Thursday, 2 April 2020

Stag do in Harold Hill


Oh deer. Thanks to Billy Bragg who has retweeted these pics of deer who have colonised the empty streets of Harold Hill (in East London, though formerly Essex). The goats in Llandudno are getting all the publicity, but it seems deer are now born free in Harold Hill (which incidentally also features in an Ian Dury song).

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Excellent Essex

Good to see there's a new book on Essex out, Excellent Essex: In Praise of England's Most Misunderstood County by Gillian Darley. The Guardian described it as, "an original and beautifully written celebration of a much maligned county." A review will be published shortly…

Monday, 25 November 2019

West Ham Legends hit Brentwood

Best part of the weekend was going to see 'West Ham Legends' Trevor Brooking, Julian Dicks, Frank McAvennie and Tony Gale at Brentwood Live on Friday night. Brentwood Live is a strange venue, basically a sports hall with seats and not actually in Brentwood but Doddinghurst. But a taxi trip from the station soon delivered Fraser and myself to the venue, where we found a thousand or so geezers in replica shirts and Camden Pale on draft.

Tony Gale was a fine compere for the evening, full of wit, delivering a surprisingly accurate impression of Sir Trevor Brooking and revealing that Trev once said a four-letter word on the golf course. Sir Trev stalked us through his FA Cup winning goal and said that although Ron Greenwood was a great coach John Lyall was a better man manager. Predictably he rather sat on the fence on possible replacements for Pellegrini, but did say that he thought Ajeti wasn't good enough. Dicksy added that the current side just doesn't work hard enough. Mention of Roberto inspired memories of Allen McKnight from Frank McAvennie.

There were lots of tales from the 1980s and 1990s. Frank McAvennie had a story of the players breaking a curfew in Amsterdam and John Lyall asking for £50 to be given to charity from every player who had sneaked out of the fire escape. Lyall was very surprised to find £1200 left on the table when he returned. There was also the story of Mitchell Thomas faking injury so that McAvennie could come on to score a hat-trick in his final West Ham game.

We had plenty of examples of footballers' banter. Tony Gale recalled the time Trevor Morley was in the treatment room after being stabbed by his wife and Julian Dicks had placed a series of knives in the anatomical skeleton on display. 

Dicksy remembered himself and Frank hitching a lift on a milk float during a cross country run under Billy Bonds; and also the time Billy Bonds wanted to fight him at half-time during a game at Coventry. Despite their differences though, Julian considered Bonds to be the best player he played alongside.

Everyone had massive respect for Bonzo and when asked by an audience member "Did Harry Redknapp stab Billy Bonds in the back?" Tony Gale replied that all he could say was that Billy was as honest as they come.

Tony Gale also revealed that the epic 1985-1986 season charge to third place was inspired by a pre-season defeat at Orient when a fan who looked like a member of the ICF broke into the dressing room and lambasted each player in turn. If that fan is still around then perhaps he could break into the dressing room again and deliver a few more ripostes to our underachieving side.

Overall a fine night of nostalgia from four players who still seem to enjoy each other's company. And what wouldn't we give to see these four back in the side today?

Monday, 26 August 2019

Stiletto crazy after all these years...

Some of the donated stilettos           PIC: QUEENS THEATRE
Stilettos will be theatrically burned to mark a new series of plays touting a positive image of Essex at the Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch.The theatre is asking for donated stilettos to burn during Sadie Hasler's play Stiletto Beach, billed as "a love letter to Southend". 

The season also features So Here We Are by Luke Norris, which is also set in Southend and part of the theatre's Essex On Stage programme. So far the theatre has received more than one hundred pairs of stilettos — which should help the play right some burning injustices perpetuated by Essex Girl stereotypes. Click on the link for box office details...

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Pity about the Prittlewell prince

Was in Southend last Monday on a very rainy day and after a bracing walk from Leigh-on-Sea thought I'd take a look at Southend Museum's artefacts from the 'Prittlewell Prince', billed in the press as 'Essex's answer to Tutankhamun'. The burial chamber, found in Prittlewell, contains lots of lavish grave goods such as a beautiful blue glass beaker. It was thought to belong to Seaxa, not a heavy metal guitarist but the brother of King Saebert of Essex, who in the seventh century was the first Anglo-Saxon king to convert to Christianity.

The only problem was that after finding the museum, it was padlocked as it closes every Monday. So we had to make do with the pictured poster. Just a thought, but if the museum really does contain the UK's equivalent of Tutankhamun's tomb and Southend is now set to rival Cairo, shouldn't it be open all week?

Friday, 9 August 2019

What have the Romans ever done for Essex?

Just enjoyed a day trip to Colchester. Arriving at Colchester Town rather than Colchester station meant a fine view of the ruins of St Botolph's Priory from the train. Exploring the ruins in closer detail they're a fascinating mass of huge cylindrical columns and arches made of recycled Roman brick and stone trashed by Henry VIII. Yet in historic Colchester they are almost an affterthought.

Colchester Castle was as magnificent as ever and it's still an immense thrill to take a tour of the foundations, which are those of the Roman temple sacked by Boudica's Iceni tribes. The museum has some great finds including the beautiful gold bangles and earrings found under Fenwick's department store in the charred layer of town left by Boudica's rampage. Plus there's the Roman doctor buried with a complete surgical kit, the tombstone featuring a Roman Centurion trampling over a defeated Brit, and the magnificent Colchester vase with it's gladiators and whips.


Then it was on to the Balkerne gate with its two intact arches and an astonishing mass of preserved Roman city wall. My sister and I still had time to make it the Firstsite art gallery before catching the six o'clock train back to London. Colchester has just as much history as town s like Bath — it really should be a top tourist attraction.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

The invention of Essex

Good piece in Friday's Guardian on "the invention of Essex" by Tim Burrows. It covers similar material to my own tome The Joy of Essex: the rise of new housing in Basildon, Harlow and South Woodham Ferrers; Thatcher's appeal to council-house buyers; Simon Heffer's invention of Essex Man in 1990; Birds of a Feather; Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party (set in Romford); the creation of Essex Girls; Basildon Man; and uber Brexiteer and stereotypical Essex Man Mark Francois, MP for Rayleigh and Wickford. 

Burrows ends up concluding that Essex Man is a good shorthand for politicians who claim to identify with working class culture and that actually the county is more diverse than is realised. "If Essex did not exist they would have to invent it."