Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Aye, we had it tough in Jaywick Sands

An unwelcome win for Essex. Jaywick Sands is officially the most deprived place in England according to the government's snappily-titled Indices of Multiple Deprivation 2010 league table.

Yesterday's Guardian has a feature on Jaywick complete with pictures of the closed Mermaid Tavern anmd an elderly man walking his dog. Never mind the beaches. It's isolated, has high unemployment, poor roads and is a flood risk. Jaywick beats Grimsby, Blackpool and Liverpool into first place.

Hmm. Maybe TOWIE's Amy could set up a vajazzling empire there?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Brentwood goes to Hollywood

The Evening Standard reports that Keira Knightley and Mad Men star Elizabeth Moss (she plays Peggy) both spent a day teaching drama at Brentwood School. This was in preparation for their roles as boarding school teachers in the forthcoming play The Children's Hour at the Comedy Theatre in the West End.

Well, that's what they say. It's also possible that the pair were simply hoping to hang around Sugar Hut in the hope of cameos as Mark and Kirk's love interest in The Only Way is Essex.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Lauren goes mental

The Only Way Is Essex continues to be the Neighbours of the Thames Estuary. Mark has asked Lauren to marry him and she's said yes, in Essex's version of Kylie and Jason. Lauren's sister came up with an admirably Essex response: "Are you mental?"

Lauren will have to get her Mark tattoo etched back on again - and possibly removed again if the ratings fall.

Meanwhile one of the best things about the series is the adverts for sponsors Wink Bingo and a great spoof of Amy and Sam. Not being horrible, but Oh my God!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Essex — the new LA

Well, the new series of The Only Way is Essex is back in Technicolour orange, or what Amy calls the “oompa lumpa” shade of spray tan.

As ever the Essex argot is splendid. Of course, it’s not representative of the real Essex, but it is fun.

In London they have Jafrican but here old cockney merges into new Essex in a disarming display of linguistic front. Mark reckons his sister Jess has got “the raving hump” because he doesn’t agree with her having a boob job. This is not out of any misguided sense that women’s bodies are fine as they are, but because he doesn’t want to “have to front up every geezer” looking at her silicone. Nanny Pat had it right when she said they’re fine as they are, Jess.

Arg is telling Lydia, “talk about digging me out, Lyd!” While Kirk is recommending his single father to a prospective car saleswoman lover as “a right gentleman, a geezer… he’s everything!”

While new addition Joey Essex says “I’m not mugging him off”.

So that’s digging me out, mugging me off, raving humps, fronting up geezers, and right gentlemen in one episode, not to mention painted trotters on Mr Darcy the Vietnamese pig.

Meanwhile Kirk’s dad makes a nice addition (“You are spoilt!” he tells his son who wants a Beamer for his birthday) while Mark’s mum looks uncannily like Alison Steadman in Gavin and Stacey.

Meanwhile Amy’s wondering if Kent is South London and remarks that “Essex is the new LA". After all, there’s already a Brentwood in LA. Is Gants Hill Essex’s version of Beverly Hills and Southend our Malibu?

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Essex Riviera

With the second series of The Only Way is Essex starting on ITV 2 this Sunday, the Daily Telegraph reports a 140 per cent increase in requests about Essex mini-breaks.

The internet site reports that enquiries about Brentwod hotels have gone up 100 per cent in the past year. While Chelmsford is up 211 per cent and Clacton 170 per cent.

As the Eagles might have sung: "Welcome to the hotel Essex for yer". You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.

The best and worst of Essex

The best and worst of Essex were on display during my recent visit to Upminster.

Walking up Corbet’s Tey Road there was a young Herbert rolling away from the pub pushing his red-haired girlfriend. This was on the other side of the road and at first you wondered if it was the sort of joshing you might see between Smithy and his sister in Gavin and Stacey. But it was something more sinister.

