EDitorial ± 30-Mar-2012

Light Lunches: KFC, Martlesham

Fantastic weather all this week up to this particular Friday lunchtime when it's come over all chilly and overcast. Brrr. Might warm up after a short bike ride down Gloster Road. There's panic at the pumps on either side of the road: Tesco's teeming and BP's bone dry. Fun times for fossil fuellers.

Always good to give innovative local startups a try, and it so happens that behind that same BP is an eatery called KFC. Yep, it's finally time to tick it off. In through the Colonel's finger lickin' chicken experts door and woah, the choice is overwhelming. Too... many... pictures. There's idle talk of sharing a bucket before we go our separate ways. For me, the supercharger sub meal with Pepsi Max and large fries. For Andy, some pieces with a Krushems shake on the side, a fatboy meal in itself c/w huge straw. Then, in homage to the first outlet in Salt Lake City, he pours more sodium chloride on those fries. He's livin' fast.

Not unlike our last major sell-out excursion to Burger King, it's perfectly pleasant in here, and busy too. Clientele comprises teens, couples, workmen, families, a veritable Gap advert. Food does the job, hits the spot and is almost too reasonably priced. As unexpected as the bike parking out front, my caffeinated eye alights upon a Lavazza logo. Dunno what they're doing to that normally great brand but this coffee is poor. Thank goodness, then, for the Avalanche dessert of "real dairy ice cream" with flake bits. Mighty yum. We're gonna need those calories for the extended 1km ride back.

If it was a car -- Dodge Charger.
If they were passing by -- Mixu Paatelainen.

EDitorial ± 28-Mar-2012

Blake Morrison, UCS

To that checkerboard UCS on the waterfront for a lecture by a big name, none other than Blake Morrison. Who he? Well, you may remember him for a memoir about his dad called "And When Did You Last See Your Father?" The book picked up a couple of awards but also, crucically, was made into a film with that Colin Firth playing BM. For menfolk, that's living the dream.

Another reason for being jealous of Blake is that he has the title "professor", being Prof. of Creative Writing at Goldsmiths. He's also a Visiting Prof at UCS, which is nice, and perhaps explains the effusive 10 minute introduction that he's given by the provost and chief exec. Sit down, fella, and let the man talk. Points touched on included:

  • writing isn't necessarily about getting published; it can be enriching, cathartic, and even therapeutic
  • reading a book with a tough subject, like Alone In Berlin, can make you feel better
  • The Reader Organisation encourages people to read aloud: prose, not Prozac
  • 1 in 5 librarians lost their job last year
  • easier, quicker and cheaper to download a book than wait for delivery
  • he's grateful to former editors for suggested titles, changes of ordering, etc.
  • more small publishers, rise of book clubs, even Richard and Judy are all encouraging signs

All that said, I'm not convinced that he's firmly on the side of new technology, most clearly identified with the Kindle. Maybe I should have seen that coming when his "official" website is still looking forward to the May 2010 publication of The Last Weekend, currently being filmed up near Southwold. Yes, he's got an iPad, but still used A4 notes for the talk. Anyway: bonus points for the casual mention that he'd once interviewed Ted Hughes.

EDitorial ± 22-Mar-2012

Ipswich Lunches: Xpresso

Those light lunch guidelines are as unknowable as the apocalyptic ending of Knowing and as unfathomable as Captain Nemo's Nautilus. What is the sound of one ham bap? Interpreting one of the rare surviving texts, going all the way back to 2008, suggests a threefold quorum of (1) seating, (2) cake and (3) pot of tea. At which point, might I refer the court to Bat Out Of Hell, track 5.

Staggering out of Staples and into the harsh sunlight clutching a 10 pack of BiC Cristal pens -- medium, black, since you ask -- I stumbled across the very definition of serendipity. There, waiting for me in the car park sat a mobile coffee van. Not a mirage but instead a "totally self-sufficient state-of-the-art mobile espresso cafe". My ship has come in and, for once, I'm at the dockside.

There's a brief wait while the nice lady, Kate, sorts out an order for one of the Staplers, then I'm up: latte, please. Waddya know, she's been working this patch for over five years through all weathers, barring the odd mini tornado or snowdrift. Seems like everyone passing says hello. My latte, served in a classy Lavazza takeaway cup, is very much the business, being both hot enough and having a half-decent kick. Since we're within a star jump of the Klick Fitness gym, it seems only right to indugle in a massive pastry, an artery-bothering bonus Bakewell.

