The Only Way is Essex

The office has been abuzz with talk of a new show on TV: namely, The Only Way is Essex. Some have said it’s so bad it’s good. Others contend that it is just bad. I was keen to find out.

I was reassured by the fact that the Essex show was on ITV2. This is my favourite channel, mainly because you can almost be guaranteed a bit of Katie and Peter action at any time of night or day.

You see, I don’t really like good telly. Give me one of those five-star rated dramas and I’ll be asleep within moments. It’s only the so-called shit telly that I can pay attention to. I can watch any amount of Snoop Dogg’s Fatherhood show, or At Home With the Kardashians.

So, to the show. At first sight it looks like a sort of Essex Hollyoaks, without a script. There’s lashings of fake tan, fake eyelashes, fake nails, fake acting. In fact, it might be nearer the mark to say it is more like an updated version of Eldorado, the ill-fated soap on in the early days of Channel 5.

But there has been some debate whether, aside from its lack of plot or characterisation or anything – does it represent an idealised Essex?

I reckon – and I may just be saying this because I’m from Essex and I’m narcissistic enough to write a blog – that it does. Essex, as Mark says, is a bubble. People in Essex have very little reason to leave and go elsewhere. I’m almost alone in my friends from school in actually having left the county. I’m not quite sure why I left: probably out of a desire to be curmudgeonly.

Also, this is a telly show that dares to have a sense of fun. It is rubbish on most normal levels, but it is almost impossible not to keep watching. I sat through two episodes this evening and was genuinely disappointed when it finished.

I think The Only Way is Essex is just like most things from Essex – a bit chintzy, a bit crap, but on the whole brilliant. I just hope Stacey Solomon makes a guest appearance.

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Lord Browne is a limelight-loving short man – and we’re all going to pay

What with all the anger surrounding the proposals to massively increase the cost of university education to students, it’s worth taking a look at who is behind them.

The man deemed by the coalition government to be best placed to ‘review’ the future of higher education is Lord Browne, John to his friends. This is the fella who was in charge of BP for many years until he got retired by the board.

Fortunately, for those of us who do not follow these matters closely, Tom Bower’s recent book, Squeeze, gives a decent summation of what Lord Browne is all about. He is described as the most rampantly aggressive pursuer of profits, even in the cutthroat world of oil. He’s the sort of neoconservative that makes George W Bush look like the epitome of restraint. And he’s a short man with one of those Napoleon complexes that makes you wonder if the term needs to be renamed. So, just the sort of balanced individual to take an impartial look at higher education.

For those who don’t want to wade through the 500 plus pages of Squeeze, a brief glance at the index of the book to gives a feel for the kind of chap Lord Browne is.

Here is a sample from the Browne, John section:

  • Alaskan oil leaks and
  • cost cutting at BP
  • highlights achievements and buries failures
  • limelight, love of

And my personal favourite:

  • security of western oil supplies, pays scant attention to

You get the general idea. He is one of those short men for whom the spotlight is the place to be and who will do anything possible to stay there.

He achieved great celebrity while at BP for his aggressive approach to mergers but also for the most audacious attempt at greenwash in the history of corporate social responsibility.

As Squeeze lovingly tells the story, Browne conceived the ‘Beyond Petroleum’ rebrand for two reasons: to burnish his ego; and, a close second, to wind up his climate change-denying rivals over at Exxon.

So when you hear the arguments put forward by the government that the new reality for universities is inevitable in the economic climate, and all about fairness, remember this:

Lord Browne is that terrible combination of the limelight-loving short man, with rather a lot of time on his hands, some hardcore neoconservative ideals, and more to the point, new to government and desperately eager to please.

Let’s just hope Lord Browne’s star in government wanes somewhat because if he starts ‘reviewing’ the NHS or the education system all of us who are not multimillionaires will need to make a dash for the continent.

Memories of Hastings Pier

When I saw footage of Hastings Pier up in flames earlier this week, I almost burst into tears. I didn’t feel anger because it seems that all the best piers meet the same fate: fall into disuse, owners not prepared to invest, and then up in flames.

Hastings is a romantic place. It is full of artists and chancers and wasters and dreamers. I fitted in nicely. I’d only been living there a few weeks, back in 2002, when the pier ballroom was being reopened. I was doing the ents pages for the local paper and got accosted by a bug-eyed fella by the name of Paul Hutchinson, plus beautiful accomplice.

They had designed a night called Phase:02, which was pretty much a shout out for everyone who liked to get mashed up – ie the whole town – to come and have a party. I went down there with a son of an artist called Jonathan, and we joined the happy throng.

I grew up in Romford where club nights are pretty much the preserve of the young, or very young. But in Hastings you pitch up at nights and you will find everyone from teenagers in hoodies, right up to grandparents. There’s no cliques or little subcultures, you either want to crack on, or you don’t.  Most do.

Needless to say details of the night are sketchy at best, but it left me feeling good about living in this seaside town.

Over the course of the next three years, I saw all manner of people in there: Jimmy Carson, Nick Cave, Chas & Dave, and, three weeks before he died, Joe Strummer. I interviewed Strummer over the phone before the gig and he had a desire to come back to do the pier, to a place where the Clash had played, where the Stones had played. It was a legendary venue.

I often wrote stories about the pier. The possibility of new ‘boutique’ shops, the rent prices, the need for investment. The pier did get some investment while I was there, but it was never enough. The place was always getting patched up, while the traders just about hung on.

Hutchinson soon flew the nest, a string of debtors shaking their fists, and in his place came Dave Preedy, a man designed to run a cabaret venue. He was all tattoos and tall tales, another man placing his dreams in a crumbling edifice above the sea. He didn’t last long after what money he had ran out.

But the fact is that people just like piers. It’s great to be on land but over the sea. It’s wonderful to look back at Hastings seafront and see the line of grand old houses, and Pelham Crescent and the castle above. It was good to sit and have a cocktail on the pier apron, with the fortune teller in her little hut down the way, and the smell of frying burgers and onions over the other side, and a couple of old people having a fag outside the bingo hall.

The pier closed again a few years later, for safety reasons. And, as the place was always quite rickety, you imagine those reasons were fairly compelling. But people were determined to get the thing reopened. On one of my more recent visits I was walking past the pier, feeling a pang of sadness to see the place bolted up, even if it was a windy and rainy winter’s day. And there outside was a couple of old women, collecting money for a fighting fund. I gave a couple of quid, knowing it was probably futile.

It seems now, a few days after the fire, that if people really want to save the thing, to stop it going the way of the West Pier in Brighton, it could happen. I bloody well hope so, but they’ll probably need an awful lot of cash. Piers are romantic places, but like theatres, they eat money.