Sunday, June 25, 2006

Essex: The Case for the Defence

As we drove into my mum's village last Sunday, Rob turned to me and commented "Christ, it's like Northern Ireland" referring to the high number of flags adorning every house, car, bike and child. I felt shocked and depressed at the sense of menace I felt on seeing all these flags (St George, in this case) but what else did I expect? Welcome to World Cup Essex.

Tuesday was the night of the England Sweden match. I braced myself on the journey home, imagining as I stepped off the train drunken seven year olds hurling abuse at me, pausing only to sing songs about RAF bombers or swig on an alcopop.

What I actually saw on my walk from the train station were two things that made me smile. The first was a man with a flag of St George painted on his face and one of those furry top hats and an England shirt. He was concentrating on driving his very bashed up Vauxhall Marina out of the village, I imagine to join some friends to watch the match. We exchanged a glance - he grinned and I laughed out loud. He was aware he looked an utter arse - that was the point, and I imagine he couldn't wait to see his mates in the pub roaring with laughter when they saw him. The kind of man my mum would call with affection a "silly old fool".

The second sight to raise a smile was two little Sweden flags perched in some cheery hanging baskets a few doors down from my mum's house. I have never met a Swedish person in the village, so can only presume that someone either has ancestry, visitors or was just being plain silly as well.

See that's the thing that very few people get about Essex, a lot of the show and baubles and gaudiness is about pantomime. The man in the car knew he looked utterly ridiculous and so would his friends. The villagers of West Horndon similarly know that their houses look stupid, but they're doing it to share and even heighten their excitement.

Despite my smart comment about Neighbourhood Watch stickers at the end of my last post, I've decided it's high time I was called to account for prejudice against Essex. I'm a bit like one of those latent homosexuals who violently decry any whiff of poofery. I need to get over the fact that these are my people, this is my county and that it's really not that bad.


Robbie said...

This made me laugh out loud, especially as a foreigner (who doesn't doesn't understand your football or the rituals around it). These last couple of weeks have been surreal for me. Flags, flags and more flags everywhere. It kinda feels like the streets in small town America when we go to war.

On a flag related matter-I tripped up on myself with laughter last weekend as I walked into the depths of a council estate in Walworth. There were flag images taped to every window (mostly from Sun supplements) and actual flags hanging from every balcony. Neighbours across the street in high rise estates had set up washing lines between buildings and had flags draped over those. It was a sky of red and white. There was something kind of menacing in the repetition of the image.

Lower to the ground I was being menaced by a bunch of swearing kids (in football jerseys) riding their bikes a little too close to me and eyeing my camera.

Then around the corner came two women in their 70's pushing their shopping trolleys (which were draped in English flags too) who screamed at the kids to "piss off" and then turned and smiled at me and cheerily wished me a good day.

So, I am a 36 yr old, 12.5 st man terrified by 8 yr olds on bikes, and 2 frail pensioners with osteoporosis come and save me....wrapped in St George flags.

richard said...

In my Kent village there are fewer Eng-er-land flags up now than there were signs imploring the converted to "vote conservative" during the recent local elections. These were mounted on stakes, hammered resolutely into otherwise immaculate front lawns.

This is not panto. I might move to Essex.