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Cambridge Life


From hops to mops – the hardware store with extras

Have you seen what’s at No 1 Arbury Road and noticed the picturesque store front and the flowers and plants that spill onto the pavement? This is the latest independent hardware store to set up in Cambridge, called simply Cam Home and Garden.

Entering Cam Home and Garden takes you over a comforting step down memory lane; it offers the very best of old-fashioned customer service and a fantastic selection of items found in a local hardware shop reminiscent of shops from yesteryear.  Robin Standring, the manager, greets me wearing a t-shirt with four candles on.

Robin together with his assistant Steve Winn bring over 100 years of retail experience.  Steve, retired after long-service at Cutlacks on Mill Road but was tempted back into part-time work by Robin.  They now enjoy serving and getting to know their customers in West Chesterton and providing welcome advice as, between them, there is little they don’t know about gardening, home renovation and beer and wine-making. But, Robin defaults to Steve – who he refers to as Cambridge aristocracy – and tells his customers; “If you want to know anything about anything, from mops to hops, ask Steve.”

Looking around the shop there’s a wonderful and eclectic mix of beautiful modern, vintage and practical everyday items.  Its arrangement lends itself to browsing.  Robin says: “We’re really proud to be described as a useful shop in Cambridge. Everything has a use but also looks nice and we stock a range that suits all budgets.  We’re perfectly suited for anyone who want to grow their own, make their own as well as get all the essential hardware stuff.”

The shop is bedecked in sentimental decoration, charming knick knacks (not for sale) from Robin’s childhood, as well as interesting locally sourced items such as Cambridge hardwood charcoal and hazel poles from Hardwick woods.  The packed shelves stock Che Guevara mugs next to Baby Bio bottles, gorgeous colourful enamel espresso cups and a wide selection of seeds, with useful labels telling you, for example, which ones are great for bees.

Robin has an eye for details and design and so the homely store front reflects the seasonal produce alongside the perennial best sellers.  It is no surprise that the shop has been called an Aladdin’s Cave or like stepping into the Tardis.  Steve explains that they change seasonally, and rotate stock to reflect this (such as swapping jam-making for chutney-making as the season demands) all the while ensuring that everything remains practical.  And in line with their old-fashioned philosophy, their children’s toys only promote outdoor play – no batteries, no screens – just traditional games.

The front of the shop stocks their home and garden range, while the home brew equipment – wine, beer and cider – is found at the back.  Craft beers are a big driver in the home brew market today and such is their position as experts in this field they have a home brew club which runs on the 1st Sunday of every month and takes place at Thirsty.  It’s great fun, very informal and open to all levels of experience because people learn from each other.  The Jamaican food van serves between 4-6pm.  What better way to get an introduction to beer-making?

Proudly Robin tells me that the only other place you can get most of the stuff he sells is on the internet, but without the personal. On top of this he goes out of his way to get stuff that you wouldn’t find on the internet which all helps to maintain his loyal and growing customer base.

As with everything about Cam Home and Garden, they want satisfied customers who always get what they come for – from four candles to fork handles – and everything is built from that.

Find out more about Cam Home and Garden here

Robin was interviewed by Dawn Giesler, founder of scuseme, a recommendation website developed to provide an essential resource to help your family run smoothly. Dawn has lived in Cambridge for over 20 years and offers advice based on her own experiences. For more information please visit: scuseme

For the love of food: How LingLing and Franck combined their loves in the city

Every Chinese school child learns Xu Zhi Mo’s 1928 poem, On Leaving Cambridge.   Capturing the beauty and romance of Cambridge, it provided a draw to LingLing Peng from her home in Taiwan, as it still does for the scores of Chinese tourists that visit our city every year.  LingLing was looking for a place to “play and learn” and inspired by the poem, Cambridge seemed a natural choice.

Studying English at The Studio School on Station Road in 1991, LingLing would often have lunch in the little ‘old-fashioned’ café on the corner, not thinking that 10 years later she would be the owner. Back in the early 90s Cambridge was a poor destination for food lovers, with national food chains prevalent but few innovative independent restaurants and cafés providing any local character.  LingLing enjoyed the idiosyncrasy of this little place.

