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Anything and everything

Life with Justin King of the South Coast and UK Bird/Gull Volunteer Network

Yeah, so where was I? When I moved in here about 11 years ago now there was a gull standing on the fence.”

Which is not unusual in Brighton. 

“I suppose it isn’t, but I just threw out a bit of food and from that moment on, he decided he quite liked being here so he brought his partner along, but then another two came along and were a bit jealous about what was going on so they scared off my first two but they came back and… I’m surprised he’s not here actually”. 

The Whistler is in a garden near the seafront and we’re with Justin King, prime mover of the South Coast and UK Bird/Gull Volunteer Network, a group dedicated to helping and rescuing our favourite birds. If life can be split into “Good Guys” and “Not Good Guys”, Justin is about as good a good guy can be. 

“If I throw a bit of ham I bet you he’ll arrive. He’s called Brutus he’s also a bit of a celebrity because we’ve got an Instagram page and we’ve got a Facebook page I constantly take pictures of him and his partner and… I’ll tell you what, let me get a bit of ham”. Justin disappears into his kitchen and emerges with a small packet of ham slices. He reaches into the packet, throws his hand in the air and, from nowhere, we’re in a scene from Hitchcock. 

“There’s Brutus” he says as a gull that looks disarmingly like a gull swoops down for Justin’s ham. “He’s been a bit of a constant for me, but I have all kinds of birds that come into the garden.” Justin reaches for another handful of ham and throws it over his fence into the neighbouring car park.

The Whistler is admittedly a bit biased, but we think gulls are just lovely and we’re very happy to be in a city where the… whatever the national symbol of a city is called, is a gull. But gulls, like all birds, have had a tough time recently. Avian flu – “flockdown” – has hit hard, which has meant that charities and rescue centres have been reluctant to take injured or needy birds in. And that has meant, what it always means: volunteers need help. In the last year, the Network has raised £170,000 for Bird Aid, which is an extraordinary amount. 

Justin rattled off a list of names. “Tony Bloom, owner of Brighton and Hove Albion, got involved in the Bird Aid campaign last year…” Well, he does own The Seagulls… “which was brilliant. But then we’ve got a lot of celebrities on board. Chris Packham. He put a post on Facebook. Ricky Gervais posts on his Twitter. Holly Willoughby. Oh, Woody Cook. Actually it was Woody who… once he started it snowballed. Loads of other naturalism environmentalists got involved.” 

Just as we’re talking, Justin’s phone goes. He’s making an arrangement. 

“What’s that?” I ask. 

“Someone’s coming round to pick up the pigeon to take him to a sanctuary”. 

“What pigeon?”

Justin takes me round to what looks like a garden shed. Well, OK. It is a garden shed. Carefully he opens the door and there, standing on one foot and looking a bit sorry for himself, a pigeon. 

“He’s hurt his foot and can’t put any weight on it and someone brought him round. He’s stayed here for a couple of days and then he’s going to go to the sanctuary to fully recover”. 

I love these people. I love the person who found the pigeon and picked him up, I love Justin who has nurtured him, I love the people who have a sanctuary where he can recover.   

What is the Brighton gull population? What number are we talking? 

“I don’t actually know, but in general the species is in decline. Herring gulls are on the endangered species list, the Red List. Herring gulls. Yep. The ones you just see. They’re all herring gulls. And I know you wouldn’t think so, but it’s true, they’re on the decline. Saying that though, a lot of wildlife is in decline.

“There’s a lot of ignorance and intolerance towards a lot of forms of wildlife. There’s been cases in Woodingdean of people poisoning foxes because they don’t want them coming into the garden and digging up their lawns. Birds being shot, you name it, it’s happened. Yeah, shocking. Yeah. I mean when you think of Sussex, the word that synonymous with the countryside. If you don’t like birds, don’t live by the coast, go and live in Milton Keynes. Sorry, but it really is relentless”.

How many people are there in your group?

“The group has approximately 3,200 members, but the majority of them aren’t really active. Mostly, it’s just a few people. A lot of people have dropped out because times are hard for everyone and not everyone has so much time anymore. The cost of living crisis has made people reprioritise”.

