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Good News! Berwick’s Drive-in Christmas

You’ll be able to enjoy all the joy of Christmas – including singing carols – when the final Berwick Advent Window is opened on Christmas Eve at 6pm at The Parade, Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Northumberland County Council has given the greenlight for a drive-in celebration of Christmas as part of Berwick’s Advent Window Trail. The pre-ticketed free event (order tickets by emailing berwickcribservice@gmail.com) will take place in the town’s Parade Car Park – between the Parish Church and the Church of Scotland at 6pm on Thursday 24th December.

As well as the opening of the final Advent window, families will be able to join a crib-style service of the Christmas story and carols from the safety and comfort of their cars. The fun service is a joint production from many local churches and will present all the warmth, love and hope of the traditional Christmas story of the birth of Jesus – including angels, shepherds, wise men – streamed on a large screen erected in The Parade car park. And because they’ll be in their own cars, those who attend will be able to do something that churchgoers have missed out on for most of this year: sing together.

Those who cannot attend by car can enjoy the experience of the service and the opening of the final window from their homes (visit the Parish Church website and the Parish Church’s YouTube channel) – and the window will be in situ until the New Year along with the rest of the Advent Window Trail round the town.

If you wish to attend the drive-in event, don’t forget to pre-book your ticket by emailing berwickcribservice@gmail.com

Further information available from:

Rev’d Tom Sample: 01289 298521 or Rev’d Tracey Usher on: 01289 783083

Check out the full Advent Window Trail here

Wishing you a very happy Christmas!

A modern take on Once in Royal David’s City at 1 Castlegate

Advent Trail Lights Up Berwick’s Windows

This year windows around Berwick are lighting up with the timeless themes of Christmas: love, joy, fun, thankfulness and celebration.

Christmas 2020 is set to be different and probably quite challenging for many. The creation of Berwick’s very own real-time Advent calendar in windows around the town offers residents and visitors the opportunity to mark the days to Christmas in an entertaining and safe way.

Twenty-three shops, businesses, private houses – and even the Police Station – will host an Advent window. Each window will be ‘opened’ during December – one a day from Tuesday 1st December through to Wednesday 23rd. And there will be a touch of extra drama on Christmas Eve when the final window is opened.

Schools, churches, businesses, community groups and property owners will all be involved in the decoration and creation of the windows. The themes for the windows are inspired by Christmas songs and carols. Each window will have a visual link to Berwick in the design.

‘Away in a Manger’ by Holy Trinity School in the window of Foxton’s Wine Bar on Hide Hill

Window dressers have agreed to keep their displays in situ until the New Year – so there will be plenty of time to enjoy the full Advent Trail.

Children’s Competition

As well as enjoying the fun and spectacle of the windows, children can enter a competition to spot the Berwick link in each window. There’ll be prizes for winners in the age groups 3 to 7 years and 8 to 12 years. You can pick up an entry form from many of the participating retailers around town.

‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’ by Tweedmouth West School in the window of Robertson’s on West Street

The Maltings’ Christmas Light Show

It’s been a tough year for the arts across the country and Berwick’s own wonderful arts centre The Maltings is no exception. The Maltings is presenting its own Christmas light projection on the Theatre buildings as part of the Advent Trail. The Maltings is also streaming last year’s sell-out Panto ‘Aladdin’ on youtube here and ‘Christmas with the Hobs’ (details here)

