Tag Archives: Southend

Essex Santa Vs Essex Santa: Marsh Farm against Adventure Island

The annual trip to see Santa, it’s almost a rite of passage for younger members of the family and some of my earliest memories include waiting to see Father Christmas, but such choice. Which is the one you should spend your money on, the one that you should spent time queuing for in Essex?

Obviously I’ve not been to see them all in one night (who do you think I am, the man himself?) so I can only comment on the ones we have seen.

I’m focusing on comparing and contrasting two experiences, one from 2013 at Marsh Farm and the other from Adventure Island in 2014. Other Santa experiences in Essex are of course available.

First up then, Adventure Island…

Santa-on-Sea

When you are little it doesn’t get more exciting than visiting Santa, it’s like a massive adventure so what better place to head to this year than Adventure Island.

DSC_1433He’s normally found residing in the North Pole but we found him closer to home on Southend seafront, although judging by Sarah’s coat you’d have thought we were Arctic bound with huskies and all.

Of course, being winter the main Adventure Island is deserted and looks like something you’d find in an episode of Scooby-Doo, if it wasn’t for the glorious sunshine and blue sky for the middle of December. We did get showered with fake snow though, which was quite nice.

Instead we found ourselves entering through the entrance to Feelgoods to be greeted by a giant sleigh and reindeer before we heads under a festive archway and downstairs to sign in with some elves.

Sticker stuck and wristband attached Iz was ready to begin on her journey to find Father Christmas.

Our first step was Southend’s answer to the Polar Express, although thankfully it was less like Westworld with multiple Tom Hanks’. Iz loved it at the front of the train with Sarah so it was my turn to step up to the mark on the following ride, Santa’s Sleigh, which must have hit some turbulence as it didn’t half throw you around.

DSC_1466Iz loved it though – as you can see in the video – and even eagerly fastened her own safety belt, my knees were wedged against the carriage which meant I really was going nowhere. Iz even had fun punching the sleigh’s super pursuit mode, well The Hoff is in town after all.

Post rides we stepped into the entrance of Santa’s grotto, its blinking and flashing lights an trees as we worked our way down the first corridor was almost like the stargate scene from 2001 Christmas special.

Twists and turns took us on a winding sparkly journey that included  the  sights and sounds of a toy  factory, Nar…I mean Wardrobia and a post office.

But this was no ordinary post office, it was one run by Santa’s elves and you also had the opportunity to write a letter to Santa and pin it to his wall.  Isabelle certainly didn’t need asking twice and thoughtfully penned him a letter with her name and covered it with crayon kisses.

It was only then a short wait to be ushered through a door by a helpful elf. Iz then knocked hard and loud on a wooden door before a warm voice ushered her to come in.

As she entered Father Christmas was sat in the corner, he was surrounded by piles upon piles of presents. Chatty all the way round this is where naturally went all sheepish, although she did get to mention a double buggy, Buster’s Bones and Doggie Doo – thankfully I didn’t have to explain the concept to jolly St Nick.

After a not totally successful photo with Santa – Iz didn’t really want to play ball – she was handed a large present from the pile and we waved our goodbyes but not before promising Santa that we’d leave him out a mince pie and a little tipple come Christmas Eve.

Before heading home there was time for one more trip on Santa’s Sleigh, by this time the Polar-ish Express was being pushed round, something about the wrong sort of fake snow on the line apparently.

We bought our Santa snap – normal photo not snow globe or key ring format  – and then us grown ups claimed our free mulled wine which certainly warmed us up on the walk back to the car in the fading daylight across the now chilly seafront.

DSC_1512And of course no seasonal visit to Southend seafront would be complete without an ice-cream. This Christmas lark, you could say that Isabelle has it licked.

At £17 for three of us it wasn’t a bad shout and certainly wasn’t as wallet or distance busting as say Marsh Farm – which we did last year when it was cheaper and in the week as Iz was at nursery.

The rides were a nice touch – you could have gone on them as many times as you wanted to – and all the elves we met were jolly and friendly. They even helpfully warned us of the 30 minute wait to see Santa as we slowly snaked through the different rooms, but then it was a Saturday and there was only a little bit I standing around and plenty of visuals to take in.

