Essex Police's 24-hour tweetathon provides a sometimes disturbing view of Brexit Britain

Several of the incidents could have been lifted directly from ‘The Day Today’ – “man uses bin as toilet in #Harlow”; “UFO sighted over house in #Basildon”; “officers dispatched to deal with cow in road in #SouthOckenden”

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The first violence is reported within an hour, with fighting in the streets of Brentwood. By early afternoon there have been scuffles and criminal damage to a caravan in Clacton, reports of a couple in Southend who have “fallen out” and are “throwing bags at each other”, and a man head-butted while using a cash machine in Braintree. From pub opening onwards the incidents come thick and fast, with assaults of varying levels of seriousness in streets, pubs, car parks, living rooms, A&E units and shops up and down the county.

Welcome to Essex Police’s annual 24-hour tweetathon, during which the force provides a rolling update of incoming 999 traffic on a random Friday in August. The main purpose is to raise awareness of time-wasting and inappropriate calls, which increasingly threaten to overwhelm the force’s ability to respond.

However, for an Essex man who now lives in staid Denmark, it also provides an amusing and occasionally terrifying snapshot of the state of my former home in the age of Brexit, austerity and the general Hogarthian shit show that is England in 2018.

There are points during the day when one suspects that Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris may be curating the entire exercise. Several of the incidents could have been lifted directly from The Day Today – “man uses bin as toilet in #Harlow”; “UFO sighted over house in #Basildon”; “officers dispatched to deal with cow in road in #SouthOckenden”. The police communications team are clearly in on the joke and as the parade of quaint sounding provincial towns gathers pace (Benfleet, Nazeing, Jaywick) there are unmistakable nods to Up With the Partridge.

At one point it is reported that “we have just taken a call from a member of the public stating that Michael Jackson isn’t dead”. This is one of a number of bulletins that are initially amusing but also suggestive of a darker sub-text, or what mental health professionals may term “cries for help”. Over the course of the day we are updated on an alarming number of people shouting in the streets, walking erratically among moving traffic and attacking family members and carers. If this is a remotely typical sample it is clear that Essex faces a significant problem with mental health and that the police force is taking a large amount of the strain.

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Much of the delinquency will be immediately familiar and nostalgia-inducing to people of any generation: “knock down ginger”, underage drinking in bus stops, drag racing parents’ hatchbacks in supermarket car parks and that kind of thing. But some of it is genuinely bleak (domestic abuse; elderly and vulnerable people being terrorised in their own homes) and occasionally terrifying. One late-night incident in Grays, in which a member of the public reports “a large group of people throwing bottles at oncoming traffic” sounds like a scene from Mad Max.

Overall, the image of the county that comes through is more violent and troubled than the one I remember growing up in. Admittedly we didn’t have Twitter in those days and a rolling update of incidents reported to the police may not be entirely representative. Be that as it may, I intend to use this as a teaching aid when dealing with Danish friends, many of whom persist in viewing the English as a moderate, sophisticated, reasonable people and as a result continue to be baffled by the country’s repeated acts of political and economic self-harm.

“Look,” I can now say to them, “this is what it’s really like. The English are careering gratuitously and defiantly to their ruin and the authorities are barely holding the line”.

But one thing I do still recognise in these bulletins is a sense of humour and joie de vivre for which Essex, in my view, can rival anywhere in Britain. This is a place that knows how to enjoy itself and which, even under the grimmest Brexit scenarios, will undoubtedly come up – or go down – laughing.

On balance I’m proud to come from this eccentric, complicated little place and whatever lies ahead I’ll be watching through my fingers and cheering on enthusiastically from the safe distance of Copenhagen.

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