Category Archives: children

All the toys you can shake a stick at

Drum-playing BearThis Thursday there is a very special auction happening at Keys auction house in Aylesham, Norfolk. A stonking collection of automata, robots, toys. Browsing the catalogue it seems that everything that moves by itself is worthy of inclusion.

RobotsI’m a sucker for both auctions and toys with interesting or quizzical expressions on their faces – bringing them together might be too much for my discretion and self control.

Automated CowThere are also delights such as the lampophone (below), a combination lamp and gramophone, with the turntable hidden in the ‘cake’ base of the lamp and the speaker tube being the lamp’s column, the opening concealed by the shade. Although it also works as an ordinary lamp, so as not to give the game away.

The marvellous lampophone

Bids can be made by phone and over the web as well as in person, although with no estimates or guide prices on the website I suspect we might be in the ‘Collectors Only’ end of the price range.

Special Collectors Sale Thusday March 19th 2009.  To Feature the Arthur Windley Collection of 100+ Lots of Automaton 75+ Lots Japanese Robots, 300 + Vintage and other Toys, 75 Old Radios, Arcade Machines, Model Thursford Wurlitzer Organ, Juke boxes inc Wurlitzer, Rock Ola, Seeburg, Gramophones, Quantity of Lps & 45’s to include some rare Elvis Presley. Also to include 1970’s Taito Space Invaders Arcade Game, Sega Afterburner, Konami Track & Field Video Arcade Game.
Viewing Wed 18th March 9am to 7:30pm and from 9am the day of the sale.
Sale starts from 11am Thursday 19th March 09
Keys Aylsham Salerooms
Off Palmers Lane
NR11 6JA
+44 (0)1263 733195
Maps and directions here.
Catalogue here.
NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Full of festivals

Secret Garden Party Pirate Ship

It struck me today that Cambridge, in particular, overflows with festivals. Whatever your hyperspecialised desire, there is probably a festival that will include it in this town. I just got an email from the Food and Drink festival about their fundraising quiz, where you go and drink wine and eat cheese and try and answer insanely specialist food and drink questions in one of the beautiful medieval college halls. Worth doing it for the architecture alone, which is frankly wasted on undergraduates.

The image above of dawn breaking over a pirate ship is from the Secret Garden Party. It’s a kind of English-country-house-themed tiny Burning Man, part music festival, part theatre event that takes place over four days in the grounds of a Georgian country house outside the city.

The University culture means that more cerebral festivals are strong – we’re having a Darwin Festival in July to celebrate the anniversary, and there is always the Festival of Ideas in November, to mop up anything intelligent that hasn’t been covered to death earlier in the year. Also the science festival starts this weekend under the auspices of the university, which deliciously has guidance on some events “Warning, loud bangs”. And for grown ups we can “join the Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, Professor David Spiegelhalter as he discusses ‘Statistics: can we sex them up without dumbing them down’. ” Telephone booking is now open.

A particular favourite is the Shakespeare festival – it takes place in July in various college gardens, and is again worth it as much for the architecture as the acting, although the standard is fairly high.

Edit: I forgot Cambridge Word Fest, which is booking now for April with a cornucopia of literary events and workshops.

Then there is of course all the music, so much music. The Folk festival, the Summer Music festival, the Rock fest (in association with a beer festival, naturally) and on. Put out more flags, it’s going to be a beautiful year.

folk-festival-imagesImages of the Folk festival by Arkadyevna on Flickr
If I’ve left any out of my list please do let me know.
Science Festival 9-22nd March – Science fun for adults and families
Cambridge Word Fest 23-26th April – Book events and writing workshops for all genres
Cambridge Super8 Festival 29th April – 2nd May
Cambridge Beer Festival 18-23rd May – Real Ale drinking
Strawberry Fair 6th June – Free festival of music, theatre, arts and crafts
Cambridge Comedy Festival 8-14th June – Live Comedy
Cambridge Shakespeare Festival June-July dates TBC  – open air shakespeare in college gardens
Pink Festival 09 date TBC – Gay open air music festival
Darwin Festival 5th – 10th July – philosophy, literature, history, theology art and music arising from the life of Darwin
Cambridge Fringe Festival 16 July – 2nd Aug – open access performance
Cambridge Summer Music Festival 17 July – 8th Aug 09 – world class classical music
Secret Garden Party 23rd – 26th July – music theatre performance camping
Cambridge Folk Festival 30th July – 2nd August 09 – world class folk music
Cambridge Rock Festival 6-9th August – Rawk and Beer
Cambridge Film Festival 17-27th September 09 (submissions open 1st March)
Festival of Ideas 21st Oct – 3rd Nov – explore more about the society we live in
Cambridge Music Festival 8-29th Nov – Serious classical music trienniale, commissions new work
flags_and_skyNB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Aliens – they’re not from round here

Who knew that Suffolk would be considered “a key area for alien visitors to the earth – a link between their world and ours” (by Brenda Butler, who has cowritten a book about alien landings in Rendlesham Forest).

