melted that only their wrappers remained, like Dear Johns on my plate. The toast was consequently so dry I could manage only half of it. A gentleman and his wife at the next table were telling the waitress their food was “stone cold”.
I didn’t have time for a consumer rights tussle about my customer experience. Between the two establishments they’d used up 15 English pounds and almost an hour of my time. The pair of them are part of the reason why I no longer visit untried English restaurants much. Apart from that, I’d move to Frinton like a shot.