The eccentric new city that’s as authentically English as you can find

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Three things pulled me into The Cornucopia. One, the roguish black and gold paint job. Two, the sign “reputedly Essex’s smallest pub.” Three, the sign “most improved pub of the year 2007”. I stepped inside and wondered what it was like before. At the bar was a drunk guy and his wife watching the F1 on a phone, and another couple, who the drunk guy kept apologising to for being drunk. Still, £3.50 for a pint of John Smiths.

I liked The Cornucopia, I really did. There was an honesty to it, an authenticity. And the saucy postcards on the wall reminded me of childhood holidays by the sea. I thought of Michael. “Paninis, soy lattes, man buns.” There was none of that here. 

Did the mannequin have a name? The barman thought it was Hogarth. Which was funny because I was expecting Hogarthian scenes down Southend high street (I’d been reading up online ahead of my visit). But I was disappointed. It looked like any other high street: parasitic chains, empty shops, a few independents, hooded youths on e-scooters, a general sense of decline. It made me wonder what the future holds for Britain’s high streets. Surely the revival can’t be fuelled by vape shops. 

The beach was calling. A one-star TripAdvisor review drew me there. “What a joke,” lamented keyboard warrior frad70. “Dirty, muddy water is not the worst thing. Not even the smell of smoked marijuana.” What was it, then? “Razor-like, fossilised shells make it impossible to walk in the water without shoes on – even if you do wear them try not to fall down or you may see blood on your hands. Your blood pouring from some fresh wound.” I simply had to go. 

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