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!

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!