A shed in the hedge

We have a splendid view from our back gate – all across fields to The Downs, down a field with sheep in it, and up another field to two lovely oak trees.

You can see some of this from the house – not least since Nick cut a semi-circle out of the back hedge so we can see the two landmark trees from the kitchen. (They are the trees you can see on the heading of this site – lovely aren’t they?)

Well, we decided – after a few episodes of George Clark’s Amazing Spaces – to try and build a shed on a platform in the hedge, backing against the large cherry tree.

We wanted space for a desk – something like Dylan Thomas’s writing shed in Laugharne, and you can see that we have been working on this idea for some time – and a fold out bed so we can put up a couple more people now and then.

And to sit there and enjoy the lovely view of an evening.

We, for our (relatively rich) sins, live in a conservation area in a national park, and the village is nothing if not clear about what it approves of and what it doesn’t when it comes to any development.

(I could tell you a long story about the house being built behind the green boards for about two years but it would get very tedious.)

Anyway, it being a small world, we knew someone who could ask informally of the council whether we needed planning permission.

I had previously looked at the planning portal for Chichester and it is a site designed by planning experts for planning experts and not for ‘civillians.’

(And if you search for Chichester planning portal and you see the reassuringly named site: Simple Search Chichester District Council, and if you click on that and see Planning – Simple Search and then see Guidance – you might think you were in with a chance. But click on that and you will get the message, Page Not Found. Now you know you are in trouble.)

We just wanted someone to say if it is such and such size, above such and such height, within such and such distance of the house, yes you need planning permission.

Or indeed, whatever you are thinking of building apart from a hedgehog abode under a hedge, you need planning permission.

This is an extract from the advice we have been given:

If the property benefits from permitted development rights the proposal is determined against Schedule 2 Part 1 Class E of The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015 (please see page 22 of the attachment). This shows the range of development permitted and the additional restrictions that apply to Article 2(3) land (conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty, national parks, world heritage sites).

In other circumstances, I might be rather pleased that our little corner of deepest Sussex ranks along with a World Heritage Site, but this is not time to take such crumbs of comfort.

The form we have to fill in to find out if we need planning permission is nine pages long.

This is not a rant to claim the need to relax planning laws.

Neither is it a rant about the conservativism of planning around here – nothing if it’s not built to look like it was there when Jane Austen came trailing through.

Nor I am I about to get on to the issue of the cottage over the road where they got planning permission for an extension and have (hopefully in the in the process of re-building) reduced the cottage to one end wall – the Ypres in 1918 look.

No, it is a rant about un-friendly local authority and government websites.

I do realise they have may lawyers leaning over their necks whilst they are designing them, but really.


Seize The Day

We were given a poignant reminder this week of the need to seize the day, make the most of your time, do interesting things and stop faffing about in general.

And though faffing about is pleasant – we do a lot of it, so we should know – it is all too easy to see days and even weeks slip past with not much new stuff happening.

The man of the house saves the world by giving all sorts of leaders the benefit of his wisdom whether they want it or not, and I do Oxfam bookshop things.

But, I thought, this weekend we will go somewhere and do something.

Unaccustomed as we are at doing this, and being a woman who feels the wisdom of crowds is always a good thing, I took the issue to the pub crowd. (Well, when I say crowd there were eight of us, and three dogs who didn’t play much part in the discussion.)

(It was very nice to sit around in the pub garden and drink wine, eat chips and generally enjoy the Friday evening.)

Now, one of the benefits of being us is that we can do things in the week and out of school holidays but being a woman of instant enthusiasms and no power to defer any gratification, I said we had to do something tomorrow – Saturday.

Our friends reminded us that the plans we had to go to Romsey – never been there, sounds interesting, indeed go to anywhere which involved the A27 (a lot of Sussex), was bad news on a nice June Saturday.

Likewise, a long deferred plan to go to the V&A as I haven’t been there in a while, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

I was up at 5am, listening to the ever amazing dawn chorus in our garden – if I knew how to embed a sound clip in this blog, I would let you hear it – and I found that in the Test Valley there are guided tours around the place where they make Bombay Sapphire gin and apparently it is really interesting.

The man, woken up at 6am with the exciting news that he could go to a gin distillery that morning, was less enthusiastic.

Not that he balks at a nice G&T but thinking about it at 6am didn’t seem to work.

OK, I said, we can go to the craft and design fair at West Dean and in a desperate bid to avoid anything so horrendous as shopping, he declared he wanted to go for a long walk and a pub lunch.

(Though we are knee-deep in nice country pubs round here, we never do that.)

