Fifty Special Things – Thanh Binh Restaurant Cambridge

When: 03-11-2016 and 10/01/2016

Where: Thanh Binh Vietnamese Restaurant, 17 Magdalene Street, Cambridge CB3 0AF, United Kingdom
Tel: 01223 362 456
Email: info@thanhbinh.co.uk/thanhbinhcambridge@gmail.com http://www.thanhbinh.co.uk/

Price: Free first time (50th birthday present), £20 second time

Review: Excellent Staff. A tiny place in which to treat yourself.

Tip: If you want to drink take your own wine – small corking charge applies.

Next in the task to have 50 great things happen in my 50th year.
See the previous account in this series:
https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/02/12/fifty-special-things-brampton-wood/.

A suggestion from a counsellor and a great suggestion. Why does the celebration end with the birthday – why can’t it carry on all year?

One reason is making enough time available to do the things in life that you always wished to do.

The next is that, having achieved this hoary old age, remembering all the dreams that you once had becomes a lot less easy.

However I have taken this up like a new religion and so I am trying to make fifty great things happen before I am fifty one.

I think of this restaurant as being on Bridge Street. On the first visit it was a treat from my sister and had that air of specialness that comes from being the focus of attention. My sister drove me to Cambridge and I walked with her to the restaurant with the normal Phil air of complete obliviousness to geography.

On the second visit I was with people from work and I told them to meet me on Bridge Street at the bridge. Only to find the restaurant is on Magdalene Street and the meeting place was a bit beyond the restaurant. (The restaurant is up near the traffic lights and St Giles Church more than down near the Cam).

Of course people have become used by now to my species of woolly-headedness and so after some leg pulling we set off back up the hill.

The restaurant has online booking and in contrast to some places I have tried in the past it is effective. I had confirmation within a few hours of registering interest in a table for four. It is also a relief that having entrusted the booking to mouse and keyboard when I attended they were expecting me.

I had attended with my sister and brother in law for an after-50th birthday meal at the beginning of November. (I was in Borneo for my actual Fiftieth birthday. Accounts of which will be in this blog in the not too distant future). We had a great time in November.

It was with this fond memory that I had recommended it to a couple of friends from work. I was confident in the place: in that it was enjoyable; I wouldn’t have to fight my way through hordes of eager eaters, and the staff were courteous and attentive.

Importantly I would be able to find stuff for me to eat. Given I have IBS (and have a diet slightly less restricted than a vegan) this can make for some entertainment.

Details of the IBS and how it developed will no doubt hit this blog at some point as well.

Of course anything in Cambridge is going to involve some parking negotiations.
When I had come in with my sister she had driven in and very kindly paid for the parking. On that occasion we used the Park Street car park:

https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/park-street-car-park

Not what you’d call cheap, not what you’d call fragrant but had the advantage of being close. I could not recommend much in the way of parking in Cambridge. Cambridge majors on the historic or even quaint but not much on the car city. Bicycle yes, car no.

On the second occasion (taking into account that I am a cheapskate) – after arrival I drove round for some on-street parking. This left a bit of a walk down Castle Hill.

On street parking is a bit of an endangered species in Cambridge. Resident’s parking bays are apparently procreating.

Very soon parking without fee will involve the kind of expedition that would bring a gleam to the eye of Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

It is pointless recommending anywhere because as soon as this blog item is out the parking will have disappeared.

Given the distance from the venue and my encroaching portliness I was late, again.

My two friends were waiting with that patient air of someone who’d dearly like to say “where the hell have you been”. They limited themselves to mentioning that they’d decided to wait at the appointed place.

The bridge is picturesque in that tiny “I wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out” kind of way. But given the outside temperatures lingering on it was likely to have been diverting for all the wrong reasons.

Despite having attended in November, by the time I attended again in January I had forgotten where it was. A fact that caused some amusement to my companions.
Although not that exceptional for me I have to say.

If you’re as far as the bridge on Bridge Street you need to retrace your steps some way towards the traffic lights. A disconcertingly long way when you can’t remember where the place.

