Appeal to honour couple

Last week I read the very sad news that a homeless Cambridge couple – Jimmy Sinclair and Kim Reid – had died by the river near Jesus Green. I didn’t know the couple, but when I saw a picture of Jimmy via the Flack website a couple of nights ago I realised that I recognised him as he was a familiar face around Mill Road; and when I showed Mr Mill Road the picture, he realised it was actually Jimmy & Kim he had bought a copy of Flack Magazine from on Mill Road just a couple of weeks before and he remembered chatting to them.

Flack MagazineJimmy and Kim had planned to get married later this year and Kim’s family want to honour the couple by burying them together, so at the end of last week Flack appealed for donations in order to help the family afford the burial and funeral costs. I had planned this blog post to be about the appeal and to let people know how to donate, but there has already been a fantastic response and in just a couple of days they have been successful in raising the full target amount of £2,500. Although the appeal itself is now closed, if you would like more information please visit the Just Giving page and if you would like to support local Petersfield-based charity Flack then please visit their website. You can of course also support Flack by buying your copy of their monthly magazine from their friendly vendors in locations across the city – including Mill Road.

Blue Monday

Beautiful blue skyThe third Monday in January is often referred to as ‘Blue Monday’, as it is said by some to be the most depresing day of the year – for a number of reasons including that it’s a Monday (back to work after the weekend!), the mornings are dark (sunrise isn’t until 7:57am), bad weather makes for a longer commute to work (especially while while we have the snow), people may have by now broken any new years resolutions they made, extra money spent at Christmas can make it harder to get through January and the end-of-month pay cheque is still a little way away!

Snowy window boxThis does indeed sound rather depressing and there’s no doubt that mid to late January can be a particularly difficult time of year for many. But there are a number of initiatives around the country aimed at helping people – for example   Mind in Cambridgeshire (formerly Cam Mind, but they recently merged with Hunts Mind) have all sorts of resources and suggestions on their website, including a timetable of whereabouts in Cambridge ‘Blue Man’ will be throughout today (in case you want to pop along and meet him!).

With this in mind, I thought today might be a good opportunity to mention that if people are feeling low or depressed then there are charities and organisations that can help, and there is always someone to talk to. Here’s a list of useful (mostly local) contacts:

  • The Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and you can call them on (08457) 909090 or email If you would prefer to talk to someone in person you can call in to the local branch at: 4 Emmanuel Road, Cambridge CB1 1JW, between 10:30am and 10pm. There’s more info on the Cambridge Samaritans website.
  • Lifecraft is a self-help user-led organisation for adults that have experience of mental health difficulties in their lives. They provide free confidential support via the Lifeline telephone service, which is open 7pm-11pm 365 days a year – call (0808) 808 2121 (free if calling from a BT landline). Based at the Bath House on the corner of Gwydir Street and Mill Road, Lifecraft also provide a range of support services and activities including one-to-one counselling and group activities such as art, meditation and a social club.
  • The Citizens Advice Bureau can provide advice on a range of specific issues such as help with debt, welfare rights, housing, employment and relationships. Cambridge Citizens Advice Bureau & Advice Hub is based at 66 Devonshire Road, Cambridge CB1 2BL and you can drop in any time 9:15-12:45 Monday to Friday. Their advice line telephone number is (0844) 8487979 and you can call Monday-Friday, though do note that advisers are often only available 2pm-4pm. There’s quite a bit of information on their website, so you may be able to find what you need online.
  • Mind in Cambridgeshire provides counselling and wellbeing services. Their website has lots of info and you can phone them on (01223) 311320 during office hours.

Hello duckyIf you’re feeling down or depressed today, or at any time, please remember that you are not alone and there are people you can talk to 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; and if you know someone who isn’t feeling happy then please be kind and thoughtful – a smile or a ‘hello’ can go a long way.

Christmas on a budget…

It’s been a difficult year for many and if you’re on a tight budget you’ll be looking to make whatever savings you can over Christmas. Here are my top Mill Road tips if you’re watching the pennies and are yet to get organised…

TreeDECORATIONS: Sally Ann’s charity shop have Christmas decorations from as little as 10p for a 3-metre long coloured hanging decoration, and it’s also possible to make a small tree very cheaply – fold a piece of A4 card or paper into a cone shape and staple in place, then wrap a length of tinsel around the tree and secure at the top by poking the end of the tinsel through the cone opening. The bottom end can be stapled in place.

