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A curious thought and only satisfied when you know where to get one.

It is strange how a childhood fascination with Leviathans never leaves the imagination or the eager anticipation of a day at the Zoo.

As if to prove I have never grown up, retirement has given the opportunity to indulge and what better place than Essex’s own unique Colchester Zoo.


Formerly known as Stanway Hall Park Zoo, it was opened in 1963 by Frank and Helena Farrar sharing their passion for exotic animals with the public.

Living in Essex in the 1960’s turned out to be a an unexpected bonus as we now had our own zoo and animal lovers flocked to Colchester in their hundreds.That is one big yawn


Yes, one is an Owl and don’t I know it

Those early days and future plans gave an exciting uniqueness to the site as it was built on  the side of a series of undulating hills that had not seen many human footfalls let alone Elephants. It was muddy when it rained and required sturdy Wellington Boots with a Massey Ferguson Tractor heavy tyre tread to stop slipping back down the hill, not that it always worked, but did give an interesting day for those animals housed halfway up watching humans sliding past their enclosures back to base camp.

It was very early days and I was still in my teens for the number of family outings that cemented a deep life-time affection and attraction for a visit to Colchester.

Through the clouds of time and into the 1970s, memories of gasping in awe at the biggest Lion I had ever seen called Simba, and he was big? Then there were the Zeedonks. The clue is in the name, but the oddity drew the crowds to see the multi-coloured small equine creatures wondering if they were Donkeys or  Zebras. It was never  fully explained how it came about and for years I surmised someone had left the gate open.

Of course it was a lot more professional, but the public affection was instant and has never left the mindset of Essex folk as the Zoo with a human side.

Paying a visit in September 2018 was like a fun side return to the tractor-tread  wellies though only in my mind. The fifty plus years since the first days have seen an  transformation. No more mud but still the feeling and ambience that you are among friends, both human and animal The change has been phenomenal;  housed in state of the art buildings where every piece of information a person will ever need is easily available, the collection of species has grown in proportion to the careful planning linking numbers, species, housing and interest with echoes of Orwell’s Animal Farm where Conservation is the target.

Open throughout the year, the team have made every effort to accommodate answers and facilities for all interests with a remarkable variety of activities, not just handing out leaflets, but family based programmes dedicated to sharing knowledge, helping with conservation and making it enjoyable for all ages and sizes of family members.

It is an experience and everything you need to know is on their well presented website:

The background story in their own words. 

The Zoo Licensing Act in 1981 meant that all zoos needed to be licensed and inspected. Then owner, Frank Farrar knew that his zoo was in need of major improvements in order to gain a licence and so Colchester Zoo was put up for sale.


Dr Dominique Tropeano took over the zoo in March 1983 and invested in enclosure improvements, bringing the zoo back up to the standard required to gain its licence. More animals were brought into the collection, including two

of our resident elephants, Tanya and Zola.

A major development for Colchester Zoo came during the 1990’s with the purchase of an additional 20 acres of land to expand. This purchase enabled the build of Elephant Kingdom, Kingdom of the Wild and Edge of Africa.

The zoo faced its most critical time during the Foot and Mouth Crisis in 2001 when it was forced to close its gates to the public. Luckily, the zoo was able to reopen just in time for Easter and the local community supported the zoo by sending in donations. Without this support, the zoo may not have recovered.

Colchester Zoo is well known for its ground breaking enclosures. The zoo has won many awards for its enclosure development, animal welfare and conservation. One example of this is award-winning enclosure Playa Patagonia, the sealion exhibit developed in 2004, which was awarded a commendation for the best new enclosure by the Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland.

Pioneering technology has also been used in breeding management, which led to the birth of an African elephant calf in 2002. Kito was the first elephant to be born via artificial insemination in Britain and the first in the world to be conceived on the very first attempt at this process.

Colchester Zoo also helps to fund conservation projects in the wild, actively supporting a number of different organisations around the world, through its charity, Action for the Wild, which was set up in 1993 and achieved charitable status in 2004.