The only thing that could have improved that would have been times slots, which we’ve had at a previous grotto visit, or multiple Santa’s, which we had at Marsh Farm which kept the queue coasting through.

All in all though it was a fun experience, at less half price of Marsh Farm, which we might have looked at again were it not exactly the same as last year.

We were there for a total of two hours and felt it represented good value for money, we got a free hot drink and Iz’s gift was like a playdoh set.

The only additional costs were paying for parking on the seafront and buying our picture, which was £10.

There was no obligation to buy but you weren’t allowed to take pics in Santa’s room. You had the option of both at Marsh Farm last year.

And so to Marsh Farm…

Farmer Christmas

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The Goat of Christmas Past

For Christmas 2013 we headed down to see Father Christmas at Marsh Farm, besides seeing Santa there was a full day of activity – both Christmas and farm yard related – to welcome us and keep us busy.

You’d think that explaining to a jolly fat bloke what presents you would like would be easy, well it is, it is just deciding where to do it is the oh so fiddly part. London, when taking into account the train was too costly and the end of Southend Pier (the longest pier in the world at 1.33 miles just so you know) wasn’t enticing enough for the price.

So, after much deliberation we decided to go and visit him and his elves at Marsh Farm as its package included not just meeting the bearded chap, but decorating a gingerbread man with Mrs Christmas, painting a tree decoration, getting to choose and stuff your own make a bear  (after being given a token by Santa), travelling to meet him on a ‘train’ and visiting the farm and its menagerie of animals.

IMG_5764And my wife, daughter and I got to do all this for £30, which took the best part of the day and we thought it was all rather good value for money. In that you also got access to the whole of Marsh Farm as well, so we pretty much made a whole day of it!

The other great thing is that Marsh Farm actually has its own reindeer, so even they were drafted in for supporting roles, minus funny ears and silly costumes of course. Unfortunately the last time I was at Marsh Farm it was synonymous with rain dear rather than reindeer as we held Isabelle’s third birthday on the day back in August when we had that torrential rain. We had a wet but fun party but it was certainly a marked contrast to our return visit with Iz mostly walking round with her sunglasses on…not something I thought I would be writing with less than two weeks until Christmas Day (which is when we went).

Thirty quid sounds steepish, but then all things considered that includes entry to the whole of Marsh Farm – we went midweek and it was a lovely day and was a whole day affair, a marked difference from the two hours we spent at Adventure Island.

The cuddly toy was great, think like build a bear but not, clothes and accessories were of course optional extras as were photos, in key rings and snowglobes (we went with the latter as you’ll see) but you were able to take your own pics when meeting Santa as well, another one up on Adventure Island.

Verdict

IMG_5774Looking back at the video a year later and comparing it against this year’s attraction, although it is further to get to I think we’ll be making a return visit to Santa at Marsh Farm next year as there is just much more to do and to experience.

Marsh Farm’s Santa experience really is the full ticket and the only reason we didn’t do it again this year was because it didn’t look like it had changed so we wanted to try another experience.

Adventure Island may have been much cheaper and closer – parking was a further £3 mind and you couldn’t take your own pics of meeting Santa and they were an extra £10 or three for £20 – but the experience just wasn’t as immersive or as long.

Raindrops keep falling on our heads…

IMG_3179Last year saw Isabelle’s second birthday party take place in glorious sunshine, it was pretty much text book and perfectly timed being in a garden complete with a bouncy castle.

Flash forward and it’s more of a case of happy bathday as we spent it at Marsh Farm on a day that was so wet that roads were flooded and even Southend sea front was under water and that was when the tide was out! In fact if it had rained any more they would have had to have renamed it Southend in Sea. Cue clever shark related photo from the Sea Life Centre, how very SharkNado!1236726_10151825992329819_794541111_n[1]

As it turns out Marsh Farm was thankfully less Marsh marsh but boy did it rain and rain and rain. All of which meant I don’t know of a group of people who were ever so pleased to be spending a longer time in a piggery. I’ve also never been so jealous of pigs sat on dry straw under warm lights.

