Books in the pavilion?

I have been a bit coy about mentioning this, and I’m not sure why, as public support may be of great help to The Tree House.  There is a disused sports pavilion in Abbey Fields, the beautiful park in the centre of Kenilworth – a 1930s wooden structure that the council want to demolish, as part of the refurbishment of the children’s play area.  They have stayed its execution in response to a local outcry, and are now taking proposals for its potential use.  I was encouraged to apply to use it for The Tree House, and the more I think about it the more I want it!


It is small, and needs a lot of work doing to it.  It is not in the town centre, in terms of being near shops and the majority of footfall in the town.  The reason for the council wanting to remove it is that it can be a place for people to congregate to drink and take drugs, and makes the play area unsafe.  Some people think I’m a bit crazy to want it at all, let alone as much as I do.

But all I see is the vast potential!  It is small, but has character.  It needs work, but it’s a blank slate.  It is not in the shopping centre, but it is in the centre of a park that many people walk through for pleasure or for access between the old town and the new – it is right between the two parts of the town.  It is right by the children’s play area and the swimming pool, and on a popular dog-walking path, so does have a reasonable natural footfall.  It’s near a car park.


It’s right opposite the old barn that was part of the medieval abbey (perhaps we could collaborate with the museum there in some way), and near the other physical remains of the abbey, and St Nicholas church, so is right in the historical hub of the town.  The castle is not far away, and between the pavilion and the castle is the wonderful lake with all its ducks and swans.

abbey remains

Abbey Fields is beautiful.  It’s one of the key reasons I came back to Kenilworth after 27 years away – I loved walking there as a teenager, and love it just as much now.  I am very lucky to live close by it.  It makes a spectacular setting for a second-hand bookshop and community hub!

abbey fieldscropped-barn2.jpg

The bookshop could put on regular events for children, given that many use the area to play – a good place to shelter when it’s cold or wet, and the potential for outside story sessions when it’s warm and dry (it has been known!).  We could host regular events for adults, daytime and evening – talks, readings, groups, all the things I’ve mentioned in connection with the project before.  Workshops by local writers, open mic poetry sessions, little theatre productions.  A Christmas grotto, an Easter garden, St George’s day celebrations and Shakespeare’s birthday, a maypole on May Day, just the most obvious seasonal celebrations among many others.  We could offer tea and coffee, with outside seating in summer.  A place to rest in the middle of a walk, a place to head for as a break from work, a place to enjoy on a day off.

The Tree House would look after the building.  It is a community venture, and as such the building itself would be a focal point of that – a place saved by the people of Kenilworth, for the people of Kenilworth.

The play area has just been refurbished (the photo was taken during the refurbishment, it’s not the finished product!), and I would love to make The Tree House part of the sprucing up of this beautiful part of our town.

play areaThere is the pavilion in the background on the right, with the museum in the medieval barn in the background on the left.

The council will not be announcing their decision until the end of October, so a long wait.  But if you think this might be a good use for the disused pavilion, do let the council know!  Public support might help The Tree House.  David Anderson at Warwick District Council is the man in charge of handling the proposals.

Books among the ruins

There’s a second-hand booksale at Coventry Cathedral over the bank holiday weekend (4-6 May) – what a fabulous photo to promote it!

cov cathedral booksale

There will be children’s activities too, apparently, and it’s to raise funds for maintenance work on the ruins, and definitely looks as though it will be worth a visit.  It runs from 10am to 4pm on each of the three days, in the porch between the new and old buildings.

You can buy books there, read them, then donate them to The Tree House!  Then you’ll be giving to charity twice but only spending money once…

Mixed fortunes for the market stall adventure

treehouselogo-copy6.pngI am writing this at 3am because pain is keeping me awake – intense pain in my arthritic knees, dull pain and muscle spasms in my lower back, general ache in my arm muscles…as a result of setting up and dismantling my market stall yesterday, and standing up for much of the day.  I am tempted to go and get a medicinal whisky, but that would involve stairs, and I am not capable of stairs at the moment.  In fact I may be confined to the first floor of my house for some time to come – please send supplies.  Including toilet paper.

