Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Essex Man hammers Aussies — Gabba Gabba hey!

Just to complete Essex's annus mirabilis, Essex cricketer Alastair Cook has scored a record-breaking 235 not out at the Gabba in Brisbane. Even Don Bradman's knock of 226 has fallen to a man who once played club cricket for Maldon...

Possibly inspired by the success of The Only Way Is Essex and Mark and Kirk's epic boxing bout, Cook's innings has caused much soul-searching in the Aussie media and the Sydney Morning Herald asked "Has anyone stopped to consider that our cricket side — ahem — isn't particularly good?"

Nice one, Cooky. They'll be dancing in the tanning salons of Chelmsford tonight...

The only way is… cold sores?

"The Only Way is… Windsor," proclaims the current issue of Now, alongside a picture of Mark and Lauren from The Only Way is Essex wearing identical clothes to Kate and Wills when they announced their royal engagement.

Must say they make a fine royal couple when poshed up, especially now Lauren has gone brunette. Might they be a better choice as King and Queen of Britain? It would mean that Sam could be a vajazzler by royal appointment.

The series has been so successful it's being repeated on ITV2 already and is still sponsored by Cymex cream for cold sores.

What is it about Essex and cold sores? Did Cymex's PR people spot a correlation between Herpes Simplex and lots of snogging at Sugar Hut and Faces?

It might not be the most romantic of sponsors, but like Essex itself, Cymex does what it says on the tube.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Come on you Ironworks

This is where West Ham United began. It’s enough to give this Essex boy a frisson of excitement. We’re at the site of the old Thames Ironworks Shipbuilding company at the mouth of the River Lea on Trinity Buoy Wharf. Today it’s all trees, wasteland and warehouses by the choppy grey waters of the Thames.

Back in 1895 the Thames Ironworks Shipbuilding Co owner Arnold Hills and foreman Dave Taylor founded Thames Ironworks FC as a works side. Which is why West Ham are still referred to as “The Irons” and a pair of crossed riveting hammers is used in the WHUFC badge. Five years later, having won a cup and two championships, the Thames Ironworks changed the club’s name to West Ham United FC.

My companion for the day is Bob Gilbert, author of The Green London Way (published by Lawrence & Wishart and the book that inspired the Capital Ring). Best not mention the fact his dad was a Bermondsey docker and he comes from Millwall country. We’re planning to walk the Essex Way from Epping to Harwich, but Bob’s plan is to incorporate into the route old Essex and places that have an emotional attachment to me. Firstly we're walking from East India DLR station to Epping via West Ham FC past and present.

“That’s the South west corner of Old Essex on the peninsula over there,” says Bob pointing across the Lea to where the massive shipbuilding factory of Thames Ironworks once stood.

It’s silent and grey by the water, with hardly anyone around. But once 3000 men or so would have been working here and the place would have been alive with bustle and clanging hammers. So much of London is layers of history and it’s not hard to step back a century to the days when the fiercely mustached Ironworks side played the likes of Crouch End FC.


Standing in front of some rusting post-industrial sculptures there’s a notice board on the wharfside detailing the history of the Thames Ironworks, with pictures of huge warships being launched into the Thames.

It seems that poor old West Ham, bottom of the Premiership, have long been associated with disaster. Three years after the football club was formed, in 1898, the launch of the HMS Albion created a huge wave that caused a viewing stage to collapse, drowning 34 people.

Someone has left an old sofa by the wharf, presumably for all the West Ham fans that arrive here on a spiritual pilgrimage, so we use it for a seated photo opportunity. We’re where the Ironworks’ offices would once have been.

Trinity Buoy Wharf is an interesting place. There’s a “container city” made up of shipping containers stacked on top of each other. They serve as artists’ studios. Two of the lightships built by Thames Ironworks have been restored as recording studios and are moored on the wharf.


While, bizarrely, Fatboy’s Diner has been parked on the wharf. We step inside this piece of chrome-clad Americana and buy bacon and toasted cheese sandwiches and look at the royal engagement coverage in the papers.

Our journey started at East India DLR station. We’d seen the First Settlers Virginia Memorial, marking the spot where pilgrims sailed away to become the first English settlers in the 'New World' of Virginia, and re-erected by Barratt Homes. Indeed, the number of times the plaque mentions Barratt, you’d think they’d built the boat themselves. Then it was past the mudflat and nature reserve of the East India Basin (the dock was filed in) and on to Trinity Buoy Wharf.

