Thursday, 23 October 2014

Wilko lives!

Fantastic news that Wilko Johnson, having been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer 18 months ago and told he had just ten months to live, is now free of the disease. Wilko's had some radical surgery, having his tumour ("the size of a baby, man") removed, and he is now cancer-free. The former Doctor Feelgood legend revealed the news while picking up a Q Icon award and making a very funny and moving speech. Wilko's outlook has also had something to do with his beating death. He was always positive and decided to give life one last scattergun solo, producing Going Back Home a great album with Roger Daltrey in the process. Check out his biography Looking Back at Me too for the stories of a great Essex man. I'm also proud to have included a Wilko live gig in Canvey Island in my book The Joy of Essex. He does it right.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Suits you, sir: Grayson takes on the Default Male

Enjoyed a very entertaining performance from Grayson Perry in conversation with Miranda Sawyer at the Royal Institution of Great Britain last night. Perry was discussing his essay on the “Default Male” (ie middle aged white men in suits) in the current issue of the New Statesman, which he guest edited. Perry is certainly very perceptive in his take on how the suit denotes authority and seriousness, but is also a way of attaining invisibility and concealing how Default Man's values dominate society.

Grayson was certainly not in a suit himself, as he was wearing orange platform shoes with pink tights and one of his ‘Bo Peep’ dresses designed by St Martin’s School of Art Students. He spoke about growing up in Chelmsford and how his Dad left at four, followed by a bad relationship with his step-dad and mentioned the perpetual unease of an Essex Man like himself when confronted with Default Males in suits, thinking, “I shouldn’t be here I’m just a geezer!”

Indeed, it was nice to hear Perry’s accent frequently veer into familiar Essex glottal stops. A couple of years ago he confessed: ““I have a thick crust of Islington but if you cut me, you find Essex there. The tone of my taste decisions is often very Essex, but I put an Islington spin on them. That might be the deciding fact in my entire oeuvre.”


Other confessions included the fact that he is a “domestic patriarch” in his home, not doing as many chores as he should, and that when he went cycling, he discovered that he was “a very competitive Alpha Male.” He was also very funny about being both a personality and an artist. When art people start complaining that he’s too accessible, he says, “I have to remind them they’re in the leisure business!” As A A Gill quipped, “Let’s make Grayson Perry King and Queen of England.”

Monday, 13 October 2014

Made in Dagenham: the musical

Our extended family certainly enjoyed Made in Dagenham at the Adelphi Theatre on Saturday night. The show sticks fairly closely to the film's plot about "the Essex Girls who changed the world", but the songs, such as the sixties-pastiche of Everybody Out and Dagenham Girls are very catchy and encouragingly the Adelphi was sold out. The sets are striking too, with a house seen through the letters of Made in Dagenham and some imaginative car plant and sewing machine backdrops and a parody of Miss Saigon with a helicopter scene. Gemma Arterton does well in the lead role of Rita O'Grady, while Mark Hadfield and Sophie-Louise Dann excel as a dancing and singing Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle. Never thought I'd hear a West End musical referencing Warley and Dunton either. Loved the sexist 1960s cinema adverts shown at the end of the interval and in a nice spoof song about America there's a not to Billy Bragg with "We've for Route 66, you've got the A13…" One to celebrate with a trip to a Berni Inn.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Clacton stations

Rarely can Clacton have been subjected to such a media frenzy. The by-election caused by Douglas Carswell defecting to Ukip has seen unprecedented coverage of the Tendring Peninsula. The Daily Telegraph reported that street artist Banksy had been to Clacton and painted a mural of a group of pigeons holding banners telling a green migratory swallow to "Go back to Africa, keep off our worms"and "Migrants not welcome." Tendring and District Council didn't see the political joke though and promptly painted over the mural, saying they had received a complaint that it was "racist and offensive." Strange, as in Essex people usually know the value of money. By deleting the Banksy mural the council had lost the chance of flogging the mural to some metropolitan types for up to £400,000 or cashing in on a tourist boom of Banksy lovers.

Meanwhile Clacton featured again in the Evening Standard in Michael Collins' piece, "Don't sneer at the real England beyond the M25", concluding that Clacton housed "the original Essex Man and those native Londoners exiled from a capital they no longer recognise… It might be unfashionable but for the moment Clacton is in the spotlight and relevant."  And on Radio 4's Today this morning there was a long profile of the "frightened and fed up" in the constituency, taking in the poverty of Jaywick Sands and the affluence of Frinton, where one boutique owner, who had moved to Frinton from Buckhurst Hill, complained of "no-go areas" in Ilford. In today's Guardian John Harris visits Jaywick, writes about a Ukip meeting in Clacton that attracted 900 people and looks at the emotional appeal of Ukip's politics to voters who feel abandoned.

As I wrote in The Joy of Essex the Tendring Peninsula feels a very long way from London and its isolation is summed up the railway level crossing gates that shut Frinton off from the outside world. Poverty and lack of investment are the biggest problems rather than immigration and the EU, though Ukip's appeal is accentuated by the lack of authentic principled Labour politicians. But if Carswell does get elected as a Ukip MP we'll be hearing a lot more about this no-longer forgotten Essex seaside town.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

John Cooper Clarke: Essex is God's Own Country

Nice to see the Guardian's interview with punk poet John Cooper Clarke headlined with, "Essex is God's country" — a line not too dissimilar to the subtitle of my book The Joy of Essex. Despite that distinctive Mancunian lilt, Clarke has lived in Colchester for 25 years and says of his adopted county: "There's plenty of banter and friendliness… It's 50 minutes from London and 45 from Clacton-on-Sea so there's something for everybody really. Nice neighbours, keep themselves to themselves. One quibble you can't get meat and potatoes in fish and chip shops. All things considered though, Essex is God's county."

Monday, 29 September 2014

Harwich Radar Tower: No one likes us we don't care…

Essex has won the title for the least visited tourist attraction in Britain. The Independent reports that the Radar Tower at Harwich, known as Beacon Hill Fort, attracted a total of just six visitors last year. It was built to detect German E boats in World War Two. It's a not very attractive hexagonal lump of concrete, but does have 21-foot scanners and has been fully restored by the Harwich Society. Would like to offer a bit more background information, but I haven't been there either… Still, if you do fancy a visit click on the link.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Doctor Who in Essex

My new e-book Whovian Dad: Doctor Who, Fandom, Fatherhood and Whovian Family Values is now out, and there's quite a few references to Doctor Who in Essex. The final chapter is on my interview with Mark Campbell, author of Doctor Who: The Complete Guide, held at Loughton Library as part of the Essex Book Festival. We discussed some of the Essex connections in Doctor Who and Mark mentioned the Matt Smith episode The Lodger being set in Colchester, but filmed at Cardiff. The department store that the Doctor and Craig shop in is surely meant to be Williams and Griffin, which has a crashed Cyberman spacecraft underneath it, in case you didn't know. The same story reveals that Amy and Rory had gone to live in Colchester. 

Mark Campbell also revealed that one of his all-time favourite stories, Jon Pertwee’s Carnival of Monsters, was filmed on Tillingham Marshes. While in the 1964 William Hartnell story The Keys of Marinus, companion Ian Chesterton looks at the Tardis scanner showing the sandy planet of Marinus and declares: "Well, it doesn't look like Southend!" Another possible Essex reference is in the David Tennant story Planet of the Ood when the Doctor asks Donna Noble where she learnt to whistle and she answers, "up West Ham!' With so many Essex references in Doctor Who it would be no surprise to find that Trenzalore is a suburb of Basildon… Whovian Dad can be downloaded for £2.48 via the link above.