Monday, 31 August 2015

Konchesky's cafe is mash of the day in Brentwood

You can take the boy out of Dagenham… Former West Ham defender Paul Konchesky, now playing for QPR, has proved true to his Essex roots by opening Konch's Kafe, a pie and mash shop in Brentwood. The Brentwood Gazette pictures Towie's Chloe Lewis at the opening and described it as "mash of the day". The cafe was formerly Angie's Pie and Mash. Konchesky has bought it and installed his mum Carol, who lives at Kelvedon Hatch, in charge. Should be ideal for his old West Ham mates to refuel in before a night at Sugar Hut…

Monday, 17 August 2015

The Battis gets a makeover

Readers of my book The Joy of Essex might recall my mention of Romford's dodgy alleyway by the railway, The Battis. My friend Katie Dawson, a former Green Party councillor and Romford resident turned Islingtonian, revealed that the Battis was the stuff of childhood nightmares, a sort of Lord of the Rings netherworld that was terrorised by Romford Orcs.

She told me: “My mum and dad were quite relaxed and easy going but when I was a teenager the one thing they said to me was ‘we don’t care where you go, but whatever you do, don’t go up the Battis!’” Well now it seems the Battis has had a makeover. On a recent visit to Romford I discovered it had gone technicolour, in some strange attempt by the London borough of Havering to make it more touchy-feely and less like something from A Clockwork Orange. Is there no end to gentrification? 

Monday, 27 July 2015

Essex's Eliza and the Bear say I'm still Standon…

The Standon Calling Festival on the Herts/Essex border runs from July 31 to Aug 2 and it's good to see that on the Standon Calling website the highlights of last year's festival are accompanied by the song Friends from Essex band Eliza and the Bear. The five-piece band are old mates from the Upminster/Romford region and specialise in anthemic indie-folk (or "euphoric folk-pop" to quote the Guardian). As for the name Eliza and the Bear it comes from the title of a book of poetry by Eleanor Rees… you can check out Eliza and co's forthcoming gigs via their Facebook page.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

John Cooper Clarke on God's own county

Nice interview with punk poet John Cooper Clarke in the Travel section of the Guardian today in which he discusses his favourite Essex beaches. He mentions his approval of the revamp of Clacton, stating: "Clacton-on-Sea, Walton-on-the-Naze, Frinton-on-Sea. Fantastic places. And Essex, well it's God's own county. It never rains there." He also gives a mention to Point Clear and Jaywick Sands and admires the art deco riviera of Frinton. He compares Frinton, "the snotty neighbour of Clacton-on-Sea", to St Annes-on Sea which has a similar superiority complex over Blackpool. Click on the link to read.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson

“Canvey is the new Lourdes,” reads a memorable piece of graffiti on Canvey Island’s sea wall. Just seen The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson at the Barbican and it’s a great film and something of an Essex-fest too. Director Julien Temple has Wilko playing chess with the Grim Reaper on Canvey’s sea defences, as you do. Or Wilko's sitting in front of the Labworth CafĂ© or down by the jetty, then reminiscing by Hadleigh Castle about his early Game of Thrones-style fantasies. There’s also a memorable final shot of Wilko emerging from the dome of the telescope on top of his Southend home. Let's hope he's enjoying Pluto.

As a meditation on life and death it’s inspiring stuff. Rather than do chemotherapy Wilko opts to live in the moment, feeling an ecstatic love of trees, clouds and everything else around him. “If it’s going to kill me I don’t want it to bore me!” he suggests.

Utilising Wilko’s love of literature there’s plenty of quotes from Milton’s Paradise Lost, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and even Icelandic sagas. Though Johnson remains resolutely atheist and looks forward to only “oblivion”. Temple intersperses it all with slow motion shots of petals unfolding and old film footage of David Niven as a crashed RAF pilot in A Matter of Life and Death. It all works surprisingly well.

We also have more vulnerable moments with Wilko still traumatised by the death of his wife Irene, and reminiscing about the joy he felt when his violent father died and the fact his family were always an embarrassment to his relatives.

There’s footage of a crazy arm-waving Japanese audience at his farewell gig and also the great recording sessions with Roger Daltrey for what was meant to be his final album. Just as it’s turning into a death-affirming eulogy, Wilko is offered hope when Charlie Chan, a photographer and surgeon who was in the audience at one of his gigs, suggests he have some tests at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. He’s not sure if he’ll ever wake up after the operation, but after having a tumour the size of a baby cut out of his stomach Wilko survives and shows us the scars.

The scenes on the seawall of Wilko playing his guitar again for the first time since the operation are genuinely moving. “Bloody hell man, I’m supposed to be dead!” Julien and Wilko have done it right.

Check out for details of screenings.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Prime-time Jaywick in Benefits By The Sea

Despite the sensational title of Benefits by the Sea, the Channel 5 documentary presents quite a positive view of the residents of Jaywick, officially Britain's most deprived town. Those living in the former holiday chalets at Brooklands — the poorest part of Jaywick —  are struggling with poor housing, rubbish roads and street lights that go off at midnight. In the first two episodes we've met Fred an ex-gangster who just wants to be with his cats in an unheated caravan; Carl who is trying to be a good dad to his two daughters but has lost his benefits because he can't read the forms; alcoholic Disco Dave who drinks "Jaywick champagne" (cheap cider from the corner shop) but is trying to go into rehab and being helped by Boo, a recovering alcoholic herself who manages to set up a Jaywick soup kitchen; and Naomi and Stu, a young couple who were previously homeless in Southampton. 

Most heroic is Councillor Don Casey, who spends his time trying to help Fred get heating for his caravan and get lighting after midnight following a horrific machete attack (the residents succeed in getting it turned on until 1am). Yes there are some toe-rags and violent offenders, but most of the residents seem to want to better their lives and are not content claiming benefits, and the impression is that need help rather than censure. And there's always the beach which is a fine diversion from everyone's problems. With the right investment and government aid (the houses only cost 50k) there could still be hope for Jaywick.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Wilko lives!

Great interview with Wilko Johnson in Saturday's Guardian. Alexis Petridis visits Wilko at his Southend home and his piece gives a fine account of Wilko's upgrading to greatest living Essexman after Julien Temple's film Oil City Confidential, his uplifting attitude to impending death and then the miraculous operation that has left him very much alive. Or as Wilko puts it: "Bloody hell man, I'm supposed to be dead!" Though bizarrely, Wilko's periods of depression lifted when he was under a death sentence, but have returned now he's recovered. Made me want to listen again to Wilko's excellent 'farewell' album with Roger Daltrey Going Back Home. The other good news is that Julien Temple has made a film, The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson, in cinemas from July 17in which he compares the Canvey Island philosopher to both William Blake and a medieval saint, as you do.