Wednesday, 21 December 2011

An Essex book Miscellany

Still searching for that Christmas present? Here's my suggestion for Essex literature (and no that's not an oxymoron) in no particular order. All are about Essex people or feature Essex:

Semi-Detached by Griff Rhys Jones
My Booky Wook by Russell Brand
Good Morning Nantwich by Phill Jupitus
Billy Bragg: Still Suitable for Miners by Andrew Collins
Jamie's Great Britain by Jamie Oliver
The Importance of Music for Girls by Lavinia Greenlaw
Ian Dury by Will Birch
Starter for Ten by David Nicholls
The Life of Lee by Lee Evans
The Little Book of Essex by Dee Gordon
Essex Girls by Karen Bowman

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Another annus mirabilis for Essex

Hertfordshire - it isn't you. If last year was an annus mirabilis (sadly not available at Amy Childs' new beauty salon) for Essex, this year it's been even better. McFly's Harry Judd from Chelmsford has won Strictly Come Dancing and Essex claimed the entire top three of I'm A Celebrity, winner Dougie Poynter from Corringham, Mark Wright from Abridge and Fatima Whitbread from Shenfield. 

All of this on top of Towie winning a Bafta in April, beating Downton Abbey ("chavs beat the toffs" as the Sun put it) and a solo show for Amy Childs It's All about Amy on Channel 5 plus Amy opening a new beauty salon in Brentwood and Lucy Mecklenburgh opening her boutique in Ongar Road. In The X Factor winners Little Mix included Jesy Nelson from Romford. While in music Southend's The Horrors and Romford's Jesse J had huge success. In fact the only Essex Man who didn't do too well was Andy Coulson...

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

What have the Romans ever done for Colchester?

Just celebrated my wedding anniversary in Colchester - and what an underrated place it is. For the history buff there's a bit of everything.

We stayed in the excellent Trinity Town House B & B, which was the home of John Wilbye, composer of the first Madrigal in the 16th century. Opposite was the pre-Norman Holy Trinity Church built from recycled Roman bricks and now a cafe with Tudor dancing.

Colchester Castle is also constructed from recycled Roman materials and you can stand in the very Roman vaults that were sacked by Boudica and see pottery blackened by the Iceni's fires. Stretches of the Roman wall around the city could rival Hadrian's Wall and there's the best-preserved Roman gateway in Britain in the Balkerne Gate.

Another piece to get Time Team buffs salivating is the Old Siege House restaurant where bullet holes from the civil war battle are still visible in the timbers. That is unless the bullet holes were just the result of spilling someone pint.

Colchester is hilly for Essex, and much more East Anglian in feel than Estuary Essex. The Christmas market and old buildings all added to the charm of Britain's oldest town. There's also a futuristic £28m Firstsite art gallery that looks a like an upturned Sydney Opera House and has works by the likes of Andy Warhol and Sarah Lucas.

Another interesting fact is that when the Romans invaded they regarded Cunobelin, the king of the Thinovantes tribe of Essex, as the king of all England. Before the Romans invaded in AD43 Colchester was Camulodunum, meaning 'the Fortress of Camulos" - the Celtic god of war. Proof indeed that Essex is well hard and should still be the capital of the UK.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Battles of the Battis

Next to Romford station is a dingy alleyway running alongside the railway arches called The Battis. My pal Katie, a former Romfordian turned Islingtonian, reveals that the Battis was the stuff of childhood nightmares, a sort of Lord of the Rings netherworld terrorised by Romford Orcs. She told me: “My mum and dad were quite relaxed and easy going but when I was a teenager the one thing they said to me was ‘we don’t care where you go, but whatever you do don’t go up the Battis!’”

So while visiting Romford it was with some trepidation I stepped past the shop backs and into the Battis. A sign warns “CCTV in operation”. On the left are huge cavernous railway arches, sealed off with wire netting. On my right is a 1980s football-pen style high wire fence. It’s a narrow corridor that might as well say ‘please mug me, bruv’. Mercifully I make it through and even pass a couple of people carrying shopping bags. Round the back of Sainsbury the Battis reaches the River Rom. It’s sealed off by more wire mesh, though someone has, with some dexterity, managed to chuck a shopping trolley over the top and it lies broken and half submerged in the water. The Rom is only a couple of feet wide and then disappears under the new Sainsbury. The town doesn’t seem particularly proud of its eponymous river. And then I dash back through the Battis to South Street.

When I later remark to Katie that with all those arches it looks a little like the Colisseum in Rome, her instant riposte is, “And you’ve got about as much chance of surviving there!”

Ross Kemp, could you handle the Battis?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Essex wins I'm A Celebrity

Hertfordshire - it isn't you. Top three in I'm A Celebrity. Quite a result for Essex. Will we be seeing Dougie, Mark and Fatima out for a celebratory steak at Mason's restaurant?

Meanwhile Mark has told the Mirror he isn't ready for a relationship with Emily. Though in my experience Essex and Australia go together quite well. Flat countryside, big cars, lots of big new houses, huge extensions, swimming pools and a penchant for good meaty tucker. Think again, Mark, you might enjoy going Down Under.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Nothing is too tacky for Essex?

Nice quote from Amy Childs, soon to star in Channel 5's All About Amy, in the Daily Mirror:

Amy has treated ­herself to a new white Range Rover with an “AMY22” number plate. “It’s all white,” she says. “But you should see the inside. There’s fake tan ALL over the seats. But I love a nice car and I want spinning rims on the wheels. My mum say it’ll look too tacky but nothing is too tacky in Essex. I’d love ­diamonds on them as well. And I want blue neon lights. Mum reckons that will look chavvy but I’m going to go for it."

Friday, 25 November 2011

Bard of Barking

Saw the ever-excellent Billy Bragg at the Forum on Tuesday night - great to see him back with just his guitar and strange how relevant a lot of those older songs, such as It Says Here and To Have and Have Not, sound in days like these. There's even a new song called The Battle of Barking about the last election.

Although Bragg now lives in Dorset, it's good to see that innate Essex wit is still there. On Greetings to the New Brunette he sang the line "How can you lie there and think of England when you don't even know who's in the team?" before exclaiming "Bobby Zamora!!?"

Billy advised us to buy his CD otherwise he'd have to do the John Lewis advert next year and also explained that you now hold up i-phones with a lighter app rather than a lighter. And he dedicated the magical St Swithin's Day to "all the David Nicholls fans" (the song partly inspired his novel One Day) but explained the song wasn't on the film soundtrack "because of the blatant wanking reference in the second verse".

As our politics veers back to 1984 it's good to know Billy Bragg hasn't gone away either.

Monday, 21 November 2011

I'm an Essex Celebrity

Three of the contestants on I'm a Celebrity Get Me out of Here! are from Essex, which has to be a record. Mark Wright is of course from Abridge, Dougie Poynter of McFly is from Corringham and Fatima Whitbread is from Shenfield. Meanwhile Harry from McFly, a Chelmsford lad, is impressing all on Strictly Come Dancing. Just been on the Dave Monk Show on Radio Essex, discussing the prevalence of Essex on TV and whether Essex Man has gone a bit soft, what with all that dancing and even moisturising from Mark Wright.

Does Essex really have more B-list celebs than any other county? Do they work harder? Or is it, as Her Indoors claims, that they're all show-offs?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Freddie Starr ate Mark Wright

It's not often you feel sorry for Mark Wright, but on I'm a Celebrity he had to face human waste disposal chute and famed hamster-eater Freddie Starr, who scoffed down mealworms, a rotten egg, mice tails, a pig's anus a camel's toe and turkey testicles. Not even Arg would eat that lot. Freddie claimed that a man with a bandana and spray-tan would never be able to compete with him and was proved right. Though Wrighty made a commendable effort completing four of the courses. Makes a change from King William IV or Sheesh in Chigwell, eh?

Now Freddie Starr, 68, has had an allergic reaction to something he ate and has been taken to hospital for tests, while Mark is apparently still standing and dreaming of one of Arg's steak baguettes.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Childs in time

Amy Childs probably chose the right time to leave TOWIE. She has a lot of, erm, Essex front and like most Essex people can laugh at herself. Watching her on Never Mind the Buzzcocks she could easily compete with the likes of Frankie Boyle, host Greg Davies and Tinchy Stryder, who indeed made an offer of both a pejazzle session and marriage. She even survived saying that at her private school in Essex she "come first in elocution". Amy will go far - possibly as a chat show hostess or the next Barbara Windsor.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

There's only one effing Essex...

Quite an end to season three of TOWIE. It's the moments where it veers from scripted naffness to genuine emotion such as the quivering lips of Lucy and Mario that the viewers love. You can't really imagine a scriptwriter coming up with the very Essex dialogue of Lauren and Sam with its epic "F**k off!" and "F**king w***er!" denouement.

Meanwhile Mark's gone off to do something by himself away from Essex (surely not in Australia, Mark?) and got all Brokebank Mountain in the farewell scene with Arg, before shuffling off at the end like James Dean as a rebel with a spray tan.

