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."

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Billericay Dickie in a tuk tuk

Another triumph for Essex. Billericay resident Matt Everard has set the world record for speeding in a tuk tuk. Matt reached a speed of 74.306 mph at an airfield near York. Everard, 46, fell in love with tuk tuk taxis after holidaying in Thailand. And after a few beers in Billericay, he bought one on eBay while his wife was asleep, as you do, and then spent £20,000 on souping it up. The media loved it of course, and even Radio 4's Today mentioned "boy racers" within a few sentences. At least it should be a talking point when stuck in traffic and just the thing for taking an open-air cruise down the A13, trunk road to the sea.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Is Prittlewell the new Cairo?

Tutankhamun might sound like a Southend nightclub to rival the old Zero 6 or the Canvey Island Goldmine, but it seems that Prittlewell is now home to Britain's version of the Valley of the Kings. A massively important archaeological find, descrived as "Britain's Tutankhamun", has been made — an Anglo Saxon burial chamber between an Aldi and a pub. Years of research on the tomb, discovered in 2003, suggests that Essex was at the heart of Anglo-Saxon culture and clearly this top geezer had much better bling than Sutton Hoo. 

Dating back to AD 616, this powerful man (who might have been Seaxa, brother of King Sæberht and son of Sledd) was buried with a copper-alloy flagon, a lyre, drinking horns and elaborate blue glass drinking cups. An indication that Essex Man back then was also into drinking, music and a bit of flash gear. It 
would have taken 25 people a week to build the tomb. It would have been a natural spot for a prestigious monument — what great man wouldn't want good afterlife access to Aldi, an Essex boozer and the Arches cafes at Southend? 

The Observer suggested that Southend might be on the way to becoming the new Cairo — though business at Southend Central Museum has been a little slow so far. Still, give it time, and soon Southend will surely be on every cruise ship's itinerary.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Moore bewitches Leigh-on-Sea

After my recent trip to Leigh-on-Sea finally got round to reading Syd Moore's ghost story The Drowning Pool. It's refreshing to find a novel set entirely in Leigh. Moore's story concerns a widowed teacher Sarah who is haunted by her namesake Sarah Grey, whom legend claimed was a local witch. Moore based her idea around the real-life legend of Sarah Moore the so-called sea-witch of Leigh, who died in 1867. It was claimed she could curse ships.

The novel certainly has a very strong sense of place and all the characters do very Essex things, such as drinking large amounts of wine to numb the apparitions, boozing in the Crooked Billet and going up to Hadleigh Castle. I once appeared with Syd Moore at the Essex Book Festival offering advice to local writers, and very good company she was too. She's written a number of Essex witch stories dealing with the dark history of Essex's witch hunts and she's worth reading if you like a good murder story and lashings of local history. Even if the body count in Leigh does seem to be disturbingly high...

Monday, 11 March 2019

Sunshine on Leigh

The Crow Stone at high tide
Enjoyed a fine weekend trip to Leigh-on-Sea. A mixture of sunshine and strong winds made for a very enjoyable walk along the beach, watching the choppy waters of the estuary at high tide and seeing windsurfers shoot across the waves. Our party's dogs Vulcan and Livvy enjoyed being allowed to race across the sand towards Chalkwell, surely the most scenic commuter station in the country. 

We looked around the Leigh Heritage Centre in the Old Town and learned a lot about the history of Leigh, which was once a deep sea port and home to an impressive shipbuilding industry, before silting eroded its role. The centre also has a renovated fisherman's cottage attached, where the parents and eight children would have slept upstairs. The day was rounded off by excellent fish and chips in the Crooked Billet and a pint of Jack The Lad IPA. Forget Kent, Londoners in need of the sea can find the charms of Leigh just half an hour from Barking on the C2C line.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Firestarter dimmed

Very sad to hear of the death of the Prodigy's Keith Flint at his home in Dunmow. Keith had a difficult upbringing in Braintree, but always retained strong links with Essex. He looked demonic but according to DJ Jo Wiley he was "an absolute sweetheart" in real life. And in happier times, Keith had a sense of humour. Love the story that at the pub he owned, the Leather Bottle in Pleshey, he had a jar into which customers had to put a pound every time they made a Firestarter joke when he lit the pub's fire. The twisted Firestarter will be missed.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Robert the Essex geezer

Was Robert the Bruce born in Essex and not Scotland? Could the King of the Scots have been an Essex Man? The best historical claim of last year came in a book on Bruce called Traitor, Outlaw, King by historian Fiona Watson. Dr Watson claims that one 14th century chronicler writes that Bruce was born in Writtle, rather than Ayrshire. So it's quite likely that he took on the English at Bannockburn wearing a Barbour jacket and a flat cap, hollering, "'Ave some of that!"