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Whitstable Oyster Festival

Whitstable oysters

A colleague recommended the Whitstable Oyster Festival to me this year, and having been I can confirm that it was worth the 2 hour drive from our home in East Sussex. Do pay a visit to the Whitstable Oyster Festival if you like to spend your Saturdays driving through the garden of England, relaxing on the beach, listening to live bands, and eating fresh seafood.

There are activities on all weekend and through to the next week but my Mum and I chose to go on a Saturday to see the landing of the oysters, where VIPs of Canterbury make an appearance. As I gathered from the news after the event, the festival had been massively scaled back and was run for the first time not by Canterbury city council but by a company called Event Umbrella, but since we were only out for a day trip we would have missed the evening events that were axed, such as the fireworks, anyway.

We arrived a little before 10am as the Oyster Food Festival area opened, to see the Japanese Fisherman Dance and the Sōran Bushi (a sea shanty that the dance accompanies) being performed by Japanese students. If you want to try to dance this yourself, like I have, it’s a real workout! We were then gobsmacked by a gigantic oyster that a fellow spectator was eating, and headed up the hill to find the stall that sold it. Though it turned out that the “Seasalter jumbo” was not one of the locally – by this we mean just offshore from East Quay Beach – caught oysters but ones from the nearby town of Seasalter, we still gave the largest oyster we’d ever seen a try. It was rather strange, eating an oyster too big to finish in one slurp, but it was just as juicy and fresh as the small, “normal-sized” ones and not at all chewier as I had expected it to be.

We also bought from other food stalls, including a “Fallen Angel” Polish chicken-sausage – with more meat content than pork sausages, the menuboard said – hotdog from Heavenly Sausage, before sitting down on the grass in front of the Festival Stage with a pint of pear and nettle cider listening to folk band Delaney. When Delaney finished, we left to walk leisurely down to East Quay Beach where the landing of the oysters would start at 1pm, stopping by an ice cream van where a cone of soft serve was still £1 – almost a 99p cone like in the old days – and marvelling at the colourfully painted beach huts on our way. Some we see could the inside of, as they were being used by their tenants, and they have within a cooking stove and a small bed space for a nap.

We asked a gentleman who had placed a sign outside his beach hut saying “welcome to ask FAQs” where the landing of the oysters would take place, then headed towards the drumming – he had said that the drumming was about to begin – which we soon discovered came from a salsa band. We were perfectly positioned next to the landing area and next to the clergy, councillors, mayor and MP, as well as the sea scouts, news crew and volunteer event marshals. After the ceremony, which included speeches, an inspection of the first catch of the season by the mayor, and a blessing of the oysters by the clergy, we continued down to the Lobster Shack, the most renowned seafood restaurant in Whitstable, and saw their cheeky toilet signs – of figures in a state of really needing the toilet – and oyster prepping section before walking back to the Oyster Food Festival area via Tower Hill Tea Gardens.

We were hoping to go back to the Festival Stage to see the Oyster Eating Challenge but we did not want to wait in the queue to get into the Oyster Food Festival area, so we left at 2:30pm. Following from this mishap, I’d like to give you some tips learned from our day out that would have helped us first-time visitors, and will hopefully help you.

Tips:

  • As mentioned already, the oyster landing takes place on just a single day out of the many days of the festival.
  • If you are coming by car, you’re not looking for an official-looking car park. The park and ride off Church Street is a large grassy field that may not have signposts. There are several entrances. Don’t look for a ticket machine – you pay a gentleman in a high-vis jacket the parking fee. The parking ticket is a wristband that you wear and show to the shuttle bus driver. The wristband covers all passengers in your vehicle.
  • The shuttle bus comes every 15 minutes and the drive to Whitstable Oyster Festival is approximately 10 minutes long.
  • It is better to arrive early and leave before the day’s activities are over rather than arrive late and stay until the end. It gets extremely crowded by 2pm, and you will have to wait in a very long queue to get into the Oyster Food Festival area.
  • If you are thinking to get your food from the Oyster Food Festival area, get it before the landing of the oysters. After the landing, which is on the beach 10 minutes walk away, it will be difficult to re-enter the area.
  • The locally caught “Whitstable trestle” oysters are sold at a stall in the Oyster Food Festival area, along the promenade near East Quay Beach, and at the Lobster Shack, a seafood restaurant between East Quay Beach and Whitstable Harbour.
  • If you are not a fan of oysters, there are plenty of other things to eat and drink that you won’t find at your average food market, from wild meat like kangaroo and ostrich, to gourmet coffee with varieties of drink like Galão and Viena.
  • When you go to see the landing of the oysters at East Quay Beach, stand on the side that does not have a cordon. That is the side the VIPs will be standing on, and while they will stand in front of you before the ceremony begins, they will move to the centre once it begins. On the side with the cordon you will have the samba band players standing in front of you.
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A guide to watching the Queen’s Birthday Parade