FOOD: If you’re not too fussed on whether or not you eat a traditional turkey, you can get a lovely decent sized chicken (serves 4+) for just £4.20 at the Co-operative supermarket (open today until 5pm) though they are often reduced towards the end of the day if they’re about to pass their best before date – so you may be able to get one for as little as £1.50. It’s also worth noting that with most people plumping for turkey, there’s a good chance the chickens may be overlooked. For vegetables go to Hilary’s Greengrocers (opposite the Co-operative) where you should be able to get a good selection of potatoes and other vegetables all for less than £2. As for gravy, I often make my own anyway by simply combining salt, pepper and a few mixed herbs with a little water and the juices from the meat. I have heard that the Salvation Army Day Centre (just next to St Barnabas Church) is doing Christmas dinner on Tuesday and they are open to all and also need volunteers. I don’t know opening/serving times but contact them/pop in to find out.

Pot PouriPRESENTS: The Co-operative have various different chocolate boxes and shortbread gifts for just £1, including after dinner mints. They also do chocolate selection boxes for £2. Kailash has some lovely scented candles and decorative gifts (many coming in at under £1) and they also sell socks – a fail-safe and ‘traditional’ Christmas present! For fruit stocking fillers, try Al-Amin or Hilary’s for clementines/oranges. Arjuna have some gifts ‘reduced to clear’ (see ground level shelf just inside the door, on the left).

Cuddly toysThe Arthur Rank charity shop has cuddly toys and lots of other festive gifts. There’s also the Oxfam charity shop at the town end of Mill Road (open today) – there’s usually all sorts of goodies available and I have picked up some lovely drinking glasses there in the past. In the spirit of ‘new beginnings’ you could opt to give seeds as presents – Cutlacks (open today) have a lovely selection of packet seeds and each has growing instructions on the back. Cutlacks also do all sorts of kooky and colourful kitchen gifts, such as garlic graters, jam jars and mugs. The RSPCA Bookshop (open today and also Monday until midday) has some great books and they are organised into sections so you can easily find books on a common theme – my top tip is the science-fiction section!

Whatever you do, hope you have a lovely Christmas!

A Fair Do!

MRWF trufflesI hope everyone enjoyed Mill Road Winter Fair on Saturday. There was so much going on that I didn’t even get to see half the things I had hoped to, but I still thoroughly enjoyed myself. What better way to start the day than with some foodie delights, so I decided to make some dark chocolate and dragon ginger truffles first thing in the morning. Although I am not vegan myself, I have tested various truffle recipes over the last few months and the one that tastes most delicious just happens to be vegan. They seemed to go down a treat with everyone that tried them and I had a few people ask me to make some for them to give as presents – so I will probably be spending quite a bit of time in the kitchen over the next couple of weeks!

MRWF ASh Co-opI did a tour of the very busy Food Fair at Gwydir Street car park, which had some amazing edibles. The crowds were so great that you could only move in one direction, so if you passed a stall without stopping it wasn’t easy to go back. The Afternoon Tease stall had already sold out of all three (!) chocolate and Guinness cakes by the time I arrived, but I did treat myself to one of their lovely rum cup cakes. I saw some delicious looking burgers at one of the farmshop stalls and decided that I had to have one, but then I realised that there was a very long queue indeed, so I’m afraid I gave up. I tasted lots of food at the Fair including a lovely free jacket potato with cheese and coleslaw, courtesy of ‘Joseph’ outside Mill Road Baptist church. But I have to say my favourite food of all was the chickpea curry at Lally’s News, it was really warming and spicy, and possibly the best vegetarian curry I have ever tasted – Amrik and Raj are known locally for their delicious curries, and deservedly so.

MRWF Ash Co-opThere was lots of music along Mill Road and I saw people jiving on the Broadway. At one point I could hear my friends band playing on Mill Road bridge. I heard later from others that so many people were dancing to the music on the bridge during the day that the bridge, rather worryingly, actually started to shake (eek!). There was some great music at Argyle Street Housing Co-op in the afternoon, including musicians from the Jam Band Caravan collective playing folk and reggae, and I even heard some thrash metal at one point (!).

MRWF Mulled WineMyself and Mr Mill Road decided to pop in to the Earl of Beaconsfield in the afternoon in the hope of having a nice warm cup of coffee, but when we arrived the place was packed and everyone seemed to be drinking mulled wine – which sounded like a marvellous idea, and so we ordered some without hesitating. I don’t normally drink red wine, but mulled wine is different and this one tasted so nice that I decided to go and buy the ingredients (cloves, dried ginger, a cinnamon stick and a bottle of Chilean red) on Mill Road so I could try making some at home. The resulting mulled wine was great and I shall definitely be trying this again over the next few weeks (probably quite a few times!).

MRWF ReindeerFor me though, the best part of the Fair was bumping into so many friends as well as chatting to lots of people I’d never met before; and the absolute highlight for me was getting to meet my friends’ daughter for the first time – who at just two and a half weeks old was possibly the Fair’s youngest visitor! A massive well done to everyone involved in making Mill Road Winter Fair happen, including the Committee and all the visitors that came along on the day – it’s great to live in such a diverse and inclusive area that has so many community-minded people.

