Archive for April, 2012
“Ah,” cries Alan Titchmarsh, “I’m so happy.” He bounds over to 15-year-old Jack Mitchell – who has just told Titchmarsh of his plans to study horticulture at Plumstead College – and gives him a bear-hug. “Horticulture is a proper academic subject,” he enthuses. “People don’t recognise it, and they should. It’s so wonderful that you’re going to make it a career.”
Oathall Community College, in West Sussex – a “rural comprehensive” where children can complete their studies while working on a farm – is in a state of huge excitement. Alan Titchmarsh himself is on a tour of the campus, surrounded by a gaggle of pupils who cheer, take photographs on their mobile phones and ask him to sign autographs.
A school like this, with its great focus on farming, is perhaps the only place in the world where Alan Titchmarsh can be a teenager’s pin-up.
The star has come to open the new school farm shop, which was built with a £15,000 grant from the Prince’s Countryside Fund. Already, pupils have developed a solid understanding of how to farm animals and crops. The shop – to which they will have to apply for a position, just like a real job – will introduce them first-hand to the final stage of the product life cycle.
“Energy and resources are coming under more and more pressure,” says Roseanna Curtis, 15, secretary of the Young Farmers’ Club. “So learning how to produce food and sell it is really important.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Reader, if you harbour even the slightest Luddite tendency – if you worry about your children playing video games, dislike the idea of Kindles, or fret that social networking will make traditional friendships obsolete – look away now. When it comes to technology, the Gibson family pulls no punches.
In fact, they have built their lives around it. Almost every room in their 150-year-old, four-bedroom, stone farm house in Yorkshire has at least one television (the house has eight in total), all of which are centralised and can play any film or television show on demand. They also host a bewildering variety of computer games.
The heart of the house – or as Jane puts it, “the room we spend most of our lives in” – is a fully automated home cinema, with a seven-feet screen on which they can watch films, television and browse the internet. And when they’ve finished doing that, the two boys, Thomas, 14, and Ryan, 12, take over the big screen for some PlayStation fun (their favourite game at the moment is Assassin’s Creed).
“But they can’t just watch and play whatever they like,” says Jane. “Even if I’m out of the house, I can see exactly what they’re watching on my iPad. If I don’t approve, I can press the ‘lockout’ button and the screen will automatically go dead until the following morning.” Continue reading on Telegraph website
The smells of inner London are usually characterised by exhaust fumes, kebab shops and other unmentionables. In a hidden corner of Islington, however, a very different scent is in the air: the distinctive manure-and-straw of a farm.
“Islington has the least green space of any London borough,” says Liz McAllister, manager of Freightliners Farm, as we shelter from the rain in a grubby marquee and watch the chickens pecking outside. “Our main aim is to bring a piece of countryside into the city.”
Around us, children are gathering around low tables. Some are making beeswax candles; others are having their faces painted yellow and black; a few are throwing toy bees into buckets with paper petals stuck to the rim, trying to win some Haribo “nectar”. The whole day has a beekeeping theme.
Freightliners Farm, established in 1978 on just over an acre, hosts a range of animals, from rare breeds of pigs to goats, cows, sheep and chickens. There is also an impressive aviary of exotic birds, and a wooden café serving hearty, home-made food. Now, the Green Insurance Company has donated £10,000 to fund the “Buzz Club”, a beekeeping group for children and young people. An apiary has been built and the bees have been installed; today, amid a flurry of bee-related activities, the club is being launched. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Fabulously, you can now listen to my new thriller, unabridged, on your iPod, computer or CD player. It’s a story about the Mossad, Wikileaks, and the Iranian nuclear threat: thrills, spills and automobiles, set in London, Israel and Syria, underpinned by the most serious issues of our time. The book is read by Colin Mace, of RSC and Eastenders fame, who has just finished acting in War Horse. Listen to a sample here, and buy it on Amazon here.
