Archive | September 2013

Cakes & Ale

Saturday 28th September 2013.

Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think because thou
art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?”   Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare, Act 2.3.

But it’s not just in Shakespeare where cakes & ale are symbols of the good life. The phrase also appears in a tagline in a fable attributed to Aesop (The Town Mouse & the Country Mouse): ‘Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes & ale in fear’.  So ‘Cakes & Ale’,  is a phrase synonymous with la Dolce Vita, with the word ‘cake’ a metaphor for a good thing in many idioms. ‘Having your cake and eating it’, ‘that takes the cake (or biscuit)’and so on.  Hence when Shakespeare wrote of there being no more cakes & ale he wasn’t being literal. And neither are the proprietors of this lovely licensed cafe in Swindon’s Old Town in naming it thus – because they offer so much more than cakes & ale with which to tempt you – as the ‘legend’ on their blackboard states.

blackboard in Cakes and Ale cafe

blackboard in Cakes and Ale cafe

Now, I’m no Giles Coren so I have absolutely no knowledge or authority on which to expound about whether an establishment has the menu ‘right’, and if a dish has just the right balance of this and that and the other. So I won’t even try – there’s ‘proper’ food critics, such as the aforementioned Mr Coren, for that sort of thing.  But if a place has an agreeable ambience, the food is decent, the wine and beer quaffable and the prices reasonable then that’s me happy. And Cakes & Ale fulfilled all those criteria for me.

postcard advertising a cafe

Postcard from Cakes & Ale cafe

Cakes & Ale is, as the postcard pictured here states, a licensed cafe.  It’s a ‘Heinz 57’ of a place being a mixture of pub, cafe, and restaurant. It’s a quirky concept – well I’ve not come across such a place before – and I liked it a lot. They do breakfast, elevenses, lunch, high tea and supper – and brunch on Sunday. The decor is whitewashed wood panelling with pops of colour – the same colours, unsurprisingly, as on the postcard. In fact the whole thing does, as a comment on this post pointed out, bring to mind the vintage Penguin book covers – which has to be deliberate, as they have yet another carefully placed reference to ‘cakes & ale’ in the form of a Penguin copy of the eponymous Somerset Maugham novel along with other editions – as you can see on the photograph below.

Shelf, books and bottles

Shelf, books and bottles

The furniture is all mismatched tables and chairs in a variety of styles, retro advertising prints, floral china cake stands along the window sill, lace around the votives on the tables – you get the idea. I loved the loo which was papered from floor to ceiling with girls comics from every age. I recognised The Four Marys for sure! I could have stayed in there all evening reading those.

I went for dinner so found a very cosy atmosphere with tea-light votives on all the tables. I approve! I LOVE a candle – what I spend on the things annually could probably clear the national debt. My companion had booked a table which was a wise move as the place is clearly very popular. No sooner were we sat than the waitress brought a jug of water – without our having to ask – which impressed me no end as I sometimes feel that alchemy would be easier than getting water brought to your table. Especially in Indian restaurants I’ve noticed….

Not feeling in the mood for a heavy meal we eschewed the interesting selection on the specials board and opted instead for Fritto Misto for sharing (£12 for two), accompanied by  home-made bread with a carafe of white wine. All of which was very enjoyable indeed. Nom, nom, slurp, nom.  Having only had a light main we both decided to finish off with cheese and biscuits.  When ever I have the cheese board anywhere I generally don’t bother with the biscuits – shop bought crackers I can do without. But the biscuits here were a different beast altogether being homemade. They and the selection of cheeses were presented on a wooden bread board which was a rather nice touch I thought.

So did I enjoy my first experience of the Cakes & Ale cafe? I most certainly did. Will I be going back? I most certainly hope so. If only for the ales! And perhaps the High Tea…I saw a snapshot of their high tea on Twitter and it did look very civilized indeed. But then there’s the brunch too…oh decisions, decisons…


The Richard Jefferies school – a personal memory

a building under demolition

The Richard Jefferies school being demolished.

My recent post about the Richard Jefferies museum at Coate, Swindon has prompted a reader of this blog to share with us his memories of his secondary school which was named after the eponymous writer. The school is no longer with us – it was demolished to make way for New College. But of course the memories live on in former pupils like Lee. I have truly enjoyed reading Lee’s memories which are  funny, moving and bittersweet – as I guess most of our school memories are.   And Mrs Howard – I’d like to shake you by the hand. If only ALL children, from every background, could have a Mrs Howard! She clearly left a lasting and positive impression on Lee.

