The Forager’s Calendar: A Seasonal Guide to Nature’s Wild Harvests

Happy New Year! (It’s not too late to say that yet, despite being almost halfway through the first month of the year.) My first read of the year is John Wright’s book The Forager’s Calendar, a Christmas present from Mr Hicks. Last autumn, I took Mr H on a walk along our local canal to see how many of the blackberries I’d seen in their pre-ripened state during my solo summer walks we could pick for a pie. Sadly, the extreme summer heat had shrivelled most of the berries I’d seen. We gathered just enough for a pie. The flip side, though, was that in peering into the canalside hedgerows, we saw other things, including mushrooms and blackthorn. We came home with more sloes than blackberries, which we froze until we could pass them on to our friends who like gin.

As we walked, we talked about how, as children, we’d both been on family trips to forage for berries. I remember gathering wimberries (vaccinium myrtillus, also known as bilberries, whortleberries and blaeberries) on moorland around the Snake Pass between Glossop and Sheffield, and staining my fingers with their juices until I learnt not to squeeze when taking them from the plant. I loved those wimberrying trips, and the crumbles that resulted from them.

Wright opens this guide to gathering wild food and the things you can make from it with his own childhood memory of blackberrying which is very similar to mine. He also talks about something that I think about a lot, and more now than I did before the pandemic: the way in which we are losing touch with our natural selves.

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Six Degrees of Separation: From The Naked Chef to Like Water for Chocolate

We have an unusual starting book for this month’s Six Degrees of Separation. Our host Kathy at Books Are My Favourite And Best has chosen Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef as our chain inspiration. I haven’t read anyone else’s chains yet, as is my wont, but I’m looking forward to seeing how we all fare. If you’re unfamiliar with this literary meme, you can find the rules here.

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Keeper is the debut novel by Jessica Moor, published in 2020. It tells the story of Katie Straw, who works in a women’s refuge, and flicks between time periods labelled Then and Now. The plot explores violence against women and girls. Moor herself has worked in the violence against women and girls sector. Her experiences inform her narrative.

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Animals charts the Mancunian misadventures of Laura and her flatmate Tyler, a pair of hedonists in their early thirties resisting hard the urge to grow up. I borrowed this from a friend who reads lots of books and constantly tempts me on her Instagram grid. I was not disappointed by this one.

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Bollocks to Alton Towers

Bollocks to Alton Towers is a guide to visitor attractions in the UK that are a parallel world to the identikit theme parks and desperate-to-entertain you museums that top the visitor attraction lists and vie for awards.

This small book of “Uncommonly British Days Out” is a friend lend. I’ve only had it for three years. We’re off to stay with the friends who lent it soon, so I thought I’d make it the first book in my new personal reading challenge.

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Variations is a collection of short stories inspired by real events that explore transgender history in Britain. The stories take a variety of forms, from diaries, letters and oral history interviews to blogs and screenplays. Across the collection, Juliet Jacques follows a series of trans people and their experiences from the 19th through to the 21st century. She opens each story with a paragraph that contextualises what follows and regularly includes footnotes with further context. This gives such an air of authority that I began to question whether this book gathered together fiction or fact. In a way, it does both. Jacques has written a history of trans experience but disguised it as fiction.

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Ways of Living

Gemma Seltzer’s collection of short stories centred on the lives of female Londoners is in some respects more Ways of Leaving than Ways of Living. Its principal characters are seeking escape. In their escape, they’re also looking for understanding, whether that’s understanding themselves or being understood by others. The nature of friendship is placed under a microscope and found to be largely a matter of convenience.

The women could be anywhere. That they are in London adds a different flavour – the proliferation of people performing an artistic life and vying for attention, the particularities of multicultural working class life in the unmonied areas – but the lives portrayed here could be lived in any city. Even a global city is parochial, when you dig down into it. Perhaps the London-ness of these stories is that the strangeness of the characters’ behaviour is normalised.

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