Monday, 28 February 2011

Less sexual Ealing and more randy Romford

Visiting Romford recently reminded me of this brilliant anecdote from "Sickofstupidity", an Independent reader responding after my piece last October on the 20th anniversary of Essex Man. You really couldn't make it up…

My only experience of Essex was a few years ago, when a friend invited me to his family's Christmas Day dinner on the outskirts of Romford (I think).

His family were typical Essex folk, in that they were very 'down-to-earth', unpretentious people, and generous and hospitable to a fault, and it was a very pleasant dinner.

After the meal, we retired to the living room, and it was then that things suddenly took a turn for the surreal....

My friend's teenage sister had invited her boyfriend over for the after-dinner drinks, and decided to entertain him - and the rest of the assembled family and guests - by putting on a little show. She disappeared upstairs and came down moments later dressed in a very revealing Santa Claus outfit. She then proceeded to perform an extremely raunchy and suggestive dance number, in the middle of the living room, to the accompaniment of an equally raunchy and suggestive pop-song on the hi-fi (I think it was Madonna or similar). Her boyfriend obviously enjoyed the show, if the hypnotized expression on his face and the impressive bulge in his trousers were any guide. Interestingly, the other guests - all local Essex people - did not seem the least bit shocked by any of this, but laughed and applauded, while her mother and grandmother beamed with pride, as if to say 'That's our girl! Always knows how to turn on the fellas...'.

I just sat there, speechless and blushing with embarrassment. Was this sort of uninhibited sexual display by teenage daughters considered nothing more than wholesome family entertainment in Essex?

Of course, being gay myself, her raunchy gyrations had no effect on me whatsoever; it was the visible arousal of her boyfriend - who was quite a tall, strapping, handsome hunk of a lad, I must say - that was turning me on. And I was secretly hoping that he would reciprocate with a raunchy dance number of his own. Sadly, it was not to be; when her dance had finished, she promptly dragged her - thoroughly primed - boyfriend upstairs, where they proceeded to copulate very noisily for the next two hours (lucky girl...). And each muffled groan, ecstatic squeal and ceiling-shaking climax only elicited more beaming smiles of pride from her mother and grandmother, and exchanges of knowing winks and chuckles between the other guests.

Welcome to Essex! I thought - 'down-to-earth' indeed!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Down by the jetty

Despite the mist, rain and vagaries of trying to get to the c2c line on a Saturday from north London, I’ve persuaded my family and dog to take a day trip to Leigh-on-Sea. Normally it’s only 35 minute from Stratford and it's the closest beach to London.

Beyond Upminster we travel over the flooded Essex marshes and discuss the times when you could catch malaria by the Thames.

Old Leigh is a proper working seaside town with boatyards, cobbled streets, stalls selling seafood and a fine history of smuggling and fishing. Nell and Lola take a particular interest in the mini-octopuses on sale. And here are the hangover-curing cockles as advocated by Dr Feelgood legend Lee Brilleaux.

The first thing we need is food and to escape the rain. The listed Crooked Billet doesn’t allow dogs, but the front bar of the Peter Boat does. Here we eat fish and chips and fine fish chowder plus a fine drop of Crouch Vale Brewery Gold.

Crouch Vale is a small independent brewery based in South Woodham Ferrers. Its Brewery Gold won the CAMRA Champion beer award in 2005 and 2006. Other Crouch Vale beers include Willie Warmer (named in honour of William de Ferrers) and Essex Boys.

Boats bob in the choppy waters and the girls see a shark, only it turns out to be a sunken wreck. When we emerge from the pub the rain has lessened and the tide has departed astonishingly quickly.

You can’t see Kent, but suddenly a vast expanse of oozing mud and sand has appeared and the channel of Leigh Creek. And there are moored boats everywhere.

Leigh is well served for boozers with the Olde Smack Inn the Mayflower and The Ship coming into view, as well as a chippy and lots of seafood restaurants such as the Boatyard and Simply Seafood.

This being Essex we encounter a small boat with a name of There’s Klingons on the Starboard Bow emblazoned on it. There’s giant iron hulk that is Essex Sailing Club.

Our dog Vulcan (aptly named after Mr Spock with all those Klingons about) has never seen seawater before and rushes up to it and tries to drink it. (Dogs are not allowed on the beach from May to September). Then he chases seagulls in non-RSPB-approved fashion and runs madly over the flats before encountering another Border Terrier.

Nell is excited to find oyster shells, groynes, paddling pools, a dead seagull and much more. Nicola enthuses about turnstones and Brent geese.

