To Jardine Bistro! …as Bank Holiday Monday flickered a fading light to try and hold back the return of the working week. There is always something rather civilised and relaxed about walking through the doors on the Belle Vue Road corner. Work woes needed calming, with the clock counting down for twelve hours ahead.
@AnnaJCowen and I had picked the perfect evening for a friendly atmosphere and last tug away on the fag end of the Wivenhoe weekend. Local artist Matt Keeling was launching his splendid A Walk Through Wivenhoe exhibition, which can be viewed at Jardine until October 4th.
This was the perfect chance to corner Matt (quite literally) and ask him to open up about his very unique perspective on what can become something of a traditional and cliché view of the artistic Wivenhoe landscape.
I still find it hard to define precisely the work that Matt creates. I’ll take a stab by suggesting that it is recognisable local landmarks that are then given a new dose of life with a contemporary feel.
Even publishing the images online below doesn’t do justice to the colour clashes and striking balance that Matt is able to give to the local scenes with his hybrid of the old meets the new. You really do need to witness his work first hand.
Much like Matt’s appearance at Art on the Railings earlier in the summer, A Walk Through Wivenhoe has already been well received. Sales are healthy – two more were added on Monday evening…
These monthly Jardine viewings are really working out rather well. The bistro is usually closed on a Monday evening. It shows the commitment from Cristian and his staff to offer something a little more to the local community than the fine coffee and food.
You can catch a Walk Through Wivenhoe at Jardine until 4th October. It is best viewed when you need a work pick me up, and a wake up call away from some of the more picture postcard scenes of Wivenhoe. The start of the working day would be ideal…
To the William Loveless Hall! …late afternoon on Sunday for a back to the future wander around John Stewart’s most excellent Wivenhoe Memories exhibition. I firmly believe in connecting the past with the present, in order to see where future perspectives may lie.
This philosophy may sound like some Third Way political twaddle rhetoric, but for me it means looking around you, seeing what is left from the past, and then thinking of ways to move forward and preserve all that is good from what has gone before.
I never did get to fulfil those Third Way political twaddle ambitions…
But anyway – Wivenhoe Memories:
Many folk around the town will be familiar with John and the amazing local artefacts that he managed to amass as a Wivenhoe labour of love. This love also extends to many private collectors, who recognise the importance of John’s desire to share these memories each year at the Loveless Hall.
All four sides of the Loveless Hall were lovingly filled with original photographs, maps, deeds and even items of clothing. The badminton court was also taken up with personal scrapbooks and reading material, all related to Wivenhoe local matters.
Many themes and strands started to emerge as I made my way around each display board. Booze figured highly. You could fill the Loveless Hall twice over with tales of Wivenhoe’s long lost boozers.
An old image of The Station, dated 1863, showed how remarkably the scene looking up Station Road remains as true today as it was almost one hundred and fifty years ago.
An image of Wivenhoe Station revealed a covered platform for folk waiting for the Clacton train. Further down the line and photographs of the old iron bridge linking across to Brightlingsea over Alresford Creek were also on display.
A couple of pillars either side of the Creek and the rickety rackety old railway hut are all that remain at the mouth of the Creek today. Weather torn and looking further battered by each winter; it would be a sad loss from the local historical landscape if these were ever to disappear.
Residential housing then featured as I wandered down the Loveless Hall. My hyperlocal historical nerdiness nearly gave way to a punch of the air, upon seeing for the first time a photograph of The Nook on the corner of Belle Vue and Park Road.
My inaugural Wiv Chat conversation with the charming Peter Green touched upon this. He had the old and wise historical ears and eyes; I was but the new boy on the block. Both of us however remarked on how it is strange that a photo of the house that gave way to the Dene Park estate appears not to be in the public domain.
Not so now – I only hope that Peter managed to get himself along to Wivenhoe Memories at some stage over the course of the Bank Holiday weekend.
Speaking of the old boys, and it was lovely to hear the elder gents and ladies of the town talking at the Loveless Hall throughout the weekend. Folk are getting on, and probably don’t get out as much now as they use to. Jon Stewart’s exhibition is also serving as a social focal point in which to meet up and share in their local memories.