While Gemma declared that no-one in Essex travels on a bus because 'It's embarrassing" and Joey Essex thought that Guy Fawkes died on the cross and that the Queen lived in the Houses of Parliament, while his cousin Chloe used to think that the Moon and Sun were "the same planet".

Mastermind's loss has been Essex's gain.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Joey Barton's Modern Warfare: Good night Silly Nuts

Don't mess with Essex. While the Eurozone collapses there's a Twitter war of words between QPR's Joey Barton and TOWIE. Barton started it by tweeting that the launch of computer game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was full of "z-list freaks" and that "all the TOWIE helmets were there".

Arg responded with: "Only person there that everyone looked down on is u. Should we beat our TOWIE cast mates up & go down for you to like us!? Mug!"

Barton's riposte was to call Arg "Stonehenge teeth" and tweet "TOWIE firm don't mess with big boys, u and ur shallow, fake, pretentious lifestyles. In a year u'll be opening sh***y poundshops if ur lucky."

Then came a nice put down from Mark Wright "Joey where can I get ur hair cut ? Also u no that arg wants he's teeth done so thanks 4 watching the show!!" and then at 1am, "Good night silly nuts".

All a bit much from Joey Barton, a Scouser with both a criminal record and haircut. And how come he too was at the iffy launch for z-listers? His other tweets revealed he knew an incredible amount about the show for someone who doesn't like it.

Meanwhile the TOWIE cast took time off from recording their Christmas single to pose for a photo giving Joey the little finger and with Nanny Pat holding up a sign reading "Jel Joey Barton".

David Cameron is thought to be about to announce a NATO intervention to prevent Joey getting a sausage plait over the bounce.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Back in the night

Went to see Wilko Johnson at the Oyster Fleet hotel in Canvey Island last Sunday with my mate Robert. We had an agreeable pre-gig drink at The Lobster Smack, past the gas silos down Haven Road.

It’s a lovely old pub, clad in white weather boarding and sheltering beneath the huge earth banks topped by the concrete sea wall. A sign outside revealed how the pub was used by smugglers, who could nip out of their boats through the back door and take their dodgy goods to Hadleigh and Rayleigh. So nothing much has changed there then.

It’s also featured in Great Expectations as The Sluice House, the riverside pub where Pip and Magwitch stay when they attempt to return the transported felon to Australia. It still has low ceilings and old beams and apart from the laminated menus can’t have changed much since Dickens time. From the pub you can climb up on to the sea wall and view the tide lapping impatiently at the other side waiting for a breach. And see the tremendously long and useless old jetty designed for the never-completed Occidental oilworks and the marshland stretching off towards Coryton. A great place to have a drink.

As for Wilko, the former Dr Feelgood legend and greatest living Englishman comes on stage with a minimum of fuss. He has the most amazing face these days; a bald veiny head, huge eyebrows and mad stare. No wonder he recently got a part as the mute executioner Ilyn Payne, in fantasy series Game of Thrones. All he had to do was look dangerous, which comes easily.

His first song, Everyone’s Carrying a Gun, adds to the general feel of lunacy as he careers across the stage with his trademark guitar bursts. An added plus is that we also get Norman Watt-Roy on bass, famed for his time with another Essex legend Ian Dury. He performs some amazing funky solos and you realise just what a good musician he is. He also has a bald head, staring eyes and like Wilko looks like he would make an admirable villain in Harry Potter. Meanwhile there’s a younger drummer working admirably hard to keep up with the old codgers.

The room is sweaty and packed with 300 people. The old Feelgood favourites are there, starting with Sneakin’ Suspicion and the Canvey lyric of Wilko looking at the flares by the river. It’s not quite the same without Lee Brilleaux of course, but Wilko is a great performer in his own right. Then Wilko brings on a harmonica player for a storming Roxette.

“This is a song I wrote in those brilliant seventies,” he says before performing Back In The Night, scattergunning riffs into the night. There’s She Does It Right too, with Wilko holding his guitar up by his head and machine gunning the audience. Then a great Paradise and an impassioned cry of “Irene Irene Irene!”

It feels like some mad convention of Essex eccentricity with electricity as Wilko puts his guitar behind his head and plays it backwards. What’s also striking is how hard the band are working, they’re all covered in sweat – it’s a very Essex characteristic to put in a proper shift in your night-job. Somehow the sea walls hold as Wilko encores with Johnny Be Goode.

It’s a special moment to have seen Wilko in his home town where he’s still very much loved. Like Canvey he’s in a place apart, a geezer metaphorically a few feet short of sea level, but strangely addictive and still loved by the locals.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Towie at the Irons

Harry Durbidge and Amy Childs from TOWIE appeared on the West Ham pitch at half-time last night. Maybe Amy believes Bristol City is a new cosmetic salon in Brentwood. Harry was wearing an “I only kiss West Ham fans” t-shirt. Though Big Sam Allardyce probably thinks “Shu’ up!” is Harry’s plan to see the game out.

After a couple of drinks in The Central we returned past the players’ car park and saw Harry leaving with a child on his shoulders and surrounded by autograph hunters.

Could Harry be the solution to West Ham's injury crisis? The lad’s only 17, wonder if he can play a decent through ball… Shu’ up!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Jamie's pier pressure

Could Southend be in danger of becoming trendy? Jamie Oliver claimed to have been conceived at the end of Southend Pier in this week's Jamie's Britain. Sounds like a great starting point for an Ian Dury song. Jamie, whose speech is a weird mix of Essex and Jafican and peppered with words like 'brother', 'these bad boys' and 'know what I mean?', was filmed with his dear old mum and dad and nan sitting in deck chairs on Southend beach — his mum denied the pier story, as she would, while his dad merely smirked.

All this comes after Southend Pier featured in the opening chapter of David Nicholls novel Starter for Ten and Southend council claimed in the Basildon Echo that "We can be Hollywood-on-Sea". Southend doubled as war-torn Iraq in the film Screwed (ok, maybe that's not too flattering), Southend airport was in the 2006 film The Queen and it featured in EastEnders this year.

The council should capitalise on all this Southend mania. A plaque to mark Jamie's conception (was it a 30-minute recipe?) might be a start.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Grayson's beer in the evening

Even the county’s cross-dressers are essentially Essex a heart. Chelmsford’s Grayson Perry, whose Chelmsford Cissies vase in on display in the Chelmsford Museum, has said he gets most of his ideas "sitting in front of the telly with a beer, watching X Factor".

He pronounced the art establishment as disengaged "with the real world", adding that he preferred Banksy, Scottish painter Jack Vettriano and Beryl Cook to the works on display at the Tate.

"I have a pot called Boring Cool People," he said. "It's decorated with pictures of the sort of people who go to contemporary art galleries."

He might enjoy wearing a skirt, but Grayson is essentially an Essex geezer at heart.

Friday, 21 October 2011

The latest Krays

Only in Essex, eh? Visiting Basildon market recently, I came across a framed portrait of the Kray brothers for sale in the market. It was on a stall also selling framed pictures of The Sopranos, Marlon Brando as The Godfather and of course, “notorious East End gangsters” Reggie and Ronnie Kray. Don't think it was 'ironic' either.

Surely it must be a bit of a conversation stopper having a framed portrait of Reggie and Ronnie on the wall at Basildon dinner parties as you pass round the Jack 'The Hat' McVitie's biscuits?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The only dress is Essex

Nice piece in Saturday's Guardian Sam and Nicola Faires that is going to be stocked in House of Fraser. It even includes the immortal line: "The catwalks of Chigwell are now more influential than those of Milan."

Expect Anna Wintour to relocate to Essex very soon.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Sitting on defence with an old-Shenfieldian

Further proof that Essex is on the ascendant. Philip Hammond, the new Defence Secretary who has replaced dodgy Dr Fox, was born in Epping and educated at Shenfield School, my old alma mater.

He's also apparently a fan of Doctor Who, which gives me hope he'll soon be utilising UNIT and employing the Doctor as a special scientific adviser instead of Adam Werrity and his list of dubious sponsors.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Dickens meets TOWIE in Chigwell

Dickens channelled by Alan Sugar and The Only Way is Essex? Only in Chigwell. Attempting to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens, I took Her Indoors to visit the Olde King’s Head in Chigwell, Essex. The 600-year-old pub was the basis for the Maypole Inn in Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge.

Only now something has turned up in the form of Lord Sugar who now owns the boozer. In January the King’s Head was transformed into Sheesh, a Turkish restaurant with TOWIE-style black and white zebraskin carpets, “the largest mirror in Essex”, 'mockodile' tables and floors, countless chandeliers, a red MG sportscar where waiters keep menus in the boot, statues of a Roman on a horse, a minotaur and two white lions, plus a portrait of King Colin the 13th.

At the end of Barnaby Rudge the Gordon rioters trashed the fixtures and fittings of the Maypole Inn — some might say that TOWIE-style has had a similarly dramatic effect. Sheesh even had a modern-day Thomas Steerforth in TOWIE’s Mark Wright sitting in the conservatory.

Though actually the food’s pretty good, and Dickens did like a bit of end-of-pier sensationalism — so maybe he’d have quite liked the zebra carpets, electric gates and not very ‘umble Range Rovers in the car park. What larks, Lord Sugar, what larks!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Fit PM

Someone in Essex knows who the Deputy Prime Minister is!

