Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Bog snakes in Leigh

No, they're not taking the hiss. Sympathy to Laura Cowell's five-year-old son who found a three-foot long baby python down the family toilet in Leigh-on-Sea. It seems the royal python had escaped from some neighbours who had left old vivariums in their garden and then travelled up the u-bend. It was left to heroic Leigh-on-Sea pet shop Scales and Fangs to rescue the bog snake and then nurse it back to full health after some scale-rot. Indeed, fangs can only get better. Pints of snakebite all round for the rescuers. There could be enough in this story to give fellow Leigh-on-Sea resident Phill Jupitus a whole new stage act. 

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Chateau de Essex

My daughter's pal Katy, who grew up in Brentwood, has just presented our family with some Essex wine as a thank you for holidaying with us. Bacchus 2016 Reserve is brewed by New Hall Vineyards in Chelmsford and is a fine fruity wine which we enjoyed drinking. Proof that Essex is very much the Bordeaux of England…

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Essex Yeomen go up the Junction

Visiting Upminster the other week I was surprised to find the Essex Yeoman pub by the station has now has changed its name to the Junction. The change happened back in 2015, but it's still a shame to lose Essex from a traditional pub name, even if Upminster is now in the London borough of Havering. As described in my book The Joy of Essex, I used to go in to the Yeoman for a pint with my dad after returning from West Ham games, before driving home to Great Warley. Where are the Essex Yeomen now? Probably all on Love Island, I guess.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Tiptree jam today in China

The Chinese are in love with Tiptree jam. BBC News' 'Tales From The New Silk Road' features footage from Wilkin & Sons' factory at Tiptree and an interview with Chinese brand ambassador Tingting He, who sells Tiptree products to Chinese hotels. In China they're developing a taste for British cream tea, scones and lashings of jam. Twenty five years ago the spoof Essex Liberation Front (namely Phill Jupitus, Richard Edwards and myself) predicted a UK economy based on Tiptree jam — and now it might just be the post-Brexit future. Click on the link to read the whole feature.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Walking class heroes in West Horndon

Just spent an afternoon walking in a sun-drenched West Horndon. After lunch and a half of IPA at the Railway pub we went under the railway bridge and straight out into the countryside. Here there are more than enough wheat fields for Theresa May to run through and within a few hundred yards of the station you're in a world of isolated farms, old barns, combine harvesters and huge tractors – the first real fields beyond East London. We ended up on China Lane and turned left for Bulphan (pronouced 'Bull-ven' by locals) where there's a very distinctive old wooden and flint church. That stretch of flat agriculture land stretching from West Horndon to Orsett and the Thames is another of Essex's underrated charms.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Canvey Island Wife Swap

                                                              Picture: Channel 4
Not too much to see of Canvey Island in the recent Brexit Wife Swap. There was one shot of Brexiteers Andy and Pauline at the Labworth Cafe and some scenes of Remainer Kat working at a Canvey Island social club, but the big trip out was to a Polish restaurant in Lewisham. 

Still, the programme did reveal that Remainers can be a tad patronising and that Brexiteers Andy and Pauline had genuine (if mainly ill-founded) fears of rapid racial change in the East End and homeless families from other nations in B&B hotels, born of their own experience. As ever it was the wives who seemed to make better progress at understanding different viewpoints. And there was comedy value too, watching Andy's look of horror when it was suggested he remove his Cross of St George bunting from his Canvey Island castle.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Working glass geezers find White Gold

The Inbetweeners meets Essex Man via Life on Mars. There’s a lot to admire visually in White Gold, set in 1983 and created by Inbetweeners writer Damon Beesley: the double-breasted shiny suits, Carol’s frizzed blonde perm, James Buckley’s Eddie Shoestring moustache, the motors, the clunking great videos and camcorders, giant computers with green typefaces and lots of stonewashed denim. Plus a soundtrack that includes Ian Dury, the Fun Boy Three and lots of disco.

Vincent Swan played by Ed Westwick is too brash and predatory to be a likeable rogue and sometimes the show lapses into caricatures, but White Gold has certainly captured the era of Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney and Simon Heffer’s depiction of Essex Man. Stanford-le-Hope-raised Beesley knows his white stuff, as his dad was indeed in double glazing, selling plastic windows to people who had bought their council homes. Indeed, my school reunion in the 1990s sill had plenty of double-glazing salesmen.


