EDitorial ± 29-Jun-2007
2007 Tour: Waterfront Cafe, Woodbridge
Sports day for the kidlets at the posh school, so naturally it was tipping it down outside. Inside the Waterfront Cafe, though, everything was sweetness and light once we'd passed the automatic credit check at the door. After all, as the menu points out, "between noon and 3pm there's a minimum spend of £5.95 per head". Glance again at the menu and you'll realise how straightforward this is: one cold drink and a piece of cake will get you most of the way there.
That "cafe" label is mighty misleading. You wouldn't hesitate to call its unpretentious near-neighbour, the Caravan Cafe, a caff (double eff), but this granary-housed eatery by the Tide Mill (see map) is really a restaurant with "an extensive and sophisticated wine list", complete with piped modern jazz.
Definitely not the place for a quick toasty washed down with a cuppa, the "cafe" (emphasise that acute accent) is an offshoot of The Woodbridge Fine Food Company in town, the deli that's well known for its pies and lack of browsing space.
As you'd hope, service is top notch -- one of our party was late, you'll never guess which one, so the waitress purposely delayed our orders -- and the food is none too shabby either. My oven-baked sardines with baby vine tomatoes (ding! minimum spend reached) were a cut above. Accompanying Luscombe ginger beer was half-decent too, featuring those ubiquitous Sicilian lemons.
If you thought the savoury was good, try the pudd. Their scone with jam and cream would shame a National Trust tea-room, it was that scrumptious. Like us, just be sure that you visit on payday.
Website: The Waterfront Cafe.
EDitorial ± 27-Jun-2007
"C'mon kids, how many times -- seatbelts off!"
"But Mum says ..."
"Mum ... isn't here." Tom stared dead ahead at the distant waves through the misted windscreen, gloved hands at quarter past three. "I'm the Daddy. I'm your Daddy. So pur-lease, do as your old Dad says." His smile was pleading, as insipid as his too-milky latte. Of all days to get the final stamp on your customer loyalty card. He'd sure miss caffeine.
Wiping the window with his sleeve, he looked out at the Costa branch that now sat behind the railings. Used to be a craft place selling little wooden beach huts and other gewgaws when he'd been Daisy's age, sliding around on the leather back seat of that marvellous Morris Oxford. Grandad would pull over at the top of the hill and ceremoniously turn off the ignition. Releasing the handbrake, the azure blue motor would inch forward and slowly, thrillingly gain speed. Halfway down, the old man would shout Check Your Brakes Now!
Closing his eyes to the drizzle outside, Tom tried to recall how the sun felt on those gloriously hot Sundays. Couldn't do that either. Couldn't do a lot nowadays, that much had become clear.
Daisy piped up: "Dad, I don't know what to write on my card."
"Not to worry. As long as you put lots of kisses." He turned up the blower a notch. "Why don't you do Mum a nice picture?"
"I dunno. I thought you were the one with the imagination. A boat? A big stick of rock? Laura, any bright ideas?"
"Whatever. Done mine." Laura handed Tom a picture postcard with an underexposed shot of the nearby winter gardens. He flipped it over to find a hastily scribbled "Weather grotty. Wish you were here instead of Dad."
"Hey Laura, that wasn't really which I had in mind." Too late: earphones in, iPod on. At least Daisy had dug up a battered box of crayons and was giving it her best shot.
Tom would have liked nothing better than to have given it -- something, anything -- his best shot. Face it, he was aimless, without ambition, a plodder: Jenny had told him that often enough. Middle-aged, if 41 counted as middle-aged, and coasting through a spectacularly uneventful life. College, marriage, kids, yada yada. From way back when, advice from his driving instructor surfaced -- stay in control of the vehicle at all times. Unwittingly, that had become his mantra.
Today the drifting would cease. No more waiting for that mythical flash of inspiration that would give his life purpose. No more endless patience. No more.
"Finished!" exclaimed Daisy.
