Tag Archives: Britain

1549 Kett’s Rebellion

During my Robin Hood phase, and unable to get to Sherwood Forest, I went to Nottinghamshire, and then to woods where other rebels gathered. Those woods have just been the backdrop to a play on the anniversary of that gathering, in Norwich.

And again, I’m led to decisive historic moments and battlers for justice. I haven’t forgotten Eliot’s Dorothea and Will – the more gentle kind of battlers – and I’ll pop up my article on their story shortly. I’m also returning to that famous forest so they’ll be more about Robin et al too.

But let me stay with Robert Kett – perhaps a name you don’t know, unlike Robin, or Boudicca, or Braveheart – our best known British freedom fighters, who’ll need little explanation, wherever you are reading this from. But Kett has much in common with all these. Perhaps he is Norfolk’s Robin. And let me link Kett, as the play did, with our current climate.

I’m not going to analyse the pantomime-like play, but its theme. The oft sung song reminded us that although the setting was nearly 500 years ago, it ‘could be any time’ – and ours. The mayor was doing a David Cameron impression. The mean ‘nobs’ all from the same school administered cuts to welfare and bullied plebs in a very familiar way.

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The piece of news that I’m most thinking about from the last few days is the police shootings in America. I feel a little intrepid to comment, for it’s emotive and needs to be expressed well.

What I will say is that the  events at the Dallas protest turned the focus from the shootings by the police to the shootings of the police. I note that there was 1 officer for every 8 people at that demo, which is heavy. And that the demo which followed involved the police using smoke against the people.

The brutality of the killings – and sorry ‘fatal shootings’ won’t do – and the disproportion of the police’s reaction to the situations – over motor offences! –  has made me livid. I join those (isn’t that the whole world?) calling for justice and the curtailing of armed police and this heavy, ugly way of dealing with the public. A public who pay for the services of those who should be keeping us safe – but instead are unjust instruments of the establishment, and from whom we can be in danger.

I think many of us must feel that our growing resentment for the police, wherever we are, has been augmented by these shocking not even lone incidents.

I abhor that black people were the victims of these killings. It wasn’t hard to learn the names of the most recent ones – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. But I noted that the day before, two more American young men were killed by the police, yet they are less talked about – I struggled to find their names. These both were from Latino heritage. It is significant that they too aren’t white – but also that the African Americans garnered the greatest attention.

Surely ‘Black Lives Matter’ should be ALL lives matter? I hope that’s a given.

There’s also a lesser known “Brown Lives Matter” movement.

I felt a huge de ja vu last night at the play, watching the king’s forces rush to stop the rebels in Norwich, who were slaughtered in battle or executed. Like the events of recent days, the aggrieved side, however we might understand their aggrievement, did things to their aggressors which I couldn’t condone.

But I did note that Kett’s army took England’s second city for a time. I know Bristol and York will want to squeal at this point ‘We were England’s second city!’ Can’t we share that title? But isn’t the point not a petty division (watch for those) but the empowering thought that people can hold a major city from the establishment.

Did the people of Norwich in 1549 feel any safer with the mob at the helm; was that their definition of democracy?

When I look at all those iconic historic symbols of independence, there’s a sadness that their effects were not only curtailed, but that were are still facing those issues, centuries later.

But did they fail? Should we give up trying to change the fact that, as the chorus sung last night “the many serve the few” and that the rich and powerful’s minority interest continue to crush everyone else?

No and no I do not. I do take hope from the fact that these names of freedom fighters are remembered and commemorated. We’re not cheering the mayors and earls who routed Kett’s group, we remember him.

Last night, we lit a beacon on a hill overlooking the city to not only remember the 3000 killed and hundreds hung in Kett’s rebellion, but all those who have struggled against oppression and still do – and feel under it. It was an exciting moment, to see the flames sweep in way I’ve never seen fire do before, to join with cheers and a banner.