So hardcore volunteers? Let’s put it this way. How many are as committed as you?

“Probably about a dozen. But it’s been difficult and because of avian flu this year, I’ve literally had to throw myself headlong into this. Yeah, the whole campaign. It’s left no time for anything else.

Watching Justin, listening to him, I know there’s nothing he’d prefer to be doing. He has, in every sense, found his calling. 

Justin looks up to the skies where the gulls are still circling, a bit distracted. Do you listen to the goals and recognise different calls?

“Yes. That’s the whistling you can hear there, the babies. I always know that sound. But I’m also familiar with my regular gull who comes to visit. He stands on the shed and waits for his food. And when he screeches, I recognise it. It’s just, I mean, they’re all different. Anyway, I recognise the way he does it and the sound that he makes and yeah, so I know when he’s here”.

Justin looks up again. 

“I was just thinking I should go and check on the ham I threw over the fence. I want to make sure they all got some” 

Check out the Whistler website for details of the South Coast and UK Bird/Gull Volunteer Network Go Fund Me page or go to their Facebook group page of the same name

Check out the Whistler website for details of the South Coast and UK Bird/Gull Volunteer Network Go Fund Me page or go to their Facebook group page of the same name

https://gofund.me/58fadb2f

https://www.facebook.com/groups/385523575455222/?ref=share_group_link

Christmas at Bolney Wine Estate

Gilly Smith talks to Sam Linter about life on The Bolney Wine Estate

Baubles and berries, bottles and bubbles, it’s all just one big excuse, this Christmas malarkey, to deck the halls and be very jolly indeed. But we’re not about that consumerist nonsense over at Whistler Towers. We’re all about zero waste and making stuff, eating local produce and supporting the neighbours. So how to feast and have fun without maxing the landfill? Come closer; we have some sparkling ideas.

One of the real treats of living in Brighton is the bounty of great produce on our doorstep, and increasingly, that means some pretty amazing wines too. Ding dong! There’s a couple of Christmas present ideas already. Plus, a wine tour is a great day out for all the rellies, and we’re still only on paragraph two. But wine? Sustainable? How? 

Well, climate change may not have a lot going for it, but the warming of our southern vineyards is at least creating a rather vibrant industry, with experts claiming that some of our chalk soil compares favourably to that of the Champagne region of France. And while English wines have been a thing since the Romans, this relatively new industry has attracted some pretty cool people who care about much more than the sound of the cash till. 

Cindy-Marie Harvey is the author of Watercress, Willow and Wine and told me that the English wine industry is setting new standards in sustainable business practice. “I think wine GB has been absolutely brilliant,” she told me on my podcast Cooking the Books. “If you look at a winery at harvest time, the amount of water that you need just to keep everything clean, it’s a phenomenal amount. For one litre of wine, you probably need ten litres of water. There’s a whole host of sustainable criteria that you have to look at before you can actually get the Sustainable Wines of Great Britain badge, but that means that customers can trust what they’re buying.” 

Within an hour’s drive or so from Brighton, we have some of the best wines in the south east, many of which are leading the field in sustainability. Ridgeview in Ditchling, the organic Davenports in Rotherfield in the Low Weald, Rathfinney in Alfriston, Bolney, just 20 mins from Brighton, Wiston, Breaky Bottom, the mighty Nyetimber, how spoilt are we? And Plumpton College just down the road is training up the next generation even as I write. 

Winemaker Sam Linter has lived almost her whole life at Bolney vineyard after her parents bought up an old pig farm in the 1970s, inspired no doubt by the TV sitcom The Good Life

“We had goats on site, so mum did the goat’s milk, the goat yoghurts, the cheese she used to sell to local deli’ Sam told me when I interviewed her for the delicious podcast. “She would drive all over to sell them. She grew marrows, tomatoes, courgettes, sweet corn, we had strawberries on site here. And it was fun. It was a great childhood. My brother and I ran wild.”

That Good Life ethos lives on at Bolney since Sam has taken the reins from her parents and built a business that has become a leader in English wines. Its cuvee rose even had a rep from Laurent Perrier recently scratching his head at which was his in a taste off. And with pips and skins used to make gin and other by-products, its wine production creates a virtuous circle. They even have a wine bottle Christmas tree at the entrance to the winery restaurant.

