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.
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.
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.
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.
23 March: one year today since the country went into the first national lockdown. It was a Monday, and I had decided to close my shop on the Saturday, having deliberated for several days about what to do for the best. I don’t think any of us realised that a year on we would still be in lockdown, albeit with breaks along the way. But the Tree House has been closed for over seven of the last twelve months. The government has given us grants so that the bills can still be paid, I have been furloughed so I can still take the few hundred pounds a month I earn from the shop, and I am grateful to a government I generally don’t like much for that. We would not have survived without it.
Ours is not a business that lends itself well to click and collect, nor even mail order, though I did send out some surprise books during one part of the crisis. So the decision to close and go on furlough was not a difficult one. I am actually proud of the tiny part we have played in helping to keep everyone safe, in not encouraging people to leave their homes, and I have stayed at home through much of lockdown. Not being able to walk has made that easier in one sense! Though an extremely generous friend offered me money to buy a mobility scooter just before the first lockdown, and my secondhand scooter has been a lifechanger and means I can get out much more easily. I still stay at home mostly though, sometimes venturing out somewhere people-free, and otherwise only going to the bakery or the library as necessary, once a week or less.
We are due to reopen on 12 April, as long as there are no further setbacks, and I am gearing up to that. But this year has changed me in all sorts of ways. It has taught me about the dangers of parochialism – a kind of nationalism writ small, and little repels me more than nationalism. There has of course been a wonderful pulling together in many ways in our community, with a quite brilliantly organised volunteer team which was set up quickly and has done amazing things – very well run and full of committed people. But there has also been a sharpening of a sense of individual rights being removed, which has led to people pushing the covid restrictions to the limits. Town has been busy, social distancing very hit and miss (more miss than hit), lots of shops open that I can’t see are essential, and discussions on social media that make me feel quite desperate. I am not interested in my own town beyond all others – I am lucky to live in a lovely place, but I find some of the attitudes very hard to take. Having lived in Bristol and London, and spent large amounts of time abroad, I find the introspection of small towns tricky. The lack of interest in wider issues, the shutting down of broader views, the focus on the small and close to home rather than the worldwide picture is disheartening.
The world is my community. I am sad we have left the EU, for all its problems, because I now feel less connected to that world. But the EU is a political institution, and I am still part of Europe, still part of the world, still free of national restrictions. The realisation of this over the last year – the year in which we left the EU as well as dealing with the pandemic and in which the world got rid of Trump as a person of power – has changed my thinking about the bookshop.
Alongside all the other things, my heart has been with musicians. We hosted a couple of gigs a month prior to the pandemic, and my heart is especially with those musicians – the independent touring artists who have always had to struggle to make a living but whose livelihood and identity was swept away overnight and who are still facing a deeply uncertain future. Not many locally have been interested in this, and yet it’s at the heart of what the Tree House is about.
I raised £2000 to pay those musicians whose gigs we had to cancel and then to give a small amount each to a number of other musicians. I give art talks via Zoom so that I have a little money to spend on buying music each month. I have been to lots of online gigs. I share whatever I see of musicians on social media, to try to keep their situation in people’s minds. Drops in the ocean, but something each of us can do. The musicians themselves have been amazing – continuing to find ways to make music, to make recordings even, to keep in touch with audiences and fans, to keep their world alive. And in fact out of it all has come some positivity – nothing replaces live music, but online access has opened up audiences a little, and surely streaming live gigs in future will be something to think about, to increase revenue as well as reach more people.
So when the shop reopens, it will have a slightly different focus. More outward-looking. I like to think we have been that anyway, but the focus will be on books and music – selling books in order to support the music industry as well as to keep books in circulation. The community hub aspect will be less of a priority – in terms of the events we host, for example, and getting involved in things at a local level. My heart is with the wider world. We will raise funds to support musicians – whether we do that via donations to Help Musicians UK or more directly has yet to be decided. Shop profits will go to this, as will events or initiatives through the year.
Ironically, I won’t be hosting much live music, to start with at least. We are very small, and there have always been problems with organising gigs, exhausting problems for me. I am rethinking that, but it is not in any case possible while social distancing is still in place. We have had INCREDIBLE gigs from so many amazing musicians over the last 7-8 years, and I am so proud of having brought so many fantastic musicians to Kenilworth. But it was always so hard to sell tickets and I was not the most dynamic host. So I will focus on books – my original dream was to run a secondhand bookshop, and I want to make it a better bookshop than it currently is. And that now has an extra aim, of raising funds to support the music industry. Our glorious patron Warren Ellis remains my daily inspiration; he has lost two years of touring, but remains a major creative force. (The title of the post is a quote from him, a word of encouragement to his great friend Nick Cave in the film One More Time With Feeling.) Warren reaches for the stars while staying completely grounded, and that’s how we should all be living. Exploring our creativity but staying focused on the world around us.
