Friday, 31 December 2010

Good Griff

It’s been an Essex end to 2010. Our family has just seen Griff Rhys Jones star as Fagin in Oliver! at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He made a fine over-the-top Fagin with lots of silly voices and facial contortions. To judge by the encore, Griff really enjoyed himself as he leapt around the stage exhorting the audience to louder cheers.

Rhys Jones is also the author of Semi-Detached, a captivating Essex memoir on growing up in suburban Epping and attending Brentwood school. There’s lots on the bogs of Epping Forest, Harlow’s municipal swimming pool and its terrifying diving board and endless trips with his dad sailing around Mersea and ending up marooned on mud with his snoring snoring family. And it has a whole chapter on 339 bus from Brentwood to Epping. Respect, Mr Jones.

And a fitting end to 2010 has come with New Year’s Eve Desert Island Discs on Radio 4 featuring Sandie Shaw from Dagenham. Sandie actually worked for six months punching cards at the Ford factory in Dagenham and sang the soundtrack to the film Made in Dagenham, a song written by Billy Bragg.

Shaw still had great Essex wit as she took Kirsty Young through her three marriages, blowing a fortune, Buddhism and dancing Hand in Glove with Morrissey while wearing stilettos. Clearly not anyone’s Puppet on a String.

Welcome 2011. The future is Essex.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Camping it up in Loughton

I’m holding a flint flake made by an Essex Man 2,500 years ago. Before the big freeze our family took the train to Loughton and explored Epping Forest. It’s an amazing place when the leaves are falling and the lack of signage means it’s easy to imagine yourself miles from the nearest city.

We picnicked at Loughton Camp, an iron age hill fort on top of a hill in the middle of the forest. There are still huge circular earthworks and ditches, plus pits where flints were mined and worked. The flakes from this early example of entrepreneurial Essex are still easily found.

Loughton Camp is also the place where dandy highwayman Dick Turpin was said to have used it as his hide out after committing highway robbery on the A13. There’s also an unsubstantiated legend linking it with Boudica and her big bundle with the Romans.

We tend to think of hill forts as being at places like Maiden Castle in Dorset, or Old Sarum in Wiltshire. Who’d have thought that Essex has its own version right on the Central line. We’ll be finding our own stone ‘enge next.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The only way is Sugar Hut?

Just been on Radio Essex on the strength of my piece in the Guardian today on Essex's annus mirabilis. Had an interesting debate with presenter Ian Puckey about the merits of The Only Way is Essex.

He was very against the old stereotypes recycled on TOWIE. Fair enough, but my argument was that 20 years on from Essex Man perhaps Essex men and women can laugh at themselves too. And the rest of the country surely realises it's an exaggeration of a stereotype, that like all stereotypes has some basis in truth.

And the stars of TOWIE do represent something of the hunger and desire to succeed that epitomised early entrepreneurial Essex Man. Amy might not know the meaning of certain words like but isn't scared to ask and doesn't seem to be at all worried by her geographically-challenged notions of London/Essex. And we have to admire the ambition of someone who can class herself as an "eyelash technician".

Its stars do seem to be doing such a great job at milking their stardom, having cornered the celeb mags and the Sun's bizarre column, that they might be in the running for young business people of the year.

It might be naff, but it's made me laugh. Merry Essexmas Mark, Lauren, Kirk, Amy, Sam and co.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Essex appeal

Blimey. The vajazzle has gone posh. Harriet Addison of the Times booked in for a vajazzle and recently wrote about in the paper's Body + Soul section. She went to the salon Strip Wax in the City, where it's known by the more subtle term, "the Bollywood". Could the upper middle classes be going all Essexy down there?

Meanwhile Essex's annus mirabilis (available from all top beauty technicians) continues with the news that Jamie Oliver's book of 30-minute recipes is the fastest selling non-fiction book ever and Jessie J from Romford is set to be a huge star too after winning the Brits Critics' Choice Award and her song Do It Like A Dude has had 4.6 million hits on YouTube.

At this rate Essex will soon have to annex Kent…

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Matt goes effing mental

It's Essex and drugs and rock 'n' roll. Matt Cardle has won The X Factor and revealed to the Sun that he was a "boozy, dope-smoking waster".

The painter and decorator from near Colchester told of twice being nicked by the Old Bill: "I was a rebel, drifting about having a laugh and a drink with my mates. I never went mental but I was stupid."

Mental, now there's a good Essex word, non-PC but rather descriptive. Indeed, the other week, with West Ham astonishingly 4-0 up against Man United, the whole Bobby Moore Stand broke into a chorus of "Let's go ***ing mental!"

Is there any other county where mental is still used?

Meanwhile Matt is still going mental - but mainly with the likes of "make-up girl" Lauren Clements with whom he enjoyed what the Sun termed "a liaison moments before going on stage in the semi-final".

Monday, 6 December 2010

Malibu and pineapples all round

Oh my gosh! Essex's annus mirabilis (that's not something connected to a vajazzle) continues with the news that the gushing and rather glorious Essex motormouth Stacey Solomon has won I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! Oh, and painter and decorator Matt Cardle is in the final of X Factor after doing all sorts of Essexian things with make-up girls according to the Sun.

Never mind the Australian jungle. "I can't wait to get back to Dagenham. I'm going to see my friends and go down the pub for a Malibu and pineapple, maybe two," says Stace. The future is Essex.