This is possibly a deal-breaker for my attempt to set up The Tree House on Kenilworth market on a regular basis.  The practicalities of moving and storing the books make it unfeasible.

This is sad, because it was otherwise a lovely day. I was very disappointed that the banner I ordered, and paid a premium delivery rate for, failed to be delivered by Parcelforce – won’t go into details, will just say that I am unimpressed.


I had lovely friends who came to help and/or offer moral support, I had a good stream of customers (took just shy of £50, despite selling most books for 50p or £1, hardbacks £2, and a 3 for 2 offer; this left £20 profit once I’d paid the fee for the stall).  The sun shone most of the day, the other market traders were friendly, and I had some excellent conversations with a number of people about The Tree House.  It was also fab to put some faces to names of people who follow this blog and the Facebook page.

I was also interviewed by Radio Warwickshire – you can hear my interview here:

[If you are unable to open that – it requires Flash – you could try this link instead.]

Two lovely friends came to help with setting up the display, and Tamsin brought beautiful logs from a cherry tree that was once in her garden as book stands – entirely appropriate for The Tree House.



I enjoyed the day, but the setting up and dismantling were horrendous, even with the aid of my new trolley.  I also have nowhere to store the books other than my flat, which is at the top of a decent flight of stairs, prohibitive to someone with cranky knees, and even though my fabulous neighbour Leon carried all the books back upstairs at the end of the day, it nearly killed her too, and I am not expecting her or anyone to do that again.

So what future for the market stall?  I am not sure.  I was intending to run it fortnightly for the next few weeks, owing to a work commitment elsewhere, so I have two weeks to think up a solution.  I have ordered a banner, so it needs a home!

Of course the best solution of all would be to find shop premises…and maybe a low-interest loan to help with that.  I need to keep working on both.

In the meantime, I will try to ignore the pain and focus on what was a happy day for The Tree House in some significant ways.


The Tree House Bookshop at Kenilworth Market

treehouselogo-copy6.pngThe Tree House will be at Kenilworth Market again tomorrow – this time with a proper launch!  It was all disastrous last week, for various reasons, but fortunately I’ve been allowed to have another go, and am very much looking forward to it.

I’m well prepared this week, with a few helpers on board and a few new props – here are some of them:

Tree House props


The bag on the top shelf is full of homemade fudge (made by a friend), and I am also making cakes and biscuits, all of which will be given away on the stall – better get there early!  🙂

There is a lot of fiction (from Alistair MacLean to Dostoevsky, Douglas Adams to PD James, and all sorts between and beyond), but also history, children’s books, biographies and some general non-fiction.  I will bring new stock each week, and let people know in advance what sort of stock will be on the stall.

There will also be a chance for young children to enter a draw to name the Tooterphant pictured above – made by another friend, up in the North-East, and posted to me – so kind!  She is in fact someone I have never met, a former student (I tutor online courses in art history) who has kept in touch, so that makes it even kinder.

I will have cards that you can write a sentence or two about a book you have enjoyed.  There will be flyers and information about The Tree House and about the Film Club starting up in a couple of weeks, and the bookmarks you can see on the right in the photo above.

So if you are out and about in Kenilworth between about 9am and about 4pm, please do come and say hello.  If you ever have books to donate, do bring them to the market stall.  After this week, it will be fortnightly for a while, due to another work commitment that I am not able to change, but over the summer I plan to be there weekly.

I have ordered a banner, which is supposed to be delivered today, but hasn’t been yet – there’s still time!  If not, it will be up in a couple of weeks, which will make us easier to find, but it’s not a very big market.  Last week I was right by the bus stop.

Wish me well!  And pray for dry weather…no more soggy books.


Will power…or happy birthday to a local hero

I will take a break from Tree House related news to post in honour of William Shakespeare, whose birthday is celebrated today.  We don’t know that he was actually born on this day; we have his baptism date recorded (26 April 1564), and we know that the date of his death was 23 April, and the birth date of 23 April goes back to the 18th century; whether it was given because it also happens to be St George’s day as well as the date of his death seems plausible, but who really cares – today is a day to celebrate the greatest writer in the English language (and surely one of the greatest writers in any language), who is also a local hero – born and bred in Warwickshire, even if he did spend much of his adult life producing plays in London.  Kenilworth shares in the celebrations of its near-neighbour Stratford-upon-Avon in paying homage to this local literary hero.