The Unveiling of the Advent Windows

DateVenueThemeArtists
December 1stJennie’s Wool Studio, Bridge St.  ‘Winter Wonderland’Host
December 2ndFoxton’s Wine Bar, Hyde Hill‘Away in a Manger’Holy Trinity School
December 3rdRobertson’s, West St.  ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’Tweedmouth West School
December 4thLongbones, Walkergate       ‘God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen’Host
December 5thThistle do Nicely, Walkergate‘Mary’s Boy Child’:St Mary’s School
December 6thBerwick Community Trust, William Elder, Castlegate‘Good King Wenceslas’Methodist Church
December 7thBerwick Visitor Centre, Walkergate‘We Three Kings’Host
December 8thCastlegate Pharmacy    ‘I Saw Three Ships’Host
December 9thWoolmarket Antiques‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’Host
December 10thGeek Hut, Guildhall Alley‘Let it Snow’Spittal First School
December 11thLime Shoe Company, Marygate   ‘Little Donkey’Host
December 12thUnder the Clock Cafe, Guildhall Alley‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’Host
December 13th1  Castlegate‘Once in Royal David’s City’Host
December 14thPictorial Photography, Quayside ‘Ding, Dong Merrily on High’Host
December 15thGreaves West & Ayre, Walkergate  ‘Jingle Bells’Host
December 16thGemini Jewellers, Marygate  ‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’Host
December 17th1 Greenside AveHost
December 18thPolice Station, Church St. ‘Silent Night’Holy Trinity School
December 19thEdwin Thompson, Hyde Hill‘The Holly and the Ivy’The Camera Club
December 20thPlaytime, Marygate‘Santa Clause is coming to Town’Host
December 21stNewcastle Building Society, Hyde Hill  ‘Little Drummer Boy’Host
December 22ndSpecSavers, Marygate  ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas!’Host
December 23rdBaptist Church, Golden Square.   ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’Host
December 24thParade Car Park‘In the Bleak Midwinter’Host

The organisers and supporters – thank yous!

The small group which has organised the project would like to say a big ‘Thank you!’ to all who have helped and supported this project: to those who have lent their windows; to those who have agreed to help decorate windows; to Stephen Scott and The Chamber of Trade; to all in the Tourist Information Centre; and to those involved in the Welcome Visitor Project. Without all this support the Advent Windows Trail would not have been possible.

Enjoy, celebrate and stay safe

Little book packs a spicy festive punch

When I decided to create a meal in a book, I could hardly have hoped to put together a more lovely thing: art, food and fun all in a perfect package. ‘We don’t write recipes down’ has surpassed my expectations in so many ways. I know the whole team is proud and delighted with our little book. You can find out more about how the project originated here.

How good does Dewa’s cashew nut curry look? Cooked by Lex Lang.

We’ve had great success so far with selling copies of the book despite lockdown. I’m hoping we might entice more people to treat others or themselves with a gift of a copy for Christmas. It’s a great little present and you’ll be supporting a super charity with your purchase. Read on to find out more about the book, the charity – and the food!

Here’s Dewa at our launch of ‘We don’t write recipes down’ back in August at her pop-up curry night at The Mule On Rouge in Berwick

It’s a real delight to have sold over 200 copies so far and to pass on all profits and generous donations to our nominated Sri Lankan charity The Jasmine Foundation. The charity provides vital and life-changing education, training and support to women in rural communities in Sri Lanka. Jessica Mason, co-founder of the charity, says:

We are so grateful for the £600 we’ve just received from the ‘We don’t write recipes down’ project. We can achieve so much with this sum of money in empowering women. Thank you!’

I can’t tell you how exciting it is to support a brilliant charity. And, on top of that, to hear about people’s enjoyment of the book. We’ve been chuffed to receive photos and feedback from readers about the amazing food they’ve cooked from ‘We don’t write recipes down’. Pauline Beaumont who’s just published a book about the therapeutic benefits of baking bread: ‘Bread Therapy: The Mindful Art of Baking Bread’. cooked Dewa’s chicken curry and says:

Despite the absence of pandan leaves in my spice cupboard, Dewa’s curry was a great success. I’m so glad that Jackie did capture these recipes and write them down for us to enjoy.

And just look at this fabulous take on Dewa’s Watalappam Pud from @peapodboat on Instagram.

It would be marvellous to send even more money to support Sri Lankan women. Please do share about our meal in a book ‘We don’t write recipes down’ – it’s a fab little gift – Christmas or otherwise. You can buy it from me Jackie Kaines by contacting me at the ‘We don’t write recipes down’ Facebook page – or leave me a message here – locally from our hugely supportive friends at Geo. C Grieve, Lowick Village Store and The Mule on Rouge.