It was hard to not to hear what they were talking about as I slowly made my way around Wivenhoe Memories. This is exactly the sort of people that I need to be linking up with for Wiv Chat. It felt intrusive on Sunday however to break into the old boy chat. Great to hear all the old stories, all the same.
An image of the Wivenhoe Regatta from 1905 also fascinated me. I recognised that sense of silliness, a lack of pretension and all round feeling of making a fool of yourself down at the front. It could almost have been the Wivenhoe Regatta of 2011.
One thought which I dwelled upon during my wanderings is exactly what is my personal favourite period from contemporary history? Wivenhoe Memories covered in great details life in the town over the past two hundred years.
I have long been attracted towards the tradition of the Edwardian period, both in terms of style – and the substance of what must have felt like a major new political and economic period that was fast approaching.
But then *my* personal history of the 1970′s and 80′s is equally engaging. This period was also covered in the exhibition. Memories are not yet so booze addled that the two decades when I was growing up are blanked out. There is a sense that you can almost reach back and touch this period, such is the deepness of your experience and recollection.
But I wasn’t in Wivenhoe during the 1970′s and ’80s – I was falling in and out of love with a football team, falling in and out of love with the current girlfriend of the week and then immersing myself in music.
What Wivenhoe Memories was able to do was to match up my own memories of the period with what was happening at the time around the town that I now call home. Shaking buckets for the miners in the Old Market Square in ’84? Yep, that was being done around these North Essex estuary wilds as well.
Various team photos from Wivenhoe sport over the different generations proved the point of how the history of a town can be told through sport. Many of the surnames remained the same, even two or three different generations down the line.
An original Sunday Times feature from 1938 was pinned up against a wall, reading:
“By Essex Waters – the Charm of Wivenhoe.”
Describing the town as:
“…typical of the charm of many quaint and drowsy [!] waterside villages.”
Some things never change.
Substantial documents were available to freely flick through. The Sainty family tree traced back ten generations of local folk, starting with Philip, b. 1754, and then providing a modern link with Rosemary Ann, b. 1970 in Colchester.
But the find of the afternoon for me was a personal photo album tucked away in one corner. It looked nothing special – I have similar items up in the loft, showing family holidays and new football kits being worn in the garden.
I almost didn’t pause to flick through, such was the splendour of the other exhibits lining the wall. Something triggered away on my mind though to have a brief browse. I’m lucky that I did as it provided me with my own Wivenhoe Memories personal gold for the afternoon.
On the inside cover was scribbled: Wivenhoe Arts Club, 1966 – 84. Jeannie Coverley had very kindly offered up for sharing her very personal photos of the farewell party that signified the end of the old Arts Club back in 1984.
I recognised many of the faces that were partying hard in the old Rectory – including one very prominent local Councillor, who seemed rather tired and emotional. Fine work, Madam.
In an age where taking a digital photo is as throwaway as eating a packet of crisps, I wonder what Wivenhoe Memories in fifty years time will be like? Still analogue based in a walk around Loveless Hall? Or maybe augmented reality as you sit at home and engage with whatever online medium of the day that is the preferred social tool of all the cool kids?
I hope not.
I hope I’m able to walk (or sit) in the Loveless Hall and reflect on them good old days of May Fair 2011, getting slightly tired and emotional at the Regatta and how we use to be able to cycle along the Trail and out towards Colchester.
Many, many thanks to John for giving up his whole Bank Holiday weekend to put on the exhibition. The past was connected; the future is… there to be made.
To Sunny Colch! …on Saturday afternoon for the second Colchester Free Festival, staged in the splendour of Castle Park. As I had to carefully explain to @AnnaJCowen on the Wivenhoe FUN Express train – all that you need to know is that this is a FESTIVAL, being staged in COLCHESTER and whaddya know: it’s FREE.
This was the “difficult second album” syndrome for the Free Festival, something that Ben Howard of the festival team explained to me later in the day. The unexpected and triumphant success of last summer had led to much expectation second time around.