Although not mentioned, we were asking and committing to the kind of world that Robin Hood, Boudicca, Braveheart and Robert Kett stood for coming into being. We are wanting a world which is against austerity, against unfair private ownership, and where the brutality of police and other law enforcers (what a phrase!) and the prejudice behind these recent incidents is history. We wish for justice and for reform – the sort that Will Ladislaw of Middlemarch wanted, the peaceful kind.

There was irony that I realised that no-one other than those at the play could see the beacon, despite its prominent position. Even knowing where to look, as I left Kett’s Heights I could just make out a tiny orange glow between trees.

It was also ironic that given this was a play about power to the people, the city council had to give permission for the beacon to be lit. A council that has many failings – lack of accountability and support to the vulnerable and providing basic reliable services; making heavy licensing laws which involve police in civil liberty abuses – but which also hung its flag at half mast for the recent homophobic shootings in Orlando.

Robert Kett, like Robin of Locksley, was one of the rich who instead of squashing the poor rebelling at his gate, joined and led them. In the play, the Mayor changed sides and opinions.

Out of the many warrior princes and princesses I admire, there is one who comes to mind who insisted on never killing, never using unreasonable force, and who stopped wars with love. She saw that forgiveness and change were more powerful than routing enemies. She saw too that the most powerful way to create change was through mind changing – and I add, heart changing.

I refer to my last post and that wonderful quote of Caroline Lucas, ‘where hope is powerful than hate’ – even when we feel we have a just cause; and that healing and uniting communities is more important than demarcation of difference, even self defining; brothers (and sisters) before otherness.

And as Kett’s county’s police motto says – we all need to feel our police’s priority is us.

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naughty guides and days out have a new home

I’ve started another blog for these. There are links to similar posts around the web on previous articles on this one:

https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/my-travel-writing/

https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/naughty-guides/

I’ll keep my other posts on travel and heritage on here – eg churches, a sense of place, and musings on a couple of Essex cities – and the Elephant grey bottom post. (you’ve noticed the search box and category filter on the right?)

but I’m going to start updating the Day Out With Elspeth series and putting these all together.

They now live at http://elspethsnaughtyguides.wordpress.com/

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My Proposed Austerity Law Cuts

Those who endorse David Cameron’s latest rounds of proposed cuts show themselves to be ignorant and are being tools of the government’s propaganda. It’s so harsh and ridiculous that it barely requires or deserves comment, except to show how far removed the government is from people, and how cruel. This idea of feckless shirkers – certainly for most – is utter rubbish; and comes from the financially secure, or the unambitious, and those very much part of the system. Anyone who cares what they do and doesn’t fit the drop down menus at the job centre might find that work-finding is rather more difficult, and the greater the cuts, the less jobs, the less funding, and yet higher debts…

I’d like to pass a law that all prime ministers and their cabinet who have been in power for over 2 years and who weren’t elected, and who damage the country, should resign with immediate effect and no severance package. I suspect the public would support that in droves. And perhaps Cameron might have to face his own austerity messages.

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Princess Dianas

When I changed my viewing and research from the British Royals to Wonder Woman, I was expecting a complete change. But Wonder Woman is also a Princess Diana, and politics as well as changing roles for women are key to both subjects.

 

Although one is blonde, one is dark; one is real, one is fiction; one is immortal, one died young, these women do have certain qualities in common.

 

Compassion

empathy

immediate and genuine rapport

beauty but not an object

commands respect

beauty from within as much as pleasantly aligned features

tall – being both about 6ft (though Lynda Carter needed 3 inch heels to be that height)

national representative

 

an outsider

One was an English born aristocrat who became the wife and mother of heirs to the throne of the same country, and one was born on a secret island and took on America as her adopted country. But both had to get to learn the ways of a new world.

 

But Diana, Princess of Wales was more complicated and with conflicting qualities. Even those who were fond of her don’t deny a darker side. She said that her own suffering enabled and fuelled her to reach out to others.