Team 'We don't write recipes down'
The ‘We don’t write recipes down’ team: Daniel Cox, Dewa Morton, Katie Chappell and Jackie Kaines

It’s a meal in a book!

At the back end of 2019, I had an idea about a little book project. I was inspired by a sketchbook created by inspirational live illustrator Katie Chappell from her travels in Asia (see below). How about trying to make an illustrated book of my Sri Lankan friend Dewa’s wonderful cooking?

Dewa’s a feeder and loves to cook the food she watched her mum cook when she was a girl. But her husband’s not keen on curry or spice – so the opportunities to do what she loves to do are a little limited in our northernmost part of east England.

Dewa says: ‘You buy your chillies in little bags; in Sri Lanka we buy them in sacks!’

When the quirky Mule on Rouge café first opened, I was helping to organise events for our local Slow Food group here in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I chatted with Mule proprietors, Sion and Zoe, and agreed that Dewa would do a pop-up evening meal to celebrate national curry week in October 2018. It was the start of a beautiful and happy partnership. Dewa now pops-up regularly at the marvellous Mule, creating magnificent Sri Lankan meals which have been translated into takeaways during lockdown.

That very first pop-up at The Mule – with Dewa looking a bit nervous

But how to create something that captures Dewa’s food and Katie’s illustrations – and what might it be? Katie suggested we get together in my kitchen. Dewa to cook, Katie to draw, and me to sous chef and simultaneously jot down ingredients and quantities. Because, as Dewa tells me each time I ask for a recipe from her: ‘We don’t write recipes down.’ At the end of the agreed day in January, we ate Dewa’s wonderful food with gusto (and with the yoghurt and cucumber she prepared especially to soothe our delicate palates because, as she explained: ‘We don’t eat that in Sri Lanka.’). Dewa ladled leftovers into pots for us to share with our partners and families. Katie cycled off with her share of food nuzzling a sheaf of sketches. I deciphered the notes I’d taken.

Then lockdown intervened. Katie wrestled with a massive live illustration workload (her clients include Google, for heaven’s sake!), the launch of a fabulous new initiative with other local artists (The Good Ship Illustration), and having a life. Despite the heat of Dewa’s food and our delight in the day, the project went tepid. After a bit of toing and froing and umming and ahhing, we thought that a graphic designer might help us ‘throw the illustrations into layouts.’ And really, this lazy thought turned out to be the masterstroke of the project. Local graphic designer Daniel Cox turned our sketches, words, and ingredients into a meal in a book – picking up instinctively on the free-flowing feel of the day and the heat and joy of it too.

And there we have it. Our very first meal in a book: ‘We don’t write recipes down.’ It’s art, food and fun in one small but lovely package. All printed by local printer Martins. So, genuinely cooked-up in Berwick-upon-Tweed. The book is priced at £6.99 (plus a £1 contribution to postage for buyers outside the local Berwick-upon-Tweed area). We are donating all proceeds to Sri Lankan charity The Jasmine Foundation. The charity supports women in rural communities through education, training, sports and welfare as well as health and hygiene initiatives. Coincidentally, this wonderful charity was co-founded by Jessica Mason and her husband Sanas Sahib and Jessica grew up and went to school in and around Berwick. So a genuine 100% Berwick-upon-Tweed production.

If you’re interested in a copy, visit the ‘We don’t write recipes down’ Facebook page.

The book premiered at Dewa’s pop-up takeaway at The Mule on Rouge on Friday 14th August 2020. There are regular pop-ups at the Mule so keep an eye on their social media feeds.

I’m updating this post on 10 November 2020. It’s such a wonder to say that we’ve sold over 200 copies of our little book and donated £600 of profits and donations to our Sri Lankan charity. Just brilliant.

In Berwick on 14th August? Why not order a Sri Lankan takeaway from the Mule on Rouge and buy a copy of this mouthwatering book at the same time?