We walk out to the Crow Stone, a mysterious monolith rising from the water. A green plaque on it reveals that it was erected in 1837, replacing an earlier stone from 1755. The line between the Crow Stone and the London Stone at Yantlet Creek marked the end of the City of London's authority over the River Thames and it’s believed a marker has stood here since 1285. There’s a London Stone on the opposite bank of the Estuary on the Isle of Grain.

We pass Chalkwell station, right on the beach. And after a couple of miles we’re emerging to a promenade of balconied hotels, grand green public toilets, white bathing cabins and closed ice cream kiosks. We pass someone on a bike singing Yellow Submarine — only the sky is not so much green as grey in our yellow submarine.

At Westcliff we divert up an avenue towards the c2c station. It’s been so misty that we can’t see the pier, let alone Kent, just the odd ship’s light in the estuary, but even on a day like this it makes a great atmospheric afternoon walk.

Crouch Vale beer, fish and chips, cockles and mussels, sea wind and shells all within easy reach of London. Who needs Cornwall, eh, when you’ve got the Essex mudflats and Foulness Island to come?

Friday, 18 February 2011

Justice Essex-style

There’s always been a unique approach to retributive justice in Essex. As exemplified by the case of Witham’s Tony Cremer, the flooring company boss who found his enployee Mark Gilbert writing himself a cheques for £845. He duly frogmarched Gilbert to the police station along the high street with a sign round his neck reading: “THIEF. I stole £845 am on my way to the police station.”

In the original Essex Man piece in the Sunday Telegraph of 1990 Simon Heffer wrote: “He has an unswerving belief in lex talionis [that's an eye for an eye to us plebs]. Were the death penalty brought back he would almost certainly pull the lever himself, had he drunk enough beforehand.

“His heritage and instincts, mean he is, for both empirical and atavistic reasons, breathtakingly right-wing… Ownership, independence, a regard for strength and a contempt for weakness underpin his inarticulate faith in markets: above all he believes in getting things done.”

This week Cremer has been sued by Gilbert for psychological distress and two years loss of earnings, and had to pay him £13,000 in compensation and legal costs in an out of court settlement.

What Cremer did was wrong — everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, we've abandoned the stocks these days and in his defence Gilbert claimed he was owed the money in wages — but his £13,000 punishment does seem disproportionate.

While having no idea about Mr Cremer's politics, it does seem that at heart
he is be one of Heffer’s Essex Men who likes “to get things done” . Perhaps the court might have made an allowance for the case happening in Essex?

Cremer has certainly inspired sympathy in the Daily Express, which had the headline “Madness of boss must pay £13,000 to the thief he shamed in the street”, along with a picture of Gilbert being marched to the cop shop.

If nothing else the case proves the enduring accuracy of Simon Heffer’s original piece: If you’re going to nick money then don’t take it from a geezer in Witham.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Dagnam 'till I die!

There’s something in the Essex psyche that embraces the imperfection of life. Why else would a fan at Dagenham and Redbridge, bottom of league one, be banging a huge drum as if it’s the Noucamp or the San Siro?

Dagenham might only get crowds of around 2,000 (or 4000 when it was 99p admission earlier this season) but it’s friendly, stewards stop to chat, and the fans at the side in the North Stand create an atmosphere that would shame the Arsenal Library.

What’s striking compared to a Premiership game is that the crowd is much younger — the drummer looks about 19 — and there’s more laughter and camaraderie.

The match against Yeovil begins with rhythmic drumbeat of tribal Essex Man, including a fat bloke in Dagenham shorts and a Vincelot replica shirt and another youth with gold and black bling headphones.

The chants are either a staccato “DAGNAM!” or an elongated “Dagg-er-nam! Dagg-er-nam! Dagg-er-nam!”

“Come on the ”Nam!’ shouts one fan, evoking an unlikely image of grizzled war veterans on the Heathway.

Yeovil’s Williams slices a one-on-one dismally wide and is greeted with chortling mirth and a double chant of: “You’re not very good! You’re not very good! You’re not very good! IN FACT YOU’RE SHIT! And you know you are… You’re shit and you know you are…”

Only veteran keeper Tony Roberts keeps the Daggers in the game. Against the run of play, the home side score through Vincelot.

“ZIGGER DAGGER ZIGGER DAGGER OI! OI! OI!” chants a bearded man with gutteral gusto, in a variation of the old 1970s chant.

Only Yeovil equalise almost immediately through the tricky Oli Johnson, who's on loan from Norwich.

A cry of “Sort it out!” comes from the terraces — Essex vernacular for retrieving the situation by any means necessary.

