EDitorial ± 31-May-2007

Antony Gormley's Another Place, Crosby

A Thursday in middle England, a magic road, a glimpse of the future. Buildings straight out of Dan Dare, immaculate near-empty carriageways, hydrogen fuelled automobiles, jetpacks, and a Wimpy dinner in pill form at the Norton Canes services. This'd be the Midland Expressway, aka the M6 toll, all yours for four of your English pounds. Try it: you won't regret it.

Exit onto M62, take M57 to Switch Island and look out for the brown tourist sign labelled "Antony Gormley's Another Place". Drive up and down the Burbo Bank Road, past a mysterious Titanic blue plaque, and head into an unpromising narrow road to park in an equally dodgy looking car park.

Wot no cast-iron figures yet? Through the dunes, there they are, some are near, some are far (flexing my rhyming muscles in prep for the Ip-Art poetry slam). Welcome to Crosby Beach, home to a ton of metal men made by that Angel Of The North chappy.

My lot saw fit to play football with one of the hundred, dress him in a stripy cardigan, and sit on his shoulders. But these soldiers have done it all and seen it all, from Germany to Norway to Belgium: they're unhumiliatable, in my bid for a new Collins entry. They stand impassive, naked, staring like the Gang Show into the distant horizon, waiting for their ship to come in.

On your return to the motor, be sure to stop by at Dave's Whippy -- he does some mean 99s and a minty knickerbocker glory.

EDitorial ± 25-May-2007

2007 Tour: Beech Tree, Notcutts, Woodbridge

Do Not, said the sign on the wall, Take Plants Into The Restaurant, that eating establishment being the Beech Tree Restaurant, prob'ly better known as Notcutts. It's light and airy, says their own website, with a "varied menu" that "caters for all tastes". But is it, and does it?

First plus point: free parking, quite a boon in this neck of the Woodbridge. Ample spaces even though they've sold off a chunk of their land for that health centre. As ever, check Andy's official map of Woodbridge coffee shops. Score another point for a wide range of soft drinks, inc. the ubiquitous Innocent smoothies, Feelgood juices, glass bottles of Coke, and, a sure sign of a classy joint, Orangina. Shake the bottle, etc.

Plenty of space inside though we opted for outside, down the side. What's that underfoot? Charlie and Tommy have been decking the halls and hauling the decking. Most pleasant to gaze out over the plethora of pots and potted plants, though felt a little guilty about not talking to the poor RSPB lady with her little display. Waitress soon spotted our numbered wooden flowers to deliver our made-to-order orders. Evidently not true what they say about the pace of life round here, 'cos they have those new-fangled paninis. Cheese and pepperoni for me: side salad distinguished by the slice of orange and the red onion. Like I say, class.

My driver's gammon looked very main meal-ish, and he took advantage of the strawberries and cream for a pound deal. Daft not to. A little bit like Woolies' caff with those petite servings of eight sliced strawbs and a dollop of spray cream. Various old-fashioned fairy cakes, bakewell tart, and so on for pudd, plus some overpriced Byron cookies. Not so good on the totally tasteless coffee. I'd suggest they need a word with Mrs Piper's about obtaining a decent Gaggia.

If it was a car -- Volvo 740.
If they were passing by -- Alan Titchmarsh.

EDitorial ± 18-May-2007

2007 Tour: Mrs Piper's, Woodbridge

Tricky one, this: there's clearly no apostrophe in the gold-on-green lettering of the shopfront, though the signwriter may well have needed one for the greengrocer down the road. Where's that Lynne Truss when you need her? I've done the decent thing and added one of my own. Couldn't be sure that it'd be open at the gates of dawn, hence a customary Friday lunchtime outing to Mrs Piper's. Restaurant? Tea rooms? Depends on your online directory.

Look and feel of the weighty menu was reminiscent of the Whistlestop; bags of choice, from full blown meals to omelettes to toasted sarnies. There's thorough fare on the Thoroughfare, geddit. Choice made no easier by the piped Clayderman-esque muzak. Our banana milkshakes were, for us veterans of the specialist concoctions at the Black Tiles, a let-down. Place could do with a fresh lick of paint, too. Poor start.