So, I said yes and then we set off – after a quick trip into the local auction house to see what was available to re-upholster but that is another story.

The man planned a walk which involved a nice route through the quiet country lanes to car park from which you could climb up a part of the South Downs, do a circular round and then head back down for lunch in a nearby pub.

Not exactly seizing the day in terms of planning to sell up and drive to Katmandu or give up a nice life in deepest Sussex to teach English in rural Chad, or even go to New York for the weekend, but still…

Remember the quiet, lovely Sussex lanes? Well in about six miles of such lanes we met say 25 on-coming cars, each requiring a stop and back up – not least because our car is nowhere near as nice as all those on-coming 4x4s or Audis or BMWs and therefore had to tug its forelock and throw itself into the ditch.

Several miles of this was really quite wearing and we ended up rather snappish towards the on-coming vehicles. We thought there must have been something going on to cause that much traffic but we had no idea what.

That was until we got to the main road and set off to the car park.

There were all these people around and as I turned right into what turned out to be a farm track rather than the entrance to the car park, we realised we had joined the South Downs Marathon.

I had to drive up this track to find somewhere to turn round. I crept up it. I was not going to bully someone who was running 26 miles up hill and down dale into moving over for my (not even posh) car.

Then I had to turn round and drive back, and I am pretty sure that if the people who were having to get to the side of the track had the energy to waste on irritation, they would have been pretty irritated.

The man was meanwhile scanning the map looking for an alternative and he found one, so we drove on and parked in a nice local village and set off on what he said would be a shorter walk but there was a pub so we could still do what we had planned.

About 100 metres from the car, we hit a field full of large and interested looking bullocks.

Call me a wimp, but I was not walking through that field with a dog.

Back we went, and he found another (yet another,) walk and we drove a bit and parked and set off.

Levin Down it is called, should you want to go there, and it was managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust and was lovely with all sorts of wildflowers.

All going well and dog was bounding about, until we got to the point where there was yet another field of bullocks.

Admittedly, they looked placid enough but I am not that easily convinced.

So we undid the two rusty gates to allow us to walk the other side of the barbed wire crested fence and hoped we could re-join the path later on.

Actually, the path sign said we should be on that side of the fence but the farmer had other ideas.

At the end of the field, there were the signs that other people had been facing the same dilemma as us and had made (who knows how successfully) efforts to get over the barbed wire and head on.

The man and dog were more gung ho than me.

We went back.

So, we went to the local pub and had a reasonably nice lunch, came home and I did the ironing and the man mowed the lawn.

We didn’t so much seize the day as limply shook its hand, but it is a start.


We have an old table in the front of the bookshop, and each week I change the display.

When we first had it, we just used it to show off particularly nice books but then I got it into my mind that we should have a theme.

My volunteer colleague does a fab job with the window – all sorts of displays and props but you would be surprised how many books it takes to do a good window display.

We don’t usually have enough books (well, good looking books,) to do the same table and window theme.

So, I started doing collections of books for the table.

Now the upstairs of the shop is scattered with random boxes of my collections. ‘Lucy’s boxes’ as they are known – when they are not being moved or cursed for being a trip hazard, in the way of getting to the clothes shelves……

The most popular books are good art books.

Once, and stop me if I have told this story before, we got a call from someone saying she was clearing out her parents’ home and there were a lot of art books which her parents had specified were to go to Oxfam. Could she get them delivered the next day?

They came in about 20 large black sacks and my heart sank. Black sacks usually denote books which (sadly) get moved from black sacks into our white re-cycling sacks. (We did get them gift-aided in any case.)

But no, one peer into the sacks and you could see these were just lovely, expensive, coffee table, and unusual art books.

We did very well indeed in sales from the table that week.

But most of our collections are gradually built after one or two books will spark an idea.

Of course, there was the First World War box which was slowly filled over nearly a year to get a really good display on the anniversary of the break out of war.

Then there was the rather obscure box of farming books that started with a donation from some gentleman farmer of certain years.

Included in that was a book on the history of the Ivel tractor. Yesterday, I took a call from a man who asked if we still had it because he had seen it and not bought it, been kicking himself ever since and now would come hot foot to buy it.

It had gone. And that is the way with charity shops, see it and buy it because if you don’t, it might never come in again.

We had a box for National Women’s Day – but I got the date wrong on the notices, thinking that it was the same day every year and infact it was three days later….

Last winter, we did a collection of ghost stories and you could buy a mug for 50p with every ghost story you bought.