I know a lot of the stories to his plays are a bit silly; this is also true of opera, which has produced some of the most sublime music of all.  In both cases, the stories are a vehicle – in Shakespeare’s case, a vehicle to explore the human condition (he was born in the year that Michelangelo died, into a Renaissance culture obsessed with studying man and his place in the cosmos) and to explore, develop, enjoy, alchemise (it may not be a word but I don’t care!) the English language.  That we still use countless phrases from Shakespeare in everyday speech shows something of the power of this language – it’s beautiful but it’s profoundly meaningful.

Growing up near Stratford, I was lucky to see several plays by the RSC.  I have wonderful memories of a young Patrick Stewart virtually naked as Oberon (not something I’m likely to forget!), to a Titania I can’t remember but whose gossamer cloak filled the stage.  Of Ben Kingsley as Brutus when we were studying Julius Caesar for O Level, and being told to take note of him as he was an actor tipped for stardom (this was 1979 or 80) – I later saw him as Othello too.  Of Derek Jacobi as Prospero in a Tempest that also incluced Mark Rylance, Alice Krige, Bob Peck and Michael Maloney in a visually stunning representation.  My one regret is not having seen Kenneth Branagh’s hugely acclaimed performance as Henry V at the age of 23, the part that made his name.  I always love going there, and while they produce plays by other playwrights too (modern as well as Early Modern), it is Shakespeare who still thrills the most.  Lately they have been doing lots of interesting things, including commissioning music from contemporary musicians – Jon Boden has provided music for The Winter’s Tale, Laura Marling for As You Like It, in their most recent productions.  They do a lot with schools and education – Warwick University now has a Masters degree for teachers specifically in teaching Shakespeare.

We should be very, very proud of Shakespeare as a Warwickshire lad (and of that other literary luminary, George Eliot, also Warwickshire-born).  We hear a lot about children forced to read his plays and not understanding them, I sometimes here contemporary actors dismissing him as too difficult to understand, but it just takes a little effort, a little time, a little patience, a little thought and concentration, and the rewards are vast.  He was a genius, despite being a down to earth sort by all accounts, not a saint, not beyond criticism, but the greatest writer this country has produced.  A writer who contained all the world in his plays, however far-fetched the stories sometimes seem, and in his poems, who gave us words to live by and words to think by, who understood humanity completely and had the ability control and create language to express the depths of what it is to be human.

So happy birthday Will.  The Tree House will celebrate his birthday every year, in much more concrete ways than this once we are better established.  Were it not early in the day and me in need of breakfast, I would have peppered this post with Shakespearean phrases, that would have made it all a bit wittier.

My catchphrase as I try to lose some weight is ‘Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt…’ – which may seem a trivial way to end a post about this great man, but just shows how his great language encapsulates very ordinary human issues and concerns!

The Tree House needs will power if it is to come to reality, and Will power if it is to be all it truly can be.  He can be our guiding spirit.

On the scrounge – little bits and pieces that would be useful

treehouselogo-copy6.pngNow that I am re-energised in terms of setting up the market stall, there are a few things The Tree House needs.  I will be scouring the charity shops for things, but thought it was worth mentioning here (to local people, at least) what little bits and pieces we need, even just to borrow for a bit.

I’d love some of those little single freestanding bookshelves that you used to see but people don’t really have any more – this sort of thing:

Bookends would also be useful.

It would also be great to have any children’s books that people might have been thinking of giving to a charity shop – for all ages, including story books for little children.

Of course I’d love any books at all!  Especially non-fiction – though I always need novels too.

I’m also looking for holders for flyers and bookmarks – again, not difficult to track down, but if people have such things lying around, I’d happily take them off your hands!

After last week’s fiasco, I could also do with clear plastic sheeting, for future rainy days – preferably biggish sheets – the table is 10′ x 4′, and it would be good to have some to hang around the sides as well as to cover the books.