No seating per se so it's a low wall near the courthouse, more than fine on such a glorious day. Watching the traffic whoosh past the fire station isn't quite the same as the view from the beach at Orford but it'll do. If only Xpresso had been here when I did a brief stint at Eastern Electricity back in the late 1990s, I'd have been hyper caffeinated and as big as Russell House. Catch Kate mid-morning and lunchtime and say hi.

If it was a car -- Coffee Megavan.
If they were passing by -- Kate Humble.

EDitorial ± 20-Mar-2012

TT1112, Week 23

More familiar faces tonight: that'll be Kennedy, just flown in on the red eye, and Andy. Enough about us. Opposition tonight are the Baylham Brothers, those Emsdens, plus Lloyds Mike from across the way. Back in mid December we laboured to a good 8-2 win. In brief:

  • maximum for Ed, digging deep to beat Alan in the fifth end
  • brace for Kennedy, pipped by Alan in the fifth end
  • and a brace for Andy, providing another scalp for Alan

Coin toss sees Andy into the doubles with Ed, winning comfortably enough to grab, waddya know, another 8-2 win.

EDitorial ± 19-Mar-2012

What A Rally

Another weekend, another world record attempt. Around 11:30am on Sunday morning, the Ipswich Corn Exchange was the place to be. As a bonus event for the IDTTL 2012 Championships, ping-pong players from across the county had been summoned to be among "the most participants in a table tennis rally". We grabbed our bats, glanced through the complicated instruction sheet, and took our places.

So the idea was not to have the longest continuous rally -- that record stands at a ridiculous eight hours -- but to have many, many different players. To make it easier, one player remains in place throughout the rally. Fortunately that role was to be taken by one Stephen Gertsen, an international player, i.e. a bit good and Mr Consistency. Meanwhile, at the other end, all we had to do was this:

Play a basic backhand push with very little spin, and keep it reasonably high and slow

A beginner's stroke: what could be simpler? Except that nobody wanted to be the one to miss. Imagine the embarrassment.

Into our separate areas we went for an initial count. That record stood at 100 players. We'd need at least 101 to make it viable. Current tally: 99. Can't do it. At which point a call went out around the hall, and certain individuals who'd been hoping not to take part were smoked out. I haven't got a bat, protested one. We'll find you one, came the answer. Now up to 108 rather nervous batsmen, batswomen and batschildren.

We were broadly lined up in order of ability, from least experienced up to nationally ranked players. That meant a bunch of juniors would be going first in our conga line. Adjudicators in place, camera rolling, off we went.

  • attempt 1: all going well until about the 8th shot when a small boy knocked it into the net. No problem. We'll go again with that poor lad at the start of the queue.
  • attempt 2: proceeding smoothly when a young girl put the ball off the table. Another groan, everyone thinking "there but for the grace...".
  • attempt 3: safely past the kids and into the realms of the older players, including yours truly. Up next, knock, back safely, move quickly out of the way and watch the other poor suckers lining up.

Several extremely tense minutes later, up stepped Ryan Collins to play the final shot, and we'd done it! Much applause and mutual congratulations. Now waiting for the attempt to be ratified but, bats crossed, we could be in the next Guinness Book of Records. Well done to Jimmy Farrow, as ever, for organising not just this one-off event but the whole weekend, including an excellent finals night: nice one!

EDitorial ± 16-Mar-2012

Light Lunches: Orwell Stores, Nacton

Late to leave for lunch, there was a difference of opinion about how far to go on two wheels. Andy suggested we take it easy and travel about a half-mile down the road. I countered that we stretch ourselves and do a 10 mile round trip. He wasn't having it. I won.

He on the Brompton and me on the Voodoo, it's off past the Holeshot Cafe and on into Brightwell (A1093), then right for Bucklesham. Wind's in our hair as we cut a left and emerge, warily, onto the busy A12/A14 intersection. This is serious car land, the terrain of JG Ballard, not Louison Bobet. Somehow made it over to the A1156, past Levington turn-off to the Doubledeck Diner, and one final left. Now in Nacton and lo, 'tis the Orwell Stores.

Will be open, won't it? Course, I'd said. It wasn't. Closed for lunch. Re-open at 2pm. Only 10 minutes to wait. Trusting lot round here with the fruit and veg outside, plus selection of papers. Here's the owner: he's had the place for the last 34 years, and reckons he'll be the last. Business has been hit by the double closures of (a) Amberfield school and (b) the post office. Not sure that our patronage today will help him too much:

  • Mattessons BLT -- so-so
  • Bobby's (previously) Prawn Cocktail Flavour Spirals for 39p -- my oh my
  • Yazoo Banana Milkshake -- quenchin'
  • Cherry & Sultana "Homemade" Flapjack -- filling

No nice bench here and lots of noisy vehicles going past. There's time to admire the small ads for gardening services and read the minutes of the last parish meeting while Andy takes a call. As he does, the chill sets in and makes for a brisk ride back, bypassing that 'orrible roundabout in favour of a route past the decrepit Hollies sports club. Use it or lose it, as they say.

