“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Friday, 5 March 2010

Confessions of an Essex Boy.

As is well known, the roots of the blues lie not in the levees of the Mississippi Delta but in the windswept seawalls of the Thames Estuary. At least that's the version of history favoured in South Essex. It's certainly true that back in the 70s bands like Dr Feelgood and The Kursaal Flyers for example, saved us all from a fate worse than Wings. I don't think that there is a county in the country quite like Essex. It is the home of bellwether constituencies, poisoned industrial wastelands, eerie tidal marshes, New Towns, Constable Country, shopping centres the size of small republics, Essex Man, Essex Girls, Tiptree Jam and Southend Pier.
My own involvement with the county started when at the age of five we moved from London to live in a wooden bungalow on the Canvey Island plotlands. Canvey at that time only had a couple of made up roads with the majority of wooden dwellings being located on dirt tracks that turned to quagmires in winter. We had no mains drainage, the chemical toilet being emptied into a pit in the garden. Lying below high water mark the island, joined to the mainland by the bridge at Benfleet, was protected by a seawall built by the Dutch a couple of hundred years previously. I think that even at that young age I knew that Canvey was different; was unlike other places. The dreadful floods of 1953 forced us to retreat to higher ground. We decamped and headed to the sunlit uplands of Leyton. Although much like any other part of that swathe of Victorian development that lies beyond the Old Eastend, and considered to be "London" in every respect, Leyton was at the time officialy part of Essex. On my sixteenth birthday we moved back to Essex proper and the small port of Brightlingsea. Essex has in the past been socially and economically divided between the industrial south and the more rural north of the county. North Essex, and Brightlingsea was very much North Essex, was very different to the south. People spoke with a totally different accent for one thing. North Essex was South East Anglia, rural in speech pattern and outlook. South Essex, populated to a large extent by refugees from The Blitz and Eastend overcrowding, was a different world. People in the southern part spoke with a London accent that would later be categorised by the pointy heads as Estuarine English.
When I left home at the age of seventeen it might well have been the end of my involvement with Essex but for some years afterward I would work on coastal trading vessels that frequently visited the Essex ports. I very often found it frustrating to fetch up for the evening in somewhere like Purfleet with no social option but a few pints in the Working Men's Club up the road while knowing full well that a few miles to the west Swinging London was swinging along quite well without any input from me.
I spend quite a bit of time pondering the question of identity and what it means in a multicultural nation. While I don't feel particularly British or even all that English, I do very much identify with being a Londoner. Truth is of course that a lot of my formative years were spent in that slightly odd, little bit dodgy nether world of Essex.

1 comment:

henry said...

Ahh Essex, home of the Peasants Revolt.