TOWIE's Maria, having first wondered if Chile was in Italy, then confounded Mick Norcross by identifying the Prime Minster as "David Cameron and that fit one, Nick Clegg".

They then discussed the difference between a hung Parliament and a coalition. Tough Harry and Joey would prefer a well-hung Parliament. At this rate Maria and Mick be replacing Andrew Marr or presenting The Politics Show...

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Timelord spotted in Colchester

Is there a time rift in Colchester?

In a great TV week for Essex, last Saturday's Doctor Who had the Doctor finding employment in a department store in Colchester, home of Craig Owens, played by James Corden. He also saw Amy and Rory shopping and presumably happily living out their post-Tardis days in Essex.

Meanwhile it seems there's a crashed cyberman spacecraft underneath Colchester and the cybermen are having to rebuild themselves with bits of Essex men and women. Expect the first leopardskin Cyber Leader to arrive in the next series...

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Dick's in Essex

Well, the new series of TOWIE has kicked off and the highlights of the first show included Mark Wright doing some very unconvincing tears and swearing to celibacy for a full 14 days. Joey and Kirk are starting to make quite a good double act. There was a heated debate outside Jess's party about the fact that Richard is short for Dick (a fact new to Joey) and some great motoring banter as Kirk explained to Joey what horsepower was (they go in the boot) and how all cars have red brake lights.

Best line though went to Kirk's dad Mick. Flash Kirk had just paid 74k for a Lamborghini, only to be told by his old man that it was "hairdressers' car". And as the astute Mick asked, how is Kirk going to sell property if he turns up in that flash motor? He can hardly plead poverty...

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Educating Essex

"Educating Essex head defends 'childish' staff," read the article in Friday's Evening Standard. It was a bit of a non-story really. Educating Essex was an excellent documentary on Passmores School in Harlow (the title shamelesly cashing in on TOWIE of course). The 'row' was over the cameras catching Mr Drew playing a practical joke on his head and eliciting the matey comment "You are such a wanker". Big deal, teachers swear in private.

You have to hope Katherine Tate was watching though, as she could keep Lauren well-bovvered up for years on the surly behaviour of pupils like Charlotte.

Another controversy was the teachers jokingly calling the pupils "scumbags". Teachers like Mr Drew used humour to make history interesting and to diffuse confrontations. If you can't use humour in Essex where can you use it?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Essex in Vogue

Essex mania continues. The Guardian's travel section at the weekend had a two-page spread visiting the tanning salons of Buckhurst Hill and Sugar Hut in Brentwood. Plus "the other way is Essex", a list of more upmarket destinatins like Mersea and Layer Marney.

Meanwhile, Giles Coren has written a piece in Vogue about how he lusts after Essex Girls like Amy Childs. And tonight there's Jo Brand participating in the Maldon Mud Race in Jo Brand's Big Splash on Dave and a Channel 4 documentary on schools called Educating Essex. Clearly Essex sells.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Ethics Man

From today's Guardian:

I propose a TV series aimed at introducing Aristotle to young people (Letters, 17 September). You could call it The Only Way Is Ethics.
Anthony Tasgal

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Who you gonna call? Not Essex...

An inspired piece of programming from ITV2 last night saw Most Haunted team up with The Only Way Is Essex. One show is a possibly fake reality-based show, and the other is The Only Way is Essex.

The cast were stuck in the tunnels of Coalhouse Fort in Tilbury, once used to defend the Thames. Mark, Arg, Harry, Joey, Sam and Amy were with jumpy presenter Yvette Fielding and spent 90 minutes squealing, whining and crying "Oh my God!", and generally displaying cowardice beyond the call of duty. As Ghostbusters they were about as effective as Mark would be on a women's studies course.

No wonder that poltergeist was angry - would you would want to see the Thames defended by TOWIE?

Best moments were Amy's sustained use of the F word when something grabbed her hair and Joey Essex's inadvertent impersonation of Shaggy in Scooby Doo, Yikes!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Essex and footballers

West Ham players visiting Sugar Hut or Faces beware. A "pal" of Lauren Goodger has told Heat that after her acrimonious split with Mark Wright, "Lauren wants to snog a footballer. Firstly because they're really fit. Secondly because she knows how much it will get to Mark (who had dreams of being a professional footballer). She thinks it will get him back."

Saturday, 10 September 2011


Now back in England and glad to see that the TOWIE stars are still naking a fine job of being famous for being infamous.

Sam turned up on Shooting Stars (where Vic Reeves did a very bad Essex accent), Amy Childs was evicted from Celebrity Big Brother after causing much sexual tension in a room full of people with haircuts they no longer believed in (to paraphrase Billy Bragg), Gemma is still on the cover of New magazine for losing weight, and the love split of Mark and Lauren has been dissected as if it were the assassination of President Kennedy in Heat, Now, New and many other similarly-named celeb mags. While Joey Essex asks "what's notch?>" in Heat when questioned about notches on his bedpost.

All this and a new series of TOWIE starting on September 18...

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Vajazzles Down Under

We're in Sydney and the news is that The Only Way Is Essex has hit Australian TV - surely a natural home for TOWIE. We're returning to the Uk this week to discover the Essex world turned upside down.

Amy Childs is on Celebrity Big Brother and has quit TOWIE and Mark and Lauren have split five months after getting engaged. There's also a rumour Mark might also be quitting TOWIE to, erm, crack Hollywood.

And no doubt Joey Essex will soon be leaving to crack the Consservative Cabinet and Nanny pat is Cameron's new riot tsar offering tough love and sausage plaits... Get me a drink in Sugar Hut, quick.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Down by the Jetty

Never mind South Pacific, what about Southend? We're currently touring in the Solomon Islands and it's not all beautiful blue lagoons.

After three days of rain and wind we were sitting having a Solbrew at PT 109 bar/restaurant in Gizo (named after J F Kennedy's patrol boat in WW2). The waters were grey and choppy and we were surrounded by ramshackle warehouses and jetties. In fact it might have been Southend, Canvey Island or Leigh-on-Sea.

Dr Feelgood would surely have been at home in the South Pacific, where giant clams replace the cockles of Leigh. And now we've had the Feelgood film, why not a musical entitled Southend Specific, telling how an American nurse falls for an Essex R&B singer?

Eight bars on the pianer!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Demise of an Essex Man

So Andy Coulson has been arrested and bailed over the News of the World phone hacking scandal. Where did it all go wrong for a former reporter on the Basildon Evening Echo?

Many commentators have already seen it as ambitious Essex Man with no class getting his comeuppance...

But delve a little deeper and there's evidence of another character flaw. The BBC profile claims that Coulson is a fanatical Tottenham Hotspur supporter. Why did a boy from Wicford desert West Ham, tradional repository of Essex hearts? Even Southend United would have been OK. But Spurs?

No wonder he apparently left his moral compass in Basildon.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Essex couture

The makers of The Only Way Is Essex are bringing out a set of TOWIE branded clothes. Ever since my childhood visits to Mr Byrite at Romford it's been obvious that Essex is a centre for fine couture. Think I'll give Harry's Lady Ga Ga outfit a miss though...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Essex Down Under

Plenty of Essex links in Australia already. We've diacovered an Essex Road in Fremantle and the woman selling tickets to Bridgedale, the 1862 first house in Bridgetown, WA, said her husband came from Billericay.

While Tony the train manager on the epic Indian-Pacific journey from Perth to Adelaide has a brother-in-law in England who's a masive West Ham fan and another traveller from Adelaide worked at a pub called the Cricketers in Essex in 1966...

Monday, 6 June 2011

No worries, mate

We're off on an a trip to Australia and the Solomon Islands now... At least Perth has a Brentwood and Oz is spiritually part of Essex, mate, being flat and full of blondes and blokes called Shane. And I think Essex sailors had an influence on the Pidgin dialect in the Solomons...

Will update with Essex news from the other side of the world when possible.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Battle of Maldon

Maldon has an ambience reminiscent of North Norfolk or Cornwall rather than Essex. The half-hour bus journey from Chelmsford feels like you’re going into another land and the sense of otherworldliness is compounded by the fact that on the bus are two people with backpacks returning from teaching in Africa.

We meet my old school friend Alison in town and walk to the Blackwater Estuary. Here there’s pubs, mudflats, seabirds, Thames sailing barges, a playground, funfair and much else to delight my kids such as chips and cheese.

The Battle of Maldon of 991 is still big here. In the Plume Library at All Saints’ Church there’s the Maldon Embroidery commemorating the 100th anniversary of the battle. Essex’s version of the Bayeux Tapestry.

There’s a statue of Saxon loser Lord Byrhtnoth at the end of the Blackwater Estuary. We pose for a picture underneath the sword wielding Saxon.

Alison tells us the story of how the Vikings were trapped on Northey Island, out in the river. The Norwegian Olaf’s forces couldn’t get across the small causeway to the mainland so Olaf sent a messenger to Byrhtnoth asking him to allow his warriors on to the shore for a fair fight.