 

In the TV series, Diana Prince has no emotional breakdowns and her problems do not seem very menacing or last long; but contractions have existed in all manifestations of Wonder Woman since her invention 70 years ago, and these are used more in comic story lines. But Lynda Carter said that she played Wonder Woman with a vulnerability, and that’s what made her  – and the other Diana – so appealing.

 

 

 

 

 

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No axes, no strikes – listen to Hegel

I am very much opposed to the cuts that the government are attempting to put into place.

But I am also opposed to the response and remedy to them.

I am nonplussed as to why a general strike is being proposed. You will make those suffer whom you have pledged to support. Striking is like hostage taking: make a third party suffer so much that the first will do what you demand. Without food, energy, water, money, or even able to enjoy anything as it will all be closed down – how will any one benefit?! Some may even die in your attempts to save them.

I have just heard a speech asking for strong leadership – and then talk of trade unions. Trade Unions are not the alternative government, any more than a military leadership. It was the trade unions dictation that caused Thatcherism to rise.

I am not happy to be seen standing with those that cheer at her death. While I shed no tears for Margaret this week, I will not be rejoicing at an old, ill woman’s demise. I think the Independent’s editorial this week was spot on – that we should be using our energies in far more positive ways, to stop her legacy continuing, not to denigrate her.

I am against party politics, in that councils and governments should not be comprised of ruling parties all adhering to a group agenda who choose their cabinets, not the people. Our current voting system makes it hard for independents to get in, when we need more of these. It also means wasting too much energy on being elected before any good can be done. The low percentage of voting turn out is because many feel parties are too similar – yes, even the Greens.

Though I am for a system which champions the poor, not I do not want a reverse of the current system. Otherwise we are in for a history that is a game of ping pong between right and left, rich and poor.

We should embrace all people as part of our society, and not shun our opposite. Rich people can be philanthropists and finance good projects. They are not all bankers and toffs, but people in arts and sports, and some of those give pleasure and important contributions to the world. I am not for making enemies of the rich or Tories. Nor am I for a remedy which supports only one ‘class’ and type of person – hence I am not for those for the ‘workers’ only, making narrowly defined labour our raison d’etre and mode of worth.

Hegel the philosopher spoke of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. We have had enough of theses and antitheses; we now need to move towards synthesis, in peaceful, ethical way.

My suggestion is to lobby those who would implement the cuts (eg your local council and landlord associations), and also other bodies who many left wing extremists demonise – the house of Lords and the Royal family. If you think they are not in touch with ordinary people – and you’d be surprised, I think – make sure they are. They have more influence than we are led to believe – let them use it for good.

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Winter is Coming

My last piece on my first impressions of Game of Thrones was somewhat cynical. I still stand by many of my comments and feel more strongly against the disgusting sexual abuse by men  – what I read of season 2 and poor Ros the Pros made my blood boil! But I have been wondering about my final premise – to read it like a myth. Whether intended or not, it makes a story into something meaningful and empowering, and rather topical.

 

The watchword of season 1 is “Winter is Coming”– a phrase meant to frighten those younger characters who had never known what real hardship is. Just as I watch this, Britain has brought in a new round of austerity measures. The media are making their own ‘winter is coming’ clarion call, adding a bass note to the government warnings about cuts as savage as the Dothraki. We are encouraged that there are threats from fearful outsiders, just like those from over the Wall and across the Narrow Sea.

 

Winter is Coming means get ready – as those wise disability benefit claimants who have renewed before the new harsher rules came in. It doesn’t mean just brace yourself, but to prepare. In metaphorical winter, it is not a case of endure it and see if you come through: unlike a season, we can affect whether winter comes and do not have to accept it.

 

I am encouraged that so many characters in Game of Thrones are disadvantaged, yet no-one gives in. They turn disaster into opportunity instead of cowering and resigning themselves.