Could the Sunny Colchester kids pull it off? Is Bob Russell a self-styled arts philistine?
Much of the early morning was spent cloud busting. It was a big gamble to shift the festival to the Bank Holiday weekend. Mr BBC Weather Man seemed to have doomed the event on Friday night, with a big black blob of BLEURGHHH hovering over Britain’s Oldest Recorded.
Never trust a weatherman wearing an over-sized suit is the mantra in which I live my life. He’s probably got something to hide down below the waistline, and is no doubt trying to divert your attention away with meteorological myths of Biblical flooding at the Free Festival.
I put on my Speedos as an act of defiance, and invited the locals to rub factor 50 in all the places where Mr BBC Weatherman wanted you to stay away from. I wasn’t alone in my actions, but that’s enough about my bruncheon at The Minories – what about the Free Festival, I hear you ask?
With four main stage areas, you needed a map to negotiate your rites of passage. @AnnaJCowen and I stumbled across the Castle Stage first, found a vantage point and then settled down for the next six hours, assuming that this was the Main Stage.
It was only at around the time that the sun was setting over Castle Park that we realised that we had missed most of the Free Festival.
It was clear early on that the fears of a Bank Holiday wipeout weren’t justified. Half of Colchester had come out to have some fun, celebrating the magnificence that is Castle Park, and keen to put aside the misconception that culture in Colchester can best be found in the Kingdom of the Wild at Colchester Zoo.
We manoeuvred down to the Main Stage, just in time to hear Ady Johnson start up his set with Pink Flamingos. Boosted by a brass and strings section, yer man Ady was also supported by a brief rainbow appearance towards the back of the park.
It started somewhere near Stanway, with the pot of gold located close to the Greenstead roundabout. Or maybe it was the Trotters Real Ale and Cider bar towards the back of the site?
My plan of attack for the afternoon was to be the wandering sprit of the Free Festival. Have flip cam, mp3 recorder and SLR – will travel. Bugger that I thought as Housework, Colchester’s hardest working house band bounced on to the Main Stage to start the afternoon party.
Housework in Castle Park is 1,000 times better than housework back at base for a Saturday afternoon. Polished to perfection – and that was just the backstage toilets.
Time to wander – time to try and capture the free love feel of the Free Festival with my camera. A slight Goth photo mishap en route to the bandstand – apologies Sir. Or was it Madam?
The historic Castle Park bandstand has no doubt been host to many a dignified and worthy performance throughout its proud history. Adding to that list now is the rather mangled mini-rave that was in full swing come mid-afternoon.
It took me right back to my University dancehalls days underneath the podia on a Friday night. Glo sticks, grins and gabba gabba – keep close, @AnnaJCowen – you may just cop a thick ‘un.
We were caught in some generational time shift. Too old for the yoof of Generation YYY, and with no kid accessory as was required for the lovely, lovely Kidstival area.
We’ll find some sanity over with the little people, was the idea. Instead we found Daleks being chased, Digging for Victory in the makeshift beach and delightful cup cakes to add that extra afternoon energy kick.
“Head for El Buffalo Tanque” it what we had been hearing all week. What’s not to like about sustainable living with a salsa South American feel? Johnny Buffalo and his bonkers team of recruits had staged something quite special along the side of the old Castle.
Attacking armies throughout history have nothing on the crazed minds of El Tanque. I feared for the museum artefacts within Colchester Castle, laid siege with a heady mix of inter-gender mud-wrestling, fish eye galleria and burlesque.
It was as though Guantanamo Bay had come to Britain’s Oldest Recorded, fuelled up with strong South American alcohol to add a friendly fire approach to the madness. Either that or an overweight Slipknot tribute act had been booked in to play.
I wasn’t sure of the camera etiquette inside the burlesque tent, and given the sexual dominance of the buxom lady performer, I wasn’t going to take any chances. I was looked over for the audience participation – which is just as well, seeing as though my own Buffalo Tanque was showing some slight interest down below.
And then whaddya know – tonight Matthew, I’m going to be a burlesque dancer, aided with the very kind audience participation of a Colchester Goth.