IMG_3203Talking of pigs, thanks in no small part to the Peppa variety, all the children weren’t fussed by the rain (to be fair even gathered parents were amiable enough – although I predict a years worth of undercover birthday party invites from attending  children for the next 12 months!)

The deluge may have made us damp but it certainly didn’t dampen our spirits and the brushing the pony experience went down a storm, which is rather fitting as the rain really clattered down on our parade at that point although again we were under cover so it mattered not a jot. It did give the kids to per some goats, although I’m not so sure the baby goats were quite as pleased to see ten pairs of tiny hands reaching for a feel.

IMG_3183It was then back outside for the world’s bumpiest tractor ride that hit every pot hole possible and had to be driven by Sandra Bullock as it was like they weren’t able to slow down, the only thing missing was the bridge jump.

Turns out we could have done with Sandra and her tractor on the way back due to the obscene amount of water on the road, parts if the a127 were flooded which meant we had to drive on the path in parts and had a Speed ‘stay on or get of moment’ learning that one section of the road had submerged cars in it.

IMG_3189We travelled as a convoy which made it feel like we were storm chasers from Twister, although the cars on the path moment was probably more akin to the scene in Dante’s Peak where cars try and cross the river.

Speed, Dante’s Peak, Twister – all these disaster movie titles being bandied about seems quite apt as when we finally got our wet selves home we were greeted by The Poseidon Adventure in our kitchen which had let water in.

The rain though was like water of the proverbial ducks back to Iz and she loved her day surrounded by her friends. And we enjoyed being surrounded by some of ours as well, who had travelled hundreds of miles to walk round and get wet, that’s friendship.

IMG_3219Of course, it would have been no birthday without a cake and this year it was of the Scooby-Doo variety, which seemed a popular choice with the gathered children and fitting with the er ghoulish weather, as was the sparkly candle which Iz took great delight in blowing out not once but twice.

IMG_3229As she sat, flanked by her friends either side, munching on her lunch I knew that despite us all looking a little bit like rats of the drowned variety Isabelle had a birthday that she would remember for all the right reasons even though for us grown ups it will be for all the wet and soggy ones.

Loving Rossi’s Iz-cream

IMG_1431 IMG_1435 IMG_1439After building up an appetite going bonkers on the beach Iz was rewarded with her first Rossi’s ice-cream of the year. She made a meal of it alright, then a drink of it and then a dogs dinner of it, sharing it with Missy.

IMG_1409We hit the beach tag-team style as one of us had to stay with Missy (sorry Miss, so close yet so very far and all you wanted to do was join in with Iz) and the pushchair.

When the sun was out it was rather glorious, ruddy windy mind but rather nice all the same, until the sun shot behind a white cloud to catch its breath.

Not that Iz was arsed or that she paused for breath, she was all for going into the water but I managed to disuede her of sorts by saying that we didn’t have any towels with us. Far more logical to a 2.5 year old than saying the sea of Southend-on will be very fricking cold.

IMG_1395And of course where Isabelle went Anxious the elephant wasn’t far behind, when she wasn’t being dropped or left to rise in the pushchair. When Iz stormed the beach with her it was like she was saving her like a character from Baywatch.

I’m actually surprised that half the stone-filled beach isn’t here after being brought home in Iz’s pockets, she has brought bits of it back every other beach she has been on. She did do plenty of picking stones up though so she was obviously contemplating it.

IMG_1412Alas they weren’t the skimming kind, it’s a dad thing that has to be normally done with your son or daughter on the beach, it’s the law, but Iz and Sarah did go exploring, all of which filled Missy with increasingly paniced bark as they got further and further away.

They of course returned, posing here for a rather nice mother and daughter pic on the steps down to the beach.

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“Get away from her you bitch!”

"I'm just off to Boots, I've got a bit of an acid reflux."
“I’m just off to Boots, I’ve got a bit of an acid reflux.”

Such is one of the best and most famous lines from any film, ever. It is of course from James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) as uttered by Ripley to the hissing Alien Queen in the climax of the film as it threatens the child, Newt.

