The Urbane Forager: Fruit and Nuts for Free – talk, walk and book signing

The Art House

We are delighted to welcome Alan Gibson, AKA The Urbane Forager for a talk and book signing, and hopefully (weather permitting) a local walk!

Saturday 13 June 2015, 11am at The Art House

jacketAlan’s mission is to promote the fun and healthy family foraging activity of identifying fruit and nut trees on local public land, locating them on a map and then picking, eating, processing and preserving the produce.

He says:

“Foraging for us is all about fun and having a healthy balance it is the opportunity to do something hearty and sociable; it also gets me up trees with the kids, and helps prevent anyone from getting rickets, scurvy or just too fat. Processing and cooking the produce is another skill to learn together.”

Join Alan for a talk, with hopefully a walk and some social time from 11am until around lunchtime. There is no set cost for…

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Political – not party political


The Art House

We saw a post going around this week about a coffee shop displaying a board saying Tory voters are charged 10% more.  

Whilst it was mildly funny, and obviously meant to be a joke (how would they enforce it, what with the secret ballot and all?!), it was the opposite of our reaction and approach to the next five years.

True, Bik has opened his heart about his views of how we handle this election result and it’s pretty clear he isn’t happy about it, and honestly neither am I!

But let’s just get one thing clear.

Party politics can be very divisive – those in power would like nothing better than to split ordinary people like you and I into factions, pitted against each other instead of keeping a close eye on them.

We don’t want to play that game, frankly it’s up to you which party you…

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There are two ways our collective anger over the right’s fear-fueled ‘victory’ can go.

The Art House

There are two ways our collective anger over the right’s fear-fueled ‘victory’ can go. It can lead to depression and fatalism (what they would like) or, if channelled, to an expansion of the public sphere by everyone coming together supporting the little things, locally, until it overwhelms them. Not very long ago, the government’s tiny majority would have been seen by the right as a disaster – the only reason they won was because of this man (a right-wing strategist who also works for the tobacco industry).

The fact that they relied on him shows that times have changed and the grip of the establishment is much weaker now than it appears.

So, switch off the news and use the Google. Here are somesuggestions:

Positive News
Positive Money
New Statesman

and watching The Keiser Report. (Here’s one to get you started, with Max Keiser talking to Russell…

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So much, just up the road. V Twin Rally 2014.

So much, just up the road. V Twin Rally 2014..

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In praise of old books

I have, to the side of me, an old book.

Could we ever say that of an e-reader. Well, yes. In these days of planned obsolescence today’s device is always going to be tomorrows embarrassment when weighed against newer, flashier editions of the same item. No doubt the first Sony e-reader already features in collections of the retrospective, alongside Polaroid cameras and Apple iMacs.

But could we ever truthfully say that we have an old book held electronically for us to read? I’d say no. Electrons are so indicative of everything that is now. They are immediate. We don’t see the results of passed electrons; we always see what they are doing in this instant.

By contrast, let me tell you about the book by my side. It is a small collection of poetry by Herbert Palmer, named Season and Festival, and was published in MCMXLIII (1943) by Faber & Faber, so it is at least second-hand. This is an insensitive use of that term. A book can no more be second-hand than it can be ‘used’. It was a gift from someone close, this Christmas past, so in many senses it is brand new, to me, although pre-owned by others.

It is part of a Sesame Books collection which highlighted work by various poets from the first half of the 20th century. All are now household names. Some died in war, although online resources inform me that Mr.Palmer managed to survive to within 2 months of my own birth. I also learn that he was from Lincolnshire, where I spent most of my first 35 years, and that he was a friend and benefactor of C S Lewis, for whom we must thank him. Where would we be without Narnia and Screwtape?

The books in the Sesame collection retailed at 2 shillings and 6 pence, and the book has 2/6 printed on its dust jacket as a comforting reminder of those pre-decimalisation days, and the ‘net’ tells us that this was the ‘net book price’, reminiscent of life before supermarkets bullied the book trade into allowing them to choose their own prices. And yes, even after 70 years this little tome retains it’s original dust jacket, now slightly faded by the environment into the pastel green colouring only found elsewhere in cheap clothes, and slightly torn at the top. The discolouration around some edges marks where companions in the bookcase kept it shaded from the light. The shiny residue on the spine shows where the questing fingers paused and the index caressed.

