Saturday, 18 October 2014

'Apple Day' - Lathcoats Farm, Beehive Lane

Not a lot of people know this, but today was 'Apple Day'. Or tomorrow is 'Apple Day' depending on what day you have decided to celebrate it this weekend. I did not know about this celebration myself until yesterday when I was trying to find somewhere interesting to meet our new local friends. 'Apple Day' is a day to celebrate all things apple related (orchards, apple juice, actual apples, toffee apples, apple pies etc etc) and began relatively recently in 1990. The first 'Apple Day' took place in Covent Garden but today we celebrated this special day by visiting Lathcoats Farm in Chelmsford, half an hours drive up the A12 from Colchester.

Lathcoats Farm have been growing fruit since 1912 and their Farmshop recently won the award for Essex's Best Farmshop. As well as the Orchards that grow the fruit and the great farmshop, they also have a Coffee Shop, goats, donkeys a couple of pigs and they allow you to 'Pick Your Own'. Today they also had apple tasting, children's archery, donkey rides, a craft barn, mini tractors, toffee apples, a farmers market and an apple pie contest. Sadly, the weather today was pretty dire. Not cold, but very grey so the photos don't do the place justice at all. However, despite the gloomy skies we had a fun afternoon out and shall look forward to next years 'Apple Day'. Whether our new friends enjoyed it remains to be seen. I'll let you know if we hear from them again.


Apple tasting

I love clear sign postage

All time fave, Pygmy Goats

Little Donkey

Awesome kids craft area. 
Who knew mud and pine cones could be so creepy.

Big hairy pig

We picked up a couple of these bad boys for our upcoming Halloween tea party

Old house in a tree.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Hudson + Hudson, North Hill, Colchester

Lots of changes occur when you have a child. The biggest change that happened to me aside from the obvious physical things that people rarely mention and I don't want to think about ever again, was that my social life pretty much ground to a halt. Pre-child, I would be out on average 3 nights a week. Post-child, I'm lucky if its 3 nights a year. So instead of going out restaurant-ing (and boozing) in the evenings, my other half and I found ourselves going out for breakfast a lot instead. We were up early anyway and only ever seemed to have full fat milk, Peppa Pig Fromage Frais and off Houmous in the fridge so it was almost a matter of survival to go out looking for food.

When we first came to Colchester we felt frustratingly limited in the choice of places to go in the mornings and this was one of the things that made me feel like an idiot for leaving London. I felt like we had moved to the land that time forgot. I wanted to open my own Coffee shop just so I had somewhere to go. However, we then had to remind ourselves that it was only in the last 18 months of us being in Hackney that we had breakfast on our doorstep. The Picture House was great (but often didn't serve breakfast until 10:30am), Wiltons was another favorite (but only had 3 options-bacon roll, goat curd on toast, yoghurt). So my knee jerk reaction to look back and think everything was rosy in London Town, wasn't helpful. And if there is 1 thing I should have learned form 18 years of living in East London it is that places can change. When I first moved to Hackney Black Cab drivers would refuse to drive me home after work from Soho, but by the time I left in 2012, Hackney had hosted the Olympics and is now one of the most expensive and desirable places to live in the UK!

So it was only a matter of time that things would start improving here. We just had to bide our time, and you can imagine my joy, when in January, I discovered an awesome new food place - Hudson & Hudson. I was so happy, I probably cried (I used to do that in Hackney when new places opened up, I can't help it). Again, it is another example of a place here that keeps a low profile and doesn't really like to let people know it exists. I don't know why that is. I think it had been open about 6 weeks before we found it. When I am not working I plod the mean streets of Colchester daily so its pretty hard to open anything round here without me sniffing it out! If this was my place I would be telling everyone about it, via Social Media, by having a mobile coffee cart at the station in the mornings, by leaving loyalty cards around, that kind of thing. I don't know why they don't but it doesn't take away from the fact that it is our favourite place to go for breakfast..

Delicious wines.

Deli counter.