The Goth gave a good show, and was very good-natured in playing along for the ride. “I don’t fancy yours much,” I whispered to @AnnaJCowen as we left the tent, trying to half-conceal my own pale faced head that was still giving me cause for concern down below.
It all got a little giddy with the gaffa tape orgy that we walked straight into. This seemed like a suitable time to try and clear our heads from all of the Mexican madness that El Tanque had corrupted us with for most of the afternoon.
As ever, I blame the Bike Guru – I would gladly have wrestled the bike spanner waving bloke, had I not been too busy trying to record the current contest, and failing miserably to capture any of the actual wrestling action.
A healthy recuperation was found at the Hollytrees Stage, with a David Essex look-alike (pre-Eastenders) performing the Ballad of John and Yoko. That’s not something that you are likely to see down the road at V Festival.
But what about some Animal Noise first? Nope – nothing to do with Goths and giving head, but the remarkable power trio of unlikely local lads that were adding some acoustic folk energy (seriously) to the main stage.
I’ve come across Animal Noise before @15QueenStreet. Playing a hush hush unplugged front room gig, the rising stars of the Colchester scene apologised for keeping it quiet. Truth to be told and the Noise Abetment folk almost came round.
These boys can ROCK.
But only in an acoustic, mixed up messy folk type of way, you understand. Which sort of makes it all right.
We took up an ACE backstage view [get you] and saw at first hand just how to work a Colchester crowd, who were clearly loving the noise being made by… Animal Noise.
Headliners next year, I tell ya.
The Funk Soul Brothers backstage seemed to be having the most fun of the afternoon behind the Main Stage DJ booth. You can’t beat a good bit of skanking on a Saturday afternoon. It was infectious stuff, and I confess to skanking my way all over to the toilet portakbain.
I met en route young Ben Tyler, genuine guitar hero of CAV OK, the band who had the unenviable task of following Animal Noise. I asked Ben about his latest release, which was about to be made in a portakabin backstage.
Definitely not toilet humour, but still squeaky clean bum time was my catch up with the good @nickjbarlow, the Colchester Borough Councillor for Castle ward. Nick is very supportive of the Free Festival – he is also partial to a little foot tapping whilst doing the semi-politico talk.
Enough of the very good Cllr, what about the slightly more than OK CAV OK?
CAV OK have a considerable following and it’s easy to see why. The boys in black (well, three fifths) look the part as much as they sound. I lost @AnnaJCowen during the set, knowing that the girl had drifted off into her rock star fantasy world. You have more chance with the David Essex look-alike, luv.
Follow that, Modern English. Or even back to Ben Howard, first…
And then with perfect hyperlocal comic timing, just as the homecoming headline heroes of Modern English were set to play their most important Colchester gig in more than three decades, @AnnaJCowen and I had to bugger off back to base to feed the cat.
All aboard the Wivenhoe FUN Express once again, and we reflected upon the afternoon that had just played out. The Colchester Free Festival is better than the Lambeth Show – this is HIGH praise indeed.
In just two years the festival has found its own identity, sticking with a fearsome local approach that is clearly appealing to the good folk of Colchester. The energy of the local music scene, accommodating the kids and even El Tanque – this is a festival that can only take place at Castle Park.
Many many thanks to all those who volunteered to help entertain – Ben Howard, Andy Winmill, Marc De’ath, Lee Carter, Jo Caldwell, Johnny Buffalo, Jonathan Doyle, Nial Harrington, Lee Pugh and a whole army of others, some of whom may *or may not* be Goths.
Mr BBC Weather Man never did get to lob his great big black blob of BLEURGHHH all over Britain’s Oldest Recorded. Sunshine and smiles, all the way until next summer, folks.
To the Hythe! …early on Friday morning for a meeting with Bob Russell MP.
I say meeting – it was more like a friendly fire side chat with the LibDem MP for Sunny Colch, but without the fireside but an army of garden gnomes to surround us instead.
The very lovely folk of @Colchester101 magazine had kindly arranged the interview. My task was to turn up just off Hythe Hill, suited and booted and transform Saint Bob into the cover star for 101 for next month.
