Saturday, 31 May 2014

Tropical Wings Zoo - South Woodham Ferrers

When you're running in a slightly aged campervan it's a good idea to stay close to home. So off I went to a fairly local Britstop at Battlesbridge.

There's a whole village load of antiques, a pub, several cafes and a tea room at the very top of a 5 storey mill 
but even better than that there's a zoo within 3 miles.
And it's a humdinger of a zoo called Tropical Wings.
It's relatively small, the wolves haven't arrived let alone escaped and there's no big cat in sight. Not even a Clacton big cat.
But there are experiences to be had meeting these creatures....

Feeding them...

Watching them hatch....

Seeing them fly (or sit in front of you if your camera's not fast enough).....

Have a wander in with the lemurs. Meet the other animals, creatures, get steamy in the tropical house with it's free flying birds and butterflies before seeing the truly yellow, orange and blue poison frogs.
All included in the entrance price. A magical, magical day out in an environment not completely jam packed that goes out of it's way to make sure you go away feeling you've had true value for money. At £10.95 per adult with family tickets available. Spend it, you'll be pleased you did.

Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - George Moore Films

You heard correctly.
At last.
Listen again....
Free film.

Perfect - Rachel Joyce

I admit to loving Harold Fry. I loved the tweeness, the sentimentality and it made a welcome change from the crime thriller that graces my bookshelves and infiltrates my reading time. I even passed it on.
So Perfect was a book I was wary of. How would an author follow a book as different as Harold with something equally leftfield and yet so different as to be beyond compare. Difficult to do.
Rachel Joyce introduces us to Byron at a time when he's in his youthful element, full of what ifs and whys.
When 2 seconds are added to a day he's not slow in realising that anything could happen in that space of time that until then would have been denied it's opportunity. And it does.
With no official notification of when the 2 seconds are added Byron nevertheless notices and registers the events with dismay.
Can he be the only one aware? Should he stay that way or tell?
With a mother desperate to keep up with the neighbours and a father who pops back home now and then to check that she is Byron resorts to his best friend James. Despite previous impressions of Byron James is the nerdy one!
Alongside events unfolding in the 70s (+2 seconds) we are told the story of Jim who is employed in a local cafe and struggling with OCD. The only smile in his life comes from a rebellious colleague who ignores his differences and gives him a semblance of confidence.
How do the two lives relate? Do they overlap, crash, imitate?
Whilst very different from Harold the book is written in the same gentle style. In Harold the point of the tale could not be missed, with Perfect the nuances are much more subtle.
Personally I preferred Harold but I'm honest, that's because I don't necessarily want to overanalyse a book, I simply want to read it.
Which was your preference and why?

Jumbo Tower - Colchester


On 29th May 2014 Jumbo Tower in Colchester was sold to local ex? poultry farmer Paul Flatman.
Despite brave and impressive efforts from Balkerne Tower Trust who managed to raise £40,000 or thereabouts in the space of 4 weeks simply by asking they were beaten easily. They are still accepting donations towards the general aims of the Trust.
It will be interesting to see the ideas Mr Flatman puts forward for the tower. Hopefully they will involve some maintenance to safeguard the building while his ideas are progressed.

Best of luck!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Highfield Hotel - Idle, Bradford

Two sides to the same hotel. Is it bad or is it great? That depends on which type of guest party you're with....
A weekend trip up to the Haworth 40s weekend with Diamond Holidays called for an overnight stop. For 28 people and their coach driver.

The party ranged in age from early 20s to mid 70s and comprised couples, birthday groups of friends and a mother and son duo.

So quite a range.
We'd checked out the the Highfield Hotel beforehand so we knew it had American sized rooms, a well rated restaurant, a gym for hotel guests and a swimming pool. It is also only 8 miles away from our final destination of Haworth.
Not bad for a coach trip weekend we thought.