On which… what a find for a posh lunch over the holidays. Its Eighteen Acres Cafe overlooking the vineyard gets our loudest Whistle for quality, service and price with a fabulously instagrammable menu. And it’s even dog-friendly! To celebrate the festive season, Bolney is also running some tastings throughout December. A £12 ticket will buy you a tasting of three wines, paired with festive themed canapé plus a Bolney branded ISO tasting glass to take home. Or to give away as a Christmas present..  And if you prefer a little music with your wine tastings, you can enjoy a charcuterie board and glass of Bolney Bubbly for £30 per person every Friday evening in December. 

Listen to Gilly’s podcast with Cindy-Marie fromher podcast show “Cooking The Books with Gilly Smith https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/cindy-marie-harvey-watercress-willow-and-wine/id1499255116?i=1000590240914

And also Gilly’s interview with Sam for the delicious podcast from June 2019

https://shows.acast.com/deliciousdish/episodes/thejuneepisode-englishwine-ginandfishplusbakeoffsbenoitblinand

Bolney Wine Estate Foxhole Ln, Bolney, Haywards Heath RH17 5NB

More details at https://bolneywineestate.com/whats-on

Dressmith – Style and Substance

“So I walked past the shop and it was empty. I’ve always loved this shop, the frontage of number 77 because of the curved windows. It looks like an old apothecary and there aren’t enough of these shops left. When I saw it was empty just after lockdown, I stood at the end of the alley and waited for someone to come out of the building, ‘Who can I call?’

I literally had no business plan, you know, but I had around 40 samples which I sold from, plus several rolls of fabric. I also have close friends who are wonderful artists and designers and having wanted to show their work too for some time, I just went for it.”

The Whistler is with Jane the Dressmith, dress designer, fabric lover and owner of the coolest clothes shop in the Dials. 

“I’ve never had a shop, never really wanted to. But I love to this shop. I’ve lived in Vernon Terrace for 22 years, so I’ve been part of the Seven Dials community and seen its rise to… Yeah, that Time Out thing, the top 12 coolest destinations in the country.”

It’s a curious thing, that coolest destinations thing. You know Time Out wasn’t talking about ‘Oh, there’s a really big Co-op’ (he says pointedly). They’re talking about independent shops, individual shops, shops with heart and soul, this is what they’re talking about. They’re talking about Dressmith. 

It’s a beautiuful shop full of beautiful clothes and lovely, lovingly chosen fabrics. It’s been here about a year, and slowly but surely she’s making it exactly as she wants. Everything in the shop is carefully curated, carefully positioned. Well, she’s a designer. It’s what they do. And in the same spirit, because she wanted to get things just right, she made me some notes. 

“Dressmith. Beautifully British. Handmade in England. Ready to wear and utility clothing. Limited edition. Organic collections and sustainable collections made from overstocked fabrics, surplus to the trade. Luxury brand with ecological consciousness” – which is all very well, but it doesn’t give an indication of the passion. Walking around the beautifully designed, beautifully presented shop you just know that there’s a real love here. Wools, linens, cottons… 

And it’s not just hers. There’s art on the walls “they’re by Michael Bishop” – ceramics on the shelves, cards, candlesticks… All made by friends, all part of the same ethos. 

So this is your baby, but it’s a hub for your community as well. “Yes. It’s a Dressmith family, basically. Yeah, that’s what I like to think of it as. 

“Basically, I want this shop to be for everybody. So I get I’m getting gifty things in candles, socks, berets, room diffusers, soaps, tea towels. I want people to be able to come in and buy a card and a gift”.

I was desperate for Dressmith to be her real name – love a bit of nominative determinism – but “No, my real name is Jane De Lacey” which is maybe even better, especially when you consider that before 2014 when she established the dresSmith label, she designed underwear and lounge wear. “I just thought, you know, my initial concept was when you get home, you should put loungewear on you shouldn’t put an old tracksuit on, you should dress up at home. So I made lounge suits”. 