“The Richard Jefferies Secondary School is no longer with us, it was demolished a few years back now to make way for the New College and housing estate close by. I would love to be able to tell you who named the school after the great writer of Coate but alas I cannot. I was at the school from around 1969/73.

At the time Swindon was a boom town for kids, with the London generation mainly squeezing in to schools like Richard Jefferies, the nearby Walcott Secondary School and also Churchfields. It’s amazing to think that three very big schools were in spitting distance of each other.

I remember very well my first day at the school as I was the only boy wearing shorts and got some terrible stick for that. I remember too, Mr Adams the maths teacher, Mr Summers the PE teacher, Mr Petit in science and, my favourite teacher by miles, the English teacher Mrs Howard. She saw my interest in poetry and writing.  And though at the time I didn’t realize it, she tried hard to convince me that I should embrace this.

I was in Council care as a kid…fostered for many years, ultimately living out my young days in The Limes Childrens’ Home so I wasn’t the happiest kid to teach. But Mrs Howard did her best to make me feel special. The class was astonished to hear that I had been picked to play the King in King Canute in the school play, she did her best to get me to hold back the tide with conviction but to no avail…i was terrible and was replaced.

I vividly remember the school dinners, was I the only one to fall in love with them…who can remember the vivid taste of the school dinner salad cream, like a sweet battery acid?

Amazingly the school had a fair size swimming pool where I was bullied into learning to swim, I doggy paddled my way to red, yellow and green badges that were sewn onto my trunks.

Many of the kids around me were fairly rough and tough and from the Parks area. You had to hold your own with them. I remember the football with a tennis ball at break time, my moment of glory arrived one dinner time when Ant Adams crossed the ball for me to bullet a header in the goal, I was pounced upon by all my team with joyous celebration…it is a moment i still remember and cherish.

Most of the school went to Park/Oakfield school for their last phase of education on leaving Richard Jefferies, for me it was onto Headlands School because the Limes Home where I lived was/is in Stratton.

So what would the great man have thought of the school named after him? That is anyone’s guess. Reading Animal Farm in English was the first inkling that the world was a strange place through an adults eye…that book was both weird and wonderful to me.

So for me Richard Jefferies taught me more about myself than it taught me educationally. Many Swindonians passed through the door of this school and there must be a story to tell by every one of them.”

Fan mail!

16th February 2014

Since beginning this blog it/I/me/we have amassed a variety of compliments and comments. So, just so they are recorded somewhere as much as anything, I’ve collected them together here. They are in no particular order – just a random record.  And, if nothing else it shows I think  just how multi-faceted  ‘Surprising Swindon’ is.



A new one today: 17/02/2014

Tweet 17.2.2014

Richard Jefferies – Swindon born writer of ‘Post-apocalyptic fiction’ – amongst other things…

a blue gate in the twilight

Gate into RJ museum

old house and garden

The Richard Jefferies museum Coate, Swindon

The Richard Jefferies museum at Coate is yet another one of those things/places I’ve always been meaning to do but have never got round to. I confess I knew little or nothing about him other than that he was, in his day, a well-known writer from Swindon. Which is a bit poor for a literature student really. Ooops. One of these days I will get round to visiting his museum but in the meantime my good friend Irene Berridge has written me a lovely little guest post about it. So thanks to that, and to a little bit of research quickly done to add to Irene’s post, I now know just a little more about Swindon’s exponent of ‘Post-apocalyptic fiction’. Who’d have thought it?

From the website of the Richard Jefferies Society:  “(John) Richard Jefferies (6 November 1848 – 14 August 1887) is best known for his writings about nature and the countryside. His birthplace and home at Coate, now on the out-skirts of Swindon, provide the background to all his major works of fiction and for many of his essays.”

For those of you who are not familiar with the man and his work here’s a further extract from the splendid website dedicated to him, which is the work of the Richard Jefferies society followed by Irene’s splendid post.

‘(John) Richard Jefferies (1848-1887) is best known for his prolific and sensitive writing on natural history, rural life and agriculture in late Victorian England.  However, a closer examination of his career reveals a many-sided author who was something of an enigma.  To some people he is more familiar as the author of the children’s classic Bevis or the strange futuristic fantasy *‘After London’, while he also has some reputation as a mystic worthy of serious study.’

