Saturday, 17 April 2021

Odes to Essex

Enjoyed listening to Radio 3's Odes to Essex series. Would any other county have got its own radio series? Billy Bragg had a lot to say about childhood games on the liminal marshland around Barking, an area full of rusting cars, old sofas and girlie magazines. Excellent Essex author Gillian Darley take on mid-Essex, poet and novelist Lavinia Greenlaw looks at the refusal of place through her childhood in an Essex village and night trips across muddy fields trying to get somewhere, while writer Ken Warpole speaks of the Canvey Island floods and Essex's radical past. Well worth a listen. Click on the link to play.

Monday, 18 January 2021

Excellent Essex

Just finished reading a Christmas gift of Excellent Essex by Gillian Darley. There's some brilliant research in this tome, although the sub-title, "In praise of England's most misunderstood county" doesn't really reflect the content; Essex Man and the Towie phenomenon get just half a dozen pages and there's no real discussion about the validity or not of these stereotypes.

This is much more a Radio 4 version of Essex. Darley grew up in Sudbury on the Essex/Suffolk border and seemingly prefers the old villages of north Essex to estuary Essex. She is mainly an architectural journalist and Excellent Essex is full of info on interesting buildings and intriguing historical facts. You can dip into this book and find details of Tolstoyian communities in Purleigh, bohemian artists in Great Bardfield and Frank Crittall's windows and modernist homes in Silver End. 

She's also very good on the history of Butlin's in Clacton, Bata at Tilbury, plotland developments like Basildon and Jaywick and the development of new towns at Harlow, Basildon and South Woodham Ferrers. Essex has always been a haven for the slightly different stresses Darley, from mechanical elephants in Thaxted to cheetahs at Romford dogtrack, suffragettes in Great Baddow and Grayson Perry's A House for Essex on the Stour. The index stretches from the A12 and Robert Adam to Wrabness and Zeppelins. There should be something for everyone here.

Monday, 28 December 2020

Towie oil traders cash in

We had The Wolf of Wall Street, the Wolf of Shenfield and now it seems the Wolves of West Horndon. The Daily Mail contains a great story about nine 'Towie oil traders' operating as Vega Capital London out of an industrial park in West Horndon, who have made a claimed £487 million trading in futures, gambling on the price of oil going down during the pandemic. 

Even better three of the Essex high-rollers are nicknamed Cuddles, Ari and Dog, support West Ham and like to visit Marbella. The only downside to their nice little earner is a trading lawsuit from the US, though the so called 'oil oiks' insist they acted on a 'blaring market signal'. Essex Man is nothing if not entrepreneurial and really futures trading can't be that different to trading on Romford Market. Though you do wonder how they'll spend all that money in West Horndon — it's only got one pub and one restaurant. Expect a movie very soon.

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Remembering WW2 in West Horndon


Thanks to my sister Kaz for supplying these pics of the WW2 memorial bench in West Horndon. The bench marks the area where 20 young men lost their lives after two US Air Force bombers collided above the fields around West Horndon. The only survivor was tail gunner John Adams. Apparently bits of the planes can still be around around the local woods. A sad tale, but well worth remembering today.



Wednesday, 14 October 2020

This is Essex — without the stereotypes

Enjoyed the Zoom launch of the video This is Essex today. The video was made by Visit Essex and contains a host of Essex characters debunking some of the myths about the county. 

To prove it's not all boy racers rally champion Nabila Tejpar (left) shows us her motor. Countering the idea that Essex folk aren't that intelligent, scientist Dr Miles Adcock shows us around the Chelmsford base where parts are made for space programmes. 

Comedian Ellie Taylor, who was born in Brentwood, gives her take on the Essex accent. Michelin starred chefs the Galvin Brothers prove that Essex does have taste and eighth generation Mersea oysterman Tom Haward proves "Out, Out" doesn't always mean false eyelashes and fake tan. 