During the Easter weekend we found ourselves not on planet LV-426 but in the Royals Shopping Centre in Southend, not with Newt but Isabelle Newt-man…and something else skulking in the shadows.

My mum and dad were visiting but it soon became clear that there were a few other visitors, this time of the extra-terrestrial kind, that had travelled that little bit further than Nottinghamshire (that’s right Leicestershire) who were in town with a few hours to kill.

The Force is strong in this one
The Force is strong in this one

Iz hasn’t seen Return of the Jedi but she made a quick bee line for an Ewok, happily stroking its hair and eagerly giving it a high-five, the pair thankfully stopped just short of nicking a pair of speederbikes. I was mostly rolling my eyes at people calling it Chewbacca, I mean c’mon!

It's hard Ewok but rewarding
It’s hard Ewok but rewarding

From out of the dark recesses of the Royals Shopping Centre, just left of TK Maxx, came something far less cuddly, an Alien Xenomorph! Obviously I know it’s rude to spit, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell it off. It really was an impressive costume and even its tail moved independently!

Iz dubbed the Alien ‘Crocodile Monster’ on account of its large mouth and swishing tail. I was going to zip to the 99p Store for a pack of cheap lighters and a can of deodorant for a makeshift flame thrower but I needn’t have worried.

Alien Vs Isabelle
Alien Vs Isabelle

Isabelle was initially cautious of the towering Xenomorph but was soon shaking its er hand. I didn’t ever recall Newt doing that in the theatrical version of Aliens, perhaps you only saw it in the Director’s Cut? I’m sure given half a chance Iz would have brought it home for a spot of Elefun.

Game over (New) man!
Game over (New) man!

With her attention on the gathered stormtroopers, speederbikers (I trust they got free parking), Ewok and Alien, Iz didn’t see the final attack coming. It was an attack of Predator-like invisibility and stealth (on account of him not wearing his red coat) as Iz was attacked by a hairy monster…her grandad delivering a barrage of kisses. Game over (New)man!

Newman Vs Cake

IMG_0104 A new coffee shop has opened in Southend, but this is no Costa or Starbucks, this is something just that little bit different…that little bit posher that they probably don’t even call themselves a coffee shop.

Iz had already been transfixed by their wall to wall window of every cake you could think of and then some. Finally, we decided to give into temptation and enter into Patisserie Valerie.

IMG_0105Inside it felt like something out of a time warp, a Mr Selfridge tea and cake shop  complete with doorman, dapperly dressed waiters and waitresses and almost art deco style to the whole set up.

The cake sizes are simply massive and Iz was very clear that she wanted the one with the giant strawberries, which did take her several days to eat. Big. It was like ruddy Cakezilla! Naturally I had one boasting lots of chocolate.

Horror husband and wife team celebrate ten years of filmic fear

werewolvescheerleaderschainsaws2[1]The tale of the husband and wife team of Alfred and Alma Hitchcock and how they brought the horrors of Psycho to the big screen is currently in cinema screens and hitting the awards circuit. Played by Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, respectively, the pair have been nominated for numerous awards, including this weekend’s Academy Awards.

Mirren originally hails from Essex and a horror filmmaking husband and wife team from the county might not have a biopic being made about them but they’ve certainly carved, hacked and gouged out something of a niche for themselves.

Jinx Media, run by husband and wife team Pat (Writer and Director) and Pippa Higgins (Producer), is celebrating ten years of fear, or a decade of death if you will, with its high impact, low budget horror movies that have been unleashed across the international market.

They’ve talked cadavars at the Cannes Film Festival and Haunted Hollywood with their series of unique horror tales that have taken in murderous hellbrides, chainsaw wielding cheerleaders and good old zombie Nazi’s (well it would be rude not to).

Rather fittingly based in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, home of the Doom Pond where three witches were tried, Jinx Media has been anything but jinxed. Almost no shallow grave has been left undisturbed by the pair and along the way they’ve won plaudits and prizes aplenty.

Writer/Director Pat has been described as the ‘Essex Auteur’ by Empire magazine, ‘The Tarantino of budget gore flicks for both style and dialogue’ by SFX and one of ‘the most promising British horror directors’ by Fangoria.