Inside, the book is a perfect example of the art of the bookbinder, an inspiration. The pages are stitched, in small groups comprising 4 sheets, giving 8 pages, and the book is actually a collection of five of these groupings, sandwiched between hard covers, meticulously glued to stay intact for centuries. When I say perfect, I perform a disservice. Beauty has to be flawed, in this case by the individual booklets differing in height subtly from their neighbours. This demonstrates the extent to which a human hand has been involved with this book before it hit the bookshops.

All of this information, even before I started to read the book.

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In the context of the current political and economic situation, I feel the urge to resurrect a piece that I wrote during the course of last year. It deals with the themes of change, and how the interests of the few are served by alterations in the lives of the masses. Politicians use weasel words and rhetoric to convince the cooperative to follow the line, and peer group pressure to silence dissent. In the pursuit of this ‘live now, pay later’ philosophy, we lose our traditions, our livelihoods, our humanity and ultimately our souls.

Maybe I should warn you that it might not be what you are expecting..

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Book Riot

Another rant on the subject of writing, this time referring to books and the reading thereof. OK, I suppose this post is mostly about reading. Maybe something in it will stir those silent few lurkers from who joined me a couple of posts ago into some sort of action. Even if it is just to close the door quietly as they leave.

A quick question. As we are still sailing fairly close to Jan 1st, have you set yourself a goal. Have you decided how many books you are going to read this year yet? If not, why not? If you have, then again I must ask, why?

It isn’t an original question. This is a question posed by Book Riot (not linked, as I don’t know how), a youknowwhat page/site full of friendly eager folk, which I have just stumbled upon, liked, commented on, read a bit further, and finally decided to unlike again. I’m an independent thinker – some who would rather I followed the herd might say curmudgeonly – and this question appearing on my doodah-line irked me a little too much.

As an aside, wouldn’t you know it, the self-proclaimed judge of J K Rowling turned up on there to stick their two pennies worth in. It seems that everyone must have their opinion but before I ventured a public suggestion that JKR was at best an indifferent author, I would first check that I had published a few books and had a few million in the bank. Otherwise this would not be a review by one of her peers. It would just sound like envy talking.

So. It apparently only takes a month to write one, so how long does it take to read a book? A couple of days? Would a week mark me down as slow? My excuse is that I only read at night. So we could compromise on three days. There are (dum-de-dum) one hundred and twenty (ish) such periods in a year. So your list could be that long. 120 books!! That’s a stretch. Isn’t it? 120 books, end to end. Put one down. Pick up the next one. Keep going, don’t stop. You made a pact. Remember?

Pretend I’m the ghost of Christmas that has yet to be, and come with me to the end of 2014. Think back on those books and list them in chronological order for me. Put that away! That’s a list you wrote as you went along. Hark at me being old-fashioned. They are all there, on the E-Reader of your choice. Put it down and try to remember. I couldn’t. Any more than I would be able to discuss at length any aspects of more than maybe twenty of the books. As I said in my comment on the site, even being generous, if you give yourself less than a week to thoroughly enjoy a book then you are doing yourself, the book, and the author a disservice. Actually, that’s not what I said in my comment. My opinion was that it was not called Reading, it was called Collecting.

Here is another opinion. What I like to think of as the healthy option.

If you must collect books, write yourself a ToDo* list. Set aside a notebook. A book of all of the books you would like to read. Don’t discount anything on the strength of someone’s opinion. You don’t need their permission. Review your list regularly. Tick, if you like, those on the list that you have read. Highlight the entry if you would like to read that work again. Forget to tick and see if you recognise the book the second time around. Leave plenty of room. Write notes to your future self about what particularly moved you about a book, or what didn’t. Cheat often, and read books not on the list, but add them in as if they were already there. Heaven forbid that you follow the list in the order you wrote it. And, most important for your well-being, do not set yourself against any clock other than that of life itself. At the end of it all, you will feel better about yourself, though you will have barely scratched the surface of literature, and you will have amassed a potentially valuable resource for those readers who come after you.

Happy New Year!!

* Is this a copyrighted term? If it is, thanks to whomsoever it might concern.

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In the country.