LingLing and Franck met through a mutual friend and with their shared love of food they set up in partnership with a friend, L’Amandier on Burleigh Street in 1994 (now Cote de France) and sold it four years later.  Eager for their own place, in 1999 they took a quarter share of the premises above The Bun Shop (now The Cambridge Brew House) where they could create their own menus.  As fate would have it, the little café on Station Road became available in 2000.  So, taking an extension on their mortgage, Le Gros Franck was opened and has since become one of the City’s most beloved local eateries, as well as the only independent French café in Cambridge

Le Gros Franck is famed for delivering good quality authentic French food (Franck makes monthly visits to France to source the best ingredients) with delicious breakfast and lunchtime menus.  Convenient for commuters stopping in for a croissant or espresso on their way to work, it is also a mainstay for a growing community of residents and businesses in the area.

LingLing and Franck have become indivisible from their restaurant, becoming a well-known unit in the City as well as active members of the community.  They embrace change and make the most of new and exciting opportunities that the city’s transformation provides, such as the CB1 development and the growing trend around food vans.

CB1 was the catalyst for their second restaurant.  When in 2012 they were looking for something new, the accountant and solicitor’s office on the corner of Hills Road and Brooklands Avenue provided the perfect location to take advantage of this burgeoning population.  After months of negotiations and fighting off stiff competition (no doubt with the reputation already established through Le Gros Franck), La Maison du Steak was born in 2013.  LingLing said:

“The changes around CB1 have been quite monumental but it’s great to be in the heart of it.  We’re really proud of the challenging building project we undertook because we transformed a near derelict building to what we have today.  Franck took the lead on this, he’s created space that shows off authentic French interiors and individual style. We’ve even used some of the photograph that show the various stages of the project to decorate the walls.”

Just like its sister, La Maison du Steak provides a wonderfully French setting.  It lends itself to relaxed family meals or a romantic dinner for two and has quickly become a firm favourite in this part of Cambridge.

LingLing loves food – talking about it, cooking it and of course eating it.  So, what better way to share her passion than by bringing it directly to her customers?  They now have three food vans.  The Saucisse Mon Amour food van is seen regularly on Station Road, its fluttering Taiwanese flag cocking a snoop at the Chinese state while bringing pride to local Taiwanese.  “I love to see my customers’ faces when they enjoy my food.  And I can do that from my van, where I can’t from my kitchen” says LingLing.

While the Saucisse Mon Amour reflects the French identity of her marriage, LingLing loves to indulge in traditional home cooking, influenced by her mother and share recipes that she grew up with.  Her second food van, LingLing’s Steam Kitchen, was set up in 2015.  With favourites include her beef dumplings, Taiwanese braised minced pork served with tea egg and tofu stew with plum and miso sauce.   It is already a firm favourite both with locals and critics – she won the 2015 Cambridge Food Van of the Year after only being open for three months.

Finally Pull Me Chéri opened in 2016, and is used frequently for Cambridge events such as Enchanted Cinema, Thirsty Riverside, the Cambridge Comedy & Beer Festivals, Mill Road Winter Fair, Thriplow Daffodil Weekend, and a regular monthly pitch in Hitchin street food monthly and outside Thirsty.

LingLing and Franck now employ a diverse team of 20 from the UK and Europe.  Indeed, the head chef started as a dish washer: everyone works together as a family.  LingLing summarised:

“The staff are the bosses. They run the restaurants, they are important, they take responsibility.” she concludes: “I am so grateful for my wonderful team.  It really would be impossible without them.”

LingLing has learnt a lot, but she says the key to running a successful business is to listen; to staff and to customers.  That is how we learn the most important lessons.

