Monday, 26 March 2012

Bas Vegas meets Sloane Square

Who'd have thought Basildon would be enjoyed by the chattering classes in Chelsea? It's had the Hollywood roundabout, Depeche Mode, Alison Moyet, James Tomkins… and now Basildon is high art. Went to see In Basildon at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square on Friday, a play about a feuding Basildon family gathered around the death bed of Len, a fanatical Hammers fan. David Eldridge's play has a good ear for Essex dialogue, and numerous Essex references including Len, a character who moved the original to Laindon plot lands before the new town was built. Plus lots of West Ham material.There's a chorus of Bubbles in Len's death bed scene, a reference to Frank McAvennie's possible love child, Barry wearing a Hammers shirt at the funeral and a comment of "Avram Grant, more like Avram can't!" as Barry receives news of another defeat on his iPhone. It's a funny, non patronising play about working class life and well worth seeing.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Wilko live

Good to hear the great Wilko Johnson interviewed on Radio 4's Today yesterday morning. Click on the link to hear the whole thing. Visiting Wilko's Canvey gaff the interviewer found the door open and Wilko opening his Christmas cards in March, which sounds like the opening verse of a Dr Feelgood song. They also chatted about Wilko's love of English literature and ancient Norse sagas, as you do, and his never-ending 28-year tour. Look out for Wilko's autobiography Looking Back at Me, out in May,

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

A host of golden daffs

Spent a fine Saturday with the kids and my sister at Miss Willmott's Garden for tthe Essex Wildlife Trust's open day at Warley Place on Saturday. The garden has been resurrected by dedicated Monday volunteers and there's even a couple of novels been written about the romantic setting by one member. Hundreds of daffodils are out and the old ruined garden is looking great with some new rockeries and the ha-ha unearthed. Miss Willmott once employed a hundred gardeners in the early 1900s and was the first woman to be on the board of the British Horticultural Society. Tough not sure if she would have approved of the Harry Potter messages my girls left in the spotting book in the birdhide by the carp ponds. All of this plus a fine omelette and chips at the Thatchers Arms next door, where there's a signed pair of A P McCoy's jodphurs on the wall and a decent pint of Flying Scotsman to be had.

Friday, 16 March 2012

The Only City in Essex

Congratulations to Chelmsford on being awarded City status by the Queen to mark her Diamond Jubilee. Chelmsford City FC had it right all along. The Romans knew it was a proper city. Chelmsford was originally called Caesaromagus, meaning “Caesar’s market place” and has the distinction of being the only town ever to be named after Caesar.

Go to Chelmsford Museum and you'll find the town is famous for the second smallest cathedral in England, Marconi radio and ball bearings (indeed there's display of a load of old balls) and of course the 1977 Chelmsford Punk Festival. There’s a picture of eight rather middle-class looking Chelmsford punks and a description of a wonderfully Spinal Tap-esque festival, where it rained all day, the crowds didn’t turn up, the scaffolders started to dismantle the stage before the concert was over and the Damned refused to play. An inadvertent vision of anarchy in the commuter belt. 

Apart from Rod Stewart's missus Penny Lancaster and ex-West Ham goalkeeper Mervyn Day, Chelmsford's most famous son is the dress-wearing artist Grayson Perry. Chelmsford museum displays his vase Chelmsford Sissies, depicting a fictional transvestite festival in Chelmsford with bearded men from the English Civil War clad in dresses. On top of Grayson's vase is an upturned car crashing into a Chelmsford sign and on the side is a picture of a Barrett-style home and a parked motor. As Phill Jupitus tells me of Mr Perry: “He’s a man in a dress with a bear, but you hear him talking and it’s like you’ve bumped into a bloke in the pub! The most fascinating people in Essex are what Ian Dury described as ‘arts and crafts’.”

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Towie reborn in the USA

The Only Way is Essex is going American. Probably quite apt as we already have Bas Vegas and a Hollywood-style sign on the A13 at Basildon. The makers of the programme, Lime Productions are in discussions about making a  version of the series set in either Florida or Texas. Is there anywhere in the world that could be like Essex? And what exactly is the American for "are you mugging me off?" and "getting the 'ump". Would they have an ironic equivalent to "Shu' up!" or indeed something akin to Arg's "burger nips"? Could there be "well proper" or "reem" or "jel" Texans?  Ex-Towie icon Amy Childs might have to ask: "The person that’s obviously done the dictionary who is it? I’m being serious. Is he from Essex or is he from wherever, like Texas?" Not being horrible, but the makers of US Towie might end up looking like what Mark and Arg might refer to as  "right doughnuts".

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Having your Phill of Southend

Many thanks to Phill Jupitus for a great tour of the Southend environs. His thoughts will be appearing in my forthcoming book The Joy of Essex. We started off dog-walking on Two Tree Island at Leigh-on-Sea, where you get a great view of Leigh seafront, Canvey and the Thames estuary, moving on to the atmospheric Hadleigh Castle (an early victim of cowboy builders as it was built on subsiding sandy soil), the pubs and boat sheds of Old Leigh, the 13 coffee shops of Leigh, an excellent lunch at the Arches (a row of 14 greasy spoon cafes on the Southend seafront), a drive up to Shoeburyness where the artillery ranges start and an ice cream at Rossi's on the seafront. Jupitus is a man with a real passion for Essex, having grown up in Stanford-no-Hope and we even found ourselves discussing "the low lead lines" of Dickens as we looked out over the Estuary. Another hot topic was if Adam Ant, who once played Southend, was in fact "the Danbury Highwayman". Phill also confided that having seen the Grand Canyon he still prefers the views from Leigh-on-Sea, and quite right too.