In 2005, Colchester Zoo also purchased three farms to develop the UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve in South Africa where zebra, rhino, giraffe and countless other animals have been released.

Colchester Zoo continues to grow and develop to meet the demands of the 21st century and strives to ensure that it leads the way in the fields of conservation, education and research.

Colchester Zoo is a zoological garden situated in Colchester, England. The zoo opened in 1963 and celebrated its 50th anniversary on 2 June 2013. It is home to many rare and endangered species, including big cats, primates and birds as well as a large number of invertebrates and fish species.


The zoo has its own charity Action for the Wild to assist projects worldwide. It provides both financial and technical assistance, and aims to raise awareness among local people in community conservation programmes, as well as supporting conservation research around the world.



Milan cathedral at sunset 

The fun of travelling to a city for the first time does not get better than this

By way of a change, this blog is to mention my latest Travelogue on the exciting City of Milan. I visited it in October 2017 apprehensive in the thought of spending time in the  Industrial capital of Lombardy after a similar researching type visit to Florence.

After a number of holidays spent in the magical centre of Renaissance Italy, I was ready with camera and notebook to report on my favourite adding all the bits and pieces I had found that would enrich a first time visit.

The result is now available and I produce a few of the 48 pages from The lure and Lurex of Milano. A title to open the eyes

Milan front

A front page to catch the eye but you should see what is on the other 48 pages

I have travelled to many Italian cities in the past and never been disappointed. Possibly because of my admiration for the culture, the fun loving people and the way they live through each day never thinking of tomorrow, or should I say not appearing to.

Domani is perhaps the most used word in the language and in constant use where ever you go.

As I have said, this was my first visit to the City and though unique in its own right, the ambience and flow of the day is almost similar. The only noticeable difference  being between  the north and south where the influence of the Mediterranean weather systems add a few degrees and the need to divest a few garments. Wooly jumpers are not always needed in Naples, though very useful in Milan.MILAN PAGE3

The Travelogue is £10 including p&p as a special promotional offer through my website.

It certainly is a useful travelling companion and saves hours in searching for something that is highly visible in these pages with directions how to get there.

I hope you enjoy it, Application is via my email, or by calling 01708725979.

Milan Rush hour





Many faces of Milan-2I have been on my travels again. Two weeks in Italy and four months sorting out the photographs and writing a full colour A4 Travelogue on Milan to join the previous publication on the Medici inspired city of Florence.


The aim is at make  tourism more of a pleasure instead of a daily slog finding the sights with only a few minutes to enjoy them before getting back on the bus.


Add to that a journalist’s reporting skills describing the history behind the facade and a guided tour of the best places without spending hours searching for them.

Two girls caught up in the atmosphere of Cathedrap Piazza

Two girls caught up in the atmosphere of Cathedrap Piazza


Milan was not actually on my list, particularly after Florence and Rome, but a friend passed on the experiences after living in the great northern City as a student.


The focus of the ancient region of Lombardy, The great love and pride of the Milanese for their city glows from every swept street, every polished front door, every gleaming window and the way they share their joy of Milan with visitors.


As a working holiday it was great fun to do and a return to the old newspaper work rate and focus on deadlines and getting it done. The enjoyment level was that of those greats of reportage,  Alan Wicker and Simon Scharma, sharing discoveries of another culture that has shaped a country into a glass window in a historical biography.

On the Roof

On the Roof


The master of the art, Professor Scharma comes from the same part of Essex just down the road near Southend and though I would never claim to be in the same hallowed group, I am a retired photo  journalist let loose from the restrictions of the News Room and thoroughly enjoying what I am doing.


This is the second Travelogue, a full colour A4 booklet covering  my travels in Italy.


Unlike the standard tourist guide where everything is listed in a bulging and weighty volume, this is an easily rolled 48pages that doubles as a handy fly swotting device or fan with a cooling air flow distributing refreshing waves of air.


However, its greatest value is in guidance to the best sights and extended hours in doing what tourists do, enjoying the sights and sounds of a City and making for a memorable holiday. The Travelogue has landed and now available by email to for £10 including p&p. 