We’ve currently got a box on the go about Time that started with a several books on clocks and The Time Traveller’s Wife, and is slowly building up nicely.

There is one on philosophy (not sure that is going to be a big seller,) and another on poetry (you can’t tell with poetry, sometimes it sells well and other times the books can sit there, looking sad, for ages.)

There is a box on landscape and maps. Maps, especially old and local ones are always popular and we had a donation of old London underground maps and an old book on routes across England with little contour maps, so I started a box.

And I’ve got two boxes of ‘old and interesting’ books that are all priced at £1. It turns the shop into a jumble sale for a few days but people love getting a bit of history for £1.

On the table as I write, is a collection of music books. The Annie Liebovitz coffee table book of photographs of musicians sold as I was just putting it out.

And the lovely Peter Rabbit Music Book, (that I found at the bottom of a pile of piano books for grades one to six dating from the 1980s and destined for a white sack, sorry), is worth about £20 and hopefully will be sold before I’m next in the shop on Monday.

I have an idea for a box on Speed – racing cars, steam engines, Jamie’s Meals in 15 minutes……


Snapshots of an Oxfam Bookshop

Today I was doing a full day in the bookshop – mostly you do mornings or afternoons – but today it was a full day, and I had plans.

Upstairs (the behind-the-scenes bit,) I intended to sort out the history shelves, sort out my boxes of specialist books – but more of that later – cull and re-stock the old and interesting, all sorts of things – and then in the afternoon I was downstairs in the shop.

Downstairs, you can do all sorts of stuff whilst the book-buying public has better things to do than be in your shop.

You can put gift aid stickers on books (with gift aid the government gives us an extra 25%) and price them so that they can go upstairs and some fellow book-elf can put them on the upstairs shelves ready and waiting to be called into the bookshop proper.

You can price some books and put them straight into the shop without them ever having to stay, waiting, upstairs.

You can look at the mess that is the literature shelves and get them standing upright, in order and smiling at the world.

And, and this is my real campaign at the moment, you can do something interesting with the front-facing books.

For those of you who don’t know what that means (and neither did I,) it is those books that are propped up and facing you.

Sometimes, I chose those that are red and so the shop has books with (largely) red covers facing front; sometimes I chose faces so that every category has a face looking out at you – from biography to animals to literature to children’s’ books. (It is a lot harder with old and interesting which rarely have any interesting cover at all, and as for humour you are on a looser.)

And then when the ‘public’ come in, you can find them something they are looking for, or just listen to their stories of why they are delighted to find that particular book.

But the book-donating public of Petersfield changes all your plans because you have to deal with what they bring in.

A nice older person rang this morning and said she wanted to donate a few boxes of books – about four boxes she said.

So I spent the morning clearing the other donations to make sure that we had room to take these boxes and that I would manage to sort them so that tomorrow – when there are no book sorters in the shop – it would be clear.

In the meantime, I had persuaded my (very) nice new friend who helped me so much with the bookstall for the village festivities, to think about being an Oxfam bookshop volunteer and managed to get him in for a look around.

“It’s not rocket science,” I said, as I whizzed him around the vaguely organized chaos. My fingers were so crossed he would say yes and he would understand that it was an interesting place to work and not, please god, not get appalled by the chaos we work in.

He didn’t seem appalled and I hope he will be as interested as I am.

So, back to the day.

We have an endless supply (as in donations of books on various aspects of the countryside) from bird books to flowers to every aspect of the natural world.

A woman came in asking for a simple guide to wildflowers and I confidently said, ‘Yes, of course.’ Leading her to the relevant section, I knew we would have lots of books on wildflowers, but we didn’t.

Startled, I rang upstairs and asked my fellow volunteer for wildflower books waiting upstairs to be given their moment on the shelves downstairs.

‘Of course,’ she said, ‘We will have lots.’

But we didn’t.

I asked her to give me her phone number and we would keep an eye out but she said not to worry she would pop in – and look elsewhere.

And then, when I was sorting out the children’s non-fiction, there was this lovely book on wildflowers.

Blow me, as they say, an hour later another woman asked if we had any books on identifying flowers.

That has never happened before. No one ever asks for wildflower books when we are knee deep in them.

So, I was pleased to be able to march her over and show her this book.

But she said,’ No I want something not so simple.’

I have her number.

So, do you remember the person who rang saying she had four boxes?

She had her fiend/neighbour/relative bring them in and she had a lot more than four boxes.

I said to the neighbour/friend/relative,’ I though there were four boxes.’ ‘Only if they were four body big boxes,’ he said.

I am sorry to say that most of those books needed putting in re-cycling sacks.

