Shoes and ships and sealing wax

treehouse6I meant to post a link to the personal website I have been using while the shop is closed, and I forgot.  In case anyone is interested, you can find it here! You can even see videos of me in my pyjamas with lockdown hair (I cut it all off short one day near the start of lockdown). I can’t remember what I talk about, but it all seemed important at the time. I am in the process of making the most important one yet!

You’ll find details of Kenilworth Reads there, my attempt to get people in the town to read the same book, but I have failed to get my act together – there is still time!

I am waiting to see what the Human Haystack (aka our esteemed Prime Minister) says at the next lockdown review, in terms of reopening the bookshop.  If I do open in June, it will be on Saturdays only, as I work out how to do it as safely as possible, and the proceeds from those days will go to my fundraiser to help musicians, who have lost everything and seemingly for some time to come.

Anyway, just checking in – thank you to those who have missed us!  I hope everyone is OK and managing lockdown and hope to see some of you before too much longer.  I was really struggling with the physical side of the shop before we closed, but I now have a mobility scooter, so life is and will be a bit easier!  You may see/have seen me zooming around town on it.

Stay safe, stay well, keep reading.


The bookshop, as you know, closed a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I would be able to carry on with some online things (including our Cicero Boxes), but we are now ceasing trading all together during the current crisis.  The Tree House is a limited company, and I am employed as its director; for the last 12 months I have been able to join up to PAYE and pay myself a small monthly wage.  My accountant has suggested that I should be furloughed, and so henceforth I am indeed on furlough, which means the company has ceased trading completely.  So no more Cicero boxes, and no more web posts for now.  We are also eligible, as a small retail business, for a government grant, and so I hope that in due course we will open again, along with all our high street neighbours in Kenilworth.  But I am not allowed to post on social media or here, as that implies the company is still operating.  I will be setting up a personal website, where I can post bits of art history and blog about books and music, and I will post a link here when I have done that.

I leave you with the song that Bob Dylan recently gifted to us – a song he wrote and recorded a number of years ago but has never released until now. It is partly about the assassination of JFK, but really it’s a hymn to 20th century American culture and the need for music in dark times and, written well before Trump came to power, it strikes me as a powerfully anti-Trump statement too.  It’s 17 minutes long and utterly glorious.  Listen to it several times, listen to the lyrics, and it will soon have you under its spell.  There’s no one like Bob.

Let’s try again…

nick reading 1Well that went well, didn’t it!  I did think restrictions on movement were coming, but went ahead anyway.  In light of the government edict, we won’t be able to do our book deliveries and mail order parcels.  However, I think we can still do our Cicero Boxes, and this is the perfect time of year to order one.  This is our monthly subscription scheme: two second-hand novels, a few flower seeds from Higgledy Garden, a bookmark and some sort of treat in the post each month.  £10pcm inc P&P.  Bargain!  And April is prime time for sowing flower seeds.

Why can I do this but not the other?  Well, I can go and retrieve a stock of books from the bookshop and at just two books per person, it will be easier to manage.  I can print off postage labels here and go to a post box as my daily exercise or food shop without having to go into a post office, as the boxes I use fit through a letterbox.

Normally I charge extra for a one-off box, but I won’t be doing that during this strange period.  So if you would like a box, let me know – contact form below.  Easiest just to do that in the first instance, and then we can discuss further details in email (you can still give me ideas about the sort of books you like/don’t like).  Also makes a lovely gift for a friend or relative you might not be seeing for a while.  The seeds can be grown in pots and windowboxes if you don’t have a garden.

A word about Higgledy Garden.  This is a wonderful little company – really just Benjamin Ranyard and his Viszla hound Flash, who live on a narrowboat.  They have a bit of help now from one or two others, as the business has grown.  Ben sells British flower seeds, and gives guidance on growing them, to create lovely cut flowers in your garden – though you don’t have to cut them of course!  Do have a look at the website, it’s lovely.