Babycino and complimentary biscuit. 
I didn't know what Nescafe instant was until I was 21 so my son really is living the dream!

Bacon + Egg butty. The breakfast of kings. And tired parents.

The upstairs room.

The Courtyard.

The dining area. 
I believe they used a lot of the old materials from the Joinery shop to make the tables.

Hudson and Hudson is built in an old Joinery shop, just off of North Hill and behind Williams + Griffen's.  It is a Deli and Restaurant with a great outside courtyard and a small function room that can be hired for private events. We go here at least once a weekend for their awesome breakfasts. £6.50 for a Full English made from delicious local produce. The Chef here is GREAT. When we were there for breakfast last week we saw him making the bagels for the lunchtime Salt Beef Bagels. Imagine that! He was making the bagels in house! He also makes the bread, all hot drinks are served with a complimentary home made biscuit, the home made sausage rolls are sensational, it's basically all very good. On Sundays they do Roasts, and when the weather is good they have BBQ's in the courtyard. Obviously we have never experienced anything other than the breakfasts due to us still living in a semi twilight zone with our toddler, but I have heard its really great in the evenings.

The other reason why we love it, apart from the standard of food, is that all of the staff are super nice and very friendly to my son. He often tells me he is going to Hudson & Hudson and that he will see me later. He is not of course, he can't open the front door, but it's places like this that are quite special when you have a small child. They make it so easy for us to go there, we don't really need anywhere else. They have highchairs (yay), they always make a fuss of our son (complimentary Babycino's) and there is a room upstairs that we can go in if we meet our other 'baby friends' for coffee.

It is definitely worth a visit, well done Hudson & Hudson, thank you for being you. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Homemade Halloween Part 1

My Dad loved Christmas. And Bonfire night, I remember indoor sparklers, home made celery soup and  my Dad in the garden with a bucket of sand on standby for any stray fireworks that might have set light to the conifers. But for reasons unknown to me, he hated Halloween, and on the 31st of October every year he made us turn all the lights off and sit in the darkness so Trick or Treaters would think we were out and not knock on our front door. But now, I live in my own house and live by my own rules Halloween is party time! Wahoo!

So we are having a little Halloween Tea Party for the local kiddiewinkles on the 1st November and I have been busy getting the decorations up for the last few days. I know Halloween is still 2 weeks away but since I finished my last job 2 weeks ago I have plenty of spare time for such endeavours. There are 2 places to source great (and cheap) decorations and ideas. Firstly 'Google images' (amazing) and secondly, Poundland. I know quite a few people who won't step foot into a Poundland, and I admit, I did feel a bit like that before I stopped working properly, but it is so mind boggling awesome! Seriously. I never buy Fairy Fabric Softener, Finish Dishwasher Tablets or Haribos from anywhere else. Anyway, here are a few pictures of the decorations so far. Still need a better camera though.

I cut out some bat shapes from some black card (20 sheets of A4 for £1), folded their wings, stuck on boggly eyes/buttons for eyes and blue tacked them to the wall.

My son and I made this Pumpkin bunting by splodging orange paint onto the crease of a piece of A4 and folding it together. When the paint was dry we stuck green feathers on for stalks.

I cut some (crap but easy) ghost shapes and a sort of skeleton from more of the black card and stuck it to the kitchen windows. 

£1 bat hanging from lampshade.

My favorite purchase. A pack of 12 card "bats". I guess that's why they were in Poundland, I'm pretty sure these are spiders. I have stuck these all over the place.

Black paint hand prints and more boggly eyes.

A rather expensive Jielde lamp, bought when I had a job obvs,  makes a wonderful 'ghost stand'.  This was actually the most expensive decoration and was £5 from Wilco's (my other new favorite shop), but would be very cheap to make yourself. A £1 mask and some muslin or an old sheet would have the same affect. I think this particular decoration might have to come down for the party though. My son is not phased by it but I think the gaggle of 6 year old girls coming over might not feel the same way.

£1 hanging skeleton with unfortunate position of light switch.

