Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Essex Hammers: Goodbye to Boleyn now out

‘Essex scribe and literary Hammer Pete May writes with humour and eloquence about the most turbulent year of change at the Boleyn since Ken’s CafĂ© got a tub of Flora.’ Phill Jupitus

My new book Goodbye to Boleyn is now out and might make a suitable Christmas present for anyone hanging up a claret and blue stocking. It's the story of the final season at the Boleyn Ground and the first games at Stratford, plus chapters on Ken's Cafe, the Newham Bookshop, Upton's Park's boozers and much more. Click on the link to the right for more details.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Estuary English

Good review of Rachel Lichtenstein's new book Estuary: Out from London to the Sea in the Guardian. Lichtenstein's journey takes her down the Thames Estuary from Tower Bridge to Clacton on the Essex side and out to Whitstable on the Kent side. There's plenty of Essex interest here — ghosts under Southend pier, Canvey Island, Joseph Conrad, Thames barges, fishermen, mudlarks, divers, sea forts, wind farms, sunken ships full of munitions, China and clay pipes and the author capsizing in a dingy and breaking her hand, Click on the link to read the full review.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

How many Essex girls does it take to saturate the media?

Something of an Essex Girl overload today. The Times has a full page feature ("The only way is out for Essex girl label") interviewing former Bloomberg workers Natasha Sawkins and Juliet Thomas, who started the petition on the Mother Hub website to have the words 'Essex girl' removed from the Oxford English Dictionary. They also have a hash tag campaign where successful women reclaim the phrase with #iamanessexgirl.

The Sun also covers the furore while the Evening Standard has a feature proclaiming "Essex girl campaigners win meeting with bosses of dictionary." The Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC interviewed several Essex women talking about the petition while tomorrow's Guardian has a Pass Notes on Essex Girls. Meanwhile the publishers of the Oxford Dictionary thank the campaigners for their interest but say they can't exclude offensive terms. And rather ironically, the well-intentoned petition seems to have bought the phrase Essex girl right back into the public consciousness…

Monday, 24 October 2016

Should Essex Girl be removed from the Dictionary?

Interesting piece in inews reporting that 3000 people have signed a petition to have the term 'Essex Girl' removed from the Oxford English Dictionary. The petition was set up by campaign group the Mother Hub and objects to the dictionary definition of an Essex Girl as: “A type of young woman, supposedly to be found in and around Essex, and variously characterised as unintelligent, promiscuous, and materialistic.” 

They have a point, but after Towie and 25 years of usage they may find it difficult to achieve their aim. And there's a similar case for removing the words Essex Man from the dictionary, who is described as: "A new type of Conservative voter typically (esp. contemptuously) characterised as a brash, self-made young businessman who benefited from the entrepreneurial wealth created by Thatcherite policies.”

As I mention in my book The Joy of Essex, in the first series of The Only Way Is Essex Sam Faiers and Amy Childs discuss the dictionary definition of Essex Girl over a large glass of Rose. Sam says that the word Essex Girl is “actually in the Dictionary.” Amy asks if it means “glamorous… what it right slags us off… shu’ up! You’re having me on! I thought it meant like classy…” Sam replies, “It’s like stilettoes and men.” Amy then comments: “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 the north or Manchester? If they were from Essex they wouldn’t write that.”

Amy is reputedly worth £5 million, which rather disproves the stereotype. Meanwhile the person that done the dictionary may be in for even more grief if the petition continues to grow.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

A Yorkshire Tragedy via Essex

I've always thought that Yorkshire and Essex have quite a lot in common. Both have very clear identities and pride themselves on telling it like it is and being slightly different to the rest of the country. So it's interesting that Wivenhoe-based author Anthony Clavane has just published A Yorkshire Tragedy, a book about the demise of several Yorksire sporting institutions since the 1980s. There's an Essex link too, for Clavane, a long-term Essex resident who is a sports writer for the Daily Mirror, has plenty of revelations about the impact Essex businessman Anton Johnson had on Rotherham. 

The Guardian review of A Yorkshire Tragedy comments: "A tender and often terrifying tour of some of Yorkshire's — and England's — most cherished sporting institutions and the communities that surround and succour them, and how their experience reflects the nation's swaying fortunes since the 1980s. A Yorkshire Tragedy is compelling, illuminating, very human and often quite moving." Well worth a read.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Fighting hate crime in Harlow

Following the death of Polish resident Arkadiusz Joswik after being attacked in Harlow — and another case of assault on Poles —  there's a good overview of the situation by Stephen Bush in the New Statesman. Credit to the town's MP Robert Halfon for talking a lot of sense. Halfon says:  “I genuinely believe that the vast majority of people voted [Leave] because they just believed we were better off out. They didn’t like the bureaucracy of the European Union. The only thing I would say is that the Brexit thing allowed a small minority of horrific people to come out of the sewers and exploit division and hatred.”