A long-winded post, I am sorry. It may annoy some people – that’s OK. None of us can please everyone. It’s been a tough year for every single one of us, in different ways, many of them unexpected ways. But as spring now starts and the clocks move forward this weekend, we at the Tree House will embrace the light and the warmth of each day as it comes, and work towards creating a wonderful bookshop that keeps the essential presence of the arts in full view and accessible, with standards of quality but aims of affordability, and we will do so by being creatively adventurous and being fully focused on the wider world. It will be great to see customers again and find ways to promote the joy of reading and of owning books, and through this to help to keep the world of live music afloat.
Well that’s not quite how the song goes, but sing it anyway.
My previous post proved overly optimistic regarding book donations: it is proving too complicated to arrange drop offs, and so I am afraid we won’t be taking any further donations of books until we reopen on 12 April (God willing…). Not too long to go, if you can hold onto your books until then, but if you can’t, I am afraid you will need to find another destination for them.
Stay safe! And protect each other.
Well, we were due to reopen tomorrow – Monday 4 January – after our Christmas break, but of course we are now in tier 4, so we have to remain closed until that changes. I have yet to decide if I will be furloughed or if I will try to run some sort of business online and via local deliveries, but furlough is the most likely – I will make that decision today. I don’t think we can really operate without being open.
Here’s hoping we won’t be closed for too long, but maybe hibernation will be good for all of us, and we can sit out the coldest weeks and avoid the virus as much as possible! Thank you so much to those who have bought books and attended art talks and brought donations between the lockdowns, and generally given lots of encouragement. Every message means a lot! Each lockdown is a bit tougher, but my thoughts are with those on the front line, those suffering and those separated from loved ones, especially those who have relatives in care homes and hospitals whom they can’t visit. I am luckier than many! As long as I can pay the bookshop rent we will be OK, though I do need some income too, but for now, and with some government financial support, both I and the bookshop are just about OK.
I did some little live videos on Facebook each day in Advent, with a book recommendation each day, so if you missed those and want to catch up, head over to our Facebook page and look for ‘videos’ – I don’t think you need to be on Facebook to watch them, they should be public. I may do a few more little videos if lockdown carries on, just to keep in touch! But we are not selling any books for now, and I may be even less prompt at answering bookshop emails if I am furloughed.
Meanwhile it’s Sunday, so I am off to make some lunch and watch Columbo. Happy reading everyone!
We have had art lectures at the bookshop pretty much as long as the bookshop has been open (which, as an aside, is an amazing six and a half years!). Mostly these have been evening lectures, but we are often asked about the possibility of daytime talks. So this autumn there are art history talks on Monday mornings at 11.
The lecturer is me! I am an art historian as well as a bookseller, with a PhD from Bristol University and 20 years of lecturing experience. I still do a bit of professional teaching, but online (for Oxford University), which means I can do it from home in my pyjamas…perfect! But now that we have the new projection equipment, lectures are even easier at the bookshop. And even though it means I have to get dressed, it is all good fun.
Sometimes people say they feel daunted, and don’t come because they think it will be too highbrow or because they haven’t looked at paintings before. But my lectures are informal, friendly, inclusive – suitable for all levels of knowledge, which sounds a tall order, but it isn’t really.
My specialisation is in the art of Northern Europe in the Renaissance (15th and 16th centuries), but I do a few other things as well, including tracing what I call the Northern Tradition through the Dutch 17th century, German Romanticism in the early 19th century, and into the 20th century, and of course I look at Italian Renaissance and late medieval art too. This all sounds very grand, but the key is simply taking a painting and looking at it, and that’s what a lecture is for: you can read about art in books and on the internet, you can go to galleries, but a lecture gives you the opportunity to explore and discuss and ask questions and spend time looking closely with a guide and some fellow-explorers. Paintings – and the labels that go with them – become much less daunting when you do this.
I have mentioned paintings, but my PhD subject was sculpture, which in Germany is an incredible thing in the Renaissance, and prints, which grew out of the development of printed books in the 15th century. It’s all marvellous!
So if you’re free on a Monday morning, do come along at 11 o’clock – or if you prefer an evening talk, I still do those on Tuesday evenings once or twice a month. Lectures are £8 on the door, including coffee/tea, and last about an hour plus time for questions.
This coming Monday, 28 October, I’ll be talking about the greatest European painter of the 15th century: Rogier van der Weyden. A bold claim, but a genuine one! Why have you heard of Botticelli, who is not as good nor as important/influential, but not of Rogier van der Weyden? I can tell you that too if you come along.
Victoria (aka Dr Vic, or Doc Tors as some Bristol friends used to call me!)