Showing all the military acumen of Harry and Joey Essex, Byrhtnoth agreed to this and the Saxons duly got hammered, with poor Byrhtnoth losing his head. Rumours that his descendents later managed West Ham can’t be discounted.

There’s history in Maldon, and of course a New Year’s Day mud race across the estuary. The day ends with a pint of Maldon Hotel porter in the Queen’s Head. Not great at battles in Maldon, but they do know how to brew a nice beer.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Essex's supermarket sweep…

Well, expecting Harry or Joey Essex to trawl the supermaket aisles of Essex without satnav was always a big ask. Today's Guardian reports:

At the next aisle take a left and after two metres turn right. You have reached your destination – now pop the cornflakes into your trolley.

Tesco is trialling the ultimate trolley dash dream in one of its Essex stores – a satnav system to help you find what you want. No more aimlessly wandering the aisles. Tap the product into an app on your smartphone and a map will pop up showing your position and where you can locate it.

That's the theory. Let's see how it goes in Romford first . . .

Monday, 23 May 2011

A Bafta for Essex!

Blimey. Nanny Pat gets a gong and Essex has won a Bafta. The Only Way is Essex beat Downton Abbey to win a Bafta YouTube audience award last night. Proving that Essex is well cultured."Chavs top the toffs," declared the Mirror. While page three (where else?) of the Sun had "The only hooray is Essex".

As Amy said while accepting the award: "Shu' up!"

And presumably Joey Essex is still wondering who this Bafta bloke is.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Amy goes wild in the country

Julia Bradbury look out. Amy Childs could be making a bid to become a presenter on Countryfile (John Craven's blood pressure permitting).

Amy recently told FHM: "Brentwood is really green and nice and pretty. Maybe I'll talk about the countryside more. Can you imagine me with a stick going on a ramble? 'Come on everyone let's go!'. Can't say I go on rambles much."

Now's the time to start, Amy. Amy Childs' Thorndon Park Walks would surely be a worthy rival for Julia Bradbury's Canal Walks.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Well sick

Maybe Essex Man (and Essex Girl) hasn't changed that much.

In his original Essex Man profile in the Sunday Telegraph in October 1990 Simon Heffer wrote: “When one walks through the City most evenings the pools of vomit into which one may step have usually been put there by Essex Man, whose greatly enhanced wealth has exceeded his breeding in terms of alcoholic capacity. The late-night trains from Liverpool street are not lacking drunks, though Essex Man’s sense of decency means he is usually sick before boarding.”

And 21 years on, my copy of New! has a photo of Arg chundering at the TOWIE wrap party. He later tweeted: "I got paraletic at the TOWIE wrap party, Debbie took me home and I puked up all over her car!!!! Hahahaha."

Meanwhile Amy Childs revealed her new boyfriend Joe Hurlock to New! Frank Lampard-lookalike Joe said of their first date: "I was propping her up as we left the bar. I struggled to find a taxi driver who would take them home and when I did, she was sick in his cab."

Amy added: "I can't believe I did that. I drank three bottles of wine because I was nervous."

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Bad girls

Essex Woman might wear lots of make-up, but you don't want to mess with her.

There were always a few scary girls at my school who used to beat up boys in the break. I was reminded of this by the way the wronged Lauren pushed the Travolta-suited Mark into the pool at the end of the second series of The Only Way is Essex. Tht's the ame Lauren who in the first ever episode of TOWIE disapproved if Mark's flirting with Sam and said “I’ll f**ing knock her out the door!”

She's not as hard as Mark's mum Carol though, who's usually backed up by Jess and her cousin. Her withering glances at Lauren could shatter a Rolex at ten paces.

And then there was Amy confronted by Lydia for alleged flirting with Arg. "Are you having a go at me in my salon?" enquired Amy with a steeliness that made Ray Winstone look like Arg.

You'd back this lot to land a TKO against Mark, Arg, Kirk and Joey any day.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Roll the dice, ’Arry

So they still have furry dice in Essex. Or at least Harry on TOWIE does. While looking at a new motor in the showroom the campest man in the Thames Delta produced a pair of pink furry dice to place under his driving mirror. Very eighties retro Ary. This was before he remembered that he didn't have a licence.

And let's hope he gets Sat Nav, which was surely invented for the benefit of the TOWIE cast. After all, Amy thinks Essex is in South London. And remember the pub quiz where Joey thought that Egypt was the longest pleasure pier in Essex and Amy suggested the Isle of Wight…

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Homeward Bound to Essex

Our tickets for Wigan versus West Ham have been purchased and Fraser and myself are booked on the club's free coaches. Although Matt and Lisa are looking for a boutique hotel in Widnes, which prompted me to point out that Widnes was where Paul Simon wrote Homeward Bound about returning to his girlfriend in Brentwood, Essex.

This prompted Fraser to observe: “There's no need to worry as our team would still be trying to Keep The Customer Satisfied, but then I thought I'd just content myself with mentioning the weird but irrelevant trivia that Paul Simon's first solo single Mother and Child Reunion was actually written about eating a chicken omelette.”

Matt replied: ”Our attempts to build a Bridge Over Troubled Water will be hampered by the very strong hint on the club website that Parker is out for the season (along with Noble). If we were a Boxer we would be throwing the towel in. We are on our way to Scarborough fair enough (if they get promoted a few divisions). I think The Boy in the Bubble has just faded and died.”

To which I replied that the coaches are leaving at 8.30 am from the main gates at Upton Park, which is My Little Town. Guess we’re Still Crazy After All These Years… It could be The Sound Of Silence from the home fans at Wigan and perhaps we'll beat Blackburn if it's down to you, misses Robinson.

Indeed, as Paul Simon lived in Brentwood in the 1960s and dated an Essex Girl (Kathy of Kathy's Song fame) it's not inconceivable that he visited WHU. Hence the lyrics of Mother and Child Reunion:

I can't for the life of me
Remember a sadder day
I know they say let it be
But it just don't work out that way
And the course of a lifetime runs
Over and over again
I just can't believe its so,
And though it seems strange to say
I never been laid so low
In such a mysterious way

At which point I'll get my coat and trust that Robert Green is repeating, I am a Rock to himself.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Essex Kate

Latest fashion tips for Kate Middleton from TOWIE's Lauren Goodger, out shopping in Notting Hill (did she have to show her passport at the Essex border?). She told the Daily Mail: "Kate's going to look lovely isn't she? I'd like to Essex her up a bit, though, give her a blow-dry, a bit of fake tan from my range. Get her nails done, some fake eyelashes, little mini-skirt, she'd love it!"

And maybe Wills might go for the Joey Essex trainers two sizes too small look for the big day…

Friday, 22 April 2011

Essex Jungle

Channel 5 appears to be cashing in on the bad name of Essex. Wednesday night's Essex Jungle featured a retired prison officer who owned a Caiman "just across the Essex border" in Strood, which is, erm, Kent. So it should have been Kent Jungle.

Yes, there was a bloke from Great Wakering who dressed like Crocodile Dundee and rescued pythons and bearded dragons from owners no longer able to cope, and a pet shop in Leigh-on-sea that had a rattle snake and a woman in Southend trying to get her bearded dragons to mate.

But are there really more exotic pets in Essex than any other county? And how come that pet rescuer hasn't caught the trouser snake stuffed down Joey Essex's jeans yet?

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

There ain’t 'alf been some clever bastards…

Spent an interesting afternoon in Havering Museum at Romford recently, which has tales of beer, fighting and even a suspender belt from the 1960s on display.

Could Romford be rather proud of it’s wheeler-dealing? The first display you see features Sir Nikolaus Pevsner eulogizing about the marshland villages of Essex in his Architectural Guides before contrasting them with “the brash commercialism of Romford”.

It’s nice to see a framed photo of Ian Dury performing on the wall. The self-proclaimed Lord Upminster used to watch Teddy Boy films at Romford’s Ritz cinema in the 1950s. There ain’t ‘alf been some clever bastards and now Dury is one of ‘em. A man who peppered his records with rude words would surely be amused to view himself beneath a portrait of William Derham FRS, Rector of Upminster.

There’s also a display on Peter the Painter, the subject of a Dury song. Peter the Painter was Peter Blundell, a man who came from wealth, but spent his life living beneath the Upminster Bridge on the A127 and painting pictures of ships on corrugated iron. His inclusion adds to the quirky charm of Havering Museum.

Another wall display features an illustration of “Prize fighting at the Dell”, a local meeting point. No Christmas at the Dell was complete without wrestling between the men of Romford and Hornchurch. So nothing much has changed there then.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Well-intelligent in Essex

Loved this comment about Maria on TOWIE before the Pub Quiz:

"She's well-intelligent — she's got GCSEs and everything!"

Friday, 8 April 2011

Last Days of the Essex Empire

Harry's 17th birthday party at some plush Essex country club had an air of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire about it. All very The Only Way is Essex meets Caligula.

Maybe it was Harry dressed as Lady Ga Ga carried in by four semi-naked male hunks. Or perhaps it was the steaming swimming pool at the end with Sam and Joey Essex playing tonsil hockey that added to the air of dissolution.