LingLing was interviewed by Dawn Giesler, founder of scuseme, a recommendation website developed to provide an essential resource to help your family run smoothly. Dawn has lived in Cambridge for over 20 years and offers advice based on her own experiences. For more information please visit: scuseme

 


Having tea with old friends in Cambridge

I recently saw a posting on social media about Contact The Elderly, a charity that organises volunteer-led monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for older people.   It is a national charity with local representatives and aims to transform lives with tea, chat and friendship.  So, over a cup of tea, I met with Catherine Wheeler, a Cambridge resident who has been with the charity for two years to find out a little more.

It caught my attention because when I wrote my blog about the wonderful independent cafes in Cambridge, someone got back to me and suggested that I produce a similar one about cafes that are accessible for the elderly.  I promise to do that soon.  However, the simplicity of the tea parties and its huge benefits inspired me to promote it.

With an aging population, we as a nation must address many issues – social, medical, emotional – such dementia, immobility, loneliness etc.   Cambridge is a wonderful city but expensive, busy and difficult to get around and therefore not very welcoming for the elderly so free initiatives such as Contact the Elderly’s Tea Parties are great for bringing people together. 

Catherine explained that you can either get involved as a host or a driver.  To become a host you will be contacted by the regional co-ordinator (Georgina.sells@contact-the-elderly.org.uk) and your home checked for accessibility (ie: downstairs loo and easy access by car) and that you can accommodate up to 12 people. 

As a host, you can do as much or as little as you like, but for a relatively low commitment there are massive benefits. The charity reaches out to people who live on their own, in sheltered accommodation or private residential homes.  Each month the same people get together with different hosts so friendships are formed.

Catherine’s daughters, Freya and Iona, always get involved with the Sunday afternoon tea party: baking cakes, biscuits, tea and sandwiches, helping on the day and making a big fuss of everyone.  Whatever is left over goes into a doggy bag which the guests love.  Catherine sums up, “There’s a lot of effort on the day, but it’s great fun and it is only one day.  It’s good for all of us to get to know elderly people in our community.”

Please find more information here

Catherine was interviewed by Dawn Giesler, founder of scuseme, a recommendation website developed to provide an essential resource to help your family run smoothly. Dawn has lived in Cambridge for over 20 years and offers advice based on her own experiences. For more information please visit: scuseme


Meet the Art of Meat

The Art of Meat has been recommended to me many times over the years but regrettably I had not ventured beyond my regular butchers to try them out, so I took the opportunity to visit them for the first issue of scuseme … what?

The Art of Meat is tucked away in a quiet corner of Arbury Court, a lovely community focused public square (with plans for redevelopment to create an “urban social square”).  Here I met with owner, Jon West, to find out a little more about this much talked about butchers, whose name suggests so much more than just a place to get your lamb chops.

From biotechnology to butchery

Cambridge is world renowned for its strong links with science, so perhaps Jon’s earlier life as a research scientist was not so astounding.  That the research involved plant biotechnology and plant genetics, was more of a surprise.

His path into academia was one that many have followed in this city.  But after a few years he fancied a change.  And what a change it turned out to be.  Jon had worked for a year in a butcher’s shop after he left school, and over a pint with old friend Brian Adams, ideas soon led him down a very different path.  Brian had owned and run BP Adams Butchers for 18 years, and the new owner wasn’t doing so well, so Jon and his wife Clare made the decision to take over the business.  As Jon said:

“We took over the shop on the 4th July 2005, our first child was born on the 15th July & we got a mortgage the following year.  It was quite a transformation.”

Jon showing off his produce

From flora to fauna: creating the Art of Meat

Jon had an idea of what he wanted to do & achieve from the word go.   He knew he was never going to beat supermarkets on price so he would have to beat them on quality & service.   Jon said of living and working in Cambridge:

“We’re so lucky here because in East Anglia there’s a whole host of really good independent producers.”

He proudly listed some of the top of the range wholesalers supplying produce such as Dingly Dale Pork, Riverside Beef and several good free range chicken suppliers.

