Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Express cafe Tiptree

Independent living

Express cafe/restaurant Tiptree

This weekend's escapades took me into Feering for the phine box library and then a trip to Tiptree for a visit to the ingeniously named Cheap Shop.
Despite not being as cheap as a pound shop and stocking haberdashery and craft things the shop was stuffed with customers and I was advised 'This isn't busy'
Good to see in the days of supermarkets and thank you Great British Sewing Bee for reviving existing outlets and encouraging many more new ones to open.
Minimal purchases later and it was time in this very small village to find a lunch spot open on a bank holiday weekend.
Choice was limited to one newly opened deli like cafe touting for business outside and Express Cafe with a reasonable amount of people inside.
The Express is an apparently unambitious cafe with the most adventurous main meal being lasagne and on the dessert side some imaginatively named ice cream concoctions.
We sat down and waited for a menu to arrive next to an uncleared table and another table with a couple deciding from their menu.
A waitress arrived to take the couple's menu and then disappeared. Another waitress cleared the table next to usand disappeared. After a ten minute wait a menu was delivered and we were asked if we would like to order drinks before the waitress returned to take our order. Tea and coffee rapidly appeared and our (boring) order for two traditional breakfasts was taken at 12.20 having checked it was still available at this time.
By now the restaurant was busier but still a fair few tables remained empty.
As time passed and tea and coffee disappeared we began to be a bit agitated. On the next table the lady had waited around half an hour for a jacket potato, which was delivered with an apology for tardiness.
Coffee now cold we discussed the possibility of obtaining a top up rather than paying an additional £2 for coffee to go with the food when it did eventually arrive.
12.45 and 2 standard breakfasts arrived with no explanation as to the delay. So we asked if the coffee cup could simply be topped up?
A flummoxed waitress went away to ask her boss. We could have a new coffee at £2 because the one on the table was nearly finished. But we've waited all that time so it has now gone cold and isn't great to go with the breakfast. Away she went again only to return and advise us that if we wanted the drinks to go with the food we should have said so in the first place.
Ultimately the food was fine, the waitress was just doing her job with no prior experience of people asking for top ups. The management did not come over to explain or determine our issues.
It wouldn't have been an issue if there was a note to say there was a delay, a jote to say order your drinks with your food or a friendly 'oops we're slow, we'll top up the cup'
Would we visit again?
No, we're off to the new deli restaurant next time.
Anybody else had similar experiences? Timing with drinks and food seems to be an issue in several places, is it just to get the additional couple of pounds? 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Jacqueline's Tea Rooms Colchester

Beautifully set out 30s 40s tea rooms

newly opened in the town centre. So why visit?
There's a great atmosphere here even though it's new. It's like sitting in your oldest female relatives living room. There's tartan carpet, Bakelite radio, the correct music discreetly playing and a few tastefully arranged knock knacks. As an added bonus the staff are all in period costume.
But none of us go to tea rooms to look around.
The food has to match the ambience. 
It's called tea rooms and lives up to it's name.
There are 20 varieties of tea and flowering tea alongside it. (other drinks are available). 
While it's relatively basic food it is also extremely good quality and they don't stint on portions. Also lots of the food is labelled 'available as gluten free'
The menu consists of sandwiches and cakes in the main with a few specials.
Salmon and cream cheese highly recommended and the ham is top notch.

Afternoon and high tea are available at £9.95 per person.
A place I would return to.
In fact I did-later on the same day to sample the continental chocolate cake and passion fruit cupcake together with flowering tea.
This is one tea rooms that I don't think will need a loyalty card.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The collected works of A J Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin

A fun book!