If it was a car -- Singer Gazelle V.
If they were passing by -- George Baker.

EDitorial ± 13-Mar-2012

TT1112, Week 23

Hey, it's our old friends from Sidegate Lane, namely Richard, always tough, Jim, who's got a mean backhand swipe, and Martin, who can hit them. We've been scrapping with them for longer than anyone would care to admit. In fact, back in the 1994/95 season, they finished in 5th place in old division 5, while we were 3rd. Ah, the G.O.D.

Back to the present. In brief:

  • all three for Ed, beating Jim and Martin in straight games but having to go the distance against Richard
  • all three for Andy, despite losing the first two ends against both Richard and Martin
  • just the one for Steve, edging past Jim, but he lost out on deuces in four other ends

Off early for Andy so Ed and Steve for the doubles, digging deep and proving victorious to claim a satisfactory 8-2 win. Settle for that.

EDitorial ± 12-Mar-2012

Stewart Lee, Norwich

In March 2009, a new series called Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle came to BBC2. Apparently it was very funny. I didn't watch it. In February 2010, Stewart Lee did a show at the New Wolsey in Ipswich. Apparently he was very funny. I didn't go. In May 2011, the second series of Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle came to BBC2. I watched it and it was very funny. In March 2012, Stewart Lee did a show at the Theatre Royal in Norwich. I went and he was very funny.

That Theatre Royal was packed for the show, and that's a mighty big place. Stewart Lee expressed concern that the full house was rarely laughing at the same moment, blaming friends who'd been dragged along by other friends. More than once, he insisted that he had no new material and that he'd been largely driving up and down motorways, looking after kids and watching one particular Scooby Doo film over and over again, all of which he managed to work into his routine. I'll certainly never look at a pirate jungle bridge in the same light again.

One line from the first half that stood out for me and which I vowed to remember:

The only thing required for Jeremy Clarkson to triumph is for Richard Hammond to do nothing.

This was the "Carpet Remnant World" tour, hence the backdrop of, er, oddly sized carpet remnants. Even those remnants took on a whole new meaning at the end of the show. Coming out of the theatre, if I'd been asked to explain why I was laughing so much, I couldn't. I had a similar experience after an Eddie Izzard gig some years back. One part of the show has him reading out a whole series of negative comments. On that theme, I was proud to be one of Stewart Lee's audience, "an insular cadre of socially challenged, prematurely middle-aged, pseudo-intellectual men".

EDitorial ± 9-Mar-2012

Light Lunches: Doubledeck Diner, Levington

Among other works by a New Zealand chap named Eric Partridge is one of the classic guides to good English, a book entitled Usage & Abusage. When this title crosses my Words With Friends mind, I sometimes think of it as Use & Abuse. This week's review could take an even shorter form as its title -- Us & A Bus (hey, get on the bus).

You wait for one bus-based breakfastery to come along -- hi to the Holeshot Cafe -- then along comes another. Follow those yellow and black "Stack Area" signs near Bucklesham, turn off towards Levington and keep 'em peeled for a bright yellow bus, c/w Pudsey-esque spots. Laid up in the layby is the Doubledeck Diner, the lightly fried meat in the sandwich formed by the A14 and Felixstowe railway line.

Inviting words on that big sign: CAFE OPEN. Step up, no ticket required, and there in the stalls is the counter and kitchen area. Poised, Summer Holiday-style like a spatula boy, is Keith, ex-London bus driver and proud owner. Everything's cooked to order, gents: what can I do for you? Full English for Andy, the guts, and a diet-conscious egg & chips for me, plus a Dr Pepper from that handy drinks fridge. Orders placed, up to the circle we go, though not before Andy has asked that £6.40 question: does the bell still work? Yes, it does.

Upstairs is great. There's proper tables between the original fabric seats, and even a pine dining table at the rear. Makes you feel like a kid on a school outing. Talking of which, our Keith even does kids' parties if you can provide the parking space. Andy's eyes goggle when his generous plate arrives, including a flat-ish Scottish sausage. Thumbs up for my thinly sliced chips and nicely cooked egg. Very much does the job.