Mill Road Winter Fair 2012

SnowflakeJust in case you haven’t heard, tomorrow is the most important day in the Mill Road calendar – Mill Road Winter Fair! There will be plenty to see and do up and down the length of Mill Road as well as on many of the nearby streets; and if past years are anything to go by, any sort of plan I make will soon disappear as lots of other exciting things are discovered along the way…

Chocolate & Guinness CakeOne of my favourite parts of the Fair over the years has been the compliments booth outside Lifecraft – last year I received some very kind words and was also given an inspirational scroll to keep. This year they will be opening their doors and will have a selection of artwork and goodies for sale inside, as well as a performance from the Lifecraft Singers. I’m looking forward to visiting the Afternoon Tease stall (Gwydir Street car park) with its selection of lovely cakes, including chocolate and Guinness cake – which, given my adoration of the two main ingredients, feels like it was invented just for me! Keeping with the cake theme, I’m tempted to pop along to Cutlacks, where the will be a cake decorating demonstration (I need to learn!) as well as beer and wine tasting – which should keep Mr Mill Road happy too.

Argyle Street Housing Co-op gardensThe car park at Argyle Street Housing Co-operative (ASH Co-op is on the east side of Mill Road bridge) is well known for being a hub of activity at the Fair and this year looks set to be no exception. There will be an open marquee with music from Tariq Muhammed & The Africelt Connection and Dave Crow Barr playing some punk tunes with his electric cello. There’s also music from Jam Band Caravan, who will be playing their mixture of folk-rock, roots and reggae, as well as lots of other musicians throughout the day. The Arco Iris Samba Band traditionally play each year and I am told their performance this year should be at around 1:45pm. The Mayor of Cambridge also usually pays a visit to ASH Co-op during the Fair (in fact, some of you may remember watching former MP David Howarth and former mayor Jenny Bailey pedalling away to keep the the bicycle-powered sound system going a few years back!).

Mill Road Winter Fair 2009If you want to know more about T’ai Chi then who better to advise than the Vice-President of the T’ai Chi union of Great Britain! He and others will be on hand at the Grey Heron stall at ASH Co-op to advise about this martial art known for its health and meditative benefits, as well as other health and wellbeing practices.There will also be other information stalls as well as all sorts of goodies to treat yourself with or to buy as Christmas presents. Look out for chestnuts, chocolate truffles and a stall selling homemade chutneys – including a yummy sounding combination of onion and orchard apple, which I have heard described by others as ‘Christmas in a jar’! There’s also a stall selling a range of second-hand books as well as toys and games.

Mill Road trees in winterThere are lots of other things going on at the Fair. If you’re in Romsey then look out for special offers at Balv’s Hair & Wigs near the bridge and Billy’s off licence next door; and if you need warming up in the cold weather, the Earl of Beaconsfield has music and will be happy to serve you a free cup of coffee. If you’re looking for activities for your little ones then you will find a bouncy castle, face-painting and story-telling at Romsey Mill, a puppet show at St Philips Church at 3pm and Santa himself will be appearing at the Empress pub on Thoday Street from 3-5pm. If you find yourself on the Petersfield side of the bridge then I would recommend popping along to Lally’s News, where there will be some lovely vegetarian Punjabi food, with all proceeds this year going towards children at Addenbrookes Hospital; and just a few metres away you will find Andrew Northrop’s Butchers serving some lovely warming sausages.

I could go on, but the best thing about Mill Road Winter Fair is just taking a walk along Mill Road and seeing what you discover… Hope everyone has a great Fair!

William, Kate and Jimmy’s

I was determined to at least catch a glimpse of William and Kate on their visit to Cambridge today, not just because I missed out on a planned meeting with a member of the Royal family when I was a child (when my grandmother offered to take me to the little girls room, not realising that it would be during those crucial three minutes that Prince Charles would come over and chat to my Mum and Dad!) but because it seemed fitting as they are the Duke and Duchess of our city. So I decided to venture up to Jimmy’s Night Shelter at midday in the hope of seeing them. I timed it well and even though there were crowds lining East Road on both sides, I managed to get to the front (I seem to have a nack for this sort of thing and am known amongst friends for always managing to get a table in pubs that seem otherwise packed!).

The lady next to me told me that she’d been in to town this morning in the hope of seeing them, but that she couldn’t get anywhere near Market Square or the Guildhall as there were so many people. William and Kate’s car soon drove past us and pulled up just a few yards away. They paused briefly on the steps of Jimmy’s to wave to an excited crowd, before going in to visit and officially open the new facility. The advertised details of their visit suggested they might be in there for quite some time, but we were reliably informed that they would be there for fifty minutes. I figured this was just enough time to pop to one of the nearby shops that apparently had some lovely shoes in (!). I wasn’t disappointed and managed to find some gorgeous black and white spotted ones. Whilst debating whether or not to buy, I remembered that November is in fact national Dress Spotty Month (to raise awareness of the importance of spotting the symptoms of bowel cancer) and immediately decided to make a purchase.