 

Tyrion the dwarf advises to wear one’s disadvantage like armour. He doesn’t languish saying: my family don’t love me, my father is ashamed of me, I’ve only ever been with women I’ve paid…. I will be lonely and an easy target so I mayaswell just die. He twice states his love of life. He knows he is not a strong fighter, so he trains his mind instead by constant reading and uses his wit to help save him. He has a soft spot for others whom society rejects; he designs a saddle so “cripple” boy Bran can ride a horse. Although he cannot play as he did, Bran relishes that he can still look at the world and enjoy that.

 

When Daenerys is sold to a violent warlord by her controlling brother, she could have felt her world was over. But she not only ends up with a loving marriage, but a loving people, and she becomes the leader her brother dreamt of being, learning her powers and realising her potential. She is empowered through loss, transformed through tragedy and treason.

 

Arya names her wolf for a queen she admires and takes after. When her father is killed before her and she’s rounded up by a rough man, Arya must have also feared for her life. But by disguising her as a boy and taking her to the Wall, Arya is made safe from Queen Cersei and avoids the arranged submissive marriage she dreads. Her ‘dance’ teacher Syrio taught her to tell death “not today;” even bravely when he realised it may call for him, he saves her and imbues courage and a buoyancy in her that will keep her going. Arya tells her father that Syrio said, “every hurt teaches us a lesson, every lesson makes us stronger.” I think I might make that my sigil and motto.

 

Jon Snow is so fed up of being the half acknowledged bastard son that he goes to the Wall to join the Night Watch of brothers. As a nobleman with sword training, he looks forward to military duties – only to be relegated to manservant. But his friend Sam points out that being a steward to the chief commander has huge advantages and opportunities.

 

This is what Game of Thrones.net says of Sandor, the Hound:

Once Sansa has lost everything, he tries to show her the lessons he had to learn alone: how to survive, how to keep going when dreams are dead. He tries to protect her and help her to protect herself.

 

Even a slimy character (Ser Petyr) has something worth hearing: “Only by admitting what we are do we get what we want.” It seemed to refract some spiritual manifestation and growth books I read recently.

 

I realised that life in Westeros can feel more akin to our current world, especially in the countries with so much violence in them at present. Many countries have leaders who want power for its own sake, not to lead for the good of the people. Houses may not be about blood families, but about other alliances which means you help your own, at cost to others and regardless of ethics. As Cersei tells her son, when you are in power, you can create the realities that will be circulated and believed. But the truth will be revealed and karma has a way of dealing out justice.

 

What follows winter is coming in Game of Thrones…? The fight back*, not simply being crushed by undemocratic tyrants with dubious justice systems. And those who seize their power and treat their people cruelly never keep their seat.

 

*I am not suggesting for a moment it ought be a violent one; I am against taking up arms

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Why is Chelmsford a Jubilee city?

I’m revising my views on Chelmsford and I shall write my updated thoughts on my other blog: Elspeth’s Naughty Guides: Travel and Heritage with wickedness.

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I do not wish to denigrate Chelmsford and the other places mentioned; rather, I just want fair praise and description and for the appropriate places to win the prize.

It seems a rather random way to get city status – to wait for a queenly anniversary. Cities used to be defined by having a cathedral. New cities in the 1800s were substantial in some way – the ones with weedy upgraded cathedrals had grown large with grand civic buildings and an obvious hub. But not later in the next century.

Grimy markety Lancaster got city status ahead of much larger towns in the titular county in the 1970s. Then Sunderland, who did not have a cinema till 2005, was appointed one – a poor shadow of nearby Newcastle who has righty been one since the 1880s and would have been reasonably called so since medieval times.

Much of the would be city list vying for the Diamond Jubilee honour are largely similar grubby towns (Milton Keynes, Corby, Middlesbrough, Reading) trying to perk themselves up and get attention. I noted Ipswich didn’t go for it this time. Although I have said in the past that Ipswich lacked the necessary dignity and distinction, I would gladly have seen it endowed with city status over those who did win.

