Saturday, September 25, 2010

Project Gutenberg, pastries and poems

An illustration from Banckes's Herbal 1525,
featured in Eleanour Sinclair Rohde's The Old English Herbals,
published by Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is what the internet's best at - creaking open the doors of the world's storehouses, offering a sample of random, bizarre, quirky and classic books on every subject since printing began in the 15th century. It hardly needs saying that the project is named after the man who invented moveable type and therefore modern printing.
Last year I spent far too much time browsing Gutenberg and I've returned to it recently because I'm researching an idea to slot into a sequence I'm writing. 
I stumbled across this great work The Old English Herbals by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde published in 1922.  This summer I was singing the project's praises to a French patisserie chef at the wonderful youth hostel in the hills. 
I guess the research I'm doing is similar to that of a chef. So much of what we all do is similar, in fact. It's all about ingredients, timing, truth and state of mind. And while on the subject....when I'm reincarnated, I want the name Wynkyn de Worde.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Written by Lorna Wood, published by Harrap in 1948,
illustrated by Susan B Pearce 1878-1980.
"I'll manage," said Mrs Stiggins, and taking down the muslin curtains from her room, borrowed Nurse Bobberty's sewing machine and made Ameliaranne a perfectly lovely party dress.
Ameliaranne Goes Digging was a present from my aunt Mauya in Australia when I was five and became one of my favourite early reads for two reasons - the  illustrations and the appeal of its ending:  the hero doesn't have a dress to wear for tea at the manor so her mother makes her one.
It's a timeless conceit. Erykah Badu uses it in one of her films, except a cocktail dress is made from a tablecloth.
The idea in that book has been perhaps one of the most liberating of my life - if you don't have it, make it. I don't have the skills to apply that universally. I'm no carpenter or builder, but I bought a sewing machine for my 21st birthday and haven't been without one since. In fact, that machine is right now at the mender's - it's an industrial size Singer, built like a tank and magnificently reliable. I think it's why we still have a dressing up box and why I'm currently manically making jam/chutney/jelly/cordials...I thought about Ameliaranne when my son was showing me the Erykah Badu song on YouTube and then again when my daughter showed me a picture of Julia Roberts with a bright, hippy style bag and asked where she could get one. It was handmade, a one off, so I said I'd try and make something similar.
We were talking about this on Saturday at Chesworth Arts Farm open day - the conversation touched on what value we give to what we make in relation to manufactured objects made valuable by branding. And yet I remember, a decade ago, while helping designer Rasschied Din with his book, New Retail, we interviewedVittorio Radice, then CEO at Selfridges, who was convinced custom-made, unique, one-off would become increasingly dominant.
Of course he was right. And that's where those skills learned from having to make do with what's around us might be valued again. Anyway, my daughter liked the bag. It came from the sewing box, a pile of fabrics I always mean to do something with, a broken necklace, the button tin, a cushion cover I couldn't throw away and a scarf I found in the charity shop down the road.
Chesworth Arts Farm:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tesco, society and Machiavelli in Lewes Road, Brighton

Community garden, not Tesco in Lewes Road
Tesco is using property developer Alburn to secure land next door to a small and much loved Co-op in Lewes Road, Brighton.
It clearly intends to force the Co-op out. The site, once a garage, was derelict until local people turned it into a community garden. It has changed the atmosphere of Lewes Road, a choked traffic funnel in and out of the city that you cycle on with your life in your hands.
Perhaps policy makers at Tesco don't know what's going on here but they could take a trip down from Cheshunt HQ. Or maybe Sir Terry Leahy could get on National Express from his home in Cuffley. He'll be familiar with the issues, since his neighbours tried to say no to Tesco as well.
The police and diggers moved in before dawn to evict a sleeping man from the garden, put 6 ft barriers around the site so no-one can see in and destroyed everything in it by floodlight. Alburn took legal action against a founder of the community garden to stop the original occupation. People moved off but another group moved on - that's the strength of public opinion about how this site should be used.
Old style thinking, old style tactics, old style use of the police and legal system. Tesco is supporting night-time raids, destruction of a community garden and bullying tactics against an individual.
What will the community gain? Lorries, cement mixers, delivery vans.. Modern thinking is for greening cities, using urban space to grow vegetables and fruit, not feeding an old addiction to competition. It's a bit like a gambler not wanting to give up the horses. And that's another apparent use for the site - alongside Tesco, a betting shop.
"A prince, then, who would be powerful should have no care or thought but for war, lest he lose his dominions..." wrote Machiavelli in The Prince
Tesco may believe Lewes Road, home of funeral directors, cut price booze, betting shops, Spar, Co-op, the Trades and Labour club, a high Anglican church, St Vincent's charity shop, the best Turkish deli, is part of its dominion, but Lewes Road doesn't need a Tesco.
Check out Tesco's corporate website for its green claims - they were quoted below but it appears my blog has been tampered with - I certainly didn't blot out the lines below. 
And what a shame because I was about to write an update - Tesco has apparently now decided it's not interested in the Lewes Road site.........As a global business we have an important role in helping to minimise climate change. To achieve this, in 2009 we committed to: (
  • becoming a zero-carbon business by 2050
  • reducing the emissions of the products we sell by 30% by 2020
  • helping our customers to reduce their carbon footprint by 50% by 2020
  • halve emissions from our 2006/7 baseline portfolio of buildings by 2020
  • new stores built between 2007 and 2020 to emit half the CO2 of a 2006 new store
  • reduce emissions per case delivered by 50% by 2012...  And its claims about supporting local communities: In every country where we operate, we work with local communities to provide jobs and services and support local causes. We are committed to being a good neighbour. At Tesco, we believe in society – the idea that people depend on each other and that, working together, we can support each other and achieve much more than we can alone.