Exploring the real world… volunteers

January, 2019

It’s that time of year. Our Christmas tree is lopsided and the fairy’s fallen off. The decorations are pulling paint off the walls, our pots and pans are charred and ruined, black bags are filled with body parts, guests cower in the shadows looking lost and frightened, ravens peck at carcasses, wolves howl, and there are the remains of a bonfire on the dining room table. I will never invite the sewing circle to tea again.

Sally navigated Christmas and New Year’s Eve unscathed but something happened to me. I changed shape. I am now round. A blob. And all my clothes have shrunk. This phenomenon occurs every year so fortunately I know what to do: I clear a space on the sofa and sit down with a pen and paper. It’s time to make my 2019 resolutions. First of all, obviously, I will never drink alcohol again. Right. What else? Oh yes, I will lose two stone, take up lacrosse, read medieval poetry, play the tuba, embrace veganism, run a marathon, learn to speak French and publish a bestselling novel.

Ha.

I screw up the paper and throw it at the Christmas tree. I make the same list every year and nothing changes. I need better resolutions, resolutions that aren’t just about me living somebody else’s life. Let’s face it, I don’t know what lacrosse is and if I tried to run a marathon my skeleton would disintegrate. Thinking about disintegrating skeletons reminds me of the Bradford on Avon Preservation Trust – I wrote about their need for volunteers last year – and in turn that reminds me of something I want to ask you.

You know where the Tithe Barn is, and the Coffee Barn? Well, part of that cluster of impossibly old buildings is the West Barn. I love the West Barn. They say it was once a porch for a much bigger structure. A porch! It’s over 700 years old and looks fabulous, although in fairness, after lying fallow for a while after a fire in 1982, it’s had a bit of a makeover. But even so. It’s a tough little thing, proud and resilient despite starting out as a place for people to wipe their feet and hang up their coats.

These days the West Barn hosts concerts and recitals, exhibitions, weddings and all sorts of other functions. And it’s usually open to the public on Wednesdays and Sundays between spring and autumn. These regular open days are run by volunteers – people who give up a couple of hours of their time to sit in the West Barn and be on hand should a visitor have a question. It’s important work.

And that’s what I want to ask you. Last year I made a resolution that I kept: Make a Choice; Be Involved. Now I’m a volunteer coordinator for the West Barn open days and we need more volunteers. So I’m reaching out from this article to you, to ask if you would join us and give the occasional two hours to sit in that beautiful building on a Wednesday or Sunday, and be part of its living history? If you would, then please email me or the Preservation Trust at jamesauthorellis@outlook.com or hello@bradfordheritage.co.uk.

I suppose I should look for that fairy now. But before I do, may I wish you all a happy and peaceful New Year – and watch out if the sewing circle knock on your door. (Author’s note: any resemblance in this article to the aftermath of tea with an actual sewing circle, existing or otherwise, is purely coincidental.)

Exploring the real world… Goldilocks pubs

February, 2019

According to a recent census there are almost 10,000 people living in the parish of Bradford on Avon (north and south wards). More than 80% are 18-years-old or older which means there are roughly 8,000 adults living in an area of slightly more than five-square-miles. It doesn’t say how many dogs are resident here; probably two or three times that number.

In addition, our town accommodates the weekend and day visitors who come to look at attractions such as the Church of St Laurence (I still marvel at the fragment of fossil tree in the chancel), or to have their photograph taken outside the Bridge Tea Rooms (I don’t know if the census included the ghost), or to push me into the road while they take a selfie on the town bridge.

And on top of that, there are the towpath and riverbank ramblers who pass through every day, and those speedy cyclists who like to ting their bells without an accompanying please or thank you and then spray me with mud (yes, I am a cyclist myself but I am polite and considerate and they are clots).

This adds up to a lot of adults. I mention it because the other day I overheard a person saying that if ever there was a place to run a pub, it is here. Their logic was that in such a compact town where most people walk when they go out, drinks-per-punter must be higher than in communities where people tend to drive more. In short, Bradford on Avon is a Goldilocks town for publicans.

I am not suggesting the average BoA citizen passes out every night in a messy alcoholic heap but I do think that person was on to something. One of the attractions of living in Bradford on Avon is the close proximity of everything to everything else. It is all on our doorstep. There is no need to take the car when we go out – which, when you consider the average Briton spends more than two days a year waiting for traffic lights to turn green, is a good thing.

Clearly, others have seen this opportunity. If we include The Swan, Timbrell’s Yard and The Lock Inn Café, there are, I think, sixteen pubs in Bradford on Avon (I apologise to all local pubologists if I have missed any). Sally and I have been to most of them and I feel quietly confident that we have done our bit to support the town’s drinks-per-punter quotient.

Perhaps a benefit of this strong pub presence is that it encourages both competition and an element of specialism which gives us, the enthusiastic customer, a diverse range of venues from which to choose – from traditional to modern; from picturesque to characterful.

At least three pubs host first-class live music (check out The Three Horseshoes on a Sunday afternoon) and nearly all are child friendly (10% of people are under nine-years-old in BoA). Most serve great food, have guest beers and welcome dogs with open paws. Some run pub quizzes and three have nailed the ancient art of punning (the sign for The Stumble Inn always makes me happy).

It is interesting how simple numbers and percentages can reflect social opportunities. For example, according to the Office of National Statistics 0.2% of the working population make a living as ‘authors, writers or translators’. That means, theoretically, I have nine comrade-in-pens living in Bradford on Avon. We should get together and go out. I know a good pub – come to think of it, I know sixteen good pubs.