Monday, October 31, 2011


... or Happy Hallowe'en as you might say in the beautiful South.

When I was a kid in Scotland, Hallowe'en was a big deal for kids, but it was slightly harder work than Trick or Treaters have today. The idea was that you had to sort of sing for your supper, or tell a joke, do an impression, or a dance. Basically you had to do a turn before  being gifted a handful of monkey nuts or an apple. I can't remember much in the way of sweeties. Nuts were definitely the makeweight in my day in exchange for the ritual humiliation of our performances.

I'm struggling to think what my star turn was, and am blushing slightly that it may well have been a Frank Spencer, by way of Mike Yarwood impression - doggy doing a whoopsy on the carpet and all.

The balance has definitely shifted in favour of the Guisers (it comes from 'disguise') these days, but to be fair to them, the amount of effort and expense that they go to is a lot more than in my day when a bin bag over your snorkel parka was often as inventive as it got. Today's costumes, wigs, masks and make-up are in a different league.

This year is the first time we've done anything for Hallowe'en. The kids were a bit younger when we lived in Hackney, and if truth be told, the prospect of opening your door at a godforsaken hour 'round our old manor did not appeal that much. Luckily our doorbell worked only intermittently and the kids were not patient enough for us to descend from the first floor flat to the front door having decided that, yes, there was somebody at the door.

Round here there is more of a system. If you have a lantern on show then you are open to a knock on the door.

We had our rudimentary pumpkin lantern flickering on the window sill for a a couple of hours after the lights went down. It was put to shame by the altogether more artistic efforts of the guy a few doors down - point noted for next year. The Essex massive definitely take Hallowe'en seriously.

We had a bowl of sweeties for the kids who came to the door, who were very polite and well behaved with no surly behaviour or demands for cash, that you hear about. Our two initially came to the door to see the assorted ghouls and ghosties, but were soon freaked out by some of the more realistic costumes.

They were definitely up for Hallowe'en this year though, with the eldest demanding 'spooky toast' for breakfast. Cue quickly carved piece of bread in the shape of a pumpkin - I couldn't do a vampire.

After that they had a Hallowe'en themed stay and play session at another child's house and then back here for some apple bobbing and donut munching. I'm not sure how traditional that is, but it went down very well.

Hallowe'en is now done. Bring on bonfire night.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dipdap at Firstsite

I know there was a massive fuss about the new Colchester arts centre, Firstsite. It cost too much, it took too long to build, it shouldn't be in Colchester... er it cost too much. Well, I love it.

Addressing the cost issue first, I think that £26m for such an iconic building, which will put Colchester on the map, is a snip. That wouldn't have got you the wet changing area at the Olympics site, and most of the facilities there will be mothballed for a couple of years pending works required for their post-Games function. I actually think the Olympics is a great thing for London, and indeed Britain anyway, but in comparison Firstsite is great value.

I've been there a few times since it opened. Amid all the things I like about it: the design, the cafe, the way it has opened up the bottom end of the town, and the way the people of Colchester seem to be warming to it, I particularly like its child-centricity.

Today I attended a half-term event in the theatre where the animator and producer of a children's TV programme called Dipdap were showing the kids some films, demonstrating how Dipdap is drawn (basically he's a stick man, so that didn't take long) and then letting the kids loose with a load of felt tip pens on a massive sheet of white paper taped to the floor.
Floored genius: let the kid art commence

This was the best bit for the kids, obviously, and for the parents, who could sit back and let their offspring get on with it. I particularly liked how unprescriptive it was. I was at the opening of Firstsite and had a bit of a giggle at the expense of one of the artists who must have been brought in to create an immersive artistic experience for children. There were a few too many rules and the kids had basically just grabbed it and created their own game with it. The poor, harassed man was being comforted by a colleague who was assuring him that it would all be a bit better on subsequent days when the kids were less excitable.

As if that ever happens.

Anyway, back to Dipdap. It was a great show -  a few cartoons, a quick bit of 'what would you like Steve to draw?' and then unleash the mayhem.

Well done Firstsite. Keep it coming.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hackney in the Fall

London Fields: looking golden
Yesterday I had cause to pass through Hackney, for possibly the first time since I left and certainly the first time since the disturbances.

I had to come into 'Town' (as we country mice call it) for work. Usually I let the train take the strain, but there were one hour delays reported, so I was forced to jump in the car and hammer down the A12.