There’s a big cheer from the Dagenham fans when the half-time score reads "WBA 3 West Ham 0". As Richard Keys/Alan Partridge knows, relative success breeds envy.

There’s more enjoyment when a Yeovil striker heads hopelessly wide of an empty goal. “How wide d’you want the goal?” is the chant.

Then things go mental as Jonny Nurse turns his man to fire into the bottom corner. He runs to the side of the ground and embraces the Dagenham fans, earning a yellow card.

The crowd senses a home win and there’s a sense of delirium. The appearance of sub Bas Savage sparks a quirky chorus of:

“There’s only one Bas Savage!
He used to be shite but now he’s all right!
Walking in a Savage wonderland!”

Yeovil go close and the fans sing, to the tune of Go West, “Hands up if you thought they’d scored”

The Daggers’ Femi Ilesanmi earns a Vieira-style chant of “He lives in Becontree!”

BOOM BOOM BOOM! The drum beats on. “DAGNAM!“

The tension is too much for the fans: “Let’s pretend we’ve got Tourettes!” comes a chant followed by a torrent of industrial language.

And then a rousing chorus of “DAGNAM TILL I DIE! I’M DAGNAM TILL I DIE!”

Rarely can good old Dagenham have evoked such cries of undying devotion. The evening sun casts an effulgent light on the Victoria Road pitch. It's all rather enjoyable. The Big Society is right here on these terraces. And it's chanting, "Who the f**k are Barnet?"

The whistle blows and the fans surge towards the Bury Road end, banging their drum and stopping to turn to the sparse gathering of Yeovil fans and sing to the tune of I Wanna Go Home, with yet more self-deprecating humour:

“We’ve won at home! We’ve won at home! How shit must you be? We’ve won at home!”

Monday, 14 February 2011

The only way is weight loss and becoming a gay icon?

Still the stars of The Only Way is Essex are enjoying their celebrity status. Sam, Lauren and orange Lydia (who only appeared late as Arg's love interest) feature in Heat explaining how they've all lost at least 5lbs through personal trainers, circuit training and energetic rushing to the opening of an envelope. Although thankfully Sam insists she won't lose any more as she has "real boobs" and doesn't want them to waste away.

Meanwhile Mark Wright and Kirk Norcross are on the front of Attitude magazine in their underpants — apparently filled out with several of Wham's old shuttlecocks — as unlikely gay icons. "If it's good enough for David Beckham then it's good enough for me," says Wrighty.

And ITV has just been auditioning for a new series of TOWIE… What have they started?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Welcome to Romford

All of Essex life can be found in the back of Sharif’s cab. Welcome to Romford on Channel 4 had some great moments from A1 cabs and their drunken clients.

The blonde Essex Girl who punched her boyfriend outside Yates’s because she found out he’d been having an affair, internet daters on the razzle, the bloke who thought he’d been run over but wasn’t sure, an arrest for messing about with a cone, and statements like “She makes the Elephant Man look like a sex machine!”.

Sharif said he’d been in the country 11 years and had developed a pleasingly phlegmatic approach to his job, along with some natural Essex wit and a flirtatious line of banter with the formidable Kelly behind the call-out desk.

It was all rather enjoyable in a 3am desperate for a pee can you stop at the next roundabout mate kind of way. If Travis Bickle had worked in Romford he might have learned to lighten up a little and enjoy the cabaret.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Footballer shuns Sugar Hut

West Ham's James Tomkins, an Essex Man, was asked by a fan in the club programme if he would guest star on The Only Way is Essex.

He answers: "I just watch that show and cringe, to be honest. It's good TV because it makes you cringe so often… I watched it once but I promised myself I would never watch it again. I don't go to those sorts of places as they are far too 'Essex', if you know what I mean? I'd rather chill out by having a quiet dinner with my girlfriend."

Hmm. Amy and Sam may have to work hard to get a date with Tonks on this form...

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Romford in the back of a cab

The media's fascination with Essex continues. This Friday, Feb 4, sees a new Channel 4 documentary First Cut: Welcome to Romford, at 7.30pm. It films the drivers and passengers using A1 cabs in Romford, now famous as the home of Jessie J.

The Evening Standard writes that it will feature, "shouting, drinking, tears, arrests and rather a lot of amorous behaviour". And presumably the odd chunder after Saturday night beneath the plastic palm trees.

Director Simon Smith says: "I'm from Romford and I really like the people. In recent times Essex has been made a caricature, with everyone wanting to be celebrities. I wanted to show people being normal."

Let's hope they don't pick up Mark and Lauren/Sam/Lucy from The Only Way is Essex then...