They were brown, they were Guinness Book of Records 1996, you may think I was being heartless, but I know what we can sell and what we can’t.

Ten minutes later someone else donated, and wanted their bags back, so seven large bags of books had to be put into other boxes. Three other people brought in books, and so on and so on.

This is now 4.30 and we shut at 5pm – and by now I have, among the other things I have done today, filled 30 re-cycling sacks.

I am sure that today I sacked for re-cycling a book about which someone   would say,’ Hey don’t throw that away, it is great.’

And, if you have got this far, I will tell you about the boxes next time.

The Garden Show

I got involved in The Garden Show about five years ago when my lovely friend (who set it up 21 years ago with her friend,) inveigled me into it.

She and I had met in Brussels and become friends, and then we both ended up back in the UK (we were in this part of the world thanks to her.)

Anyway, she invited me to her house and we sat and nattered and solved a few of the world’s problems over a glass of wine and then she asked if I would like to come and help.

Yes, I said, of course.

Then she poured me another glass of wine and told me about this event which is part elbow-sharpened gardeners fighting for the particular plant they have been looking for all year, part lovely day out for all the family, part shopper’s paradise for those looking for something unique and made by a local craftsperson, and more.

Then she poured me another glass of wine ( or, if I am honest, a couple of glasses) and said I would be the Health & Safety person.

Yes, I said, of course.

Now, part of that response was her, I would have done anything she asked, and of course, part of that was the wine.

Anyone who knows me (slapdash and bodge are my middle names, and an eye for detail is not anywhere on my radar,) would have strained their corsets laughing at the choice of me as a H&S person.

But here I am five years on, and I do it.

This year was the show’s 21st birthday, as I said, and a great show it was. Thousands of people came, the weather was brilliant.

Behind the scenes, there is a ‘family’ of staff and I have never worked anywhere where the ‘we are a team’ is more manifest.

Health and Safety has a loose definition in the team so I can find myself on my hands and knees (oh those knees can make it hard to get up after a while,) taping down rucks in the marquee flooring, getting a tired car parker, with no money on him, a sausage sandwich, trying to talk intelligently to the Trading Standards Officer after a long day…..

Lost children, heat stroke, smoothing the ruffled feathers of annoyed exhibitors, telling an endless series of people where the toilets are….

And juggling birds and arrows.

We have some birds of prey which come (with handlers, I hasten to add,) and they do flying exhibitions.

This year we also had, for the first time, a man who let off white doves at weddings and who wanted to let them off to show his ‘wares.’

Also for the first time we had, an archery ‘stall’ where you could go and see if you could hit a target.

This was quite near the birds of prey.

The white doves apparently circle the area before they set of home.

You can see where this was all leading.

With a bit of negotiation we got the birds of prey in their large cages whilst the doves were released – the archery stopped whilst the falcons were flying – and all was well.

H&S Garden Show style.

My lovely friend and I – during a very busy three days – always found a bit of time to wander about, and she would take photos because she was a great photographer, and I would tell her the tales of ‘H&S’ issues and then one of us would be radioed to collect money or sort out a complaining stallholder – and it would be back to work.

This year she wasn’t there and will never be there again.

So, there is this fantastic event going on in the sunshine, created by her vision, charm and practicality, and there are a lot of people – staff, friends, exhibitors – who cannot really believe she won’t be here again.

We were crying, and telling each other stories of her, hugging – and getting on with the show.

I’m sure she was pleased to know the show was going well.

I know she would have laughed at the juggling of doves, falcons and arrows.


There are some surprising parallels between our village life and world politics.

A friend of mine is involved in a village society where the leadership is not in its first flush of youth – but then most of us aren’t.

Anyway, they are looking for the next generation of leadership and my friend, who may be in the running for a (small) leadership role, said it was like being groomed by ISIS.

You are contacted, flattered, people keep in touch with you, you are told that the rewards are great and that you will be doing this for a great cause – and of course you are vetted.

As far as I know you don’t have to travel to Syria or take up arms and very little is done via any form of social media – and the people involved do not wear masks – at least not yet.

I hesitate to say you have to bring cakes – preferably baked by yourself – but for all I know, ISIS has the same rules.

And then there is the coup.

In our case, the leadership of a village institution was said to be rather undemocratic.

(Please bear with me on this rather vague stuff about who is who and what is what, but rather to my surprise some people in the village are reading this blog so I have to be careful or there will be people on my back step with angry faces – remind me to tell you sometime of my best- beloved angering Israel and then Mosad arriving on the back step – though I am not drawing parallels of course.)

