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.