"Great: thanks, Daisy. I'll just pop these into the letterbox. Back in a jiff."
He so wanted to see Jenny's reaction when she heard the news, and again a day later when the postcards arrived.
Glancing in the coffee shop window, he saw a reflection of Daisy waving as the car began to gain speed down the hill.
EDitorial ± 26-Jun-2007
Lifts Trumpet To Lips, Blows
What a surreal evening. Psychogeography this, Bridport that, Somerset Maugham the other. It all started mid-May: screen wobbles, clock hands go backwards, pull-off calendar slips become re-attached, dot dot dot
Another spring, another Ip-art, the town's annual arts festival. This time around there's a short story competition: max 500 words on the theme of "Coast", open to whatever interpretation you like. Thought bubble: I could do that. Reads on a tad more to find out that entries are due by Saturday of that week, Cup Final day. Thinks: I can still do that.
Ideas come, days go by, and waddya know, it's Friday evening with nowt to submit. Not to worry. Fires up trusty iBook around 10pm and proceeds to bang out a tale of sorts, fleshing out the poorly handwritten notes from a 5x3 index card. Cafetiere, water, darjeeling, and so to bed at 3am. Can print it tomorrow, change whatever and cycle it to town to hand in. Which I do, abandoning the abysmal Chelsea/ManU showdown. Pleased to have simply entered.
Month later and a letter from the organisers, thanking me for my entry blah blah standard very high blah blah selected for the short list. What was that last bit again? Woo-hoo! Free ticket enclosed for lit event -- two proper writers in attendance -- when the winner will be announced. Whizz back from work, pull on Molesworth T-shirt, whizz to Town Hall.
Writers are Alison Macleod and DJ Taylor, and there's some good chat about, er, writing stuff. Half-time drinks and I spot a friend: her friend has also been shortlisted, so we congratulate each other and joke that you just had to enter to get on the list. Seconds away, the kids prizewinners are announced, bless 'em, and the writers comment on the dozen stories which made the short list. Excerpts from the top twelve are impressive -- ideas like pebbles, writing the landscape, etc. -- though not a squeak from mine which is surely making up the numbers.
Runner up's entry is discussed, and we warmly applaud Mary (?) as she steps forward. DJT goes on to talk about aspects of the winning story, a dark little number: a man, a coffee shop, his children. At which point the room begins to swim a little and I focus on not passing out. And the winner of the Ip-art Short Story Competition for 2007 is ... Ed Broom. Would you like to come up to the microphone and read it out?
Like I say, surreal. If you're up for it, read it.
EDitorial ± 22-Jun-2007
2007 Tour: Frangipani Coffee House, Woodbridge
Like the Electric Banana, don't go looking for La Patisserie: it's not there anymore. It reached that stage in life when work needed doing and has emerged as Frangipani. Judging by the pictures on the wall, they've taken their name from the flowering shrub rather than the once-powerful Roman family. All praise Wikipedia.
Reach Cumberland Street (see map) and make decision number one: left or right door? Liberal or conservative? Giggs or Ronaldo? Curiously there are two serving areas, and only the staff flit between the two. We, who strongly favour retention of the existing order, chose starboard (the Donald Sinden suite), and found a long shelf of recipe books to browse. Which one of our party was already doing, wisely ducking out of the ensuing chit chat. As with most if not all previous venues, plenty to choose from. Honorary mention to the cold drink selection: my bounty frappe was paradise.
Hot food was worth the slight wait. In a civilised society, nobody should hurry on a Friday lunchtime. Breakfast baguette didn't need the dollop of coleslaw, which they'd laugh at down at the Caravan Cafe. Fellow diners' enjoyed their various tasty soups (pea, carrot & coriander) and monster club sandwich.