In December 1980 there was a celebrated UFO incident with unexplained lights in the forest close to an American air base – there’s a full, comprehensive and densely footnoted Wikipedia page – which is now referred to as Britain’s Roswell. Lights were seen in the forest at 5 second intervals which in no way were explained by the local lighthouse and its 5 second interval light.

Now, according to the Ipswich Evening Star, it’s happening again and lights were seen in the sky over christmas – if you have been visited by aliens you are encouraged to contact the newsdesk as soon as the probe is removed.

The upshot is that the Forestry Commission, who maintain Rendlesham Forest, have a waymarked UFO trail, which is perfect for a Sunday stroll, being about 3 miles long in some pretty woods by the coast, with a leaflet to help you visualise events. It is in Suffolk’s lowland heath area known as the Sandlings – it’s a beautiful and rare type of habitat, and one of the only places you might see a Dartford warbler, and other diminishing species.

Prewalk  research includes a Rendlesham Forest Incident website and the Halt tape, a dictaphone record of one of the investigating US officers, who was alerted that the UFO was back during a regimental dinner, and joined the search after midnight with dictaphone and geiger counter.


Getting to Rendlesham Forest Centre is covered on the Forestry Commission website.
Photo of a Lincolnshire Unidentified Flying Object by Eddie McFish
NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Damp Gold

Yellow Leaves

The countryside has turned golden once again. It’s a greener, paler gold than the ripe wheat, but still lovely, and would be more so if it would ever stop raining.

In the event of a dry spell, you could do worse than check the Forestry Commission’s website for their Autumn Colours map, and find the best place to swish through leaves near you.

Kicking up leaves


It’s a joy to be outdoors on the last of the clear autumn days, and the early hard frosts seem to have made the colours extra good. Is it my imagination, or have all the seasons been superlative this year?

If you are stuck in an office with the rain beating against the windows, just contemplate this image and imagine yourself into a better place.

Forest sceneAll images from the Forestry Commission website.

Local, seasonal, delicious

The Elbournes have been growing orchard fruit for five generations. Their farm shop in Meldreth has been there since 1967, but is only open in season – pretty much August to February. The apples there smell so much more apply than those in the supermarket – the orchards are around Meldreth and the next village, Melbourn, so they don’t have far to come and can be picked when properly ripe.

It’s a treat to drop in to the shed and pick out some interesting apple varieties from the wooden crates.

They have been very proactive in planting and selling heritage varieties. South Cambridgeshire was traditionally always an apple and plum growing area, famous for it, and they are carrying on the tradition and growing varieties I, an apple lover, have never heard of. 


They do well known varieties as well, generally at less than supermarket prices, and full flavoured apple juice pressed from single varieties, which is also available in farm shops around the area. Have a look for it if you are in the South Cambridgeshire area. Also, occasionally homemade apple muffins still warm from the oven appear on the cash desk.

There were two but one got eaten before I could take a photo…

Do seek them out and remember what apples should taste like – a touch tarter and more complex than the modern commercial varieties and perfect with Wensleydale cheese from the Hawes Creamery.

NB the shop is now closed until the season starts again in August.

Cam Valley Orchards Farm Shop
25 Whitecroft Road, Meldreth,
Royston, Herts SG8 6ND
07770 461 685
Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday only, 9AM to 6PM, August – February
No website

Wimpole Hall Farm and Gardens


Espalier apple tree at Wimpole Hall

Espalier apple tree at Wimpole Hall

In the last few sunny weekends of the year, the outdoor parts of Wimpole Hall near Royston are worth a lingering visit, either if you’ve got kids or are enthusiastic about gardening. 


I fall into the enthusiastic about gardening category, so I loved the victorian walled kitchen garden. Surrounded by beautifully mellow brick walls with fruit trees trained along the warm surface, it was a riot of vegetables and colourful dahlias when I visited. They have a demonstration greenhouse filled with cordon trained tomatoes, but comfortingly you can also glimpse the enormous modern greenhouse behind the scenes where the real work gets done. 


Wimpole Hall

Wimpole Hall



The entrance to the kitchen garden is a perfect example of formal simplicity which I’d love to reproduce the feeling of in my own garden – it makes the whole experience like visiting a temple to vegetables.


They have a variety of home made scarecrows – this one is my favourite.

It seems to have a lovely knowing expression as in knowing where all those birds have gone.

For kids and followers of teh fluff, the farm is a must visit. A riot of baby fluffy and furry things, they are an outpost of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, and you can see all kinds of breeds of goats, ducks, chickens and pigs, visit the beautifully tiled old dairy and revel in the structure of beautiful barns.

The current series of wooden barns were designed by Sir John Soane as a model farm, and they exude a homely elegance. The biggest one holds an exhibition about food production through the ages at Wimole, but it’s worth a visit for the breathtaking roof construction alone.


The big barn

The big barn

And being National Trust, there are all the tea, cakes and plant sales you could possibly want to round off an afternoon in the pale autumn sunshine.

Wimpole Hall is open every weekend but dates during the week vary.

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.