Berwick Literary Festival free online offer ranges from poetry to politics

Berwick Literary Festival will go live online in 2020 with a programme of free events showcasing a range of genres and topics – including Black Lives Matters themes. Organisers are excited about the potential of the virtual festival to attract a wide audience in October.

With Berwick hard hit economically by coronavirus and many summer and autumn events cancelled this year, the Literary Festival is an exciting opportunity to open the doors of the town to a varied national and international audience – and to offer a treat to local visitors old and new.

Festival chair, Michael Gallico says: ‘Since a ‘normal’ festival is not practical this year, it’s vital that we keep Berwick in festival-goers’ minds. The overarching aim of the Festival is to entertain, engage and provoke debate across age ranges.’

The Festival is all about words – written, spoken, performed – and the programme includes themes such as poetry, history, and current affairs. Performers range from world champion slam poet Harry Baker whose quirky, poignant poems tap into today’s world in a modern, accessible way to political broadcaster and columnist Steve Richards, whose acclaimed book ‘The Prime Ministers’ will be the basis for his session on the recent incumbents of Number 10: from Wilson to Johnson.

World champion slam poet, Harry Baker (photo credit: Garry Cook)
Broadcaster and political commentator: Steve Richards

Black Lives Matter themes will feature in this seventh Berwick Literary Festival. Brian Ward, Professor of American Studies at Northumbria University, will follow on his 2019 talk on Martin Luther King’s visit to Newcastle with a look at the life and times of Frederick Douglass: the black slave whose freedom was bought by two Quaker women in Newcastle. Former NME media editor Stuart Cosgrove will talk about how black music lit up the sixties. This remarkable musical revolutions is set against a backdrop of social and political turmoil and the extraordinary transformation of boxer Cassius Clay into Muhammad Ali.

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Other contributors include writer and biographer Ann Thwaite whose biography of A.A Milne led to her being consultant on the major 2017 film ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’; writer, social historian and horticulturist Ursula Buchan – who spoke about her grandfather John Buchan in 2019 – will share her passion and expertise in gardening and gardening history; and Neil Astley, editor of Bloodaxe Books, will be joined by poets David Constantine and Vicki Feaver for his session which will also feature readings from the highly-acclaimed ‘Staying Human’.

Anne Thwaite’s ‘The Secret Garden: The Life of Frances Hodgson Burnett’

Programme co-ordinator Mike Fraser says: ‘We’re always seeking to attract new audiences and the online Festival offers us a chance to reach out to a wider local, national and international population. Attracting visitors to Berwick is part of our remit and we’re looking to ensure that online visitors get a taste of our town – we want them to visit in person when that’s possible.’ Organisers say the online Festival will offer plenty of opportunity for interactivity, with poetry and creative writing workshops also on offer.

Berwick Lit Fest runs from 15th-18th October 2020 online from Berwick-upon-Tweed. For up-to-date information on the programme as it unfolds, visit the Festival website.

Suspended Covidation

There’s definitely something going on around time during these lockdown days. It’s as if everything is caught in a sort of covid suspended animation moment. As if life itself is held in a very long (about nine weeks long) and ever-extending aspic jelly. What was once free in its unfolding is now glutinous.

Time behaves differently sometimes. It can even ‘feel’ different.

I’ve always felt that certain minutes have more impact than others. For example, when I’m due somewhere at, say, 9am, if it’s 8.36am I have plenty of time. But, if it’s 8.37am, my pulse picks up and my mustn’t-be-late anxiety kicks in. When the youngest daughter suggested to the eldest that they do something at 11pm instead of 10.30pm, the eldest responded that there was a massive timeshift between 10.30pm and 11.00: ’10.30’s still reasonably early but 11’s, you know, time to consider bed’.