Yes, neighbouring Essex too has always been without a city, even though it and Suffolk are old and historically among the most populous counties. Essex put in three bids for the Jubilee competition – Regency pleasure ground Southend with its new cultural pierhead attraction; Colchester, who has always been capital of Essex to me; and Chelmsford. I do not understand why Chelmsford ever got county town status: the drab market town turned City commuterville whose claim to long history was that the Romans passed by and dropped a few pots, whose cathedral is significant as a parish church, but who has little else is of interest save the Marconi radio factory and Shirehall.

I visited Colchester again this week and Chelmsford this time a year ago. I have only been to Chelmsford because of need, never pleasure. Each time, I walked by the river to fill time and because of nowhere else to go. It just feels like a suburb of London, perhaps having the attraction of greenery around it. The only thing over Colchester that Chelmsford has is that a theatre shows art house films sometimes. Yes I walked thoroughly; I went to to the far flung Museum along older Moulsham street (an attempt at independent shopping) and found the stone bridge, and I noted the regency Quaker Meeting House. And I still struggled to fill my day.

But Colchester was not a camp stop or staging post for the Romans; it was a large town, whose walls are still existing. It has several churches and two ruined priories. It has the largest castle the Normans built. It was home to Dutch refugees (these settlers had good taste in where they chose) whose homes still grace the town, in timber and bright colours.

In East magazine, a local shop manager was asked what he likes to do in Chelmsford. I noted that several answers were outside of the town – including his own home. I looked up Chelmsford and Colchester in the latest Pevsner guide. The late Sir Nik begins the Chelmsford entry with a derogatory sarcastic quote. He starts Colchester’s by saying it’s rightly the focal town of the shire. I’ve listed its assets in other articles. But I think that Firstsite gives a clear message: Colchester is not an ickle backwater. We are not part of London. We have a significant cultural venue; we take architectural risks and make sure all our treasures are not just in the past. Chelmsford has no new significant buildings, no castle, no Dutch quarter equivalent, and no vast proud town hall; no arts centre, no producing theatre, no Jumbo watertower (though it does have a viaduct), no town centre museums (Colchester has five, plus other galleries). Even if Colchester does not fully fill my criteria as a city, it is way above its neighbour which merely has the county council offices in them.

It seems that the title of city now actually gives little – no extra benefits or funding for the borough. I continue to see Chelmsford as a town and Colchester as Essex’s leading conurbation – a word which sums up its rival: just a clump of houses with a river through them and a mediocre shopping centre.

I must end with the MP of Milton Keynes’ words on hearing they had been unsuccessful. He claims they are a city anyway, no matter what Westminster says:

“…there’s a saying that if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck it probably is a duck.”

True, you should hear my definition of a duck. It isn’t flattering!

See my next article sticking up for the 2nd Marconi factory

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Colchester

I have lived in every county of East Anglia, bar one. I have never had enthusiasm to live in Essex – but not because there’s nothing appealing about it. I enjoy it for a day visit and would be happy to take a holiday there. But as a home…

I have criteria for my ideal city. Although the actual status of some urban places may have changed recently, Essex has no real cities. Colchester, not Chelmsford ought to be the county town, and is closer to being a city in my definition.

Essex has many large towns, many of whom are London overspill and commuter towns, often having grown rapidly since the wars from little market towns or less. Colchester is further up the county away from London and has retained an air of independence and own county rather than home county. It feels like Suffolk in places, to whose borders it is close; the 16th C belt of Wool Towns extends into Essex. And so unsurprisedly, Colchester has quite a Suffolk feel. I once commented that I thought it felt more like the county town of Suffolk, or at least South Suffolk, than Ipswich, the actual capital. For me, the Wool Towns are Suffolk.

