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Suddenly it was Christmas in October, says Michael Apichella

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Okay. Okay. I detest it when shops market Christmas as early as October. Come the Big Day, any remaining holiday cheer’s as appetising as a pan of leftover gravy coagulating in the fridge.

Still, according to an old proverb, confession’s good for the soul. If so, I guess I really need to ’fess up. Here’s why. Recently, I visited The Leaping Hare. Against better judgment, I dawdled in its small but eclectic bookshop. Suddenly it was Christmas in October. No. There aren’t any decorations. No distinctly Christmas books. Just stacks of literary treasures, ancient and modern. Borrowing a pencil from the shop attendant, I made a list of gifts for special people this year.

In no particular order, this catalogue’s intended for all who love curling up with books on cold, dark evenings. There’s the classic South Facing Slopes by Carla Carlisle. Bucolic and nostalgic, it’s a collection of her best writings from Country Life, featuring her unique take on agriculture, writing, pets, public schools, grapevines and mortality.

Michael Apichella (4901213)
Michael Apichella (4901213)

For thoughtful friends who appreciate historic wit, there’s Bill Bryson’s At Home, full of national ‘how’s-that?’ facts. His cockeyed views of everything from scurvy to body-snatching, from bedbugs to the Industrial Revolution, are served up in avuncular and often hilarious ways.

For my gastronomic friends, I’ll buy Suffolk Feast by Tesa Allingham. As it says on the book’s web blurb, Suffolk Feast weaves many foodie strands, but there are three common threads that run through the book: a love of good food, a fascination with the concept of farm-to-fork, and affection for this beautiful, rich county of ours. Amen says I, and please pass the salt and Gentleman’s Relish.

Speaking of relish, Over the Hills and Far Away, Matthew Denison’s biography of Beatrix Potter, is like a condiment for any adult having an appetite for knowing more about the master chef of children’s stories. Amongst the most beloved bedtime-reading in my home, each tale serves up fun, wisdom and intrigue, holding the rapt attention of both child and father. Denison’s Potter is an English National Treasure.

There’re many other titles that I’ll buy during the run-up to Christmas. Anything by
F Scott Fitzgerald. Buzz by Thor Hanson, a book on bee-keeping. The Secret Life of the Cow by Rosamund Young. There’s also The Book of Garden Hens by Francine Raymond. But since I already raise hens out back, perhaps I’ll write my own book one day.

Lately I’ve been warning the family that I’m on the lookout for a donkey to keep in the garden. I’ll use the manure to fertilise my vegetables and clippity-clop into town to visit the shops. Hee-haw! Speaking of shops, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the great books I’ve enjoyed this past year from places such as Waterstones, British Heart Foundation, Smoking Monkey Antiques and The Works.

Retailing between £34 and £66, I found a box set of CS Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia at The Works for a tenner. I was sent there by the manager of another bookshop! What? Sending customers over to the enemy? That’s how it is with book-lovers. They aim to please the buyer. And because of that willingness to point me across the street, as it were, to find what I could afford, I make it a point to buy books from this sainted manager’s shop. Hey. Like Christmas itself, what goes around comes around.

One more confession. I broke out the timeworn ‘Carols from Kings’ CD recently, filling the house with Christmas sounds. What? In October? Hmm, guess I’m just a yuletide hypocrite.