Trooping the Colour
It’s almost Her Majesty’s birthday again, thus also Trooping the Colour, and here is my guide* to watching the day’s events in front of Buckingham Palace, with thanks to the lady who stood beside me – my “neighbour” – when I went in 2016. It was my first time spectating, and I had a good enough time that the Queen, touch wood, should see me for her 100th birthday!
*This guide is for those who want to spectate for free. If you want to watch Trooping the Colour inside the Horse Guards Parade, you’ll need to ballot and pay for a ticket. For more information see http://www.householddivision.org.uk/trooping-the-colour.

What is the Colour?

The military standard of each regiment. In the past, soldiers trooped the Colour in order to familiarise themselves with the colour of the side that they were fighting on, so as not to get confused in the heat of battle.

Why do I say Her Majesty’s birthday instead of Queen Elizabeth’s birthday?

This is the official birthday of the incumbent monarch, not Queen Elizabeth’s actual birthday, which is on 21st April. The date of the official birthday changes from year to year but is always in the first half of June.

What time should you get there?

If you want a spot without anyone standing in front of you, get there at 9am if you are going alone, and at 8am if you are in a group.

Where should I stand?

On the Green Park side of Buckingham Palace, not the Buckingham Palace Road side, because the Queen’s carriage goes round that side of the fountain. It may also be easier to escape the crush when everyone wants to leave and heads towards the gates, as you might be able to find space to wait inside the park while the crowd disperses. On the Buckingham Palace Road side, it takes at least half an hour to get back onto the streets.
This advice is based on my experience. If you want to be more certain of the Queen’s route, you should come for the rehearsals, which take place 2 weeks before the event.

What should I bring?

Camera.
Comfortable shoes. The lady beside me brought flip-flops.
Fold-up chair. Two ladies near me relaxed for their 5 hours in chairs, eating Kipling cakes. I was so jealous.
Food and water. When I went, it was on a last-minute whim. I had left the flat at around 8am with an apple and a bottle of water. I was very thankful for the M&M the girl standing behind me in the crowd offered me.
Union Jack flags. My neighbour came with three, gold topped ones from the Jubilee.

What happens?

Pre-10am Her Majesty arrives in residence, probably from Windsor. You’ll know because they’ll take down the Union Jack flag and put up the royal flag, which is a lot bigger. Foreign dignitaries are driven past on their way up to Horse Guards Parade.
10am Troops march up to Horse Guards Parade via Buckingham Palace. Most are marching bands. They are followed eventually by the royals in their carriages and on their horses. The carriage carrying Prince Harry and Kate Middleton goes first, followed a while later by the Queen’s carriage, where Prince Philip in a busby sits beside her. Princes Charles and William ride behind her carriage. When she was younger, the Queen rode side-saddle instead of in a carriage. She was even shot at once, with blanks that missed her, in 1981.
11am Trooping the Colour at Horse Guards Parade.
12 noon Royals arrive back at Buckingham Palace. 21 gun salute once Her Majesty is inside. The royals come out onto the balcony for a bit, then go back inside.
1pm Flypast ending with the Red Arrows, while the royals watch from the balcony. Kate Middleton was holding Princess Charlotte in her arms, while Prince George stood next to her.

What were the highlights for me?