It seems a lifetime ago that the Husband and I were fortunate enough to be wandering around Shetland, Orkney and Caithness (it was early March). As we travelled, coronavirus breathed down our necks. Hoteliers and restaurateurs repeated heartbreaking stories of cancelled bookings, how-long-can-we survives and when-will-this-ends. We wondered if we should curtail our trip. Trains became emptier, hotels quieter and queues outside chemists for antibac and paracetamol longer (remember that?). We wondered if we could last three more, two more, one more day/s until our set time to return home. It was as if the coronavirus time bubble was sealing itself around us.

Something that’s sat in a cupboard since my lovely mum died three and half years ago, is a sack of photos. My daughters didn’t want me just to throw them away, and I couldn’t bring myself to go through them. Where do you even start with a binliner full of undated memories, many of them involving unremembered or unrecognised faces? And all of which will lead to you wanting to ask your mum about them. You’ve not looked at them for years, so what’s the point now? If there are some worth keeping, how do you file them? Where do you put them? And, anyway, will you ever look at them again once the job’s done?

A sackload of memories? Or just a pile of rubbish?

Last week I was reminded of the power of photography to both preserve and engage. Local photographer, Sarah Jamieson of Pictorial Photography, embarked on a project to celebrate and record lockdown workers here in Berwick. Sarah says: ‘I just wanted to highlight the independent businesses who have continued to work through lockdown, to give them a bit of recognition like the supermarket staff and the NHS have been getting. There’s a lot of hidden stuff going on. I was also missing using my camera and speaking to people, so it was quite therapeutic to get out there and do something fun. I might do some more. I’ve had a few requests from people I’ve missed like farmers, plumbers, opticians…’ You’ll find her wonderful 32 portraits in one day here – make sure to read the quotes too.

Apparently, it’s a week since I moved Mum’s sack of photos from the cupboard to the middle of the sitting room floor. I have thought of several ways to address filing and culling the curled and creased heaps of fading pictures. But, hey, there’s no rush is there? Just as time ebbs and flows in mysterious ways, so objects magically stop being visible if they’re left somewhere long enough, right?

Living the Covid dream

Sourdough porn shots are flooding social media, and the Husband is getting more exasperated. His loaves are dense, he complains. He’s under-proving or over-proving or something. It takes him so many stages to get his loaves in the oven and out again. And it’s painful to watch his little crestfallen face when the ta-dah! moment is not quite what he’d hoped for.

It’s all a bit like having Boris Johnson back at Number 10 after his sick leave. A little bit flat. Mind you, Johnson says that we’re beginning to turn the tide on Covid19 (hurrah!). And maybe his presence will turn back another tide: the one of people getting gung-ho about lockdown. Obviously, no one’s mentioning the austerity tide which washed away massive parts of the NHS years ago – that would be bad form. So, the good news is that Johnson is with us as we wrestle Covid19 to the floor.

Wrestling is one exercise the family has not taken up during lockdown. Although I wouldn’t blame the younger daughter for throwing the eldest into a body press. She’s taken to calling her little sister ‘slut monkey’. Apparently, it’s a term of endearment. And, in fact, when I did intervene in one bicker-fest, I was firmly told by both daughters to butt out. Is this what it’s like to be Donald Trump, I wonder? He must always feel as if he’s in the wrong, no matter what he says. I mean, how could the President of the United States public ‘musings’ on ingesting bleach possibly be dangerous? It’s not as if he’s some quack leader making up rules and then actively encouraging people to flout them, is it? Oh, hang on…

I find the whole idea of facemasks slightly depressing. When we were lucky enough to go to Japan, they seemed like an exotic accessory: something you always noticed but tried not to stare at. So, when I overheard the eldest daughter saying she’d ordered some, I was impressed but also resigned. Now I’ll have to wear one when I go on my once-weekly shopping trip, I thought. Turns out we’d got our wires crossed.

The Husband’s sourdough saga is a weekly serial (see what I did there). Needless to say, we mock his efforts. My favourite way of tormenting him is waggling Instagram at him and saying: ‘Can we have one like this next time?’ We answered a plea for sourdough starter from a friend at the beginning of lockdown. The photographic evidence of the friend’s airy, soft, perky, plump loaves is particularly painful to the Husband. ‘That’s made with my starter!’ he wails. He’s just read this paragraph and said: ‘It’s more than weekly!’ It certainly feels that way to the rest of us.

