Focus: The joy of Essex: cash, flash and footballers' wives (oh, and some jolly nice countryside)

'St Tropez tans, bottle-blonde hairdos, and massive 4x4s ...'
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The Independent Online

Strike a light, guv, you're having a laugh arentcha? Is Essex really as flashy, trashy and spendthrift as it looks on Footballers' Wives, the new Dynasty of our day? Oh, you bet. Come with me to the school gates in Woodford where we live and you will see Chardonnay and her mates made flesh: St Tropez tans, bottle-blonde, salon-washed hairdos, and massive 4x4s (each with a single little poppet peering over the dashboard).

Strike a light, guv, you're having a laugh arentcha? Is Essex really as flashy, trashy and spendthrift as it looks on Footballers' Wives, the new Dynasty of our day? Oh, you bet. Come with me to the school gates in Woodford where we live and you will see Chardonnay and her mates made flesh: St Tropez tans, bottle-blonde, salon-washed hairdos, and massive 4x4s (each with a single little poppet peering over the dashboard).

Here, and in the towns and villages clustered around the M11 you will find the women who star in the nation's favourite new bit of junk telly and its attendant documentary Essex Wives. The joke used to be that our girls were so stupid they needed retraining after their lunch break. It was never true – they're mostly tough and street smart – but now lunch is all they do, apart from working out occasionally.

Down at the health club in Chigwell there's a woman in the Jacuzzi with both hands in the air to keep newly polished nails dry while she cradles a mobile. "Yeah, darlin'," she says to a teenage shop assistant. "Let her have the Prada for a third off. I'll see her at yoga later." She says her husband drives a black cab – but you can't tell me a boutique and a taxi generate enough income to keep up with the Beckhams.

I once worked for a market trader who took a three-month holiday in Hawaii every year – and you don't get that sort of dosh by flogging carrots. More houses are sold for cash here than anywhere else in the country. Those who don't have the readies do it on the plastic – levels of borrowing are so high here they would give you a bigger nosebleed than the bouncers at the Epping Forest Country Club.

Many of my neighbours are footballers, course. Posh and Becks, the patron saints of Excessex met for their first date in the car park of the Castle pub in Woodford. Half the England football squad have homes within a couple of miles. Others make legitimate money in the City. The conspicuous spenders of the Eighties went quiet for a while but they're back, with sprogs in designer togs: Thatcher's grandchildren.

There is poverty about, lots of it – but the closest the Chardonnays come to it is when they hurry through the drive-in for a burger. Or their darlings buy drugs from the council flat kids.

Anyway, after making the traditional journey out of the East End to a place I used to think was posh, I'm off. I'm sick of the obsession with money, the casual racism and ignorance, and sick of being the butt of the nation's jokes. Epping Forest is one of the unsung treasures of the south, but it doesn't offer much shelter when absurd property prices mean families like mine can no longer afford to live close to each other. Houses in Loughton went up by 75 per cent last year.

Enough is enough. To all the real-life Chardonnays strutting about as if they own the place – and all you lot who think they're so amusing on the telly – I have this to say about Essex: you can stuff it up your Armani.

'Thanks to your sneers we can afford much roomier homes than London shoeboxes ...'

Charlie Courtauld, Resident of Green Welly Essex

Like Cole, I'm sick of the jibes – but for a different reason. Up here, north of Chelmsford, we don't object to the caricatures because they're so true, but because they're utter tripe. Take a walk down the high streets of Halstead, Dedham, Thaxted, or Colchester and you'll be hard pressed to spot any white stilettos, shiny leatherette handbags or ankle chains. It's a bit like Royston Vasey in The League of Gentlemen: local shops, local schools, even a local cinema. Among the county set, headscarves are still in fashion. Unfortunately. But this county has such a bad reputation these days that few of our neighbours even acknowledge where they live. "The Essex-Suffolk border," they answer, as if it were a county in its own right. As the crow flies it may be only five miles to Suffolk, but as the Discovery drives, it's 20 minutes away. And anyway, who wants to live in Suffolk, that blot on the A12 that guarantees road trips to Norfolk take aeons. (Everyone needs to look down on somewhere. So while most of Britain sneers at Essex, we turn our scorn on that enormous US airbase posing as a county just above us.)

Give up your preconceptions that north Essex is flat. The Colne Valley, where I live, is hilly. Not mountainous like Wales but a bit of a strain when you're learning to ride a bike. "Learning to ride a bike?" you ask. "How old are you, sonny?" Well, that's another great thing about Essex: so persecuted do we all feel by non-Essex denizens that we all stay here, for ever. Thirty years since I first took off my stabilisers, I still live on the same road. Down south may be the new Dynasty but we're more like Dallas: within a mile of my house live my brother, my two sisters and my parents. Our cousins live across the river. Even my second cousins are a few minutes away. Stifling for our partners, maybe – but great for us, and for our children.

And when they grow up, children can afford to stay here, too. As we all did. House prices are a snip. Thanks to your sneers, nobody wants to buy into stilettoland – so we can afford much roomier residences than the London shoeboxes. Ha! And with so few people around, we're all more spaced about. The main town in my parliamentary constituency, Saffron Walden, is nearly an hour away.

OK, so it's a bit genteel. Frinton tennis tournament and Marks Tey point-to-point aren't anyone's idea of sporting highlights, but they're more unpredictable than London's offerings: Wimbledon and the Boat Race. I don't know why I'm telling you our secret. We don't want you here, pushing up our prices and bringing your hideous chainstores. Forget I said anything. Just go away.

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