“This has absolutely nothing to do with Easter bunnies,” says Eddie Hutchings, one of Britain’s leading rabbit judges. He takes in the hall with a sweep of his hand: everywhere there are “rabbit fanciers” (as they call themselves), holding rabbits, discussing rabbits, grooming rabbits. “The media is always after cute, fluffy bunnies,” he says. “But we take it much more seriously.” This is clear from their clothing; all are dressed in spotless white coats, to “keep off the fluff.”
I am at a village hall in Langham, East Anglia, where the Colchester and District Rabbit Club is holding a “show” – a competition to find the most perfect rabbit. 130 cages have been set up for the event, and every one of these is now occupied.
The animals gaze out at me, chewing contentedly (they will be examined, but not asked to perform). There are pink-eyed bunnies and muscular brown hares; a bizarre collection of Lionheads, which resemble twitching balls of fluff; a dog-size Continental Giant called D’Arcy (his owner, David Cutts, heaves him out and shows him to me proudly, referring to him as “a big, randy chap”); and the notoriously aggressive Polish Dwarf, its beady eyes glinting. I pray that my antihistamines are equal to the task.
“There are 50 breeds in the world,” Eddie continues, “and 40 of them are represented here. Each breed has a number of variations, including colour, pattern and suchlike.” Are they expensive? After all, show-quality dogs can set you back thousands of pounds. “Some can be,” says Eddie. “The big ‘uns go for up to 10 quid.”
Pat Gaskins, editor of Fur and Feather magazine (which, she says, having been founded in 1856, is the longest running animal magazine in the world), has overheard us talking about money. “No fancier is in it for profit,” she says. “We’re in it for the glory, for the honour. For the passion.” Just as well, really. Today’s winner will be awarded the princely sum of £1 (plus a rosette).
Passion certainly runs high in the rabbit world. It is common, I am told, for people to become “bunny widows” when their significant others take up the hobby. In some cases, they can be abandoned altogether when their spouse makes off with a fellow fancier. One elderly man – the proud owner of 49 rabbits – tells me that his golden wedding anniversary is due to clash with a rabbit show. He has discussed it with his wife and they have agreed that “the rabbits have to take precedence”.
“She didn’t know what she was letting herself in for when she married me,” he laughs. “When we met, I was breeding hamsters.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website
“My husband retired from his City job when he was 45,” says Sarah Driver as she noses her car up a steep country lane near the village of Alfriston, East Sussex. “I was terrified that he’d just be sneaking around the house with nothing to do, making a nuisance of himself for 40 years. So when he said he had signed up for a full-time course in viniculture, I was delighted. Little did I know the scale of his ambition.”
As we reach the crown of the hill, a green and pleasant Sussex landscape is revealed: a sun-soaked, slanting bowl of 600 acres, protected from the prevailing winds by an escarpment of National Trust land. In the distance, blue and magnificent, is the English Channel. This is the Rathfinny Estate, which the Drivers bought in October 2010 for around £4 million. Under Mark Driver’s stewardship, it will soon be England’s largest vineyard.
To most people, the words “English” and “wine” (like “French” and “Pimm’s”) should never be used in the same sentence. The idea conjures up images of Sixties Babycham, or of dodgy elderflower plonk brewed in bathrooms by dandruffy men with flowery shirts and unkempt beards. Not exactly the epitome of sophistication.
“Disgusting!” says Driver when we meet. “That’s what English wine was like 20 years ago. But these days it’s a different story. Our sparkling wine has now officially been recognised as world class.”
Over the past eight years, English sparkling wine producers have won more international awards than any other country. In 2010, Sussex-based Ridgeview won the esteemed Decanter award, the first time it had ever been awarded to a non-French producer. In the same year, Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvée, a sparkling wine also made in Sussex, beat the likes of Bollinger and Pommery to win the award for best in the world. A similar accolade was given to Cornwall-based Camel Valley in 2009, and to Ridgeview in 2005.
“Climate change has meant that over the last 20 years, southern England has come to share the same climate as the Champagne area,” Driver explains. “We already have almost identical chalky soil, as Rathfinny lies on the same band of chalk that forms the Paris Basin. Now this is reflected in our wines. This is the time for English fizz.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website