“If you push her again I’m calling the police! You should be ashamed of yourself, she’s a woman!” shouted a brave and angry middle-aged woman in the street. He shouted something abusive back - and he was a big bloke - she dialled for the law and the Herbert slunk off accompanied by his poor companion.

The police arrived and took a couple of statements from passers-by and shop owners but alas it was too late to find the culprit. But full marks to that Upminster woman who saw cowardly injustice and took action.

It reminded me that there was always an undercurrent of violence beneath the commuter facade when I was growing up in Essex. Getting threatened for eyeing up someone’s bird in that pub by the bus stop in Brentwood High Street, violent abuse after reversing too close to someone’s motor, my dad threatening to knock someone’s effing block off in a row over a parking space at Warley Fords, St Martin’s School’s lads turning up outside our school allegedly with bicycle chains.

If there was an English David Lynch he would surely be making Twin Peaks-style films in the Essex commuter belt – all is not as it seems behind the privet hedges and Ford motors.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Juke box Dury

There’ ain’t 'alf been some clever bastards… and Will Birch is one ‘em.

Just completed Birch’s excellent Ian Dury: the Definitive Biography. It’s a great read and fully conveys the mix of monstrous and loveable behaviour that made Dury a very complex lyrical genius.

What’s also striking is how much of a mockney he was. His mum’s family were quite posh intellectuals and he was bought up in the garden suburb of Upminster as a well-spoken boy and then went to boarding school in High Wycombe.

Dury said he put on the cockney geezer act partly to survive in a horrendous institution for kids with polio.

It would also have given the insecure and disabled Dury an easy identity. When I was at university this middle-class Essex Man was readily identified by northerners as a cockney when they heard my Brentwood accent; and it was easy to play up to the caricature in the street credibility seeking days of the late 1970s.

Dury would also have been attracted to the language he heard from East End exiles around Essex because he was a poet and saw the richness of the “just cos I ain't never 'ad, no, nothing worth having never ever” and “got right up between her rum and her Ribena” cockney dialogue and rhyming slang.

As he once said when accused of being a mockney rebel: “We’re not posh, we’re arts and crafts!”

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Only Way is Upminster

Does nothing change in Upminster? Not only does it still have the Essex Yeoman pub by the station (where a welcome pint was often had after returning home from a West Ham game under the lights) and a proper old Wimpy bar, but Roomes Department Store is still there. The very place where my mate Gav once saw Martin Peters out shopping.

Gav also saw Hurstie there, "plus Bobby Ferguson in the park (my mum got his autograph cos I was too shy). Jimmy Greaves also lived in Upminster as a younger man - he gave my grandad's car a push."

It’s good to see a department store that isn’t a chain — it’s been run by the Roome family for five generations — and Roomes has a definite air of Are You Being Served? about it, complete with white-bloused Miss Brahms and Mr Lucas-style assistants with Essex accents saying, “The sun’s come out for yer… invoice it with them last ones…” And here comes Young Mr Roome…

Roomes was established in 1888 at Green Street, Upton Park (it closed in 1935, the owners realising that commuters were moving out to Essex). The Upminster shop was built in 1927 and still has its stylish art deco exterior.

You can find everything here amid its black and white interiors, from Fred Perry shirts to toys (I’m sure my late uncle David bought me a Dalek 45rpm record here back in the sixties) and bedding. And on the top floor there’s a sleepy cafĂ© serving various chip concoctions and coffee.

Who knows what items Ian Dury, who grew up in Waldegrave Gardens, Upminster, (where Gav's mum knew his mum) might have nicked here as a youngster, before going on to South Street, Romford, shopping arcade in search of a pilfered Razzle magazine?

Who needs Selfridges? It's good to know there’s still Roomes at the top of the district line.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Market forces in Romford

“NO FAKES,” reads a sign above one of the stalls in Romford Market. It’s a moniker that neatly sums up Romford. The idea you would even suspect fakery is very Essex in this old East End enclave stuck out on the tundra of Essex. There’s even a pie and mash shop and a Tubby White’s stall selling jellied eels. (Why are seafood stalls always run by men called Tubby?)