He also points out that the Poles embody the spirit of Harlow, as a place for people in search of a better life. “They are regenerating local areas. They are ‘doing the right thing’: they are working hard, educating people; they fill up the churches. For them to feel frightened is terrifying.” To read the full article click on the link.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Things can only get Bata

There's a very interesting piece in the Guardian celebrating the architecture of the 1930s Bata factory and its workers' village at East Tilbury. It's billed as a "modernist marvel on the marshes of Essex". Sadly the Bata factory closed in 2005 and is now looking very dilapidated. It's Essex Architecture Week from Sep 10-11 and tours will be offered around the Bata village. There's also the Estuary Festival from Sep 17 to Oct 2, celebrating the area from Tilbury to Canvey Island. The days when a company would build flats, a cinema, shops and a hotel for its workforce seem long gone, and even though Amazon is opening a new warehouse in Tilbury you can't imagine them doing the same as Bata. Click on the link to read the full article.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Canvey's promised land

It's not often you hear Dr Feelgood on Radio 4's religious programme Sunday. But the Thames Delta tones of Lee Brilleaux singing Going Back Home were used in Sunday's feature on a small number of Haredi Jews who are moving from Stamford Hill to the "promised land" of well-kosher Canvey Island. The orthodox Jewish families have been deterred by the high house prices of Stamford Hill and are now favouring the sea air and cheaper homes of Canvey. So blokes in tall black hats and soberly-dressed women can now be seen on the Island. Canvey has always been a bit different and so far it seems to be going well. The Oyster Fleet Hotel and Dr Feelgood manager Chris Fenwick was interviewed and recalled last year finding two Hasidic Jews standing down by the jetty immortalised by Dr Feelgood, asking his advice on moving to the area. "I can not see any problem at all, they are making the right steps to interact with the community and this is a piece if Canvey history," said Fenwick. "I say bring it on, it totally works!"

Monday, 1 August 2016

Essex water poet in the Guardian

Chelmsford's Sarah Perry                          Picture: Jamie Drew
Great interview with Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent, in today's Guardian. As befits a Gothic novelist, she had an unusual upbringing in Chelmsford in a strict Baptist family. The youngest of five daughters, she attended the wonderfully-named Ebenezer Strict and Particular Baptist Chapel. She aways felt an outsider at school, before losing her faith in her twenties. No wonder The Essex Serpent has such evocative descriptions of the Victorian crisis between faith and science, all set on the Blackwater estuary. It's also sad to read that she has contracted Graves Disease, an auto-immune disorder. She jokes: “I know! It was one of the first things I said: I’m a gothic novelist with Graves’ disease.” Let's hope she manages to get it cured and write another great book. Click on the link to read the whole piece.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Is Shenfield the nation's most influential school?

It's been a good week for my old school. Former Shenfield School pupil Philip Hammond became Chancellor in Theresa May's shuffle. Meanwhile another old Shenfieldian, Richard Madeley, revealed that Hammond was "a Goth back then, he used to arrive in class in a leather trench coat." While Popbitch added that Hammond also used to run a mobile disco in Shenfield. The Goth story is a little unlikely - in the mid-1970s Phil would surely have been more of a trenchcoat-wearing hippy carrying a Led Zeppelin album. Not to be outdone, another old Shenfieldian, Ross Kemp, was on our TV screens getting shot at in Syria in Ross Kemp: The Fight Against Isis. Never mind Eton. Now Cameron and Osborne have departed the scene, it seems that Shenfield, now a comprehensive, is the nation's most influential school.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Strange news from Essex

Just finished Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent, which is a riveting read. Set in 1893, the landscape of the Blackwater estuary is in many ways the star of the book — Perry does for rural Essex what Hardy did for Wessex. Most of the action is set in the fictional village of Aldwinter, which is on the River Blackwater and appears to be somewhere around St Osyth and Brightlingsea.

The reader comes to know Perry's village intimately — the mist rolling across the salt marshes, the village church with its carved serpent on a pew, World's End cottage at the end of the village and home to the slimy-coated Mr Cracknall, Traitor's oak, the ribs of the wreck known as Leviathan, the changing skies and the rubbing of boats on shingle as the locals fear that something lurks out on the water.

