I have been cautious about booking live music since the lockdowns, as you know, and not sure at all I had the energy now to carry on with it – it’s tough organising, promoting and hosting as a solo venue owner, despite some lovely help on the nights (usually!) from volunteers. But I am being lured back in by the music itself…and the three gigs we’ve had since things opened up again have been fabulous. I am still uncertain about the future, but we do have a wondrous gig coming up in September, with Will Pound & Jenn Butterworth. Go to our Live Music page for more info and booking information – I am only selling tickets online at the moment. Hope you can make it!
My little second-hand bookshop is 9 today! We opened our doors in our first premises on 26 July 2013. We were there for about 18 months, then had a couple of months when I was looking for new premises and found the shop we are currently in was just about within budget. Then and now photos below! It’s been a rollercoaster – very close to closure at times – but has survived thanks to huge support from a lot of people. Thank you if you are one of them! Few believed you could make a success of selling second-hand books, and while success may be an overstatement (one of the reasons it survives is because I have made huge sacrifices and don’t take much of a wage from it!) it is now well established, loved within the town, and a happy place. We are also lucky to have an excellent landlord.
Next year I will do something to celebrate our 10th anniversary, but for now, thank you to our customers and distant supporters and encouragers, and all those who donate their books, and hurray for recycling books and keeping books old and contemporary in circulation on the high street. Come and browse!
Our Tree House Sessions are a monthly open mic for spoken word and music. They were once the stuff of legend. Then the pandemic hit, and now we are trying to build them back up into something special. They happen on the second Saturday of the month, so the next one is Saturday 13 August.
If you are a performer, do come along! Whether you are a seasoned performer or just want to get out there in a supportive atmosphere, we would love to see you. Whether you sing, play, write poetry, tell stories – the mixture and variety and the unexpected is what our Sessions thrive on.
You are also extremely welcome just to come and listen.
Bring your own refreshments! We might get organised with that at some point…we don’t have much space, we don’t have an alcohol licence, so we’re still trying to work it out. But we have glasses and corkscrew/bottle opener.
If you want to know more, email organiser Gwyneth Box at hello @ gwynethbox.com.
Or just turn up and introduce yourself so we can give you a slot. Doors at 7.30, the fun starts at 8pm. Here is a video of the glory days! It was made by Lewis Smith, who started the Sessions with Charlotte Thomas way back when.
Next art talk is on Tuesday 12 July, 19:30 BST, and is on Holbein’s magnificent painting known as The Ambassadors, painted in 1533 and now in the National Gallery in London. Holbein is one of the great portrait painters in art history, and gave us the visual image we have of the court of Henry VIII. This painting, beneath its seemingly tranquil veneer, gives us insight into a turbulent and critical moment in European history. It is also an endlessly fascinating work visually, and is ripe for one of our close looking series. We focus on the visual details, zooming (in more ways than one!) in on details not just of what is there but how Holbein painted it. There will be an introduction to the painting and then a close look at those visual details. Open to all, accessible and informal, do join us if you can! See our Art Talks page for the ticket link.
Next art talk is on Thursday evening, 30 June – via Zoom, so you can join in from anywhere, you are guaranteed a comfy seat, your choice of beverage, no issues with parking, you can even attend in your pyjamas! This week it’s the astonishing Jan van Eyck – an hour looking closely at the details in a beautiful painting, all very welcome. See our Art Talks tab for more details and ticket link!
As well as running the Tree House I am an art historian – I have just given up my last university teaching job, but am restarting my own talks. I may get back to face to face talks at the bookshop at some point, but for now I am resurrecting the Zoom talks that I started during lockdown.
I am doing a series looking at paintings in detail – particularly paintings from Northern Europe in the Renaissance and the 17th century, which is my specialism. It’s easy to overlook some of the details, and some are barely visible to the naked eye. I will talk briefly about the works of art (there may be sculpture occasionally too, since that was my PhD subject!), to give some info and context, then we will spend time homing in on the details of both content and technique.
The talks are very accessible, but hopefully of interest whatever level of engagement you have had with works of art previously.
The first painting is one of my favourites, and combines reading with art history, my two great interests! It’s in the National Gallery in London and is the perfect size to hang on the wall – if you ever hear of it being stolen, track me down… It’s Mary Magdalen Reading by Rogier van der Weyden (from about 1435).
So if you are interested, buy a ticket via this link and join us via Zoom on 14 June. All very welcome, wherever you are in the world! I have an international audience, which is exciting.
Most mornings I have that ‘really don’t want to go to work’ struggle. I love being at home. And as soon as I leave the house I have the ‘really don’t want to go to work’ struggle even more, because then I encounter people, and I don’t like people. I went to Sainsbury’s this morning – 9am on a Saturday morning, I have never done that before and never will again…ugh, people. But I needed stuff for lunch, and snacks for Eurovision tonight! Ahem. Anyway, I am now at my little bookshop and very happy to be here. It is a little haven away from the chaos out there. Of course there are people, but they are almost all nice, they come in a few at a time, and nearly all (not quite all but nearly) have one thing in common with me: they have some level of interest in reading books. Anyway, it’s good to be running this lovely place, and it’s a fab place to spend my days given that I do have to go to work, and one of the things I love is that it is shelter from the storm. (Hope you are getting the Bob Dylan references here – I have put a truly stunning performance below to help you get one of them!) The whole reason for this post – why do I witter so much when I start typing? – is to post my favourite internet meme of the moment (apart from the ones lampooning the Tories, but the Tories are a big part of the chaos, so they are covered by this). Drink your coffee and read your books – I am off to make a pot of Monsoon Estates‘ finest.
