Thursday, 19 March 2015

Dagenham salad

A lot of things might be associated with Dagenham: Ford Motors, Sandie Shaw, Dudley Moore, Sir Alf Ramsey, Terry Venables, Jimmy Greaves, John Terry, the film Made in Dagenham and the song Dagenham Dave by the Stranglers. But salad? Yes, the Stoke Newington-based organic vegetable box scheme Growing Communities now has a farm on an ex-council nursery site in Dagenham, complete with a full-time grower, and is  offering the finest Dagenham Salad in its bags. This should put a rocket leaf under the notion that Essex's signature dish is chips. Could be the biggest boost for the county's cuisine since Jamie Oliver. Dagenham — it's the new centre for Essex foodies.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Phill Jupitus's family values

Nice piece on the Family Values of Leigh-on-Sea's Phill Jupitus in the Family section of Saturday's Guardian. Phill talks movingly about being brought up by his mum Dot in Stanford-le-Hope and on not knowing his late biological father. Plus some wise words on how he sees parenting being about being "a safety net". Jupitus is currently appearing in Mel Brooks' musical The Producers, touring in the UK. For more of his thoughts on Essex there's a whole chapter on him in my book The Joy of Essex, where we discuss the joys of Two Tree Island, the cafes of Southend's Arches, Canvey Island and the view from his home across the Thames Estuary.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Essex loses out to Bad Urinal Etiquette

This week's Room 101 featured Countdown's Rachel Riley — who's from Southend and went to Oxford University — attempting to consign the Essex Stereotype to the dustbin of history. This gave Frank Skinner the chance to repeat an anecdote about Essex Man Brian Belo, winner of Big Brother 8, reading "the Haywain" as Hawaii on a quiz show. Rachel Riley then reminisced about meeting Joey Essex, who thought that Richard and Judy created the world, having confused them with Adam and Eve, as you do. In the end Frank Skinner couldn't condemn the Essex stereotype as so many people had money out of it; instead Essex was beaten into Room 101 by Bad Urinal Etiquette. That's taking the…

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The only way out is Thurrock

Interesting piece in the Evening Standard yesterday saying that Thurrock is the number one destination for property-buying Londoners priced out of the capital. The average price of a flat is £120,556 and the average price for a house is £219,852. Despite some dodgy newbuild homes, Thurrock does have a lot going for it for those priced-out London. Fenchurch Street is only 35 minutes away by train. Other attractions include fine views of the Thames and Tilbury Fort, the best-preserved low-profiled artillery fort in the country. A bit further down the Thames is Coalhouse Fort. To the north is Great Warley and Miss Wilmott's garden at Warley Place, Essex's answer to the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall. Further down the train line lies the lovely old harbour of Leigh-on-Sea, Hadleigh Castle and Southend Pier. And parts of Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade were filmed in Tilbury Docks. Plus Grays is the birthplace of Russell Brand and it also boasts the best Essex shop name with an emporium called Curtains Babe. Click on the link to read the full feature. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

All Greek for Essex revolutionaries

The success of Syriza in Greece was forged in Essex, it seems. Syriza’s new Economics minister Yanis Varoufakis has a PhD from Essex University. Rena Doura, governor of Greater Athens, has an MA from Essex, and Corfu’s Syriza MP Fotini Vaki is also a graduate. Another of the influential Essex alumni is Sir Christopher Pissarides, a Cypriot economist critical of Greece’s debt repayments.
Greek students love the University of Essex, with some 4000 graduating in the last 50 years. Perhaps we shouldn’t be that surprised that Greek lefties travel to Essex rather than Ithaca, because the county has a surprising history of revolutionary activity. Colchester Castle stands on the site of the Roman Temple that was burnt down by Boudicca in AD60-61. She went on to give the Romans a kicking in London and St Albans before committing non-electoral suicide.

The Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 started in Brentwood, better known for Towie and Sugar Hut today.  The men of Fobbing were summoned to Brentwood for non-payment of the Poll Tax, but then attacked the Commissioner John Bampton, giving him a right slap and chasing him out of town.

Today we have Russell Brand from Grays peddling a book called Revolution and telling us not to vote. Chelmsford’s most famous transvestite revolutionary is Grayson Perry, who has taken to guest-editing the New Statesman and writing about the Great White Male and his love of the business suit. Could it be he’s planning to wear one soon and stand for Parliament? While Douglas Carswell has inspired a Ukip revolution in Clacton with his plans to introduce ever more balding ex-Tories to the joys of real ale served by English Pub Landlords.

Perhaps Joey Essex wasn’t joking when he suggested on Towie that there was a Prime Minister of Essex. He’s already stared travelling the world on a fact-finding mission in Educating Joey Essex. A telegenic man unencumbered by complex economic theories who is definitely anti-austerity. We might just have found Britain’s revolutionary answer to Syriza.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

I don't believe it! Richard Wilson in Essex…

Some of my soundbites made it on to Richard Wilson On The Road last night on ITV. Also a nice plug for my book The Joy of Essex as we sat chatting on a bench in Harlow town centre. Wilson took an amiable tour through God's own county, covering Colchester's Roman ruins, Mersea Island's oysters, Harlow's architecture and the train at Audley End. He seemed a thoroughly nice chap during filming and even sent my daughters signed pictures of himself as Gaius in Merlin after we met. Click on the link to view on ITVPlayer.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Essex comes to Islington

An enjoyable evening speaking about my book The Joy of Essex to the Stuart Low Trust at the St Mary's Community Centre in Upper Street, Islington, last night. My Power Point presentation covered The Peasants' Revolt in Fobbing, Paul Simon in Brentwood, Boudica sacking Colchester, the Balkerne Gate, the Secret Nuclear Bunker, Billericay bluebells, Tiptree jam, Grayson Perry and Dr Feelgood at the Labworth Cafe on Canvey Island and quite a lot besides. Most people seemed to have an Essex anecdote. Thanks to all who came along and those who bought books at the end. Some interesting questions from the audience, including someone suggesting that the atom was spoilt at Dagenham. An intriguing thought. Though after some Google research we discovered that the father of nuclear physics, Ernest Rutherford, was born in New Zealand but his parents James and Martha originally came from Hornchurch before emigrating to new Zealand, so Essex can almost lay claim to atom-splitting.