Having heard tales of trepidation ahead of the interview, I did my research. Voting records, expenses, um…firststite.
“Bob is Bob is Bob” is the phrase that kept on coming back to me. He is as much a part of Colchester as a Roman centurion is, proudly defiant, doing his own thing and not afraid of upsetting anyone that deviates him away from his task of talking up the town.
I read the wise Mr Mule’s words on his Westminster meeting with Bob before leaving base. It had a calming effect knowing that if the Pop Genius took something of a shine to Bob, then hopefully my cover star quest shouldn’t go disastrously wrong.
I needn’t have worried. A few sweaty palms just before 9am (mine, not his) and then before we started recording, I was made to feel at home in his constituency office with a tour of the various artefacts that have been accumulated in his fourteen years as Colchester’s MP.
Garden gnomes figured heavily.
I had planned for twenty minutes – thirty at a push – to survive the Colchester political cauldron. Forty-five minutes later and it was me who was wrapping up the interview, conscience of the editing that would be required, should our conversation continue.
I’m going to write it up for @Colchester101 over the next few days, giving it some context and exploring in more depth some of the wider themes for the town. But for m’blog, I thought I would open up an insight, and pull out some of the themes that may be of relevance to a Wivenhoe angle.
We start off with the city status bid for Colchester. All the prestige may be focussed upon the town itself, but what would city status actually mean for folk living in Wivenhoe?
“I know that some of the people living in the Borough outside of Colchester are not enthused. That’s fine – I’m not actually enthused that places outside of Colchester are in the Borough.
When I first got elected to Colchester Borough Council in 1971, it was just the town. Local government reorganisation meant that from 1st April 1974, Wivenhoe Urban and District Council merged with Colchester.”
Good point, well made. I have often found it perplexing why we have to pay Council Tax to Colchester Borough Council, yet we have an MP who represents Harwich and North Essex.
“Frankly I wouldn’t lose any sleep if we had another local government reorganisation and we went back to the historic Borough of Colchester, which by happy coincidence, is the boundary of my constituency.”
The above quotes from Bob read rather harshly – don’t take it too personally – I *think* that he has a lot of love for Wivenhoe. Off mic and we touched upon his involvement in helping to put in place the Wivenhoe Trail. He spoke highly of Conservative Borough Cllr Ann Quarrie of the Quay ward, and her personal input on this project.
It also seems that Bob is an occasional drinker at the Black Buoy – we spoke (off mic…) about Boxing Day and the Colchester Morris Men. I truly wish that I had recorded the wonderful phrase “I confess that I am something of a Morris Men groupie…”
I looked rather sheepishly into my notes when Bob remarked “that’s a little silly really” in response to my point that a sense of community could be lost when a town becomes a city.
Ask a silly question…
“Somewhere like Wivenhoe has immense pride in its community. It is distinctive from the town of Colchester.”
I think we were both in agreement in keeping this status quo, although possibly coming from different perspectives…
Keeping Colchester and Wivenhoe at a safe distance of course is the Hythe. This is an area that has fascinated me much of late, mostly coming out of Mr Mule’s recent ramblings and observations.
Bob also has big plans for the former industrial heartland of the area:
“I want the Hythe to marketed as Colchester’s Second London Station, to try and get people who are currently clogging up the North Station to start their journey at the Hythe.”
Which would seem to make sense.
And then for the next part of the interview, I simply couldn’t shirk away from the VAF and the imminent opening of firstsite.
Neither did Bob.
Having been an incredibly vocal critic of the visual arts facility that is about to open in Colchester, I asked Bob if he would be attending the opening ceremony next month:
“I believe I’ve been invited. I sense that if I were there, that would be a distraction. It’s their big day. It’s been said that I want the project to fail – NO I don’t want the project to fail. The last thing I want is for this to be an even bigger burden on the people of Colchester.”
We tracked back slightly, and Bob’s original solution seems to be a hybrid of the bus station and public art:
“Rather than have England’s 300th publicly funded art gallery, you could have England’s first bus station art gallery.”