The last one I read was Mr Penumbra's 24 hour bookstore and that was last year.
Not because I deliberately avoid them but because they lurk in plain clothes on bookshelves.
As an avid reader and nerdy booklover I enjoy books about books so The collected works of A J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin was going to end up in my sticky mitts at some point.
The snag being that when I went to Red Lion Books I could only remember from the blurb that "it's about a bookseller who has a baby dropped on his doorstep with a funny name, possibly Filkry" "author?" "no, sorry, I don't know that either"
Due credit to them, an excited young bookseller exclaimed "I know that one" and almost leaped across the shop to get it from the shelf it had sat on for a whole day.
Fikry it is then.
That's why I love bookshops.
Home with the purchase and it's a book that grabs you immediately and lets go around 4 hours later. So not a long book, not a complicated read, but fun.
Widower A J Fikry owns a bookstore on Alice Island USA.
The shop is open but he's lost enthusiasm.
He's got family support and local support but not his important person anymore.
Great characters surround him, a local divorced police officer, a sister in law married to a man who has trouble with zips, particularly those of the trouser variety and one day a baby is added to his circle. The baby has a letter attached asking him to care for it. Shortly afterwards the mother is found drowned.
He has no idea what to do with one of those but Google has its uses.
When he finds that the baby is due to be farmed out to any foster family he decides that a specific request from the mother gives him a certain obligation.
Life gradually changes.
So far so women's lit with a pink cover.
But that is underselling this one.
It has excerts from great books, it has a sub-story, mystery, a bit of crime, some romance, teenage angst, bookselling trials and tribulations.
Excellent, great one for a book club as well because nobody won't have time to read it.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

What makes you buy a book?

It could be a respected clipping on the cover.

It could be another author's blurb on the cover.

It could be twitter.
It could be the author.
It could be the cover picture.
The collected works of A J Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin http://www.hive.co.uk/book/the-collected-works-of-a-j-fikry/18118844/
For me:
The respected review is not likely to work. Especially if it's Booker.
The author's name may well work but clearly not on a debut.
The alternative author blurb is either
A. Taken with a pinch of salt if I like the author or
B. stops me buying a book if it's an author I don't like.
Either way I'm under the impression it's a paid for opinion. Let me know if I'm wrong.
The cover picture may work but some books simply have the wrong cover on. IMHO.
Twitter usually works. If enough bloggers love it and tweet about it. Even the pr people on twitter may work.
Unless it's self published.
More recently there have been gimmicks included in books. I'm a sucker for these. So "S" nearly got me with it's PR and games but the content didn't appeal.
The 15 lives of Harry August has a gimmick. Postcards. And, yes, it got me. The book is good as well though:)
What works for you?

Tuesday, 8 April 2014



Please do comment and let me know what I have missed on the lists in this post. I'd be very interested to get other takes on the area.

It's a great way to improve your CV and sometimes leads to a job offer. So lots of people are doing it. It's no longer the domain of blue rinse ladies who've retired.

I volunteer because I have a lucky life and am able to. I can get involved in a completely different role from my day job, maybe one I might have chosen if I'd been more knowledgeable at 16.

Volunteers nowadays could be anyone, students partway through degrees looking to improve their language skills, unemployed professionals who really don't want to watch Jeremy Kyle, community service people, life skills students and still the older ladies.
In amongst that mix is a high level of intelligence on occasion.
So why is it that volunteering doesn't seem to be respected?
I've volunteered and turned up on my given day having paid my car park fees to be told I wasn't needed that day.
Someone else I know was issued with a name badge only to have it taken away and then replaced with a badge reading 'volunteer' presumably at some stage this would save them around 50p.
Neither of these examples are things that you would expect to happen to you as a paid employee.
I'd like to see volunteers treated as employees whose pay is £0.
IE given the same respect as paid employees.

After all:
A volunteer 
Is there  (usually) because that's the organisation they've decided to donate their skills to and they have an emotional connection
They work because it's a choice
Their mortgage payment at the end of the month is not dependent on it
If they go off sick it makes no difference financially
Often they have high level skills
They save an organisation money purely by being there

An employee
Can take time off and still get paid
Has no emotional connection
They are there (often) for the mortgage money
If a higher paid job was on offer they would move
It takes a lot to remove an employee from post so they needn't be hugely productive

If a volunteer was treated as an equal member of a team the value of the whole team would increase.

Nb the examples used are from a shop and a homelessness charity. In the first case the salary saved was around £40 a week and in the second case £80 a week (1 day worked in each case)
First case volunteer qualified accountancy technician with web and pr skills. Second case IT ubernerd.

