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.

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.

Madder Mates at the Maddermarket

Times are hard and, like so many others, the Maddermarket Theatre, former chapel and the spiritual home of am-dram in Norwich, is feeling the pinch. They desperately need an injection of cash to keep the footlights on. And so to raise a few coppers for the coffers, they put on a three-night explosion of talent. We pitched up for the middle fundraiser billed as…

“Showcasing the talents of some of our closest ‘Madder Mates’, our extended showbiz family are generously donating their time for a magical one-night event ‘CAUSE YOU GOTTA HAVE FRIENDS. An impromptu gala evening of stellar performances from great local artists…”

They weren’t wrong. It was a splendid happy clappy, foot-tapping treat. And if that wasn’t enough, I won some fancy bath oil in the charity raffle.

The theatre has some terrific artwork hanging around the bar. It’s worth popping in for a few sherries just to have a gander. It all helps with the theatre’s bank balance. This particular piece, from Bowie’s Aladdin Sane period, caught my eye. It’s made entirely of postage stamps.

Back in the seventies, I bought Aladdin Sane – a pun on ‘A Lad Insane’ – with an original gatefold cover with my meagre Saturday boy wages. Sadly, the album got lost somewhere along the way. It might be worth a few bob now.

Empire of Light

Our first film of 2023 was ‘Empire of Light’ written and directed by Sam Mendes and set around a grand old art deco cinema in a forlorn English seaside resort during the early nineties. We were expecting a gentle love affair between two social misfits – a single white woman of a certain age and a handsome young black fella – an evocative period piece to warm the heart on a damp afternoon, set against the decline in traditional bucket and spade holidays. What we got was much more: a beautifully filmed, visually absorbing in-yer-face exposé of depression, repression and racism – and a little hope too – during rapidly changing times.

Opening to mixed reviews, the film stars the superb Olivia Coleman and easy-on-the-eye Micheal Ward as the star-crossed lovers with an excellent supporting cast, including Colin Firth as the sleazy cinema manager and Toby Jones as the geeky projectionist. Some critics thought the screenplay was a bit thin, whereas we saw the actors speak volumes with just a glance. We loved it, though I can’t quite get over Colin Firth demanding to be sucked off – quite the departure from Mr Darcy and his magnificent britches in ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

Here’s the trailer…

Doing Our Bit for Ukraine

I’m constantly surprised by the milk of human kindness. Right across Europe the humanitarian crisis created by Tsar Putin’s invasion of Ukraine seems to have struck a chord and the response has been phenomenal. Even in this obscure little corner of our green and pleasant land, people have stepped up to the plate with gifts of cash and essentials, and offers of a roof to refugees – if and when slippery BoJo’s feckless government gets its collective finger out. Local people hereabouts have even driven trucks loaded with supplies all the way to the Polish-Ukrainian border – a distance of over 1,300 miles. Incredible.

Images courtesy of Ukraine Loddon & Chedgrave Support

I’m also constantly surprised by the lack of human kindness, but that’s a post for another time.