There’s always going to be plenty of entertainment from the blokey dialogue between Inbetweeners stars Joe Thomas and James Buckley. It’s also packed with filthy language and filthier sex. For the Essex aficionado we've already seen a trip to Southend with chips on the beach, a school trip from Basildon, a CB radio meet-up at Thorndon Country Park, a dogging session in the Essex woods, a Ramada hotel awards ceremony on the edge of Chelmsford and a Cachet sales room that is probably in Billericay. Minder did eighties rogues better, but it’s still nice to hear words like “dipstick” again in a show about working glass anti-heroes caught up in the Thatcherite dream.

White Gold is airing on BBC Two and the full series is available on iPlayer.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Tilbury Fort gets the superhero treatment

Tilbury Fort features in the film Wonder Woman, released this week. Several scenes on the parade ground of the 17th century fort appear in the film, starring Gal Gadot. Indeed, the fort is becoming something of a media luvvie. It also featured in the BBC drama Taboo, shown earlier this year. 

Tilbury Fort is one of Essex's hidden delights and features in my book The Joy of Essex. The fort is built in a distinctive star shape, known as a bastion fort, and has lots of old artillery guns, atmospheric officers rooms, tunnels to the magazines (told you we had magazines in Essex), cells that once housed Jacobite prisoners and great sweeping views across the river to Gravesend and Kent. Another Wonder Woman Queen Elizabeth I also made her famous if not very feminist speech there as the Spanish Armada approached, declaring, "I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman, but I have the heart of a king!" More than enough to keep Gal Gadot happy as she flies over the Thames.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

White Gold in Essex


Promising new trailer for the forthcoming BBC2 comedy series White Gold, set in Essex in 1983. It's written by Essex-born Damon Beesley, the man who gave us Inbetweeners, and is a comedy covering the antics of Vincent and his set of double-glazing salesmen. Looks worth watching just for those double-breasted shiny suits. Beesley refers to the programme as a, "glorious opportunity to recreate the Essex of my youth — a time before the invention of 'Essex girls' jokes, fake tan or Towie. A time when having double-glazed patio doors installed meant you were winning at life."

Friday, 7 April 2017

Phill Jupitus goes underground

Proof that Essex Man can do art. Check out this video on Eduardo Paolozzi by Leigh-on-Sea's favourite son Phill Jupitus. Paolozzi is not West Ham's latest loan signing, but the Scottish geezer who designed the 1984 artwork at Tottenham Court Road tube station and is featured in a retrospective exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery

Phill takes us through London and explores Paolozzi's industrial-sized sculpture of steam-engine inventor James Watt's (you Watt?) head and his his sculpture of Isaac Newton in the style of William Blake. Phill ends up at Tottenham Court Road station where he's previously only seen the brightly-coloured Eastbound platform artwork when drunk and heading back to Essex. 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Essex Girls fight back

Interesting article on whether the term Essex Girl is at all relevant to 2017 from BBC Essex's Jodie Halford. Like Essex Man, it's a stereotype that had some basis in truth when applied to Estuary Essex (just look at Towie), though there was always more to the county than the media image. Indeed there was a campaign to have the term removed from the dictionary last autumn.

Dr Terri Simpkin of Angia Ruskin University points out in the feature that there was certainly an element of snobbishness to the Essex Girl stereotype: "Essex became a corridor between dormitory towns and London, so we saw a rise in people having social mobility. Out of that came a level of snobbery and a disparaging view of people who had become more aspirational and affluent. But with women, there was gender discrimination as well, because so-called Essex girls weren't wilting wallflowers - they were more overt as sexual beings, they took control of their own sexuality." 

And perhaps Southend playwright Sadie Hasler has it right when she argues: "If you could take every negative stereotype about Essex girls, and turn them into positives, it would be amazing to see Essex girl come out and say love your body, make the most of what you've got, own it, don't take lip from anyone, say what you think, defend yourself and don't be a wallflower. The thing about Essex girl is she actually represents lots of positive messages for women - but they're currently dressed up in the most hideous way." Click on the link to read the whole feature.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Richard Madeley recalls leather-clad Philip Hammond in their Shenfield School days

Just seen a tweet with an interview with Richard Madeley on Newsnight (originally shown in Nov 2016) talking about his days at my old school of Shenfield, where he was in the same year as Chancellor Philip Hammond. Madeley recalls of Hammond: "He used to wear quite a long black leather coat and black leather boots and he had very long jet-black hair that hung down like crow's wings. He was tall, striking and super confident and that had an impact on the girls. He always finished his class work before everybody else. Then he'd put his big boots on the desk and start reading the Telegraph and swapping political dialogue with our history teacher who was a Guardian reader. This was a 15-year-old schoolboy!"

