We went last night for the Systems Administrator's delayed birthday night out in Harwich. I like the old town in Harwich, and if it were not a slightly over-long and tedious drive we'd probably go there more often, if we went out. To get to Harwich you have to use the A120, which you share with rather a lot of lorries heading for the port, while the multi-lingual signs on the way home reminding you to drive on the left serve to emphasise that some of your fellow road users are likely to be very tired, and not guaranteed to remember which side of of the road they are supposed to be on.
The last stretch as you approach Harwich is not dual carriage way. If the Bathside Bay port development had gone ahead then paying to dual the remainder of the A120 would have been one of the planning conditions. The proposal to extend the port has been rumbling around for at least four decades, according to a friend who has lived in the area for that long, but has been kicked back into the long grass yet again due to a combination of planning concerns, economic concerns, and the fact that in the meantime a large new container port has opened much further up the Thames estuary. If Bathside Bay had gone ahead we would probably have had a quarry next to our house, so on balance we are happy to live with the non-dualled stretch of A120. It is a dismal road, though, prone to banks of fog, and the same friend who knows about the port's planning history says it feels haunted.
The worst bit of the A120 is actually the stretch of dual carriage way nearer home. I have grumbled in the past about how much I dislike turning right on to that road, or turning right off it. In fact, nowadays I refuse to use the junction at all, except to turn left off the main road, and last night we took the back route through Tendring and picked up the A120 at the Weeley roundabout, at the point where it reverts to single carriageway. People have been killed on that stretch of road, and in January the authorities spent spent several hundred thousand pounds painting new white lines and rearranging the cats' eyes to reduce it to single carriageway in both directions. The idea was that it would cut the speed of traffic and accidents. It didn't work, and there have been more crashes. Indeed, last night as we drove home from Harwich we saw a car in the verge where it had run straight off the road instead of turning left. It was still there this morning when I went out for something else.
The latest proposal is to close the gaps in the central barrier so that people can't turn right at all, off or on to the main road. This idea has been met with dismay by all those living on the lanes and in the villages that will suffer from the resulting increase in traffic. The trouble is, the A120 cuts in a great swathe across the Tendring peninsular, and there aren't enough places to cross it if you want to travel from north to south, as I do each time I go to work, or for local traffic to join or leave the main road safely. What we need is a roundabout on the site of the current dangerous junction, but of course roundabouts cost money. Locals are asking why speed cameras can't be installed and a 40 mph speed limit on that stretch of road rigorously enforced, instead of making them take a long detour down single track lanes each time they want to return home from Colchester, let alone London. Perhaps the Highways Agency and police don't believe people will stick to the speed limit, and fear there will be more accidents, or maybe they don't want to pay for the speed cameras, or perhaps port traffic mustn't be disrupted and the locals will just have to suffer the inconvenience. I am waiting to see whether my normal route to work remains tenable, since it includes a longish single track section with only limited passing places.
I digress. We went to Harwich, and went for a pint (or in my case half a pint) in The Alma. The Alma is a lovely pub, so if you've just clicked on the link back there don't worry about their slightly lack-lustre website. The decor is stripped wood and bare floor boards, but in a salubrious way. They have a decent range of draught beers, and the food is said to be good but not cheap (that's often the way). There is no music and no TV. We once called in when the landlord was running an esoteric quiz on spices that would have stumped most of R4's Kitchen Cabinet. I didn't know the answers, and I fancy myself as a bit of a foodie, or at least well-read. There was a large group of people in the bar, who were slightly but not excessively dressed up, and appeared to know each other, so we reckoned that was a works do, or a birthday, or something. It came as a real shock to walk into a pub and find it full of people and buzzing with conversation, especially on a Wednesday. Normally it's just us and two or three blokes, and we wonder how the pub can keep going, and then leave.
For those of you who like pub quizzes, the battle of Alma was the first battle of the Crimean War, in 1854. There was a broadside ballad written about it, and later it was recorded by Donovan.
After The Alma we had supper at Thai up at the Quay. This gets almost uniformly rave reviews, and is very good. I had let slip when making the booking that it was someone's birthday, and even though we ended up going not on their birthday we still got Happy Birthday glitter sprinkled on the tablecloth, and a complimentary pudding, which turned out to be a scoop of icecream and two slices of a Thai bread pudding with a little start shaped candle on a stick. I didn't know the Thais went in for bread pudding, but this one was rather nice. It tasted more of Christmas pudding than anything, and the owner told us it was made with coconut milk. The vegetables in tempura batter (really just an excuse to eat batter), chicken satay, beef curry (hot enough to give the SA hiccups) and vegetable Phad Thai were all very good. When I ordered vegetarian options the owner checked whether I was a strict vegetarian or if fish sauce would be acceptable. As it happens I'm not a vegetarian at all, but I was impressed that he asked. It seems unnecessarily hostile to tell restaurateurs that I'm concerned their chicken, pork and fish may not be ethically sourced, so if asked I just say I like vegetables.