When my Mother was a Wren during the war she was a plotter at Harwich. I rang Jean Syms, a good friend of Mum's who had been a plotter too, to find out where they'd worked. She said they'd plotted at Parkston Quay and, whether Jean said it or I imagined it, I think they worked in some sort of underground bunker. She said they lodged in a tall house on the front at Dovercourt which faced straight out to the North Sea. Mum was an expert at puttying windows and said she learned the skill at Harwich, putting back all the panes that blew out. They slept with newspapers between their skimpy blankets.I also wanted to go to The Pier, a hotel on the quayside, recommended by Fiona and by Karen from The Colchester Oyster Fishery. I stopped in the main shopping street in town to find the address and reversed into a rubbish bin – kissing it, rather than knocking it over. When I realised what I had done I edged forward and the bin returned to vertical, but a small chinaman wearing a huge pair of trousers, who was waiting at the bus-stop, leapt in the air, hooting with laughter and gesticulating at me with his stick. I gave a friendly wave, thanking him for pointing out my mistake – and drove on. Luckily only a graze of black rubber on the Thetford cassette outside door, but I was cross with myself. I am still not very good at judging distance when going backwards.
I had an excellent crab for lunch at The Pier which was busy with well to do visitors and sharp-suited businessmen, and then I went for a walk. The town has a certain elegance, and a touch of Dickens about it. There's lots going on at the quayside, and the docks are busy with ships and cranes, but the town feels poor. Lots of people were hanging around with nothing to do - maybe everyone was just enjoying the sun.
|A bit of Harwich elegance!|
Eventually I got out of the carpark (suffice to say it involved a lot of backwards) and went to Dovercourt, now a very nice residential part of Harwich. I tried to imagine where the Wrens had lived, but the tall houses on the front all looks very comfortable, with window-boxes and well painted windows bathed in warm sun. It could imagine how blowy it would be in the winter.
Parkston Quay, where the Navy was based, is now the International Port – very smart and new. The only old building is the railway station, but I was told that there is still some sort of bunker under the terminal, that is not accessible to the public.