Only way from there was a Yazz-like up: tuna mayo jacket had lots of filling and an undemanding side salad, and the prawn baguette was "impressive". Other customers were tucking into the likes of a veg-free steak & kidney pie and chips. Homely setting with lace at the window and an imposing dresser of home-made jams for sale. In a word: traditional.

Good range of cakes, inc. coffee & walnut, fruit, and even one topped with Mars Bar: that's as radical as it gets. While others in our party were forced to share a slice, I had around 22 degrees of luscious lemon cake to myself. Unusually, this high street tea shoppe not only has one of those proper coffee machines but knows how to use it. The macchiato was spot on.

If it was a car -- Rover 75.
If they were passing by -- Pam Ferris.

EDitorial ± 14-May-2007

One String Per Decade Plus One

If you're lucky enough, like the opening track on Abbey Road, things sometimes come together. During a recent podcast from those fine people at Word magazine, Mark Ellen happened to mention being on holiday and picking out some Pink Floyd chords on his ukulele. Which reminded me to book tickets for an upcoming concert by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain to take place at Easton Farm Park, home of smelly animals and mini tractors.

Day 14 -- flip it around to make 41 -- that's me today. Not yet at that age where grown men grow their hair (though I'm due a visit to the Men's Room) and ride off into the sunset on their Harley ... bizarrely, found a clip on YouTube of Travolta and co promoting Wild Hogs on Oprah. In which the respected William H. Macy, he of Fargo, picks up a ... ukulele and sings a ditty about making the film.

Hence my birthday request, which duly appeared in front of me around 7:30am. Naturally the marshmallows, but also a shiny blue package containing a cardboard box ("from Newcastle") enclosing an instrument case protecting my very own four string uke. See, having been an owner for nearly 24 hours, I get to use the familiar name. Had first strumming session this evening, trying to keep up with Eldest and her superior guitar technique. Will see how I progress through my Li'l Rev how-to guide.

Further inspired to learn after Friday night's marvellous Ukulele Orchestra gig. Hadn't known quite what to expect. What a talented bunch. Five blokes plus two ladies equals twenty-eight strings, from soprano to bass. Hugely entertaining versions of Silver Machine (not by David Essex), Teenage Dirtbag, a Commitsment rivalling Hard To Handle, and a lovely Life On Mars. I was already sold by the time they played The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: gotta love that Morricone. And a celebrity spot of a beret-wearing Mr Neil Innes too. Great evening.

EDitorial ± 11-May-2007

2007 Tour: Caravan Cafe, Woodbridge

Standing outside the Whistlestop, you wouldn't need to be that British bloke who used to do the javelin, ooh, whats-his-face, to throw a stone and hit the Caravan Cafe. Don't prove me right, Fatima. And if the 'Stop can boast of "stunning views over the Deben", the outlook's even better when you're on the river-side of the railway line (see the map). It's so close to the riverside -- address is Quayside, Bass's Dock -- that an unlucky wind can cause the occasional flood, preventing both entry and exit. On our Friday visit, however, there was a drop of rain but not enough to merit any serious arkbuilding.

Our table tennis trio ordered one large breakfast, a bacon roll ("excellent"), and double egg, ham and chips, each washed down with a proper mug of tea. Don't embarrass yourself by handing over any form of plastic: it ain't that kind of place . Service is mighty agreeable, and there's something peculiarly English about seeing the tins of beans and toms stacked in the window.

Food was delivered to us on one of the colourful outside benches. Couple of minutes later came the odd spit from above, so we headed inside: not quite the Tardis effect but not far short. Clean formica tables, Heinz and HP and Sarson's, you know the score. Mind you, I did spot a box of Earl Grey and some green tea for the more enlightened punter.

If you can move after your fry-up, there's an ice-cream freezer and a selection of baked slices ready wrapped to take away. That slice of Genoa cake and the marshmallow-topped hot chocolate really could have waited. Oh, and before I forget, the board says they're closed Monday and Tuesday.