In fact if you are opposite Magdalene College you’re just about there.
Oh and if like me you forgot to look out for it on the way down the hill and walk past it then this is a cue for more ribbing behaviour.

It is tiny.

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I felt like I was sitting in the comfort of someone’s front room the whole time I was there.

The staff are friendly and welcoming. In that fashion which does not involve them fussing round you whilst you’re trying to have a conversation.

On each occasion it has been quiet like the low murmur of somewhere refined.

Maybe the more restricted areas of some gentleman’s club but without the wing backed chairs (and the prostitutes).

The first time we took wine to celebrate (they don’t serve wine but allow you to take your own). This is a top tip if you want to drink – they are quite happy for you to bring some.

There’s a small charge for this but cheaper than getting wine in a restaurant I thought.

The drinks available are appealing even if the lack of alcoholic ingredient may deter many.

Although Vietnamese and therefore chopsticks provided as standard fortunately cutlery is available. This is useful considering that I am a Luddite and have the finger dexterity of two large lumps of concrete.

Although chopsticks make a very effective projectile. (As I discovered; I caught one with my sleeve and sent it down to the lower ground floor level – with a resounding clatter which caught everyone’s attention).

The toilet is on the lower ground floor beside the kitchen down a winding staircase. This means having too much to drink is not too great an idea in any case (you might arrive on your backside).

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They have both chrysanthemum tea and jasmine tea so I was a bit torn opting for jasmine through habit.

For those who can drink tea which has camellia sinensis in it they have green tea but I saw no evidence of the fermented variety.

The food is to die for and semi IBS friendly. Although I tend to find no matter how careful I am after I go out – being close to some facilities (and away from people) for 24 hours afterwards is a good thing.

The fish I had a couple of times (once on each visit) because I liked it so much. (In a former life I must have been a marine creature given my love of all things seafood).

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Mostly you go out for the company. This is a place where you can have a conversation and not have to compete with the hubbub. Neither will you find it necessary to shrink yourself down to a skinny person – to avoid elbows, back or bum intersecting with someone else’s’ eating space.

The first occasion with family was a very uplifting experience – helped by being made a fuss of.

I can’t speak on behalf of my friends but personal view was that the second visit was also a success.

I imagine that at intervals it must become busy and I can’t speak for the experience then. Both occasions where I have attended there hasn’t been need to elbow back the crowds or to join some tiresome queue whilst you “wait to be seated”.

They have some interesting desserts too. Although after my experiences in Malaysia I would not recommend anything containing durian.

They have durian ice cream but after the face shrivelling experience of trying some on an open market in Kuala Lumpur I can’t say I was tempted this time.

The first visit I opted for the standard ice cream which given November wasn’t too shabby temperature-wise just about made sense.

January it turned out was a bit stiffer in its resolve to bring draughty. Everyone agreed dessert was not what we were looking to do.

If you’re coming in and do not fancy car park negotiation one of my companions pointed out that Shire Hall is now pay and display at £1 per hour (at weekends). Compared to some multi storeys this is a disgraceful bargain. But if you’re a cheapskate could be considered ruinous. Consider it a contribution to the good works of the local authority…

I recommend this restaurant for a visit. I’m hoping that my recommendation will not ruin the special atmosphere through increased demand.
Perhaps the thing is to get in quick before the rush starts.

Fifty Special Things – Brampton Wood

When: 30-10-2016

Where: Brampton Wood http://www.visiteastofengland.com/Huntingdon-Brampton-Wood/details/?dms=3&venue=0211398

Price: Free

Review: Not at its best in October; go when it’s warmer

Tip: follow the satnav in this case it makes a better job of finding it.

Brampton wood and the start of many wood visits.

Communing with nature is restorative: http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/we-know-nature-makes-us-happier-now-science-says-it-makes-us-kinder-too-20160312.

So to start with this appeared to be a great choice.

The Wildlife Trusts’ guidebook states that they have managed the wood since 1992. They bought it from the Ministry of Defence.

Guidebook:  Bedfordshire Cambridgeshire Northamptonshire guide: “Where to See Wildlife in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire”.