I tried to explore the benefits that firstsite will eventually bring to Colchester – better to have it here, than elsewhere, etc…
“I would have been delighted if this millstone had gone somewhere else.”
Which is Bob being Bob being Bob. Which is also why he is so successful at getting elected, and why he is such a popular figure around the town. The inner aspiring artist within (me, not Bob) has to admit that he has the pulse of the man on the street (i.e. the electorate) to perfection.
We moved on with the Nu Labour phrase of “we are where we are,” both grimacing, both remembering that the local Labour party have been in bed with the VAF from day one.
Bob was keen to put aside the point of view that he is an arts philistine. He rolled off many leading artists in the area that are there to be celebrated, and then asked me head on:
“Are you aware that we have the leading accordion band in the country here in Colchester?”
Bob quite genuinely then spoke some very complimentary words towards Kath Wood, the Director of firstsite – like I said, Bob has a friendly growl, rather than a viscous bite.
But the point is that Bob Russell clearly loves the arts, just not the more avant-garde angle that artists sometimes have a tendency to disappear upwards:
“There is an elitist strand, that even at this moment, cannot grasp the fact that they are so unpopular. They could retrieve part of the situation by saying, well actually, it would help us to get people through the door if tourist coaches can deposit them outside our door. Let’s go out into the community. But they won’t.”
It remains to be seen if this taking public art out into the community is successful for firstsite, but on a related topic, this weekend of course sees the Colchester Free Festival in Castle Park – an event being organised by the creative community @15QueenStreet. How much more public can you get?
And finally – will you be standing again for public office at the next general election? Will the coalition still be in place? Is there actually anyone out there that can take the place of the huge personality that Bob Russell has been able to offer the Colchester electorate?
“David Cameron feels more at home working with some of the LibDem MP’s than he does working with some of his right wing head banging Tory MP’s – of which there are several right wing head banging Tory MP’s in Essex”
Tell It Like It Is, Bob.
“I’m sixty-five, I shall be sixty-nine at the next general election. I think we’ve got to see what happens. It’s a question of maintaining that enthusiasm, and belief that I can do the job. I enjoy representing my hometown in Parliament. However long that goes on for, Mother Nature will decide.”
And the electorate, I added to the record…
Bob clearly loves Colchester and would rather spend his time in the town than having to compete with all the nonsense that Westminster brings. But for a successful local politician to speak up for his hometown, he needs to work in the political twaddle that is Parliament.
I found him a warm, illuminating and bloody funny bloke in which to spend just under an hour in the company of on a drab Friday morning. Off mic and we swapped tales of *shhh* the messy world of Lambeth politico life. I rather liked Bob’s take.
I think that he enjoyed our chat – he suggested sending a copy to Andrew Phillips and the Colchester Recalled oral history project. I like to think that in years to come, local historians will hang on to every word from a blunt bloke laying out his vision for the town / city in which they are now living.
Other topics that we touched on included the expansion of the town (“too quick,”) trains and trams (“We still need a visionary government – we didn’t get it from Labour and we aren’t getting it from the coalition,”) tuition fees at the University (ouch), the Knowledge Gateway, listing Wivenhoe Park and the “Essex Olympics of 2012” – a phrase which I rather like. Stratford is a lot closer than Sunny Stockwell.
And so yeah – quite a character, quite a charmer.
Would I vote for him?
Ah… not living within his Colchester constituency boundary, and that is a hyperlocal, hypothetical question, Comrades.
You call it a jetty, I call it a pier. Either way, it was lovely to see Wivenhoe’s very own walkway out towards the water [snappy] finding a use over the weekend.
Following the grand opening of the jetty / pier by our friends from Taylor Wimpey earlier in the year, I had feared that the planks of wood would have about as much life in them as can be found in a sterile show home.
We’re rather good at adapting and improvising here in Wivenhoe. Kids have decamped from the traditional West Quay crabbing vantage point of choice, and are now dangling their crab lines from over the side of the Seventh Wonder of Wivenhoe.
Technical note: don’t ask me about the other six until I’ve had six pints, but you’ve probably already guessed that Papa’s Chip Shop features prominently on my list.