My mental map of the capital is so hard-wired around Hackney that I almost had to come through there to get to where I was heading - Hammersmith. I know how to get to Hammersmith from Hackney having driven the route many times. I just couldn't picture another route - I am a satnav-less driver by choice and like to think that I can get anywhere by innate road sense and judicious use of a map.

Anyway, my chosen route took my right past the end of our old road. What would you do? I couldn't resist driving past our former flat, feeling guilty in case anybody spotted me in the car.

Despite reports that it is now London's, or possibly the world's coolest street, Wilton Way was reassuringly scruffy, and had parking issues that I don't remember from when I lived there. So it's not just our street in Colchester where you move your vehicle at peril of ever regaining a parking slot.

The street, and Hackney did look lovely in the autumn sunlight. And I was particularly pleased that the buyers of our flat hadn't done much to the exterior. It's not that it was a monument to our exemplary taste or renovation skills, more the fact that after living there for more than 10 years, I was slightly embarrassed that I'd never got round to fixing the dodgy doorstep or replacing the battered front door.

And neither have they.

Given that they seemed to be young, trendy things, with a design background, I was also delighted to see that they had rather ugly Venetian blinds hanging in the front windows. I know it's sad that I noticed these things. At least I got round to hanging curtains, and put up the curtain rails that would have allowed them to do the same. Maybe curtains, like carpet, are a sign of getting old man!

On the way back I also popped along to London Field to use the facilities - it's a long drive back to Essex. Navigating by public loos is quite a skill too - call it satlav if you like.

The park, as always, looked lovely, and was full of the usual mix of dog walkers, late lunchers, parents with kids, and fixed wheel cyclists. I don't know what I expected really. It was the same old Hackney. Maybe I was anticipating some scars following the riots, but there were no obvious dents in the borough. It's so careworn generally, that it is hard to notice any. Plate glass has been replaced, bus stops rebuilt, paving slabs replaced and life goes on.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Scooter power

Hackney Holiday doesn't do sponsored advertorial, but if it did, it would go something like this...

Although I'm a journalist, I've never been a great blagger. There are people who see absolutely no shame in it. I remember a colleague telling me once how she'd been bought a leather coat on one lavish press trip after expressing an interest in it.

"Oh, I couldn't accept it."

"Go on. We'll put it on the client's bill anyway."

"Alright then. Hmmm, nice fit."

I'm really not in that league, and frankly find the whole thing a bit embarrassing, not to say rather compromising. It's particularly cloying in the blog arena where there is a whole school of uncritical authors of PR puff, happy to receive stuff for free and witter on about how great the products are.

So, cards on the table. My son has a Micro scooter, which we bought, and have subsequently bought spares and accessories for. Recently it started to get a bit shuddery and I noticed that the back wheel was actually square through excessive braking over the two years he's had it.

The square wheel: once they were all like this
As I'd recently written about the company for a small piece, I'd been in contact with the PR, so I did something I don't usually do. I dropped her a line and asked if the company would send me a spare wheel. I admitted that I knew this was a bit cheeky and that she could tell me to sling my hook, but hey, there was no harm in asking.

She said it was no problem and that she'd get them to pop one in the post, which duely arrived this morning and is now on the scooter.

Here comes the puff part.

I wouldn't have done this if I didn't think that the scooter was a great product. I'm actually amazed that a company that sells a product some would see as 'disposable' actually sells spare parts anyway. It costs around £50, which isn't cheap, but compared to the price of some kids toys that don't stand being tested to destruction, the Micro is good value I think. You can basically replace every part and reconstruct them in different colour combinations, plus add lots of funky accessories. I ony wish they did an adult version - oh, they do!

HackneyBoy's scooter has been a real boon since he got it. Not only is it great fun for him to zip about, but it saves us from having to lug him around. They are supposed to be for three year olds and upwards, but he's been on his since he was two after another Hackney parent let him have a go on his daughter's. He is really quite adept on his scooter and I think it has given him a bit of an insight into dealing with traffic as well as a bit of independence.

I also love the fact that Micro are so near here, in Mersea. We've popped into the office/warehouse for spares in the past, so there is a local connection.

On one such visit I noticed they had a letter from No 10 on display. The PM and his wife were thanking the company for the scooters - the kids loved them.

Hmmm! I'm betting Dave didn't pay for them. I hope they were declared. Suddenly I'm not feeling so bad for being a blagger.