It’s been a year since we reopened after the final lockdown (oh no, now I have an unwanted earworm…), and 11 months since I last wrote a proper post – I am hopeless. We are having a brand new website built – by professionals! – so I hope to be so inspired that I remember to post a bit more regularly.
I have lots to say about hosting music gigs, which I used to do about every month at the bookshop pre-pandemic, but I won’t say any of it for now. I will treat you to an essay at some point! Suffice to say that we are going very gently on that front. It is a stressful thing to do, organising gigs, selling tickets, hosting on the night, and I know some are still cautious about attending indoor events. We have had two incredible gigs – Jenny Sturgeon in November and Jon Wilks in February, both of which sold out without me needing to advertise much. But we have another one coming up in June, with tickets still for sale! Percussion and violin duo Intarsia are playing for us on Friday June 10, so do come! Half the duo, percussion supremo Jo May, came once before, and it was a great night – she had us all playing the spoons at one point. Now she has teamed up with fiddler and singer Sarah Matthews, and they have are touring their record Sistere, a mixture of original and traditional tunes.
More soon on the future of music at the Tree House, but tickets for Intarsia are £13 available here – not currently available at the shop, so do use this link to buy them. Friday 10 June, 8pm. Live music is the best – support it when and wherever you can! Here is a taster of their music.
The bookshop has been full on since we reopened at the start of May, just 7 weeks ago – which is great! But hard to find a moment to stop and take stock and keep everyone posted about what’s going on.
One thing that has become clear to me, however, is which charities I would like the bookshop to support. I have chosen one local, one national and one international.
The local one is the Kenilworth Centre, doing such wonderful things especially for young people in Kenilworth, and also hosting various groups. If you need a room for a one-off event/meeting or a regular session, do get in touch with them. It’s right in the centre of town with parking outside, and a variety of rooms to offer. It also encompasses Radio Abbey, and I would like to find a way to support the radio station in particular. I am no longer doing my radio shows, but my heart is still there!
The national one is Help Musicians UK. I have been doing what I can to support musicians during the pandemic, those whose gigs we had to cancel and others besides. Despite the return of sporting events and some indoor entertainment, live music is still struggling, and group singing indoors is still not allowed. So touring musicians and other live performers have lost nearly a year and a half of gigs, and while things are looking more positive, it will be a while before things get back to normal. I decided that rather than try to support individuals, I would support this national charity that offers help to musicians in need. One day we will get back to live gigs at the Tree House, but as we are so small, it won’t be for a while.
The international charity I have chosen is brand new. It is Ellis Park, a wildlife sanctuary in Sumatra co-founded by our wonderful patron Warren Ellis. He has been so lovely to us, and generous, and when he announced this new project, I knew we had to support it. There has been work going on in Indonesia for some years with animals who are so badly treated by humans that they can’t survive in the wild, and now, with Warren’s help, there is a team setting up a permanent home for such animals. It’s a heartbreaking but beautiful project to read about. They need funds to build enclosures and other facilities, so do have a look.
And here is an interview with Warren from The Quietus about the park.
We will give regularly to these three charities. We are not a charity, not even a social enterprise, so our ‘non-profit’ status is not official, but we use any profits we have to improve our own business and premises but also to support charities. I take a wage, though not a full-time one, and everyone else is a volunteer. Our books are all donated, which is a system based on our operating model, but also means we can keep prices low.
Yesterday, Wednesday 23 June, we had a day where all our takings went to Ellis Park, and our takings were £125, which is a good midweek total for us. Recently the wonderful Simon from The Gauntlet pub in Caesar Road gave us £150 from books sold when he was housing donations for charity while the charity shops were closed; £100 of that went to Help Musicians UK and the rest to support a couple of individual musicians. We give a small amount each month to the Kenilworth Centre, and I will look to increase that or add to it by supporting Radio Abbey specifically.
Do have a look at all these charities:
And now you know where the profits from your purchases and donations go. I also have a collecting tin for the Brompton Fountain for loose change or any time people pay us with coppers! The shop has been doing really well since we reopened, so I hope that carries on and we can continue to support these three wonderful causes.
We are open again – back to normal hours of Monday-Saturday, 10am-5pm. Donations welcome any time we are open – we take books (any), DVDs, CDs, maps and jigsaw puzzles. We also have some lovely greetings cards (including handmade ones), Tree House mugs and pens (Bad Seed Warren Ellis said our pens were ‘awesome’ and bought 20 of them!), some handmade bookmarks too. Come and see us.