Feeling festive

LAST week I had to write an obituary for a man with whom I worked for some of the happiest years of my life. So what’s festive about that? Easy, Alan Chalcraft, co-creator with his wife Ingrid, of the Blackmore Vale Magazine in Dorset, was a man who thought life was to be enjoyed. So when I wrote his obituary, and when we said goodbye to him at Stalbridge church this week, it was a celebration of a life well-lived, by his family and friends. Of course, it is very sad to lose someone who was loved by so many people, and these days the mid-70s seems very young to die, but Alan didn’t do self-pity.

He believed that the role of a local paper – at least of the local paper that they created – was to tell people what was going to happen, not what had happened, and to celebrate the beauty of this glorious West Country that we all love, the joys and excitement of the arts, the pleasures of good food and travel, the importance of valuing our culture and heritage and the inventiveness and success of local people, organisations and businesses.

He was also rigorous. He thought criticism and reviewing should be objective, constructive and honest (but never unkind). He had no time for woolly sentimentality or flabby writing.

It was an ethos that I shared, which is why I ended up working there, increasingly disenchanted by the direction in which “conventional” local papers were going. It was the ethos that we continued for years after the Chalcrafts sold the business, until successive corporate takeovers spread their malign philosophy of targets, “profit improvement schemes”, one-to-one meetings (instead of conversations), the concept of “management” as a role in itself, rather than a necessary function within a business or an organisation which is run by people who know what they’re doing (“management” hasn’t been great for education or the National Health Service, has it?)

We founded the Fine Times Recorder to continue the ethos of celebrating and disseminating news, previews, information, reviews and comment about the things we care about – the arts, local seasonal food, the environment, culture in its broadest sense, the landscape, travel, what makes our lives better.

So, yes, we are feeling festive, because it’s that time of year! In October, away from the main arts festival season, there is a series of festivals that are rooted strongly in the West Country, reflecting its special history, landscape and character. There are literature festivals – Wells and Sherborne this week; film festivals – Purbeck Film Festival, the UK’s largest multi-venue rural film festival, Screen Bites Food Film Festival, the UK’s only festival that celebrates local food and world cinema, and also multi-venue; food festivals – Apple Day, founded by the extraordinary and truly pioneering environmental arts charity Common Ground, which for years was based in Shaftesbury, Dorset Food Week, relaunched this year after a gap of several years to celebrate the success and diversity of the county’s food and drink scene, Wimborne Food Festival, Weymouth’s Feast celebration of the amazing variety and quality of independently owned restaurants in Weymouth and Portland, the Great Bath Feast, running throughout October; and last but quite definitely not least, the Two Moors Festival, taking place over ten days in October in churches, arts centres and other venues in Dartmoor and Exmoor.

There are more festivals over the coming weeks, and there will be more on all these events on the relevant sections of this website, but they all share one thing: they were created by people with passion and vision, who wanted to bring high quality events to their area, who wanted to celebrate creativity in food, film, music and the landscape, and who wanted to make them the best they could.

Not to make huge buckets of money. Not to hit targets or achieve eye-rolling bonuses. Not to build massive hierarchies or pay silly salaries. Most are run by volunteers, or tiny teams paid a hand-to-mouth pittance. All make a serious and significant contribution to the rural and regional economy.

So, yes, we are feeling festive.

And we hope you will join in the celebrations by visiting the festivals, supporting the events and helping to strengthen the communities and networks that make these things possible and the region that benefits from it.

Oh, and it’s national Chocolate Week (if you wondered about the significance of this week’s FTR quotations).

Fanny Charles