A chat with the chef and proprietor reveals that he had that Richard Hammond in here the other day, probably scooted over from Top Gear filming at Rendlesham, and that Keith gives the odd wake-up call to sleeping lorry drivers parked nearby. Like the Holeshot, there ain't no cakes, so it's a mug of coffee and a choccy bar: I'm from Mars, Andy is from Snickers. Go give him your business and get on board with the Doubledeck Diner.

If it was a car -- Leyland Atlantean.
If they were passing by -- Richard Hammond.

EDitorial ± 6-Mar-2012

Carcassonne And On

For a goodly while, Ticket To Ride, aka the Train Game, was the go-to board game in these parts. We all knew the rules inside out and we'd played not just the original US version but also the European board (tunnels!) and the German variation (passengers!). Certain family and friends migrated to the online version too. It's a great game, comma, and beats the likes of Monopoly into a ridiculous tin hat. Then, back in May 2011, along came Carcassonne (see Wiki page).

Those first few games in the spring went OK, no better than that, as we struggled a little with the rules (yes, it was the placement and scoring of farmers, if you're reading this and already know the game). Then we started to get more into it, beginning to appreciate some of its many subtleties. It plays differently every time as each player (a) picks a face-down tile, (b) connects it to another already laid tile and (c) decides whether to place a "follower" on the new tile as a knight, thief, monk or farmer.

Note: we're currently using both the Inns & Cathedrals expansion pack and The Festival mini expansion. It'd be hard to contemplate playing without these, they're now so wired in. And we're all looking forward to an as yet unreleased expansion called The Plague (has the fantastic German name of Die Pest) which will "allow players to remove followers", thus making us even more vindictive. Well, me, anyway.

Since Christmas, perhaps spurred on by the lousy weather, the games -- at least two, sometimes more -- have become a key part of each weekend. Picture two married couples asking each other if they'd like to "Monk It Up" (as a monastery is upturned) or shouting "Spoon Of Truth!" (as a tile is improperly placed) and all may become clear. Rivalry, always competitive, has become fierce, both between households and partners. Alliances are loosely formed and betrayals are commonplace. Much like our long-lived marriages.

EDitorial ± 5-Mar-2012

TT1112, Week 22

Up to the Dome on a foul night to wrestle the Wrens. Sure, we had some good games ourselves, but by far the better stuff was happening in the Premier league match (Cuckoos v. Flamingos) on the other tables. They're in a different league, you know.

Wrens tonight are three lads, Kieran, James and Edgar, who've all got the shots but lack consistency, thankfully for us. In brief:

  • another 10-0 win!

Not quite so brief:

  • straightforward maximums for Ed and Kennedy
  • first maximum of the season for Steve: hugely well-deserved, battling back from being 9-3 down in the deciding 5th end against Kieran to take the next eight points

Easy doubles win for Ed and Kennedy, Steve gracefully declining.

EDitorial ± 1-Mar-2012

Ipswich Lunches: Kai, UCS

Brand new month, March the 1st, both St David's Day and birthday of showjumper David Broome (unlike me, with an "e"). Sun's out, sky is blue and you might even describe the temperature as balmy, like Ginger. Plan is to meet outside Coffeelink at 1:05pm. I'm there at 1:10pm, not bad for me, and Andy's there at Nelson time. On we go taking care to avoid the remaining dockside railway lines.

Completists that we are, we've come to the James Hehir building to tick off the final eatery in the UCS trilogy comprising:

  • so-so Wicked,
  • okay Theta,
  • and today's contender, Kai.

A brief freewheel inland is Cafe Marina whereas Kai sits nonchalantly on some prime waterfront. Place is abuzz with da youth as we enter and grab one of the few free tables. Nice to sit down at our age, ay what. Diverse options galore on the garish pink 'n' green menus, from tofu to tuna and jambalaya to something else beginning with "j". One price for us, reduced price for the 'tudes. Seems fair. Up to the long bar to order. There's a queue but it's moving.

Thought we'd be clever and each order our savoury AND sweet choices in the one transaction, thus saving us time. Kind of backfired when Andy's sticky toffee pudding turned up first, shortly followed by my paprika chicken ciabatta (and curly fries!) and his wedges, then my pudd. No matter. While they won't set the world alight, the savouries are generously sized and very good value, easily setting you up for a post-lunch lecture on computational linguistics. Ditto the pudds: I had the dulce de leche, yet again.

On such a day, shame that there's no (obvious) outdoor seating, though maybe that appears later in the year. Shame, too, about my watery Americano, though I suspect a straight latte would have been much better, judging by Andy's mocha. Thumbs up, overall, and makes you feel 20 years younger and/or older. Your mileage may vary.

If it was a car -- Kia Venga.
If they were passing by -- Prof Alison Macleod.