I LOVE this. Some of the card "bats" strung onto a stick from the garden.

Free mini bunting printable from, printed out, cut up and stuck on some string.

Free food picks and straw labels printables from stuck onto some picks and straws I had at the back of my cupboard.

2 packs of £1 rubber snakes attached to a ring I made of pipe cleaners. It would be more stable on a ring made from a wire coat hanger but I couldn't be bothered to find one.

Dirty £1 rat in the bog roll basket.

2 x honeycomb pumpkins and 2 x lantern pumpkins each £1 a pack!

Finally, for the time being, some printed skull bunting I made by cutting a skull shape out of an old sponge and printing it onto more of the black card.

Until next time . . . . 

Monday, 13 October 2014

Black Shuck at The Waiting Room, St Botolphs.

East Anglia has its very own ghostly malevolent beast, a giant black hell hound, as big as a horse with fiery saucer like eyes. It is often referred to as 'Black Shuck', shuck deriving from an old English word for 'Demon'. He has been prowling the countryside of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex for at least 500 years, striking terror into the hearts of the local people. It is said he floats on a blanket of mist and his howls will curdle your blood. If you catch sight of him you will be dead within the year. However, we met him on Saturday afternoon with The Colchester Morris Men and he seemed most amenable, even stopping to have several pictures taken with my son. The reason for his outing was because he is a new addition to the Colchester Morris Men, having replaced Wilfred, the Dancers' previous dog, and he was being introduced into society. A bit like a Debutantes coming out party really, at the 'Waiting Room', St Botolphs .

There is a great place, I think it would be called a Community Space, in Colchester called the 'Waiting Room'. Basically the old Bus Station Waiting Room, and a group of very pro-active locals have taken it over for as long as the Council will let them. They have managed to get it up and running with minimal financing and most of the renovations that have taken place have all been achieved by volunteers. They host really interesting talks every Wednesday (topics have included Pinhole Camera workshops, Cookery classes, Gin Distillery, Brewing, Letterpress, various craft workshops) and there is also a tool lending library and a wonderful letterpress which can be used by anyone that wants to use it. Unfortunately due to childcare issues I have never been able to make one of the 'Maker Wednesday' nights but I think they would have been a great way for us to meet like locals when we moved here. It reminds me a lot of The Russet in Hackney Downs but with more varied and regular events.

We go to there quite regularly as despite the fact they don't have high chairs (a minor thing), its an easy place for us to take our toddler, lots of space, the food is usually great (and the local liquor is delicious too). For example, on the first Friday of every month it's local Mersea Island fish and chips, other Fridays the kitchen is run by a Chef serving World Food, 'The Gamekeepers Daughter' uses the Kitchen on the weekends and they have lots of other interesting people using the place like a pop up restaurant. We have taken our neighbours there, our friends have come with us when they have stayed at ours and we have always had excellent food. On Thursday mornings they now have a Children's story time session which my son loved. £5 for 90 minutes of entertainment for the kiddiewinkles (toys, puppets, singing, snacks etc etc) and a coffee for the grown ups. Again, a really useful place to go if you wanted to meet people. My only criticism (apart from the highchair thing) is that they don't appear to market themselves enough. I know about what goes on each week as I signed up to their email newsletter when we moved here but I wonder how they tell other possible customers about how where they are and what events they have. It deserves to be packed every weekend as all the people involved must have worked so hard to get it going.

This weekend was a good example of this, and it may have been the bad weather keeping people from venturing out, but the Colchester Morris Men were at the 'Waiting Room' and it was such a great afternoon that it seemed terrible for there not to have been more people checking it out. 'The Gamekeepers Daughter' was serving up Pigeon + Pistachio Pate, Shin of Beef and a Pear and Gorgonzola Tart, there were puppet kits for the kids along with the history of the Morris Men and pictures of how they had made 'Black Shuck'. Basically lots to see and loads of effort must have gone into the event, it deserved a much bigger crowd. So, anyone living in/around Colchester or anyone visiting the area really should seek this place out, there is more than likely to be something interesting going on and you will definitely have the chance to sample some really great local produce.