The buildings that make South Suffolk’s wool towns beautiful and distinct – the timbered, coloured houses of the 1500-1600s – are abundant in Colchester too. There are a couple of areas – the Dutch Quarter, North and East Hills – where the town feels akin to Lavenham and Sudbury. The Dutch Quarter, away from traffic and almost purely residential, evokes a village. East Hill and Street tumble away from the Walls into one of the longest extra mural suburbs I have seen. It really is remarkable to have unbroken chunks of timbered buildings, more so that they are found in a town of 170,000+ rather than the villages which ceased their industrial importance and thus were able to retain so much of their earlier buildings. It is also special that so many of these buildings are in the heart of Colchester; all three clusters I mentioned run directly from the High Street.

The middle of the town is a mishmash, and looked heavily bombed or re-planned. A recent book helped me note the buildings more: that there are banks of imported stone and several former cinema and theatres. But there’s a slightly jaded feel to many of the buildings. Some of the shopping areas are quite thoughtful: Scandinavian cheap clothes chain H & M is currently in a nice Georgian house, and the centre piece of Culver Square is a giant Venetian type window, housing Debenhams’s department store. A large multistorey carpark built at a similar time – the early 1990s – makes what could be a mass of eyesore into a kind of feature. Sir Isaac’s Walk continues the olde lane so well I didn’t even notice it is modern.

Yet other parts are less successful. As is the current whim, the 1960s-80s mistakes are being tarted up in what will surely be looked on as 2010s errors. Culver Street got cut in the middle and is now oddly handlebar shaped. Central library and much of the high street shopping date from this era, though thankfully Colchester has resisted the indoor mall (having possibly done away with the first Lion Centre) except for a huddle of cheaper shops off St John’s.

The ringroad here feels particularly divisive, mostly as I went trailing along its length to find an alternative to a subway to be able to cross it. Noting old streets that had been riven in two, I felt the chasm that ringroads bring to those on the wrong side of them, worse than the stone of town walls ever did.

Colchester’s walls are its special point. No other British or Irish town has near complete Roman walls. They are not often original height or condition, and much of the time they are hiding behind backs of shops. Other cities may have Roman patches or a Roman base, but with the addition of a couple of medieval towers, these walls are all Roman and don’t seem to be messed with by subsequent centuries (such as York’s and Chester’s, Britain’s most celebrated longest sets of walls).

The walls remind that this was the capital of the country in the era they were built and this is Britain’s oldest recorded town. Thus the Romans rightly feature specially in the town’s consciousness and marketing. However, it does not retain a Roman street pattern and perhaps this is partly why much of the Roman buildings are hard to excavate and not available to see – the best of these are outside the centre.

Colchester has another distinctive link with the Romans – that their bricks were recycled in medieval buildings. This led an 18th C owner of the Castle to believe it was Roman and restored it accordingly with red Italianate tiles. The building is actually Europe’s largest 11th C Keep, similar in plan to London’s White Tower. But Colchester has lost the top – it is not known how many storeys more there would have been. My guess is that early stone keeps were low cuboids (cf London, Norwich and Castle Rising, also in Norfolk). Therefore, Colchester’s would not have been much taller – it was not like later Rochester and nearby Hedingham in being considerably higher than the base is square. It’s an interesting museum with much about the Romans and the town, but there is not much in the way of unaltered Norman fortress inside. The best place for that is Castle Hedingham, in West Essex, where each floor is still a recognisable room and the principal chamber has a huge arch running across the whole width.

The park around the castle is one of the town’s best features. As gardens, it runs for some acres, then becomes riverside walks, meadows and cricket grounds. I discovered that it is possible to walk from the much pictured cottages at the foot of North Hill right round to the mill on East Hill. There is also a country park in the rough vicinity of the station (which I have not tried to find yet). For river and greenness, Colchester does well, as well as being quickly accessible to lovely coast and countryside.

Prettiness, antiquity and greenery are all features of my ideal city and which Colchester supplies, but there is a kind of building central to my and the traditional definition of a city which Colchester (and all of Essex) lacks.