I was attending the Bolnhurst Steam Fair http://www.bolnhurstrally.org.uk/ when someone came up and sold me membership. This is not an organisation I would have thought of but I am supportive of any group that puts trees before house building.

They have a good little guide to local woods and also a website worthy of a visit: http://www.wildlifebcn.org/.

Brampton Wood has been a site of Special Scientific Interest since 1954.

But it turns out that spotting wildlife is somewhat more difficult than on some of our trips abroad.

The wood is home to dormice (which were re-introduced in 1992) but so far all we seem to have seen in our woodland visits are species of canine on and off leads.

It is the second largest woodland in Cambridgeshire at 132 hectares (327 acres). The largest is Bedford Purlieus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedford_Purlieus_NNR.  (Which might be the subject of a future visit/blog item).

The Wildlife Trusts organisation have a good leaflet on Brampton Wood: http://data.wildlifetrusts.org/sites/default/files/Brampton%20Wood%20Leaflet%202015.pdf.

But the wood majored less on the picturesque and more on the damp and cold the day that I went.

The guidebook states there are more than two miles of wide mown pathways and some minor pathways and follows: “pathways maybe muddy” – read will be very muddy. Take wellies (and a small tractor to drag you out).

Brampton wood appears easy to find. But where it appeared to be on the map was not where the satnav wished us to go. We went with our own judgement, and got lost. (OS Ref is TL 184 698).

If you want to find it Google indicates that it is here:

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Brampton+Wood+Nature+Reserve/@52.3166644,-0.2744105,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x4877c3cb62522f8f:0x491c3106c976241c!8m2!3d52.3166644!4d-0.2722218.

Directions are: From A1, take A14 exit towards Huntingdon. Take the first exit off A14 to Brampton (B1514). Go straight at the first roundabout then right at the second roundabout. Turn right at the T-junction on to Grafham Road. Follow Grafham Road through the village and over the A1. The reserve is on the north side of the road – 1/2 mile out of Brampton. A brown sign indicates the entrance to the wood. Park in the small car park. (When they say small they are not kidding).

Following the satnav lead to a tiny left-hander off the A1. This looked to need the sort of deceleration which the Beagle Lander attempted on Mars.

As a result we took the circuitous route. This required navigation of a narrow road with enough oncoming traffic to provide diversion. After many wood-related trips we found this was typical.

Being a virgin of wood visits I anticipated a car park devoid of vehicles, our journey punctuated by some kindly gamekeeper (with a discussion of pheasant breeding practices or some such).

But turning into the most bijou of car parks I found it already well inhabited with vehicles which could have labelled modern, shiny, and family.

We squeezed in at the end of a row of these.

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Vehicles distinguished by large rear load areas. Every one of those vehicles contained inhabitants which you could call “Rover”.(Second piece of education of the day).

All varieties of fur – caked in material which was going to need more than a small towel to remonstrate with.

Each one of the human car inhabitants turned out to have a species of cheeriness, this associated with bobble-hat, fleece, and large rangy hound.

We had snaffled the last space (or so we thought). Yet another shiny Tonka-toy-thing burbled in behind. The driver did not resort to shouting or fist-waving so I assume found somewhere to slot it.

The ground was that species of compliant which one will be familiar with if embarking-out barefoot on a wet evening and murdering a large slug in darkness with one’s toes as the offensive weapon.

Phil’s recommendation: go when it’s warmer. Although given how popular woods turn out to be with dog walkers you are always going to have a lot of company.

It is a top site for bluebells in the spring so that may well be worth a try. I wouldn’t bother with October. Unless you have a 4×4 and something large with waggy tail which doesn’t smell great when it’s wet.

Fortunately the ground was well furnished with leaves. Rainfall sufficiently far in the past that waders were not a necessity.

The Wildlife Trusts’ booklet informs me that the wood is at least 900 years old. And so had a mention in the Domesday Book.

I’m sure in the summer it is a goodly place. But the day we went it had the kind of sombre air usually reserved for death and religious buildings. (Or some combination of those).

