All posts by Tara

#coffeeshopculturewd3: a response

Rickmansworthweb.com has recently published a post about the many coffee shops in central Rickmansworth. Now, the purpose of this website is to encourage people to frequent the shops, bars and businesses of Ricky, which is an excellent idea. However, the author’s claim to provide a helpful resource to help coffee fans choose which coffee shop to go to isn’t entirely validated by what she’s written, as, understandably, she’s focussed on the positives at the expense of a balanced review of each cafe (and has entirely left out Brown Sugar, which is unpardonable, to my mind).

When we first moved to Rickmansworth in 2009, there were three central cafes to choose from: Brown Sugar, Caffe Nero and Cinnamon Square. Each of the three had (and has) its own distinct character.

Brown Sugar is both a deli and a cafe, serving a huge range of sandwiches (you can make up an almost infinite number of filling and bread combinations), salads, baked potatoes, smoothies and cakes as well as coffee. It’s the smallest of the cafes on offer, with five four-seater tables. It’s definitely possible to get a couple of buggies in there (I’ve done it), but would be a struggle at busy times (i.e. lunch time any day and particularly Saturday). The food is lovely and the cake (watch out for the blueberry muffin cake) on a yumminess par with Cinnamon Square’s less complicated offerings. The coffee, while nothing to write home about, is a perfectly decent accompaniment to a snack or a meal and has woken me up on many a Saturday morning. Service-wise, you order at the counter and then it’s delivered to your table. At quiet times, you may well be asked at your table if you’d like anything else.  If you can’t handle all the writing on the walls (and there is a LOT of it), grab a paper menu from the side of the counter and peruse at your table before ordering. Use the numbers on the menu unless you want to customise! Negatives? We’ve often had to walk past Brown Sugar, because it’s been full. It’s also closed on Sundays. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it’s not the cafe I go to if I want to hang out all afternoon drinking coffee and reading. The upright chairs and tables lend themselves more to lunch.

Caffe Nero was the first chain coffee shop to take up residence on Rickmansworth High Street. I used to go in every morning for coffee and was always impressed by how efficient the morning staff were. The service is a bit more variable these days  – as in most chain coffee shops, there’s a regular turnover of staff – but they get through a big queue pretty steadily. Nero’s is right in the middle of the High Street with space for a small amount of outdoor seating. It’s quite a big branch with the usual range of seating, although the large number of chairs, tables and sofas does make it feel quite crowded (it certainly doesn’t feel ‘spacious’). It’s difficult to get around freely, partly because of the stupidly-placed pillar right next to the counter. Of the range of high street coffee shops, Nero’s coffee is, in my opinion, the most… assertive. Their claim to be authentically Italian isn’t far off. I’m disappointed that they’ve discontinued their banana frappe, but the new praline muffin is quite nice. Nero’s offers a 10th-coffee-free loyalty card.

Cinnamon Square: Rickmansworth’s cakey-pastry landmark. When we first moved here, it was a tiny cafe with a small amount of seating upstairs. Since then, it’s expanded to more than twice the size and has converted to table service (you even wait to be seated these days!). There’s also a new little foodstuffs and gift-style shop opposite the counter as well as bread, cakes and sandwiches to take away. Cinnamon Square’s business has always focussed on cake-making and workshops for children and adults. We’ve listened to many a children’s baking party (in the ‘Makery’!) and they always sound great fun. If you go, you must have either an eponymous cinnamon square (you WILL need a fork) or the new Ricky sticky bun. On the savoury front, there’re a range of light lunch options. Food availability has improved since the kitchen opened for longer and the savoury options are sound. Breakfast is particularly good and they can be flexible if you want something that’s not quite on the menu. The coffee’s alright, but, again, nothing to write home about. Having said that, I’m told the mocha is the best in town, so you might want to try that! Service used to be pretty variable, to be honest. We’ve waited a few times for our food for a very long time. It’s a bit better now and more consistent, but don’t be afraid to remind them if you feel you’ve been waiting too long. It’s possible to go with buggies on the ground floor, but bear in mind that the main baby-changing facilities are up quite steep and narrow stairs.

A couple of years ago – I think it was autumn 2011 – Costa opened up. As Rickmansworthweb says, it’s a lot more open than Nero’s with a more sensible arrangement of furniture. The decor is lighter and more appealing as well. There’s a patio out the back with a dedicated smoking area, if you like that sort of thing. There’s a decent range of sandwiches and the cake display is always attractive. The coffee’s less aggressive than Nero’s, but definitely stronger than, say, Starbuck’s. The largest size is encouragingly ginormous – it comes in a bowl you could wash your feet in. As for ‘family friendly’, there are certainly always a lot of families in there. Best not turn up with seven friends who also have buggies, though. You get not exactly friendly looks from the staff. One other thing to bear in mind is that hot food is sometimes a little slow in being delivered they forget about it. There’s a loyalty card system with points for each purchase, rather than for specific items. I’m not convinced Costa’s any better for interesting conversations than any of the other cafes. We once encountered an elderly gentleman in Brown Sugar trying to persuade a lady of Indian origin and her son that India had never been better than when under the Raj (partially in Hindi).