There's lots of simmering passion between wealthy fossil-hunting widow Cora Seabourne and married local vicar William Ransome as they take long walks through the Essex woods, plus more love interest in the form of pioneering surgeon Luke Garrett.

Perry makes good use of historical detail; Cora first stays in Colchester, where she meets Thomas Taylor who lost his legs in the Colchester earthquake of 1884 and now begs by his shattered house. The myth of the Essex Serpent comes from a real source too, the 1699 pamphlet Strange News From Essex, alerting the villagers of Henham-on-the-Mount to the Essex Serpent.

The Essex Serpent is enjoyable for its exploration of Victorian themes, science versus faith, the stirrings of feminism, the slum housing of Bethnal Green and advances in surgery. And on a personal level, as my great great grandfather died from tuberculosis at the age of 33 in Whitechapel in 1872, it's very moving to read Perry writing of the disease's debilitating effects on one of the novel's main characters.

Overall it's an enticing, beautifully-written book for anyone who likes Essex history intertwined with a Victorian love story.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Southend brought to standstill by onions

In a truly Monty Python-esque scenario, Southend was yesterday brought to a standstill by 50,000 onions, reports the Southend Echo. A lorry overturned on Eastern Avenue spilling the said onions, blocking the road and causing gridlock. This eye-watering news could certainly lead to tears in Essex and is proof that for one day at least, the Southend world is just a great big onion. Police advice is to keep 'em peeled.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Essex Serpent

There's been some glowing reviews of Sarah Perry's new novel The Essex Serpent. It was book of the week in Saturday's Guardian and described by the Sunday Times as  "One of the most memorable historical novels of the past decade". It's set in 1890 around the Blackwater estuary and is the story of widowed Cora Seagrave who moves to the wilds of Essex and hears stories of the mythical serpent terrorising folks on the river. She is soon involved in a complex relationship with the local vicar and adversary of the serpent William Ransome. Sounds like it has a lot to say about Victorian attitudes to science and religion and indeed Essex and I'll be reviewing it as soon as I've got a copy. Interestingly the Essex Serpent is also a pub in Covent Garden. Not a lot of people know that.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Frontline art from Essex in WW1

Artist Barry Thompson's work is inspired by his adolescent memories of where he grew up, "an area of Essex between Dagenham and Romford (or the further reaches of East London depending on your point of view)." Thompson's exhibition, Fistful of Blood and Feathers, at Peer in Hoxton has three categories of, "playing soldiers, bird watching and sexual awakening."

Thompson explains: "All took place in the same location, the same backfields and alleyways I would escape to - either with friends or alone. Hiding in the trees or long grass (stalking, secretive behaviour), building dens (in which to prepare for battle, to decorate with pornography), under-age smoking, drugs; or just ambling and wandering in search of that elusive species of bird, never found."

The first room of the exhibition features postcard-sized paintings of blossoming hawthorns, country lanes and scrub illuminated by sunlight. The second room features his affecting world war one pictures. Thompson discovered that war poets Wilfred Owen and Edward Thomas trained at the then-rural Romford, along with artists Paul and John Nash. His images of soldiers are surrounded by white, as if eternity is closing in, while the hand-written crosses inked above the heads (my granddad did the same on his war pictures to indicate his position) look like flying birds.

This being old Essex (now technically part of London), there's also a more literal use of the term "birds" on a couple of pictures featuring scraps of old porn mags, the forbidden fare found in the woods and taken to adolescent dens (shades of Ian Dury's song Razzle In My Pocket here).

It's well worth a look and my wife Nicola, who knows about art, enjoyed it too. The exhibition runs until July 9 and has an interesting library accompanying it. I enjoyed thumbing through Michael Foley' Front-line Essex and reading about the important role my childhood haunts of Warley Common and Warley Barracks played in Britain's wartime history.

Barry Thompson — Fistful of Blood and Feathers, is at Peer, 97-99 Hoxton Street, London, N1 6QL. June 2-July 9For more details click on the link.
Nicola, bowled over by the artworks, reads about about wartime Romford

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Escape to Essex

Essex was represented as some sort of Eldorado in the BBC's controversial documentary on the borough of Newham, The Last Whites of The East End. Tony, who has a Jamaican father and is married to a Romanian, is moving to Hornchurch, while Leanne is heading to Raleigh (which her family regard as something akin to emigrating to Mars), Peter from the East Ham Working Men's Club has moved to Hornchurch and boxer Darren has moved to Rainham. What came across is that the old white community are basically decent people but appear very conservative and too easily assume that non-white faces represent a problem, though it's worth noting that Usmaan, a fifth-generation East Ender with Bangladeshi roots, also feels threatened.