The Art of Meat’s excellent reputation comes from their exceptional quality and service.  But the innovative flavours created for their sausages and other meats betrays Jon’s natural scientific flare for experimentation.  Naturally all the sausages are made by hand and they have some traditional flavours such herby, Italian and breakfast but they change and introduce new recipes frequently.  When Jon shared some of his favourites, it became immediate obvious why the Art of Meat is such an apt name:

  • hog roast with pork scratchings and apple
  • liquorice all-sorts
  • toffee-apple on Bonfire Night with bits of fudge and caramelised apple running through
  • Mergertz with paprika, fennel, harissa and cumim.

Jon and his team are always trying new ideas, so no doubt this list will expand.  At this point I was introduced to Dylan Carter, who started as an apprentice and has been with them for over 10 years.  Dylan is interested in Roman re-enactment and was working on a Roman style burger with fish sauce instead of garam because that is what the Romans would have used and dates, coriander and green peppercorns.

Dylan and Brian ‘experimenting’

The Art of Meat also makes their own marinades.  Their useful website provides great tips for their customers both in terms of cooking and butchery.

Gourmand friendly

Jon has worked hard to meet people in the community who have the same standards as him when it comes to food provenance and quality.  He has always been interested in food and he gets deliveries up from Smithfields to provide more top quality and exciting things for people who are really interested in food and cooking.

The success of the business is based, unsurprisingly, on keeping a loyal base of customers happy, and the lessons Jon has learnt over the years and his knowledge of pricing and cuts means that he can keep his prices consistent throughout the year, which makes it much easier for their customers.

Cambridge Connections

Predictably The Art of Meat is very well connected and with the growing popularity of food vans, Jon thinks in part because people can’t afford restaurants – I was not surprised to find out that they supply Steak and Honour, Guerrilla Kitchen and Jalan Jalan to name three of the more renowned new outlets in Cambridge.   Jon knows that these people hold quality as dear to their hearts as he does, and with the vibrant street food scene, competition is strong and self-regulating so only the good ones will survive.  Those that invest in serving good quality food.

Five people working at The Art of Meat, Jon, Dylan, Aiden Gillett, Clare and Brian Adams who is semi-retired.  Find out more about The Art of Meat

Jon’s Top Tip

The thing I’ve learnt with knives is to keep a knife sharp is easy; to make a knife sharp isn’t.

 

Jon was interviewed by Dawn Giesler, the founder of scuseme, a recommendation website developed to provide an essential resource to help your family run smoothly. She has lived in Cambridge for over 20 years and offers advise based on her own experiences. For more information please visit: scuseme

 


All the fun of the fair

cambridge Town & Country Fair & scuseme

One of my favourite events in Cambridge, is the Cambridge Town & Country  Fair when for two days rural life is brought into the heart of the city. Uncertain weather is all part of the experience, though sunshine certainly helps.  So don your wellies, dust off that Barbour and saddle your pony (though cycling is as easy) and get down to the idyll that is Parker’s Piece scuseme cambridge town and country show I met with Emma Owen, who runs Oakleigh Fairs, and she was happy to share with scuseme members some fascinating things about the Cambridge Town & Country Fair.  We hope you are enlightened. 1) The show is now in its 11th year and the inspiration behind it was the old Heavy Horse Show that used to take place on Midsummer Common,  as  well as the old Victorian/Tudor Fairs that used to take place on  Parker’s Piece itself. 2) Parker’s Piece is one mile square, making the run of marquees that run along the length of Regent’s Terrace, nearly ¼ mile long!   3) Parker’s Piece is officially turned into a farm for the duration of the show, with its very own CPH (County Parish Holding) Number. 4) The fare hosts one of the largest collections of steam engines and farm machinery – both scale and full size models on show in an urban  environment.   cambridge Town & Country Fair & scuseme 5) The fair receives absolutely no public funding whatsoever. 6) The organisers were both brought up and went to school in Cambridge as did their children – so this show is very close to their hearts! The Cambridge Town & Country Fair is a free event and takes place on 10th / 11th June on Parker’s Piece. Find out more here Dawn Giesler, is the founder of scuseme, a recommendation website developed to provide an essential resource to help your family run smoothly. She has lived in Cambridge for over 20 years and offers advise based on her own experiences. For more information please visit: scuseme