Time for a reminder of strange goings on in Dartford Tunnel


When is a not requited service not required? – When it costs £1.50 extra

Gov Charge letter 2

The Postman knocked twice and quite spoiled my breakfast egg and soldiers delivering the above, particularly as I had paid  the Dartford Crossing twice on line for two journeys, so how come I received a Penalty Charge demand for £70 for the return journey.

To make matters worse, I discovered I had paid £4 for each  of the two journeys and not the advertised amount of £2.50!

Shaking out my journalistic skills not often used since retirement a few years ago, I give this message as a warning for those who do not know all is no longer financially simple getting from Essex to Kent and vice versa.

The £4 crossing  is what you will  pay when booking and paying online if you are not wearing your glasses;  and it is basically quite legal, though questionable.

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Bob Carltons ticket to Forbidden Planet

The man who put the magic into a Hornchurch Theatre took his last curtain call on Thursday February 8, to a packed house who witnessed outstanding accolades and a standing ovation that even turned the officiating clergy into a stand up comedian.

Bob Carlton, former Artistic Director of the Queens Theatre Hornchurch passed into immortality in January, another victim of the dreadful scourge of Cancer.

In a remarkable service that accurately reflected the man and his life, the high five ambience, love, tears and memories permeated through every heart and soul of his last audience of friends, colleagues and admirers, even down to a mass congregation rendition of 1963 hit by the Crystals, ‘The Do Ron Ron.’.

It was not a time for sadness, the believers at his Committal at St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, suitably known as the Actors Church, were not going to allow it. In turn they created a last night to remember and one that his achievements not only generously deserved, but he had earned for his inspirational magical touch in seasons of excellence in productions at Hornchurch’s Queens Theatre.

He signed off on the last page of his memorial service booklet  with a quotation from Shakespeare: ‘Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air,’ and finished with ‘As dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep,’

There was not a dry eye in the house.

A Romford Recorder feature on Bob Carlton

The mourners gathered were worthy of autograph hunters’ best efforts, for they were part of the Carlton fabric that created the legend of Hornchurch Queens Theatre and turned on the spotlights that shone for so many years.

Bob was the Queens Theatre, and it was right that the professional company he created, Cut to the Chase’ were in the chorus on the day.

Many famous names and recognisable faces, but an attempt to name them for fear of missing one out would be unforgivable; but equally unforgivable not to mention his stalwarts, Matt Devitt and Julian Littman and Bob’s brave daughter Emily who added a moving tribute to her dad.

 Bob Carlton was a remarkable man who gave unflinchingly and shared his gifts with others.

In return they filled the church with a magnificent memorial in narrative and song creating the ambience of theatre within the holy walls to the man who guided their Hornchurch years .

It was a professional performance of eloquence and skills in which love and sincerity in words and actions, made the memory of their artistic director into a memorial to a man who will never be forgotten and whose name will remain linked to Hornchurch to eternity – and beyond.

 A typical front page of the Romford Recorder’s Entertainment section hailing the birth of a new production form the Carlton mind-set of original thinking and treading new grounds in theatre entertainment.

Linking  Shakespeare’s COMEDY OF ERRORS with elements of The Blues Brothers,  starring Matt Devitt, Julian Littman, Georgina Field and James Earl Adair, and other actors all from the Cut to the Chase professional Company created by Bob Carlton. The critics wrote: “No one actually wanted to go home after the show, they all seemed to be talking about the show which was  probably one of the best top to bottom productions seen in Hornchurch.

“They talked the Bard’s talk and sang the ‘Blues’ songs, and did it work?”

This was the foundation on which the Carlton legend is based. It continued to bring in the patrons and cemented on record the achievement of filled auditoriums and high ticket sales.

A record of success and so it was. Only the third Shakespeare play to cross the boards in two decades, and it left Hornchurch wanting more and more.

The Queens Theatre was good for Bob Carlton and equally Bob Carlton was good for the Queens Theatre. He brought an era of  magic that spread the word of the value of theatre and all those who work within the walls as well as a recognition of their talent and skills in turning an entertainment into a life experience. Something those of us in Hornchurch will never forget.






