Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Dave, 44, seeks Essex Man

There’s a vacancy for an Essex Man in David Cameron’s inner circle. Cameron’s former spin doctor Andy Coulson might not be the best advert for Essex, but it’s interesting that a bunch of old Etonians needed a down-to-earth Essex geezer alongside all that Bullingdon Club stuff.

On the BBC News Nick Robinson emphasised that Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World now embroiled in the NOTW phone-tapping furore, was an “Essex boy” and that he was valuable to the “posh boys” in the Cabinet because he provided a direct link to working class core Tory voters in deepest Essex.

The Guardian described Coulson as an “Essex Man’’ who was brought up in a council house and had a “street-smart background born of Beauchamps comprehensive in Wickford”. While Cameron and George Osborne were at Oxford University, Coulson was at the Basildon Evening Echo before graduating to the Sun’s bizarre page.

It’s interesting how deep the Essex stereotype has penetrated the media; an Essex comprehensive now equates with “street-smart”, whereas a Cornish comprehensive certainly wouldn’t.

Posh bloke seeks bit of rough with no baggage. Maybe Dave should check out Matt Cardle’s right-wing credentials…

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Dagenham divas

Thinking about Dagenham after my recent visit, it's bred an inordinate amount of talent. A week ago Billy Bragg, born in nearby Barking, explained what made him a singer to the Guardian: “A desire not to go and work in Ford factory in Dagenham. That’s what everyone where I lived was being educated to do. To get out of it, it seemed I needed to be a boxer, a footballer or a rock star. I didn't want to get punched on the head, and I’m not that good at football so I went for the music.”

Sixties legend Sandie Shaw worked for six weeks as a punch-card operator at Ford, and at the end of 2010 revealed to Desert Island Discs that escape propelled her entire career. Dudley Moore was another who left to achieve stardom, along with the great Peter Cook, managing to combine cleverness and filth in some memorably obscene recordings such as the filthy Derek and Clive Live before becoming an unlikely Hollywood star in Arthur.

Like the coalfields of the north-east, Dagenham has unleashed an extraordinary amount of footballing talent.

England manager Sir Alf Ramsey, the man who won England the 1966 World Cup, came from Dagenham, although it didn’t sound like he did. Sir Alf famously had elocution lessons that resulted in him sounding like a bizarre combination of Parker from Thunderbirds and Bertie Wooster, and all with a Captain Mainwaring-style air of pomposity. Throughout the swinging sixties he maintained his upwardly mobile received pronunciation indicating a deep insecurity about his working class origins.

Ramsey’s captain Bobby Moore was raised in Waverley Gardens off the lorry-strewn River Road in Barking. Hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst was also a Barking lad.

Former England gaffer Terry Venables was born at Valence Road and through a variety of business schemes such as selling thingmywigs, setting up Scribes West bar and buying Spurs, demonstrated the eye for a deal beloved of a self-made Essex Man.

Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves grew up in Daggers and during my childhood, according to local gossip, moved down the road to a house near Upminster Common. After recovering from alcoholism — West Ham suffered his final season — he used his Essex wit to create a new career as the cheeky half of Saint and Gravesie on ITV’s On The Ball. The walruss-moustached Greavesie also became a beloved Sun columnist.

Arsenal and England’s Tony Adams grew up at 6 Foxlands Road, the son of an asphalter, playing for the youth side Dagenham United alongside West Ham’s legendary Steve Potts.

Chelsea’s John Terry is another son of Dagenham and so is Liverpool’s Paul Konchesky. Paul’s mum Carol displayed the more abrasive side of the Dagenham resident when she made the headlines defending her son from stroppy Scousers on Twitter.

Dagenham has also featured in song more than most towns. The Stranglers wrote Dagenham Dave about the eponymous character Dave, a Mancunian scaffolder who once worked at the Ford plant. Dave followed the band everywhere and eventually committed suicide jumping off Tower Bridge. Morrissey also penned a song called Dagenham Dave, this time with more homo-erotic tones.

More recently we’ve had rapper Devlin and I’m a Celebrity winner Stacey Solomon, complete with her Malibu and pineapple celebrations down the pub.

Is there a bigger talent factory anywhere in Britain?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Sitting on the Dock of Dagenham's Bay

Inspired by Made in Dagenham, it’s time to visit the Ford Motor Works and Dagenham's industrial hinterland. Despite many a trip to Dagenham Heathway when my sister lived there, this was my first visit to the mysterious area of white by the Thames, as denoted in the London A-Z.

The Ford Works, once the biggest car works in Europe but much smaller these days, lie down Dagenham Heathway. Once you’ve recovered from the shock of classical music playing at Dagenham Heathway tube station, turn right past the nail salon and pie and mash shop and head towards the wind turbines that rotate steadily beneath the slate sky.