If you are planning to visit Kenilworth market on Thursday (25 April) and alternate Thursdays thereafter, and have anything you feel you’d like to donate, please do just come and find me.  I know I can get hold of all of these things myself, and will look for cheap items, but am on a tight budget and calling on the goodwill of the community!  🙂

I do have a few ideas for the stall, and if the weather is fine (or dry at least!) I will bring a little table and a couple of chairs, and people can sit and read a book or fill in a card about a book they’ve enjoyed reading, or just have a chat.  There will be Tamsin’s homemade fudge and other edible goodies on offer…  Let’s make it happen, and let’s make it fun!

Abortive launch, but relaunch next Thursday!

treehouselogo-copy6.pngOK, so yesterday’s market stall was a disaster, and I’m sorry to say I wimped out before 11am.  The wind and rain made it all very difficult – the books were getting wet, apart from anything, and by the time I had lugged all the books from my flat to the market place (a very short distance, but a decent flight of stairs, and books are very heavy!) I had no energy to work out how to display the books in the rain.  It was freezing cold, the table looked rubbish, and I started to think I was just not cut out as a market trader.  Of course as soon as I started packing up, the sun came out, but by then I was too far gone and struggling to fight back the tears, not a good look when you’re trying to encourage people to look at your stall!  So I miserably came home and was in two minds about the whole thing.

However, a lovely friend brought me origami roses and homemade fudge for the stall, and we had a chat.  (I will post a photo later of the beautiful roses, made from the pages of a book that had fallen apart.)  She and a couple of other friends have offered to help next week.  And this morning I have had various ideas for making the stall better.  I have ordered a banner (hope it arrives in time!), the origami friend is going to help me with the display, I will take a little table and a couple of chairs if the weather is dry so that people can sit and read for a bit if they want to, or write the cards which I’ve made (ie stamped with the THB logo) for people to share a book they have enjoyed (will stick those up on the stall, and eventually in the shop…there’s faith!), and various things like this.  I think I will be able to store the books at the foot of the stairs, which will make a huge difference to me not being exhausted before I start!  And will get a trolley.  I just hadn’t had time for these things between booking the stall and the day itself, though I did try, but by next Thursday we should be rocking.

So…apologies to anyone who did come to the market yesterday expecting to see me.  Please call again!

It really is hard sometimes doing a venture like this on your own.  I am not a confident person, and this demands good resources of self-confidence, which I am trying to develop, but which don’t come naturally!  But I have got this far, and mostly through my own sense of determination (helped enormously by encouragement from others), and I’m not going to let a bad day ruin things.


treehouselogo-copy6.pngSadly not scored by Papiss Cisse or Hatem Ben Arfa…but The Tree House has reached its fundraising goal via the PleaseFund.Us campaign!  That’s £1000…unbelievable.  Such generosity – that sum was raised by just 35 people.  I am overwhelmed.  Sorry for another post in such short succession, but I had to share the news!


Bread and roses

treehouselogo-copy6.pngToday is a day for rejoicing.

This project has been an extraordinary experience (and I am sure it will continue to be so – don’t mean to make it sound as though it’s over!).  The ups and downs are in themselves exhausting, but there have been far more ups than downs.  The stress at times is threatening to my wellbeing, and a lot of the time I feel very alone, despite encouragement from all quarters.  But the whole thing has now gathered a momentum of its own, thanks largely to all those encouragers, some of whom have been particularly faithful and generous in their personal support.

But today the fundraising total through the PleaseFund.Us campaign has reached £960 – that means just £40 to go to reach the target (if I don’t reach the target, I don’t get any of the money pledged).  I am a bit overwhelmed.

What really did reduce me to tears was that just after having seen that total, a friend posted a photograph on Facebook of some origami roses she has made from the pages of a fallen-apart paperback – made for me, to decorate my market stall on Thursday.  They are just beautiful…

So I have both bread and roses.  Both are essential to life, and I cannot ask for more!

[Postscript: as I’ve been writing this, the fundraising total has risen to £970…wow.]