That leaves the new kid on the block, Harris + Hoole. The coffee’s best here. Do bear in mind that they serve it warm, rather than hot (it’s deliberate). The sandwiches are also gorgeous (watch out for the halloumi flatbread). I’ve not yet been disappointed by the quality of food and drink, nor the level of service, which are all excellent. It helps that you can sit down at your table while you wait for things to be prepared and then go up when your buzzer starts flashing. H+H have made a concerted effort to engage with local people via their Twitter account and the standard local events blackboard that features in every branch. Of all the chains (and, yes, I know they’re partially backed by Tesco), H+H is most successful at immitating an independent. However, like Brown Sugar, they could do with more space. The old school-style chairs also aren’t the most comfortable (particularly after you’ve given birth). There’re a few different loyalty cards, but make sure you present yours before you pay.

So, that should be a bit more useful, although, unavoidably, subjective. I don’t really have a favourite as such – each cafe has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s nice to have such a range available.

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Norah Newbury Inge and the 2011 Census

Completing the census form last night (I know that’s early – naughty, naughty) left me slightly disappointed with what was asked, having spent some months now looking at census documents from 1841-1911. For example, in all the censuses of the 19th century, the middle names of all the people in the household were often recorded. This can be extremely helpful to the genealogist searching for, for example, John Kingsford Inge (Inge is a surprisingly common name in Kent and Surrey). Nor was the specific place of birth recorded – again, a very useful way of checking that you have the right person. Even if the subject of your enquiry had moved halfway across the country between 1851 and 1861, you could be fairly sure ’twas he or she from the place of birth, e.g. Ickham, Kent. Now all you are required to supply is ‘England’. Good luck to our great-grandchildren when they try to track us down in a century’s time.

Thanks to cautious (ha!) use of the hints option on Ancestry, the family tree has now grown to over 2000 people. Dan regularly tells me off for researching people who are only related to me by marriage, but, if youhave ever done any research into your family tree, you’ll concur that it can become an obsession until the tree has so many twigs you can’t remember how some of them grew.

Thanks to this obsession, however, I discovered a fascinating lady called Norah Newbury Inge (my third cousin, five-times removed), the daughter of a school headmaster from Wimbledon. Born in 1900, Norah comes into view for the first time after the 1911 census  in 1936, when she returned to Britain from on the P&O ship ‘Strathnaver’. She had been working as a school teacher in Colombo, Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon).

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Felt Gadget Cases

Front of a felt gadget case I've just finished
Back of the same showing the belt clip and user's initials

We’ve just received a batch of new wireless controllers for the whiteboards at work. Desperate not to lose the bits, I made myself a case to keep it hooked on a belt loop. Above is the second attempt, made for a colleage. Quite pleased with it – it’s a bit more sophisticated looking and all the flaps and the belt clip are more secure.

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An ode to making things

Cake is all very well and pleasant and tasty, but making a cake every week is dangerous to the waistline! When I was 14 – and don’t ask me how I came to this foolish decision and why anyone went along with it – I decided as managing director of our Young Enterprise company that we would focus on knotted friendship bracelets as our main product. Naturally, as I was the only one who bothered to learn how to make them properly and each took about three hours, we made no money at all. Nonetheless, I enjoyed making them and the skill came back quickly and easily. Far more easily than re-learning how to ride a bike, actually.

My original idea was to make Dan a bookmark for Christmas, which I did, but I’ve also ended up with a pile of nine bracelets in different patterns and colours and two embroidered, hand-stitched cases for different electronic devices. There’s something deeply satisfying about tying knots and making a line of neat stitches, much like building a wall or completing a jigsaw puzzle.

The bracelets so far...

Creating a pattern of knots compared to free-form sewing is like writing a poem with a formal structure compared to being allowed to

write words wherever on the page. There are rules – a certain number of knots fits and forms the pattern. If you get the number of knots wrong or you take the threads in the wrong direction, then it doesn’t look right. It’s more demanding and less forgiving, thus, more satisfying. You know when you’ve finished and you know you haven’t cheated.

Colour choice is also fun. I discovered that red, orange, yellow, brown and purple look amazing together. Shades of one colour are subtle and sophisticated. Orange is really hard to match up most of the time. Gold is glitzy and goes nicely with light and dark blue, but the metallic thread is harder to knot tightly and thus you need more of it. For some reason, brown thread always seems slightly stiffer and more tightly spun.