Jane the designer came of age in the mid-1980s and hit the ground running during the heyday of Kensington Market, the New Romantics, Vivienne Westwood, Camden Market, Club For Heroes… 

“I dressed bands like Madness, U2, the  Stranglers. Do you remember that newspaper print suit Madness wore?” Madness were always seriously stylish, but The Stranglers? “Oh, God. Well, I just used to make normal stuff. You know, Jet Black was rather a hefty chap…” 

So a year on, do you enjoy the shop life? “Yes, because I don’t have hundreds of customers, and everyone has been so welcoming. I’m not in the Western Road, I don’t have serious footfall, so I can sit there and get on with designing. My idea has always been I would have a shop that I could work at the back of, and then if somebody comes in then you can help them if they need help. So actually, that’s what I’m doing”.

Dressmith, 77 Dyke Rd, Brighton BN1 3JE

How To Have A Mindful Xmas by Jo Rowkins

There’s the Bailey’s. That tub of Quality Street. And the Christmas pud always seems a good idea – until just after you’ve eaten it. How can you avoid that “uurrgghh” when your “Oh, just one more” urge is bigger than your mince pies.

There’s a Christmas song we’ve been practicing recently in The Dulcetones, a fabulous choir I sing in, called “Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year.” I’ve been reflecting on those lyrics. But amid the stress and overwhelm of it all, too often the Christmas reality for many is one of over-indulgence, family tension and feeling wiped out come the new year. So how can we make Christmas mean something this year? One word: mindfulness!

Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful. It can be a time of gratitude and nourishment, and a wonderful exercise in mindfulness. Nurturing yourself and your loved ones at the end of another year, can be an opportunity for relaxation and renewal. Christmas is the stepping stone from one year to the next, so a very powerful time indeed. So, bearing that in mind, here are 11 Ways To A Mindful Christmas:

1. Pamper yourself and your loved ones. Christmas should feel like it’s everyone’s birthday. Make it special by being truly present as you take yourself through each moment of the day.

2. Eat a protein-rich breakfast. I adore wild smoked salmon, spinach and organic eggs alongside my glass of Christmas breakfast champagne. The protein regulates your appetite and reduces the temptation to eat all the chocs and sugary treats on offer! Balanced blood sugar equals balanced energy levels, allowing you to stay fresh and avoid mood swings.

3. Choose quality over quantity. Luxuriate in the decadence of this time of year. Choose wisely, slow down and enjoy every mouthful! Make your food a sensual delight. 

4. Eat the rainbow. Christmas dinner is the ideal opportunity to load your plate with colourful veg. Cruciferous ones like Brussel’s sprouts, broccoli and red cabbage are packed with indole-3-carbinol to help your liver process the extra booze (and they support your hormones too). 

5. Make cooking an act of ritual. Slowing down and being mindful when shopping, prepping and cooking food can make it a sacred act. Notice the colourful vegetables, the smell and the textures. Feel honoured to be able to cook a nourishing meal for yourself and your loved ones, instead of it feeling like a chore.

6. Be mindful of your food intake. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean you have to eat until you’re stuffed. Eat mindfully, chew slowly and give each bite the attention it deserves. Notice the tastes, textures and smells. 

7. Receiving and giving is an experience of abundance and gratitude. Slow down and appreciate what’s happening. Give from your heart when you give, and truly receive and appreciate the gifts you are given.

8. Watch your ego! Family can churn up old patterns, judgments and behaviours that no longer serve us, or are real. Breathe, connect and observe fully. Sometimes negative reactions are our own, sometimes from another family member. Stay true to yourself without the need to react. Breathe deeply, don’t get sucked into old family dramas (this one is easier said than done…sometimes another Campari is actually what’s needed in these situations!!). Choose happiness over being right!

9. Play and have fun. We’re often feeling stressed and overwhelmed due to society’s pressures. Laughter and silliness are the best medicine. Be silly, tell jokes, wear the Christmas jumper, do jigsaw puzzles, play Charades… it’s a time to let your hair down.

10. Drink mindfully. Be sure to sip water regularly as well as selecting healthier options such as red wine, dry white, and Champagne. Drink your vodka or gin with soda water and a squeeze of fresh lemon instead of sugary mixers. 