He is the co-creator of the Death Tales series of films (the most recent of which, Nazi Zombie Death Tales, hit the UK in Autumn 2012), the original writer/creator of Strippers vs Werewolves and the writer/director of several features including the highly acclaimed The Devil’s Music (winner of Best Independent Feature at the Festival of Fantastic Films 2008)

Pat’s latest live show is called ‘Werewolves, Cheerleaders & Chainsaws’ and is packed with advice and anecdotes from the front line of low-budget horror filmmaking. The live show (which  promises strong language, gore and nudity – Pat stays fully clothed throughout so I’m assured) was filmed at the recent Horror-on-Sea festival in Southend, and the filmed version is available free of charge via http://www.jinx.co.uk  or at the bottom of this post as a thank-you for ten years of support from the horror filmmaking community.

Horror supremo Pat Higgins, said: “I love doing the live shows and thought it’d be fun to share one on the Internet as a freebie, just to say thanks to the folks who’ve supported our stuff over the last decade. The next ten years will be even bloodier, funnier and more action-packed than the last ten; I can’t wait!”

 

Iz rules the words with Gary Barlow

IMG_1739Gary Barlow was performing in Southend last night. Isabelle might have been a little bit young to go along to the Cliffs Pavilion but she did manage to do a ‘duet’ of sorts recently.

One of her favourite songs is ‘Rule The World’ from Stardust, and its something that Sarah plays to her before she goes to bed. Turns out Iz sort of knows most of the song so when his audience with… was on over Christmas she took the opportunity to pick up a mic and join in.

Like her mum though she won’t stand for any of that Robbie nonsense…

What the Dickens!

Southend-on-Snow
Southend-on-Snow

We had some snow in Southend yesterday so I went to the top of the building at work and took this rather nice vista of the town, including the pier. I thought it had that nice ‘A Christmas Carol’ feel to it with all the snow on the rooftops etc.

Naturally it also included the longest pleasure pier in the world.

creditI sent it to the local paper, the Echo, and they used it ruddy large in today’s edition which was rather nice to see, and I got a credit to boot.

echo pic

Stars in Their Iz: Quantum of Solace

Okay, so she is minus the high powered automatic weopon and the Saville Row suit but Isabelle still manged to echo the poster for the last Bond flick, Quantum of Solace as she had a whale of a time on Southend beach last Friday.

Admittedly I don’t recall Daniel Craig moments later picking up a hand full of stones and then relish throwing them up in the air or then to try to proceed to eat them.

Two go mad in Wales

Isabelle and Evie have only met once before and that was only nearly a year ago at Isabelle’s christening. When we all visited Evie’s mum and dad, Alison and Mark, in South Wales I guess in retrospect there was no guarantee that both would hit it off, but hit it off they did and each could be found bringing both the best and the mischevious out in each other.

Virtually inseperable from the beginning it wasn’t long before the terrible twosome, well okay one is two and the other is nearly two, were busy scheming and plotting and running and chasing and generally having a ruddy good time.

The way they were both zipping up and down the front you’d think that it was the title sequence from Trainspotting, but I guess being in Wales we’d have to be more Twin Town.

Isabelle zipping here…

 

 

 

 

Evie zipping there…

 

 

 

 

Our first destination was Swansea Bay, being Wales it had of course rained so there were plenty of puddles, which was great news for both Iz and Evie who spent most of the time running up to each puddle and jumping up and down in them with great delight.

Despite being hundreds of miles away Southend never seemed too far away, even turning up on this sign!

At the end of this bracing sea front walk was lunch, which was yummy, and saw everyone, kids included, tucking into some lovely food…but what really got Isabelle and Evie really rather excited was the size and choice of desserts which we all more than walked off with the walk back up the “was it really this steep coming down?” hill.

And, just like they had shared their laughter, the puddles, their squeals of delight and the pizza that had come before it, they also shared a stonking great big piece of chocolate cake…

Not that they intended on sharing it with anyone one else of course!

We did of course share in their fun and in several splashes from their puddles as well.