How scuseme helped a friend & the June orchid count

June orchid count scuseme

Recently an old friend of mine who now lives in New York got in touch for some help.  She grew up in Cambridge and was on a short, five day, emergency stay, visiting her dad, who was undergoing tests at Addenbrookes. Her visit was very much out of the blue due to the circumstances but she called because she desperately needed to find some reliable help for her dad, and having not lived in Cambridge for many years she didn’t have any of the right local contacts. (more…)


Value your time & try something new in Cambridge

Free time is a luxury, a precious resource, so it’s important to use it wisely.  If you’re lucky enough to live in Cambridge there are plenty of activities on offer to entice you to spend your free time.  But have you ever noticed that when you live in a place you don’t always see or take the time to enjoy what’s on offer because you get caught up in work, family life and household jobs.  Our advice is to value the time you have, make time to spend with friends and family, get involved in your community and make every minute count. (more…)


The 20 best dog-friendly pubs in Cambridge

Punter pooch watering hole. Photo by www.jamiescottlong.com

Dine with your doggie…….scuseme’s favourite dog-friendly pubs in Cambridge

Most people who know me, knows how much I love hanging out with my dogs, Roscoe and Sugar, and especially my daily walks around the beautiful parks, nature reserves and meadows in Cambridge.

When it comes to eating out or just having a drink it’s nice to find places that will accommodate my four-legged friends. So, we’ve compiled a list of places in and around Cambridge that won’t banish you to the garden because you have your dog with you but will welcome your paw-some pets whatever the weather. (more…)


Independent cafés in Cambridge

independent cafe Hot Numbers

Great places to hang out

Over recent years, the growing number of independent cafés in Cambridge has given me lots of pleasure and fun (and no end of excellent coffee, teas and smoothies, and cake!) amidst the more general and depressing expansion of international chains.  The variety of eating and drinking options always tempt with mouth-watering menus, often locally sourced and wherever possible, seasonal. (more…)


Follow the fabulous food vans in Cambridge

The eating out options in Cambridge have come a long way in the last ten years, reflecting the cosmopolitan character of the city and the diverse tastes of its residents. 

Cambridge is now embracing and building on the growing trend around food vans, providing a range of delicious, fresh, healthy and innovative street food representing numerous cultural and culinary tastes.  These dedicated chefs are bringing their passion to the streets, often hitching their characterful vans outside our favourite pubs, wine bars and cafes.  (more…)


You really need to know about these money saving opportunities if you live in Cambridge

I’ve lived in Cambridge for over 20 years and some of these money saving offers I only discovered relatively late on.  And it was very frustrating, so I’m writing this to make sure that you know exactly what’s on offer as a resident.

It’s lovely that we live in this beautiful historic city, but life is expensive, especially the treats such as punting.  These great money saving offers are available to the residents of Cambridge. (more…)


How scuseme helped Cambridge resident find recommended local builder for cottage renovation

In June 2016, we received the following customer enquiry:

“I am looking for a builder to do a small extension at my cottage in Cambridge.  I need the bathroom and kitchen to be extended and refurbished. I have plans for the work and would like the work to start ASAP. Many thanks.”

We passed this enquiry onto our recommended local builders and three of them were keen for scuseme to share their profiles with the customer.

(more…)


The food of love – places to eat in Cambridge this Valentine’s Day?

Cambridge is a romantic city and celebrating St Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to try some of the wonderful independent restaurants.  Whether you are looking for the perfect place for a romantic dinner for two or a celebration with friends, Valentine’s Day in Cambridge books up quickly, so, we have put together what we think are some of the best restaurants in Cambridge that still have some availability. They cover a range of prices to match any budget, a variety of tastes, cultural diverse dishes and many dietary requirements.  Hurry, if you don’t want to be let down.    (more…)


Cambridge “one of the safest areas of the UK” but we must remember to look out for each other

It was heartening to have confirmation from Sgt Ian Wood, addressing members of the city council’s East Area Committee on Thursday 12th January, that crime in Cambridge is at an “unbelievable” low level.