Local Liquor

The story of the beastly beast

Beastly Beast bunting

Glove Puppet Kits and a glass of what I hope was apple juice

Completed Puppets

Black Shuck

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Colchester, Roman Capital of Britain, rising like a Phoenix.

It's been over a year since my last post. It wasn't a conscious decision to stop writing, life just got very busy. My son is now 29 months old (he's certainly taken up ALOT of my time) I have also been working in Commercials again (I never thought I'd say it, but I really missed it), the house/money pit is almost finished (I've said it before and I will say it again, NEVER buy a house when you have just given birth) and I haven't really had the motivation to be honest. The drudge of life seems to have sucked a lot of joy out of the air! But today I actually feel quite good about life here and perhaps writing things down will reaffirm how I feel. Some of our friends have said it was a bold move coming here whatever that means, others probably wonder why we did it, but we have been here almost 2 years now and have started to grow quite fond of the old place.

So, it feels like good time to start posting again, particularly as there is so much going on here and I cant find anyone really talking about it. In this day and age of social media there is no excuse to have a strong presence online. I think what has also spurred me on was that on Monday night I was invited to a Focus Group in town. I was asked about my opinions of Colchester which resulted in a 3 page email at 4am in the morning. I felt excited, firstly about being given the chance to voice my opinions, and secondly about all the possibilities of this place. However, I came to the conclusion that the main problem seems to be that Colchester doesn't have a good public profile, a very easily solved problem actually. 

First of all, the local papers seem to print predominantly negative stories about Colchester, which seems to fuel the locals to express equally negative comments (mostly about potholes, roundabouts, parking), so if you were thinking of moving here and checked out the local papers online to see what the town is like, you certainly wouldn't think there was much else going on.  Its a vicious circle which needs breaking. I started following the local papers on Twitter and asked why they never wrote about any of the great, creative things going on here and also asked them to check out the Positive News website for inspiration. People like hearing positive news about where they live, I know I do, its good for the soul (and makes me feel like moving out of London was a mistake). However, they never replied to any of my tweets.

So, if it means I have to start spreading the news via this blog, then so be it. I am up to the challenge.

I will assume, dear reader, you don't know anything about Colchester so, may I present to you, a brief, and very basic history. Thank you of course to Google + Wikipedia:

* Colchester, 50 miles from London, is the oldest town in Great Britain.

* It served as the Roman Capital and was known by its Celtic name of 'Camulodunum' although coins with this name on have been discovered here from the period 20-10BC way before the Romans arrived. Basically, its old and dripping with history. Anytime anyone does any building work, they find treasure (sort of).

The town was home to the the first Roman Legionary Fortress in Britain, the largest Classical Style Temple in Britain, 2 Theatres (also Britain's largest), Britain's only known Chariot Circus, Britain's first Town walls, several large cemeteries and over 50 known mosaics and tessellated pavements. 

* Around 60AD, Boudica, Queen of the Celts got fed up with the Romans, particularly the Temple in honour of Claudius that was built here, and came and smashed the place up with 100,000 Iceni soldiers.

English historian, Dr John Morris, who specialises in the study of the of the Roman Empire suggested in his book "The Age of Arthur" (1973) that as the descendants of Romanised Britons looked back to a golden age of peace and prosperity under Rome the name "Camelot" of Arthurian legend was probably a reference to Camulodunum.

Fast forward to the Medieval Period via the Saxons (they built some wooden huts) and the Danish (who ran tings until 917. Yes, I said 'tings'):

* Medieval Colchester's main landmark is Colchester Castle which has recently reopened after a £4.2 million National Lottery funded refurbishment. The Castle, an 11th-century Norman keep, is the largest of its type ever built, the oldest of its kind in Europe and built on top of the vaults of the old Roman Temple. It was ordered by William the Conqueror.