“50p yer caulies!” hollers a woman on a fruit and veg stall. Across the market an old geezer rasps “Paarnd a bowl yer joocy oranges… Yorksher rhubarb! Yorksher rhubarb!”
Suddenly I realise where I subconsciously attained my “50p yer 'Ammers fanzine!” selling technique from, when I used to sell Fortune’s Always Hiding outside West Ham’s ground.

Romford has a market square dating back to the 1247 and a couple of listed pubs in The Golden Lion and The Lamb, along with the more rock’n’roll The Bitter End and of course, a nail salon.

My daughters and their old man have just had lunch with Auntie Kaz in a greasy spoon where the chip portions are large and the tea bags stay in the mug.
We’re opposite the legendary Yates’s, where Kaz says you can see the girls in micro-skirts and stilettos go out every Friday night and where one Romfordian confessed to punching her boyfriend for gross moral turpitude in the recent Channel 4 documentary Welcome to Romford.

Walking down South Street it’s impossible not to think of Ian Dury’s immortal line abut stealing a razzle mag from Razzle in my Pocket: “Romford, South Street, shopping arcade, in me yeller jersey I went out on the nick.”

The arcade, now covered, brings a Proustian rush of nostalgia. This was a big trip out on the 247 bus from Great Warley when I was a kid. Unlimited shops and cheap wide-collared shirts and Oxford Bags at Mr Byrite's. My dad said “You won’t get anywhere messing about shopping in Romford,” and perhaps he was right, because here I am, still doing it.

There’s a West Ham shop selling endless WHU branded casual jackets, teddy bears and babygrows and to the joy of the girls both a Waterstone’s and a Claire’s Accessories.

It’s heaving on a Wednesday market day at 3pm and definitively Essex. Compared to up west, as they say on EastEnders, there’s decidedly more leopardskin, eye make-up, chiseled cheekbones, pink handbags and lots of phrases like “in’t they?”.

Waterstone’s has a tempting book on the history of Upminster and lots of dvds on WW2 in Essex and the East End. Nell buys a set of silly bands in Claire’s Accessories that are supposed to be chocolate scented but aren’t. Fired up with a rejuvenated sense of Essex bartering ability, I wait for the supervisor and manage to blag an exchange. Result.

Karren Brady would love it here. Entrepreneurship is in the Essex soul. In the centre of the arcade stand numerous temporary stalls and hawkers pushing their products like wannabe Apprentice candidates.

There’s young people in red t-shirts offering Love Film vouchers, a stall offering samples from Subway sandwiches, Sky offers, and a jewelry stall called Magnolia that is embossed with “Prague, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Toronto”. Does the Prague stall read “Sydney, Tel Aviv, Toronto, Romford”?

Seeking some local colour, I accept a leaflet on Crystal double glazing from a man in a brown and beige two-tone leather jacket standing by a selection of stained dark brown casement windows. A mistake: one thing they know how to do in Essex is sell.

“Would you like 40 per cent discount voucher too sir and a free estimate no obligation your wife makes all the decision sir well between you and me that’s always the case in the home have you seen our beat the VAT offer you see it’s now 43 per cent off not 40 per cent energy saving recommended seven point locking system we just need your name to prove that I’ve spoken to you otherwise they won’t believe me and your home number and we do need a mobile which is the best number to call you on you’ll receive a courtesy call within a day…

Pleading a rendezvous with my 12-year-old daughter I scarper for the safety of Claire’s Accessories, fleeced of my phone number and done up like a mug punter from north London. The courtesy call duly arrives the next day and they may continue for the next millennium.

Still, it’s a shame to retreat back to London on the train. So many shops, so many stalls. It’s hard not to love the buzz of Romford Market where commerce is theatre and you will never be short of juicy oranges and high performance windows.