People who live and work in Cambridge, often speak of living in a bubble where we seem to be distant from some of the damaging social and economic issues that have such a massive impact on so many parts of the country.  These recent findings about criminal activity in the area support this, Wood goes on to say that, “even the criminals in Cambridge are nice.”   (more…)


Home improvement plans for 2017? Four steps to turn your ideas into a reality

A new year and a new start so often prompts us to refresh our lives. Whether it is to make small home improvements, get the garden sorted or start an exciting building project, January is the time to lay down the foundations to turn your ideas into a reality. But successful ideas don’t happen by accident.  So here are some tips to help you on your way.   (more…)


If scuseme can help out Santa, we can do the same for you!

There’s nothing worse than your best Christmas plans going wrong. A broken cooker, leaking roof, no central heating – it’s the last thing you need at the best time of the year.

But there’s one man who really can’t afford for things to go wrong at Christmas. A man who can’t fail in his mission to deliver presents the world over. At some point on Christmas Eve he’ll be flying over Cambridge but don’t worry Santa – scuseme has you covered!

Just like Santa and his elves, we’ve been busy all year.  We’ve put together a great team of recommended local traders in the Cambridge area. We know they can be trusted to meet your needs and care about their customers – because we’ve checked them out. (more…)


Scuseme, can you recommend a good business or service in Cambridge?

By default, we ask people we trust for recommendations, and equally people love to share them.  But sometimes we’re not able to connect with their recommended suppliers and we have to find another source of reference.  Increasingly we turn to the Internet, and whether looking for a restaurant or a room, a book review or boots, we rely on the recommendations and review of others to help us decide.

Did you know that 88 percent of customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations and 72 percent of customers questioned in a local community survey said that positive reviews make them trust a local business more? (more…)


The City Deal and way forward regarding tradespeople

What do you think of the Greater Cambridge City Deal?  This is one of the most contentious issues facing – and dividing – residents, politicians and businesses in Cambridge in many years.  Unless you have been living the life of a hermit you will no doubt be aware of proposed changes to tackle peak-time congestion in Cambridge and the resulting dialogue it is generating. (more…)


Fabulous fruity pickings – get our favourite 5 blackberrying sites in Cambridge

I just love the beginning of Autumn.  The weather is still warm, the light is gorgeous, the colours are vibrant and this year the long awaited blackberries are bountiful.  Blackberrying still manages to deliver, without fail, a fabulous family activity that excites everyone equally and doesn’t herald the response, “Do we have to?” from languid teenagers.  So, thank goodness for good old fashion brambling.  I love that it doesn’t have any connection with technology: it always feels nostalgic and I have a brief flirtation of myself as Ma Ingles in The Little House on the Prairie, gathering produce and fayre. (more…)


Five certain ways to really save money if you live in Cambridge

Buy an Arts Cinema membership

This is one of the best membership packages I have found in Cambridge. It’s useful, relevant and excellent value. My free tickets are always a treat plus the Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge has some fantastic local and national partners with whom you can get great savings, such as 25% off at GBK and 10% off at Hotel Chocolat.  Perfect for a gift. (more…)


Cambridge: getting to know you

I’ve lived in Cambridge for 20 years this July. I love it here. I’ve got some close friends and I feel really at home, especially in the vibrant community around Mill Road. When I arrived with my husband in 1996 it was all new to me. Having lived and worked in London, young free and single, the pace seemed slow and a social life seemed a long way off. Back then I worked at the Science Park in Melbourn and although I met (and remain friends with) some great people, nearly everyone relied on cars, and I missed a spontaneous social life. The ghostly abandoned car park on a Friday evening always depressed me; where was the Friday night piss-up? (more…)

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