Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Tilbury: Are you Grimsby in disguise?

Tilbury is doubling  as Grimsby says a report on Sacha Baron Cohen's new film Grimsby in the Guardian. Tilbury might seem a bit run-down and once had what the Sun termed "the hardest pub in Britain", but at least it's not as bad as Grimsby it seems. Tilbury had to have a makeover to increase its Grimsbyness, with extra litter, graffiti and burned types being added.

Nice quote from Tilbury resident Bethany Casey, 19, in the Thurrock Gazette upon finding all the shops now had 'Grimsby' written on them: "I thought I was drunk. I tried to get to the off-licence and thought ‘what’s going on here?’ so I went to the other one further down and noticed a run-down park had sprung up – but I didn’t think anything of it because, if they did put a new park in Tilbury, it would get wrecked straight away.”

Still, I'm sure Grimsby doesn't have any hidden jewels among the containers like Tilbury, such as the superb defences of the thoroughly recommended Tilbury Fort (pictured) or Coalhouse Fort, the Bata building or the famous port terminal where generations of immigr
ants first arrived in Britain…

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

We are sailing at Upminster Windmill

Just spent a very enjoyable Sunday afternoon at Upminster Windmill. Built in 1803 the windmill is one of the best-preserved in the country and is a striking relic of 19th Century Essex. The Friends of Upminster Windmill conducted a free and very illuminating tour up and down the windmill's narrow stairs. 

We learned how hard the miller had to work climbing the stairs around 30 times a day and also what an advanced piece of technology it was. The interlocking giant cogs that turn the quern stones that grind the flour are fascinating, as are the beams, pulleys, wooden hoppers and massive sails. The best white flour had to ground seven times, though the coarser and cheaper wholemeal flour was actually healthier, we now know.

We started off in the cap, that still rotates. From the small windows you can see the City skyline and the more modern wind turbines of Dagenham. The mill was run by the Abraham family and one of the fascinating human aspects is the Victorian graffitti left by their 16 year old daughter on the mill's machinery.


The windmill ceased production in 1934 and then became derelict, with the council demolishing the outbuildings in 1960. It was only the dedication of the Friends of Upminster Windmill that saved it and allowed the windmill to be restored and opened to the public in 1967. 

Several buildings once stood by the mill and the Friends of Upminster Windmill have undertaken some fascinating excavations. We were guided round the cellars of the miller's house, demolished in the 1960s. An ornate blue china floral lavatory basin is one of the star finds.The foundations of the workers' house, and the stables have also been rediscovered, giving an impression of just what a thriving industry this once was. All very Time Team.

All this was followed by tea and cake in the Victorian chapel opposite in St Mary's Lane, which is also worth visiting. If you want to step back to a time when Upminster was an agricultural village then this is a great afternbon out. Click on the link for open day dates and membership details.
The basement of the miller's house

Monday, 7 July 2014

Essex c'est magnifique

“Essex has never looked nicer,” declared the ITV co-commentator as Le Tour De France moved through Essex, before he then eulogised about the “ripening fields full of wheat and barley.” Indeed, ITV’s coverage was one long travelogue for Essex.

Every person in Saffron Walden appeared to be on the streets and its thatched houses, beams and yellow cottages can rarely have looked finer. The helicopter camera gave us great aerial views of Audley End and a long extended advert for Felsted School, where four of Oliver Cromwell’s sons attended and girls were only allowed in the Sixth Form in 1970.

The commentators seemed very keen on churches, enthusing about St Mary’s Church in Saffron Walden (the largest church in Essex), William the Red granting St Michael’s to Great Sampford, and enjoying the tile and lead roof of St Mary’s in Radwinter.

It was great to see a giant Essex flag as the riders entered Chelmsford and credit to the farmer in Rayne who managed to etch “Rayne Welcomes TDF” on his field. We even had the rare sight of a prang on an Essex road without the threat of fisticuffs, as two of the riders at the back had a minor collision but just carried on cycling.