Chatting to my lovely neighbour and asking her all I wanted to know about the Queen’s birthday and the British monarchy. Otherwise it would have been a lonely and boring 2 hours.
Spotting the Queen straight away as she was the brightest thing around, dressed in neon green. Seeing Prince William and Prince Charles riding behind her.
Prince Harry waving at us from the carriage he shares with Kate Middleton. I’d like to think that he was smiling in my direction, but it was most likely at the camera of the AFP reporter standing 4 places from me.
Being interviewed for the TV for the first time, by the same AFP reporter.
Seeing Clare Balding, the BBC Sports presenter.
The carriages, which were surprisingly plain. The glamorous ones I was expecting are to be found in the Royal Mews, which you can visit on Buckingham Palace Road.
Being wished a good day from a policeman I had stopped to ask for advice.
Seeing another policeman pose for the cameras to amuse the waiting crowd.

Are women present among the troops?

Yes. You can tell them apart, with some difficult if they are wearing busby hats, by their hair buns.

Why are the policemen wearing medals and white gloves?

The medals are given to the police at every Jubilee. The most recent one (the silver Jubilee medal) is closest to the left shoulder. The white gloves are worn on special formal occasions like the Queen’s birthday.

Is there a better place to stand than in front of Buckingham Palace?

Yes, on the Mall at the end closest to the Horse Guards Parade. There you will be able to hear what is going on inside the ticketed area, get given a free programme, as well as see the royals go by twice. Oh, and the railings will be removed to let you walk down the Mall to watch the flypast in front of Buckingham Palace. Those standing in front of Buckingham Palace to begin with will not be allowed to wander freely up to the palace gates. To get a spot you will have to arrive at 7am.

Who exactly was my “neighbour”?

She is someone who has come to London to spectate for around 20 years, coming once every 5 years or thereabouts. She was once a teacher, and she is also a member of the Girl Guides. Through this organisation, she has met the Countess of Wessex, the President of the Girl Guides. The Queen herself is the patron of the Girl Guides, and served in the 1st Buckingham Palace Unit.


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Dublin Deconstructed

Space Lingus

Over the May bank holiday weekend, my Mum and I visited Dublin for the first time. It was my second, more informed, trip to Ireland, and we saw into not only Dublin’s past and present but also future. Other first-timers on a similarly short break, you may find this a good introduction to Dublin. It is not a sightseer’s guide to the city, but more of a recollection of personal impressions of the people and their attitudes, the city’s culture and heritage, the weather, and a few tourist tips we learned by trial during our brief stay.

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Economically designed for eating

edendum pizza and salad

On a surprisingly quiet Friday evening in Brighton last week, while desperately avoiding restaurants we’d already been to, my Mum and I came across this unassuming Italian café-restaurant-cum-food shop. It wasn’t our first choice on the street, but rather our realistic choice since our first choice was the vegetarian restaurant Terre À Terre, which from one past experience we already knew would tell us they were fully booked even as we looked at a restaurant with the majority of its tables empty.

But for its visible popularity with early-evening diners like ourselves and its Latin name, we would have easily passed Edendum by.

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Lewes Bonfire Night

Burning tar

Bonfire boys pulling carts of burning tar, waiting for the processions in Lewes to begin

Bonfire Night is on Saturday this year, and where better to head than to Lewes, where one of the country’s oldest bonfire festivities are still celebrated every year? The Lewes Bonfire is held annually on 5th November, the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, but Bonfire Night is not just about Guido Fawkes. The Sussex bonfire tradition originated from the Tudor times and commemorates Protestant martyrs as well as protests against unpopular figures and events. Fire processions were seen as dangerous expressions of the common people – in 1847 magistrates who read the Riot Act to the bonfire boys in Lewes were thrown into the river Ouse. Some still held processions illegally though, chanting “we wunt be druv” (“we won’t be driven”), and thanks to them the Lewes Bonfire Night is still celebrated to this day. It is the largest event of its kind in the county, and the largest in the country in terms of the number of people involved in organising and parading. I went to see the spectacle last year, on its 410th anniversary and would heavily recommend it – if you’re able to go despite the Southern Rail strikes, that is. Remember no trains are running to Lewes on the day of the event this year. On a normaly year however, around 50,000 people attend the event, so here’s how to make sense of the crush.

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