So that's how the Roman Empire fell. They wore fancy dress and wondered if people were mugging them off, while having meaningful discussions about relationships with Lyd when dressed as Fred Flintstone. While the Barbarians waited outside ready to nick their Range Rovers…

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Essex Philosophy

From The Only Way Is Essex as Kirk draws up on the mean streets of Brentwood in the new Range Rover that his dad Mick has bought him:

Amy: "Kirk, you can't sleep with a car."

Kirk: "Dunno, I can give it a right good go!"

Monday, 4 April 2011

Essex girl comes first

The Guardian ran my interview with Chigwell-born Sally Gunnell on Saturday, She came across as a genuine person with a nice sense of humour and the Olympic gold medal winner, who is now an ambassador for London 2012, had this to say about Essex:

"I grew up on a farm in Chigwell — the posh part of Essex — but it wasn’t a posh farm, it was a good working farm with plenty of mud, just six miles from the Olympic Village. My dad Les would be up in the field on the tractor and I’d run and take him a flask. I’d jump over the baler behind the combine to get to him so it was good training for hurdles…
"When a tabloid printed that “Essex girls do come first” headline my parents saw the joke. I’ve lived in Sussex for years, but you never lose that Essex Girl tag. I’m very proud of my roots."

All this, and she supports West Ham too…

Friday, 1 April 2011

The Only Way is PR…

When The Only Way Is Essex makes the Short Cuts column in the Guardian you know it must be bigger than Arg's steak baguette.

It's been quite a week, PR-wise. Most of the female cast appeared in their undies for Zoo magazine, Mark and Lauren were pictured in OK! in muddy 18th century military uniforms, while the Sun reported rumours that Lauren and Mark's relationship was only for the sake of the media and that they had already filmed their break-up scenes.

Though Lauren tweeted that it was genuine and told the Sun she will cut off Mark's "ding-dong" if he strays. While the Daily Star claimed that Lauren and Sam had been involved in an off-screen fracas over Mark. Then there's been the photo shoots at Lakeside and a nightclub in Loughton...

Possibly the clue comes in the titles where the producers say that some events are made up for your entertainment.

Seems to me that Arg and Lydia are actually the most genuine people on the show. Indeed Lydia was the only member of the cast not to strip for Zoo — which in Essex is definitely a sign of class.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Aye, we had it tough in Jaywick Sands

An unwelcome win for Essex. Jaywick Sands is officially the most deprived place in England according to the government's snappily-titled Indices of Multiple Deprivation 2010 league table.

Yesterday's Guardian has a feature on Jaywick complete with pictures of the closed Mermaid Tavern anmd an elderly man walking his dog. Never mind the beaches. It's isolated, has high unemployment, poor roads and is a flood risk. Jaywick beats Grimsby, Blackpool and Liverpool into first place.

Hmm. Maybe TOWIE's Amy could set up a vajazzling empire there?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Brentwood goes to Hollywood

The Evening Standard reports that Keira Knightley and Mad Men star Elizabeth Moss (she plays Peggy) both spent a day teaching drama at Brentwood School. This was in preparation for their roles as boarding school teachers in the forthcoming play The Children's Hour at the Comedy Theatre in the West End.

Well, that's what they say. It's also possible that the pair were simply hoping to hang around Sugar Hut in the hope of cameos as Mark and Kirk's love interest in The Only Way is Essex.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Lauren goes mental

The Only Way Is Essex continues to be the Neighbours of the Thames Estuary. Mark has asked Lauren to marry him and she's said yes, in Essex's version of Kylie and Jason. Lauren's sister came up with an admirably Essex response: "Are you mental?"

Lauren will have to get her Mark tattoo etched back on again - and possibly removed again if the ratings fall.

Meanwhile one of the best things about the series is the adverts for sponsors Wink Bingo and a great spoof of Amy and Sam. Not being horrible, but Oh my God!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Essex — the new LA

Well, the new series of The Only Way is Essex is back in Technicolour orange, or what Amy calls the “oompa lumpa” shade of spray tan.

As ever the Essex argot is splendid. Of course, it’s not representative of the real Essex, but it is fun.

In London they have Jafrican but here old cockney merges into new Essex in a disarming display of linguistic front. Mark reckons his sister Jess has got “the raving hump” because he doesn’t agree with her having a boob job. This is not out of any misguided sense that women’s bodies are fine as they are, but because he doesn’t want to “have to front up every geezer” looking at her silicone. Nanny Pat had it right when she said they’re fine as they are, Jess.

Arg is telling Lydia, “talk about digging me out, Lyd!” While Kirk is recommending his single father to a prospective car saleswoman lover as “a right gentleman, a geezer… he’s everything!”

While new addition Joey Essex says “I’m not mugging him off”.

So that’s digging me out, mugging me off, raving humps, fronting up geezers, and right gentlemen in one episode, not to mention painted trotters on Mr Darcy the Vietnamese pig.

Meanwhile Kirk’s dad makes a nice addition (“You are spoilt!” he tells his son who wants a Beamer for his birthday) while Mark’s mum looks uncannily like Alison Steadman in Gavin and Stacey.

Meanwhile Amy’s wondering if Kent is South London and remarks that “Essex is the new LA". After all, there’s already a Brentwood in LA. Is Gants Hill Essex’s version of Beverly Hills and Southend our Malibu?

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Essex Riviera

With the second series of The Only Way is Essex starting on ITV 2 this Sunday, the Daily Telegraph reports a 140 per cent increase in requests about Essex mini-breaks.

The internet site reports that enquiries about Brentwod hotels have gone up 100 per cent in the past year. While Chelmsford is up 211 per cent and Clacton 170 per cent.

As the Eagles might have sung: "Welcome to the hotel Essex for yer". You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.

The best and worst of Essex

The best and worst of Essex were on display during my recent visit to Upminster.

Walking up Corbet’s Tey Road there was a young Herbert rolling away from the pub pushing his red-haired girlfriend. This was on the other side of the road and at first you wondered if it was the sort of joshing you might see between Smithy and his sister in Gavin and Stacey. But it was something more sinister.

“If you push her again I’m calling the police! You should be ashamed of yourself, she’s a woman!” shouted a brave and angry middle-aged woman in the street. He shouted something abusive back - and he was a big bloke - she dialled for the law and the Herbert slunk off accompanied by his poor companion.

The police arrived and took a couple of statements from passers-by and shop owners but alas it was too late to find the culprit. But full marks to that Upminster woman who saw cowardly injustice and took action.

It reminded me that there was always an undercurrent of violence beneath the commuter facade when I was growing up in Essex. Getting threatened for eyeing up someone’s bird in that pub by the bus stop in Brentwood High Street, violent abuse after reversing too close to someone’s motor, my dad threatening to knock someone’s effing block off in a row over a parking space at Warley Fords, St Martin’s School’s lads turning up outside our school allegedly with bicycle chains.

If there was an English David Lynch he would surely be making Twin Peaks-style films in the Essex commuter belt – all is not as it seems behind the privet hedges and Ford motors.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Juke box Dury

There’ ain’t 'alf been some clever bastards… and Will Birch is one ‘em.

Just completed Birch’s excellent Ian Dury: the Definitive Biography. It’s a great read and fully conveys the mix of monstrous and loveable behaviour that made Dury a very complex lyrical genius.

What’s also striking is how much of a mockney he was. His mum’s family were quite posh intellectuals and he was bought up in the garden suburb of Upminster as a well-spoken boy and then went to boarding school in High Wycombe.

Dury said he put on the cockney geezer act partly to survive in a horrendous institution for kids with polio.

It would also have given the insecure and disabled Dury an easy identity. When I was at university this middle-class Essex Man was readily identified by northerners as a cockney when they heard my Brentwood accent; and it was easy to play up to the caricature in the street credibility seeking days of the late 1970s.

Dury would also have been attracted to the language he heard from East End exiles around Essex because he was a poet and saw the richness of the “just cos I ain't never 'ad, no, nothing worth having never ever” and “got right up between her rum and her Ribena” cockney dialogue and rhyming slang.

As he once said when accused of being a mockney rebel: “We’re not posh, we’re arts and crafts!”

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Only Way is Upminster

Does nothing change in Upminster? Not only does it still have the Essex Yeoman pub by the station (where a welcome pint was often had after returning home from a West Ham game under the lights) and a proper old Wimpy bar, but Roomes Department Store is still there. The very place where my mate Gav once saw Martin Peters out shopping.

Gav also saw Hurstie there, "plus Bobby Ferguson in the park (my mum got his autograph cos I was too shy). Jimmy Greaves also lived in Upminster as a younger man - he gave my grandad's car a push."

It’s good to see a department store that isn’t a chain — it’s been run by the Roome family for five generations — and Roomes has a definite air of Are You Being Served? about it, complete with white-bloused Miss Brahms and Mr Lucas-style assistants with Essex accents saying, “The sun’s come out for yer… invoice it with them last ones…” And here comes Young Mr Roome…

Roomes was established in 1888 at Green Street, Upton Park (it closed in 1935, the owners realising that commuters were moving out to Essex). The Upminster shop was built in 1927 and still has its stylish art deco exterior.