On the way back I passed Jimmy’s Night Shelter again, and realising that it was about forty-five minutes since they went in decided it was definitely worth waiting and seeing if I could catch another glimpse of the Royal couple. As I was waiting, a group of girls came and asked me why there were so many police about and what was going on. When I told them, there were shrieks of delight and they quickly spread the word amongst the many others arriving behind them – it turned out that there was actually an Open Day at Anglia Ruskin University today. I’m not entirely sure if this was clever planning on the part of Anglia Ruskin, or merely coincidence, but it seemed to have positive effects – one of the girls I spoke to told me that she was now definitely going to come and study here (I probably should have mentioned that even though William and Kate are the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, a visit from them is not exactly a regular occurrence…).

William and Kate soon came out of Jimmy’s and we all excitedly waved them on their way to their next engagement. Some of my friends got to see them while they had been on their walkabout in the Market Square earlier in the day and one friend, Emma, and her son spoke to Kate – who held her little boys hand and asked if he was enjoying his biscuit. She took a brilliant photograph of Kate (see above).

Although it was great to see William and Kate (twice in one day, albeit brief!) and they seemed to enjoy their visit, it’s worth remembering why they were here. Today’s visit has provided some great publicity for Jimmy’s and highlighted the important work that they do in our community. They provide people with food and shelter – especially important in this cold and wintery weather – as well as lots of other resources to help people get back on their feet. Not wishing to end this piece on a sombre note, but it’s quite unnerving to think that most people are only two pay cheques away from needing the services of somewhere like Jimmy’s.

Mill Road moggies

One day last week I was on my way to visit a friend, who also lives just off Mill Road. The journey would normally take me about five minutes, but when I arrived at her house I realised that it had actually taken me nearly quarter of an hour. Unusually, I hadn’t actually bumped into anyone I knew on the way, nor had I stopped at any of the shops I passed. So why had it taken me so long? …the answer is cats!

It’s not that the cats I encountered en route wouldn’t let me pass, rather that I just can’t seem to pass a cat without stopping  (cat lovers will know what I mean, those less disposed to the feline form will probably think I am slightly deranged!). There are occasional exceptions – like if they look particularly scary (rare) or if I have already stopped to, erm, ‘chat’ to that particular cat already that day. Anyway, I worked out that in the space of fifteen minutes I had actually seen fourteen cats! I probably should mention that four of them were at the house of the friend I was going to visit, but that still left another ten I’d passed on the way. I like cats, a lot, but even to me this seemed rather a lot of kitties.

All of the cats I passed appeared in good health and well looked after. However, I know that both the RSPCA and the Cats Protection League have large numbers of moggies that they are struggling to re-home at the moment – so if you can offer a good home to a cat then please get in touch with them. I would offer to re-home one myself, but (almost) all my close neighbours have cats and there’s already a few too many catfrontations in the garden as my neighbouring moggies vie for ‘territory’.

Some cats prefer to be an only moggie, whilst others like the company of other cats and happily exist in dwellings with two or three others – the RSPCA and Cats Protection League can both advise on the temperament of the cats they are trying to re-home and help you find one that suits you. All the cats pictured are looking for a loving home and a new owner someone to own.

An open book (shop!)

I was really pleased to hear about the RSPCA Bookshop on Mill Road re-opening on Saturday – when I first saw the shop empty a couple of weeks ago, I had feared the worst, but it turned out they were just doing the place up!

RSPCA Bookshop

The RSPCA Bookshop on Mill Road, which re-opened on 11th August 2012.

I popped in today to see how they’ve been getting on since the refurbishment, and was greeted with a very warm welcome. The shop is bright and airy with a new blue and white colour scheme and they have books on just about every subject imaginable (though the poetry and science fiction sections particularly caught my eye!). There’s also a growing collection of CD’s, DVD’s, videos and vinyl records; and you can even buy a cup of coffee to enjoy whilst browsing.

It turns out they actually have more books than space at the moment, so if there’s something you’re after but can’t see it on the shelves, it is probably worth asking. They rely on donations of unwanted books from the public – in fact just this afternoon they had a number of fishing books donated, so if this is what you’re angling for then do pop down and see them.

The bookshop is now one of only two bookshops on Mill Road and is a much needed resource in the area (especially since both Browne’s Bookshop and the Libra Aries shop have closed in the last few years). The shop is staffed by volunteers and the money raised goes to a very good cause – the work of the RSPCA focuses on animal rescue, welfare and cruelty prevention – so I for one am really pleased to see it open again and serving the community.