11. Supplement to support your body. I favour milk thistle and B vitamins to support liver function when drinking excess alcohol, and vitamin C to boost immunity. A quality digestive enzyme is a perfect natural remedy, and you can’t beat mighty magnesium to calm your nerves and help you relax. An Epsom salt bath in the morning will set you up for a relaxing and nurturing Christmas day ahead.

Switching off autopilot is one of the best things you can do. On autopilot you act without thinking, feeling or noticing, and miss all the magic of life happening around you. So, embrace the sensual pleasures and decadence of Christmas day with intention. Being mindful is a great gift to yourself and others and the way to make Christmas mean something this year. 

I wish you a wonderfully mindful, nurturing and healthy Christmas, and a fabulous year ahead full of wellness and self-care.

Jo Rowkins, Nutritional Therapist & Lifestyle Coach at Awakening Health.

http://www.awakeninghealth.co.uk

Sam Harrington-Lowe – December 2022

My friend Kath messages me. “I’m coming to your ‘hood later to get things for Stir Up Sunday,” she says. “Let’s meet up.”

Delighted as I am to see my friend, I wonder what the hell Stir Up Sunday is. Am I being invited to a thing? In the olden days, it sounds like the sort of hedonistic event we’d go to once the club shut at 6am, to carry

on dancing and getting wasted. But we’re both in our fifties now. This seems unlikely.

Obviously I can research this myself but it’s still the morning and Kath is happy to advise me. It’s the day when you make the Christmas pudding, or cake or whatever. Or possibly you give it one last stir before cooking it. Who the hell knows? I don’t. And I realise that I don’t know this because I don’t like cake, and I don’t really like Christmas.

I’m not entirely bah humbug about the whole thing. It’s nice to see people I suppose, and I do enjoy the long lunches that happen in December. And I always take time off work, so I like that bit too. And there is cheese. Cheese is possibly the best thing about Christmas. 

But the determined and competitive gaiety of Christmas decs, the enforced time spent with people – in groups! With alcohol added! And turkey. The driest, most boring bird on the planet to grace a table. Give me rib of beef, and a quiet day to actually chat to people without the madness. I’ve always preferred Boxing Day. By then everyone has run out of steam, like toddlers on sugar, and it’s a lot nicer. Plus cold meats and pickles.

My dislike of Christmas probably stems from two things. Firstly, from being neurodiverse. A room full of people, all full of beans, wanting conversation and loud Bing Crosby and pulling crackers and OH MY LIVING HELL – charades, is the stuff of nightmares. Also, I had an alcoholic and often argumentative mother, so childhood Christmases were like unexploded bombs. I can still feel that fear sometimes in a large family group, on alert, waiting for the inevitable car crash, the shouting, the tears. It’s hard to let that go.

I’m not alone in this anti-Christmas feeling. Everyone has their own take; my daughter seems genuinely to feel the same way. And I have tried to make it nice for her, I promise. She has always done her best to prevent me from doing anything ‘large’. It’s hard to argue when you don’t want to do it either.

It seems, however, that a bit like choosing not to have children, choosing not to have Christmas is becoming more acceptable, which is excellent. I have friends who hate it too. In the US, Jewish people (for whom Christmas is just another day, in a religious sense) gather in Chinese restaurants for parties, and banter, and the not eating of turkey – the Chinese being similarly uninterested in Christmas. In Japan, the big tradition is to have KFC.  I’ve seen mates employing some of these tactics recently and I applaud this.

Anyway, this year my daughter is hosting Christmas in the deepest countryside, at her place, which I am a bit excited about. She’s a sous chef at a wonderful pub, and working over the silly season. “Mum, you can sit up at the bar with Alice (the pug) and drink brandy and yak with the locals, and I’ll feed you,” she said. “And then when you want, you can just go back to the house and chill out.”

Does that sound like the magic of Christmas to you? Because it does to me. Time with the best kid in the whole world, and the dog. And no jobs to do? I’m looking forward to it more this year that possibly ever before. Cheers! And thank you my wonderful daughter.

Happy whatsit to you lot too, however you decide to celebrate (or not).