Savoury done, half our party departed, and time for (a) pudding and (b) a radical rethink in our position. And so, like Churchill before us, we crossed the floor -- actually out on to the pavement then back in the other entrance -- to order cake and fine wine. This port side (the Windsor Davies day room) seemed more inviting, friendlier somehow, maybe due to the couch and display cabinet o' cakes. Our confectioner's slabs were awesome, both in quantity and quality. Proper cuppa coffee, too. Could happily have remained there for an hour or two more, quietly digesting.
EDitorial ± 15-Jun-2007
2007 Tour: Costa Coffee, Woodbridge
Maybe someone slipped the planning committee a mickey, for the town that has no Tesco has caught a Costa. Oops, there goes the neighbourhood. I'd guess that this particular "part of the Whitbread family" -- ah! -- narrowly missed being the 500th UK store, which, fact fans, opened near Oxford in December 2006. But in Woodbridge, they're here already: you're next! Sure have come a long way since I used to frequent their place at Glasgow Central station around 15 years ago.
They've landed on their corporate feet and pulled out a plum location in one of the newly built units next to Woolies (see map), dead handy for the car park opposite the library. Innards are surprisingly spacious with sofas 'n' tables 'n' those really high chairs. Or you can take the weather with you, do as we did and sit in the sun outside. Great contrast with the precipitation peppered Pickwicks.
Food and drink? Like those golden arches, you know what you're in for. Grab a prepacked panini, maybe some pricey crisps, and go take your little number back to your little table. They *will* find you. My meatball thing was unexceptional. G's All Day Club thing was "very good". Thumbs up for stocking good OJ and Orangina.
Most pleasant, plonked there watching the Woodbridge world whirl by. Could have been outside some Parisian street cafe once the busker whipped out his accordion. Except that'd you'd lose your petite espresso cup in a Costa washing-up bowl. Fessing up, I'm most partial to a medio white Americano, ideally with an extra shot and a chocolate twist. One question: why make the saucer so that the cup sits well off centre? T'ain't right.
EDitorial ± 8-Jun-2007
2007 Tour: Pickwicks Tea Rooms, Woodbridge
A bloomin' 'orrible Friday, so best head to an indoors eatery. Like Mrs Pipers, another awkward apostrophe awaits at Pickwicks Tea Rooms which, as it turns out, boasts a handful of outdoors tables too, all dripping wet this June day. Do You Need A Menu?, said the waitress as we grabbed the last remaining non-soggy seats. Actually there's more space through the back. Er, yes please. Seems like a place where everyone knows your name (regulars get the smiles) and your order.
Inside there's a sparsely populated dresser at one end and definitely no chips until 11:30am. Usual selection of jackets, sarnies and baguettes to order, plus the ever popular all day breakfast. My eye snagged on the omelette section. How many eggs? Four?! Make mine a breakfast special with some brown bread toast, ta very much. And lo, it was a monster eggy treat, filled with sausage and bacon and mushrooms. Yum. G's scampi and chips was also awarded an accolade of "excellent". On the side, strawb milkshake was a rinky-dink pink letdown: splash of Crusha, no ice cream.
Given its off the main drag location in the unlovely named Gobbits Yard (see map), its plenty popular, pulling in a plethora of punters and pushchair pushers. Points away for the Coffee Compliment sachets in lieu of real milk that accompanied my indifferent mug of filter. Points scored for the separate pot of hot water that came with the tea, albeit in bag form.
My 90 degrees of Victoria sponge could lead to an early onset of Pickwickian syndrome, and that's without the squirty cream. Best walked off with a quick stroll around the Sally Army charity shop next door.
EDitorial ± 7-Jun-2007
John Hegley, Norwich Arts Centre
I'd booked three tickets for Mr John Hegley -- me, G and Eldest, whose Shuffle is autofilled with Saint & Blurry -- before finding out that (a) G was working late and (b) Eldest was on a school trip to London. Bother. Then G's meeting ended early-ish so off we two railed to Norwich, bikes in the cycly carriage. Into station at 7:55pm, off we pedalled, consulting the printed Google map to find St Benedict's St. That church? This church? Nope, church at the end. 8:02pm, JH halfway through opening number singing "Grandad's going underground tomorrow".