“Many of you will have heard of Richard Jefferies, who was born at Coate Farm in 1848, and who spent much of his young life using Coate Water as an adventure playground. Have you visited the house of his birth, now a museum? This is tucked away at the back of Sun Inn, and is accessible from the overflow car park at Coate Water, through a narrow gate. The museum is open most Sundays, between 2 – 5, May to September, and every second Wednesday of the month, 2 – 4. It is worth a visit to see the many exhibits. If you are unable to make the visit there are some fairly well planned leaflets, available from the Main Library. One, produced by Mark Daniel, is entitled In the footsteps of Richard Jefferies – Coate Water and as well as very useful information, he has included a map in the centre of the leaflet of a walk, which takes approx. 2 hours, around the Coate Water complex, highlighting areas mentioned in Jefferies book Bevis. This would be a fun walk for children on a half-term break, (may take some a little longer than the 2 hours), but not to be missed. If you fancy a longer walk (perhaps doing it in stages) another leaflet maps out routes which take in Hodson, Wroughton, Avebury, Badbury, Chiseldon, and many other areas, and ending at Marlborough and Savernake Forest. Now is the time for that autumnal walk. Get your walking gear together and start roaming. 

picure showing a family tree

RJ museum family tree

There’s lots of information on Richard Jefferies available in the Main Swindon Library. Some books are available to borrow, and for the young reader Bevis is truly full of adventures of the days before computers. On the second floor of the library there is a great amount of information that you can sit and browse through. Find him on the internet as well.” 

* From Wikipeadia – on ‘After London’

“Jefferies’ next novel, After London (1885), can be seen as an early example of “post-apocalyptic fiction“: after some sudden and unspecified catastrophe has depopulated England, the countryside reverts to nature, and the few survivors to a quasi-medieval way of life.

The book has two parts. The first, “The Relapse into Barbarism”, is the account by some later historian of the fall of civilisation and its consequences, with a loving description of nature reclaiming England: fields becoming overrun by forest, domesticated animals running wild, roads and towns becoming overgrown, the hated London reverting to lake and poisonous swampland. The second part, “Wild England”, is largely a straightforward adventure set many years later in the wild landscape and society (here too Jefferies was setting an example for the genre); but the opening section, despite some improbabilities, has been much admired for its rigour and compelling narrative.”

Richard Jefferies and his work are also discussed on ‘Victorian Web’.

And here’s a picture of the man himself from Swindon Local.

#swindon #wiltshire #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #whattodoinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #art #museum #richardjefferies

Flyer section Richard Jefferies msueum, Swindon

Flyer section Richard Jefferies msueum, Swindon

Eggelicious | Slow Food Fast – About

No 1 on Trip Advisor, Ash and Egg-e-licious have a great new website. But don’t just check out his website (see link below) – check out the food too. It is delicious. Go there. You’ll love it.

Eggelicious | Slow Food Fast – About.

ABOUT ASH: ‘ When Ash Mistry trained as a biochemist, he never imagined he would end up frying eggs for a living. A victim of the recession, Ash now runs the Eggelicious stall in the tented market, which provides various egg-inspired dishes.’


#eggelicioustripadvisor #pancakeplace #eggelicious #coveredmarket

U Piri Piri – Coffee, tapas and arts

Home page of U Piri Piri

Home page of U Piri Piri

U Piri Piri – Home.

Snippet from U Piri Piri

Snippet from U Piri Piri

Just a quick link to the website of U Piri Piri – definitely one of my favourite places in Swindon as anyone who has read this blog will know.  Not just a great place for great Portuguese food, wine and beer, it’s also a good spot for checking out arts and crafts.

They also do fabulous music nights there, one of which I recently experienced, part of the Swindon Shuffle – a really fun and awesome night.

Coffee at U Piri Piri

Coffee at U Piri Piri

Swindon and iconic buildings

21st September 2013

The Spectrum building, Swindon

The Spectrum building, Swindon

I’ve always rather liked the Spectrum building or the Renault building as it tends to be referred to, even though the car  company moved out of it some years ago. I didn’t though know very much about it until recently. Whilst I did know that it had been used in a Bond film – ‘A view to a Kill’ in 1984 – I didn’t know that it was designed by none other than Sir Norman Foster, internationally renowned architect. I also was ignorant of the fact that the design won a number of awards including the prestigious Financial Times ‘Architecture at Work’ Award in 1984. Famous for his steel and glass designs, Lord Foster created the Gherkin and Millennium Bridge in London, rebuilt Berlin’s Reichstag and also Hong Kong Airport, so our building is in very illustrious company.