“And the riders continuing their pastoral journey cross Essex,” enthused the commentator as the race neared Epping Forest. The golden fields and hedgerows of Essex looked fantastic and the organisers must have been impressed by the turnout. Not so much Le Grand Depart as Le See Ya, Mate. Never mind Yorkshire, this was a great day for Essex.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Le Tour de Essex

Good to see that Essex is finally being recognised as a world-class sporting venue. The Tour De France comes through God's own county on July 7. It will certainly prove to TV viewers that Essex has lots of nice country lanes to offer in addition to leopardskin and sticks to the prettier parts of Essex, taking in Saffron Waldon, Rayne, Felsted, Chelmsford and Epping. All very scenic, particularly when the four-wheel drives are off the roads, but my mischievous side would like to see Le Tour tackle some grittier Essex roads. Perhaps the subways and avenues of Harlow or maybe have the cyclists riding through the Festival Leisure Park aka Bas Vegas and then whizzing round the Hollywood-style Basildon sign on the A13 before reaching London and taking on the East Ham and Barking by-pass and the East India Dock Road… or failing that a nice jaunt down the Southend Arterial.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Towie told to folk off in Leigh

Just read a very entertaining piece by the columnist, playwright and actor Sadie Hasler on Towie applying to film at the Leigh Folk Festival. She wasn't too keen to judge by lines like these… "So when I heard that the dimwitted clothes-horses off TOWIE planned to stage a day trip, a diarrhoeic diaspora to film with the Folkies, I got a bit riled. BOG OFF, YOU BOTOX-CLOGGED NUMBSKULLS."

She is at one point almost nice about Joey Essex writing: "I know I sound a bit harsh. I’m sure they’re not all completely deplorable deep down. Some of them are probably even a bit alright. I hear ‘Joey Essex’ in particular is quite cute and a bit heartbreaking. But by god’s great balls I would wrestle him to the death in a vat of cold beans to wrest my county’s name from his moniker for the greater good."

Not sure if the producers of Towie will want to take her up on the cold bean offer, though it sounds like good TV. Hasler ends her column with the news that Towie were denied access to the Leigh Folk Festival and ends by making a moving plea in defence of non-stereotypical Essex: "The no is important. Essex gets maligned and misrepresented enough. Essex gets taken over by lots of forces we can’t control, quite often by the wearying potency of television, and it’s important to defend and exercise what power we have when we can. We are not the tired old tripe, the blinkered lazy stereotype. We are not the shit on the box. We are not that Essex. No." To read her complete uncensored column click on the link.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Jamie on not sounding like a nob

Interesting interview with Jamie Oliver in the Observer, including the revelation that he's now worth a stonking £225 million. No interview with Oliver can occur without a mention of Essex, of course. Writer Carole Cadwalladr describes him as, "recognisably still the fresh-faced, mop-topped Essex boy with a lisp and a habit of babbling words" and that in the US "even Oliver's cheery Essex boy charm couldn't make much headway. There's also a recognisably Essex sentiment from Oliver himself: "He's also, as he tells me later, 'a very strange brand, a celebrity disruptive force'. Though moments later, he says: 'It's a really weird thing to try to convey without sounding like a nob'." And perhaps that is part of Oliver's success. Money is ok is Essex but it's also very important to be down to earth and even when trying to change the nation's diet, not sound like nob. There's a lesson for us all there.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Made in Dagenham: The Musical

Back in 1968 the chances of the word Dagenham being up in lights at a West End theatre would have seemed as remote as West Ham not always having three players in the England side. But the relentless march of Essex across the cultural panorama continues with Made In Dagenham: The Musical at the Adelphi Theatre, based on the successful film. It opens on October 9, is directed by Rupert Goold and stars Gemma Arterton. The website already has a recording of Everybody Out, a nice combination of sixties-style music and Gemma's best glottal stops. The show makes much of the Essex link, with the trailer announcing "Meet the Essex girls who changed the world…" and introducing the plot as "Essex, 1968" rather than London. I'm looking forward to booking my tickets. Click on the link for details. Yesterday's industrial disputes are now the musicals of tomorrow. It can only be a few years before another Essex striker makes it to the West End and we have Bob Crow: The Musical…