Always uplifting to be in the company of the nation's unsung prince of rhyming words. Eldest would have loved the many contributions from My Dog Is A Carrot, her copy of which was signed by the great man at half-time. Repeated mentions of the naughty brother-in-law. Some fine French insta-translation from one of the audience for Poem De Terre: "c'est le legume que je prefere".
Second half kicked off with a dark and low key version of Max, the dog with a problem -- "little Albert gets it first 'cos he's nearest to the ground" -- worked well. Fascinating tales from his charity Zanzibar trip to donate a pair of glasses "to the blurred world". And no real finale, but more a ramble about the opening of a London theatre. You had to be there.
EDitorial ± 4-Jun-2007
Dolmio, May 2007
Typical start to the week: hour-long conference call from 9:30am, the team saying their
pieces then zoning out while everyone else does theirs. Headsets down around 10:35am,
so time to whip out the one man cafetiere. Then, clunk: no lights, no monitors, no
phones. In short, no power. And as Bjork once said, it's oh so quiet. Sat chatting
for a bit, while others gave up and headed to Woodbridge for an early lunch. Noon
and still no juice, so over to the canteen. Long lunchbreak then back to find the
office being locked up, everyone going or gone home. Work's out!
Plenty of time to knock up last month's
Dolmio (Doings Of Last Month Innoparticular Order).
That is to say, an attempt to capture past(a) events before they slip... my... mind. May 2007 was spent:
- watching Scott Of The Antarctic and shivering along with the ill-fated horses
- being gripped by the compelling talks from past TED conferences
- kicking off the 2007 tour of Woodbridge cafes
- siding with Tom Hanks in Road To Perdition
- sticking with the strange goings-on within Birthstone
- easing out of the weekend with that nice Stephen Fry in Kingdom
- finally catching up with the oddball Donnie Darko
- reading far too quickly about Nemo, Mina and Hyde in League Of Gentlemen Volume 2
- seeing Grissom struggling to catch the miniatures killer in Vegas CSI
- going by rail, excruciatingly slowly, to a soggy Cambridge
- dumping the kids at the in-laws then heading home for Star Trek: Nemesis
- hitting Listen Again repeatedly for Radcliffe & Maconie
EDitorial ± 2-Jun-2007
No Wellies Required
Headed for the Lakes, you'll need (a) raincoat and (b) wellies. Hoicked kids to the local branch of "the most dynamic shoe retailer in Europe", open until 8pm, for wet weather footwear. Emerged with three pairs. Boots stayed unused in the boot all weekend.
Gorgeous weather and a relaxing time at our hospitable Sedbergh hosts. Come Saturday, picnic packed and a quick drive down the A683, past the Ba(r)king Mad sign to what Anita Harris might call a beauty spot. Cue Molesworth:
i come from haunts of coot and hern
i make a sudden sally
to bicker down a valley
If Morecambe and Wise's scriptwriter had dropped his dark chocolate biccies in the stream, you might find Eddie Braben's bourbon biscuits in the babbling brook of Barbon Beck. No soggy confectionery items for us, just lots of soggy kids despite our best efforts at blocking the running water: those dam builders.
Competitive cricket game was played out on a sheep poo pitch that would have benefited greatly from some TLC by the Sedbergh school groundsman. Girls and The Boy hit the orange tennis ball hither and thither. Shocking moment when yours truly was bowled, refused to walk, then made good contact with the next ball ... straight into the face of one of the gals. Really not cricket.
As visitor numbers slowly increased to matchday parking levels, we escaped to Dent Crafts Centre for late pm refreshment. Mint choc chip ices for the kids, tea for the grown-ups, and an individual cafetiere for the caffiene fiend. Good and strong, china cup, and with a tiny jug of hot milk. Doesn't get much better. Unless you've also ordered a scone with (1) butter, (2) jam and (3) cream. Heaven.