Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Mary Creagh MP visits Wivenhoe Station and makes friends with the Transition Town’s chickens

Labour's Shadow Secretary for Transport, Mary Creagh MP and Transition Town's Ruth Melville in the

Labour's Shadow Secretary for Transport, Mary Creagh MP and Transition Town's Ruth Melville in the chicken coop - Credit: Archant

The MP for Wakefield is very personable, with something of the sartorial style of a second-wave mod. A Coventry kid of Irish parentage, she would have been shimmying into her teens at the turn of the 1980s.

This was when Coventry’s own ska group The Specials and the Two Tone craze gained traction on the nation’s dance floors. It put the West Midlands briefly at the centre of the cultural universe.

The once-beautiful medieval city, heavily bombed during the war, then enjoyed post-war affluence before going rapidly into post-industrial decline in the 1980s. Coventry knew hard times. Tough places breed sinewy people, however.

From her comprehensive school the young woman went on to Pembroke College Oxford. She’s a high-flier, they say.

Meet Mary Creagh, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Transport. She’s been places. Right now, though, she’s in downtown Wivenhoe, near the Station Hotel holding a hen. Looking on is Colchester councillor Tim Young and the MP’s amiable young assistant Jordan Newell. “Is Jordan any relation to you?” someone asked me earlier. “Yeah, I’m his dad.” I said.

The Shadow Secretary has come to see Wivenhoe Station, which, a couple of years ago, was “adopted”. This means there are artworks and poems displayed on the platforms, along with plants and flowers. There’s also a bookcase full of donated books in the waiting room. These are free for travellers to take on journeys.

An organisation called Transition Town has also re-activated the station-master’s old garden. The first year, they grew some green beans and a marrow. When the marrow matured, they made a vegetarian curry and fed the homecoming commuters.

Most Read

Very Wivenhoe that was, and one of the many reasons why the rest of the borough thinks we’re all barking. Just along the road, fenced in on a pub car park, are Transition Town’s egg-laying chickens. All of these things conspire to give the station a homely characteristic, which helps to drown out the sound of the rail service provider distantly shouting, “Kerching!”

It was a shame about the station shop being forced to cease trading recently. Evidently, the rent became rather too imaginative to make business sustainable. Personally, what with the recent cost of a season ticket to London, rather than have another platform shop, I’d just install an iron maiden in the booking hall and have the ticket sellers dressed up as medieval executioners.

Back to our Shadow Secretary for Transport. Mary Creagh knows about transport. She also knows about food production. I discover that in another life she was Shadow Secretary for DEFRA. I tell her about Wivenhoe’s once-proud, now almost-extinct fishing fleet. One of the fishermens’ biggest gripes was that so far as Europe was concerned, there seemed to be one rule for them and quite another for the Spanish.

The Shadow Transport Secretary is aware of this, agreeing that it’s unfair. She’s not in favour of shooting badgers, however. It occurs to me at this point that if we sent the badgers to Europe as MEPs, within a month they’d all die of boredom and then everyone would be happy. Would it be humane, though? We move on.

Chief tour guide for this exercise is steely George McKissock, the Glaswegian-born station adopter. He got this whole project going and even organised a few shekels of support from the borough council and a widow’s mite from the rail service provider. Also present today is the community rail partnership officer, Terri Ryland, along with two Transition Town group members.

Mary Creagh MP and the rest of us now stride over from the station to the chicken coop. I cannot help but warm to a woman who will cheerfully engage in a photo opportunity with some chickens – especially since she’s dressed for town rather than the gusty east coast. Mary Creagh has stood in the cold with us for an hour, now. She’ll go far.

In fact, she’s going for a curry next, with the Labour Party massive. That’s Cllr Tim Young, my ‘son’ Jordan and Edward Carlsson Browne from Alresford, who will be Labour’s next parliamentary candidate for Harwich. Slightly hesitant in manner, Ed could be Hugh Grant’s kid brother. My tamer rather liked him. Fearfully bright, she says, and he lights up when talking about history or the keeping of ferrets, which he’s recently taken up.

It’s funny how it all pans out. I spend a certain proportion of each day shouting at the radio, mostly abusing politicians, and then, when I actually meet them, I often quite like them. I met Nigel Lawson once, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was early one morning at the BBC. He was plugging his wife’s diet book. I’d just come back from the former East Germany, a place which he knew loads about. Top yarn, we had. Smashing bloke. And then, when there was that all that mud-slinging recently, about his daughter, I knew somehow that she wouldn’t be the villain of the piece. Not with a nice man like that as her dad.

Back at Wivenhoe Station, Mary Creagh MP says goodbye as she and the Labour lads go off for their Edwina. Mary also took one other thing; a copy of one of Wivenhoe station’s main exhibition posters to put up in her office in the Palace at Westminster. It was An Essex Calendar – artwork by Hilary Lazell and verses by some old mush not far from here.