Making bracelets has become a habit and I miss it when I don’t do it. My hands feel wrong. Thought about selling them on Etsy (or what seems to be the local equivalent, Folksy), but I’ve only managed to make nine in a month! Maybe need to build up stock first.

If you want to have a go, I suggest you visit this wonderful site: http://hbernb4.atspace.com/

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Genealogy gone mad

Having responded to a comment on our post about the Fat Aubergine, I’ve realised we haven’t written anything for a while. So sorry, dears.

Fact is, when not engaged in the enlightenment of ignorant teenagers, over the past two weeks (or is it three?) I’ve been hooked on researching the family tree. This all stemmed from my bright idea to put a small (note, SMALL) family tree in the back of the wedding album so that our future offspring will know how all the people in the pictures are related to them. Then I registered at www.ancestry.co.uk, but rather than using their tree-building programme, shoved all the data into a free programme I downloaded from www.myheritage.com.

Ancestry’s pretty thorough (on the medium price plan option) – you can access census records from 1841 to 1901 (not 1911, yet, though); birth, marriage and death index records; and, in some cases (particularly in London) marriage and baptism records in more detail. The military records from WWI are also interesting, particularly for physical descriptions of one’s ancestor. Rather more personal than census records. My most successful investigations have been into the branches of my family who lived in London. Being able to see fathers’ names on marriage records makes jumping back to the 19th century very much easier. If you can’t bridge the gap between the elderly living and the 19th century, going back is quite hard. For example, my mother-in-law doesn’t know very much about her grandparents, and so we’ve hit a brick wall, because I can’t push back into the richer census records. Similarly, but for a different reason, my great-grandfather is very hard to pin down. The perils of having a name like Edward Browne in London!

However, we’ve had wide-ranging success in getting back to great-great-great-great-great grandfathers in several branches. It turns out that I have impeccable working-class credentials, except in a couple of cases, where we go back to Kentish farmers (not sure how big an estate of 350 acres is!). So many migrated from Kent or Berkshire or Somerset to the Big Smoke to work as tailors, painters and bargemen. I’m very pleased to find that a great-great-uncle was an early motor bus driver in Brentford in 1918, just as my grandfather and great-grandfather were. Two branches owned pubs: one in Kent and one in Brentford. Fascinating, but such superficial knowledge of so many people (645 and counting!).

Of course, the Irish lot are a dead end at the moment. I don’t imagine the records in Galway would be in a particularly good state, but we’ll have to see.

So, I’m pleased with Ancestry in that it’s possible very easily to trace back six or seven generations (unless you’re beset by misspelling of names, which can be a real problem). However, I think what I need to do now is to try to build up a more detailed knowledge of the more recent generations – 645 names is wonderful, but doesn’t really mean very much.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Wedding #8 The Hennery

Have I moaned already about the stereotypical hen do? I’m sure I have. Spa breaks and brewery tours just aren’t me. So my trusty pals made food the focus of my hennery on Saturday, and the day was all the better for it.

We started with a couple of coffees at Le Pain Quotidien (annoyingly misspelled on FourSquare) on Marylebone High Street, which is definitely the easiest fun place to get to from Rickmansworth (don’t start, Watford fans). Caught up with chief collaborator Alys just by the big Methodist church – she was definitely looking more glam than I was – and met Sarah and Lucy outside LPQ. Didn’t have to wait long for a table and spent about an hour sipping from those lovely handle-less bowls they give you and very briefly looking at the paper. Virtuously rejected breakfast, although the food they do there is just lovely, so as to leave room for cheese at our next stop.

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Wedding#7 “I’m thinking of changing my name… Had a word with the marketing department.”

Changing one’s name is definitely the most onerous thing one has to do when getting married. No doubt some of you will be snorting at that sentence and thinking of all the other things that are far more work. Nonetheless, when you work in a school, it’s a right pain in the arse for the following reasons:

