EDitorial ± 27-May-2009
Ipswich Lunches: Mega Byte Cafe
I was coming up to my A-levels in early 1984 when I shelled out some cash (hard-earned from my Saturday job at Debenhams) on "The Works", the new album from Queen. Not the LP version, mind, but on pre-recorded cassette. Opening track of side 1 was the catchy Radio Ga Ga, helped out by the fab Metropolis inspired video. Opening track of side 2 was the less killer / more filler track Machines, which included these clumsy couplets:
What's that machine noise?
It's bytes and megachips for tea
It's that machine, boys
With random access memory
— Queen, Machines (Back To Humans)
That "bytes and megachips" line irked me then and irks me now. Shouldn't it be "chips and megabytes"? Message to self: move on. That lyric popped into my head after visiting the Mega Byte Cafe, situated on Ipswich's ungentrified Wherstead Road. This is on the bit that got bypassed a long while back, so finding it involves heading up Station St (off the Hawes St ring road) and turning right at the lights. Can't miss it.
First day of the Suffolk Show and naturally the weather's not great. I'm on the drag and turn up to find A&G piling in to their Mega Byte all day breakfasts. Need a large plate to hold two of everything, and there's tea and toast thrown in. Smaller ADB for me in the form of a satisfying bacon and egg sub, helped out by some brand name condiments: Sarsons, HP, Heinz. Cracking range of soft drinks to be had in the fridge, inc. new flavour Oasis, milkshakes and ginger beer, a pleasant change from the regular yard of Coke.
I can't honestly recommend the coffee (I'll 'fess up to stopping at the station for an AMT special on the way home), though the syrup sponge pudd did the job. Intriguingly there's a photo on the wall of Ian McShane and Dudley Sutton, aka Lovejoy and Tinker, all smiles at the Mega Byte. Perhaps this goes back to when an episode was filmed over at the docks?
There's papers, kids' meals, machines of the cash and fruit variety, WiFi (!) and they offer bed & breakfast. The various leaflets -- Grapevine, Pulse festival -- and notices -- Can You Grow The Biggest Pumpkin In Ipswich? -- hint that this is the rarity that is the neighbourhood caff. It's all much nicer than you'd think.
EDitorial ± 16-May-2009
Philip Glass, Norwich
When I flicked through the brochure, I couldn't believe it. A hero of mine, someone whose music I've listened to for donkey's (rhubarb) years, coming to do a concert in Norwich? Seriously? Online I went PDQ and got me a ticket.
His name is Philip Glass, and his Wikipedia entry calls him "one of the most influential composers of the late-20th century". Around 25 years ago, I caught a telly performance of Glassworks, and promptly went out to a record shop (I know) to buy the LP (I know). Since then he's knocked out countless film scores, operas, symphonies, and given his name to the B-side of the great 1986 Official Colourbox World Cup Theme.
Into a hushed and packed Theatre Royal on Friday night came this small-ish figure. That'll be the announcer, I thought. No, it was The Man Himself to introduce each piece. Just him at the piano tonight. Straight into the lovely Metamorphosis 2, then 3, then 4: wonderful.
I'm sure that his music does strange things to my brain, perhaps the results of many late night sessions with his stuff playing in the background. At one point, during his Etudes ("I'll play six or seven of them, I haven't decided"), I snapped back into the room from whatever altered state I was in. Odd. He introduced one composition by saying that he'd been asked to write "something of indefinite length". No problem for Mr Glass.
EDitorial ± 15-May-2009
Ipswich Lunches: Arlingtons
Should a lunchtime table booking be considered like a plane, i.e. arrive in plenty of time, a train, i.e. arrive just in time, or the Bawdsey ferry, i.e. all timings are approximate? Me, I'm the ferryman. My rather lackadaisical approach to timekeeping -- witness this piece from 100 months ago -- was found to be, erm, at odds with my dining partner. There were "words". Let's (eventually) agree to draw a line underneath it, shall we?
Word was that the peeps who once had Mortimers (fab fish joint, now Bistro On The Quay) were looking for a new place. Word is that they found it: welcome to Arlingtons on Museum Street, and what a building. Previously the Ipswich School of Ballroom Dancing, and for those with fictionally long memories, the original museum, opened 1847. Wasn't that long ago when this structure was in a right old 2-and-8, as seen in this 2005 photo.