You can find everything here amid its black and white interiors, from Fred Perry shirts to toys (I’m sure my late uncle David bought me a Dalek 45rpm record here back in the sixties) and bedding. And on the top floor there’s a sleepy cafĂ© serving various chip concoctions and coffee.

Who knows what items Ian Dury, who grew up in Waldegrave Gardens, Upminster, (where Gav's mum knew his mum) might have nicked here as a youngster, before going on to South Street, Romford, shopping arcade in search of a pilfered Razzle magazine?

Who needs Selfridges? It's good to know there’s still Roomes at the top of the district line.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Market forces in Romford

“NO FAKES,” reads a sign above one of the stalls in Romford Market. It’s a moniker that neatly sums up Romford. The idea you would even suspect fakery is very Essex in this old East End enclave stuck out on the tundra of Essex. There’s even a pie and mash shop and a Tubby White’s stall selling jellied eels. (Why are seafood stalls always run by men called Tubby?)

“50p yer caulies!” hollers a woman on a fruit and veg stall. Across the market an old geezer rasps “Paarnd a bowl yer joocy oranges… Yorksher rhubarb! Yorksher rhubarb!”
Suddenly I realise where I subconsciously attained my “50p yer 'Ammers fanzine!” selling technique from, when I used to sell Fortune’s Always Hiding outside West Ham’s ground.

Romford has a market square dating back to the 1247 and a couple of listed pubs in The Golden Lion and The Lamb, along with the more rock’n’roll The Bitter End and of course, a nail salon.

My daughters and their old man have just had lunch with Auntie Kaz in a greasy spoon where the chip portions are large and the tea bags stay in the mug.
We’re opposite the legendary Yates’s, where Kaz says you can see the girls in micro-skirts and stilettos go out every Friday night and where one Romfordian confessed to punching her boyfriend for gross moral turpitude in the recent Channel 4 documentary Welcome to Romford.

Walking down South Street it’s impossible not to think of Ian Dury’s immortal line abut stealing a razzle mag from Razzle in my Pocket: “Romford, South Street, shopping arcade, in me yeller jersey I went out on the nick.”

The arcade, now covered, brings a Proustian rush of nostalgia. This was a big trip out on the 247 bus from Great Warley when I was a kid. Unlimited shops and cheap wide-collared shirts and Oxford Bags at Mr Byrite's. My dad said “You won’t get anywhere messing about shopping in Romford,” and perhaps he was right, because here I am, still doing it.

There’s a West Ham shop selling endless WHU branded casual jackets, teddy bears and babygrows and to the joy of the girls both a Waterstone’s and a Claire’s Accessories.

It’s heaving on a Wednesday market day at 3pm and definitively Essex. Compared to up west, as they say on EastEnders, there’s decidedly more leopardskin, eye make-up, chiseled cheekbones, pink handbags and lots of phrases like “in’t they?”.

Waterstone’s has a tempting book on the history of Upminster and lots of dvds on WW2 in Essex and the East End. Nell buys a set of silly bands in Claire’s Accessories that are supposed to be chocolate scented but aren’t. Fired up with a rejuvenated sense of Essex bartering ability, I wait for the supervisor and manage to blag an exchange. Result.

Karren Brady would love it here. Entrepreneurship is in the Essex soul. In the centre of the arcade stand numerous temporary stalls and hawkers pushing their products like wannabe Apprentice candidates.

There’s young people in red t-shirts offering Love Film vouchers, a stall offering samples from Subway sandwiches, Sky offers, and a jewelry stall called Magnolia that is embossed with “Prague, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Toronto”. Does the Prague stall read “Sydney, Tel Aviv, Toronto, Romford”?

Seeking some local colour, I accept a leaflet on Crystal double glazing from a man in a brown and beige two-tone leather jacket standing by a selection of stained dark brown casement windows. A mistake: one thing they know how to do in Essex is sell.

“Would you like 40 per cent discount voucher too sir and a free estimate no obligation your wife makes all the decision sir well between you and me that’s always the case in the home have you seen our beat the VAT offer you see it’s now 43 per cent off not 40 per cent energy saving recommended seven point locking system we just need your name to prove that I’ve spoken to you otherwise they won’t believe me and your home number and we do need a mobile which is the best number to call you on you’ll receive a courtesy call within a day…

Pleading a rendezvous with my 12-year-old daughter I scarper for the safety of Claire’s Accessories, fleeced of my phone number and done up like a mug punter from north London. The courtesy call duly arrives the next day and they may continue for the next millennium.

Still, it’s a shame to retreat back to London on the train. So many shops, so many stalls. It’s hard not to love the buzz of Romford Market where commerce is theatre and you will never be short of juicy oranges and high performance windows.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Less sexual Ealing and more randy Romford

Visiting Romford recently reminded me of this brilliant anecdote from "Sickofstupidity", an Independent reader responding after my piece last October on the 20th anniversary of Essex Man. You really couldn't make it up…

My only experience of Essex was a few years ago, when a friend invited me to his family's Christmas Day dinner on the outskirts of Romford (I think).

His family were typical Essex folk, in that they were very 'down-to-earth', unpretentious people, and generous and hospitable to a fault, and it was a very pleasant dinner.

After the meal, we retired to the living room, and it was then that things suddenly took a turn for the surreal....

My friend's teenage sister had invited her boyfriend over for the after-dinner drinks, and decided to entertain him - and the rest of the assembled family and guests - by putting on a little show. She disappeared upstairs and came down moments later dressed in a very revealing Santa Claus outfit. She then proceeded to perform an extremely raunchy and suggestive dance number, in the middle of the living room, to the accompaniment of an equally raunchy and suggestive pop-song on the hi-fi (I think it was Madonna or similar). Her boyfriend obviously enjoyed the show, if the hypnotized expression on his face and the impressive bulge in his trousers were any guide. Interestingly, the other guests - all local Essex people - did not seem the least bit shocked by any of this, but laughed and applauded, while her mother and grandmother beamed with pride, as if to say 'That's our girl! Always knows how to turn on the fellas...'.

I just sat there, speechless and blushing with embarrassment. Was this sort of uninhibited sexual display by teenage daughters considered nothing more than wholesome family entertainment in Essex?

Of course, being gay myself, her raunchy gyrations had no effect on me whatsoever; it was the visible arousal of her boyfriend - who was quite a tall, strapping, handsome hunk of a lad, I must say - that was turning me on. And I was secretly hoping that he would reciprocate with a raunchy dance number of his own. Sadly, it was not to be; when her dance had finished, she promptly dragged her - thoroughly primed - boyfriend upstairs, where they proceeded to copulate very noisily for the next two hours (lucky girl...). And each muffled groan, ecstatic squeal and ceiling-shaking climax only elicited more beaming smiles of pride from her mother and grandmother, and exchanges of knowing winks and chuckles between the other guests.

Welcome to Essex! I thought - 'down-to-earth' indeed!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Down by the jetty

Despite the mist, rain and vagaries of trying to get to the c2c line on a Saturday from north London, I’ve persuaded my family and dog to take a day trip to Leigh-on-Sea. Normally it’s only 35 minute from Stratford and it's the closest beach to London.

Beyond Upminster we travel over the flooded Essex marshes and discuss the times when you could catch malaria by the Thames.

Old Leigh is a proper working seaside town with boatyards, cobbled streets, stalls selling seafood and a fine history of smuggling and fishing. Nell and Lola take a particular interest in the mini-octopuses on sale. And here are the hangover-curing cockles as advocated by Dr Feelgood legend Lee Brilleaux.

The first thing we need is food and to escape the rain. The listed Crooked Billet doesn’t allow dogs, but the front bar of the Peter Boat does. Here we eat fish and chips and fine fish chowder plus a fine drop of Crouch Vale Brewery Gold.

Crouch Vale is a small independent brewery based in South Woodham Ferrers. Its Brewery Gold won the CAMRA Champion beer award in 2005 and 2006. Other Crouch Vale beers include Willie Warmer (named in honour of William de Ferrers) and Essex Boys.

Boats bob in the choppy waters and the girls see a shark, only it turns out to be a sunken wreck. When we emerge from the pub the rain has lessened and the tide has departed astonishingly quickly.

You can’t see Kent, but suddenly a vast expanse of oozing mud and sand has appeared and the channel of Leigh Creek. And there are moored boats everywhere.

Leigh is well served for boozers with the Olde Smack Inn the Mayflower and The Ship coming into view, as well as a chippy and lots of seafood restaurants such as the Boatyard and Simply Seafood.

This being Essex we encounter a small boat with a name of There’s Klingons on the Starboard Bow emblazoned on it. There’s giant iron hulk that is Essex Sailing Club.

Our dog Vulcan (aptly named after Mr Spock with all those Klingons about) has never seen seawater before and rushes up to it and tries to drink it. (Dogs are not allowed on the beach from May to September). Then he chases seagulls in non-RSPB-approved fashion and runs madly over the flats before encountering another Border Terrier.

Nell is excited to find oyster shells, groynes, paddling pools, a dead seagull and much more. Nicola enthuses about turnstones and Brent geese.

