Treasure Hunt

Treasure hunt.  For most it’s a phrase out of Enid Blyton, which offers excitement and the prospect of discovering riches and reward.  For others it conjures an image of Anneka Rice’s bottom jogging off into the distance whilst a cameraman wipes drizzle from a steamy lens. But thankfully we don’t all share Foz’s recollections and so it is memories of following clues around the school field or driving around the countryside in search of a windmill, that most of us recall.

This fascination for searching out ‘treasure’ has led to the hobby of geo-caching and the craze of Pokemon-Go.  Whilst neither of these lead to the discovery of anything of financial value, other treasure trails have been laid which do. Most notable in recent years was Kit Williams’ book Maquerade, a labyrinthine puzzle involving elaborate clues in words and pictures, the solving of which would lead to the discovery of an 18-carat golden hare which had been buried under a cow-pat in a park in Bedfordshire by the original host of University Challenge, Bamber Gascgoine.  Over a million copies of that book were sold, although the hunt, which had obsessed the nation during the early 1980s, ended in a scandal involving the ex-girlfriend of the author, some animal-rights activists and two physics teachers.  Why has nobody made a film about that?

Whilst it is unlikely to capture the national gaze to the extent which Masquerade did, this September there is the chance to participate in a treasure hunt, the solving of which will result in a prize of as much as £10,000.  Street Hunt is the creation of artist Joshua Sofaer and is presented by the Colchester Arts Centre as part of the Roman River Festival.  Sofaer has written a poem using street names from Britain’s oldest recorded town, and will publish a book of photographs with a different street sign and its surroundings on each page – but with the names removed. All that needs to be done is work out what the missing names are and complete the poem in the book. The first person to submit a correctly completed book, which will be published on September 16th, wins the cash prize. The prize will be the amount of total book sales with a guaranteed minimum of £1,000 and could be as much as £10,000 if all 1,000 books are sold for the full price of £10.

As creator Joshua Sofaer explains, ‘It seems especially appropriate to hold Street Hunt in Colchester, Britain’s oldest town. The challenge is a kind of visual crossword puzzle, a treasure hunt where the riches are road names and a story emerges from the page. I hope it will encourage people to explore the town in a new way and, by really paying attention, spot the previously unnoticed. Each street name has a background and a story behind it, especially in a town as rich in history as Colchester.’

Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?  And don’t let the purchase price of £10 put you off if cash is currently in short supply.  As has been mentioned before on these pages, a strong strand of the Colchester Arts Centre’s programme is the pay-what-you-can-afford performances, and Street Hunt is presented with that same sense of inclusivity.  Yes, it you can’t afford £10, then pay what you can afford for the book.  Of course that will affect the prize-pot, but such is the price of rampant egalitarianism.

The mastermind behind this devious and seditious plot not to exclude people from the arts simply on the basis of wealth, Director of Colchester Arts Centre, Anthony Roberts, adds ‘This is a brilliantly fun way to explore our town. We’re encouraging people to compete as teams or as individuals. Families, companies, clubs, charities, or simply a ruthless gang of intrepid explorers hell bent on getting their hands on the readies, all are welcome and encouraged. And if you’re on a low income and don’t have a tenner, then pay what you can afford.’

In addition, Street Hunt will also help highlight the plight of homeless people in the town through a linked programme of events in collaboration with Beacon House, the local charity that helps homeless people. These include: Street Tours, led by local residents and artists bringing the stories of Colchester’s streets to life; a specially commissioned large-scale Street Photography exhibition showing images taken by people affected by homelessness and Street Cinema film screenings.  Joshua will also select images from the Street Photography project for inclusion in an artist curated 2018 calendar, which will be sold to raise money for Beacon House.

If you’re up for the chase, then the Street Hunt book will be available to buy in person from 12 noon on Saturday 16 September at Red Lion Books, High St Colchester, but can be pre-ordered now via or at the bookshop for collection on the day – and the first person to return a fully, and correctly, completed book is the winner.  I can hear Foz now, “What’s that Anneka? You’re on Butt Road but you can’t find Ball Alley. Don’t worry, I’ll help you out…”