Hammond was a few years older than myself, so there are no distinctive memories, apart from him running a mobile disco with Graham Norton (not that one) and the fact his parents used to play bridge with my friend's parents. Shame he ditched the long leather coat and boots though, could have have livened up his Budget no end. Click on the link to view the full Newsnight profile of Hammond. While Newsnight again visited Shenfield on Budget night, talking to Hammond's old neighbours and even stopping for a chat with  the landlady of the Hutton pub.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Reading matters at the Essex Book Festival

Tomorrow, March 1, sees the start of the Essex Book Festival when it's opened by A L Kennedy. The ubiquitous Sarah 'Essex Serpent' Perry's session is already sold out, but there's plenty more to see, including the excellent Syd Smith (who wrote of tales of Manningtree witchcraft in Witch Hunt and The Drowning Pool), Ruth Rayner and Chris McCully taking literary inspiration from Colchester's Roman wall, local short stories from Essex Belongs To Us, Essex-based crime in James Henry's Blackwater, Alison Weir on Katherine of Aragon at Layer Marney, Brix Smith on life in The Fall at Southend and Jem Lester in Brentwood discussing his novel of taciturn blokes, Shtum. Check out the link for the full programme.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Essex, serpents and Graves' Disease

Good news for Sarah Perry. My London book group is now reading The Essex Serpent to add to her sales among the metropolitan liberal elite. It's also been all over Waterstone's as the store's book of the year. Serpent is a great read and magically evokes the mysterious scenery of the Blackwater estuary, as well as containing the Colchester earthquake and some vivid writing on the Victorian conflict between science and religion. Check out Perry's recent interview in the Guardian too, where she reveals that the strain of writing and selling the novel might have given her the Gothic-sounding Graves' Disease (it affects the thyroid and leaves the sufferer exhausted). She says she lay in bed repeating every one star review on Amazon to herself, though she's certainly not had many of those and the critics' response has been overwhelmingly positive. Thankfully the Chelmsford-born Perry is now recovering from the worst effects of the disease and will hopefully be well enough to complete another book soon, because she's one of our most talented new authors.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Prisoner Cell Block Essex

Picked up a copy of new! on the train the other day and it's interesting to note that two of the original female stars of Towie are dating what the magazine refers to as "jailbird lovers". Lauren Goodger has been on Loose Women to talk about her relationship with Joey Morrison, currently serving an 18-year prison sentence. While Amy Childs is having a baby with boyfriend Bradley Wright, who served six months for handling stolen goods. You do have to admire the ability of the women of Essex to see the good in everyone and there desire to reform recidivists. Who needs a probation service when you have Towie?

Friday, 10 February 2017

Not with a bang but with a Wimpy

My pal John has just informed me that the Wimpy restaurant in Barking has just closed, marking the end of an era. For those who thought Wimpy bars died out in the 1970s. they've proved surprisingly resilient in Essex. Aficionados should note that the McDonalds-isation of fast food hasn't affected God's own county. Wimpys still stalk the county like throwback dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, living on in Billericay, Wickford, Basildon, Benfleet, Clacton, Colchester, Maldon, Rayleigh, Benfleet,  Leigh, Westcliff-on-Sea, Grays and Southend. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

God save the Essex Pistols

An unlikely mention for Essex in Steve Jones' book Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol. Talking about a possible future Sex Pistols tour (they reformed in 1996 and 2007) he writes: "People say 'Well the Rolling Stones are still doing it', but I don't think they would be on our money. Also their business doesn't have to be run in such way as to keep two imaginary c**ts in some East London council estate happy. I get that it's good to be the real deal when you're twenty, but when you get to be older things change. The two imaginary c**ts have probably sold their council flat and f**ked off to Essex by now, anyway."

Lonely Boy is well worth reading; a strange mixture of sadness, sleaze and humour from Jonesy who manages to write about getting sexually abused by his stepfather, compulsive thieving, alcoholism and heroin and sex addiction with candour and bluff humour. Very politically incorrect but a great read. And believe it or not Jonesy's now kicked all his addictions bar food and is into transcendental meditation in LA…