An extract from the memoir of philosopher Andy Martinby Andy Martin / November 13, 2014 / Leave a comment
Andy Martin teaches French philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Growing up in Essex inspired him to write about surfing, Brigitte Bardot, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, Napoleon Bonaparte—in short, anything other than Essex. Until now. He is currently writing “Nausea in New York,” recording the secret war between existentialists and the FBI.
How do you get Geoff Russell, Johnny Herne, my twin brother and me on a single bike? Easy! My brother on the rear, Geoff on the crossbar, me pedalling and Johnny sitting up in front, on the handlebars. Which was a bit unfortunate for him. Not so much on account of the brake dropping off half way down Avalon Road—about a 1 in 5 gradient—when we had picked up maximum speed. More because of the brick wall on the far side of Merlin Gardens that we inevitably crashed into. Actually, it wasn’t that bad. Johnny sustained only a broken arm and some minor lacerations, and wandered about forlornly in a cast for a month or two that summer, with the rest of us writing hilarious comments on it. That bike was never quite the same though.
Avalon Road and Merlin Gardens are still there. That immovable wall has gone. In Geoff Russell’s front garden—the very house where I first kissed Wendy Smith!—there is now a flagpole proudly flying the flag of St George. Drawn back by dreams and rumours of Essex, I’ve bought a cheap day return to the far-off, far-fetched land of myth and miracle where I grew up. You’d think it would be wall-to-wall déjà-vu—but it’s all unsubtly different, as if I had jumped the tracks and alighted in a parallel universe. Through my schoolboy years, I used to live in Nowheresville, clinging to the fringes of Outer London. I’ve returned to Selfie City, the capital of consumerism, populated by pop idols and reality TV stars, bottle-tanned blondes and muscular dudes living out a perpetual party.
“Essex girls!” screams a passing t-shirt, emblazoned with an enormous pair of pouting lips, in Romford market place. If only I’d known of their fabulous, air-headed existence then, perhaps I would never have run away. Back in the day, the only sex in Essex was in the second syllable.
I could tell you that I was born in…