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The link above http://www.wildlifebcn.org turns out to be the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife trust – check out their website for further details.

We decided to do a circuit (starting at the noticeboards).

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The link above http://www.hffs.org.uk is for the Huntingdonshire Fauna and Flora Society – check out their website for further details

And so embarked on a journey around what one imagined to be the circumference – just inside the tree line.

Diverting at intervals to have privacy from the next bobble-hatted group.

In places there were stands of conifers – planted when the Government managed the wood.

These are being removed for the wood to re-establish.

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The circuit seemed too brief to me and convinced me that we must have taken the wrong route.

I’d only said good morning to 1/2 dozen people or so and I estimated the population at that time to be several times that. So where had they all gone?

After reviewing the map of the wood we realised that we had only circuited part of it. So there was a lot left to see on future visits.

A little of a good thing convinced me that more of this experience would prove more fulfilling. So decided that this wildlife idea was for me.

Gazing between the trees gave me brief memories of Borneo. It was with sadness I realised that we would see no macaque this trip. (Nor catch our clothes on any rattan).

Back to the car. The surrounding shiny and four wheel drive had swapped about a bit but not reduced in number. So lesson of wood exploration wood=popular=pooches began to form in my mind.

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Stately homes seem to be the places where frazzled adults take their small person. Woods however are where red cheeked outdoors people range about with carnivores.

Well there’s a learning point.

Brampton as we found out later was remarkable in its tidiness (i.e. no dog faeces).

Despite the car park it also proved to be unrepresentative in its lack of population. Subsequent woods were to prove much more popular.

Life Space Diagram

As a volunteer counsellor I am always on the lookout for techniques that may help my work with clients.

My supervisor suggested this technique.

I have used it with several clients. On each occasion I find out something new and/or interesting.

This technique enhances my awareness of the client. Frequently it enhances our relationship as well.

Discussing people (and tasks) and their relationship to the client can create insights. The life space diagram makes visible people and tasks in the client’s life.

It also teaches me a great deal about how they are thinking.

The process is as follows:

Encourage the client to draw a circle for their life – encourage them to make this as large as possible. Ensure that it uses as much of the paper as they are comfortable with (as there will likely be a lot to put in it).

Suggest the client put themselves somewhere in the circle. Where they put themselves might be important – it might not. (It is also a starting point for conversation.)

For example, many people seem to put themselves near to the centre of their own world. However I saw one client who put himself in the top left hand area of the circle.

It might be that this can be a discussion point – what made them choose there? Was there a reason?

Ask the client to put in anyone else who is important. The positioning is usually important – is their partner close to them in the circle? Is somebody else closer? What is the relationship like with those furthest away?

One client fenced himself in with people tight up against him as if he had no air to breathe. We discussed this and he did feel that he was responsible for everyone and everything. He also felt it was more than he could cope with.

Ask if there are other people. (This may include people who have died). Get them to include these extra people in the diagram. Observe where the client puts the new people. Is it close to them? What caused them to fail to include them in the first place?

Are there people that occur outside the circle? What is it about them that causes them to be outside the circle?

Review the diagram – how much space is there? Is life pretty full or pretty empty? How does the client feel about that? (This might be a starting point of future goals for example.)

Put in squares for work, hobbies and tasks – how does this look in comparison to the number of people? (In nearly-all life space diagrams I have seen these squares outnumber circles [people]). How does the client see these areas? Are there enough activities? Is there too much responsibility? How balanced is their life? Is there too much work/too little work?

Put in triangles for things that concern the client.

How many are here? Does the client have too many concerns? Are they weighed down by them? Is there enough challenge in their life? Are they bored?

Quite often aspects of the client that have not come up will appear after this activity. (Every time I have done this I have learned something beneficial).

Representing things in pictures makes the process more accessible to the client. They may never have considered their life in this way before.

It may increase their awareness of areas in which they would like to make changes.

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 I hope that this is also a useful tool for you. Whether you are receiving counselling, performing counselling or curious about your life.

There is nothing to stop you completing a diagram for yourself. See if you learn something.