London changes all the time. Perhaps the change has been too quick, but the old East End was never going to remain the same after the docks and industry disappeared. People's kids don't live next door anymore. My dad's family moved out of the East End to Essex in the 1930s. So-called 'white flight' was through aspiration as much as anything. Essex has always been more attractive than Newham because of the space and countryside and proximity of the sea. Can we really blame Asian families for buying up the cheap houses vacated in the East End?

Race isn't the problem in Newham, but poverty, jobs and housing are. It's sad, but the old East Enders are mourning a lost way of life that won't return (and it was as much the Krays and rigid conformity as unlocked doors). They'd be better celebrating bringing their East End values to Essex rather than mourning Newham. The borough has problems, but it's also an exciting place full of great curries, a vibrant market, a great bookshop, the Who Shop, Nathan's pie and mash shop and still some proper old cockneys. We need to accept that Newham's now multicultural and that the people growing up there are British — while Estuary Essex is now the home of the children of the old white East Enders.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Tiptoe through the bluebells in Billericay

Caught the last bluebells at Norsey Wood in Billericay last weekend. We also saw first world war training trenches and lots of ant nests amid decaying tree trunks. The 165-acre wood has a bit of everything, a Bronze Age burial mound, a prehistoric track, a medieval deer bank and somewhere underneath it all lie the remains of lots of revolting peasants who were slaughtered by the King's forces at the end of the Peasant's Revolt in 1381. Finds include a Mesolithic axehead, an Iron Age glass bead, Celtic burial urns and Roman pottery and burials. It's an enticing, leafy place to get lost in and we topped it off with some excellent takeaway falafel from Menad restaurant near the station.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Sky's the limit at Clacton

The media's obsession with Essex continues. Sky News has been broadcasting live from Clacton-on-Sea today with Kay Burley live on Clacton beach, which is looking pretty glorious in the sunshine. She's also been doing live links from in front of the pier, complete with fish and chip shop. The reason Sky is there is that Clacton is Britain's most Eurosceptic town — though the Guardian recently claimed this was Romford. Anyway, Claction is represented by Ukip's Douglas Carswell, who defected from the Conservatives. 

Sky News has been interviewing residents of the German town which is twinned with Clacton (they want the UK to stay) and the locals in Clacton, and has even taken Douglas Carswell to Poland. Burley has also pondered how the huge wind farm in the sea off Clacton would fare without European subsidies. She's there all day so check it out on Sky News. And a nice day out for the news crew… let's hope they have a go on the slot machines and some chips before returning to London.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Signs of the crimes in Blackmore

The Daily Telegraph reports an outbreak of strange vandalism in Blackmore. All references to Blackmore on the village's signs have been erased with grey paint, and even the stocks on the village green have been daubed with paint. Why would someone want to erase all traces of Blackmore? Is it something to do with the Mountnessing People's Front, the People's Front of Ingatestone or someone looking back in Ongar? Or someone with a grudge against former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore? Mulder and Scully are set to investigate soon…

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Mersea oysters on Countryfile

Good to see Mersea Island featuring on last week's Countryfile. Plenty on the problems of keeping the native oysters going and some nice footage of Matt Baker going out looking for oysters with seventh-generation oyster fisherman Richard Haward and learning how efforts are being made to replenish the depleted native oysters; and also of Shauna Lowry on the banks of the River Colne with reintroduced water voles. Click on the link to view.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Jaywick versus Siberia

Jaywick as filmed in Benefits-by-the-Sea
There's been something of a twitter-storm over Russian TV using Jaywick to show there are worse places than Russia. Jaywick has made a unlikely appearance on Novosibirsk TV. Fed up with a BBC crew filming the dodgy parts of Sibera the Russians hit back by broadcasting pictures of Jaywick, officially the most deprived area in Britain. Lots of comments on BBC Essex's Facebook page, with some Essex residents saying "fair play it's a dump" and others wanting to send a rocket to Russia. Personally I think that Jaywick might be run down, but it's got a great beach, has lots of potential and could actually benefit from EU funding should we remain in Europe. Could a new Cold War be starting over the Tendring Peninsula?