Being such an iconic building it’s unsurprising that there’s reams of writing about it on the internet. But as ever our very own Swindon Web has an informative article about it.  From there I learned  that: ‘this was not Sir Norman’s first Swindon FT winning design. He won the same award for his design of the Reliance Controls Electronics Factory, Greenbridge, Swindon in 1967. The building was unfortunately demolished in 1991 to make way for PC World.’ I know I’ve said I don’t want to use this blog as a place to rant and rave but seriously – what?! Why would someone do that? So it’s great to hear this week that the Renault/Spectrum building has now been given Grade II listed status by English Heritage in what it describes as a move to ‘protect post-war’ architecture.

The Link centre, West Swindon

The Link centre, West Swindon

I confess I also rather like The Link Centre building at West Swindon and the David Murray John building, also known as the Brunel Tower, in the town centre. It stands like a giant exclamation mark on the Swindon skyline – it’s fab.

I once had the opportunity to go to the top of that particular building and it was really quite a revelation – one could clearly see the route the canal would have taken for a start. It was all quite fascinating. The David Murray John Building has made it on to a list of five extraordinary buildings compiled by architecture writer Jonathan Meades who had this to say about it:

“Designed by Douglas Stephen and built in the Seventies, this tower is a sleek, slick return to the smooth white grace of Twenties and Thirties Modernism. It’s a mixed-use building, incorporating social housing, offices and retail, which is rare in Britain. Stephen was a communist and believed in architecture as a power for social good.” Meades list includes Marseille Cathedral and Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh so our building is held in esteem with some exalted company.

Brian Carter of Carter Collectables has some great photos of the Renault Building and the Link Centre under construction on his Flicker collection. And of course the website of the architect himself  and his company has some amazing photographs and an absolute wealth of information about the building. It is a stunning construction.

David Murray John building, Swindon town centre

David Murray John building, Swindon town centre

The value of everyday photos | Raking the moon

The value of everyday photos | Raking the moon

I’m sharing this post from Claire Maycock’s lovely blog mostly because I think it’s just so nice. And also because there’s something very Pythonesque  and I think, very, very British about the man with the big white pointer. And it just makes me smile.  Were it a film I can hear the Received Pronunciation voiceover we all know and love from the Pathe newsreels and those splendid public announcement films that used to be on TV in my younger (very) days.

But importantly, as Claire points out on her post, without such images as these, much minutiae of historical detail would have been lost. As in fact these pictures so very nearly were, but fortuitously they were rescued from a skip and now form part of the ever-growing, most marvellous Swindon Collection.

Swindon’s Magic Roundabout | Swindon Viewpoint

Swindon’s Magic Roundabout | Swindon Viewpoint.

Wow! I just came across this fabulous piece of film made in 2008 from Swindon Viewpoint about the Magic Roundabout which I recently blogged about.

I absolutely love it. The disjointed, unsettling soundtrack is very clever. And it, the roundabout that is, inspired the XTC song. ‘English Roundabout’ How cool is that?

“… The film is intended as a homage to the late Frank Blackmore, of the British Transport and Road Research Laboratory, inventor of the mini roundabout. Swindon’s famous example was constructed in 1972 according to the design of Frank Blackmore, under the control of Highways engineer Jeff Maycock of Swindon Council. The official name of the roundabout used to be ‘County Islands’ but was changed in the late 1980s to match its popular name ‘The Magic Roundabout’. It inspired the song ‘English Roundabout’, a Pop song by the Swindon band XTC, which was recorded for their 1982 album ‘English Settlement’ … “

Just for interest here’s another nice, one of many, write up about the roundabout on BBC Wiltshire. Here’s an extract:

“The junction known as the Magic Roundabout, located near the County Ground football stadium, opened in September 1972. Its unusual design consists of five mini-roundabouts arranged around a sixth central, anti-clockwise roundabout. Roundabout fan Kevin Beresford said the junction was a “white knuckle ride”.

Mr Beresford, who runs the roundabout appreciation society, Roundabouts of Great Britain, said: “Swindonians should beam with pride with this fantastic feat of road engineering, which it has to be stated has now achieved iconic status around the world.” The local authority officially named the junction County Islands Roundabout, but it became commonly known as the Magic Roundabout due to its unique design…”

#swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #magicroundabout #swindon #extrememotoring #contraflowroundabout

About | sabinespicks

About | sabinespicks.

See, I’m not the only ‘Born again Swindnonian’. There are a number of us here you know!  🙂

In her own words: “Hello I’m Sabine, I’m French and I live in Swindon, Wiltshire.  Swindon does not have a particularly positive image generally but I can honestly say I love living here – it’s the town where I met my husband Rob….”

See also post No 10 on 10 things to celebrate about Swindon which mentions the photography project Sabine is currently engaged in. Check it out – it’s a cool project.

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