The Heathway’s full of identikit post-war current and former council homes striving for individuality through cottage cladding, mock Tudor cladding, porches, extensions, new doors and in several cases palm trees planted incongruously in the front garden.

It terminates at a crossroads where there’s three Bangladeshi Indian restaurants, Kevin’s Corner selling washing machines and RTV Satellite set in a mock-Tudor block of shops that’s unsurprisingly covered in a vast array of dishes.

The Heathway becomes a narrower industrial gulch called Chequers Lane. To the right is a new Homebase warehouse, plus Halfords and KFC. On my left is the Jobcentreplus, as if to emphasise that here lie your only options for work, and then the large red brick Ford works with a sign reading Ford Stamping Operations, which sounds a little violent to me.

This being Essex, there are two palm trees by the entrance. There’s little evidence of activity apart from two men in luminous jackets having a fag break outside.

Ahead lies the flyover of the A13 Thames Gateway section (the Thames Gateway housing development has been metaphorically bricked up, cut by the coalition) and a park of rust-coloured containers stacked five-high.

Chequers Lane leads the post-apocalyptic pedestrian to the unstaffed Dagenham Docks station. A concrete stairwell leads up to a barbed wire defended bridge that straddles the railway line. “Danger of death” warns a sign by the tracks. The vista here is huge pylons, rail tracks, motorway, the black pool of Dagenham Breach and a wind turbine on Barking Power Station.

It doesn’t feel like London. The wind picks up and you start to smell the river. There are no other pedestrians here at 3pm. It’s all very 28 Days Later merged with The Sweeney. This would be a great place to dispose of bodies, do dodgy deals or set up a ruck between the ICF and Millwall’s F Troop.

On the other side of the tracks the road widens, there’s a bus stop with no-one waiting and wide pavements leading past the square blocks of the Doctor Who-esque power station and Chequers Lane Sustainable Industrial Park.

Then the cement lorries and Hovis trucks start to rumble by. Here there are fenced off warehouses, a Hovis depot full of brown bread-carrying yellow lorries. A blue cyclists’ sign points down Choats Lane with the words “Thames View”. Opposite Kuehne + Nagel Drinks Logistics (is there anything logistical about drinking?) the brave cyclist turns down Hindmans Way.

This is narrower and is an unofficial dumping ground for every piece of detritus in Dagenham. Rusting temporary fences conceal tyres, bits of sofas, mattresses, beds, carpets in bin bags, cans, plastic bags and paper coffee cups.

It all feels very blue collar and Bruce Springsteen. Here men do geezerish things like drive trucks fast down empty roads and throw their lunch in the hedge. Would Bruce have taken his girl down to The River via the mud of Hindmans Way? Probably not if he ever wanted to see her again.

The pavement ends and becomes mud surrounded by concrete markers. As ever-more heavy lorries trundle past it starts to feel dangerous and seeking safety from death under large wheels I find my DMs trudging through soft, oozing grey mud. My phone battery runs out adding to the sense of doom as the road passes a set of gasometers. “Danger of flooding” reads a road sign. A black pool has mysterious broken pipes rising out of it. Reeds flank the road to marshland.

Then the lane terminates with a solid black fence at a T-junction and signs for TDG and Cemex. There’s a sentry post with a hut and a red and white pole barrier. The operative eyes me with bemusement.

And suddenly by some disused tram tracks there’s the riverbank and a curved pier stretching out into the choppy waters of the Thames. There’s a silo and a lorry at the end of it. I stand on the pier to escape the danger of demise by speeding cement lorry.

So here I am at last, sitting on the dock of Dagenham’s bay like Otis Redding, watching the ships go by, wasting my time. That song was about unemployment and poor Otis would have had to get himself down to the Jobcentreplus by the motor works had he lived in Dagenham.

The waters of the Thames meet a bank of reeds, mud, fishing trays, floats and blue plastic bags. Across the river lies Thamesmead (featured in A Clockwork Orange) and two strange funnel-like industrial structures. I’m standing on the evocatively named No 7 Jetty. A trendy Dockland Quarter it is not.

The January dusk draws in and there’s an urge to escape before falling off the edge of the known world. I pace past Prax Petroleum braving oozing cementy earth and along the wide pavements past more Hovis lorries, and in to Dagenham Docks station. Three young salesman in suits get off the train and head for the industrial park with a look of apprehension. I dash on to the train and discover people and digital signage and that Fenchurch Street is only 20 minutes away. All so different to the otherworldiness of the Essex industrial marshes.