On arrival we were greeted by two young girls who appeared to have no experience of working on a hotel reception. We all had to fill in a form including our car number plate? So a slow process. Then it was up to the huge rooms for an hour before dinner in the hotel restaurant rather than the well rated one. Rooms are massive. American sized. And you could easily imagine a large American spinning around just because the space is there. Coffee and tea tray with 3 Bourbon biscuits, shower gel, shampoo, bubble bath, soap, body lotion all provided in a bathroom with shower and bath. 
 Large alcove with table and mirror, double bed, wardrobe and a flat screen tv on the wall opposite the bed. Binoculars needed.
This time there were 4 inexperienced youngsters. They told us this was their first shift. It may well have been the hotel's first coach booking as well. Service was with a smile, they tried their best but they were on a loser from the start. Beef and carrots arrived. 5 minutes later potatoes arrived. Another 5 mins and peas. Another 5 and gravy. In Yorkshire and no Yorkshire pudding. 5 minutes and mustard. That equated to one person with a meal. The routine was repeated.
Pudding meant a waiter holding one plate walking the width of the room to ask at every table until the owner if the plate was found.
The following morning we were told by one youngster that not only was it the first shift but it was a 14 hour one as well.
Breakfast was, for the coach party, a fry up and an excellent one too.
The buffet bar, we were told, was for 'hotel guests'. Or not us. Coffee and tea however were in the breakfast buffet area. Go figure.
Overall as a coach venue this didn't work well. But. And its a big but...
If I travel to Yorkshire again (and I do regularly) this is a great place to stay. The room rate including self service breakfast bar is £55 for a 'king' sized room.
Breakfast bar covers porridge, fruit, yoghurts, cereal, muffins, toast, French pastries, juice, coffee, tea and I may well have missed some things. There's also the pool and gym and it's own car park. Conveniently located for the jewel that is the World Heritage Location at Saltaire Village, Shipley, Bradfrod itself and Bronte country it's a great spot for touring.
Hopefully the staff there this weekend will stay on and progress, they certainly were keen enough and smart enough. The hotel seems to have accepted a contract it wasn't ready for but it has the ingredients ready to make the grade. Possibly if coach companies didn't barter them down to nothing we'd all end up better off.
Worth a visit.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Colchester Jumbo Water Tower

This week I climbed the 155 steps to the top of the tower.
It's a bit more than grim inside, it's been graffitied and disresprected in other ways and the pigeons have moved in. It's dark in places on the way up and the bannister rope runs out intermittently.
So why did I do it?

Simply because it may turn out to be my only chance. It's been in the hands of a developer for the last few years and has had several planning applications made. They've failed. But then the idea of a restaurant, a couple of floors of flats and a token museum is a bit much for this building to have squashed in. It has listed building status and occupies a prime spot in the town, visible from miles around. Currently the only occupants are the homeless who take shelter in the feet of Jumbo and the pigeons.

Now it's up for auction again. The owner has ploughed enough of his money into architect fees for failed applications. Clearly any planning application can only fail if it doesn't conform to planning guidelines so it's not an issue of people being precious with their landmarks.
A realistic business plan, one that doesn't alter the structure but does allow everyone to enjoy the building has been put forward time and again by Balkerne Tower Trust. It will mean restoring the tower to it's former glory. It won't mean a  penthouse pad with no parking and a million pound price tag. It won't mean a restaurant in the sky but it will mean access to the top (nearly). Initially there won't be access to the top for disabled people but that's the case with a fair few listed buildings. It's a shame but they simply weren't built in a time when access had to be there.

Jumbo is up for auction on 29th May 2014. Balkerne Tower Trust are trying to raise as much as possible beforehand. It is a very real case of David vs Goliath and they need help. Any donations are returnable should they not succeed with their bid.
If you'd like a chance to visit in the future to see the view almost across Essex, to have a look at the proposed museum or just simply because you can, like I did, then please do wander over to the website and donate anything from £2 upwards to help them buy it.
I'll see you up there!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Alex - Pierre LeMaitre

I admit I'm late to the party with this one. I missed the speeches, the drunken uncle and had the room to myself to enjoy the atmosphere.
Nearly to myself. I was joined by a very short detective, a very suave, very rich, almost savant detective, an amazingly frugal detective and their avuncular boss.

The case revolves around the search for Alex (female) who's been kidnapped. No-one knows who she is, no-one's reported her missing. A witness saw her taken so it's the job of Camille (male) and his two sidekicks to try and find her before it's too late.
It's been translated from the original French and I knew before starting that their crime fiction can be particularly graphic. It is here as well, but no more so than some of our homegrown writers.
The book's in three parts and is a roller coaster of a ride, good enough to send me to the shop for the second in the series, Irene.
The three detectives read in an interwoven way, feeding lines from each other, tolerating each other and being frustrated. A particular favourite theme of mine in the book is the character of Armand. You can almost see the incredulity on the faces of those that don't know him, the forbearance of those who work closely with him and the hidden anger of those he gently cons.
The only downside was when some digital photographs were found and still no-one knew a location. Is that still possible on digital? I thought the image data gave the game away on every amateur thanks to google.
Aside from that, stuck with it, loved it and am definitely taking my place at the pre-launch party next time!