But anyway, about the pier; or jetty even…
It’s also found a use from the newly formed Wivenhoe Jetty Fisherman’s Club. Numbers may be low, but then so is the water for most of the time during the fishing hours. I do like the sight of seeing a fine young fisherman dangling his big rod in the water, and then pulling it in with a sharp tug.
Meanwhile, back in m’South London manor and I see that m’South London colleagues, the fine @SE11_lurker and @TradescantRoad, are getting their hyperlocal hot pants all overheated over the appearance of the new VauxhallPier.
You are unlikely to see any of the local kids crabbing there, Comrades. And unlike m’South London colleagues, yep – we are able to offer the fabled (and STILL absent) “free swimming for every resident.”
Stick that on the end of yer crab line, suckers.
Perhaps Wivenhoe Pier and Vauxhall Pier could be twinned? It would open up a new cultural, um, legacy, not to mention providing me with the train fare back and forth when I agree to become the first Cultural Ambassador between South London and Wivenhoe.
To Granny’s Bench! [blimey] came the shout on a slow, smouldering Sunday afternoon as @AnnaJCowen and I tried to forget about the freezer full of pizza and went out foraging for food instead.
Stick two fingers up to THE MAN ‘n all that, with a hyperlocal approach to satisfying the nutrient needs of our bellies. We got bored before we reached Papa’s Chip Shop, and rather predictably ended up with double large chips and saveloys all round.
Our North Essex estuary arrival during the fag end of the Indian Summer last year was just slightly too late in the season to benefit from all the rural delights that scavenging for berries can bring. It wasn’t that the blackberries, sloes and rosehips had all over-ripened, simply that some other buggers had got there before us.
Share and share alike, Comrades, but we weren’t going to make the same mistake some twelve months on. With the blackberries still bruising in a multi-layered colour of green, red and um, black, it is certainly a hit and miss time for any hyperlocal penny pinching produce pincher.
Taking the roughly the same route that we rather fortunately stumbled upon last summer, our Sunday afternoon stroll took us past the Sailing Club, along the water and up towards Granny’s Bench, and then back along the old gravel track and down past Ballast Quay House.
We almost didn’t get past the Sailing Club during the late summer of 2010 – the abundance of hedgerows and bushes by the water satisfied our scavenging needs. Not so this year with the sea wall vandalism of the Environment Agency leading to an absence of anything growing up along the banks.
The Wivenhoe Vegetable Garden is now starting to serve us well, but after a plate of Courgette Surprise – the surprise being that there is nothing else but corgettes – you need something slightly sweeter to set you up for the evening.
Have blackberry tupperware, will travel…
We deviated left of the river and along the stepping stones heading up towards Granny’s Bench, finding pockets of blackberry bushes, not yet quite blushing or blessed with the fruitful zing that one requires to start salivating.
Still – best get them now before the other buggers do.
We encountered some sloes en route and made a mental note to return in a few weeks to repeat the sloe gin experiment. The rosehips weren’t quite ready – and neither is my palette to be honest. The syrup of last year has left a nasty taste in the mouth, not to mention a few medical complications elsewhere.
A new addition for this year was the discovery of both elderberries and a steady supply of crab apples. It was around this point in the afternoon of picking that the conversation turned slightly fruity after I suggested a fruit fight with the girl.
I was alarmed to hear “look at these little tiddlers” and “prick” in the same conversation. I got slightly bored to be honest, and floated the idea of returning with the secateurs, hacking off the hedgerows and then picking off the blackberries at our leisure back at base whilst watching Eastenders.
You can take the boy out of South London, blah blah blah…
With bloodied blackberry stained fingers being displayed as a badge of honour, we walked along the Alresford Road and weaved our way down to Ballast Quay.
And so what next?
To quite the GREATLorraine Bowen, everybody’s good at cooking something, andI’m good at cooking crumble. Well, I can prick the blackberries and let the girl do the rest. It will be served up a treat with a pound of cheapo imported value ice cream, delivered especially via the online food order as Mr Supermarket burns up the food miles and makes his way through the back streets of Wivenhoe.