They none too concisely term themselves a "cafe-bar & brasserie with deli takeaway": most bases covered there. We headed upstairs to the poshest bit, and were asked if we'd like to sit downstairs or up in the gallery. Up we go! From our seat in the gods, we could gaze down upon the mortals below, absently helping ourselves to iced water and crusty bread. Everything on the brasserie menu sounds appetising, from the starters to the chargrill, AND there's kids' options too. For me, the salade nicoise -- literally a nice salad -- love that tuna / olives / beans combination.
Did I mention the nearby mezzanine piano? Nobody tickling the ivories today. All feels tres chic in here, aided by the countless b&w French pix on the walls. They're open all day and, should your plastic stretch to it, you could happily consume three square meals in this relaxed ambience. Greatly looking forward to trying out the cafe-bar part. If I was still working in the town centre, I'd be a regular.
EDitorial ± 8-May-2009
Popova To The Tate
Middler couldn't sleep. I was still up. Let's watch some telly. Here's an unwatched Culture Show on the trusty Humax HD. Just because it's late doesn't mean we can't use our brains. There's that nice Andrew Graham-Dixon showing us round some Russian exhibition in London. Snazzy posters, 3-D drawings, even some paintings of pure colour: one red, one blue, one yellow. Maybe we could go visit?
Two months later and we made it, past No 1 Poultry, lots of red buses and umpteen men in suits. Tate Modern is open until late of a Friday, and here we are on the un-wobbly bridge. First to the museum's cafe for a posh bite: grilled sardines, chorizo, sourdough bread, all very Gunner Graham. Cosmopolitan urbane types, that's us. We're not really from the sticks.
Into the paid-entry expo we go: welcome to Rodchenko & Popova. Wow. All white walls and colourful images: some we like, some we don't, and some we don't know what to think. Ooh, there's a second room. We consult our pocket guide: this is gallery 2 of 12. Probably shouldn't have shared that whole bottle of water between us. A nagging bladder does not help your appreciation of fine artworks. Much literal relief when we find a white door, naturally, leading to a local loo.
We like the overlapping shapes of the Painterly Architectonic series. And what a title. We stare intently at the three side-by-side paintings of red, blue and yellow: what's to say? Less keen on the 3D woodwork. Highlight is probably the post-Revolution posters, including those for Battleship Potemkin and various magazine covers. Seventy years old and yet ridiculously modern.
EDitorial ± 1-May-2009
Light Lunches: Cake Shop, Woodbridge
Prologue -- isn't often that I disobey The Rules. I mostly stick to the speed limit, even along Playford Road. I mostly return library books, some on time. I mostly pay for my music, as long as it's readily available. It's wrong to break The Rules. Break 'em, and they'll bite you.
Contractual obligations brought us back to The Old Lady, Mme. Woodbridge. Ever in search of the new-ish, I proposed a cut-and-run trip to a high street institution, the Cake Shop. Let's grab some takeaway items, I said, and find a sit-down scoffing spot. They agreed. In we go, past The Girl With The Dog (canine out of frame), and choose from the array of baked goodies. Plenty of pasties, a plethora of pies, a raft of rolls, you get the pastry picture.
For though their name implies sweetness, these are Bakers Of Hand-Crafted Bread, they'll have you know. Artisans, to use the modern term. There's Suffolk trencher, fruit brioche, beaver bread (?), and more, oh so much more. Best to grab and go else you'll be numbed by the choice: chilli chicken roll for me and a choice yellow bag of the finest Quavers. While we're here, subject-wise, let's say a quick farewell to the dearly departed Loaves & Fishes down the road. That is all.
My idea to walk a few short steps to a popular local coffee shop -- ciao, Costa -- and claim a table, furtive paper bags in tow. To legitimise lunch, let's buy an official Whitbread-endorsed drink inside and bring it outside. Super. All 50% above board. I'm sipping freshly squeezed juice when a lady at the next table comments on its colour: an innocuous conversation ensues about citric beverages. Course, she says, the best coffee is to be had in my home country. Looking back, I should have seen this as a cue to form an exit strategy. Within seconds, there's talk of occupied territories, alternative healing, small-minded Suffolk folk and Woodbridge as Zombieville. Hot in the sky, icy cold down here.
Somehow we prise ourselves away from what's become an unpleasant and surreal exchange, and talk among ourselves. But when I go in to buy a coffee, she's there behind me in the queue. You're clearly not interested in me, she says. Er, that's right, I say. So don't talk to me, she says. OK, I say. And that's what can happen when you bring your own food to the table.