However, there is one part of my identity which I can't feel so at home with. The problem lies with the borough in which I live. Thurrock is a unitary authority wedged awkwardly in between the ever creeping enormity of London and the River Thames. I wasn't even aware of its existence until all the schools in the local area opted out of the support given by Essex County council and into the smaller, more focused guidance of Thurrock Council.
It sounds shit, doesn't it? Thurrock. It sounds uninviting and rough, and guess what? It is, largely. The name conjours no images of glorious country walkways or cosy pubs. It gives no idea of an area in which maybe industry drives a happy and affluent community. It sounds dull. It sounds like the kind of place you could visit and never escape. If ever a name coated an entire area in an unclassified shade of uninspiring turd brown, this is it.
It looks shit, doesn't it? Thurrock. I don't mean that it looks shit to the eye, I mean that the name, Thurrock, looks terrible written down. That collection of letters, flung together to create one dull name looks, at best, ill conceived. Each time I return home from a holiday and drive past the sign for Thurrock, my heart sinks. There it is, the dullest name in the known world, welcoming me back with a mud splattered, graffitied, half hearted welcome sign, which also takes the opportunity to warn me that registration number plate recognition systems are at work in the area and that I am being watched.
The name, Thurrock, like any other place name, has a meaning. My Mum recently bought me a book explaining where English place names come from and what they mean. I immediately sought out Ockendon. It wasn't there, although I already knew, but I did find Thurrock. The entry began to explain how Thurrock was in fact a marshy bit of land on the north banks of the Thames. I thought this was OK, nothing wrong with draining marshland for the habitation of a hard working, ambitious people.
Then I got to the meaning.
"Place where dirty water collects."
Brilliant. The borough in which I live is a cesspit; an overflow of waste water. A stinking, stagnant pool of effluent cast off from the City.
I know I'm being harsh. The area does truly have some amazing places. It does have the lovely walks and decent pubs and it is an area which has been created by the force of industry, but I can't get over the fact that it sounds so poxy.
You'd like to live in a place with an inspirational name, or at least a place with a name which conjours up some romance or link to a glorious history.
Luckily for me, I live on a hill which rises out of the dirty water, in Ockendon. Formerly, Ockendon was known as Woccadun - The Hill Belonging to Wocca. Wocca was an Anglo-Saxon Chieftain who also held lands in Surrey (Woking) and Wokefield in Berkshire. This at least gives rise the the image of a powerful leader - a man of strength and valour.
Perhaps he wasn't, perhaps he was a bone-headed thug who was more beard than brains, more sword than savvy, but at least he left his mark enough for places to be named after him over a thousand years after his death. Once upon a time, people looked at this hill and named it after a man who had made his mark, and this brings me to the naming of Thurrock. How on Earth did they come to agree a name which means what it does. They must have thought it was crap even then.
Man 1: I'm going to build a house.
Man 2: Oh right? Good for you. Where?
Man 1: Down by the Thames.
Man 2: Nice. Down towards the coast, away from Londinium?
Man 1: No, not quite that far.
Man 2: What, you mean the shit bit? Where the dirty water collects?
Man 1: Yes, where the dirty water collects. What's wrong with that?
Man 2: It's fucking shit! That's what wrong with it, you tit!
Man 1: But it was OK for Wocca.
Man 2: Yes, but Wocca is the boss and stuck his house on a hill, above the where the dirty water collects. When Wocca has a number one or two, THAT is where it ends up! Wocca is going to shit on you.
Man 1: You're just jealous...
And so it goes on.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Thurrock. My home borough. The place where dirty water collects.
Secundum Tamesim Quovis Gentium - According to any of the Thames. At least we have a decent coat of arms.