Germaine Greer’s Essex Girls, We’re The Best. 5 February 2006
Germaine Greer’s article in today’s Observer makes tenuous connections between the Essex Girls who did so well in Celebrity Big Brother, Chantelle and Jodie Marsh, and the wild orchids that apparently flourish around Tilbury Power Station.
I am very much onside with Germaine’s anti-heritage sentiments, in praise of Essex (please see Tinsel Town. ,.though Mrs Monk says I also went over the top with my plaudits). Germaine has described much of the Essex landscape citing the wild orchids and rabbits and pigeons, which I haven't noticed, but will now seek out. In West London, otherwise known as Surrey, middle class Surrey, we found endless displays of delightful bunnies in Bushy Park, for example. How we miss those rabbits! But I have yet to see a rabbit in Essex.
I have noticed what Germaine calls the, “clashing weather systems”, which are in fact the very first thing that I did notice when we moved here ten years ago, from West London. I spend much time gazing at it in awe, and indeed photographing it.
The point is that Germaine has clearly gone native in Essex and apparently has a disproportionate loyalty to the county which she has nurtured and calls, “My Essex,” and has even become territorial about county boundaries, thus passing Norman Tebbitt’s Cricket test and she would even bat for Essex, if selected. Of course she cannot be entirely serious, but she is rather too keen to nail her sentiments to the mast, perhaps as only an outsider would feel the need too.
Mrs Monk is a teacher in one of the toughest schools in the country, and has a daily run in with Essex Girls, not all of whom are as sweet and as naive as Chantelle, the Celebrity Big Brother winner. Mrs Monk, is American, and like Germaine, and, like Germaine, she has also been in Britain for many years, and indeed in Essex for 12 years. Like Germaine, she is a teacher and has been exposed to Essex Girls (and boys) and is told to “Fuck Off, ....Miss” on a daily basis. And worse. Mrs Monk is less inclined to ingratiate herself than Germaine, perhaps because she is constantly reminded of her alien status by the Essex children who have been in England for fewer years than she has.
My charge is that Germaine has not considered this dark side of Essex, and if she is familiar with the A13 Essex drivers, she will must surely have an appreciation of the dark side.
I find Germaine’s enthusiasm for Essex, surprising but not posturing or ingratiating. She has simply, let’s face it, gone native.
I am embarrassed to admit, that I tipped Chantelle to win Big Brother. I tried to bring up the subject of Big Brother at my tennis club, (Hope that doesn't sound too middle class Germaine), but during the television event, no one ever dared to admit to watching it. I also tipped Germaine to win last year, when she gave the nation a thrill as always, but threw in the towel, citing the bullying by Big Brother as her reason for quitting. Bullying continues to be the theme of the programme.
When Mrs Monk started educating Essex kids, she was always complaining to me about the vernacular language, Estuary English, and she still does. However on a trip to Maryland to visit her sister, she found herself sharing a lift and a conversation with a tall black man, who she discovered, was one of the Drifters, (Under the Boardwalk, etc.) He was intrigued about her and wanted to know where she was from. Mrs Monk told him she lived in Leigh On Sea, and the Drifter told her, “We played there last week at the the Cliffs Pavilion, and I knew there was something familiar about you, that I recognised”.
This coincidental event had revealed to us just how much Mrs Monk had also gone native in the County of Essex. It was not her accent that the Drifter recognised but her use of language. Of course this horrified Mrs Monk.