And why do I call them Cicero Boxes?  Well, Cicero, the great Roman orator, said that if you have a garden and a library, you have all that you need.  I think he forgot the single malt, but maybe that was assumed.  According to a Classicist friend, he actually said ‘a garden IN a library’, which sounds amazing, but no one quite knows what it means.  Maybe he had a very big library.  Anyway!  That’s why.

Get in touch below for any further info – or look at the Cicero Boxes tab, and ignore the bit about the different price for a single box.

Stay safe people!  For me, three weeks of enforced staying at home is a gift, but I am very lucky, as someone who lives alone, has a garden and is a natural introvert.  I know others are not so lucky in many ways.  But reading books and growing flowers are lovely things to do during a crisis.


The C-word…

bob whiskey
Bob Dylan reading (photo: Heaven’s Door whiskey)

Hello all – hope everyone is OK.  What a strange time.  That sounded flippant – I genuinely hope everyone is coronavirus-free.  We have now closed our doors until the shenanigans are over, but until the nation is put into lockdown, we can still provide a few second-hand books to see you through confinement and isolation.

COVID-19 (sometimes incorrectly written CORVID-19, which alarms me: the crows and magpies in my garden seem cross enough, I don’t want them to think we are blaming them for this too) is a major challenge for all of us, and I think is showing us all sorts of interesting things about ourselves and our society – some bad but also some very good.  And I hope it will at least force us all to slow down and think about our priorities, our sense of entitlement, how much we take for granted, how much we have in so many ways, and how to treat each other better all the time, not just during a crisis.  It is heartbreaking to close my little business without knowing when we will reopen, but it has to be the right thing to do as a means of keeping us all a bit safer.

george reading bob
George Harrison reading about Bob Dylan

But what is lengthy isolation without plenty to read?  And we will still have bills to pay.  So until we are forced into full lockdown (I do love all the terminology!). we can offer a few second-hand books to keep you going.  We can deliver within Kenilworth, and we can post further afield.

nick reading 2
Nick Cave reading

Who knows how long we can offer this, but we’ll keep going as long as we can.  I am also planning some online things, so keep an eye on the website or sign up to our mailing list (see tab above) if you’re not already on it and would like to stay in touch.For local delivery, we are planning on £5 for three novels, £10 for a bagful, £8 for a bagful of children’s books.  These will be books that we choose, though you can give us ideas of the sort of thing you like (and don’t like) and if we have specific titles you want, obviously we can include those.  Best thing is to get in touch by email or via the box below and we can deal with any particular requests.

Stay safe, everyone, and keep reading!

nick reading 1
Nick Cave perfecting his ‘Go away I’m reading’ face – my resting face.


Children’s books buy one, get one free for half-term

treehouse6I know it’s Thursday already, but there are still two days of our offer on children’s books!  Our books are cheap anyway – children’s fiction is mostly 60p-90p – but even better when you can get twice as much.  Bring the kids in to browse and stock up on a bit of reading; or they can sit in the treehouse and read for a bit while you browse for your own books – a good half-term activity in itself, and excellent value for the children’s pocket money.  We have lots of books in at the moment, and a few more boxes of children’s books to unpack today, so do come and have a look.  It’s windy – the market is cancelled – but we’ll be wind-free, and you may even be lucky enough to catch Nick Cave playing on the CD player.

nick hs2

Ness by Robert Macfarlane and Stanley Donwood: first thoughts

nessAnyone who knows me well knows that Robert Macfarlane is one of my favourite authors.  I mostly read fiction, but I love nature writing, and especially since reading his book The Old Ways, which has become one of my favourite books of all time – previously only fiction took my top five slots!  Any new book by him is anticipated with huge excitement chez Victoria.  Ness was published late last year, but I can’t afford to buy new books so didn’t get it straight away; however, my local library is brilliant at stocking nature books, and I have just managed to borrow it from them.  Hooray for libraries!  [Please support all libraries. -Ed.]

