A year of the Fine Times Recorder

IT seems hard to believe, but it is one year ago this week since the launch of The Fine Times Recorder, an “undisturbed website … for all you need to know about the region’s arts and food – and leisurely inspirations.”

We set out to be entertaining and informative, to preview and review professional and amateur theatre across the region – Dorset, Somerset, Bath, Bristol, much of Wiltshire, the west of Hampshire including Southampton and east Devon – and to provide news about the region’s many artisan food producers and specialist companies and reviews of pubs and restaurants, which specialise in local and seasonal food.

Thanks to the brilliance of our designer, David Costa of Wherefore Art? and the skill of our web-builder, Dave Smith, we have a website that is beautiful to look at and easy to navigate. It is, as we promised, “undisturbed” – no cookies, no pop-ups, no adverts promising to change your life if you submit to this or that cosmetic procedure or sign up for some slimming club which will relieve you of more pounds sterling than pounds imperial.

Quite simply, we don’t take advertising – and we have politely declined a couple of proposals from would-be advertisers. What we do have is a membership directory of arts venues, arts practitioners, galleries, food producers, restaurants and an eclectic selection of useful businesses and services. We regularly add to the directory and we welcome any approaches to join from individual artists or producers, venues, organisations or businesses.

Over the year, the remit has widened a bit as we have responded to requests from organisations, individuals and our regular readers, visitors to the region or even the occasional overseas surfer who discovers us. We added an Out And About section, after the organisers of various open air and outdoor events asked to be included.

Our principal aim was to support the region’s exciting and diverse professional and amateur performing and visual arts scene and the creativity of the local food scene. We and our regular reviewers, pianist, conductor and choir-master David Grierson, actor and singer Mark Blackham and classical music lover Paul Jordan, have been to hundreds of events, from the Monteverdi Choir, Iford Opera Festival and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra to the dark inventiveness of Arts By The Sea Festival, the brilliant amateur theatre companies at Yeovil’s Swan Theatre, Street’s Strode Theatre and Salisbury’s Studio Theatre, and professional theatre of the highest and most ambitious quality at Bristol Old Vic, Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre, Salisbury Playhouse, Poole’s Lighthouse arts centre and touring with Dorset’s Artsreach rural arts organisation.

We have interviewed interesting people as varied as folk legend Maddy Prior, the retiring Lord Lieutenant of Dorset, Mrs Valerie Pitt-Rivers, and television star and animal lover Martin Clunes who runs the hugely successful Buckham Fair at his farm at Beaminster.

Travel is one of our passions – and we and another contributor, Dave Eidlestein, have written about trips to Sicily and elsewhere in Italy, short breaks in York, London and the Cotswolds, trekking by horseback in Mongolia and the delights for non-skiers in California’s Sierra mountains.

We are lucky to share the travels and culinary adventures of chef Philippa Davis, from Shaftesbury, who sends her Postcard Recipes, illustrated with her own excellent photographs, from her visits to clients in locations as varied as the French Alps, Boston, shooting parties in the Scottish Highlands, Jerusalem and Dublin.

During the year we gained two contributors to our food section. Award-winning cheesemonger Justin Tunstall, who has the wonderful Town Mill Cheesemonger at Lyme Regis, writes the monthly Cheeseboard column, introducing some of the region’s most interesting and delicious cheeses. Simone Sekers, whose books cover everything from preserves, pates and terrines to historic recipes from the National Trust and some of Dorset’s oldest families and country houses, contributes an elegant, thoughtful column each month on a seasonal or topical subject.

We love books and we and our occasional contributor, the Bookworm, have enjoyed dozens of new books, from the award-winning first book from The Ethicurean restaurant near Bristol to archive photos of Gillingham and a moving collection of poetry inspired by her colourful Russian and Baltic heritage by Dorset poet Valerie Bridge. The Bookworm paid a moving tribute to the great Maya Angelou, who died earlier this year.

In the weekly quotation, which can be topical, thoughtful, witty or provocative, we have also marked the passing of one of the greatest men of our age, Nelson Mandela, and the deaths of Tony Benn, comedian Robin Williams and Helen Bamber, the tireless campaigner for refugees, asylum seekers and victims of torture, oppression and genocide.

Our “new year resolution” is to start a weekly MailChimp newsletter which will go out to our friends and supporters, readers and visitors, directory members and anyone who wishes to subscribe, to keep you all up to date with everything from the antics of Pippin the Puppy to exciting news from the arts and food scene.

We have wanted to do this for some months, but it has been a busy first year and we have been working hard to make the website as comprehensive, attractive and useful as we can.

Our slogan is “All in your own good time” – you will see it on our smart green and white postcards which you can pick up at arts centres, farm shops, galleries and tourist offices around the region.

The Fine Times Recorder is not about doing things fast or tabloid, chasing celebrity gossip or screwing the maximum amount of money out of advertisers – we offer leisurely inspiration, a comprehensive performing arts listing for the region, news from the local food scene, informative previews and informed reviews and cultural comment.

Fanny and Gay