We walk out to the Crow Stone, a mysterious monolith rising from the water. A green plaque on it reveals that it was erected in 1837, replacing an earlier stone from 1755. The line between the Crow Stone and the London Stone at Yantlet Creek marked the end of the City of London's authority over the River Thames and it’s believed a marker has stood here since 1285. There’s a London Stone on the opposite bank of the Estuary on the Isle of Grain.

We pass Chalkwell station, right on the beach. And after a couple of miles we’re emerging to a promenade of balconied hotels, grand green public toilets, white bathing cabins and closed ice cream kiosks. We pass someone on a bike singing Yellow Submarine — only the sky is not so much green as grey in our yellow submarine.

At Westcliff we divert up an avenue towards the c2c station. It’s been so misty that we can’t see the pier, let alone Kent, just the odd ship’s light in the estuary, but even on a day like this it makes a great atmospheric afternoon walk.

Crouch Vale beer, fish and chips, cockles and mussels, sea wind and shells all within easy reach of London. Who needs Cornwall, eh, when you’ve got the Essex mudflats and Foulness Island to come?

Friday, 18 February 2011

Justice Essex-style

There’s always been a unique approach to retributive justice in Essex. As exemplified by the case of Witham’s Tony Cremer, the flooring company boss who found his enployee Mark Gilbert writing himself a cheques for £845. He duly frogmarched Gilbert to the police station along the high street with a sign round his neck reading: “THIEF. I stole £845 am on my way to the police station.”

In the original Essex Man piece in the Sunday Telegraph of 1990 Simon Heffer wrote: “He has an unswerving belief in lex talionis [that's an eye for an eye to us plebs]. Were the death penalty brought back he would almost certainly pull the lever himself, had he drunk enough beforehand.

“His heritage and instincts, mean he is, for both empirical and atavistic reasons, breathtakingly right-wing… Ownership, independence, a regard for strength and a contempt for weakness underpin his inarticulate faith in markets: above all he believes in getting things done.”

This week Cremer has been sued by Gilbert for psychological distress and two years loss of earnings, and had to pay him £13,000 in compensation and legal costs in an out of court settlement.

What Cremer did was wrong — everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, we've abandoned the stocks these days and in his defence Gilbert claimed he was owed the money in wages — but his £13,000 punishment does seem disproportionate.

While having no idea about Mr Cremer's politics, it does seem that at heart
he is be one of Heffer’s Essex Men who likes “to get things done” . Perhaps the court might have made an allowance for the case happening in Essex?

Cremer has certainly inspired sympathy in the Daily Express, which had the headline “Madness of boss must pay £13,000 to the thief he shamed in the street”, along with a picture of Gilbert being marched to the cop shop.

If nothing else the case proves the enduring accuracy of Simon Heffer’s original piece: If you’re going to nick money then don’t take it from a geezer in Witham.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Dagnam 'till I die!

There’s something in the Essex psyche that embraces the imperfection of life. Why else would a fan at Dagenham and Redbridge, bottom of league one, be banging a huge drum as if it’s the Noucamp or the San Siro?

Dagenham might only get crowds of around 2,000 (or 4000 when it was 99p admission earlier this season) but it’s friendly, stewards stop to chat, and the fans at the side in the North Stand create an atmosphere that would shame the Arsenal Library.

What’s striking compared to a Premiership game is that the crowd is much younger — the drummer looks about 19 — and there’s more laughter and camaraderie.

The match against Yeovil begins with rhythmic drumbeat of tribal Essex Man, including a fat bloke in Dagenham shorts and a Vincelot replica shirt and another youth with gold and black bling headphones.

The chants are either a staccato “DAGNAM!” or an elongated “Dagg-er-nam! Dagg-er-nam! Dagg-er-nam!”

“Come on the ”Nam!’ shouts one fan, evoking an unlikely image of grizzled war veterans on the Heathway.

Yeovil’s Williams slices a one-on-one dismally wide and is greeted with chortling mirth and a double chant of: “You’re not very good! You’re not very good! You’re not very good! IN FACT YOU’RE SHIT! And you know you are… You’re shit and you know you are…”

Only veteran keeper Tony Roberts keeps the Daggers in the game. Against the run of play, the home side score through Vincelot.

“ZIGGER DAGGER ZIGGER DAGGER OI! OI! OI!” chants a bearded man with gutteral gusto, in a variation of the old 1970s chant.

Only Yeovil equalise almost immediately through the tricky Oli Johnson, who's on loan from Norwich.

A cry of “Sort it out!” comes from the terraces — Essex vernacular for retrieving the situation by any means necessary.

There’s a big cheer from the Dagenham fans when the half-time score reads "WBA 3 West Ham 0". As Richard Keys/Alan Partridge knows, relative success breeds envy.

There’s more enjoyment when a Yeovil striker heads hopelessly wide of an empty goal. “How wide d’you want the goal?” is the chant.

Then things go mental as Jonny Nurse turns his man to fire into the bottom corner. He runs to the side of the ground and embraces the Dagenham fans, earning a yellow card.

The crowd senses a home win and there’s a sense of delirium. The appearance of sub Bas Savage sparks a quirky chorus of:

“There’s only one Bas Savage!
He used to be shite but now he’s all right!
Walking in a Savage wonderland!”

Yeovil go close and the fans sing, to the tune of Go West, “Hands up if you thought they’d scored”

The Daggers’ Femi Ilesanmi earns a Vieira-style chant of “He lives in Becontree!”

BOOM BOOM BOOM! The drum beats on. “DAGNAM!“

The tension is too much for the fans: “Let’s pretend we’ve got Tourettes!” comes a chant followed by a torrent of industrial language.

And then a rousing chorus of “DAGNAM TILL I DIE! I’M DAGNAM TILL I DIE!”

Rarely can good old Dagenham have evoked such cries of undying devotion. The evening sun casts an effulgent light on the Victoria Road pitch. It's all rather enjoyable. The Big Society is right here on these terraces. And it's chanting, "Who the f**k are Barnet?"

The whistle blows and the fans surge towards the Bury Road end, banging their drum and stopping to turn to the sparse gathering of Yeovil fans and sing to the tune of I Wanna Go Home, with yet more self-deprecating humour:

“We’ve won at home! We’ve won at home! How shit must you be? We’ve won at home!”

Monday, 14 February 2011

The only way is weight loss and becoming a gay icon?

Still the stars of The Only Way is Essex are enjoying their celebrity status. Sam, Lauren and orange Lydia (who only appeared late as Arg's love interest) feature in Heat explaining how they've all lost at least 5lbs through personal trainers, circuit training and energetic rushing to the opening of an envelope. Although thankfully Sam insists she won't lose any more as she has "real boobs" and doesn't want them to waste away.

Meanwhile Mark Wright and Kirk Norcross are on the front of Attitude magazine in their underpants — apparently filled out with several of Wham's old shuttlecocks — as unlikely gay icons. "If it's good enough for David Beckham then it's good enough for me," says Wrighty.

And ITV has just been auditioning for a new series of TOWIE… What have they started?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Welcome to Romford

All of Essex life can be found in the back of Sharif’s cab. Welcome to Romford on Channel 4 had some great moments from A1 cabs and their drunken clients.

The blonde Essex Girl who punched her boyfriend outside Yates’s because she found out he’d been having an affair, internet daters on the razzle, the bloke who thought he’d been run over but wasn’t sure, an arrest for messing about with a cone, and statements like “She makes the Elephant Man look like a sex machine!”.

Sharif said he’d been in the country 11 years and had developed a pleasingly phlegmatic approach to his job, along with some natural Essex wit and a flirtatious line of banter with the formidable Kelly behind the call-out desk.

It was all rather enjoyable in a 3am desperate for a pee can you stop at the next roundabout mate kind of way. If Travis Bickle had worked in Romford he might have learned to lighten up a little and enjoy the cabaret.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Footballer shuns Sugar Hut

West Ham's James Tomkins, an Essex Man, was asked by a fan in the club programme if he would guest star on The Only Way is Essex.

He answers: "I just watch that show and cringe, to be honest. It's good TV because it makes you cringe so often… I watched it once but I promised myself I would never watch it again. I don't go to those sorts of places as they are far too 'Essex', if you know what I mean? I'd rather chill out by having a quiet dinner with my girlfriend."

Hmm. Amy and Sam may have to work hard to get a date with Tonks on this form...

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Romford in the back of a cab

The media's fascination with Essex continues. This Friday, Feb 4, sees a new Channel 4 documentary First Cut: Welcome to Romford, at 7.30pm. It films the drivers and passengers using A1 cabs in Romford, now famous as the home of Jessie J.

The Evening Standard writes that it will feature, "shouting, drinking, tears, arrests and rather a lot of amorous behaviour". And presumably the odd chunder after Saturday night beneath the plastic palm trees.

Director Simon Smith says: "I'm from Romford and I really like the people. In recent times Essex has been made a caricature, with everyone wanting to be celebrities. I wanted to show people being normal."

Let's hope they don't pick up Mark and Lauren/Sam/Lucy from The Only Way is Essex then...