* Other notable medieval ruins in Colchester, include the surviving gateway of the Benedictine Abbey of St John the Baptist and the ruins of the Augustinian Priory of St Botolph. Many of Colchester's Parish Churches also date from this period.

Colchester developed rapidly during the later 14th century as a centre of the woollen cloth industry, and became famous in many parts of Europe. This allowed the population to recover exceptionally rapidly from the effects of the Plague, particularly by immigration into the town.

* Between 1550 and 1600, a large number of weavers from Flanders emigrated to Colchester due to Religious Persecution. An area in Colchester town centre is still known as the Dutch Quarter and many buildings there date from the Tudor period. (This is where we live). During this period Colchester was one of the most prosperous wool towns in England.

The Dutch Quarter is also where Jane and Ann Taylor who wrote “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” lived between 1796 and 1811.

* In 1645 the self-styled Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins interrogated and imprisoned suspected witches at Colchester Castle.

Fast forward again to the Victorians who built some amazing buildings, which Colchester is well known for (the Town Hall and the Water Tower, the tallest in the Country) and that's my potted history of nuggets 'borrowed' from Wikipedia.

* Also, Colchester's Greatest export is the famous 'Colchester Native'. The Colne Oyster fishery in Mersea Island dates to the Roman era. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book. Colchester obtained rights to the fishery under the provisions of its Royal Charter granted by Richard I in 1189. The oysters obtained from the fishery are known as "Colchester Natives" (Ostrea Edulis). The Romans apparently said that these Oysters were the best thing to come out of Britain!

I think this is pretty amazing. I don't know many Towns in the UK, Europe or probably the World that can boast that much amazing history, and obviously this is just the bare bones. But why don't more people know about it? I don't get it.

Now you know a bit of the history I will tell you a bit about life here in 2014 :

* Fast trains from Liverpool Street take 50 minutes. At its peak, there are 8 trains an hour from Colchester to London.

* 2 Train Stations service the Town, Colchester North + Colchester Town.

* Housing Prices here are very good value. For instance, for the price of a 1 bedroom flat in East London you could buy a 4 bedroom house.

* The Schools have very good reputations. The local children seem to get the kind of education that would need to be paid for in lots of parts of the Country.

* There are lots of things here for families to do (ie Castle Park, Colchester Zoo, Highwoods, Leisure World).

*The High street is currently experiencing a big re-generation. This includes, the Fenwicks owned department Store Williams + Griffin who are undergoing a £30million refurbishment (Significant Roman Hoard recently discovered during renovations, it was on the National news last month). The Curzon are opening, Bill's Restaurant are coming, 2 Boutique Hotels are about to open, there is an amazing community space here called The Waiting Room which will definitely have its own post.

* There are 2 Art exhibition Spaces/galleries, one very controversial one which I happen to quite like (Firstsite).

* There is a monthly Farmers Market in the Arts Centre which has amazing local produce.

* The Arts Centre regularly has shows of very well known Comedians on the start of their National Tours.

* The Mercury Theatre.

* We are 20 minutes by car from Mersea Island.

* We are 20 minutes by car from Suffolk.

* We are 40 minutes by car from Frinton.

* We have also got some really great neighbours. Just in our little street we have people from Leyton, Rotherhithe, Notting Hill + Kew as well as Colchester natives.

* Everyone is super friendly to my son. He always gets people chatting to him, people in shops, people on the bus, people in coffee shops, pretty much everyone and anyone. I want him to think this is normal, that friendliness and manners are a normal part of life, it should be but after 18 years in London I had forgotten.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg really. Of course its not all great,  the season ticket to London is pricey and Colchester does seem to have a problem with what the Council refer to 'as the Nightime Economy' but I don't know what town doesn't. And frankly, if they want to change this particular image of the town they are really the only ones that can do anything about it.

So, as you can see, things are actually ok. Yes, it's not as cool to say you live in Colchester as it was in Hackney (now Hackney seems to have become the centre of the universe) but there is life after E8, you just have to find it. Or read some good PR.