The daughters have me out running (well, I shuffle and watch their firm buns disappear into the distance) every other day. They’ve both done the Run For Heroes Challenge to fund the NHS – Run 5, Donate 5. I’m up next. It’s lovely that we’re all raising funds for a national institution – just how we used to raise money for charities. In amongst the on-line Pilates, ping pong, mini-badminton, and endless training runs, I’m feeling primed and ready. Even so, I’m a bit anxious. Things can so easily go wrong, can’t they?

A shuffle in the Berwick sunshine. What could possibly go wrong?

Yesterday I knocked out a brioche loaf while the Husband went through the numerous and baffling sourdough steps. The whole process of creating a sourdough lasts two days. At least. Why does the dough have to go in the fridge overnight, we ask? Why do you split the dough between two tins? If the loaf’s not big enough, why not just put the whole lot in one tin? He retaliates by telling me I taste like a human-sized ready salted crisp after I come back from a run. But his taunt is rather endearing. Who wouldn’t want to be married to a giant crisp? I feel bolstered rather than beleaguered.

Look at the brioche on that!

It’s difficult to imagine Boris Johnson having any insecurities. He could turn beleaguered into bolstered by mumbling a few incoherent sentences. He’s very like Trump in his ability to shake off the most extraordinary statements and actions (things that would be self-sabotaging for anyone else). The kind of guy who could bounce back even after infecting loads of people with coronavirus by shaking hands with them. Mind you, they called Tony Blair ‘Teflon Tony’…

The Husband’s back in the kitchen today. I hear a little sigh. His loaf has fallen short of expectations again. However, as with all things, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And, despite our teasing, we devour his bread-offerings with gusto.

Stream of covidness

I wake up with a stiff neck this morning. I squish my shoulder up to my ear and press it down. No joy. I roll my head around and pull faces. I moan about it to the Husband. It still hurts. I go downstairs, feed the hen, put the porridge on and think about the day ahead. Others begin to emerge from the house like woodlice from a fallen branch. The youngest daughter decides to make her own porridge. I use one third milk, two thirds water: she likes all milk. The eldest appears and takes her porridge straight to her makeshift desk. She’s working 12-14 hours in a virtual office world that is a far cry from the tranquil Berwick environment she’s roosting in temporarily.

I scan the Covid news briefly. I’m finding it harder to look at it as time goes on. I don’t think it’s because I’ve lost interest, I think it’s because this is it. This is what we are living. I wonder how it feels to be lumbered with Trump as your leader right now. The youngest daughter and I discuss briefly whether he has an ideology – the Husband says not. I suggest it’s all about self-aggrandisement and project Trump. He has made it clear in the past that he believes anyone who doesn’t grab what they can and take opportunities to increase their wealth and power – even if it’s against the law or hurts others – is an idiot. So, I guess he’s living the dream. Why do people trust him?  Does anyone seriously believe that now is the optimum time for the States to withdraw funding from the World Health Organisation?

It’s a long time since the two daughters and the Husband and I have all lived together. The mini Trump in all of us is beginning to emerge. Instead of answering questions or responding to the point in hand, we toss casual insults at each other: ‘What’s he doing now?’ ‘Yes, look at him. Staring. That’s what he’s doing. Just staring.’ The girls lurch from hugging each other lovingly, to mocking each other’s knees, toes, noses, hair. They even bite each other. I am told to stop making everything into a lesson and accused of being over-sensitive.  It’s just like being a family again. We focus on memories of small injustices. Turns out the Husband tortured the eldest daughter by forcing her to have celery salt on her quail’s eggs as a teenager. What an arse. She hates celery in all its forms.

I hear the news on the radio that there are cases of Covid in the camps in Yemen. I feel sick and anxious. There’s a wobbly ceasefire there which is pretty much being ignored. The UN predicts that 93% of the population could become infected. I distract myself by pulling up some weeds in the garden.