St Botolph’s Priory would not be on par with the great cathedrals. St John’s abbey was perhaps twice its length at 295ft, but that’s small compared with its East of England cousins, and only a gate remains. So the ecclesiastical offerings left today are Colchester’s low point. I barely register the cluster of parish churches, though author of several local books says Colcestrians are proud of that central collection of 8 (plus St Leonard at Hythe in the outkirts). Having lived in Norwich with its superlative portfolio (31) and being acquainted with Cambridge (13), Ipswich (12), York (19), London (39) and Bristol (15 including ruins), Colchester’s churches seem diminutive in number and size. Coventry and Hull have few but what they do have are impressive in both senses – large, and they enter your mind as an emblem of the city. I didn’t always notice I’d passed a church in Colchester, and none really come to mind as an iconic image.

Trinity is the one on most people’s radar, because of its rare Saxon tower, and because it is prominently located, and used to be a museum. Now it houses vintage fairs, a lively Charismatic congregation and a not so lively (in terms of service) cafe, with music matching what I assume one would hear in the church worship. When I visited, staff were foreign with poor grasp of English. One didn’t know how to use the word ‘please’ and the other gave me the wrong order then brought the right one with such poor pronunciation that I thought a further mistake had been made. They asked for money then walked out of the room and asked for it again. For the churchy charity cafe this surely was, the prices were not as low as the food quality or ambience, and I wondered why I’d chosen this for lunch over the more professional looking cafe down the road. I also encountered poor service at the Minories cafe (it’s the Low Bistro in more ways than one). Ignoring me for several minutes in an empty room, I asked staff if I ordered at the counter or if they came to me. The woman looked up from her conversation, said to order here, and then turned and carried on cleaning. I left.

This is one of those moments where my spider diagram mind does not know whether to carry on with churches, or start on food offerings of Colchester, or Georgian heritage. I could conclude the paucity of churches by mentioning 18th C St Peter’s, and All Saints, an Ipswich style flint and flushwork church which is a Natural History Museum, but which I was unable to go in. Monday is a bad day to visit; the castle and new art gallery firstsite are open, but nowhere else. Other places were between exhibitions and plays. Nearby pretty wool town Coggleshall’s National Trust properties and Arboretum are also closed.

Georgian heritage was what most struck me on this visit; there is far more of it than had stayed in my imagination. I was aware of the Hollytrees museum, but there are finer houses of the period; the said Minories, the Greyfriars opposite; and a pair on Culver Street East, another gallery and restaurant. I also learned of a former octagonal Independent chapel, known as the Round Church, which is echoed in the modern URC above shops on Lion Walk.

Colchester’s little streets and alternative shops are better than I thought. I’ve not tried to actually  shop for anything (that is always telling of the real facilities) but I did find some interesting places. Red Lion isn’t quite what I had hoped for in an independent bookshop, and the Waterstone’s is quite a small one. The media offerings are a big part of my warming to a place, and it is here that Colchester again seems to lack; I saw no independent little record shops, only the usual paltry HMV, and nowhere else for DVDs.

Film is no better to watch in public. Like Chelmsford, this consists only of an old style, central Odeon, curiously in a former post office with an abandoned purpose built cinema of the same chain round the corner. It must has only 8 screens to solely serve the whole town. Is that why it (in 2012) charged London prices? – but now it is the same as other branches in the region. There’s not even the Director’s Chair strand of supposedly artier programmers. In 2016, futuristic banana Firstsite (now with a capital letter, hurrah) has a regular film programme – but why doesn’t it haven any pictures in the brochure?

There is an Arts centre, in St Mary’s At The Walls. I have not gained access to the little church with its red tower. Its programme seems not dissimilar to the unrelated Norwich Arts Centre – an alternative mix of music, comedy and fairs. It does not appear to have a daytime café or access.