Anyway, the village institution was said to be rather undemocratic and ‘things needed to be done!’

The leader was told that ‘things’ were afoot and he graciously stood aside.

On the night, a member of the institution was briefed to nominate a person as second in command, the vice-chair or president or whatever it was.

Unfortunately that person had a senior moment and instead of nominating the person waiting the in the wings to take over, she nominated someone with a vaguely similar name who was shocked and surprised to find himself carried aloft to his new role.

Now he is rather harassed by the previous incumbent’s emails on what he should and shouldn’t do.

I will bet there is many a vice-president of a small African nation who finds himself in a not too dissimilar position.

Finally, a rant, though this is pure village stuff and has no parallels.

As, dear reader, you will recall, we ran the village Festivities bookshop with a few great people and a round up of locals from the pub.

(I’m not sure I mentioned it, but I will now. By the weekend of the Festivities we had got 91 banana boxes to one place in the village but they had to be moved to the final destination. I was not sure we would have enough muscle so on our usual Friday evening visit to the pub, I went round everyone who looked ‘likely’ and asked if they would come the next morning to shift a load of books. One great person got her Dad’s large trolley and other people carried boxes and all were shifted in just over an hour – thank you!)

Well, in a recent parish magazine, there was a severe complaint from a person who is quite practiced at severe complaints, about the fact there were not enough people stepping up to the plate on village committees.

Now, though I don’t get involved, I hear that this really means, “ We people of certain standing want some of you lot to come and get on with the drudge stuff (and bake cakes) whilst we, people of a certain standing, make the decisions. And one day, one day mind you, you can take over as long as you are groomed and listen attentively to how it should be done.’

I’m minded to put a bit in the parish magazine reminding the severe woman that not only did the bookstall – with no committee – raise £1,000 but that the vibrant, fun and very successful Choir Called Dave runs without any vice-anythings or a committee of any sort.

Strange Fruit

I was listening to a great Radio 4 programme the other day called Soul Music.

The series takes a piece of music and finds people (god only knows how they do the research) who can talk about why it means something significant to them.

Anyway, this was about Strange Fruit sung by Billie Holliday.

I was sitting at my kitchen table but it took me straight back to driving up the A1 on a sunny evening, watching hot air balloons fly over the crops.

There is something about some music that just takes you back to where, and it has to be where, you heard it last or it made an impression on you.

If you don’t know it, Strange Fruit is about lynching in America.

Yes, it’s shocking.

You should listen to it, great programme. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03jb1w1

It got me fiddling around on Google and Wikipedia as you do when the risotto does not need your immediate attention…..

In 1916 in Waco – a city then thought to be progressive but since well known for anything but progressiveness – a young black man called Jessie Washington pleaded guilty to the rape of a white woman.

He was quickly sentenced to death in a courtroom full of furious locals.

He was straight away dragged from the courtroom and lynched in front of the town hall.

10,000 people watched including local officials, police, children and people on their lunch-break.

A professional photographer was there and it was his images which helped change views on lynching.

See the images https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_of_Jesse_Washington

Some five years later in 1921 Leonadis C Dyer from St Louis sponsored an anti-lynching bill which was passed by the House of Representatives, but a Senate filibuster by white Democrats blocked it and defeated it.

As they did for several years to come.

Meanwhile there were many lynchings of young black men.

In 1964, three Mississippi civil rights workers were abducted and lynched.

But the murder, including hanging from a tree, by two Klu Klux Klan members, of Michael Donald is though to be the last recorded lynching.

It was in 1981.

God knows we Brits have a lot to answer for but at least we don’t claim we are the Land of the Free.

This all got me thinking about one of the best books I have ever read.

It is called Praying for Sheetrock by Melissa Fay Greene.

It is about a civil rights ‘campaign’ (and I put that in quotation marks because it was a local action rather than a big campaign.)

Here is the blurb from the back of the book,

‘Set in the Deep South of the 1970s, this superb book tells the true story of the political awakening of a tiny black community. Here the people of McIntosh County, Georgia tell of their own experiences – stories that are outrageous, funny, eloquent and touching – in a historic struggle for civil equality.’

I remember reading it for the first time, years ago, and having to remind myself that this was in the 70s.

Not in the 20s or 30s or even 40s – but in the 70s when I was listening to Rod Stewart.

( Of course, I had leant my copy – and several later-bought copies – and couldn’t find one so I had to buy it again…)

I think it is now out of print but you can get it via www.bookfinder.com and I urge you to read it.

It is brilliant and moving.