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Dave, 44, seeks Essex Man

There’s a vacancy for an Essex Man in David Cameron’s inner circle. Cameron’s former spin doctor Andy Coulson might not be the best advert for Essex, but it’s interesting that a bunch of old Etonians needed a down-to-earth Essex geezer alongside all that Bullingdon Club stuff.

On the BBC News Nick Robinson emphasised that Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World now embroiled in the NOTW phone-tapping furore, was an “Essex boy” and that he was valuable to the “posh boys” in the Cabinet because he provided a direct link to working class core Tory voters in deepest Essex.

The Guardian described Coulson as an “Essex Man’’ who was brought up in a council house and had a “street-smart background born of Beauchamps comprehensive in Wickford”. While Cameron and George Osborne were at Oxford University, Coulson was at the Basildon Evening Echo before graduating to the Sun’s bizarre page.

It’s interesting how deep the Essex stereotype has penetrated the media; an Essex comprehensive now equates with “street-smart”, whereas a Cornish comprehensive certainly wouldn’t.

Posh bloke seeks bit of rough with no baggage. Maybe Dave should check out Matt Cardle’s right-wing credentials…

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Dagenham divas

Thinking about Dagenham after my recent visit, it's bred an inordinate amount of talent. A week ago Billy Bragg, born in nearby Barking, explained what made him a singer to the Guardian: “A desire not to go and work in Ford factory in Dagenham. That’s what everyone where I lived was being educated to do. To get out of it, it seemed I needed to be a boxer, a footballer or a rock star. I didn't want to get punched on the head, and I’m not that good at football so I went for the music.”

Sixties legend Sandie Shaw worked for six weeks as a punch-card operator at Ford, and at the end of 2010 revealed to Desert Island Discs that escape propelled her entire career. Dudley Moore was another who left to achieve stardom, along with the great Peter Cook, managing to combine cleverness and filth in some memorably obscene recordings such as the filthy Derek and Clive Live before becoming an unlikely Hollywood star in Arthur.

Like the coalfields of the north-east, Dagenham has unleashed an extraordinary amount of footballing talent.

England manager Sir Alf Ramsey, the man who won England the 1966 World Cup, came from Dagenham, although it didn’t sound like he did. Sir Alf famously had elocution lessons that resulted in him sounding like a bizarre combination of Parker from Thunderbirds and Bertie Wooster, and all with a Captain Mainwaring-style air of pomposity. Throughout the swinging sixties he maintained his upwardly mobile received pronunciation indicating a deep insecurity about his working class origins.

Ramsey’s captain Bobby Moore was raised in Waverley Gardens off the lorry-strewn River Road in Barking. Hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst was also a Barking lad.

Former England gaffer Terry Venables was born at Valence Road and through a variety of business schemes such as selling thingmywigs, setting up Scribes West bar and buying Spurs, demonstrated the eye for a deal beloved of a self-made Essex Man.

Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves grew up in Daggers and during my childhood, according to local gossip, moved down the road to a house near Upminster Common. After recovering from alcoholism — West Ham suffered his final season — he used his Essex wit to create a new career as the cheeky half of Saint and Gravesie on ITV’s On The Ball. The walruss-moustached Greavesie also became a beloved Sun columnist.

Arsenal and England’s Tony Adams grew up at 6 Foxlands Road, the son of an asphalter, playing for the youth side Dagenham United alongside West Ham’s legendary Steve Potts.

Chelsea’s John Terry is another son of Dagenham and so is Liverpool’s Paul Konchesky. Paul’s mum Carol displayed the more abrasive side of the Dagenham resident when she made the headlines defending her son from stroppy Scousers on Twitter.

Dagenham has also featured in song more than most towns. The Stranglers wrote Dagenham Dave about the eponymous character Dave, a Mancunian scaffolder who once worked at the Ford plant. Dave followed the band everywhere and eventually committed suicide jumping off Tower Bridge. Morrissey also penned a song called Dagenham Dave, this time with more homo-erotic tones.

More recently we’ve had rapper Devlin and I’m a Celebrity winner Stacey Solomon, complete with her Malibu and pineapple celebrations down the pub.

Is there a bigger talent factory anywhere in Britain?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Sitting on the Dock of Dagenham's Bay

Inspired by Made in Dagenham, it’s time to visit the Ford Motor Works and Dagenham's industrial hinterland. Despite many a trip to Dagenham Heathway when my sister lived there, this was my first visit to the mysterious area of white by the Thames, as denoted in the London A-Z.

The Ford Works, once the biggest car works in Europe but much smaller these days, lie down Dagenham Heathway. Once you’ve recovered from the shock of classical music playing at Dagenham Heathway tube station, turn right past the nail salon and pie and mash shop and head towards the wind turbines that rotate steadily beneath the slate sky.

The Heathway’s full of identikit post-war current and former council homes striving for individuality through cottage cladding, mock Tudor cladding, porches, extensions, new doors and in several cases palm trees planted incongruously in the front garden.

It terminates at a crossroads where there’s three Bangladeshi Indian restaurants, Kevin’s Corner selling washing machines and RTV Satellite set in a mock-Tudor block of shops that’s unsurprisingly covered in a vast array of dishes.

The Heathway becomes a narrower industrial gulch called Chequers Lane. To the right is a new Homebase warehouse, plus Halfords and KFC. On my left is the Jobcentreplus, as if to emphasise that here lie your only options for work, and then the large red brick Ford works with a sign reading Ford Stamping Operations, which sounds a little violent to me.

This being Essex, there are two palm trees by the entrance. There’s little evidence of activity apart from two men in luminous jackets having a fag break outside.

Ahead lies the flyover of the A13 Thames Gateway section (the Thames Gateway housing development has been metaphorically bricked up, cut by the coalition) and a park of rust-coloured containers stacked five-high.

Chequers Lane leads the post-apocalyptic pedestrian to the unstaffed Dagenham Docks station. A concrete stairwell leads up to a barbed wire defended bridge that straddles the railway line. “Danger of death” warns a sign by the tracks. The vista here is huge pylons, rail tracks, motorway, the black pool of Dagenham Breach and a wind turbine on Barking Power Station.

It doesn’t feel like London. The wind picks up and you start to smell the river. There are no other pedestrians here at 3pm. It’s all very 28 Days Later merged with The Sweeney. This would be a great place to dispose of bodies, do dodgy deals or set up a ruck between the ICF and Millwall’s F Troop.

On the other side of the tracks the road widens, there’s a bus stop with no-one waiting and wide pavements leading past the square blocks of the Doctor Who-esque power station and Chequers Lane Sustainable Industrial Park.

Then the cement lorries and Hovis trucks start to rumble by. Here there are fenced off warehouses, a Hovis depot full of brown bread-carrying yellow lorries. A blue cyclists’ sign points down Choats Lane with the words “Thames View”. Opposite Kuehne + Nagel Drinks Logistics (is there anything logistical about drinking?) the brave cyclist turns down Hindmans Way.

This is narrower and is an unofficial dumping ground for every piece of detritus in Dagenham. Rusting temporary fences conceal tyres, bits of sofas, mattresses, beds, carpets in bin bags, cans, plastic bags and paper coffee cups.

It all feels very blue collar and Bruce Springsteen. Here men do geezerish things like drive trucks fast down empty roads and throw their lunch in the hedge. Would Bruce have taken his girl down to The River via the mud of Hindmans Way? Probably not if he ever wanted to see her again.

The pavement ends and becomes mud surrounded by concrete markers. As ever-more heavy lorries trundle past it starts to feel dangerous and seeking safety from death under large wheels I find my DMs trudging through soft, oozing grey mud. My phone battery runs out adding to the sense of doom as the road passes a set of gasometers. “Danger of flooding” reads a road sign. A black pool has mysterious broken pipes rising out of it. Reeds flank the road to marshland.

Then the lane terminates with a solid black fence at a T-junction and signs for TDG and Cemex. There’s a sentry post with a hut and a red and white pole barrier. The operative eyes me with bemusement.

And suddenly by some disused tram tracks there’s the riverbank and a curved pier stretching out into the choppy waters of the Thames. There’s a silo and a lorry at the end of it. I stand on the pier to escape the danger of demise by speeding cement lorry.

So here I am at last, sitting on the dock of Dagenham’s bay like Otis Redding, watching the ships go by, wasting my time. That song was about unemployment and poor Otis would have had to get himself down to the Jobcentreplus by the motor works had he lived in Dagenham.

The waters of the Thames meet a bank of reeds, mud, fishing trays, floats and blue plastic bags. Across the river lies Thamesmead (featured in A Clockwork Orange) and two strange funnel-like industrial structures. I’m standing on the evocatively named No 7 Jetty. A trendy Dockland Quarter it is not.

The January dusk draws in and there’s an urge to escape before falling off the edge of the known world. I pace past Prax Petroleum braving oozing cementy earth and along the wide pavements past more Hovis lorries, and in to Dagenham Docks station. Three young salesman in suits get off the train and head for the industrial park with a look of apprehension. I dash on to the train and discover people and digital signage and that Fenchurch Street is only 20 minutes away. All so different to the otherworldiness of the Essex industrial marshes.