Also between the water tower and the walls, the Mercury is a well thought of touring, producing and new writing dramatic theatre, but again appears its facilities are not open to non patrons. I as disappointed to see its website’s directions tell Londoners how easy it is to get there, but no encouragement or comment for rural visitors of the region – it’s equally only an hour from Norwich or Bury St Edmunds.

A third, less known venue is the ten year old amateur Headgate Theatre, who is not on Headgate Street at all, but hiding behind a former playhouse (now pub) in a nonconformist chapel on Chapel St North.

The University, a good 3 miles east out of town, has the Lakeside Arts centre; and there is an exhibition centre for sport, exhibitions and concerts called the Charter Hall on Cowdray avenue, the northern ring road. This isn’t easy to learn about though brochures etc.

It’s hard to get a real feel for Colchester as the Tourist Information Centre is full of tacky Jubilee gifts rather than much on the town and surrounds, and the local booklets were all behind the counter like age related and illicit goods. Most leaflets I found anywhere were the standard ones around the region, and featured little on Essex.

Often I make discoveries via finding quirky cafes or arts venues whose posters and flyers suggest other avenues to explore. I could find nor get in none of these. I did note two possible music places, one on Queen St facing Culver St East; and on North Hill, a record club, which is hot on Vinyl, and Creative Arts Live, which is still mysterious to me.

Food is dominated by chain restaurants and most of the pubs I passed did not entice me in. On a previous visit, I left early, having not found anywhere appealing and electing to eat at home. I note that I commented on lack of eateries on all my visits, over 17 years.

The only demographic I noticed was the amount of people in military uniform, but glancing at a map shows a large area of barracks. The other aspect suggested by a map would be lots of late teens due to the vocational Institute and Sixth form college. I did see many people enjoying the sun, some of those would have been students though many were young families. Enjoying the sun was one thing I was not really doing. I concurred with the woman on her phone in her Cockney/Essex tones: “Tell her it’s 30 degrees and your mother’s not happy!”

Colchester’s charm is beginning to seep through. I noticed lots of thoughtful new old style buildings around the town, alongside the challenging architecture of Firstsite, and that there are plans for further improvements. I feel quite an affection and an appetite to explore Essex’s other small towns. My rue is that there are not publications to explain and celebrate what is here.

There’s a day out with Elspeth guide on my other blog at

https://elspethsnaughtyguides.wordpress.com/2014/05/20/a-day-out-with-elspeth-in-colchester/

 

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A Day Out with Elspeth Series

I’ve enjoyed writing travel posts on other sites for a while. My day out with Elspeth Series has moved from Associated content/Yahoo to Hubpages where I have been adding two trips. There are also comparisons and appraisals, so far all of British towns. They go with my Chelmsford inspired posts (which are next) on the new Jubilee city and Marconi radio factory.

http://contributor.yahoo.com/user/308746/elspeth_r.html

Scroll down and choose all the travel ones you wish for-

Day out Series: Norwich, Woodbridge,  Bath, Cambridge, Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Framlingham (festive season),

and writings comparing and analysing Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bristol, Cardiff, Newcastle, Aldeburgh, Scotland vs West Country, Norwich churches and Cambridge colleges

http://trifter.com/europe/united-kingdom/liverpool-vs-manchester/

http://www.trifter.com/Europe/United-Kingdom/An-Appraisal-of-Bristol.296071

My next article will be an analysis of Colchester

 

I’ve started a new blog with more travel on it http://elspethsnaughtyguides.wordpress.com/

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Further thoughts on forced labour for claimants

After reading today’s Observer (not my usual paper but more me than most others) I feel I should repost this, as further workfare for jobseekers is being proposed. I’m interested that the Observer‘s view is that it’s a backlash against government reforms not working. Hardly a logical one!

And I’d also like to comment on what I think of employers who are taking on staff without paying them. You don’t need me to spell that out, do you?

https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/eco-echo/ – a response to an article in favour of this practice.

See also my thoughts on “Hatred of Housing benefit claimants” and “Government gripes”

 

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