After leaving Trinity Buoy Wharf, fortified by an American brunch, we traverse the bends of the River Lea, past a pleasingly Sweeney-esque vista of the A13, DLR flyover and the Ecology Centre on the headland between the river’s meanders. Observing what appear to be bullrushes, Bob describes how the name is actually a misnomer. I spot a heron, only it turns out to be a white plastic bag.

At Canning Town we enter a land of endless fried chicken shops and head down Hermit Lane to the East London Cemetery at Plaistow, just past the Bronzed Age tanning salon. Inside we pass the funeral procession for an old East ender called Stan. Amid the tombstones there’s a sad memorial of an anchor from the HMS Albion and the names and ages — mainly the elderly, women and children — of those swept to their deaths in the disaster at the Thames Ironworks.


From here we take the Greenway walk past Barking Road. We stop for a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer and admire the view of the estates.

“I think I can smell the sewer,” says Bob, ducking down to take a whiff at a manhole. The raised walkway is indeed built over the Northern Outfall Sewer.

Traditionally East London has always been given the crap industries. Bob reveals that much of this was due to the prevailing winds taking nasty niffs out to sea. The affluent could ship their effluent East to Essex without it returning to fill their nostrils.

From the Greenway we turn up Boundary Road to view the statue of World Cup winners Moore, Hurst and Peters (plus Ray Wilson) and the Boleyn Stadium of West Ham United FC.


But first we enter the Newham Bookshop, the best independent bookstore in London. Bob is fascinated by the local history section and astonished when Vivian offers us a mug of tea. It’s so friendly we leave laden with The Little Book of East London and The Little Book of Essex.

I show Bob the essential sights of the Who Shop, the crossed hammers on the castellated exterior of West Ham's Dr Martens Stand, the authentic 1960s greasy spoon ambiance of Ken’s Café and the world’s most sexist sign above the dry cleaners on Green Street that reads “Don’t kill your wife, let us do it”.

“So if you lived here, with West Ham, Ken’s Café, the Newham Bookshop and the Who Shop you’d have everything you could possibly need…” opines Bob. Clearly he’s tempted to relocate from Poplar.

We turn down Plashet Road and discover that Plashet is one of those districts in London that no-one knows exists, caught in the hinterland of East Ham and Manor Park.

We find a walled-off Jewish cemetery, cross over Plashet Park and end up at the Army and Navy crossroads at Manor Park. Here we search for a caff, but can only find yet more fried chicken shops, the self-proclaimed best Somalian restaurant in London, a Turkish fry-up breakfast and in a pleasing piece of Asian/Japanese/British/Norman cultural fusion, Asian karaoke at the William the Conqueror pub.

Like West Ham, we’ve come a long way from Leamouth and across Old Essex. Next stop is Wanstead Flats, where our grand march to Epping will continue in December.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Essex argot

Welcome to the land of the vajazzle. The stars of The Only Way is Essex might be stripping and flaunting their boob work in the pages of Now, OK and Heat, but the real star of the show is the language.

While street Londoners now speak Jafrican, here there’s a peculiar cock-er-ney merged with Ugly Betty Essex argot, babe, even if the young people here have never set foot in the East End, unlike Mark’s Nanny Pat and her sausage plait (an Essex culinary delight).

The vajazzle (crystals encrusted in the bikini line) is the most memorable addition to the English language as is the male version, a pejazzle. While “eyebrow technician” Amy sounds like she should be emerging from Thunderbirds’ Pod 4 to tackle the Hood’s Liam Gallagher-style monobrow.

From my own upbringing in Brentwood, where TOWIE is set, I recall such phrases as “well out of order”, referring to a perceived injustice and “the ‘ump”, aka the hump, referring to someone being annoyed.

However, a new mangling of the dialect emerged with a jealous Kirk asking Amy “Are you mugging me off?”, meaning are you treating me as a mug by chatting to other geezers.

Camp Harry has cornered the glottal-stop free “Shu’ up!" and Amy, who isn’t sure where north London is, loves “Oh my gawd!” and “Obviously!’, obviously.

