Sunday, 29 April 2012

Jo Caulfield on tour

COMEDIAN Jo Caulfield has just finished touring Cumbria with a show subtitled: "The Tour of Towns I've Heard Of But Never Been To". But even she had to admit she'd never really heard places like Egremont or Torpenhow.

And pronouncing places like Torpenhow had also proved a challenge to her. But hats off to Jo for daring to step outside the M25 and taking on an exhausting tour of those remote parts of Britain normally neglected by the showbiz set. To be fair, she's recently left London and moved to Scotland so she's probably used to rural Britain by now.

Gigs at Barrow, Millom, Thursby and the like gave Jo the chance to poke some gentle fun at the various Cumbrian towns - and even some of its residents. She's known for her acerbic wit and doesn't pull her punches but she appeared to warm to the good folk of Cumbria. At Egremont's Florence Mine (recently converted to an arts centre) she applauded the hard work which had gone into creating a new arts venue (particularly the colourful ladies loo seats!). "Even if you didn't like the show" she told the 40-strong audience "do support Florence mine in the future".

She struck a chord immediately with the audience by ranting about the stresses of modern life and those secret pet hates we all harbour: self-service checkouts at Tesco, young couples freshly in love - and other people's kids! Such topics are de rigueur with comedians today of course but Jo managed to make them  fresh and biting enough to produce plenty of laughter.

And for the second half she invited the audience to lower their stress levels by revealing what made them angry ("Everything" said one woman "I'm menopausal"!). It was a terrific evening's entertainment by a true professional and she'll no doubt be welcome if she ever wants to return to Cumbrian towns and villages - even those she can't pronounce.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Britain's nicest library?

The lending library inside Boot mill
 IS this the nicest lending library in Britain? It most certainly is!* It is located in a restored mill in the village of Boot in the valley of Eskdale on the western edge of the Lake District. And, if you'll forgive the pun, it's a library that certainly isn't run of the mill.

The best way to get to it is to drive to Ravenglass, then catch the 'Ratty' steam train to Dalegarth. Stop for their famous Cumberland sausage, egg and chips - then walk the quarter of a mile to Boot. At the end of Boot, you'll find the mill - probably with Dave King the miller sitting outside and Stanley the cat 'on guard' by the mill entrance. Inside you can enjoy a tour of the old mill and buy any number of items from ice creams to antiques dug up locally. And don't worry if Dave's not around - you'll find an honesty pot on the counter (it would be inconceivable that any money would be taken from the pot). The library has a hundred or so books and are borrowed by the 200 villagers or the tourists staying at the campsite down the road. 

Boot Mill, Eskdale

Originally, the mill was owned by the county council and was an 'official' library. But when the council sold the mill to a Trust, the new miller - Dave King - decided to keep the library going. He collects the out-of-date or remaindered library books from Whitehaven library and puts them in his mill. You can borrow them for as long as you like. I'd recommend sitting in the mill garden or by the river to read a good book on a summer's afternoon. To be honest, it's never very clear where the mill building ends and the surrounding mill garden starts. The two wonderfully merge into each other. If only every building was like that. I've been in the mill photographing before and seen a variety of wildlife wander in and out. 

Dave King in his 'office' at Boot mill
Libraries keep trying to reinvent themselves and coming up with digital this and digital that. If they only followed the example of Boot library, I'm sure they'd have no shortage of families visiting and hanging around for hours on end.

* Unless of course you know differently. If you know of a 'curious' library that's different from the crowd then please let me know.