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Essex Book Festival kicks off with Grayson Perry

Plenty going on at the Essex Book Festival which runs from March 1-31. Grayson Perry launches the festival at the Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford on Monday, Feb 29, while Radio Essex is broadcasting live from the festival from 2.30pm on Tuesday March 1 in the lead-up to Vince Cable's event After the Storm. Highlights include Zoe Howe talking about her book Lee Brilleaux: Rock'n'Roll Gentleman, Lee Jackson's Dirty Old London session on Victorian London, Helen Dunmore's Exposure, Simon Callow's One Man Band, A N Wilson on Queen Victoria and former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis on her novel The Butcher's Hook. Plus lots of writing classes and a Golden Age of Crime weekend in Southend. Click on the link for the full programme.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Honest estate agent found in Leigh-on-Sea!

Leigh-on-Sea has made national headlines through having an honest estate agent (and that's not an oxymoron). Credit to Rob Kahl of Scott & Stapleton for describing the flat he was selling in strikingly frank terms, writing: "Wipe your feet on the way out! Not for the faint hearted this first floor flat is being sold as seen, rubbish and all! Having recently just had to evict some charming (not) tenants the vendors of this property have had enough and can’t even face setting foot in what used to be their sweet and charming home. I can’t flower this one up or use my normal estate agent jargon to make this sound any better. The property is full of rubbish, there is mould on the walls and I think there may even be some fleas there to keep me company when I carry out the viewings." His honesty was rewarded, as the flat sold for £22,000 more than the asking price of £125,000. Essex - where even the estate agents tell it like it is.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Essex gets a GQ makeover from Andy Coulson

There's a big feature on Essex in the February issue of GQ. It's penned by Wickford-born Andy Coulson, former Cameron spin doctor, News of the World editor and latterly prisoner. Now he's done his time following the phone hacking scandal Andy has perhaps made it as an authentic Essex geezer. His piece looks at the Towie stereotypes and discusses the Tories in Essex, mentioning the large number of rising MPs such as Robert Halfon in Harlow, Priti Patel in Witham and Mark Francois in Rayleigh and Wickford (forget the poncy spelling says Andy). There's also a nice line on Ed Miliband's Labour Party trying to use a spoof Life on Mars poster saying "Don't let the Tories take us back to the 1970s". Coulson quips, "in Basildon they'd elect Gene Hunt as Mayor."

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Good buy to Berlin gets blogger back to Brentwood

Blogger Jordan Cox has made national news through his discovery that it was cheaper to travel from Sheffield to Brentwood via Berlin, rather than take the direct train from Sheffield to Essex. Cox, 18, had been attending a lecture in Sheffield when he made the discovery for the Money Saving Expert website. Jordan took a train from Sheffield to Derby then a flight from East Midlands airport to Berlin and back again to Stansted. This only cost him £44 as compared to the £47 train fare. While in Berlin he took in the Brandenberg Gate, a free tour of the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie and Postdamer Platz and had a currywurst lunch. All that culture sounds almost as good as Brentwood's sights of the Thomas 'a Becket Chapel, Konch's Kafe and Sugar Hut. Perhaps not the most eco-friendly way to travel from Sheffield to Brentwood, but another triumph for Essex initiative.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Hammer hits the wall in Hornchurch

Essex, footballer, fast car and garden wall meet with damaging results. There's a full-page in the Evening Standard on West Ham's Diafra Sakho crashing his Lamborghini through a garden wall in Hornchurch, after colliding with another car and spinning off the road. The accident happened 500 yards from Sakho's home. Thankfully no-one was hurt, though Diafra's motor is badly damaged. And it turns out the garden wall he crashed into was at the home of a West Ham fan, who immediately recognised him. Not often your heroes arrive through the garden wall. Sakho has promised to pay for the damage and has tweeted that he is safe and unharmed.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Rocket Ronnie tells it like it is at the Masters

Another sporting triumph for Essex with Ronnie O'Sullivan winning the Masters, beating Barry Hawkins at Ally Pally. There's something very Essex about the Chigwell-born O'Sullivan's plain speaking. He confessed to being "embarrassed" by the way he won the semi-final and then admitted that he was "stressed" pursuing his sixth Masters win. No PR spin from Ronnie. The 'Essex Exocet' continued: "I've taken up smoking again, just because of this tournament. I've been getting lazy. I've been eating like a pig and haven't run for two weeks." A friend of mine met him at an airport in Australia once, without knowing who he was, and had a long chat with him, confirming he seemed a genuinely nice chap. Now at 40, O'Sullivan, one of sport's great characters, is pursuing yet more success and some think he may be the greatest snooker player of all-time.