A dear friend’s dog had to be put down yesterday. He had been poorly for sometime. I’m not a great dog lover but I did love Cuddy. I was one of his walkers – along with a stalwart crew of other locals who ensured he got his exercise twice a day, rain or shine. It will be hard for my friend not to have her lovely canine companion. I wonder if she will be able to get another dog and if I would help with walking it if she does. I’ve felt guilty not walking Cuddy during lockdown.

Farewell Cuddy: a wonderful companion and all-round super dog

The whole celery torture thing came up because I felt compelled to cook the celeriac mouldering on the shelf: it would be a crime to let any food go to waste right now. Although, why now and not before…? I’ve taken to gathering onion skins and other vegetable offcuts in a bag in the fridge and using them to make veg stock for stews, risottos, soups etc. We are also working our way through the ice-encrusted weird and wonderful offerings that the Husband has secretly stashed in the freezer over the years, hoping I won’t notice. Well, I’m finding them now! He froze yoghurt. Defrosted, it became a curdled liquid mush. We made him eat it on his porridge.

I squeeze my shoulder up to my ear again. Ouch! At some point my stiff neck will magically disappear but, until then, it’s really painful. As the pandemic continues, I wonder if more American people will notice the painful truth: Trump is as insane as any James Bond villain.

Berwick Lit Fest: a feast of words for autumn

The Friendly Festival in a Historic Walled Town 15th-18th October 2020 hopes to be something for us all to look forward to post Covid-19

Berwick Lit Fest’s seventh season runs from 15th to 18th October 2020. The programme for this year’s Festival is all but complete and looks set to have the widest appeal yet. From world champion slam poet Harry Baker to Borders historian Alistair Moffat; presenter and political correspondent Steve Richards to historian and academic Diarmaid MacCulloch; and garden journalist and social historian Ursula Buchan to poetry publisher and editor Neil Astley – it’s a programme to entertain, engage and provoke debate across age ranges.

Michael Gallico, Festival chair says: ‘The unpredictable nature of the Covid-19 pandemic means these are uncertain times for all events and festivals. We very much hope that our community – and communities across the world – will be through this terrible time by October, and that the Lit Fest might be something to look forward to in these difficult times.’

Mike Fraser, Lit Fest programme co-ordinator says: ‘The Festival has grown steadily since 2014 and we’re always seeking to attract new audiences. The Lit Fest is all about words – written, spoken, performed – a blend that’s drawn increasing audiences from across the Borders and beyond.’ Mike says that the Lit Fest seeks to attract more visitors from towns such as Newcastle, Alnwick, Hexham, Edinburgh and Glasgow – all within easy reach for day trippers or weekend visitors – and to engage more book festival and literary festival enthusiasts from both south and north.

Mike explains that each day of the Festival’s run has a themed strand that both day and weekend Festival attendees can track – for example: poetry, history, and writing and environment.  ‘Comedian Katie Brand pulled in an eager audience in 2019,’ says Mike. ‘It’s great to schedule events that attract a cross-section of ages. Slam-poet Harry Baker’s quirky, poignant poems speak of today’s world in a modern, accessible form. Whilst local journalist and author, Christopher Ward, will dip into the world of the Titanic via the story of his grandfather: a violinist in the band that continued to play as the tragic vessel sank.’

Berwick Lit Fest prides itself on the use of the town’s historic sites as venues – from the Guildhall to the Berwick Visitor Centre (the former Methodist Church). Local community engagement and support is also an integral part of the Festival. Michael Gallico says: ‘From day one, the Festival team looked at anchoring the Lit Fest in Berwick – we’re hugely fortunate to  live in such a historic and attractive town – and we aim to help visitors to enjoy every aspect of our location, whilst developing a compelling programme offer. Clearly, we want our visitors to attend our range of fascinating events but it’s also an opportunity for them to get a taste of our town’s beautiful riverside, coast, and historic sites such the unique Elizabethan Ramparts.’

