Friday, 27 July 2012

No longer glad to be Grays?

"Is Thurrock really the most miserable place in Britain?" asks the Guardian. The feature relates to yesterday's news that Thurrock came bottom of the government's new wellbeing survey. Is there nothing to be happy about? Well, there's a shop called Curtains Babe, the bloke from Birmingham selling cheap meat in the market at Grays, the Cash Generator shop, a decent museum, plays such as Fur Coat and No Knickers, Tilbury Fort, Chafford Gorge and lots of countryside around. And if you're a container spotter there's lots to keep you occupied...

Friday, 20 July 2012

Northern Lights in Essex!

"Good sky you got here, McIntyre..." Proof arrives that Essex has everything the Scottish Highlands can offer and more comes with the news that the Northern Lights were seen over Maldon on Monday night. The lights have rarely been so far south, but they chose God's own County for their Essex debut, giving a purple and green hue to the Heybridge Basin. Just as well they didn't hit Brentwood, where the lights would surely have been mistaken for another of Joey Essex's Reem nights at Sugar Hut, with Aurora Borealis thought to be Mark Wright's latest date. Perhaps Local Hero will now be re-made in Maldon…

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Getting well-sculptured in Harlow

Essex is full of surprises. Visited Harlow for my forthcoming book The Joy of Essex (Robson Press) and saw a Goth shouting “Ah it’s raining, me hair’s gonna get f**ked!” while standing by a sculpture called Portal Figure by F E M Williams. There's a Henry Moore and a Rodin, whoever he played for, by the Water Gardens, a meat porter by Ralph Brown in the market Square, a work by Barbara Hepworth and numerous figures around the town centre. Harlow has more than 100 pieces of public sculpture and in 2009 the Council voted to brand the town as “Harlow Sculpture Town — The World's First Sculpture Town”.

Harlow's MP Robert Halfon is understandably proud of this and tells me: "You get loads of snobbery from idiots who don’t know better or who’ve never been here. Not many people know we’re sculpture capital of England with Henry Moore sculptures all over the place. How many other new towns have that?" 

Of course, public sculpture always attracts interest from some Herberts interested in destroying it. John Young, the former Chair of the council tells me that one of his proudest moments was saving a Henry Moore sculpture that had a baby's head torn off by vandals and placing it inside the civic centre. Can high art exist in an Essex new town? Harlow is making a pretty good effort to ensure that Essex is in danger of getting well-cultured. 

Monday, 9 July 2012

Carrying a torch for Essex

Jamie Oliver carried the Olympic torch in the rain from Newport to Saffron Walden yesterday. The sodden chef confessed, quite rightly, that he'd rather be in his parents' pub at Clavering. He went to school in Newport, though perhaps a more fitting place for him to take the flame might be the end of Southend pier— which on Jamie's Britain is where he claimed to have been conceived. Though strangely there's no blue plaque, as yet.