When is a not requited service not required? – When it costs £1.50 extra

Gov Charge letter 2

The Postman knocked twice and quite spoiled my breakfast egg and soldiers delivering the above, particularly as I had paid  the Dartford Crossing twice on line for two journeys, so how come I received a Penalty Charge demand for £70 for the return journey.

To make matters worse, I discovered I had paid £4 for each  of the two journeys and not the advertised amount of £2.50!

Shaking out my journalistic skills not often used since retirement a few years ago, I give this message as a warning for those who do not know all is no longer financially simple getting from Essex to Kent and vice versa.

The £4 crossing  is what you will  pay when booking and paying online if you are not wearing your glasses;  and it is basically quite legal, though questionable.

Before you blow a gasket read below as the fee is still £2.50 a crossing.

The loophole that no one appears capable of closing, is in the ‘Pay on Line’.

Since the removal of the Toll Booths at the Kent end of the crossing, paying now requires motorists to search the Internet to pay the fee of £2.50, prior to the journey or shortly after with time limit of one day’s grace before receiving a fine of up to £70.

As an occasional traveller over the crossing, an internet search brings up a battery of offers with different names. It is worth pointing out here that the official site UK GOV  DART CHARGE from the Department of Transport is the one to use.

Totally unaware of any complication and typing in Dartford Crossing into my computer search engine, a listing  of alternatives from; ‘Dart Charge’; ‘Dartford Crossing Charges’; ‘Pay Dart Charge’; brought up a busy page, and automatically selecting the top Pay Dartford Crossing charge. The resulting page was as I would have expected, two pictures of the crossings and instructions on how to pay the fee.

What I did not realise was the top name ‘Dart Charge’ was a private company and nothing to do with the administration of the crossing as disclosed below in their opening page.

The text at the top of the pictures has an opening line of The Dartford Crossing is managed by Highways England on behalf of the Government. Most people read this and are satisfied it sounds right. Only if you read it all do you come to, ‘This site charges an administration charge of £1.50 and is not  affiliated or associated with any of the above. Alternative payment methods are available see below for full details.

2018 copyright 2017 Dartford Charge Ltd, on the bottom of the page

Not noticing the above and in a hurry, I paid by card but only later when I looked at my bank statement did I see two charges for £4 each.

It seems this company, The Dartford Crossing Charges Ltd, pay your £2.50 fee to the proper authority and take their commission of £1.50 covered in an overall payment of £4.

It so happened they appear to have failed to advance the normal fee from my second booking and I later received a Dart Charge Warning letter (top) with the Red C logo from the Department of Transport advising of a fine of £70 for non payment.

Despite looking hard at this, as far as I can see it is not illegal and the list of offers on the internet to take your money is from quite a few companies. The catch in this case was  placing  their company under Dart Charge on a site called ‘Search on the Internet’  and conveniently placed their name on top of the listing.  Apparently this is an advert but even wearing my glasses, it was not obvious.

I contacted the GOV.UK site to ask why the increase and was told there is no increase but they were aware of this and other companies and their charges, but little they could do to stop them.

The obvious answer is to read all the print, small and large and down to the bottom of the page as they will tell you they are not doing anything illegal, and did refund the £3 for both journeys when I complained.

It seems there is a potential loop hole in the system, and though quite legal,  is it not time to  look at the circumstances under the consumer usage banner, for this certainly does not feel right?




Discovering the hidden beauty of Milan; The subject of my next Travelogue to be published in the new year and following on from the high selling travelogue on Florence.

Milan is a culture treasure chest that undersells itself to the tourist industry. Hiding behind a screen of high business, Fashion and industry, with the jewels only mentioned in passing.

Having just returned from a two week working trip with heavy cameras and laptop, I found the other face.

With over 1,000 photographs and high volume copy I will now compile another full colour A4 Travelogue listing the best places to visit, to stay, to eat and relax.

It will be a mammoth task but one that will go behind the mask and the swirling clothes of Lombardy.

It will be on sale sometime in February and notified on my sites, and notification on Facebook and LinkedIn.