If it was a car -- Ford Transit.
If they were passing by -- Ray Winstone.

EDitorial ± 9-May-2007

Dolmio, April 2007

Taken a few years, but the trusty can of 3-In-1 oil dripped its last drop. In Woodbridge Woolies at the weekend, bought more of the lovely lube, now excitingly enough in a sprayable can. Not unlike WD40: coincidence, I'm sure. Bike running smoothly, but gave the chain and gear thingummies a good ol' squirt afore setting off this morning. Which seemed to cause the old two-wheeler to squeak and groan loudly both there and back. While I figure that out, here's 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. April 2007 was spent:

  • trying to decipher the lyrics of Mos Def and Dead Prez in Dave Chappelle's Block Party
  • lapping up story after story in the Heath brothers' Made To Stick
  • welcoming the return of Hugh in House
  • flicking through umpteen pages of the digits of pi in Coupland's immensely readable jPod
  • having a family day out at Chatham Docks
  • wrestling with a new cat flap
  • watching all of Mission To Mars over two days
  • downing my Easter supply of Lakeland marshmallows far too quickly
  • finally getting into Peep Show
  • chilling out with the kids at Jan's Madhouse
  • figuring out the bizarre workings of the American film ratings process in This Film Is Not Yet Rated

And that was April 2007.

EDitorial ± 4-May-2007

2007 Tour: Whistlestop Cafe, Woodbridge

Next up on our whistlestop tour of Woodbridge coffee houses is, waddya know, the Whistlestop Cafe on Station Road. Can't miss it, since it's located in an old railway station building right on the platform, adjacent to the town's tourist information office. It's part of the Woodbridge station guest house, technically speaking. Check out the map.

Plenty of pay & display parking spaces directly outside the station: finding an unoccupied space, however, requires good luck and timing. On our visit in the time-honoured Friday lunchtime spot, we were fortunate to find (a) a free spot and (b) a free table -- business was apparently good.

Lots to choose from in the extensive pre-printed menu. Attentive and friendly service from the counter-girls. No hand-mixed smoothies on offer, alas, and a play-it-safe range of soft drinks. Food very much hit the spot, though: full marks for my sausage and onion ciabatta, and good value at around £4.

Obligatory coffee -- an Americano -- was suitably strong too. Tempting array of traybakes: the cappucino slice was the popular choice. Thumbs up for the newspapers. Thumbs down for having them on sale rather than free to browse. Must mention the charming service again. And look out for the imposing station clock on the wall.

If it was a car -- Renault Scenic.
If they were passing by -- John Nettles.

EDitorial ± 1-May-2007

Remaining Indefinitely

Today, May 1st 2007, I am become as nothing. For as the Buddha tells us, nothing is permanent, and this very day I have become a permanent employee. Nigh on a decade of carefree contracting over, like that, gone like The Flash on his cosmic treadmill, whoosh.

Get a good job with more pay
And you're OK
— Pink Floyd, Money

Whenever new people join the Indian branch of the company, there's an introductory email does the rounds with a brief profile of the lucky recruit. This includes not just a thumbnail photo but random items seemingly picked off their application form, such as hobbies, ambitions and even, lately, a "success mantra". Here's the one that I sent out:

It's our pleasure to welcome and introduce Ed Broom.

Ed Broom has joined the Blankety Blank team in Ipswich as Support Consultant. He has 19.8 years experience and has been with Eastern Electricity, Ipswich.

Ed's biggest strength is his knowledge of 80s pop and his favourite pastime is searching for the perfect marshmallow. His happiest moment was playing lead euphonium in the school brass band.

Job for life? Wage slave? Tish and tosh. 'Course, there'll be changes. Less need to show off technically. Paid leave, there's a novelty. Longer lunches, esp. on a Friday. Extended chats about last night's Top Gear around the water cooler, near the fruit. Regular handfuls of Minstrels: can afford to let that waistline slip a tad. Participation, correction "attendance", at team meetings. And a slap-up fried brekky at the end of the week. Yes, I have turned permy.