400 people gathered in the Hayling Island Community Centre to hear Alan Titchmarsh give an amusing and entertaining talk whilst publicising his latest book -The Complete Countryman. The event was organised by the Hayling Island bookshop, a small but very successful independent book retailler.
The stage was set with an imaginative array of items that actually feature in Alan’s book, and he seemed very pleased by this. The five bar gate was actually the bookshop owner’s own, along with the spades and shovels.
Alan may be known firstly as a gardener, followed by a presenter and novelist. But he has a huge talent as a raconteur and humourist. He kicked off with a string of amusing anecdotes, including a number from his Groundforce days. Charlie Dimmock’s lack of foundation wear may have been scene-stealing at the time, but Alan gets some hilarious mileage out of stories about it now.
Despite being a famous Yorkshireman, Alan is very well settled in the south these days, enjoying boating on the Solent and homes in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The biggest cheer of the evening came when Alan mentioned he had now lived in Hampshire longer than he ever did in Yorkshire. He often mentions that he’s only down here doing “missionary work”, but I think we may have converted him!
So how did the Complete Countryman come about? Alan grew up enjoying the outdoor life in Wharfedale near his home town of Ilkley, and has always been happiest when close to nature. He said that in writing the Complete Countryman he wanted to “include those skills that were slipping away”. He wanted to “encourage more people to get out and get hands on” He talked passionately about the need to get out into nature, and especially to encourage children away from screen-based entertainment. He talked about the controversy over climate change, noting quite insightfully that “None of us will ever know who was right”. He emphasised the need to do what we can to look after the planet now, by planting things and doing what we can for the next generation.
Colin Telford, who with his wife Marie own the Hayling Island bookshop, was very pleased with the success of the event which was a sell out. Hayling Island bookshop is one of the smallest bookshops and yet organises some of the biggest Author based events on the South Coast. Previous events have included appearances from Terry Pratchett, Jacqueline Wilson and Anne Widdecombe. In 2009 The Hayling Island Bookshop was named as South of England Independent Bookshop of the year.
Colin said that it has taken “many years to secure Alan for such an event as it was difficult to find a gap in his very busy schedule”. However, despite the weeks of organising and the many staff involved, events such as these are an important way for the smaller bookseller to gain some marketshare from the internet giants such as Amazon. Alan himself is a keen supporter of independent bookshops, citing his local one in Alton as one he pops into whenever he gets the chance.
Following his talk, Alan opened up the floor to a very lively Q & A session. Now I’ve been to a number of his events, but I can honestly say I’ve never heard any one seek his advice on gay rabbits before! He will remember Hayling Island if only for that! There were of course a large number of gardening questions, ranging from how to stop plants growing to how to keep rats out of the compost heap. He handled them all with great humour and good advice, despite, as he said, it was “like being a doctor and never allowed to see the patient”.
The booksigning queue was enormous, so much so that people were requested not to ask for posed photos and to move along as quickly as possible. It took an hour for Alan to sign every book but he was as good natured as ever and happy to oblige.
The book is a fascinating read, packed with interesting tips and information about country living. Along with Alan’s words of wisdom, the photography by Jonathan Buckley is absolutely wonderful.