Thursday, 26 November 2015

George Osborne and Radio 4 channel Essex Man

Osborne in Ockendon
The political classes remain as fixated with Essex as ever. In response to the government's spending review, Radio 4's Today sent a reporter to Harlow, where they've been monitoring the reactions of a street of residents to the tax credit cuts debate. No-one was watching the debate live, though they did find a man watching paint dry who was relieved that the tax credit cuts had been postponed. Then Today went into a live interview with Chancellor George Osborne at a building site in South Ockendon. Geezer Gideon was there meeting apprentices at Persimonn Homes with Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price. Is aspirational Essex really central to the voting culture of the nation? Or is it just a convenient distance from London for a good soundbite or photo opportunity? I wrote about the subject in the New Statesman last year, and it seems little has changed, with Essex symbolism still beloved by all politicos.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Dracula bites into Purfleet

Came across this reference to Dracula while visiting Purfleet. It's on a plaque by the site of St Stephen's Church. Possibly attracted by Essex Girls, Dracula arrived at Carfax House in Purfleet, built on a bye-road to London, according to Bram Stoker's Dracula novel, written in 1897. He arrived with 50 boxes of earth, as you do. Carfax House was possibly based on Purfleet House, built by the brewer Samuel Whitbread. Essex seems to have quite a monopoly of horror, since Tilbury also gets a brief reference in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Frinton meets The Wire

The residents of genteel Frinton have clubbed together to hire their own private security force, revealed yesterday's Guardian. Frinton's police station closed 20 years ago and now Walton-on-the-Naze's cop shop is to close too. This means that the only police force covering Frinton is based in Clacton, eight miles away, which has a much higher crime rate. Worried about possible slow response times, 300 residents are now paying £100 a year to AGS to patrol at nights.Though as the Guardian's Stuart Heritage points outs, it's not exactly The Wire. Frinton only got its first pub, the Lock and Barrel in 2000 (though there was a fight there in June) there's just one fish and chip shop and no amusements. Last year there were just 33 reported offences and only one drug crime. And the biggest threat to social order came back in 2009 when Network Rail tried to replace the iconic level crossing gates, which now rest in the garden next to the new automatic gates...

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Be seated for Billy Bragg

Barking Bard Billy Bragg has finally been given a seat — not in Parliament but at Beam Valley Park on the Havering/Barking border. A metal silhouette of the songwriter stands by his portrait bench. Three benches have been installed by the charity Sustrans, which encourages people to travel by foot and bike. Billy explains on his Facebook page: "The figures represent three people from each of the boroughs. The soldier, W/O Ian Fisher who died in Helmand, is from Havering, the figure at the sewing machine represents the Dagenham women who went on strike at Fords in the 1960s for equal pay and I come from Barking." No truth in the rumour he's recording a new song Between the Walks to mark his bench.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Out of Essex in Cheshunt

Yet another Essex shop spotted outside Essex. I've already blogged about the Essex Boutique in Kings Lynn and while in Cheshunt (which is in Hertfordshire but is clearly spiritually in Essex) we came across this lash, nails and pampering emporium, Out of Essex.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Pacific war graves in Hornchurch

There's an interesting article in The Outrigger, the magazine of the Pacific islands Society, about the Pacific Islanders who fought in the First World War and whose graves can still be seen at St Andrew's Church in Hornchurch. Grey Towers, then a country house in Hornchurch, was acquired by the Army Council and used as the New Zealand Convalescent Hospital. Not only were more than a hundred New Zealand Maoris involved in WW1, but so too were men from the Cook Islands and Niue. The Pacific islanders had little immunity to European diseases and suffered very badly from the cold, many contracting pneumonia. Thankfully, the decision was taken to send the  islanders home. They were withdrawn to Hornchurch before travelling back to New Zealand. Although there are some happy tales of nights out in Hornchurch and London, four of the Niueans died while at Hornchurch and their graves are still tended, and it's good to see tafuliae, necklaces of Pacific shells, still on the graves.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The only way is Brentwood

There's a double-page feature in today's Guardian on my old home town of Brentwood, to mark the start of the 16th series of Towie. The tourists are still packing out Sugar Hut and the Brentwood Holiday Inn, while coach trips are still driving round the shops of Sam and Billie Faiers, Amy Childs and Lydia Bright. It seems incredible that Towie has lasted so long, since nothing much happens bar a bit of dressing up and gossip about who's dating who. 

But writer Tim Burrows makes an interesting point that the Towie tribes are basically performers of an Essex stereotype that perhaps shouldn't be taken seriously at all: "Through years of representation in Mike Leigh films, Birds of a Feather, newspaper editorials and the rest, the idea of Essex has manifested into a kind of performance. The vulgar Essex person was in part invented by the media, but in lampooning self-made men and women for luxuriating in their sudden wealth, it created a myth, and gave the children of the original Essex men and women a lucrative commodity for our age of communications: themselves." Click on the link to read.