While in the form of Mark Wright Carry On meets the possible son of Ian Dury in the form of phrases such as “you doughnut!”, “rotters” and the Essex greeting of “Oi! Oi!”,

It’s English, but “not no more” as we know it.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Made In Dagenham

Saw Made in Dagenham at the Romford Vue the other week. It’s been quite a year for Essex films. We’ve had Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll about Ian Dury and then Oil City Confidential, an excellent homage to Canvey Island and Dr Feelgood. Hollywood Romford indeed.

It’s a bit Carry On Striking at times and the young actresses are obviously more glamorous and sixties than their real-life counterparts. But Nigel Cole’s film tells a great story about the Ford strike for equal pay for women in 1967 and it’s astonishing that it was so recently that this basic right had to be fought for.

Sally Hawkins gives a fine performance as Rita O’Grady, a cipher for all the women who fought against the Labour government, Ford bosses and some of their male colleagues.

It’s also the only film to ever mention Warley, where the strikers’ had meetings with the Ford management. When I was growing up I thought it was simply called “Warleyfords”, as that’s what the bus stop was called.

On the way to Ford the corrupt union officials stop at a Berni Inn, then the height of sophistication. Indeed, Sugar Hut in Brentwood was once the White Hart, which was a Berni Inn with steak, chips, peas, mushrooms, Blue Nun, and not a vajazzle in height.

Made In Dagenham
certainly makes you want to go and check out the Ford plant. Billy Bragg wrote the lyrics to the theme song too. You wonder if there’s a modern-day Bruce Springsteen or Eminem around ready to immortalize the land of motors, A roads and blue-collar life?

Dagenham — it’s the Detroit of Essex.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Irony in the soul

Nice to see irony alive on the Epping/Ongar hinterlands of Essex.

Driving down the A414 past Blakes Golf Club we saw signs advertising first spray-on tans and then functions with "a complimentary glass of white wine for the lady".

Al Murray's Pub Landlord would surely approve.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Hail Nanny Pat's Sausage Plait

The scripted dialogue of The Only Way is Essex might be ever more dire, but an unexpected star is Mark's Nanny Pat.

She's up for all Sugar Hut and Faces' events and keeps her self-styled "Mr Essex" grandson fortified with endless sausage plait.

By the end of the series it would be no surprise to see her singing with Lola, signing up for a vajazzle and starring in Essex Fashion Week.

Look Back in Ongar

“I can’t believe Ongar isn’t on the tourist trail,” says the Rev Susan Cooper of St Martin's Church in Chipping Ongar. “When I came here I thought it would be like Dagenham, but it’s a beautiful place.”

We detour to Chipping Ongar while taking the car club car to Bishops Stortford — and what a surprise the place is. It’s full of old Essex weatherboarded buildings, bulging medieval timbers and an ancient church and castle. Although being Essex it does have a beauty salon too.

We’ve stumbled into the church and found Mrs Vicarage on hand to give us the full Rev tour. She points out the 14th century roof timbers standing on stone corbels and an original Norman stained glass window by the altar.

She shows nine-year-old Nell the mysterious tiny hatch in the north wall of the sanctuary. This was for an anchorite cell attached to the church. Here a hermit could live without even an iPod, or if he got really bored open the small window to catch a bit of the service.

There’s a stained glass window commemorating the work of missionary David Livingstone — famed for meeting Stanley in Africa — whom it turns out trained in Ongar.

This early Norman church has brick and flint walls and a white weatherbarded tower with a weather vane perched on top. It’s utterly charming.

Near the church are old timber-beamed cottages with wobbly beams and floor levels.

We go into Grumpy George’s Old Fashioned Sweet Shop and discover low ceilings and more ancient supporting timbers. The building might be old but the young assistants have more modern preoccupations:

“Do you know how to do eyelash extensions?”

“Nah, but my mate does…”

We explore the mound of Ongar Castle, built in the tenth century by Richard de Lucy to compensate for having a girl’s name. There’s still a clear moat although the actual mound is fenced off. And on the far side where gardens run down to the moat it’s been refilled with water.

The footpath from the castle emerges at the Ecclesiastical Church where a plaque marks the room where David Livingstone studied, and a palm tree and blue walls in the evening sun make it seem a little like Livingstone’s Africa. And to top it all you can see the mast of Kelvedon Hatch’s Secret Nuclear Bunker in the distance.

How could I have been brought up in Brentwood but never looked back in Ongar? It’s even got a railway museum where the old tube line ended. London Underground’s loss has been Essex’s gain.