  1. No one reminds you to tell the head’s secretary that you’re changing your name. I think it was when the timetables first started coming out that I twigged that the coding was wrong.
  2. Not only that, but I’ve had to ask for a special set of initials – being ‘TA’ in a school would be extremely confusing, as it usually stands for ‘teaching assistant’.
  3. You have to tell the children well in advance that you’re changing your name so that they have time to get used to the idea (as with any other piece of information, such as “this is your fifteen minute warning to pick up your pen…”). Then they can enjoy practising it and trying to use it. This confuses the less bright ones, who then think you’ve got married over the weekend and proceed to try to hug you. In fairness, it does affect them slightly – their form name changes by one letter. They don’t seem to mind. We minded very much when our form tutor got married at school, because we desperately wanted to remain ’10OC’ – read it quickly and you’ll see why. I’ve said to them that I don’t really mind if they can’t manage the new name for a bit. Change is tough for 14 year olds.
  4. Everybody seems to take it personally if you don’t tell them specifically that you’re getting married. The large diamond/Facebook doesn’t do the trick, apparently. Should I have worn a big sign all year saying “I’m getting married on…”? This applies to the kids who aren’t in my tutor group as well, so when their timetables came out they came flooding in to ask who this mysterious “Mrs X” was.
  5. I can’t write my new surname without consciously thinking about the letters. Too many tall consonants. Must practise.
  6. Also, I keep forgetting I have new initials when coding up all the stationery.
  7. Irritatingly, the data system has decided that I no longer have an initial – I have become the entity “Mrs X”.

I’m sure everyone who changes their name when they get married has similar issues (I haven’t even started looking at important things, like bank accounts and passports). Maybe I should just have persuaded Dan to change his name instead…

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Wedding#6 Getting there, getting there…

Haven’t posted for a while – wedding things have been happening in a fast and frenzied fashion.

Would you believe that people don’t want to buy us towels and a garlic press? I was under the impression that wedding lists were meant to be domestic and boring. Tell you what, though, we’re going to have a hell of a chuck-out after the wedding. Bye bye all the crappy Argos and Tesco cutlery and kitchen stuff we bought when we first moved in together.

Just the peripheral things left to do now and I realise I’m supposed to be some kind of monumentally stressed-out Bridezilla by this point in the process, but I’m failing heartily. We’ve paid the hotel (don’t get me started on  how much we’re paying for one day of our lives), met the registrar and just about decided on the music. Still loads of things to pay for, although our parents’ generous contributions have helped with that (particularly paying for the Dress). Found out yesterday that the alterations to the Dress (inevitable, you’d have thought) are going to be an extra £125 – and the seamstress doesn’t take cards. Hmm… having said I’m not stressed out, it’s sounding like I am. I’m not. Really. I’m just appalled at how much everything costs. I’m sure we paid less (ignore the deposit for the purposes of this sentence) to buy our flat.

So, the shoes crisis. The issue was that I proposed wearing DMs as an alternative to totally un-me bridal shoes, which will also hurt. I don’t usually wear heels. I certainly don’t wear 3″ heels. Mother had a small fit and we’ve had to come up with a compromise to keep everyone happy. Thus, I shall be wearing proper shoes (from Shu Shu in Pinner) for the ceremony and photos (keeping their use down to about an hour and a half) and metallic pink DMs for the rest of the day! I’m going to keep an eye out for thick socks with hearts on them to go with the boots.

The meeting with the registrar did make things seem a bit more real, particularly as it was held in the room where they do civil ceremonies at Harrow civic centre, so we sat in the chairs they use and Jan, the registrar, mimed out the beginning of the ceremony. Choosing readings has been difficult – once again it’s a question of finding something that’s not cliched and sappy.

So, four weeks to go until it’s all over and we can jet off to Malta and some peace and quiet!

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Wedding #5: Of ribbons and cravats

As I write, I’m alternately bathing each hand in a solution of warm water and lovelyglubblyflower essence to soothe them after so much cutting of ribbon, folding of card and writing and re-writing of guest lists. Much of the rewriting has occurred because we couldn’t remember what we’d written last time, rather than because we’ve decided that some people aren’t socially acceptable. We’re just making them wear bags over their heads instead.

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Wedding #4 Oo, haven’t we done well?

We had a hell of a time deciding where to go on the honeymoon (which we’ve finally booked). First, we thought Canada for the moose and bears. Dan’s been there a couple of times, though, and it’s difficult to see all of it in one go,  so we downscaled to Alaska – similar content, smaller surface area. We poured over tons of brochures from our local independent travel agent in Rickmansworth, scoured all the websites we could find and consulted Alaskan tweeters, but it all looked a bit busy for a honeymoon in the end. We can spend a week zooming across mountains in a train and whitewater rafting when we haven’t just organised a wedding!

Thus, in an atypical move, we’re going somewhere nearer, hotter and better supplied with interesting archaeological sites: Malta. Not only does everyone there learn English, Maltese is virtually impossible to learn (or pronounce, looking at the place names, e.g. Xewkija), so my usual guilt at not being able to communicate in any living language will be less pronounced.

We’ve also booked the photographer and the band.  My mother’s working on the invitations, so pretty much all we have to do now is check the guest list, buy outfits and wedding rings, sort the flowers out and do the seating plan. Oh, and, most importantly, decide on the wording of the ceremony and what the first dance is going to be. But these things are all less pressing – we have six months to do all that.

Makes you wonder why people get stressed out about weddings.

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