Thursday, 15 September 2016

Fighting hate crime in Harlow

Following the death of Polish resident Arkadiusz Joswik after being attacked in Harlow — and another case of assault on Poles —  there's a good overview of the situation by Stephen Bush in the New Statesman. Credit to the town's MP Robert Halfon for talking a lot of sense. Halfon says:  “I genuinely believe that the vast majority of people voted [Leave] because they just believed we were better off out. They didn’t like the bureaucracy of the European Union. The only thing I would say is that the Brexit thing allowed a small minority of horrific people to come out of the sewers and exploit division and hatred.”

He also points out that the Poles embody the spirit of Harlow, as a place for people in search of a better life. “They are regenerating local areas. They are ‘doing the right thing’: they are working hard, educating people; they fill up the churches. For them to feel frightened is terrifying.” To read the full article click on the link.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Things can only get Bata

There's a very interesting piece in the Guardian celebrating the architecture of the 1930s Bata factory and its workers' village at East Tilbury. It's billed as a "modernist marvel on the marshes of Essex". Sadly the Bata factory closed in 2005 and is now looking very dilapidated. It's Essex Architecture Week from Sep 10-11 and tours will be offered around the Bata village. There's also the Estuary Festival from Sep 17 to Oct 2, celebrating the area from Tilbury to Canvey Island. The days when a company would build flats, a cinema, shops and a hotel for its workforce seem long gone, and even though Amazon is opening a new warehouse in Tilbury you can't imagine them doing the same as Bata. Click on the link to read the full article.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Canvey's promised land

It's not often you hear Dr Feelgood on Radio 4's religious programme Sunday. But the Thames Delta tones of Lee Brilleaux singing Going Back Home were used in Sunday's feature on a small number of Haredi Jews who are moving from Stamford Hill to the "promised land" of well-kosher Canvey Island. The orthodox Jewish families have been deterred by the high house prices of Stamford Hill and are now favouring the sea air and cheaper homes of Canvey. So blokes in tall black hats and soberly-dressed women can now be seen on the Island. Canvey has always been a bit different and so far it seems to be going well. The Oyster Fleet Hotel and Dr Feelgood manager Chris Fenwick was interviewed and recalled last year finding two Hasidic Jews standing down by the jetty immortalised by Dr Feelgood, asking his advice on moving to the area. "I can not see any problem at all, they are making the right steps to interact with the community and this is a piece if Canvey history," said Fenwick. "I say bring it on, it totally works!"

Monday, 1 August 2016

Essex water poet in the Guardian

Chelmsford's Sarah Perry                          Picture: Jamie Drew
Great interview with Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent, in today's Guardian. As befits a Gothic novelist, she had an unusual upbringing in Chelmsford in a strict Baptist family. The youngest of five daughters, she attended the wonderfully-named Ebenezer Strict and Particular Baptist Chapel. She aways felt an outsider at school, before losing her faith in her twenties. No wonder The Essex Serpent has such evocative descriptions of the Victorian crisis between faith and science, all set on the Blackwater estuary. It's also sad to read that she has contracted Graves Disease, an auto-immune disorder. She jokes: “I know! It was one of the first things I said: I’m a gothic novelist with Graves’ disease.” Let's hope she manages to get it cured and write another great book. Click on the link to read the whole piece.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Is Shenfield the nation's most influential school?

It's been a good week for my old school. Former Shenfield School pupil Philip Hammond became Chancellor in Theresa May's shuffle. Meanwhile another old Shenfieldian, Richard Madeley, revealed that Hammond was "a Goth back then, he used to arrive in class in a leather trench coat." While Popbitch added that Hammond also used to run a mobile disco in Shenfield. The Goth story is a little unlikely - in the mid-1970s Phil would surely have been more of a trenchcoat-wearing hippy carrying a Led Zeppelin album. Not to be outdone, another old Shenfieldian, Ross Kemp, was on our TV screens getting shot at in Syria in Ross Kemp: The Fight Against Isis. Never mind Eton. Now Cameron and Osborne have departed the scene, it seems that Shenfield, now a comprehensive, is the nation's most influential school.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Strange news from Essex

Just finished Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent, which is a riveting read. Set in 1893, the landscape of the Blackwater estuary is in many ways the star of the book — Perry does for rural Essex what Hardy did for Wessex. Most of the action is set in the fictional village of Aldwinter, which is on the River Blackwater and appears to be somewhere around St Osyth and Brightlingsea.

The reader comes to know Perry's village intimately — the mist rolling across the salt marshes, the village church with its carved serpent on a pew, World's End cottage at the end of the village and home to the slimy-coated Mr Cracknall, Traitor's oak, the ribs of the wreck known as Leviathan, the changing skies and the rubbing of boats on shingle as the locals fear that something lurks out on the water.

There's lots of simmering passion between wealthy fossil-hunting widow Cora Seabourne and married local vicar William Ransome as they take long walks through the Essex woods, plus more love interest in the form of pioneering surgeon Luke Garrett.

Perry makes good use of historical detail; Cora first stays in Colchester, where she meets Thomas Taylor who lost his legs in the Colchester earthquake of 1884 and now begs by his shattered house. The myth of the Essex Serpent comes from a real source too, the 1699 pamphlet Strange News From Essex, alerting the villagers of Henham-on-the-Mount to the Essex Serpent.

The Essex Serpent is enjoyable for its exploration of Victorian themes, science versus faith, the stirrings of feminism, the slum housing of Bethnal Green and advances in surgery. And on a personal level, as my great great grandfather died from tuberculosis at the age of 33 in Whitechapel in 1872, it's very moving to read Perry writing of the disease's debilitating effects on one of the novel's main characters.

Overall it's an enticing, beautifully-written book for anyone who likes Essex history intertwined with a Victorian love story.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Southend brought to standstill by onions

In a truly Monty Python-esque scenario, Southend was yesterday brought to a standstill by 50,000 onions, reports the Southend Echo. A lorry overturned on Eastern Avenue spilling the said onions, blocking the road and causing gridlock. This eye-watering news could certainly lead to tears in Essex and is proof that for one day at least, the Southend world is just a great big onion. Police advice is to keep 'em peeled.