Going Coastal

It is the dead of night and I'm lying wide awake in a crappy room, in a crappy guesthouse in Southend-on-Sea, a favourite coastal resort in Essex's blue collar heartland, where generations of holidaymakers have sought respite from the travails of working-class life by sitting on a shingle beach and gazing into the grey waters of the Thames estuary. Here, as in similar towns across the country, gangs of teenage girls in too-short skirts teeter on impossibly high heels, bar hopping in celebration of a 21st birthday or an impending marriage; young men get into drunken brawls outside pubs and nightclubs and families seek out the bright lights and primary colours of the theme park rides and amusement arcades.

In the street outside my window, a loudly contested dispute has finally moved elsewhere but is replaced by the sharp clatter of a discarded beer can rolling around in the sea breeze. The noise is so loud it seems to reverberate around my skull, denying me the chance of sleep. After what seems like hours of this auditory torture I can stand it no longer. I venture outside, half naked, in search of the source of my torment. I wander around in the gloom, peer under parked cars, scan the road, but the can is nowhere in sight, and indeed from that moment on it will remain silent, as though some unseen force is toying with me. I return to the room expecting the clatter to resume the instant I am back in bed but instead it is replaced by the relentless, muffled rantings of a drunken lunatic in the guesthouse next door who conspires with my snoring roommates to make worse my insomnia. The forecast for the rest of the week is for rain and a planned rail strike has scuppered any hope of an early escape back to London.

My two travelling companions are friends and fellow photographers. We are grown men and between us have three mortgages, one marriage, two children and another forthcoming - mine. Why are we staying in this shit-hole? Why do we embark on these absurd odysseys, these fool's errands? Perhaps to satisfy an obsessive desire, a compulsion, to document the human condition (or "life today", as William Eggleston once put it) in all its fascinating diversity. Or to feed an addiction to the momentary excitement, the visceral high, of discovering a good picture on a contact sheet or laptop screen. Or perhaps, like the drunken lunatic next door, we are simply madmen.  View Images »»