Friday, 31 January 2014

Essex comes to Highgate

Literary credibility at last! The Joy of Essex was discussed by a Highgate book group in the grand sounding venue of the Highgate Scientific and Literary Institution on Monday. As Ian Dury once sang: "I could be the inmate in a long-term institution…" And now this exiled Essex Man was appearing in a Literary Institution… and very impressive too with its portraits and armchairs.

Laurens Holve presented a fine introductory paper on The Joy of Essex, and then the book was put open to discussion. It proved an interesting evening and sparked a lot of debate, with reminiscences of Southend, Epping Forest, Chingford and Constable country. Some of the pop culture references were unfamiliar toy the group, but retired headmistresses in Highgate are now researching Ian Dury, Dr Feelgood, Phill Jupitus and Towie

One reader who wasn’t that keen on the book did compare it to Chavs by Owen Jones, noting my attempts to not demonise the Essex classes. Several people felt they wanted more on northern Essex, but ultimately I guess the book was more a reflection of the Essex I know rather than a comprehensive guide to every town.

Next month the group is doing a book on Matisse, whoever he played for, so they certainly cover all bases in Highgate. And a nice couple of pints with Laurens and Anne afterwards in the Angel, the pub where Monty Python's Graham Chapmen (Brian) used to drink. 

Grayson is mother of the bride

Another first for Essex. Congratulations to Chelmsford-born and Braintree-educated Grayson Perry on becoming the first person to receive a CBE at Buckingham Palace in full transvestite gear. Grayson wore his "Italian mother of the bride" outfit, a blue dress with a voluminous hat. He explained: "When I got the call my first thought was, "What am I going to wear?" It's a serious thing, I'm not going to compromise my identity as Britain's pre-eminent transvestite." Prince Charles had an attack of the giggles while presenting the gong, but the Beefeaters and couriers appear to have kept straight faces. 

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Headlines you never thought you'd see…

"THE WOLF OF SHENFIELD," is the headline on page five of today's Sun, as well as several other papers. It refers to the shooting in the leg of City broker Robin Clark at Shenfield station car park yesterday morning. He was attacked by a balaclava-wearing hit man. Referring to the hit film The Wolf of Wall Street, a friend of Clark's told the Sun that, "Robin is like The Wolf of Shenfield, he is a high-octane City boy who gives it large in whatever he does." It all seems sadly out of place in Shenfield, more the sort of thing that happens in US films. Let's hope that Clark makes a quick recovery and that the villains responsible are rapidly apprehended.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Nuclear meltdown in Kelvedon Hatch

Spent a very enjoyable Saturday morning with the writer Ian Sansom and his producer Conor Garrett at the Secret Nuclear Bunker in Kelvedon Hatch. Sansom is presenting a Radio 4 programme on his home county of Essex on Friday February 28 at 11am and was interviewing me about my book The Joy of Essex. Ian, the author of many mystery novels, is an engaging interviewer and was bought up looking back in Ongar, but now lives with his wife in Northern Ireland. He'd heard the rumours of a secret nuclear bunker during his childhood too, but was amazed at the size of the structure concealed beneath a suburban bungalow. We enjoyed the ancient telex machines, Geiger counters, Maggie Thatcher mannequin and the low-key charm of one of the country's most underrated tourist attractions. His Radio 4 programme is also set to include the likes of Bas Vegas, Penny Rimbaud from Crass and history author George Courtauld who is Vice Lord Lieutenant of Essex and Chair of the Essex Women's Advisory Group. Should be well worth listening to.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Amy goes to Chigwell

Enjoyed Amy Childs' cameo appearance on Birds of a Feather. The former Towie star turned up at a car boot sale where Dorien was flogging off her designer clothes. So that's a  reality TV star in a fictional sit-com star acting as a reality TV star… Shu' up! Amy could be in line for another Bafta after this. And hope she enjoys wearing Dorien's shoes.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Doctor Who comes to Loughton

The Doctor is materialising in Loughton. Here's a date for your diaries. As part of the Essex Books Festival I'll be interviewing Mark Campbell, author of Doctor Who: The Complete Guide (Robinson) at Loughton Library on Saturday March 29, 2.30-4.30pm. Mark's a man who has watched every episode ever made of Doctor Who and will be there to take audience questions on all things Whovian. If you're kept awake at night wondering whether The Caves of Androzani is better than Genesis of the Daleks or The Empty Child then this is the event for you. Bow-ties optional. Click on the link for full details.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Birds of a Feather: the verdict

Good to see Birds of a Feather pull in eight million viewers on ITV, proof that the Chigwell-based comedy is still held in much affection. Some of the jokes were a little laboured, but the easy chemistry was still there between Pauline Quirke, Linda Robson and Lesley Joseph as Sharon, Tracey and Dorien. It was a nice idea to have Dorien as Fifty Shades of Green author Foxy Cohen and thankfully the series didn’t go too far down the Towie route.

Writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran got in some topical jokes too, about the bedroom tax on Sharon’s council flat, pound shops and Essex Tories. One quibble though: Foxy Cohen was signing at the Chigwell Bookshop – surely it would be a beauty salon or nail parlour by now and she’d be flogging her book on Amazon?

The broadsheet reviews have been quite sniffy, however, feeling that Essex comedy has had its day. The Daily Telegraph wrote: “When it debuted in 1989, one dimly recalls that it briefly felt funny, fresh and very much of its time, as Essex culture – an oxymoron? – was a huge source of humour, with jokes about Shazzas in white stilettos and Dazzas in Ford Capris guaranteeing belly laughs all over the country. These days, we have interminable reality show The Only Way Is Essex to confirm all those stereotypes.”

While the Independent suggested: “Brash, moneyed and Thatcherite Essex was culturally relevant when Birds of a Feather first aired in 1989, but, after ten series of The Only Way Is Essex, the milieu has long since morphed into a cartoon parody.”

It will be interesting to see how the series develops. Surely Essex is just as culturally relevant as it was in 1989, what with a Thatcherite government, dodgy bankers and a growing underclass? Judging by the ratings there’s a willing audience for the comfortable old slippers of Birds of a Feather whatever the critics may say. 

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Essex Street, WA

Nice shot of Essex Street at Fremantle in Perth, Western Australia, taken on my trip there in 2011, found while looking through my phone pics. Looks a lot sunnier than Southend…

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Tough in Harold Hill

Interesting comments from Swansea City's Jonjo Shelvey on growing up in Harold Hill in the Guardian recently

"Where I grew up, in Harold Hill, it was rough and it still is now. I used to live in a little council flat, next to the shops, and there was always trouble, people getting stabbed. One Christmas I was in the pub with my dad and I looked across and there was a bullet hole in the television. I said: 'Can we go, dad?' My dad still lives in the same place, my mum and my sister live in Brentwood, further out. My sister was pregnant and I didn't want her baby growing up in the same area, so I bought her a house."

He makes it sound like Homs or Aleppo! Know it can be a bit dodgy in Harold Hill, but I managed to grow up near Harold Wood and drink in the King Harold without aggravation. Could he have been laying it on a bit thick for the Guardian journalist?