A few nights ago, unable to sleep, I read it out loud in one sitting (it’s only about 80 pages, including illustrations – more on that in a moment).  I was stunned by it.  It’s a book to read several times and absorb, and I have only read it once, so these are very much first thoughts.

The Armourer leads a sort of ritual in a derelict concrete building known as the Green Chapel.  He calls on The Engineer, The Physicist, The Botanist and The Ornithologist to advise as they plan to set off a missile, WW-177A.  As they plan and deliberate, five beings are approaching the Chapel: it, he, she, they and as.  The natural world approaches the Chapel and the human plotters are met by an unexpected challenge.

This goes in no way to conveying what the book is about or what it is like, as I have no skill with words, unlike the amazing Robert Macfarlane!  He is professor of English at Cambridge as well as a lover of and expert on the natural world, and in his other books these two worlds are beautifully fused; this is a different fusion, a poetic imagining of the clash between our technological aspirations and the power of nature.

Alongside his beautiful words and imagining are illustrations by the great Stanley Donwood – I am assuming they are drawings rather than prints.  The two have collaborated in the past, but this is the first book where their words and images have equal emphasis.  Stunning black and white evocations of the Green Chapel, the environment and the hagstones that are part of the story.

So: a description of the book rather than a review.  It moved me and left me still unable to sleep (!) but more because of its power than anything, though it is disturbing.  But not bleak.  Nature is ultimately more powerful than humans’ desire to destroy it: a message for our times.

A better review when I’ve read it a couple more times!

Radio Abbey

radio abbeyDo you all know about Radio Abbey?  It’s Kenilworth’s own radio station, broadcasting 24/7 on the internet from the Kenilworth Centre in the heart of our town.  There is a growing band of presenters with music for pretty much everyone, and new presenters joining all the time.  It’s a local radio station but the shows can be enjoyed by anyone anywhere in the world.  There are currently people in 38 countries listening in!

I present two weekly shows: one is BookFolk, which (as its name suggests!) about books and folk music, though I play a broader range of music than just folk.  It aims to highlight new music from the folk and acoustic scene, but I also take the opportunity to play vaguely related music that I love – what’s called Americana, older folk and acoustic music, and my heroes Bob Dylan and Nick Cave.  I also talk about books, about book-related news stories and issues in the book world, and am expanding that to talk a bit about films and art as well.  My other show is called Old School Disco, and I play the kind of music we used to hear at our school discos in the 70s and early 80s (which of course includes music from the 60s and even a bit of rock and roll).  There are also shows featuring Northern Soul, classic and prog rock, local contemporary musicians, LGBT+ anthems, classical, pop going back to the 80s, house music, big band and swing, jazz and blues, and some shows that play an eclectic range of all sorts.  Lots of shows are available via listen again on the Radio Abbey website (which is soon to be revamped).

The station is entirely run by volunteers, and its only income comes from sponsorship.  At the Tree House, we are going to start to raise a bit of money to support it – particularly to buy new music for the station.  So I will have a pile of cards where you can write any song requests, and if you feel able, throw some change into a nearby jar to contribute to the fund.  We’ll also be doing some fundraisers, including an Old School Disco inspired dance night.  We always have charity tins, and I like to change those from time to time, so this year, we will make Radio Abbey one of our promoted charities.  And when I get my oven replaced, I’ll try and provide some little home-baked goodies to tempt you to part with your spare change!

The station has really grown over the last year, and is a wonderful resource for the town.  We are happy, as presenters, to give shout outs to things going on locally, we are trying to support the major events that happen in the town, and we’d love people to take it to their hearts and help it get bigger and stronger all the time!  There are also lots of available daytime slots for new presenters – contact Holly Hewitt at the Kenilworth Centre if you’re interested.

