The Only Way is Essex

Essex, the home county to the east of London, has the reputation of being, well, a bit chavvy. But there’s more to Essex than big hair, gaudy bling, fake tans, assisted tits and impossibly white tombstone teeth – and that’s just the men.

Beyond the faceless towns of the commuter belt, Essex is a green and pleasant land, and its county town, Colchester, has ancient roots. Although not officially awarded city status until 2022, Colchester can reasonably claim to be Britain’s first proper city, sitting as it does on top of Camulodunum, the first major settlement of Roman Britannia and the province’s first capital.

Even before the unstoppable Romans slashed and burned their way through village, forest and field, the settlement was already a centre of power for the locals, including King Cunobelin – Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. When the Romans displaced the tribal huts with their first legionary fortress, it was like saying ‘we’re top dogs now’.

Following the Boudican revolt of AD60, when the seriously pissed-off Queen of the Iceni slaughtered everyone and burned everything in her path, a defensive wall was thrown around the town in an after-the-horse-has-bolted kinda way. Not long after, Camulodunum lost its status as provincial capital to the better-placed Londinium but continued to thrive as a garrison town, something which continues to this day.

We’ve passed through Colchester many times – it’s on the mainline from Londinium to Norwich – but we’d never stepped off the train for a gander. So, we thought, let’s give it a go, and we stayed overnight. The main event for us was Colchester Castle, which sits in a pretty park populated by picnickers and grey squirrels. The park also contains remains of that post-Boudica Roman city wall – the earliest ever constructed.

The castle keep is eleventh-century Norman, built on the foundations of the massive classical temple of Claudius the Divine; Roman emperors just loved to be worshipped. The castle is now a rather splendid museum dedicated to the long history of the city. Roman-era relics are what really draw in the punters. We were lucky enough to avoid the modern-day legions of over-excited schoolkids in hi-vis jackets screaming their way through the exhibits.

Museum’d out, we took a slow stroll around the ruins of St Botolph’s Priory, where Liam caught forty winks; then we withdrew to a local tavern for a bottle and a bite.

Our bed for the night was at the historic George Hotel, along the High Street. We chose well. Behind the hotel’s Georgian façade lies a timber-framed building said to date back to the fourteenth century, although the hotel’s extensive cellars may be older and feature the ruins of a Roman gravel pavement. A few years back, the hotel underwent extensive renovation and refurbishment. We fell for the lavish and distinctly quirky style.

I posted this image on Faceache of little ol’ me in a funky, over-the-top, oversized wing-back chair. It prompted this response from an old mucker of mine…


If only I had a handbag big enough.

What a Dick!

Shortly after we moved to the village, the good lady wife of our local pub landlord popped round to the cottage with a housewarming gift. She said, “I saw this and thought of you” and handed over a pot plant. It was an echninopsis lageniformis f. monstruosa, more commonly known as a penis cactus. And you can see why.

I did extensive research – ok, I googled it – and in Italy the plant is known as cazzone – that’s dick to you and me – so that’s what we called it. I also discovered that Germans call the prickly plant frauenglück or happy woman. Ouch! Oh, and a word to the wise. There is some evidence that Dick contains mescaline, a psychedelic drug. So no licking Dick.

I wasn’t quite sure how to look after a desert plant in a centrally heated house on an island with a temperate climate but I did my best, placing Dick next to a south-facing window, and dribbled a little water into the soil once a week. I didn’t hold out much hope but, to my great surprise, Dick lived. Then, just recently, I noticed that Dick was sprouting a brand new appendage. As it’s a bit on the small side, we’ve called it Little Dickie. We’re hoping it’s a grower. Either way, the publican’s missus is a happy woman.

Eurovision 2023

Yes, it’s that time of year again when the technicolor travelling circus that is Eurovision rolls into town. After Ukraine’s win last year, the tele-moguls wisely decided against staging the glitterfest in Kyiv with the risk of Russian drones crashing the party – literally. So, the poisoned – or blesséd – chalice was passed to runners-up, le Royaume-Uni.

In 2014 I wrote…

… the songfest has been given an extra political frisson this year by Tsar Putin’s annexation/ repatriation (delete according to taste) of the Crimea; continued unrest in eastern Ukraine might earn Kiev a few sympathy votes…

Prophetic or what?

Reaching an audience of over 160 million, the Eurovision Song Contest is the biggest music show on the planet. These days, the competition is less about the actual songs – once heard, rarely remembered – and more about the glitzy spectacle, with performances ranging from the camply sublime to the utterly bizarre. It hardly matters. Votes will be cast along political and ethnic fault lines anyway. They always are.

The City of Liverpool won the bid to host the jamboree on behalf of Ukraine and good ol’ Auntie Beeb has chucked most of our licence fee at it with week-long sideshows online and on stage to accompany the main events. Excitement has built to fever pitch with superfans from across the realm and the continent descending on the city. There have even been special trains laid on…

Just like our Liverpudlian comrades, we’ve decided to embrace the entire silly shindig with a silly shindig of our own. Sadly, our gaff is a tad smaller than the Liverpool Arena so a kindly neighbour has stepped in to host the show at their mini-mansion. They’ll be silly hats, silly score cards and silly prizes. Good luck to the UK’s Mae Muller. It’s a crackin’ song with crackin’ lyrics.

But when the nil points roll in and the UK predictably plummets down the scoreboard, we’ll just crack open another bottle and drown our silly sorrows.

A Right Royal Do

My dad took the King’s shilling in the late forties and made a career out of soldiering for the next twenty-something years. Despite swearing allegiance to the monarch, Dad was a soft leftie, voting Labour all his life. He liked and respected the Queen but he didn’t think much of the motley crew of incidental royals – the  ‘hangers on’ as he called them. My mother, on the other hand, was a devoted royalist and had a picture of Her Maj hanging on her bedroom wall.

In my adult years, I’ve always been conflicted about the entire notion of a hereditary head of state. My head questions its relevance in our modern, more egalitarian world but my heart tells me different. I was genuinely saddened by the Queen’s death. I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s my age. And when I look around the world at the assortment of elected nobodies, ne’er-do-wells and nasties, particularly those who would sell their children to the Devil to cling to power, I think, well, if it ain’t broke

Today, we have the right royal do of the Coronation with Charles and Camilla riding the golden Cinderella coach to their ball at Westminster Abbey, the venue for such rituals for nearly a thousand years. The Crown Jewels will be dusted down, oaths will be sworn, heads will be anointed. And yes, we will be joining the locals at our local for a glass of bubbly to watch the fairy tale on the big screen.

Across our twin villages, the streets are decked out in fluttering flags and bunting of red, white and blue, and shops have gone all out to put on the best stately display. Here’s a taste…

And tomorrow, our villages are throwing their very own right royal do with a big Coronation party. We’ll be joining the festivities because let’s face it, we could all do with a party right now.

Another Day, Another Silly Scam

Spam is just like tax and death – unavoidable. Crafty spammers, scammers and crooks, enhanced by even craftier AI, are at it night and day finding even more ingenious ways to get us to part with our pennies. Sometimes, though, the attempts are just silly. I recently received this email from ‘Weebly’, a website hosting service. For a split second, it sounded plausible – I use Weebly for several websites. But then I looked more closely at the sender’s email address: What a silly lady.