I must be doing something right. My last post dealt with a website,, that I have recently been toying with. I’m sure most readers could spot that I wasn’t exactly enamoured of that worthy organ. But I did manage to gain a few extra followers. Woohoo.

Hang on. They all seem to be Authors. Quiet ones at that. Maybe I said too much.

The chances of being covertly watched from across the street by mysterious men seem low though. We awoke on Christmas Eve morning to this..


How romantic. A canal at the bottom of the garden. Or perhaps a lake..


You can just see the trailer that the local farmer has used to close the road off. Good for them. It’s amazing how many people, seeing the road ahead flooded to an unknown depth, will drive straight in. They keep those revs high, thrashing their engines and creating a bow wave that curls up and over the bonnet, and as they pass washes away driveways and floods low-lying property. It’s an annual insurance claim that those householders must look forward to.

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Oh, to be an author

I have recently joined an online organisation called, or WdC as its members like to call it. I write a fair bit; I would admit mostly self-indulgent drivel, and my ratio of draft/published is about 60:40. I just thought that this might be a way to get some of my talented output in front of an audience. I’ve now found myself so intrigued by the workings of this site that I’ve taken on a serious case of writer’s awkwardness and stopped producing any work.

The ‘sponsor’ of the site is a company that somehow promotes self-publishing. I haven’t gone into this, so I can’t say how they make their margins. I do know that the odds are pretty well stacked against any one who aspires to be a published author. You are up against tens of thousands of people just like you, similarly scribbling away in the small hours. You may have the right looks, a popular genre, be presentable to the chattering classes, yet still find the smart money goes to a footballer with brains in his feet. It is a tough racket.

So self-publishing is an option. Through a company beginning with A, you can get yourself on a device that starts with K, and earn mere pence per download – it’s not a living, but it’s undoubtedly gratifying to the ego. I’m sure there are other organisations that allow you to publish online, though they must gain their revenue via some mechanism. If it floats your boat – go for it. Don’t expect altruism and you can then always be pleasantly surprised if you find it.

Back to WdC. It is presented as a writing community, where people are supported in their writing and encouraged to take part in activities such as reviewing their fellow authors works. All very egalitarian.

For your first month you are a ‘newbie’. Yes, it is a US site. The nomenclature and grammar reflect this, but we Brits are used to this by now. We have long since learned to accept that despite living in or close to England, we actually speak British. The US speaks English. Go figure. American is what the rest of the world speaks, presumably. At least you aren’t called a ‘rookie’. Anyway, newbies are paraded and given special means to have their work reviewed.

If I made one tentative suggestion at this stage, it would be that they change the name of the site to This is what most people seem to do, and you get accolades for nicely formatted reviews. Niceness is encouraged. So is honesty, which can sometimes make niceness hard to achieve. I know a good piece of writing when I see one, but I haven’t got the killer instinct of the critic, so when it comes (again and again) to reviewing works involving blind faith, or fairies, or dragons, or vampires (you get the picture), I find myself moving swiftly away and pretending that I haven’t seen it.

After graduating from Newbiedom, you drop off a cliff. I’m a natural born sociopath, so I haven’t yet figured how to claw my way back to the light. As with all good networks, there is a number after your nom de plume, which denotes how many ‘community recognitions’ you have. You get community recognition for contributing and taking part. Sweet! The theory is that if you write a lot and review a lot then you get recognised and your rewards push you up the tree towards enlightenment.

That makes sense until you meet up with a Newbie with just 3 pieces of work and umpteen recognitions, or find that the Support person has 178 of the things just for fulfilling a role, and you realise that you are entering a popularity contest where the right people get to bathe in showers of rose petals. I’m too much of a rebel for that and I’ll always be perversely happy with my single recognition.

I have read some fantastic work, but I would doubt that this site is going to throw out many authors of the calibre of say, Philip Pullman or Neil Gaiman. I recall one contributor describing the best-selling multi-millionaire J K Rowling as ‘not a good writer’, which is about as far up ones own as one can get. True progress in writing is achieved by people who view the world askance, not by people desperate for friends and certainly not by those who can churn out 50,000 consecutive words in a single November.

All in my humble opinion obviously. I suspect I will be thrown out of the club eventually, or find people in sunglasses and dark suits following me in the streets.

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‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ ebook is out now

‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ ebook is out now.

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