Next up for us is a day of broadcasting for Valentine’s Day.  Some of us are less keen on the whole concept of this day than others, so expect some more cynical responses as well as plenty of love songs!  Tune in from 8am on Friday 14 February – yours truly is presenting the first two hours, and there will be plenty of melancholic numbers as well as some happy stuff!

BookFolk is currently on Monday afternoons from 1-3pm, and Old School Disco is on Tuesday evenings from 6-7pm.  Send your requests!


Cicero Boxes even cheaper in January!

If you have a library and a garden, you have all that you need.We have a special offer on our Cicero Boxes until the end of the month.  What a great pick-me-up for these wintry, post-Christmas days!  Two second-hand books, a few flower seeds from the wonderful Higgledy Garden, some chocolate and a bookmark.  They are called Cicero Boxes because Cicero said that if you have a garden and a library, you have all that you need (we decided to throw in chocolate as well, and he seems to have forgotten the coffee and the single malt, but hey, the Romans didn’t know everything).  You can grow the seeds in window boxes, containers, flower pots, etc, if you don’t have a garden.

You can buy single boxes for £10 inc P&P, or subscribe for £9pcm.  Cheaper for locals who prefer to collect from the bookshop.  Not a huge reduction, but a chance to try one!  Have a look at the page herefor more information and to order one or get in touch.

Two brilliant Christmas reads from Chris Priestley

nick as herne
Lifesize Nick as Herne the Hunter

Christmas is such a great time for books.  My favourite week of the year is the one between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, especially since I stopped having to work that week.  I batten down the hatches, stay in my PJs unless getting dressed is essential (I will be going to the Talisman Theatre panto this year, and promise to get dressed for that!), and hunker down with books, films, wine and leftovers – Christmas leftovers are the best.  Or lots of cheese.

I imagine we all have our favourite Christmas books; I love children’s books at Christmas, especially.  There are some amazing stories, full of atmosphere, and the kind of book you can read in a day.  I always used to read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter as a child, along with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; other classics such as The Box of Delights by John Masefield and The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper have become favourites in adulthood, especially the latter.

A contemporary author who writes fantastic books for older children is Chris Priestley.  He loves creepy, gothic stories, and last year I read his The Last of the Spirits for the first time: it’s now become part of my Christmas celebrations, a tradition in the making.  Inspired by the two children Ignorance and Want sheltering beneath the cloak of the Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. he has written a story about two children, Sam and his sister Lizzie, living on the streets in Victorian London, reworking the famous Dickens story from their point of view.  It’s both a brilliant story in itself and an excellent introduction to A Christmas Carol for children (and wonderful to read alongside it for adults).  Full of atmosphere, creepy and dark, but with the same sense of redemption as the original, a perfect Christmas read.

I have also just read Chris’s book The Dead of Winter, also set at Christmas.  This is even darker, true gothic horror, though more gothic than horror.  It still has echoes of Dickens – there is a lawyer called Jerwood, which seems a Dickensian sort of name to me, and a young boy with a somewhat mysterious benefactor – and later on there are definite echoes of Rebecca and Jane Eyre (those books have similar stories).  But it has a power, presence and atmosphere all its own, as young Michael Vyner spends Christmas reluctantly with his benefactor when his mother dies.  The house is full of ghosts, and it’s truly creepy.  As Chris Priestley himself said, we need more creepy stories at Christmas.  (Remember those wonderful MR James adaptations the BBC used to do…?)

Both of these books would make wonderful television dramas, and also live dramas – so if you know a TV producer or someone with influence at the RSC, push these books into their hands and tell them to get on with it!  Seriously.

In the meantime, get reading.  Good children’s books – of which there are many – are good reading for any age, they don’t need to be classified as children’s books.  A good book is a good book, and these two are excellent.  We have a couple of copies of Dead of Winter in our Christmas window, which contains some of the other classics mentioned above, and also our own Lifesize Nick dressed as Herne the Hunter, who appears in The Dark is Rising!