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A historical reenactment on Berwick’s historic ramparts
Berwick Lighthouse at sunset with the town silhouetted behind
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The Royal Border Bridge across the River Tweed with Berwick Castle and the driftwood boat sculpture popular with walkers, children and would-be seafarers

Part of ‘anchoring’ the Festival in the community is the schools programme, which includes events and workshops in local schools; a partnership with Berwick Rotary Club ensures a well-subscribed story competition for children to enter; and poetry reading in local care homes is a fundamental part of the Festival’s community offer.  

For up-to-date information on events, speakers and performers visit the Festival website and find it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The hen vanishes. And a rat appears.

I am hunter gatherer. The Husband is of an age that lets him off supermarketing during lockdown and the daughters can’t drive: so the shopping list is all mine. It’s a big responsibility and my endeavours are judged the second I wrestle the bags into the house. On the drive back from the supermarket, I decide what to hold out in triumph to distract from the longed-for items missing in action. No, no pasta. But look at these grapes! That said, last week my trophy was the last two bags of strong white flour (actually the last two bags of any kind of flour).  The Husband’s been begging for strong white for weeks. The woman behind me gazed at the flour-dusted shelf. Did I offer her one of my bags? I didn’t. This week, there was no flour. But, huzzah! Oh, precious gold dust: quick yeast! I took the last two remaining packets, glancing guiltily around as I did so.

It’s easy to get spooked in the supermarket. I psych myself up to go. When I’m there, I turn away, hold my breath and mutter ‘two metres’ if my fellow shoppers aren’t honouring my personal space. Today the lovely checkout worker chatted away merrily. And all I could think was that the screen was there for a reason and maybe it would be good not to keep leaning out from behind it. Also, I couldn’t stop wondering if a film of spittle was settling on all my shopping during our merry badinage. I’d torn one finger of the plastic gloves I was wearing… I made sure to use the other hand as I packed.

It’s hard not to feel that everything is, if not infected by Covid-19, then certainly affected by it. This week, something spooked our hen. She went over the wall. Pretty (that’s her name) is eight years old, the pride of our garden and a home body. Having said that, she gave up on her hen house long ago and prefers to roost in a tree for the night. In the early hours of Sunday morning, the youngest daughter wondered why she could hear clucking in her bedroom. Turns out the hen was on the pavement outside B&M, shouting just like the drunken youth that usually stream past our windows on a Saturday night.

The evidence of the hen’s outing

Not wishing to wake the whole household at 2am, the youngest fearlessly went into the street in her dad’s shoes and her PJs, armed with crisps to lure the escapee back home (the hen always enjoys a crisp or two when we have a glass of wine and nibbles in the garden).  

Youngest daughter and hen safe after their night-time adventure

On Sunday the daughters went for a swim from Greenses beach here in Berwick. We incorporated their dip into our exercise hour. I found myself hoping no one would see us. Were we breaking rules? Would someone think we were irresponsible? A couple walking their dog came down to the beach as the daughters waded up to their knees, dunked their shoulders, and flapped into a shivery swim in the shallows. I imagined the couple tutting under their breath: ‘reckless behaviour… coastguard… selves and others at risk…’ etc. They probably didn’t, but that’s the world we’re living in.

On Monday, the hen was at the back door as usual. Tap-tapping on the glass, wanting her breakfast. I fed her at the far end of the garden as usual. Five minutes later, I returned to visit the compost heap. I squealed. There was a giant (I kid you not: giant) dead rat, lying right in the middle of the grass, where previously there had not been a giant dead rat. I’m no Miss Marple, but that rat had been dead some time: it was stiff as a board. How had it arrived there? What did it mean? Was it a judgement: the flour, the swim, the yeast?

The Husband dealt with the rat (I do the supermarket: it’s only fair). The hen clucked at my feet. ‘Passenger,’ I hissed at her as I gave her a few grains of corn. ‘I bet you didn’t even think of kitchen roll when you were hanging out at B&M.’ She blinked at me. Inscrutable.

And the most exciting thing since…

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