Paralympian Anne Wafula-Strike reveals tracksuits are worn for more than leisure in Essex, Hedingham Castle owner Demetra Lindsay tells us she's an Essex Girl and metal detectorist Adrian Gayler brings a new perspective to golddigging. Harwich town cryer James Cole gets shouty and the owner of West Street vineyard asks what a sugar hut is. Although pantomime dame Anthony Stuart-Hicks does admit to wearing white stilettos. 

Essex Radio's Dave Monk hosted a short discussion after the launch. Essex Man, Essex Girls and Towie might represent a part of estuary Essex, but this is a fun idea to prove that there's a lot more to Essex than the popular cliches. To view the video click on the link.

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Essex Man is 30 today


Today Essex Man is thirty years old. Simon Heffer wrote the original piece that created Essex Man in the Sunday Telegraph of October 7 1990. So w
hat would Essex Man, aka "Maggie's mauler" be like today? 

Essex Man would be close to retirement age with electric gates on his gaff in Southend and a bolthole in Portugal. You won’t step over pools of his vomit at Liverpool Street anymore because he drinks Pinot Grigio at home with his missus and has been told to slim down before Covid gets him. Though he still supports Brexit and thinks that even if there are 7000 lorries parked in Dover he might be able to send over a few mobile coffee stalls and get a good mark-up. He’d certainly be knocking out a nice sideline in West Ham face masks going at a tenner a time. 

He’d be more into marketing wellness and beauty apps to the metropolitan liberal elite in Islington rather than videos on Romford market and would be trading in one-day Sky passes for the Premier League rather than the satellite dishes of 1990. He’d approve of Priti Patel’s idea of sending asylum seekers to Ascension Island, but accept Priti as one of 'us' because she’s spiritually Witham. With Priti and Mark Francois in charge we might even win the next war. He would hate snowflakes but be very sensitive to any criticism of his own views on twitter. 

Essex Man would have been puzzled by his grandchildrens’ liking for Jeremy Corbyn, who reminded him of that muppet Wolfie Smith. But he might have a little more respect for Keir Starmer. Essex Man and shiny suits go back a long way and it’s not hard to imagine the besuited Starmer with a brick-like mobile phone in the 1980s. Just as long as long as he doesn’t tax white van man or tanning salons, though he can have a go at Amazon as their delivery drivers are always leaving packages outside the electric gates because they can't get past the security. 

Essex Man admires the front of Dominic Cummings in breaking the lockdown rules, but still thinks he deserves a slap for being a posh git who reads books. Much of the origins of Essex Man can be found in the Victorian costermongers described by Henry Mayhew in the classic London Labour and the London Poor. Selling fruit and veg from moveable barrows, they developed a heightened street sense and quickfire humour. Some of them were known as “patterers”. And today’s Essex Man would certainly recognise Boris Johnson as a dodgy patterer who doesn’t really know what he’s talking about with his world-beating test and trace system, particularly as Nanny Pat is at risk. Essex Man can forgive much but not poor marketing or being mugged off. 

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

The only Way in Essex

Enjoyed a great walk on the Essex Way with the artist Michael Landy (famous for once destroying all his possessions and placing them in Landy-fill). We took a taxi from Harlow to Pepper's Green and then walked down the tree-lined avenues, ancient bridleways and newly-ploughed fields of Essex to finally look back in Ongar. 

We came across the two churches (and one graveyard) at Willingale, which are certainly intriguing. No-one is sure why there are two churches, St Christopher's and St Andrews' and All Saints. There were folk rumours of a row between two rich sisters who refused to worship together, though as the churches are 200 years apart in construction that theory doesn’t quite stand up. The churches date back to Saxon and Norman times and St Andrew's and All Saints even has Roman tiles used in its structure.

Then it was a stroll by the River Roding past fallen willows and dislodged bridges and into the fine old town of Chipping Ongar. Some eight miles of bucolic charms without a main road in sight until Ongar. It's the only Way in Essex and my intention now is to walk some more of it.