I can't imagine that Medicins sans Frontiers volunteers have the same issues. I hope not.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Waste recycling Colchester style

Colchester thoughts

In Colchester, UK we have the luxury of having waste collected from our doorsteps.
Not the end of the road and, no, we don't have to take it to the tip.
We have a selection of collections:
Non-recyclable, every week
Paper, every two weeks
Glass, every two weeks
Tin, every two weeks
Food waste, I'll be honest I don't know how often it's collected, I have a composter and I eat what I buy, but there is a special bin provided
Plastic, every two weeks
Garden waste, every two weeks in a heavy duty reusable bag
Paper, glass and plastic goes in bags supplied by the council.
They're plastic bags.
Glass and tins go in a plastic, reusable crate supplied by the council.
So far, so good, so lucky.
The food containers are supposed to be used with biodegradable bags which residents have to buy at a cost of about £1.
The bags, crate, garden bags and food container are all delivered free.
The recyclable items bags and non-recyclable are delivered into our front gardens regularly.
Whether we need them or not.
Now it's time for councils to cut back on costs and waste is one of the areas they're looking at.

I emailed a suggestion that the clear printed bags used for paper and plastics could have the last but one bag printed in red so that the binmen were aware that a new roll of bags was needed. To me this would indicate a need and reduce the amount delivered simply by the calendar.
The simple fact is that people don't use them for recycling. So they're giving bags to houses where there are already three rolls.
Apparently a feasibility study decided that this would encourage people to waste more.
I don't know how.
Maybe someone who reads this could let me know what I'm missing here - please :)

Today's newspaper shows a local Councillor bemoaning the introduction of a charge for replacing garden bags when they're worn out.
Mr Will Quince says that charging for them at £3.64 will affect recycling rates.
He states that the fact that they are free at the moment means that those without gardens are subsidising those without.
I agree but frankly am surprised that they are only delivered to those with gardens. Quite insightful of our council.
He does let us know what happens to the waste, sort of. Apparently Colchester Council gets "compost credits" for every tonne recycled. I don't know about you but I have no idea what I could do with a "compost credit"? Would it be anything useful or would I need 10? 100? 1000?
He suggests that the bags are worn out by being dragged to the dustcart by the workers. Maybe, maybe not.

Surely the bags that are worn out are simply those that are being used. Correctly or incorrectly.

So the people who are recycling are effectively being penalised for doing so.
How about having a garden bag amnesty.
Not the most sexy of ideas but there must be loads of them lying around not being used.
Hey Colchester Council- recycle them!
Whatever is done I know I'm not the only one looking forward to the discount on my council tax bill caused by the savings.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Keep your friends close - Paula Daly

Following a quiet success with What kind of a mother are you? is Paula Daly's latest outing into the world of thrillers.
This one's better.
Natty has been married forever it seems and has got to the stage of marriage where everything is work and she's the one keeping all the balls in the air.
So her husband is ripe for the picking.
When her long standing best friend, Eve, arrives she's only pleased to see her and catch up on her news. Since Natty owns a hotel her friend is able to simply stay over when Natty's youngest daughter is taken ill on a school trip to France.
Sean, Natty's  husband is beside himself being left behind when Natty takes the last place on a flight to France so Natty is relieved to leave her family in Eve's capable hands. Quite literally in Sean's case.
When she gets home it's to an unrecognisable Sean who claims to be in love with Eve despite having only been in a relationship with her for a matter of days.
So far, so relatively simple.
But is Eve everything she appears to be to everyone?
The book raises the question of just how much do you know about people supposedly close to you?
If you don't see them for years and they say they've passed high level exams do you have any reason to disbelieve them?
Been married and divorced?
Their mother has died?
How would you react if maybe some of it wasn't true? And if you were the only one that knew? Would you be paranoid or enlightened?
So much in life we take for granted and Paula Daly flips all this on it's head.
And then slam dunks the finale home.
Brilliant ending. If you're one of those people who reads the last page to see if you'll like the book, don't. Just don't.

Publisher - Bantam Press

Freda's Voice Friday 56
"Eve's not being a bossy-wife substitute is she?" I say, laughing"